“HEY GIRLS! HEY GIRLLLL! ARE YOU THERE?” whispers Chris DeMakes, frontman of Less Than Jake as we begin our interview in the back on the band’s tour bus. Fortunately for my comfort’s sake, he was speaking directly into my audio recorder and assured me “I’m just making sure it’s working.”
It was the first date of a summer tour featuring Less Than Jake, with our buddies in Hostage Calm and Pentimento along for the ride. Fortunately, Under The Gun got to speak with Chris DeMakes (guitar, vocals) and Roger Manganelli (bass, vocals) one on one about the guys’ new album, the state of the music scene, and celebrating 20 years. For more info and some insight on the show, check out the rest of this UTG exclusive below.
It’s never a disappointment when Pentimento performs on Long Island and they admitted this themselves. Hostage Calm delivered a solid performance as well, even covering the classic Billy Idol track “Dancing With Myself.” The stage may have been high, but that didn’t deter fans from getting that microphone from vocalist Chris Martin.
Despite a good warm-up, you have to truly take your hat off to Less Than Jake in the end. It was a Tuesday night and The Emporium (Patchogue, NY) was packed, especially for a show quite a bit outside New York City.
The band’s stage presence hasn’t been compromised in the 20 years they’ve been performing. The charisma is there. At one point the guys dragged a tired stock broker on stage, and demanded that he chug a beer. He failed miserably, spitting beer back all over Chris’ guitar pedals. At the end, they made light of the situation, mopping up the stage before the encore. Roger took a few seconds to reflect the light off his bass and try to blind me on the balcony (a thank you for the awesome interview) and was keen to referring to the region as “Dong Island.” The greatest part is, you just can’t get mad at anything these guys do — the crowd was smiling the whole time.
The band played a slew of songs spanning a career that started before I was born. To hear what the musicians behind it all had to say, check out this Q&A.
You guys just celebrated your 20 year anniversary. How does that feel? It seems almost unheard of in the Ska-Punk Community.
Chris: 20 years married. Yeah, you know, it’s interesting for bands that are at our level that are doing the same types of clubs and same types of tours, I don’t know that the bands that are doing those types of tours now, that are just starting off, are gonna be around in 20 years. There’s a lot more competition out there now, everyone’s in a band. It’s a little different in that respect.
You guys have done a wide variety of stuff this year- SXSW and Groezrock over in Europe. How was all that? Any good stories?
Chris: Not too many crazy stories, all of the shows were great. South by Southwest, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to that festival, it’s a bizarre barrage of insanity. People come because they want a reason to get loaded and watch bands, there’s no other reason to be there. They’ll disguise it as business on the record companies’ credit cards, but it’s a wild scene. That show was great, Groezrock was awesome, all those shows were really great.
How was the cruise to the Bahamas?
Chris: The cruise was insane, it was everything again you would think of what a cruise is with a bunch of rock bands. It was people that work all year long saving up their hard earned money and this was there one or two vacations a year where they just go completely ape-shit, it was awesome.
You guys are currently writing a new album, right? What can we expect? Do you have a title yet?
Chris: DONE! It’s done being recorded. Just waiting to get it mixed. It’s gonna be out hopefully, if all goes according to plan, late September, and it’s gonna be on Fat Wreck Chords. Don’t have a title for the record, but it’s going to be decided in the next week or so.
Can you tell me about Greetings and Salutations and how that record was compiled?
Chris: Yeah well, the no-bullshit story, bottom line, was we had these two EPs that we’d recorded, and we had a couple of songs leftover, and we knew eventually that maybe we’d want to do another full-length record with Fat Wreck Chords. We were over in England with NOFX doing a couple of shows, and we said, “Hey, we’ve got this record essentially laying around, these two EPs, these 12 songs we want to compile into an album because we hadn’t released them except through our website and on the road. So they were never released digitally, we never sent them to stores; there was no physical release of the records. [Fat ]Mike listened to the songs, he liked them, he decided to put them out, and the next record is gonna be with Fat [Wreck Chords] like I said as well. There wasn’t too much real thought behind it, we knew we wanted to get it out there besides just through our website.
Why have you guys bounced around through so many labels?
Chris: Well, a lot of the times you go where the excitement is. Now Fat is showing a real enthusiasm for wanting to work with us again. We’ve known the people that run it in the NOFX camp for a long time and they’re great people. Basically they like the band and are gonna promote us unlike any other label right now that we could probably get. They’re gonna be able to do the little things, increase the presence of your band in a town, they’re posters hanging up when you walk into a venue, promotional stuff that labels do.
Do you prefer that side of things as opposed to at a major label?
Chris: Well, not necessarily. There’s no thought of us being on a major label anymore, it just wouldn’t work for us or a major to work together at this point. We’ve been self-releasing our records for 5 or 6 years now. It was just time to get with a label that can do some of the marketing stuff that you can’t do as a band on the road.
When you were self-releasing your band through Sleep It Off Records, how did that work?
Chris: It was just us, there was no label headquarters, we just released the records. We had a distributor that was getting them into record stores and basically it was exactly how we had always done business, only we didn’t have a marketing team behind us, it was just us. We were our marketing team through Facebook, Twitter, and what every other band tries to get their stuff out there with.
You guys have played Rocks Off! cruises a few times before. I read on your website that there was an electrical malfunction one year. How’ve those shows worked out in the past?
Chris: Yeah, well, that was before the show I think that happened. The power went out on the boat, you can imagine shoving 400 people on a three-hour booze cruise, especially in New York City it’s a recipe for insanity no matter which way you look at it. It’s a good time.
You guys have anything special planned for tomorrow?
Chris: We have sailors’ hats. Less Than Jake sailors’ hats that we made.
In the past you made life-jackets right?
Chris: Hahaha. Yeah, now we’ve got the sailor hats.
You guys have played all around the world, but is there always going to be something special about Gainesville? Where is your favorite place to play?
Chris: There’s no real favorite place to play. My favorite place to play now is when people show up to see the band, and as long as people are there, it’s cool, it really is. And that’s not a generic answer, other people might say that but I really believe that they mean that. I’ve probably played all of my dream shows ever, now it’s just kinda like whatever else happens is just this icing-on-the-cake-type-thing.
As for Gainesville, it’s weird, and I’m not slagging on Gainesville, but a lot of our friends or people we know have gone and moved over the years. It’s not as crazy and we maybe don’t’ know as many people as we did 10, 12, 15 years ago, but it’s still home and the shows are great.
Why did you guys decide to go on tour with Hostage Calm and Pentimento?
Chris: They paid us 100,000 dollars each, in Mexican Pesos, so basically they paid us each $15.60 and I said “Let’s do this! Let’s fucking rage!”
[Chris Martin of Hostage Calm later dismissed this notion with a chuckle, but admitted he’d probably empty his pockets to tour with The Killers]
Is there any new music that you’re really into right now?
[Chris sighs and Roger laughs]
Chris: As in new stuff? I’m trying to think the name of the band. I found them on Youtube. They do a song called “Where is David Lee Roth?” I think they’re called the Fuglees.
Outside of the band, what other hobbies do you have?
Chris: Haha, sleep. Play guitar. I give guitar lessons in my off time, it’s more of a hobby then anything. I enjoy teaching beginners how to learn their first chords and see people progress. I’m trying to get back into exercise, I haven’t been doing it as much lately but I’d like to get back into that.
Chris: Yeah. Sexercise.
I remember going to FYE and buying Anthem ten years ago. It’s kind of full circle, now I’m 22 and I’m interviewing you. Do you find your fan-base ranges vastly in age?
Chris: 22 used to be ancient at our shows. There were no 22 year olds there, we were playing to 14, to 17, 18, 19, year olds. We were kids ourselves; we were 18, 19, and 20 when we started the band.
Do you ever have fans coming to shows with brothers, sons, multiple generations of fans?
Chris: All the time. Now we’re seeing that. The age range will now run from the teenagers of parents that are in the audience with their kids now and some of our fans are 35-40 and on up. There are a lot more people at the bar now than it used to be, back when no one was old enough to drink.
Who are some of your favorite bands to play with?
Chris: Oh man. A band called Snuff from England. Bad Religion. NOFX. Reel Big Fish guys are great. Bon Jovi.
Chris: Yeah, 2001. We were main support for their tour in the United States, it was in 2000, they’re Crush tour, and we played all the way up the East Coast. We played in Jersey at [what was then] the Continental Airlines Arena.
I read about Vinnie doing a graphic novel- is he artistic and into that sort of thing?
Chris: Oh yeah, of course, he’s been behind the art design with the band for years, that’s his passion for sure. He’s amassed a large collection of artists who are now friends and friends of the band that draw stuff, t-shirt designs, come up with ideas. Most of the time, a lot of the time, it’s his direction like saying “Hey! It would be cool to have a burning building with a monster coming out of it!” or whatever he’s thinking.
Do you think today’s music will struggle with longevity?
Chris: I don’t think it’s the music so much that won’t have the longevity, I don’t know. If the rate of bands continues to grow like it is now, it’s insane. You used to drive down the road, you were a kid you probably wouldn’t remember the mid to late 90’s, but you’d never see a van with a trailer on it, and if you did it was for a fucking lawn service. Everyone is out touring right now. So there’s a glut of it, I think you’d probably have to be a way better band now to last 20 years, you have to stick through all the stuff.
You walk around big festivals like Warped Tour and Coachella you’ll see a wide range and great variety of musical approaches. That being said, it seems like a lot of music getting attention nowadays is very gimmicky. Do you think the old school approach of punk music will power through and withstand the changing of times?
Chris: I can’t comment on the Warped Tour except that for your dollars, it’s the best tour going. I’m kind of making a point that, a lot of people who are bitching about this, who are 31 or 32 coming to our shows are like, “What happened to my day when The Vandals, The Bouncing Souls, you guys, and Bad Religion, and Pennywise were on the tour!?” And I reply by saying that if you put all of those bands and none of these new bands out there you wouldn’t be playing to 15,000 people each day. All those bands have had that moment when we were that thing, but we all still have careers and can all go out. The Warped Tour has become a whole different animal. It’s really the name that sells it. Where can you drop your kid off at 11:00 in the morning for a $40 ticket and he can stay there until 9:00 at night and pick him up after a whole day of entertainment? It’s kind of a built-in institution at this point.
Do any of you guys have wives and kids? How is it managing that on the road?
Chris: Yes, our drummer Vinnie has a baby and Roger just had his first born as well.
Roger: Just!? It’s almost two years, little bastards running around breaking shit.
Chris: It’ll be two years this September. Their children are four days apart.
Roger: As soon as he’s telling me what to do, he isn’t a baby anymore. It’s the first time I’ve slept in like four months. No, I’m just kidding, it actually sucks. I miss them.
Do you guys all still live in Florida?
Chris: Everyone is in Florida except our sax player, he lives in Connecticut.
What can we expect to see from Less Than Jake in the future?
Chris: More shitty jokes, more receding hairlines, probably a couple more pounds.
Roger: My hairline is not receding! We’re writing better songs than we usually write.
Chris: New album coming out in September, Fat Wreck Chords! Buy it, download it, steal it, do whatever you gotta do, just listen to it.
Roger: Don’t steal it!
Chris: I meant steal it from your friend that bought it!