Less Than Jake
was met with mixed reactions after its last CD, In With The Out Crowd
, hit the shelves in 2006. Produced by Howard Benson
, the album strayed from Less Than Jake's usual up-tempo, punk style and even raised a few eyebrows with its ballads. While guitarist/vocalist Chris DeMakes
doesn't regret the finished product, he was definitely ready to return to Less Than Jake's classic punk-ska sound, which is prevalent on the new record GNV FLA
(released on June 24).
This time around the band also had more creative freedom, thanks to Warner Brothers Records
releasing Less Than Jake from its contract. The band members collectively decided to establish their own independent label called Sleep It Off Records, and GNV FLA
is its premiere release. When DeMakes
talked with Ultimate-Guitar writer Amy Kelly
recently, he discussed his recent split with Warner Brothers and the different musical approach he and the band took with GNV FLA.
UG: This year marked your departure from Warner Brothers Records. Did that transition go smoothly?
One of the transitions was basically asking Warner Brothers if we could get out of our contract. Things weren't working. They didn't get behind the last record. We're not 21-year-old kids with eyeliner and tight jeans who are going to sell teen magazines, either. There were a lot of things working against us being on Warner Brothers at the time we were. They let us get out of our contract. We had one album left with them and we started our own label called Sleep It Off Records.
Are you planning on signing other bands to Sleep It Off Records in the future?
That's been a pretty popular question lately. So far we've released 3 of our back catalog CDs, plus our DVD. We hope to release the rest of our catalog in time. Of course, the new record is coming out on the label. All 5 of us own Sleep It Off, and if at some point we all agree on one band or a couple bands to sign their records up, then we'll do it. Right now we don't have any plans to.
Your last album In With The Out Crowd was met with mixed reviews because there was somewhat of a style change. Did your songwriting approach change at all from that album to the new record GNV FLA?
It was more of a production thing. It wasn't so much the songs. There were quite a few songs on the last record that, if they were recorded during this session, they might have been able to fit in with this record, too. It was very slickly produced and polished, and there were some slower songs on it. Going into this album, we didn't want it to be a pop record. We wanted to make more of punk rock record. The songs pretty much came naturally because those are the kinds of songs that we wrote, and that's what we do.
I'm proud of the last record because we jumped out of the box a little bit and we did something a little different. I think we're up to like 140 songs as a band, and you release some songs and a bunch of kids bitch about it. Oh, this band is over with! It's like, We tried something different. If you like it, you like it. If you don't, you don't. I think this record was very natural for us to write because we wrote a quintessential Less Than Jake record. It's really upbeat and fast with lots of horns and lots of vocals.
Do you think that Howard Benson's presence as a producer for In With The Out Crowd influenced the style change?
I think it definitely was Howard with the production on a lot of it. A lot of the tempos of the songs we brought in were slowed down. Once again, I'm not laying any blame on him or anybody. It's just the way it was. He slowed a lot of our tempos down to the tunes, and then there were some songs that we had worked with some outside writers on. We worked with Mark Hoppus of + 44 and blink-182. We did a song called The Rest Of My Life with him. It was a change of pace for the band. There were a number of factors.
When we chatted a few years ago, you had mentioned that you had used quite a few Telecasters and Stratocasters on In With The Out Crowd. Did you try out any new guitars for GNV FLA?
The guitar collection we had was pretty much from Roger, our bass player, and my guitars. I mostly used the bulk of heavy guitars. I used Les Paul Customs and SGs as well. I use a Telecaster on one of the clean songs, and I know I used a Danelectro on one of the clean ska tones for a song called Conviction Notice.
I recall you telling me last time that you wouldn't consider yourself a gearhead. Is that still true?
|"Going into this album, we didn't want it to be a pop record."|
I don't collect gear. I have a home studio as well, but Roger is a gearhead. He loves collecting stuff. Actually I have a fair amount of stuff for saying I'm not a gearhead! I pretty much stuck to my Les Paul Customs for most of my stuff - that and the SGs. For the clean I bounced around between a couple of guitars like the Danelectro and the Stratocaster on a few.
There are a few videos on YouTube showing you at an acoustic solo gig. Are you currently working on solo material?
Right now we're starting a new touring cycle, so anything like that would be put on hold. I did that for fun. I had a bunch of songs. Like I said, I have a home studio and I'm always in there tinkering and writing stuff. I had these songs that I had demoed for a past record. I was like, Ah, we never used them. What the hell, I'm going to put them up. Maybe I'll go and play a show somewhere in Florida around the holidays. It will be fun.
That's exactly what I did, and that's really all that was about.
I'm not out looking for a label or anything else like that. In fact, I took the MySpace page down because I was getting inundated with kids wanting stuff. I was like, You know what? If I do this solo thing for real sometime, I'll put the page back up.
I only had half of the songs I wanted to share and release. I've got a bunch of others ones. When I get them done, maybe I'll put some more up.
Do you tend to write songs on the acoustic?
Probably 90 percent of the songs are on acoustic. I'm either in the back of the bus writing songs or at home in between commercials of a TV program. I'm with the guitar and I'm writing riffs! The acoustic is kind of always around, and I do write like 90 percent of my stuff on there.
Is there one particular acoustic that you usually play?
Probably my Fender, although I have an Alvarez that I have now out with me. Roger and I do acoustic shows.
Do you enjoy the unplugged performances as much as the electric shows?
In a different way, kind of. There's the volume and the craziness of it, but doing the acoustic thing is really good. If Roger and I actually practiced, I would probably be really good!
Considering that you write most of your material on the acoustic, at what point do you start to interact with the horn section?
For the most part, Roger and I will have a song. We'll start demoing it at either one of our studios or together. We'll be in a rehearsal studio with our drummer, Vinnie, at our practice space and we'll go through it. Once we have the bulk of the song or riffs and ideas, then the horns will hear it. Sometimes I'll get together with them or Roger will get together with them and we'll work on a part for a song, or we'll make them a copy of the instrumental or whatever we have working at that point. Buddy, our trombone player, has a studio as well. So he can sit in there and tinker with stuff that we give him. Mostly we'll have stuff already solidified that they can put ideas to.
If there is one thing that is consistently said about Less Than Jake, it's that your live show is always entertaining thanks to the musically tight performance, the humor, and the audience participation. How long did it take you to truly feel confident in your stage show?
That's a good question. I know where it was honed from. It was honed from playing the places that we started in Florida. We used to take gigs anywhere we could get them, like redneck dive bars in Daytona Beach. We would be there playing and you'd have guys heckling you between songs. And of course, that's where the banter started. It would be like, Oh, yeah? Well, at least I'm not pouring cement for a living. You would crack jokes like that. We kind of cut our teeth at the hardest places you could.
Then it just progressed to actually getting fans and kids liking the band and playing so many shows and touring. Then the big thing that helped us was getting to do festivals. We started doing things like the Warped Tour or we started doing European festivals. If you're standing in front of 40,000 people, you better not be staring at your feet! It just kind of evolved into the huge audience participation thing. It's just as important to have them all feel what we were feeling.
You've been together about 16 years, so this may be a difficult question to answer. Has there been a show that you consider the most memorable?
|"This year we've got a bunch of limited edition vinyl of the new album."|
Oh, yeah! We did the Leeds Festival in England in 2002. There were probably 100,000 people there. We were on the main stage and played in front of probablywho knows? Probably 30, 000, 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 people. At some point you can't even tell. It was just a sea of people as far as the eye could see. We decided to get a circle pit to go around the soundboard. There was a hill in the back of the soundboard. We announced what we were going to do, and there were people running. It looked like a war had started! I remember my dad and mom had flown over for that show. They were on the side of the stage. I just looked at my dad and I mouthed to him, Holy fuck!
We had been a band at that point for 10 years and played a lot of shows, and it wasn't like I hadn't played big shows. When this thing erupted, there were 15,000 people doing this circle pit around the soundboard out there. I almost puked! I had to hold my food or beer contents down for sure. That was probably one of the most memorable times. That adrenaline rush was unlike anything else I've ever experienced.
As far as the current bands out on the scene today, are there any that you think stick out from the rest?
I always hate this question because I come off sounding like such a dick! I don't listen to too much new stuff. Maybe that's showing my age, I don't know. You'll find NOFX, Bad Religion, all the way to Neil Diamond in my iPod. I listen to stuff from my youth and growing up. Not too much new stuff catches my ear.
For those fans who intend on picking up the reissues of your older albums, what they can expect from the bonus DVDs that accompany them?
There's a companion DVD that comes with it from that time period. Whatever those songs' time periods were from, we collected videos from that era and put them as bonus DVDs. They're pretty entertaining!
Can we expect a new DVD with more current footage in the near future as well?
Yeah. I think we would probably already have a new DVD out already if it wasn't for the fact that Buddy, our trombone player, does all of our editing and everything. He's great at it. We put so much content on our YouTube page and our MySpace page for Sleep It Off Records and Less Than Jake. We're constantly uploading videos. So the other day I was like, Dude, we've got to stop putting videos up on the Internet and save them for our next DVD.
So yeah, there's talk about it, but I don't know exactly when it's going to happen.
Do you have any other releases in the works?
This year we've got a bunch of limited edition vinyl of the new album. It will be different-colored vinyl. We're playing some acoustic performances at some record stores, where the first 100 people will be allowed to get in. One of them is Vintage Vinyl in New Jersey. We're going to giving away vinyl records of demo songs from the album if you purchase the CD. There are always little promotional things that we're trying to do for the fans.
Interview by Amy Kelly