Less Than Jake are in a rare musical position: almost undisputed kings of a musical niche.
The long-standing band from Gainesville, Florida, sit at the head of a genre that arguably peaked in the late 90s, ska punk, and perform a vibrant mix of colourful, poppy punk music backed up by a horn section. It’s loud, descriptive, and while the band are still going as strong as ever, somewhat of its era. For many who grew up in the late 90s, the band are a true symbol of teenage rebellion.
“The spirit of the band is still the same, to get out and play a live show, that’s all we really wanted to do,” singer Chris DeMakes says on a video call, in which he’s surrounded by Less Than Jake’s incredible selection of records and merchandise, something of a calling card. “It’s got easier, though. You have to listen to your body, so staying out until 5 or 6 in the morning isn’t conducive to a good show.”
“We’ve been playing shows that are a little bit like a 30th anniversary, with songs from every album. But you have to please yourself and the audience, to keep it interesting for yourself. We don’t mind making a mistake on stage, it keeps it real, so we keep a rotation of a lot of songs on the setlist.”
“I always felt a little bit odd about being called a ska band,” DeMakes says of his sound. “I felt it was a little disrespectful towards bands like The Selecter and English Beat who were doing it ten or 15 years before we were even a band. We have elements of ska, but we’re not the forefathers of ska. We weren’t the first.”
“It’s important to us that we do things correctly, and that we don’t gouge people for our tickets or merchandise, that things are priced correctly. We try to stand by that. But we make a lot of merch”
“I have one of everything the band ever put out, which looks pretty insane. There are albums on top of albums. At one point I had 700 or so different Less Than Jake shirts, and I took them all to a show in Gainesville and sold them. They took up multiple closets, and I thought I’d get them to fans. The clothing became too much. But I have all the albums, cups, belt buckles.”
DeMakes has been examining some of the band’s coloured past in recent years, in particular in the form of his book, ‘Blast From The Past’. “I love rock and roll biographies,” he says. “I’ve started a few times over the last five years and they always read the same as every other book, just chronological and a bit boring.”
“I ended up taking a different approach, one picture a day and a little story about it. It followed no chronological order, it’s just this insane picture story book. I’m really happy with it.”
“As I went through, I realised there’s pictures of pretty much everyone in the book except one of my best friends, Mark Cruce, who’s referenced in the song ‘My Chevy Celebrity’. He used to be a bit of a mad character. But that part of our life has gone. We live in rural Tennessee now, it’s 45 minutes to go to a concert, and I have two young children. My social life is out on the road.”
That has often included Europe, and this particular tour has added significance because of the time Less Than Jake have been away.
“It’s been three years, which has been our longest stretch since the late 90s,” DeMakes says of his European return. For a relatively small subset of the punk community, the Florida act are returning heroes.
Less Than Jake play Whelan’s on March 29.
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