Interview: JR of Less Than Jake
July 27, 2006 10:52 AM
by Christina Fuoco
Ska-inspired rockers Less Than Jake, who are currently taking their ninth spin on the annual Warped Tour, are now considered the old guys on the summer punk tour---or as saxophonist JR says, they're the "veterans."
"It's our fifth entire Warped Tour and our ninth time being a part of Warped Tour," JR said during an interview in a dressing room when the Warped Tour made a recent stop in Phoenix. "We used to be the young band on tour and at some point we got old. Thank God for NOFX and Joan Jett and The Germs. They're older than us. We're the 'veterans.' That's a big word for 'old.'"
Less Than Jake--which also includes vocalist/guitarist Chris, vocalist/bassist Roger, trombonist Buddy and drummer Vinnie--is on the road pushing its latest release, "In With the Out Crowd."
Kevin Lyman, the Warped Tour's founder, said he purposely picked landmark groups such as Less Than Jake, The Germs, Joan Jett, NOFX and Helmet for this year's tour.
"I kind of went back a little bit more to the punk roots for the tour. I think it kind of dawned on me when Joan Jett came over to hang out in October. It was kind of like, 'Wow, Joan Jett,' and I kind of looked at the other festivals and tours going out this summer," he said.
"You look at Ozzfest. You look at Sounds of the Underground. The Slayer package. They're all metal oriented. We still have some of that influence. A lot of screamo out here, but this could be the year [for punk]. There's still a lot of punk kids out there. With the Bouncing Souls, NOFX, The Germs playing today, The Buzzcocks out earlier this summer--it's really interesting to see how many kids are really interested in the roots of punk right now."
Less Than Jake's JR talked with LiveDaily about playing Warped multiple times, his band's new album, 'In With the Out Crowd,' and his group's staying power.
What do you feel you get out of the Warped Tour?
When we first started doing it, it wasn't as big. There weren't as many bands. There weren't as many dates. Now it's just it's become it's own entity, a summer festival tour. For us, it's great, because we get to play in front of thousands of fans every day. Some are new fans, some are old fans. Some are people who never heard of your band before. We've been a band for 15 years. It's kind of cool in that aspect. It's a good vibe. It's unlike any tour you could ever do. Just go on tour with some of your favorite bands. And some bands you don't even know who the hell they are but then they become your favorite band.
I guess you know what you're doing next summer.
Not the Warped Tour. We don't do it every year. We do it every other year. It's been three years since we've been on the Warped Tour. We did the 10-year reunion show in 2004. We didn't do any of it last year. I went to one show last year. It was weird because there wasn't a lot of old punk-rock bands. It was like Dropkick Murphys, No Use for a Name, and a bunch of new radio acts. It just seemed really weird. But the kids came anyway. I don't think it matters who's on the bill. They just come because it's Warped Tour.
What was it like to work with producer Howard Benson on 'In With the Out Crowd'?
Howard's a mad genius. He knows what he wants. He knows what he's looking for. He's really amazing at arranging vocals. He pushed us, which is something you kind of need as you get older. When you're young, you think you know everything. And you really don't. Then as you get older you're sure you know everything. But in reality sometimes you still don't. So sometimes you need somebody to smack you in the face and push you a bit. That's kind of what Howard did for us for this record. He pushed us to try different things and branch off from what we've been doing, and how we write a song. Some people say [the album is] really good. Some people say it's really bad. To be honest with you, I don't really f---ing care what anybody thinks about it, because I think the record's great. I don't read any reviews. I'm 30 years old. You'd think once you get a little older, you'd get a little tougher skin. You think when people say your record sucks it's not going to hurt, but it still hurts. It's like saying everything that you're feeling, everything you've been through in your life, or that time period when you wrote that record is s---. Well, f--- you. That's how I feel, because that's my life. If somebody asks me what I've done for the last two years of my life, I say, 'Hey, you want to know? Here's the new record. Just listen to it.'
Judging from the record, it's been a tumultuous couple years.
Divorces and deaths, a lot of growing, still, as we get older. Like I said, as you get older, you think you know everything or you summed it all up and figured it all out. No, you're still trying to figure it all out. At least I am, and the guys in my band are. It doesn't matter how old you get, what you know or what you don't. You just gotta survive. Keep going. I see a lot of young bands that are out there. It's funny to hear them talking to each other. They'll ramble back and forth about how this band sucks, "I can't believe people are buying their CD." "I can't believe they're getting airplay." Just do your thing. Don't care what other bands are doing. I care about one band on this tour: mine. I know that totally makes me sound like an a--hole, but in reality, I don't care what the other bands are doing. I'll watch the shows. I have my friends. I make friends. That's what this whole thing is about. But I care about what my band is doing. You're supposed to focus on your band. That's why people come on this tour--to promote their band. That's what we're trying to do out here, and have fun doing it.
Do you think that it goes against the spirit of the Warped Tour to talk about how many records you're selling?
Maybe. It got that way a couple years back. Everybody cares. Ten years ago, when I listened to a record, I couldn't tell you who produced a record. Now kids are talking about producers more than they're talking about bands. It is so f---ing weird. The record sounds good, the record sounds bad. I don't buy a record because Howard Benson produced it, or Rob Cavallo produced it, or because douche-bag X produced it. I'll buy a record because I think the band writes good songs. I like the music. It's like a Gucci tag. It's like, "I'm going to buy this pair of pants because it says 'Gucci' on it. Even though the same pair of pants are right here for $30, I'll buy these Gucci pants for $500." It's the tag, that's it. It's style over substance. We're not good-looking dudes. We're all cross-eyed and we drink a lot. It was never about how we dress or do our hair. It's always been about the music. It wasn't about videos. A lot of bands that I see right now, in five years I'm not sure where they'll be. Pick a band like Good Charlotte--a band we toured with, a band we supported three years ago. Where are they now? They're not on Warped Tour. That sucks because they're good kids and they're not a bad band. But people don't have long attention spans.
Why would you say you lasted so long?
I honestly don't know. Maybe it's because we never got huge success. Maybe because we learned a lot. Maybe because we didn't keep writing the same record. Maybe because we put on a good live show. Maybe it's because we do a bunch of different kinds of merchandise. I don't know. I don't know what makes a band sustain and what makes a band fall. I just know internally--within the five of us--we're still each other's best friends. We still hang out with each other. We still talk to each other. We still laugh. It's f---ed up because you see some of these bands, and they don't like each other. They're doing it for a paycheck. F--- that. I'd rather go home and work in an office, because at least I can go home every night. So, I wish I could tell you. There's no formula. Good question. I wish I had a better answer.
Perhaps it's your passion?
I think so. You can tell the difference between a band that's really doing it and a band that's going through the motions. I can. Some people just do it for a job. This is my hobby that became my profession. It seems to me there's no passion to work anymore. With younger bands--and some older bands too--the passion goes away. That's unfortunate because I'm still here 15 years later. I get frustrated sometimes. [Laughs] I just keep going. I've done this for half of my life. I've done some bad things, but here I am. I'm still here, I'm still alive. I'm playing saxophone on the Warped Tour. I call it as I see it. Ska died 10 years ago. Somehow it's still going. I don't question it, and I thank my lucky stars.
My next question is about ska and how it's supposedly dead. People still pick up your record, and ska tours do well in clubs.
It's still doing well underground. It just went away from the mainstream. It goes in a cycle, just like everything else goes in a cycle. There's a lot of bands that are screamy. I don't know how long that will last. But pretty soon it will be like everything else. Corporate America comes and rapes it and takes it for what it's worth. Ska didn't go anywhere. It's just not in the mainstream. There's still kids that go to ska shows. I go to ska shows. It's awesome. It's just that nobody sees it. When I say it's 'dead,' there are no contemporaries that we came up with that are still signed to a major label. I'm pretty sure Reel Big Fish got dropped. I don't even know if Goldfinger is recording anymore. The Bosstones don't exist anymore. Fishbone really doesn't exist anymore. Angelo from Fishbone is around here [at the Phoenix Warped Tour show]. The Specials, they kind of tour. Anyway, I don't know what happened. I think people started thinking that ska was a circus. The reality is the first wave of ska was not. Not at all. It was traditional island reggae; a blend of calypso and jazz basically down in Jamaica. The Skatelites weren't f---ing around. They weren't a joke. They were real. They were pioneers. Toots & the Maytals--that's real ska music. There were only a couple bands from England that I was into, like The Specials and Madness, a little bit of The Selecter, maybe a Bad Manners song here and there. In the third wave, it was over here--Fishbone, the Bosstones, the Toasters, The Pietasters, Hepcat. All these great bands. And they all stopped. Maybe it was because they weren't making money. I don't know how it happened. I like to think we put on a good show and our songs are OK.
You have scaled down your show over the years. You used to have costumes and there used to be 12 members. It used to be a big thing. Did you scale it down to make it more serious--so people wouldn't think it was a circus?
Like I said, if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, it just becomes old. When you are performing and stuff is expected, people expect you to do it and you do it because you're expected to do it. "Here we go again. They're going to come out in costumes. The skull guy is going to come. The fire eater." We had to switch it up and change it. People ask us if we changed our music to change with the times. No, we're changing our music because this is who we are now. Who we were five years ago is a different thing. Ten years ago, we were way different. Writing a record like [1996's] "Losing Streak," people are like, "How come you don't write songs like that anymore?" That record was written when we were 19, 20 years old. We're like 30, 31, 32. It's a different time in our life. I don't have the same feelings that I had when I was 19. Sometimes I do. But if we write that again, people are going to say, "Oh, this is boring." I like to say that we give fans something good. And that's something to bitch about. At least they're still talking about it. But did we scale it down to become more serious? Yeah, a little bit. We're still not. We may not have the costumes, but watch the show. Listen to what those two idiots talk about on stage.
Punk-pop stalwarts Less Than Jake return with the adored band's first original album in three years, In With the Out Crowd, produced by Howard Benson. The punk 'n' horns group has sold more than 1 million records over the past decade, thanks to incessant touring, including on the Warped Tour, where it has been the #1 merchandise seller. Less Than Jake gets out the crowds once more with In With the Out Crowd.