Less Than Jake Interview: Gainesville Band Celebrates 20 Years

VIDEO: AudioFile: Band members Chris and JR reflect on two decades of Less Than Jake.

Less Than Jake is one of the most prolific ska-punk bands ever, and 2012 marks an impressive milestone for them.  LTJ is celebrating their 20th year as a band with an international tour and limited edition merch. The music has evolved over the past two decades, without ever diverging too far from the style and sound their loyal fans expect to hear.

AudioFile had a chance to talk with Chris Demakes (guitar/vocals) and JR Wasilewski (saxophone) before they played a show at Brooklyn Bowl in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Along with Demakes and Wasilewski, Less Than Jake is Roger Manganelli on bass, Vinnie Fiorello on drums, and Buddy Schaub on trombone.  They formed 20 years ago while some of the members were attending the University of Florida, and are still based in Gainesville, Fla.  The band's early influences include The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Operation Ivy, Skankin' Pickle, and Fishbone

The band members have matured a bit since their early years together - some of the guys are married with kids , and Jen from the '90s song "Jen Doesn't Like Me Anymore" has since "buried the hatchet" - but they still approach the live shows with the same amount of energy as they did when they were 21.

Perhaps one of the secrets to their success is their ability to have fun and joke around with each other, both on stage and in the studio.

"People take themselves so seriously.  Not us," Wasilewski said.  He and Demakes both said that even though the band is a full time job and they're always busy, it never really feels like going to work.

Demakes said the only way to have long-term success as a band is to, "find a collective group of guys that are going to drive with the same emotion, the same motivation, and the same purpose."

Wasilewski and Demakes also agreed that as a band, you shouldn't depend on anyone except your fellow band members, and that you can never rely too much on a record label to do the work for you.

Less Than Jake band members Chris Demakes and JR Wasilewski at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Alfonso Sjogreen)

This philosophy has worked for Less Than Jake, whose self-relying attitude translates into everything they do.  In 2008, the band formed their own record label, Sleep It Off Records, which allows them to control and release new music as they want to.  LTJ recorded new songs, and re-released some of their past albums under the new label.  The re-releases come with extra tracks, live recordings and/or DVD companions.

The band is always writing and recording new music.  Rather than holding back the new songs for a full-length album, they have released three new EPs in recent years.  At just $5 each, the short albums (" Greetings From Less Than Jake", " Seasons Greetings From Less Than Jake", and " TV/EP") are affordable for fans of all ages.  To commemorate their double-decade landmark - the band has also put out digital download collections of songs and videos to highlight their best work: " First Ten Years" and " Last Ten Years."

Less Than Jake plays at Brooklyn Bowl in New York on Feb. 21, 2012. (LDOphoto.net)

Being together for 20 years, it's no surprise that the band has received their share of uncanny fan mail and gifts.

"They don't do it as much anymore, thank goodness, but kids used to throw Pez dispensers" on stage, Wasilewski said.

Pez, however, is quite welcome compared with Demakes' snail mail story.

"I got this letter, 'I love your band, blah blah…' And at the end of it he goes, 'PS, you're holding my toenails,'" and the envelope did in fact contain someone's clipped toenails.  Demakes joked that he had the last laugh when he wrote back with the punchline: "By the way, you're holding my toilet paper."

Less Than Jake has tour dates in Europe set through June 2012.  They don't have any official plans to play Vans Warped Tour this summer, but Wasilewski hinted, "That's not saying maybe it wouldn't happen for a day or two."

"We're the only band, thus far, to have played in all three decades - the '90s, 2000s, 2010s," Demakes said.

Conviction Notice- Less Than Jake from Less Than Jake on Vimeo.

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