(Video: “Look What Happened,” shot at the show)
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Chris Demakes, lead singer of Less Than Jake. We spoke about the band’s favorite beer, Justin Bieber, Orange County, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, touring, and what the band was like in high school.
Obviously you guys are from Gainsville, Florida. How does it feel to be all the way out here in Orange County?
Right now it feels amazing. We went through a brutal winter tour so this is awesome.
The whole ska/punk scene really started here in the OC. Bands like No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, all came out of Orange County in the 1990’s. How did you guys fit into that scene being from all the way across the country?
Well, it was interesting, you know because when we started touring… everyone immediately assumes we’re from California. We were born out of that whole time period. When we started touring, we really had, besides our sound, nothing in common with them.
I’m assuming you guys are all friends with each other?
Absolutely. We’ve known every band from that genre. Interestingly enough, the only band I haven’t met from that time period is the Aquabats, nor have I seen them play. It’s really strange because you’ve probably seen them a million times. Over all the years, I mean they’ve taken some years off, but yeah other than that everyone else we’ve kinda met.
So you guys recently had the TV/EP, how has that been received?
We’re absolutely happy with it. It’s been received well. I mean it was, it was a novelty. We did it for fun. So, if people look at it for that, I’m happy. I just wanted to have fun with it, you know? It’s not gonna’ change the world.
Are we gonna hear any of that tonight?
Yeah, oh yeah.
You guys are known as the band that never stops touring. How does that speak to the music industry as it is today? You guys have been around for so long, how has touring and the business changed over the years?
I mean, if you are gonna be an active band that stays out there and this is your career it makes you want to. You have to stay on the road. People aren’t making money on record sales anymore. You know, you go out, sell your shirts, play your gigs, do your thing. We just keep doing what we do and we’re lucky enough that people still want to see this band play.
Is touring still the best way for a band to generate income?
Well, it really always has been. Yeah, I mean for any band. You go out on tour and it’s what you hope, and you know we’re staying out there and staying active as a band. Last year we only did 21 shows in the US. We kinda took some time off of touring you know, because we want to A. give ourselves a kind of a rest, and B. make people go ‘oh I’ll go see them again’ because I mean, we’ve toured our tails off for the past 7 years. ‘Oh I’ve seen ‘em four months ago, they’ll be back.” We’re trying to taper back a little bit just because of what I just said.
What advice would you give someone in college with a laptop and a microphone? Or a band that’s trying to make it? Is it even possible to do what you guys do anymore?
Uhm, from an organic concept of where our band started, pre internet and all that kinda stuff, no. But from where technology is at, sure. Anyone can start writing songs and get a band together and to go do it. But, there’s a lot of components. There’s a lot of give and take. It’s great being out here but if you’re going to give that kind of dedication, you have to find guys that are going to give that same dedication because there’s a lot of missed weddings, missed birthdays, and missed family stuff, which is that sacrifice you make to be out here. But you know, it’s the give and take.
Where is the whole genre at today? How is it carrying on into the next generation?
It’s kind of funny now, as we’re seeing people that now have families that are bringing their kids out, they maybe took five, six, seven years off from seeing the band but they’re showing back up. So, in terms of our fan base, we might see people going away but they are coming back now. It’s weird; I’d say our mean average is 18-25 now where before it used to be 13-18. You’ll see people in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties out there dancing.
So you guys have your own label now correct? How would you contrast having your own label against being on a major label?
You know, I’ve been asked that question a lot lately and it’s hard to answer. From an outside perspective it seems like it must be so different. For us, we just wrote songs, went to a studio and did it. Certainly being a major label, the marketing, the press, the promotion all of that, all those things we don’t have on our own label. We have to hire our own publicist to do it so there are things like that. But, it hasn’t really changed that much. Our records say ‘Sleep It Off’ now instead of ‘Warner Brothers.’ I’m not trying to downplay it. We’re just desensitized to it because we’ve been on like fifty different labels, compilations, etc.
Speaking of compilations, back in fifth grade we all played Tony Hawk Pro Skater. To be quite honest, it was one of the main reasons I discovered your music. Do you guys still hear about that?
Oh absolutely. People still talk about it. After that game came out, when we would play ‘All My Best Friends are Metal Heads’ at our shows, you would notice it would just go fucking off because people loved it from that game. It’s cool.
Who would be an interesting band to you guys today? Who do you listen to?
A band that I thought was really interesting, they played a couple shows with us on this tour is a band called the Gamits from Devner, Colorado. Check those guys out.
Did you guys watch the Grammys?
I did not. I was on stage during the Grammys.
I wanted to get an opinion of Justin Bieber.
Great. Talented kid. Make money while you can, because you are gonna get old.
True, true. So what’s the official beer of Less Than Jake?
Cheap piss, Bud Light. It all does the same thing in the end right?
So, what kind of guys were you in college and high school.
Geeks. Yeah, pretty much. I mean I don’t know about the rest of the guys. Vinny was the punk rocker. I was a jock. But, I was not popular. I used to be a pitcher.
Is there anything that you guys have to do before a show?
Call our moms and check in. We all do our own thing. A little stretching, a little voice warm ups, a little nip off the old vodka bottle for Buddy over here.
In your opinion what makes a great show? What will happen tonight that in your opinion would make a really killer show?
If Buddy drinks a lot of vodka, the show is great. I mean just for instance, the other night in Denver, we could have unplugged our instruments and just stood there and it would have been a great show. It was just that kind of crowd. You know, and I won’t mention the other city we played at but I mean it sounded good, we played good, but you know, something has to be in the air sometimes.
The energy is so strong in your shows, does that vary from town to town?
It varies from hang-over to hang-over.
So what are you expecting from Orange County tonight?
It’s gonna be great. Southern Calforina, this is where this music just thrives. I don’t think it will ever go away. No Doubt, Sublime, this whole scene down here just loves this kind of music so it’s kinda built in. I’d be highly surprised if it was a shit show tonight.