Less Than Jake: 25 years of nonstop ska punk

by Patty Templeton

Less Than Jake have instigated pit-wrecking and Pez-slamming since 1992. Twenty-five years in and with a new EP, “Sound the Alarm,” they’ll make you skank as hard as ever. They throw down dynamic tunes and a party attitude that proffers a vacay from your problems. Don’t matter that the rent’s overdue or you’ve been eating buttered bowtie pasta for two weeks because when you’ve got the music, you’ve got a place to go.

Speaking of getting the hell outta the house. Less Than Jake is the headliner at Ska Brewing’s 22nd Anniversary Party on Saturday, Sept. 9. It’s sold out, so we hope you got your tix early.

DGO spoke to drummer and lyricist Vinnie Fiorello about how a band sticks around a quarter of a century and where ska heaven on earth is.

Congrats on making it 25 years as a band!That’s longer than my parents were married. That’s longer than my first marriage, in fact. (laughs)

Who are some of the heroes you’ve gotten to work with over the decades?One of the first next-level bands we wished we could play with, and then did, was The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and that was in 1996. We had a chance to open for them and it was awesome. They were really gracious dudes and mentors.

For me to be able to share a stage with Billy Bragg was really important. We shared a song together, a version of “The Brightest Bulb Has Burned Out.” It went on the “Anthem” record.

Going down the list, sharing the stage with Rancid, sharing the stage early on with The Descendants. They took us on the Caffeine Nation tour in 1998. To be able to go around the United States with The Descendants, that’s a mindblower, ya know?

A lot of bands come and go in 25 years. What’s allowed Less Than Jake to stick around?The truly crazy thing about being together for this long is that there’s a certain chemical reaction amongst the band members [when playing] live. There’s a certain chemical reaction between the crowd and the band. It becomes this very circular, cool thing. It’s one of the reasons why there is continually gas in the car, metaphorically speaking.

We are very close. We’ve gotten over a lot of humps together. We’ve also had managed expectations in starting the band. With Less Than Jake it was, “Oh yeah, if we could play one show live.” Then, “If we can play a show at that big club in town.” Then, “If we can play one show out of town.” Then, “Play a show out of state.” Then, “Tour the United States.” It was always managed expectations. It wasn’t, “We want to be superstars.” It was baby steps, and that’s what makes a better foundation for a band to last.

For me, we’ve been a band of individuals who have lived and died by those managed expectations. Now we’re like brothers. We’re not the Brady Bunch. Some days, someone is in a bad mood so everyone gets in a bad mood. Shit happens. It’s a family.

Any advice to new bands about making it the long haul? Communication, man.

It’s about being a band. Less Than Jake has always been a band. You never think of one particular person. Sometimes bands are only thought of as that one front person. We’ve never been that. I think that if you can have communication where everything is about being in a group, a new band will do all right. If you want to be the boss, you’re not really in a band, you’re hiring musicians to play with you.

The EP came out this year. It seems to balance personal and political streaks. A lot of Less Than Jake lyrics, for me, are about inner conflict. The way that I exorcise demons is through lyrics and calling them out. I’m not necessarily a political person, but I am into social politics. I wouldn’t necessarily write about a president, but I write a song on someone who has to sell drugs to stay alive or a mom who can’t see her kids because she has to work 80 hours a week.

That socio-political side has always been there. It’s not beating you over the head, but it is still there.

Is there a fourth wave of ska coming?I don’t think it will ever be in waves like it was before. I think the way social media works, everything is immediate. Each band is individually promoted into a trend. I don’t think it could reach maximum density where people notice a wave of 10 bands because simultaneously those bands all got popular at once. Technology has changed the structure of news.

Someone’s never heard of ska before. What three albums do you tell them to check out?Operative Ivy, “Energy.” You would have to go with a best of The Specials, too. You can’t really pinpoint one record, but a best of and you’d have a lesson in ska. Then I’d go with “Don’t Know How to Party” by The Bosstones. That was the band that merged punk and rock and hardcore and ska and reggae and they were doing it better than everyone else.

That same person’s never heard of your band. What albums are a perfect starter pack?I would have them go to “Hello Rockview,” then “Pezcore,” then the EP we just put out, “Sound the Alarm.”

What cities are ska paradises? Anaheim, California, Denver, Colorado, Chicago, Illinois, Long Island, New York, anywhere in Jersey, anywhere in the U.K. – it’s still huge.

We went over for a festival called Slam Dunk in the U.K. and the first show was in Birmingham. We had a chance to see The Specials play. They were 20 minutes away from their hometown, so it was a hometown show. There were 5,000 people there having a great time partying. Fred Perry’s on. Docs on. I was feeling it so hard. It was a testament to music and making music into a movement. The movement still exists there and continues to grow. The Specials grow all over the world and play to people. I’m just flying blind here, but maybe they can’t play Birmingham, Alabama, and play to 5,000 people, but they have places in the United States, in Europe that they can. There’s plenty of people who feel it.

Music lives on forever no matter what. People take those three chords or four chords and a melody line and it lives on forever. People take it with them to their last dying breath.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer


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