Interview with Chris Demakes of Less Than Jake

Posted on July 7, 2011 - by Michael Duncan

Photo: Dennis Ho

Less Than Jake are definitely no strangers to fans of ska and punk. Since the 90s, the guys have kept themselves busy by consistently releasing new material and flooring audiences wherever they go. With their upbeat tunes and down-to-earth approach, the quintet still have their heads well above water. The band recently released a new EP entitled ‘Greetings from Less Than Jake’ through their own label, Sleep It Off Records. The EP is full of exactly what you’d expect -- lively horns, solid progressions, playful lyrics -- and has a kickass cover to boot. If you’re looking for a fun time, you’ve come to the right place.

Right before Warped Tour kicked off, vocalist/guitarist Chris Demakes spoke with Rock Edition about the summer outing, Less than Jake's new EP, and their future plans. Check it all out below.

I've been meaning to ask a band this first question, but for some reason I never have. I'm wondering, how many interviews would you estimate you've collectively done over the years?

Man, I've never been asked that question -- that's a great first question. I'm going to consult with our bass player. [Chris asks bassist Roger Manganelli]

[laughs] Sure, take your time.

Roger says maybe 60 to 75 a year. We've been touring for about 15 years. It's probably between the 600 and 800 range.

Nice, I've always wondered about that. Anyway, let's talk about all the new Less Than Jake releases. This year alone, you guys have put out a new EP, a DVD digipack entitled 'Anthology,' you've reissued 'Losing Streak' and 'Hello Rockview,' and you'll be on Warped Tour. Did I miss anything?

No, that's pretty much it in a nutshell. We try to remain as active as we can, even if we're not out touring. We try to keep projects and things coming every few months for our fans. If nothing else, it helps us stay a valid and current band. That's the real reason we do it. It also keeps it interesting for us and the people that like our band.

Right. And just in time for the summer, you've self-released your new EP, 'Greetings from Less Than Jake.'

Yeah, our thought was that we've released a bunch of music, and now we just wanted to go direct to our fans with this project. We knew we would be doing Warped Tour, so we also thought it would be cool to have some new songs out there. There really wasn't much thought behind it other than that.

So tell us a little about the band's label, Sleep It Off Records. This EP is your first release through the label?

Actually, we released a full-length in 2008, an EP last year, and now this new EP.

Oh, okay. Yeah, that makes sense.

Plus, we've released almost all of our back catalog. We're still waiting to do a couple pieces. Our new DVD has come out on Sleep It Off as well. It's not a label for anybody else, at least at this point. It's mostly been a way for us to get our stuff out there with our band's own personal imprint.

The artwork for the new EP is very reminiscent of the sunscreen ads featuring the Coppertone girl. That's what you were going for, right?

Yeah, our drummer Vinnie came up with the grand concept of it. After that, we went ahead and tweaked it from there and everyone put their two cents in. Then he commissioned an artist to draw it, and there you have it. He pretty much comes up with the design stuff. That's kind of his thing.

Awesome. I want to talk about a song from the EP called "Oldest Trick in the Book."

Yeah!

[laughs] You sound like you know what I'm going to ask you. Have you been answering a lot of questions about the song lately?

Oh, no. This is the first interview I've done about the record. [laughs]

Oh, cool. Well, all I was going to ask is what the song is about actually. I'm not sure I know the oldest trick in the book.

You'll have to talk to our drummer about that -- he writes 99% of our lyrics. It's kind of his vision. But that's the great part about it -- you can take away whatever kind of meaning you want from a song. A certain song could have ten different meanings for ten different people.

That's certainly true.

That's usually what I say when I get asked about the lyrics. If your next question is, “How do you sing someone else's lyrics?", then that answer is, you can interpret the lyrics however you want to interpret it. As long as you can sell it with conviction, someone else will buy it -- hopefully. [laughs]

Maybe you can give me your interpretation of one of the lyrics then. In the song, the closing line "I'll change the world before I go" is repeated over and over again. Is changing the world something you guys think about or feel a need to do?

I never really thought about it in those terms. We didn't set out to do this for any particular reason than to have fun, and it's turned into something special for a lot of people.

The reissues of 'Losing Streak' and 'Hello Rockview' came out a few months ago. Hearing those albums again probably took you all back to an interesting place, I'm sure. You didn't decide to change anything though.

Yeah, there's a lot of bands that have done that over the years. The thing about those early records was that all the mistakes are kind of the charm on those records. They were done before you could fix stuff on the computer and shit. We could have gone in and fixed things up, but in the grand scheme of things it really doesn't matter that much. Not only are you messing with history -- I don't know. You used to want to redo it so that when you put out new reissues that they would sound great so you could sell them, but nobody buys fucking music anymore, so why the hell are we going to go fix stuff that no one gives a shit about anyway?

[laughs] Oh man.

[laughs] You know what I mean? Let's go spend a thousand dollars to fix our first record that came out in '94 because we're not going to sell any more copies of it. Ultimately, even if we were going to repackage them and have a huge money making scheme, I don't think we would have fucked with them. Also, if you go in and start tweaking one thing, you'll soon have a completely different record. The way we are now, and the way we think about music, is way different than how we thought about it when we were 19 or 20.

What are we going to hear on Warped Tour from you guys?

We're going to do some new stuff off the EP. We rehearsed a number of songs -- we have so many tunes. We're going to try to not play the exact same set every day. I'm hoping to change it up a little bit and just have fun with it.

How did you go about picking the songs this time around?

We just know what songs work and what songs don't. It really is easier to think of what to play than what not to play sometimes. We try to do our best to throw in something for everybody.

Do you find that there's a difference between which tracks you can bring out on Warped tour compared to your own headlining tours? On Warped Tour, you're -- in a way -- competing with other bands for people's attention.

Photo: Dennis Ho

It's not so much about picking the songs. It's about trying to get the audience engaged for a half hour and play as many songs as you can. It's a very fine-crafted trick. After about two or three shows, we'll get into a groove and know how much we can talk and if we need to cut a song. That half hour is your time to scream and shout and let everybody know within earshot that my band's up here. We do what we can to make a spectacle.

After 20 years of honing in and really mastering a style, have you ever thought of branching out in a completely different direction?

No, you can only be yourself. Again, we can't write that album that we wrote when we were 20. If you think that's better than what we write now, that's your opinion, and so be it. I do know that our new songs still sound like us. Although, I think the way we're approaching our band now allows the songs to come across better because we know how to produce ourselves. We know what we want things to sound like, and I think this new recording is one of the best recordings we've ever had.

In terms of production?

In terms of production, I think it's spot on. In terms of songs, are they great? I'm attached to them because they're our songs, but do I think they're better than other stuff on our catalog? I can't say that. I don't know. It's like trying to pick a favorite child out of all your children. It's like, "Okay, well, this one's special in this way, and this one's special in this way, and this kid's retarded -- we don't play that song." [laughs]

[laughs] Can you pick a favorite from the new EP at least?

I don't really have a favorite. I think that we did a good job, though, of covering our bases on it. We did a couple slower songs and a faster ska song. Anybody that likes our band, I think is going to like these five songs.

Totally. So currently everyone can check out the band on Warped Tour and buy the EP directly from you guys. It's important to note that the money fans dish out for the release will be going right into your pockets for the band's next project. Speaking of which, will this EP be evolving into a full-length?

Well, I don't know. In the future, I think we're going to probably be releasing music whenever we want. Who knows? This fall, we could get a phone call from Fat Wreck Chords saying that they're doing a compilation and they want a new track from us. Three months later, we might decide to do a six-song EP. I do know that everyone wants to get off this tour and take a breather. I'm sure we'll start writing again after we're home for a couple months.

Pick up Less Than Jake's new EP, Greetings from Less Than Jake.

For the band's upcoming tour dates, check out their website.