I recently spoke to the drummer, lyricist and label owner known only as Vinnie. In any case, we spoke about major labels, indie labels, MP3s, and for some reason, Interpol. His band recently released a new record.
Well, let's go straight to the big question: Less Than Jake is one of the few bands that has successfully made the jump from indie to major, back to indie, and now back to a major again. What's that been like?
You know what? it's most of same people we were working with at Capitol, which was the good part of Capitol. Three of them in particular moved over; we've known these people for seven years. So it might seem that on the outside, that it's a big move, but for us, it's the same people we've known for seven years and been working with. How we got back on is so natural. We were writing our record, and we were writing with the intention of putting it out with whomever, whether it was Fat or Fueled by Ramen, or whatever. We had about fourteen songs done, and we sent some of it over to our friend at Warner Bros. and he said 'These songs are good, have you guys considered going back to a major?' And to be honest, we hadn't really considered going back to a major, until someone from a major said 'hey, what do you think about doing this with us' It was pretty mellow, and it is still pretty mellow.
Do you feel that you were lucky enough to have a good experience on a major? Well, don't get me wrong; there was some stuff at Capitol that was horseshit, but with working these particular people was a good experience. I'm going to be honest with you about the major vs. indie. thing. There are good parts and bad parts about everything, I can honestly say that Capitol records owes us no money, and I can't say that about one of the indie record labels that we were on. Or when you ask a major how many records did we sell and how many did you manufacture, you don't get a notebook piece of paper with numbers on it and hope that this person is being honest with you.
On the good side of indies, it's great to be able to call up Fat Mike and say "dude, I want to do this" and he says "yeah, we can totally do that" There are so many pros and cons to it, that really, we could just have an interview about that.
You run Fueled By Ramen; how has your experience with indies and majors affected your dealings with your bands?
You know, we pride ourselves on paying bands for records sold. You know, and that's saying a lot. We keep the money seperate for every record we sell; a separate account. We make sure we pay the bands properly, because that's what we're for. Being on an indie, and asking 'Where's our money?' and hearing 'I had to put it back into another record, so now wait for a month.' What's that? It's weird. The one thing we've learned from working with both indies and majors is that bands need to be paid for they do. To make sure that the accounting and everything is really upfront; very black and white. And of course, paying in a reasonable amount of time.
Just being upfront on business; business is inherently fucked. I'm not sure what kind of dealings you have in the world of punknews.org, but if you don't have a trustworthy person in control of things, it will fuck up the simplest and also the most complicated thing. That's the most concrete example.
The next common thing we're hearing is about the video being, well, different.
In what way? Sounds kind of vague.
The thing I was getting out of it, was that it was "slicker" maybe that's not the right word.
It's weird. The only difference between what we were doing before and what we're doing in that video, is that we weren't in fake moustaches or mullets. To me, that's the only major difference [ in the band ] If that's what you mean, that ran it's course, just like the clown or whatever. IT's just that that type of thing ran it's course. We're just on to doing the next thing.
Maybe it seems bigger.
It is. We had a bigger budget. Three out of the four videos we've done as a band, we did ourselves with friends of ours. With people who we paid to hold the camera. Those three videos cost less than $5000. But if you look at "Dopeman" or "She's Gonna Break Soon" the budget was bigger. With "All My Friends are Metalheads" and "Automatic" or "Gainesville Rock City" we did it off the cuff, Metalheads was done on tour with Richard and Stephanie from Drive Thru holding the camera.
People comment on the fact that we had the girl from Gilmore Girls, and to be honest with you, she just came to a party we had, while we were touring. She likes the band and said "I'll do it for free" People on a whole really delve into conspiracies about the few things we've done in this record cycle; just because it didn't cost $5000 doesn't mean we're trying to do something. Just because we got the girl from Gilmore Girls, she came to a party and liked the band, and wanted to it. How rad is that?
The thing for me is that, when people want to give their energy to us; whether it's Less Than Jake, or Fueled of Ramen. If someone gives energy, who am I to say no to people. I like working with people. I like hearing different people's idea.s I like having people help me do what I want to do, whether putting out records, or writing songs or going out on tour or piecing together artwork for t-shirts that we do. I like working with people, it's cool, so why would I turn it down?
The thing that is different about our video is that it IS more slick, because, well, it cost more money, and it's not like a million dollar video. IT's just a video that we did, and tha'ts how it came out. Nothing more or nothing less.
Do you guys pick the singles? People have been mixed about the single compared to the record itself.
It's mutual aggreement on it. As far as "She's Gonna Break Soon" being the single; I like the song, but it's not the strongest song, I think.
A lot of people I talked to thought sort of the same way. They liked the video but were surprised that it was the first single.
I mean, the song is a warmup song. It's just a song that goes out there into the world, it's just an introduction to our record. It was picked because it wasn't super fast or super slow, or reggae. It was just the song that was the middle of all those things. Is it my favourite song on the record? No, it's not, but it's the song that I think is a good intro to the record.
Another potentially loaded question; people were pretty surprised when you guys put up the single put up for sale on the internet
It wasn't as unusual as you would think.
It's not something that we see from most of the bands we cover is all.
The company, Warner Bros, has a particular outlook on MP3s. That's not my particular outlook, but you know what, they go "We want to charge for it" and I say "Why do you want to charge for it" and they go into a whole 'blah blah blah. RIAA and this is how it is, and this is the deal' and I accept that because I'm on a major and I can understand it. I don't agree with it, but I understand it.
But here's where I go, here's what makes sense to me. We did 60,000 CD samplers with FBR, "She's Gonna Break Soon" on one side, "Fall Out Boy" on the other. When you give out 50+ thousand copies of something, you know, and I know, that it's going on Kazaa. Can I go on my site and say 'if you want it, go get it on Kazaa' Of course not. And you know, Kazaa is faulted in a lot of ways too, because not a lot of copies have good sound.
So there is some kid in middle america who says 'I don't want to go on Kazaa' because they're freaked out some major is going to sue them. Number two, kids say 'You know what? I'll pay $1.50 because I want a clean song at the right volume, with no pops or blowouts.' The kid says 'I could purchase it or go on Kazaa It's unspoken - we gave out 60,000 copies - the day and age we live in, from the first day we gave it out, it was on Kazaa. It's not a policy shift for our band. We were giving the song out for free anyway, and it's free on Kazaa, but here's an option for someone who wants a good copy.
I understand. I don't use file sharing, partially because I have a Mac, and Kazaa doesn't work on it and partially because it usually sounds like garbage. It's only free if your time is worthless. So what do you think of online music stores like the new Apple Music store?
It's just an option. We know what the reality is, the reality is that any kid who knows how to turn on the computer can download the entire LTJ catalog in about three hours. So, it's just another option, for someone who doesn't want half a song or a quarter song or some guy in the band saying 'you're fucking me over right now' or whatever tricks the major labels have up there sleeves. It's just an extension of music stores. I don't understand people who say 'you're charging for an mp3?!' I charge for a record, I charge for a seven inch, why wouldn't you charge for an mp3? I know the reality [of Kazaa], but the other reality is that other people want to buy it. Why not give those people an option? It's the obvious choice. I can go right now and download our voice stamped record on Kazaa. The AFI record was there two months before it came out, same with the Ataris. I could download it, because I don't want to go to the record store, or because I live in Gainesville and there isn't a decent mom and pop record store for two hundred miles. The [Apple Store] is an option. I'd take out the credit card and get it, because I want it now, I don't want to go to the record store every time and buy it.
There was one guy in particular on punknews.org, that was saying 'Fuck Less Than Jake. I don't support them because they're selling the mp3.' That blew me away, because someone who said good things about us in the past could change because we're selling an mp3.
It's a loaded issue right now. A lot of people think that there won't be any more free samples. But I thought it was funny, because the same day you had the song up for sale, you had the video available too, which had the entire song and was available for free. If you really want to hear the song, just download the video.
I know! That's the kind of thing that trips me out. All you have to do is go to the video section and download the song! Number two. Go to Kazaa. It's right there. It's been there since the first day. [With the video] we had it for free right under their nose. It's shocking. Major labels have their whole agenda. But I have my own agenda and that is to get the music heard and that's it. If you want to buy it, good. If your concience doesn't bother you and you want to download it, then that's what you have to deal with. Being part of a label - owning a label and being in a band I see the good and the bad. Because Peer to Peer is killing Fueled By Ramen, financially.
Really? Is it that bad?
When you pay thousands of dollars to market a record and thousands of dollars to pay a band to go ahead and record the record. And then have 85% of it file shared, it's killing independent labels. It's a bum out, but I can't really do anything about it.
The kids are saying 'Fuck Warner Bros. they don't need money' but forget Warner right now let's talk about Fueled By Ramen, let's talked about Fat, Epitaph, or Big Wheel Rec or Ferret or Trustkill. They [just] want to put out records.
I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I think it's good that people can hear new bands, but also, it's cannibalizing into sales because people say 'why bother buying it?' and what bothers me is that it's not going to kill the major labels. They're still going to put out, say, Britney Spears - well, that's a cliched reference now, but they're going to keep putting out the manufactured stuff but we're going to hear less bands because it's really expensive for a band to put together something. It's going to destroy independent releases.
It's hard, man. On this tour, when a kids says 'sign my CD', and it's a burned copy and I ask 'why didn't you buy the record?' and the kid says 'why bother? I'll just go to the show and buy t-shirts.' And that is what's really going on. Kids are not buying they say 'why would I buy it? I already have it!'
It's a weird scene out there. They say that they bought one record and burned the rest. But I can't go 'you're wrong for doing that' because they're still supporting the band and they're hearing the message. (I think Less Than Jake has a message. Some people might disagree), but at least it's getting out.
It's getting weirder because promos are going out later and later. Weird tricks; like the AFI cd I got couldn't be played in a computer, it's getting really antagonistic. In spite of all this, do you still want to put out records on Fueled By Ramen?
Of course. I love putting out records. I love playing music. I wouldn't be involved in a label or a band if I didn't love music. The Fall Out Boy record came out yesterday, and I went to a store and bought a copy because I'm proud of that record, and that there is nothing like taking it home (well, the hotel room I'm staying in) and listening to it, and thinking "I put this out" I still love the feeling I get.
Since Pezcore, over the past couple of years there has been almost like three distinct phases. Pezcore, the Capitol-era material, culminating with Rockview, and then the release on Fat were completely different. What changes things like that?
No matter what phase you look at, whether more horns, less horns, more ska, less ska. Whatever it is, it's Less Than Jake, we still write the same way. It always sounds like LTJ. We're just writing music. People get hung up on changes "fuck there is no ska and it's different" Well, it's not different, it's still the same band. For this record, we were writing and this is what we came up with.
Well, with "Borders…" a friend of mine passed away from a drug overdose and it really really put a black cloud on the recording sessions for me. It was a record when a lot of shit was happening, with Capitol and Fat, I can say that it was a different record because it felt different. I can honestly say that Anthem doesn't feel different. It feels like Hello Rockview, or Pezcore or Losers.
I know a lot of people really loved Borders and Boundries. It was a different record for Less Than Jake but I really enjoyed it.
It's a grower. A lot of people were taken aback because it wasn't like Hello Rockview. It didn't have a lot of ska on it. It was a bit more solemn than our other stuff, and that's because of the shit that we had. And, you know, to be honest, I love the songs on Borders and Boundries, what I don't love is the production. I felt it was a bit stale and a bit stiff.
I didn't get that impression… Some people might go "Fuck! That's great" some people might say "Fuck! that's bullshit" I just think it could have been a bit more rocking, but it was because of the crazy time. We wrote 28 songs for this record. Fourteen are on the record, there is another fourteen that aren't, it's really crazy. We were in a writing jag. There is ska-punk, there there is super-fast punk rock and there is slow rock too.
Speaking of all your unreleased material, any plans for a B-Sides compilation?
We're going to do EPs with these. One being on Drive thru; whether people like that label or not. They are friends of mine. They have been for eight years now. I love working with friends.
I know that there are people who think we have something against Drive Thru, but it was just one incident that bugged me but other than that, you get over things.
Why not work with friends? Everyone has a little bias, I won't even go into. A lot of the sites are either owned or controlled or sort of force fed from labels. You know what I mean?
No one comes off clean handed, because everyone I know, that runs the sites have the tone set by one particular label that the favour? You have to have relationships to stay a successful website, and I think you guys are. I'll give you my fanboy thing too. I think it's the best fucking site possible for what we're talking about. And it's not overtly biased towards one form of music, even though some of your visitors are.
Thank you. When I first heard Pezcore, all I thought was "this band is so good, they're going to break up next week" Are you surprised you guys have lasted this long? There have been some minor lineup changes, but…
It's the same core lineup really. The same solid lineup. Me, Chris - who's my best friend, Rog' and Buddy. People have come and gone. If one of us four left, then it wouldn't be the band anymore. Let me ask you something, as someone who has been into the band since Pezcore, what do you think of Anthem? I know my views on it, and what we're trying to do. But I want to hear what you think.
The main thing I thought the first time I heard it - and it was with the voice stamps so it was hard to listen to whole thing in one go - was that it was refreshing because it's upbeat. Because right now, all the bands that are putting out stuff are into the dark, screamy, angry, sad vibe, and while I don't think there is anything wrong with that - I like a lot of those bands - it's a little confining at times.
I got into punk from skateboarding, so you can probably imagine the kind of stuff I was listening to. Fast, melodic and upbeat, and it's been kind of down lately, and it was just nice to hear a solid, upbeat rock record.
The bumout for me is that you put so much time and energy into a record and it's so easily panned because it doesn't have enough ska or a lot of horns in it. Or it's too punk or too much ska or too much horns. Frankly, I put more time and more energy into the lyrics than I did for the last three records, and they're very personal. For a LTJ record, they're very dark. It's super dark. You haven't got the record yet, so you probably haven't been able to read the lyrics, or hear them with the voice stamps, dealing with drug abuse, alcohol abuse, apathy, and things that I'm thinking about now. There's not "Johnny Quest" and no Jen. It's a serious topic record.
Musically, it's very positive sounding…
It's poppy as shit.
I like upbeat music with dark lyrics, because it's always more hopeful that way.
That's why the record is called Anthem. They are anthem-y lyrics, but they're dark. It's supposed to be like the light at the end of the tunnel. That's why my favourite Less Than Jake songs are ones like "My Very Own Flag" and "Gainesville Rock City." I like that dichotomy; the duality of it.
People will complain about no horns, or that you're not using enough upstrokes on your guitars.
We're just trying to write the songs we want to write. There are no big conspiracies. We're not at a big table with thirty people in suits looking at pie charts saying "ska is dead! look at this pie chart" We do what we want to do, and that's what punk is about. It's still amazing to me that we can do that. It's free for all. Free FROM rules. Fat Mike said "When did punk rock become so safe?" It's weird to me, because it's true, it's harder to do something different without people getting all up in arms about it.
I haven't been around long enough to see the punk police. I remember MRR banning labels and bands, but I thought that was just a Berkeley thing until I got onto the internet.
Different pockets of punk police are everywhere. And those are the guys doing coke and hanging out with the hipsters in Seattle or San Francisco. They get over it. Those same people who were punk police five years ago listen to like, fucking Interpol now and hang out with that crowd. It's funny how things work out. The same people that pan our record the day it comes out, in five years those people will be trying to sell me an insurance policy. They become 9-5ers who forget about punk rock. they become part of the machine that they say they're not part of now. I've loved punk for like seventeen years. I try to be a positive force for something that I love. I watch these people go into these suit-and-tie jobs in advertising and that's cool and all, but I'm still part of that.
Yeah, and those people seem to miss the point I think. Punk is supposed to be positive, and hopeful and powerful and is has to evolve. Bands like the Clash really mean all those things to me.
For me the Ramones and the Clash defined punk rock because they really represented different sides of things… though one weird thing was when I told some people that Billy Bragg was singing on one of our songs, and the shocking thing was that people were going "who's billy bragg' or "he sucks" or something, and he's the father of political punk. Billy Bragg is crazy.
I think Against Me! is going to help with that, because the influence is clear and hopefully they'll look back. Hopefully they will, because it was a really to honor to work with him on something.
Wow… well, that covers my questions… lots of typing ahead.
It was great… just don't me sound like a soapbox moron or something.
I can take everything out of context if you want. Thanks for your time Vinny, it was great to talk to you.