Ska-punk legends Less Than Jake just turned 20.
20 years is a long time for any band in today’s climate of music, but it seems like it’s been pretty easy for Less Than Jake. The ska-punk band, known for their hilarious live show, energetic songs, and amazing and unique merchandise, are currently embarking on a slightly more intimate tour of the US before they conquer the world later this year. With 20 years under their belt, you’d think Less Than Jake would have grown tired of what they do, but they’re just as passionate and excited as they were when they first kicked things off in 1992.
I recently sat down with lead singer/guitarist Chris Demakes before their show at the Middle East Nightclub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to chat about their 20th year as a band, their live show, and their legacy.
You guys have been a band for 20 years now, which is ridiculous considering most bands barely last half that. How’s this current tour going?
Yeah, this is our fourth show and things are good. People are coming to see us, which is nice.
You guys are headed to South America once the US dates are done. Any plans to travel the rest of the world for your big 20th?
Not until the end of May, yeah, that’ll be the next out of the country shows. The whole year’s kind of something big. We’re trying to go out and play as many places as we can, you know, without killing ourselves. The summer, we’re booking it right now; we’re trying to fill in some dates over in Europe and England.
How different are things now compared to 20 years ago, both as a band and the music industry as a whole?
The big difference is that we get asked a lot what the difference is between the major [record labels] and this and that, but we kind of always sailed by our own ship. If anything, everything’s easier now. Everything we do as a band is all at our fingertips, it’s digital. Everything’s online, we’re going direct to the people that like our band, not having to deal with, you know, the red tape of other people. We just do everything ourselves so, as far as change, you know, it’s changed for a lot of people. I don’t think it’s changed as much for us. I can cite specific instances but that’s boring. For the most part, we’re still marching to our own beat.
You’re uncontrollably hilarious on stage and always get the crowd involved. What’s your philosophy behind your on-stage behavior?
It’s a fine balance. I mean, we just go out, and it’s always kind of like, well we’ll cut our teeth. When we first started as a band, we were young kids; we thought we were punk rock or whatever. We’d go out and we built up our thing, but at the same time we’re not assholes. We appreciate everyone. I got this question asked yesterday, someone asked, “Have you ever offended anybody?” I said, “Nightly. Hourly.” You can’t please everybody, but then there are people like yourself who just get it.
Are the comedy bits planned in advance or do they occur naturally throughout the show?
Ninety-five per cent of it’s off the cuff, about five or ten percent of it’s planned. I’ll tell the same jokes or get on a kick for a tour but most of it’s spontaneous. We don’t know what’s going to happen until we look out and see some kid with a really bad haircut, then he’s 15 minutes of the show at that point.
What are some of the better spontaneous things that have happened live that you never expected?
I saw a guy in Australia in the crowd, he got thrown over in a wheelchair. I saw him crowd surfing in the chair, next thing I know I lost it. I couldn’t sing. He’s holding onto his chair and he got thrown over the fucking pit. All these bouncers were picking him up. He was fine, but… I don’t know why I singled that out as being funny, but shit like that happens every day.
It seems a lot of bands, later in their career, will try something different and the fans hate it, only to turn around a few years later. Has In With the Out Crowd finally settled with the fans or is it still viewed in a negative light?
Records always have specific songs that people want to hear. Off every record, you’ll get the feedback from the fans. People want to hear this song, they want to hear that song. So I think it’s grown on people, sure!
You guys have done something relatively unprecedented – instead of making us wait forever for albums, your last two EPs have just sprung on everyone without any notice, which is INCREDIBLY satisfying. Are you guys personally just sick of the old way of releasing music or are you trying to incite change somehow?
We’re certainly not the only band that’s doing it. I can’t think of any off the top of my head but I know there are other people doing it this way. We put it out four days ago, and within six hours it was on YouTube. So why promote a record [beforehand] when it’s going to get promoted when you put it out? To hype a record, all that is is it’s going to give the press or whomever you send a copy to, and they’re going to leak it. Then there’s no surprise. You might as well have your fans wake up on a Monday morning, hit their inbox, and hey, Less Than Jake’s got a new EP out. That’s cooler, I think. And you don’t need the hype and the press anymore. You’re not doing it to get into record stores.
It appears you guys have been scaling back the touring the past few years to pursue other interests. What have you been up to during a lot of the downtime?
Well you can tell we’ve all been working out. Really hard. [laughs] 2010 was the biggest year we took off. Last year we actually had a pretty busy year. We had the Warped Tour last summer, that’s two and a half months, we went over for a week to England, so last year was actually relatively busy. But last year, in between, we wrote and recorded that EP [Greetings from Less Than Jake], that took some time. So we’ve been relatively busy.
You were doing some solo stuff for a while, but there hasn’t been anything new on that in some time. Do you plan on continuing a solo career?
Most of the songs I had were stuff that I had demoed for the band, stuff we didn’t use, and I just had them put it up on a MySpace page. Within two days, people were writing about me doing solo stuff and it’s like, no. I just put some songs up. If anybody does anything, it’s something. Our drummer does [indie record label] Paper + Plastick. If he were to do something on the side, it’d get written up in punknews.org or whatever. I mean I expected it, but it wasn’t like, a thing. Just some extra songs.
What would you, personally, be doing if you weren’t in the band?
I have no idea. As far as playing solo, yeah. If I was ever to do it, I’d probably just get in a cover band for fun or something. Ten years ago I might have, but every band seems to have a dude in the band who picks up an acoustic guitar and goes alt-country or something. Fuck that. It’s boring and shitty.
You guys are in this weird position in the music industry where you’re not this massive, platinum-selling band but you’ve got a huge following and have made your mark in your corner of the music industry. It’s a very unique position that more and more bands are finding themselves in with the advent of the internet. That being said, when you guys are all done, how do you think you’ll be remembered? What kind of legacy do you want Less Than Jake to have?
If we quit today or go another ten, 15, 20 years, however long, we’re at the point where it’s funny, we have 20 years as a band where we could continue to go play the European festivals. We’re the old guys, but we’ll be the OLDER guys at that point. You just ride it out as long as you can. How we’ll be remembered is always for a fun show. People who don’t even like our music, parents and what not, sometimes the best compliment is, “Eh, I don’t like your music, but that show was hilarious.” We’ll be remembered by the live show. We’ve got a handful of good songs in the live show.
And the merchandising of the band can’t be touched. Iron Maiden is the only one that beats us in that department. There’s so much stuff I can’t even begin to list it. That’s the thing – we’re a cool band for that type of fan, people who like that kind of stuff. We try to keep it interesting in that respect.
Less Than Jake performing Don’t Fall Asleep on the Subway off their record In With the Out Crowd, at the show I attended in Boston on February 19.
Less Than Jake is currently touring the US, with a tour of South America coming this spring and dates in Europe and practically everywhere else later this summer.
Their latest EP, Seasons Greetings from Less Than Jake, is available now at their online store.