Q&A with Less Than Jake's "JR"
Less Than Jake has been around for 16 years, no small feat for any band, and even less for one in their particular subgenre of rock. The vast majority of the ska greats that were so prevalent throughout the 90's have all but disappeared and what was punk has for the most part melted and taken another shape, filling the molds of emo and screamo, and something called "scene" that I'm starting to think may just be a fashion trend involving long hair in angular cuts and skinny jeans, but I can't really be sure. I tried doing some research at the local Hot Topic, but was promptly refused entry when they carded me and saw I was 30.
But neither age nor shifting genres have stopped the ska/punk quintet from G-ville responsible for such memorable tracks as "Happy Days", Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts", "All My Best Friends Are Metalheads" and "Overated (Everything Is)". A love of what they do, a good sense of humor and good communication have kept Less Than Jake going strong, as can be attested in their latest release, GNV FLA and their upcoming tour. Oh, and beer and weed don't seem to hurt either.
New Times: First let's talk about Sleep It Off Records. Besides having a great name (and one of the personal maxims I live by), it marks Less Than Jake's departure from Warner Brothers. Why did you guys feel that was an important move and what has it meant for the band?
JR: I think at the time it was brought up we had one more record on our contract with Warner and we all started to discuss, you know, let's try to think forward a little bit, past the next record we're doing to the next one. And, you know, what happened there is what happened at Capitol. When we started there, there was a whole bunch of people we knew and then two records later three quarters of the staff is all new. And after speaking to our A&R guy and the people there we decided that our best move would be to leave the label and start our own and do it for ourselves.
On a personal level none of us are upset about how we were handled at Warner Brothers. I think we're all pleased with how things went, you know, it was just time. It was time to take the reigns in our own hands and move forward as a band. And for us to be a band for 16 years, I think it takes a certain level of forward thinking. And after 16 years of being a band there's not much that a major label is going to get for us. We're not gonna get on radio, you know, we're not getting on MTV anyway, so why be on a major?
NT: Yeah, 16 years is a long time. What do you attribute your longevity to?
JR: Beer. And Marijuana. [Laughs] Nah, I'm kidding.
I think it's two things. One, it's communication; we talk to each other still. We aren't afraid to speak what's on our minds and be honest with each other. And the other thing I think keeps us together is laughter. So many bands can't have fun anymore, and it just becomes a job and they get bummed. I'm not taking away from what other people do but, you know, this is fun. The majority of it is a good time, and it's experiences, and stuff that I think none of us ever thought we would see. We just don't take ourselves that seriously, and there's a humor factor and a humility factor that has to be involved, you know what I mean? You know, we get up on stage and tell fuckin' fart jokes. How serious can you be? We're serious about the things we do but, c'mon! At least have fun.
NT: Sure. But at the same to still be musically relevant after 16 years is a big deal.
JR: It's very humbling. You know, when I was 16 years old, which was, like, half my life ago, if you had said to me, "Hey man, 16 years from now, you'll still be playing. You'll still be doing stuff like this." I would'a told you you were crazy!
But I try not to think about it too much. 'Cuz when I start to think about how long we've been a band, I start to think about how old I am. And when I start to think about how old I am, I start to think about how much my back hurts. And when I think about how much my back hurts, I think about how much my legs hurt. So it's just better for me to say, "Hey, we're on tour again."
NT: I understand part of the decision to go indie was motivated by the desire to re-release old catalogue and that each re-release is going to feature unreleased DVD material?
JR: Yeah, I guess about two years ago we recorded all of our current records, sans the new GNV FLA record, we recorded all of those live and recorded it to make DVDs. And we wanted to re-release all of it on our own. And there's always legal stuff you have to get through, you know? But we're working on it and eventually we're gonna get them all out. We've already re-released Pezcore and we're hoping to get the rest out soon. I think it's kind of a cool thing, you get the record and you get the live DVD to go with it.
NT: Let's talk about GNV FLA, which just came out in summer of last year and in November you released a deluxe edition.
JR: It's the first record that we've done as a band probably since Pezcore that we had complete control over. We had no A&R guy breathing down our neck, saying, "Hey, you should try this," or a producer saying the same thing, or whatever. It was just the five of us in our warehouse. We wrote the songs. We went to Chicago and got our producer/engineer Matt Allison and he just basically helped to lay the foundation sonically, so that songs that we had ended up sounding like they do. And we're really proud of the record. It's our first true independent statement in 14 years, so we wanted it to be kinda cool and we wanted to pay homage to our hometown, and hopefully we did it.
And we were really excited about the deluxe edition too. You know, the box set is awesome! It like seven issues and a poster and the CD and a DVD, and hopefully everyone that bought it, or stole it off of Pirate Bay, liked it.
NT: It's cool that you guys have come full circle, back to where you started as a band doing your own thing, only now with the benefit of a few years saying "Hey, we're on tour again's" experience.
JR: Yeah, that's the most important thing I guess. We thought that it would be something we could do easily, and obviously it's been a lot of work, but it's been way more gratifying [coughs loudly...presumably from following one of the aforementioned rules for longevity]...'scuse me. It's been way more gratifying than any of the other releases we've done, because we put it out. We did everything. We wrote the songs, produced it. Artwork. Online viral marketing. You know, we had everything to do with everything that happened for our record, and it was a very cool experience.
NT: And you guys picked the singles yourselves too. You selected "Does the Lion City Still Roar?" for the first single and "Conviction Notice" for the second, and you got to do it without the pressure of a label on top of you.
JR: You know A&R are usually the ones that help pick the single, and sign you, and they're your liaison between the band and the label. I always felt like they were the dudes in college who got a copy of the Dave Matthews record before anybody else and were like, [employing a hell of a nerd rendition] "Aw man! These guys are great!" You know, anyone can get lucky once.
We just listened to and said, "Hey, this song is catchy." And it's just a promotional tool so people know you have a new record. And the record is a promotional tool, because really, we just want people to come see the show and have fun. Because you may be able to download records, but you can't download the live experience.
NT: For fans who haven't seen you guys live before, what can they expect to see, and for those who have, what's going to be different?
JR: We're excited about this new tour. We're going out with the Expendables and the Flatliners, two great bands that we're really excited to have going on tour with us, and it should be fun.
Um, expect the unexpected. We went through after last year's touring and we deconstructed our set list and came up with a new one, and we're reaching in for some older songs and some newer songs, songs that maybe we haven't played in a few years. Like there's three songs I can think of that I know we haven't played on tour in at least 6 years. So it'll be fun.
Less Than Jake will be performing at Revolution Live (200 West Broward Blvd., Ft Lauderdale, FL 33312) on Saturday, March 7th at 6:30pm. Tickets are $19.