Less Than Jake are still riding the third wave that they helped create, and they aren’t looking to give up their upstrokes anytime soon. Guitarist/frontman/resident energy valve Chris DeMakes isn’t worried about winning critics over. Instead, he wants to continue to satisfy the listeners who could really use an LTJ show right now.
“If you love Less Than Jake, you’re going to love the record,” he says. “If you didn’t like us before, it’s not going to change your mind.”
In a touring-dependent industry where band schedules have turned from exhausting to nonexistent, few groups have had a more radical regime change than lifetime road warriors LTJ. Not only did locking down crash their tour-heavy way of life, but it also caused the band’s latest full-length venture to be punted several months back from its planned release. Now, LTJ and Pure Noise Records have decided to give the much-needed serotonin boost that is Silver Linings to the people. And quite possibly save us from the onslaught of seasonal, quarantine and overall depression. DeMakes explains it to Alternative Press thusly.
I’ve always insisted that ska shows are the most fun one can have. Did the lack of a concrete return date to the stage affect how you approached Silver Linings?
Well, to answer the question, Silver Linings was actually recorded last year. We recorded the record in November of 2019, so we’ve been sitting on [it] for about a year now. We had some stalled release dates because of what transpired in 2020, and here we are, finally getting released at the end of the year.
That partly answers what I wanted to ask next. When did that recording process actually start?
We started sending around demos to each other in early January or February of 2019, and of course we were on the road touring. We’d go on the road and talk about the songs, back of the bus-type thing, and discuss what we had. Then we got back home and worked on them a little bit more. It was just our new drummer Matt Yonker, Roger [Lima, bassist] and I rehearsing in June or July of 2019. We continued writing throughout the year, again, still on the road a lot doing Euro tours. Then we did one final U.S. tour with Bowling For Soup, and that was in October of that year and ended that tour at The Fest in Gainesville. Since we were already in Gainesville, that’s actually when we started recording the record.
Obviously, you didn’t have to deal with the problem of recording during a quarantine. But did the current world situation affect any part of the process?
This record actually wasn’t at all affected by anything that’s going on this year in terms of the lockdown. This record was already done, mixed, mastered and ready to go. We had a release date. I think we were shooting for late April. Then it got pushed to June. Then it went to August, September, October. Finally we told Pure Noise, “We’ve got to get this thing out,” so we decided on December.
You’re usually on tour more than you’re home. Has this been the longest you’ve gone without touring since starting?
We’ve never done more than three months as a band without being on the road. Hell, in the early days, we’d come home for two days, pet the dog, throw in a load of laundry and you’re back in the van again. But yeah, I think the longest we ever went was maybe three or four months. We just never stopped: We kept road-dogging it, as they say, tour after tour after tour. This has been the longest in terms of live performance that we haven’t been onstage to play.
With all the pent-up energy that a lockdown brings and that powder keg of an album you’ve made, can fans expect anything new when you finally return to the stage?
New as in terms of a live show? Yeah, I think that at least the first couple of shows [we’ll] probably throw our backs and necks out, going so crazy, and then we won’t be able to play for three or four weeks because of our age. That’d be my only fear. I think the initial shows when people are allowed to go back, I think they’re going to be explosive. Everyone’s in the same boat. They all want to have a great show. As far as anything else, we’re already looking forward to the next record since we’ve been sitting on this one so long. We still have to promote this one, though.
Which song off the new album are you most excited to play live?
Man, there’s a couple of them. The single’s fun to play, “Lie To Me.” I want to play a song called “Keep On Chasing.” [There’s] another one called “Dear Me” [that] I’m looking forward to playing. We’ll see how it goes. We haven’t been in a room together to rehearse them yet, so I have to see if I can even remember how to play them.
With “Lie To Me” and the new video, did Zoom call culture have any influence on the concept?
No, Zoom call culture didn’t influence it. It only looks like it because we had no choice but to record it in separate areas. Everyone filmed their own pieces. That’s why it looks like it does. There was really no other way to do it. None of us live in the same place anymore. We’re all spread around the country. Only two guys are still living in Gainesville, but we’ll always be a Gainesville band.
I think it worked well. Nonetheless, is that creative process for videos crippled by not being in the same room?
We had a video director, [and] there was someone that put it together. She had worked with New Found Glory before and actually worked with Dolly Parton recently on her new video. She’s from Nashville and was super-sweet, but as far as videos, though, it’s so much different now. There was so much more excitement.
And this isn’t to take away from her or the video, but smartphones and everything at people’s disposal have changed the game. It used to be when you had a new video, [it] was like, “Wow, that’s all that’s coming out this week is a couple of band’s videos.” You put a bunch of time into it, and it was this visual, and it sold records. And now it’s just another promotional tool. Again, not to take away from it, but as humans, we’re hit with so much information every day. I’m just stoked that anyone even saw the video.
This new era that I keep referring to, it’s hard not to talk about it. But you also have used that phrase, as well. What can be said about the new era of Less Than Jake?
Well, we had the same lineup for 20 years almost. JR [Wasilewski], our sax player, was our last new member, and he got into the band in 2000. Vinnie [Fiorello, drums, officially] stepped down in [October] of 2018, so it’s been about two years now. Any time you have a member change, it’s going to affect things. He was one-fifth of the band: Him and I started the band, so it has been a transition. Certainly, he wasn’t just the drummer, but he did a lot of the creative side of the band and the lyrics. It was an adjustment, but two years removed now, we’re excited. The band’s still rolling forward. We want to get back out there and play and do our thing.
With someone who was so key in writing lyrics gone, how did that dynamic change?
The thing about Vinnie [was] I knew him since I was 15. So a lot of times over the years, people would be like, “How do you sing someone else’s lyrics? I don’t understand that.” That was just the way our dynamic was. He’d hand me a scrap of paper when I was 15 years old, and we’d be jamming in his parents’ bedroom, and these songs would start to happen. It was all I ever knew. At the same time, there would be times where he would write a complete idea of lyrics and hand it to you. Other times, it would be just random phrases on papers that I would put together.
Of course, when Rog got in the band, we would put them together and add phrases and things. We’ve always written lyrics. My lyrics are way different than Vinnie’s. I don’t have that way of storytelling. Rog and I always wrote the melodies. The chords and vocal melodies were always us, so that part of it hasn’t changed in the songwriting department. That’s still going to sound like us. Lyrically, I think we made a very sound Less Than Jake record. Certainly there’s a component that’s missing. But all you can do is write from the heart, and I think we did. Now it’s just hoping that fans who liked the band will still like it for that reason.
A component may be missing with losing someone, of course. But do you think any components have been gained with Matt joining in?
Matt comes from a rock background, so stylistically on the drums, it opened up some different things we can do. Matt played in punk-rock bands, and he’s certainly a punk-rock drummer, but he grew up listening to rock, while Vinnie was always just a punk-rock drummer. Those were his influences, and that’s what he liked. I think any time in a band when you lose something, if you pick the right person, you can gain something. Matt’s also been with us going on 20 years. He started selling T-shirts, he was our guitar tech, he was our sound guy, he was our day-to-day person [and] he was our tour manager. He’s worn every hat. For him to step in, it wasn’t like we had to audition 30 drummers and deal with the “I can’t stand this guy” [situation]. It was just natural.
When Vinnie said he didn’t want to tour anymore, two weeks later, we had a show in Tacoma with Bad Religion. It was us, Bad Religion, the Interrupters and like five other bands for 10,000 people. Matt didn’t rehearse with us. We threw him onstage in front of 10,000 people in an amphitheater, and he killed it. He absolutely killed it. The next day, we did the same show with Bad Religion in Boise, Idaho, so his first two shows were in front of around 10,000 people, unrehearsed. He’d been around for so long, though. He knew the songs, and he stepped in seamlessly. I feel like we have gained something really cool.
You can hear that uptempo style in the album. Would you attribute that punchy, fast-paced style to Matt?
I think that it’s the approach. Matt plays with a little bit more dynamics, where some parts have to be softer, and then when the chorus hits, it’s going to be heavier. Those types of things shine through on the record. It’s still very much Less Than Jake, but I feel like we had a steroid shot. It just feels bigger: The guitars sound big, [and] the vocals sound great. People ask me, “How would you describe the new record?” And I tell them, “If you love Less Than Jake, you’re going to love the record. If you didn’t like us before, it’s not going to change your mind.”
So you have a new member, a global lockdown and tons of social unrest happening now. But what’s the biggest obstacle you think the band itself or even you personally are facing at this moment?
I’m facing the dilemma of going back on the road. I’ve been wanting to start projects for so long, and for one reason or another, it’s difficult to truly start a project when you’re leaving again in two weeks. It’s hard to work from the road. I’m here in my home studio right now. I have everything at my disposal, and I’m able to work. I took the lemons and made lemonade this year—been doing a ton of side projects.
I’m anxious to get back on the road because that’s what I do. I want to provide for the crew of the band that needs a job. I want to give back to the venues and everyone out there, [for] the guys in my band and myself to have our livelihood and keep the band going. But I’ve done real well this year all things considered. I know a lot of people have had a rough time and have been very depressed, and I hurt for those people. I’ve talked to a lot of friends, but I’ve run the complete opposite way. I decided to try my best to harness this time into something positive. My apprehensiveness is, “How am I going to do all of this on the road?” I’ll figure it out.