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Less Than Jake: Ska-Punk Greats Still Fired Up After All These Years

Tuesday, 03 September 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Take it from Garth Algar: we fear change. We all do. It’s something that makes the longevity of a band like Less Than Jake deeply comforting. For almost 30 years the Gainesville outfit have been racking up the miles playing ska-punk tunes that have ricocheted from the heart of the zeitgeist to the outer rim of cultural relevance—and they don’t give a shit how anyone sees them.

“We're all in our 40s now—my face isn't going to end up on the front cover of Kerrang! or whatever is out there still,” guitarist and vocalist Chris DeMakes laughs. “That's not being disrespectful towards me or the band, it's a young man's game. We have our career carved out, we have a niche of people that love us and we're content with that. We work extremely hard to maintain that. This critic doesn't like us? Well, they didn't like us 20 years ago, so who cares?”

That niche isn’t all that small, in truth. Particularly in the UK, Less Than Jake remain a decent draw. Their forthcoming co-headline run with Goldfinger on Fireball’s Fuelling The Fire tour will wind up at London’s Brixton Academy, a 5000 cap venue they’ve been headlining for nearly 20 years. Ska-punk’s salad days are a speck in the rear-view mirror, but people keep on coming out night after night.

DJ Matt Stocks, who will open the shows on the Fireball tour, is one of them. “The first time I saw Less Than Jake live was at Leeds Festival in 2002,” he says. “It was soon after they put out ‘Borders and Boundaries’ and they were flying super high at that time. I was 16 years old, I'd just collected my GCSE results and it was my first ever festival experience. It was a weekend I'll never forget. 

“Since then, I've probably seen them live more than any other band. I've toured with them twice already, this will be my third time, and we've shared the stage at Slam Dunk festival a couple of times. So I'd say we've played close to 30 shows together. And I've watched their set at every gig.”

Bands like Less Than Jake thrive on this mix of nostalgia and open access. There might not be that many people clamouring to hear them reinvent their sound on wax, but there’s still a whole bunch of people who might want to scream themselves hoarse to All My Best Friends Are Metalheads. To meet that demand, they have had to adapt in order to survive.

“We tour a little bit differently now,” DeMakes says. “You know, we don't go out for two or three months at a single time. We just did three and a half weeks over in Europe, and that's like the longest we'll do. We all have families and we'll come home. We're still out there 150 gigs a year plus travel days, we're still out there a lot, but we're doing it differently so we can get back to our family life. 

“For me personally it's just easier now than it was in the past because I've been to all these places so many times and I know how to tour. You know, back in the day, sleep was way low on my list. Not drinking was way low on my list. All that’s changed for me. I go out there now and I sleep, I get rest, I stay hydrated, I exercise, I stretch, and I know the good places to eat and get coffee. I'm able to make it a little more comfortable for myself.”

Touring is still a contact sport, though, and no-one is immune to its rigours. Late in 2018, drummer Vinnie Fiorello stepped away from life on the road after 27 years in the hot seat. He’s still part of the band, and will continue to sculpt their lyrics and play on any new material, but former Teen Idols sticksman Matt Yonker is now the man in the bunk.

“It was definitely weird at first, more from the aspect of, you know, we still hang out together as a band,” DeMakes says. “On days off we'll pick an Indian restaurant or something and go get dinner together. You'll be standing outside of the coach going, ‘Wait, we're waiting for one more person.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, no, he's not here.’ So there was that and the initial thing of playing with a new drummer, which was was a little weird at first, but it settled in very quickly due to the fact that [Matt] has been with us for 17 years.

“He started selling our shirts and he was our stage manager. He was setting up drums, setting up guitars. Then he started doing our sound, then he started tour managing us and doing sound. And then he started handling our day to day management stuff. So he's kind of worn every hat in the band. We could have had any hotshot 22-year-old come in and kill it on the drums. But am I going to hate this kid in two months? His feet stink. He doesn't shower. He drinks too much. We already knew what we were getting with Matt.”

At this stage, Less Than Jake are surrounded by reminders of their past. This year, for example, marks two decades since the Japanese-only release of the wildly scrappy, exciting ‘Live From Uranus’, a curio captured during the Rochester, New York date on their 1997 tour with Blink-182 and Frenzal Rhomb. It’s absolutely warts and all—things break and voices crack, but it’s a rich document of a time and place in the band’s history. It’s the only time in their discography, for example, you’ll find Skankin’ Pickle’s Lars Nylander as part of their horn section.

“Honestly, I have not heard that in 20 years,” DeMakes says. “I know if I went back, listened to it, I'd have a laugh. We were raw. It was what it was. We have definitely gotten better as a band and as musicians over the years. It's a cool time capsule to be able to go back and look at, it doesn't aggravate me and make me go, ‘Oh, god!’ That's how it was. People cringe at their early stuff, but you have to start somewhere.”

No band, though, can be entirely content to live in the past. It’s been six years since Less Than Jake’s last full length, ‘See The Light’, and a little over two since their ‘Sound The Alarm’ EP. “Life has just taken over,” DeMakes says. “The older you get, the years just go by. We always have songs laying around. In fact, right now we've got about 12 songs demoed that we're hoping to record either later this year or early next year. An album is on the horizon. It is important for us to do. 

“And at the same time, it's great to not have to do an album or not feel forced to have to do something. We're able to still do it on our terms and, you know, this isn't taking a knock at ourselves, but we have 270 original songs in our catalogue that people love to come see and hear. Writing a new album, we're doing that for us because we still enjoy writing songs, and if people like them that's great.”

First, though, Less Than Jake have some rafters to shake alongside some familiar faces and a few new ones. With Goldfinger, Save Ferris, Thieves of Liberty, Stocks and a host of local openers along for the ride, the Fireball tour gets underway at Sheffield’s O2 Academy on September 19.

Less Than Jake and Goldfinger Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu September 19 2019 - SHEFFIELD O2 Academy Sheffield
Fri September 20 2019 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Sat September 21 2019 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Mon September 23 2019 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Tue September 24 2019 - NEWCASTLE O2 Academy Newcastle
Wed September 25 2019 - GLASGOW O2 Academy Glasgow
Fri September 27 2019 - BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy Bournemouth
Sat September 28 2019 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton

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