Less Than Jake talk new album, influences, favorite new bands, Ska Against Racism & more
Gainesville ska-punk vets Less Than Jake are gearing up to release their first album in seven years, Silver Linings, on December 11 via Pure Noise (pre-order). It's their first full-length since 2013's Fat Wreck Chords-released See the Light, first new music since 2017's Sound The Alarm, and their first new music since new drummer Matt Yonker (who previously tour managed LTJ and played in Teen Idols and The Queers) replaced founding drummer/lyricist Vinnie Fiorello. It also comes at a time where there's a lot of excitement surrounding ska, and you can tell that Less Than Jake sound refreshed on this record. They've written a great batch of songs that sound like classic LTJ: catchy, upbeat, driving ska-punk with harmonious vocal interplay between Roger Lima and Chris DeMakes and all the bright horn arrangements you can ask for. It feels instantly familiar without feeling like rehashed versions of old songs. For a band nearly 30 years into their career, that's not a bad place to be.
While we await the new album's release, we caught up with Roger Lima to discuss their new music, their new drummer, favorite new bands, their quarantine-induced 'Lost At Home Sessions' project, appearing on the new Ska Against Racism compilation (as well as the original 1998 'Ska Against Racism' tour), what keeps them going after all these years, and more. Roger also made a list of songs that inspired the new album. Read on for our chat and his list...
BV: You said the band feels "reignited and refueled," which I think definitely comes across in the music. What was different about the approach to this one compared to past records?
Roger Lima: Yeah, I feel like there is some newness to things these days. Obviously, we have had a new drummer for a couple of years now, and being that this is his first recording with the band, that's going to switch things up on its own. Beyond that, the rest of us have taken on the lyrical tasks as well, and with everyone giving input and contributing, we sort of have a new voice or some new perspectives, lyrically. I'd also throw in that our sax player, JR, wrote a few of the songs on this record and I feel that adds to the flavor and the freshness. He's been involved with writing on previous releases, but this time around, I think his charm really shines. We kind of co-wrote the track "Lost At Home" and I just love that one.
Silver Linings comes after the longest gap between Less Than Jake albums, but you also called it "the first step of a new era for the band." What caused that long gap, and does "new era" imply we won't have to wait as long for the next one?
We had done an EP and been on the road a good amount. It feels like a long time coming for a full length, I agree! It was a fairly smooth transition having long time friend and LTJ workhorse Matt Yonker jump on the drum kit late in 2018, (former drummer of one of my all-time favorite bands, The Teen Idols, by the way). He had done merch, guitar tech, stage, and more recently, live sound and tour managing/management for us! So we had some restructuring to do. And we also had a good amount of touring commitments before getting into writing for the album. Most of the songs on this were written in the spring of 2019 and we recorded Nov 2019. There was a plan for an earlier release, but, yes, pandemic delays and the inability to tour and promote the record slowed us, and the whole world of music down so much... so together with our label, we thought it better to hold off. I do feel like there will be more new music flowing sooner than later! We had fun doing the "Lost at Home" songs this year, (more info at lessthanjake.bandcamp.com) and those were more like singles than album centric, but the process is becoming streamlined for recording. I have already started to woodshed material for another record, as I'm sure Chris is as well.
Were there adjustments to make after parting ways with Vinnie Fiorello, who you’d written songs with since day one? Also, are the band and Vinnie still on okay terms? What exactly led to the departure?
As far as adjustments, yes, of course, mostly with behind the scenes band business. He was the primary lyricist for the band, and it took a bit of refocusing of creative juices as the rest of us took on that role as part of the songwriting, absolutely. Vinnie was becoming tired of life on the road and wanted to spend more time with his daughter. No bad feelings, I am just happy we got to where we got and I'm ready to pick up the torch and continue forward on this crazy path.
It's been a chaotic year to say the least, between the pandemic, the fights for social justice, etc. The record is called Silver Linings -- was any of it affected by and/or inspired by COVID, the political climate, etc?
Actually, the album title was picked before 2020 even showed up with all its insanity! Possibly, our trombone player, Buddy, is a soothsayer. I wish I could say it was planned out to speak about what may (or may not) be happening in the world these days, but it's really a summation to the theme that was very organically sewn into some of the lyrics and the overall positivity we felt was coming off the tracks.
Before this album, you contributed a new song to the awesome Ska Against Racism benefit compilation. You also went on Mike Park's original Ska Against Racism tour in 1998. Would you have imagined back then that things would arguably be worse 22 years later? Also, can you talk about the importance of being a band that consistently aligns itself with causes like anti-racism?
I can't believe it's something that still exists. I was shocked to have a few, (very very few, but nonetheless), followers on social media disapprove when I posted something supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. I mean, give me a break! Where have you been? Why are you following me?! We will always be a band that believes in everyone being treated equally and fairly and the recent injustice, quite frankly, this shit needs to stop.
The new compilation has LTJ and other bands who were on the 1998 tour like Mustard Plug, MU330, and Five Iron Frenzy, but it also has songs by a whole new generation of ska and ska-punk bands. The genre really feels like it's in an exciting place right now, with a ton of great newer bands and a lot more widespread support than it's had in years. As a band who's consistently toured and released music for nearly 30 years, throughout ska's mainstream boom, its lull in the late 2000s/early 2010s, and this current moment, have you felt this upswing in excitement on your end as musicians?
That is a bit difficult to judge without any shows or tours right now, as a good percentage of musicians are having to find other ways to pay the bills, but it does feel like the ska vibes have found new life. LTJ was touring steadily and working during all of the booms and lulls, and if anything, it has felt like a long and steady incline. It's undeniable that when a band like The Interrupters comes along and puts a little more mainstream focus on the scene, you can feel the fresh eyes and ears at the shows and online. It's amazing!
On a similar note, any other newer ska bands you've been digging that you recommend?
I mean, I'm still really digging The Skints! Amazing band. I imagine if you're a fan of LTJ then you must have heard the new Suicide Machines album on Fat Wreck Chords, right? I love that record, and not just because I had the honor of producing and recording that one, but because those guys wrote some rad songs! Honorable mention, if you haven't given the new Kill Lincoln record a spin, do yourself a favor!
Since Sound The Alarm, you've been signed to Pure Noise, a label that really seems to be killing it right now, with so many great new bands as well as new music by other long-running bands like The Bouncing Souls and Strike Anywhere. How'd you get hooked up with the Pure Noise people and how has your experience at the label been so far?
We've had a great rapport since day one. Jake, Cahil and the team over there are on point, do what they say they will and give the bands complete creative control along with tons of support. Couldn't be happier. This is our first full-length album with them and I hope the depth of the songs, as we have a few singles planned, will carry us into the next record. I had first heard Pure Noise because they were releasing The Story So Far records, and as it happens, I also produced a couple of other releases for the label.
Speaking of labels, you've been on a lot of cool ones over the years -- Fat Wreck Chords, No Idea, Dill, etc -- and like a lot of punk bands in the '90s and early '00s, you had a major label period too. What was your experience like working with a major during the height of punk and ska's popularity? What did you take away from that experience that informs what you do today?
Honestly, we were very very fortunate to get into that whole machine for a bunch of records. Not a lot of people may know this, but one man, Craig Aaronson, an A&R guy for both Capitol and later Warner Brothers signed us TWICE to both labels! Of course, we were given the recording budgets to get guys to make our records that really knew what they were doing and help us identify and cultivate "our sound," if you will. The value in those experiences are immeasurable. We didn't have a huge breakout single, but we were able to use the majors' resources to promote on an indie and "street team" level that really gave back to the scenes and fans that got us the deal in the first place. I'd say we learned about the value of the song, how the song comes first, and fans are ok with it if you stretch your legs a little, musically.
Punk is often considered a young person's game and so many great punk bands are short-lived, but you're approaching your 30th anniversary and calling this new album the start of a new era. What keeps you going and keeps you inspired after all these years?
Each and every one of those AMAZING FANS OUT THERE! This band is so lucky to have fans that not only always come out to see us play, but now they are bringing their kids! I just can't tell you what it's like to play songs and have a crowd give back that energy, 1000 fold. It's a serious rush. We have always been saying, if NOFX and Bad Religion are still doing it, we’ve got no excuses! And on a more serious note, I'll say that... I don't feel that this band has written its best songs yet. Truth.
Anything else you'd like to add that I haven't asked about?
Just, thanks for taking the time! It's a busy life these days, with so many apps and feeds and places to be. I feel very lucky that some songs my friends and I made find their way through the insanity and find some of you. Thank you for listening!
10 SONGS THAT INSPIRED LESS THAN JAKE'S SILVER LININGS (by Roger Lima)
The Avengers - "Teenage Rebel"
This is just a fun punk song that has a great message and a catchy as hell chorus. A very underrated group that should never be confused with the Marvel characters.
Descendents - "Good Good Things"
One of our biggest influences. We even wrote a song about Bill Stevenson for our new album. This song never gets old or less exciting.
NOFX - "Six Years On Dope"
We love being inspired by our friends. This song is everything we love about NOFX; great guitar riff, Melvin screaming and a big modern sound from a great band.
The Jam - "In The City"
This song is really one of the best pop punk songs that people may not know about. The Jam has always been an influence but this particular song is a master stroke for them. Really hits all the right places.
The Interrupters - "Title Holder"
We have loved this band since they became a band. So much fun and what energy! We don't deserve The Interrupters.
Dance Hall Crashers - "Queen For A Day"
If we ruled the world, this band would get back together immediately, if not sooner. Classic ska and pop punk with great vocal harmonies. Trend setters. No one sounds like DHC.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - "A Jackknife To A Swan"
The godfathers of ska-punk. This band is always raising the bar in some shape or form. This song is seriously underrated in a catalogue that is full of hits.
The Story So Far - "Quicksand"
Labelmates and friends. We have always said that if this band is the future of punk, the future is bright. Great music and lyrics and hits us in all the right ways. We love this band.
The Pioneers - "Time Hard"
One of the most underrated groups from the first wave of ska. Three part vocal harmonies and great ska and reggae feels - once you hear about 10 seconds of any song, you will be hooked. This is one of our favorites.
Bad Religion - "Sorrow"
Maybe the greatest punk song ever penned. Bad Religion always reminds us to put our best foot forward in songwriting, lyric development and just overall making the best album we can each time.
Silver Linings drops December 11 via Pure Noise. Pre-order it here.