Interview: Less Than Jake’s Chris DeMakes
If you were listening to punk and ska in the late ’90s early ’00s, chances are you were listening to Less Than Jake. As giants of the genre, the Gainesville, Florida band has spent the past two decades stapling the memories of countless post-adolescent rockers with punchy songs about metalheads and malt liquor while continuing to leave its mark on today’s generation of circle pit enthusiasts. After celebrating 20 years together in 2012, Less Than Jake released its latest effort in January entitled “Greetings and Salutations”, which marks the mishmash of two previously super-limited tour EPs onto one cohesive and bouncy record. We recently caught up with Less Than Jake frontman Chris Demakes to discuss the new album, making money as a musician, and “touching” fans from Missouri on tour.
Your latest release, Greetings and Salutations, is a product of tour EPs that your band released over the past several years that were previously only available by mail or on tour. Why all of a sudden combine these works onto a single record?
Basically we had put the EPs out on our own and taken them around the world and sold them, and we had played them for Mike at Fat Wreck Chords and he liked the tunes. We were already thinking about a doing another full length record with Fat, and we thought that those songs would be a good thing to combine together as our first release back on the label. We had been with Fat years ago but then we went off on our own for a while and now we’re working with them again. Most people, except for our hardcore fans, didn’t even know that the songs existed, so to the majority of people it’s a new record.
I read somewhere that a lot of the songs on the album were written back in 1996. Is that true?
No, that’s complete bullshit (laughs). We were just saying that on tour to fuck with people. Everyone’s always saying our old shit is the best, so at shows we’d be like “We knew our old shit was the best when we wrote it so we wrote a bunch of extra songs back then that we never recorded, so here they are now!” It’s funny too cause I’ve seen some reviews of the record where people will bitch and say things like “You can tell these songs were recorded twenty years ago. They’re just throwaways.” I’m like “Oh, Christ…”
In 2008, your band launched its own label, Sleep It Off Records. A lot of other bands have done that recently as well. Can you speak to this trend and, more broadly, the process of getting a business like that off the ground? What have been the big challenges so far?
The thing to remember with us is that Sleep It Off was just an imprint. There were no start-up costs for it. All we had was a Facebook page that never really took off. So yeah, it was just an imprint. We had the same distributors that were distributing our records to whatever record stores are left out there these days. We never employed any people and we never had any other bands. It was sort of like, instead of saying, “Hey, we’re Less Than Jake and here’s our CD” to our distributors, we decided to put a Sleep It Off sticker on it too. There never really was a record label beyond that (laughs).
By the way, congrats on celebrating your 20 years as a band last year. As elder statesmen in the punk scene, do you find yourselves leading by example for a lot of the younger artists out there today?
Well a lot of it is that a lot of the bands we used to tour with aren’t around anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of bands we toured with that are still great, but some of them ended up just being – for lack of a better word – “not fun.” I think a lot of the younger bands now have that enthusiasm that our band still has, and we like a lot of the younger bands based on when we’ve taken them out on tour. One thing too is that lot of the younger bands have younger fan bases that have maybe never heard of Less Than Jake. So it’s kind of like we’re helping them and they’re definitely helping us. We like to get in front of other people’s audiences. That’s always fun.