With their first album in over five years out, Less Than Jake is fired up and touring their asses off once again, playing choice cuts from the new album, See the Light, and other favorites for fans all over. Staff interviewer Jason Epstein went to Manhattan and sat down with Chris DeMakes and Roger Lima on their tour bus to talk See The Light, touring and Punknews commenters.
It's been more than five years since your last full length album. Roger: Technically speaking.
Right, of course. Less Than Jake fans had a steady diet of EPs in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but what brought you back to making full albums? Roger: It was just sort of the logical step I think. We had some fun with the TV EP and that ate up a little bit of time, and when we did the singles (I call them the singles, the Greetings and Salutations EPs, cuz we were really writing those as individual songs and we were never thinking big picture for that) but we were just kind of building up, we did some fun stuff, then we did some EPs. Well, what’s the next thing we do? We do a full record where the songs have a commonality to them and are sort of approached and written not like as a concept record, but all sort of are relatable and complement each other. So it was just the next step man, it was time.
Chris: During that period too for the last three years we’d been recording at Roger’s house in Gainesville and he’s added a lot of stuff to the studio in the last three years so I personally feel like with this record his studio is macked out – it’s fully ready to go and the perfect place to record a full-length. We had a lot of fun at practice there but for this session he reconfigured it, he put the control room in a different place in the house and it came out really good. It was just time to have a cohesive thought.
And what kind of special treatment does Less Than Jake get in Roger’s studio that other bands don’t? Chris: Well Roger gives massages after a long eight hour session…
Roger: The lead singer Chris has a private bathroom.
Chris: It’s weird, we’ve spent so much time there that it’s not even like being in the studio it’s almost like hanging out, it’s like going over to your friend’s house. It’s easy in that respect.
Besides being a great album, GNV FLAserved the purpose of being sort of a throwback to 90s Less Than Jake. How does See The Light fit into the band's history in terms of its sound? Roger: It’s the kind of thing where it’s supposed to be See The Light could have been a Less Than Jake greatest hits record. We’re not writing anything that’s crazy different than things we’ve written in the past, but we’re also not trying to rehash any of the old songs either so it’s sort of a natural progression for the band. It’s hard to explain when something just happens organically. We had a lot of song ideas but the ones that we pursue that everyone felt would have the good stuff in it. It’s all because that fit in to what we’ve always done as well.
Chris: I’m most excited for people who’ve never heard the band or know nothing about us to hear the record. It’s a testament, it’s 21 years of us, it’s the culmination of the bits and pieces of all our best stuff but you know it’s us. We stayed true to who we are, the production sounds great and you know people that’ve heard our band before, it’s either just going to sound like the old stuff or it’s just going to sound new or this and that…you can only do what comes naturally and for us this was a pretty natural easy record to make. It wasn’t labored to the point where we were arguing; it was pretty straightforward.
And you have enough new people coming to Less Than Jake shows that you feel like you can get the music out? Chris: Well, you know that what we’re trying to do it’s tough out there. Everyone is out on the road. No one sits at home collecting royalties – they’re out and selling t-shirts, selling their live show. The longer that we are a band, you know people get older and we see a lot of those people come back now and they’re bringing their kids. So there’s always a turnaround but it’s how to reach those new people being the elder statesman, how do you get a 15 year old kid to give your band a chance. And that’s what’s cool about having parents bringing kids to the shows – because they can influence the kids.
Yeah, I want to influence the hell out of my kids. “This is the kind of music you’re going to like.” You've got a very full touring schedule through the next few months. What has changed about touring today as compared to 20 years ago? Roger: Oh man, well I mean 20 years ago there were times you never thought you’d get back home. We were just in a van constantly. Shows were getting booked as we went along. Twenty years ago we’d pull over and get a thing of bologna, and everyone would get a slice of bologna, and that would be lunch.
Chris: Well technology 20 years ago…
Well I know the world has changed. Chris: Well the world’s changed but that has changed everything about it. The actual process of packing your suitcase, going on the road and playing shows…that vibe…none of that has changed. Maybe the redundancy of it – and I don’t use that in a negative way – cuz we’ve done it for so long, but the feeling, the emotion of the show and of the fans is still the same.
Are there any places you've never toured that you want to? Roger: We want to get this Antarctica tour going but they’re not really into ska punk, we don’t know why.
The polar bears and the scientists? Chris: Metallica’s playing down there in December, first band to play down there.
Roger: They should play “Trapped Under Ice.”
Chris: We want to get to Russia. We had a couple of shows booked there that fell through.
Roger: Mexico, man. We’ve never gotten to play there.
You guys have never played Mexico? Chris: No, we had a show there a couple years ago but then that fuckin’ swine flu or whatever broke out and we were advised not to go and it didn’t end up being the real reason – the promoter dropped the ball.
Have you ever been to the Middle East before? Chris: No, the closest we ever got to there was like Eastern European countries, Slovenia, Croatia and some of those places.
What's more important, coffee, alcohol or cigarettes? Roger: At this point coffee is extremely high on that list. Neither one of us smokes cigarettes, and drinking is a rare occasion. You didn’t really put my vices on that list.
Well, what are your vices? Roger: Well I’m from California and I get headaches so I have a medicinal marijuana card.
Chris: The only one that would probably be is the alcohol because I don’t drink coffee or smoke cigarettes.
What else would be high on your list, especially on tour? Roger: Vaseline.
Chris: Baby wipes.
The hole in the tour bus couch. Chris: Yeah the hole in the couch, baby wipes…
Roger: A decent pair of headphones
You guys celebrated 20 years as a band last year; what can you see happening in the next 20 years? Chris: Us getting a hell of a lot older.
Roger: Blood transfusions.
Chris: We don’t know and that’s kind of a cool thing. Twenty years ago we never got asked that question, maybe back then it’d be like will you guys be doing this in five years? Tenyears? I don’t know. I know at this point that if we stopped making music and only just went and played summer festivals in Europe we could probably milk that for like 10 years without doing anything. We’ve played so many times and we’re a good live act that can get up in front of festival type crowds and we have a good back catalogue of songs that people still want to listen to –
And a t-shirt cannon. Chris: And the t-shirt cannon and all the other hijinks that we have. So I know that if we wanted to rest on our laurels we could, but we don’t. That’s why we still make new songs and we do do that for the fans, but we mostly do that for ourselves because it pushes us to continue to want to be an active band.
Can either of you remember a moment or the day or something when you realized “Oh my god I don’t have to do other things in my life for money, I can do Less Than Jake and that passion can also be my living and I don’t need to worry about all the other bullshit.” Chris:It came before I could afford to live and pay my rent. It was about two years into the band and we played with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in St. Petersburg/Tampa, Florida and we played that night and up until that point it was our biggest show and we played first, we went on in front of about eight or nine hundred kids and we were shittin’ bricks and I remember selling a ton of t-shirts that night…even the Bosstones had our shirt and we had been living in a van up until that point and we were living piece of bologna to piece of bologna. But I was content and tomorrow didn’t matter so it started relatively early and then probably a couple of years later a little after Losing Streak came out we were seeing some record royalties and things where we could pay our rent. And from there it was good.
Roger: Uh yeah, totally, that was a lot of words… It was when I told my mom I was dropping out of school and then there was a good year and a half lag where my mom was mad at me and then at the end of that we were on Capitol Records and I actually had money in my bank account that my mom didn’t give me or I didn’t get working from a head shop, so I was like ‘wow cool.’ And then she was like [woman’s voice] “I love you guys, you’re great. You guys are on Capitol. The Beatles were on Capitol Records.” She’s awesome.
Chris: Yeah and it goes back to what Roger was saying about getting around in the van and booking shows as we were out there - I didn’t know then that I was content. Even though I didn’t have anything to show for it monetarily, they were very freeing years. You were young, you know? You didn’t care.
Roger: Now we’re old and jaded and hate everybody.
What are you guys, like in your late 30s? Chris: Yes, late late 30s. Late late late late late LATE.
What Less Than Jake song do you never want to play again if you didn’t have to? Roger: There’s stuff where we kind of got cross-pollinated…like the Good Burger song, “We’re All Dudes.” It is what it is; a lot of people found out about our band through that song. That’s one people ask for…we’re not gonna get off playing that, it’s just not gonna happen. We have too many real songs to do that.
Chris: There are incomplete songs from the early days that people get latched onto and because they’re the only one that knows about that 1st 7-inch and the third song on side two and they just gotta hear it. But we’re not playing to that one person and we’ve done that before where we just play the song and the audience just sits there like ‘what the fuck?’ and when we get done we’re not satisfied at all as performers. You do what you can and you have to please yourself.
Roger: There’s songs like “Last Train,” songs like “St. James Hotel” that are just awful.
Chris: Those were demos we did in our friend’s bedroom. Those were never really meant to be beyond the 7-inch. That’s not an album.
If you were going to do a tribute album, what band or genre would you do? Roger: I think like a ska punk Nirvana record would be cool, because I like Nirvana.
Chris: Good question, never really thought about it. If my band was gonna do a tribute record I’d do a tribute record to the band Snuff.
Besides asking where your name came from, what interview question do you hate being asked? Chris: It’s not any particular question, it’s more when the interviewer is sent there on assignment and they [don’t know anything about us.] Come on man, do a little bit of homework. It’s not that hard with the old Google these days.
Roger: The worst question ever is when the interviewer says, so you’re playing in X tonight, where did you play last night? And then they’re like, where are you guys playing tomorrow? And by the time anyone reads the interview no one gives a fuck. And I’ve been asked that a gajillion times, INCLUDING LAST NIGHT. What amazes is me is very young writers or people that have a website are incredibly able to get an interview and they don’t have to have any qualifications. “Well, I have a website and it’s called ‘Iinterviewpeople.com’ and I want an interview with Chris: from Less Than Jake. And then someone else is going to read what they wrote and take it as fact because it’s online.
So when you heard Jason from Punknews was gonna come you were like ‘Oh, Punknews – gonna be a fuckin good interview.’ Chris: Actually yeah
Roger: I tried to get out of it, but…
Chris: Honestly, I was like, ‘It’ll be a good interview.’ Cuz all the interviewers that are on the site are good.
It’s gonna be hard for the commenters to say anything nasty about this. Roger: People can be kind of haters.
Chris: Some of the other sites are not as brutal as Punknews.
Brutal. Chris: It is fuckin’ guerilla warfare.
Roger: People are crafty and they have sharp tongues on there.
Punknewsers are very crafty, they’re not just spittin Hillbilly hate at each other. There’s brains behind it. Roger: I used to go on there and I got yelled at by people.