In March, during the Harvest of Hope Festival at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds, I got the chance to talk with Chris Demakes, singer and guitarist for Less Than Jake.We sat down for a few minutes and chatted about the new album, the unpopularity of ska music today, the charity toward migrant farm workers from the Harvest of Hope Festival, and hypothetical fights between classic claymation characters.
Scott Bufis: You’re new album is titled “GNV FLA” (pronounced “Gainesville Florida,” the band’s hometown).Is this album a “going-back to the old school?”
Chris Demakes: Umm… It’s going back to the new school. (Laughs) I don’t know, some people say that.I don’t think… It’s hard for me to talk about our albums in that context.It’s like, you know, I think people think it sounds older just because we made a really fast punk rock record with lots of horns, but all of our albums to me… when I listen to them and I hear them, it’s unmistakable.When you hear Vinnie play drums and when you hear Roger and I sing I think that you know what the band is – whether that’s good or bad.So, to me, I don’t know if it’s going back to old school, but I definitely know it sounds like our band.It’s a good representation of where we’re at right now.
SB: So it’s a kind of “living in the present moment” kind-of-thing.You kind of feel what the energy is at that moment.
Chris: When we go to write a record, I mean, I bring ideas to the table that the guys are like, “Dude, that’s not gonna work on a record.”I mean, I write some songs that are really slow and trippy and just stuff that, uh, I don’t know, fuckin’ Matchbox Twenty might record and people are like “What the fuck?”, you know?But that’s all about being a musician.I don’t like getting pegged into a hole. If people like the new record – great – but some of my favorite songs and favorite stuff that we’ve done have been stuff that the fans go, “I can’t stand that.”And I’m like, “You know what?Then, that’s cool.”But, you have to do what comes from the heart, and the new album is just a natural step for us.
SB: Most bands that started out ska bands or ska-punk bands ditched their “two-tone” roots, but you guys keep it real and keep it alive.Is there a lot of pressure in the music industry to drop the ska aesthetic?
Chris: I wouldn’t say so much “pressure.”I think what people tend to not remember about our band, at least, is that we always – if you go back to our first 7” we ever released, we had songs that didn’t have horns in them and weren’t “ska.”So, we were always a punk band, a pop band. We always had melody, we had, certainly, ska elements, but, you know, for us there was never so much quote-unquote “pressure” to drop the ska sound.It was more of, you know, is this what we want to be doing?When it came to the end of the ‘90’s and early 2000’s you gotta think of the glut of bands that were sounding alike.You know, the six-piece bands with the horn sections that were playing ska-punk.I was probably the one guy in the band that was like, “I don’t want to write that shit anymore because everybody else is writing it.”Well, it was a breath of fresh air on the new record because it was like, all of the bands we ran with back then – there’s only a handful of them around anymore, you know?I actually see kids on MySpace all the time: “Hey, we’re in a ska-punk band now.”They’re like 14 or 15 year-old kids, and I’m like, “Okay.”So everything comes in cycles and comes around, you know?For me, it wasn’t about the major label or anybody telling me that “ska’s not in” or “this or that.”It was more of: I can see not playing upstroke guitar and horns in every song.That was more about what it was.
SB: You guys were once signed to record giant Capitol Records.
SB: Why go off on your own?
Chris: …and Warner Bros.
SB: And Warner Bros.!
Chris: Yes.Let’s not forget.…and Fat Wreck Chords.
SB: The list goes on.
Chris: Fat Mike’s a millionaire, too – you fuckin’ bastards.You know what it is?It got to the point where we’ve been on a ton of labels – major and indies.Our drummer started Fueled By Ramen which became a major label.We’ve run the gamut with that.It got to the point where Warner Bros. was flat-out, “Look, we can’t do anything with you.We’re not going to get you on the radio.We’re not going to put any money into a new record.”And we’re like, “Great.Can we leave?”They were just as ready to get rid of us as we were to get off the label because, for us – I don’t care what band it is – if you’re on a major label, if you’re on any label, you want to sell records.You want to get out there and get your music out to people.For us, we were on a major, and it was like, “Cool.We want to have the money behind us.Push us to radio.Do the whole thing.”And, it wasn’t happening, and it was like, “Okay, great.Can we get out of our contract?”Boom.We were out of it, and there’s no reason to go with another label at this point.People aren’t selling CD’s anymore, okay?Go to a record store.Actually, you can’t find a record store hardly anymore, and if you do, no one’s in it.For us it was just logical to start our own label and to put our own records out.
SB: Who would win in a fight: Gumby or the Pillsbury Doughboy?
Chris: Umm… I would say Gumby just because he would keep tickling the Pillsbury Doughboy’s bellybutton, and he’d get him on the ground and start kicking the shit out of him.
SB: No defense on the Pillsbury Doughboy.He’s got nothing, huh?
Chris: He’s got nothing.Once he starts giggling, he’s done.
SB: Name a few bands that you think deserve some more exposure.
Chris: A band called “The Swellers,” if you’ve heard of those guys or not.
SB: Where are they from?
Chris: The Swellers are from Michigan.They’re a great band in the vein of Propagandhi – really fast punk rock.They’re awesome.I like “A Wilhelm Scream.”Those guys are good friends of mine.They’re fun.What other bands?Umm…A band from Gainesville called “No More.” They’re actually at this festival.Friends of ours.Great band.That’s about it off the top of my head.
SB: And just one more.The festival, Harvest of Hope, it’s about aiding migrant farm workers.What are your thoughts on this kind of charity that this festival’s putting on?
Chris: Well, I mean, you know, money’s tough right now so if people are doing some stuff for charity, then I’m all about it.It’s cool to be able to help people in need in these times.More power to them because most people that put on festivals – it’s a cash grab.There’s no secret about that.We’ve played a number of festivals across this planet.You know, very few – if any of them! – have been a benefit so this is cool.
SB: Cool cool.