Thursday, June 27, 2019

Less Than Jake still going strong after all these years

June 12, 2019 by Adam Marsh, student editor

There’s a certain laid-back tranquility to Canada’s west coast. Just ask Chris DeMakes, guitarist/vocalist of Florida ska/punk band Less Than Jake. The group have travelled all over the world in the 27 years since they formed, and they’ve never looked back. 

“I dunno what else there is to say, man—it’s British Columbia. It’s Canada. I’ve never had a bad time in Canada,” says DeMakes. “It’s a couple paces more chill than here and the fans just go crazy.”

When the band started out, they were just a three-piece punk group, says DeMakes, but ska caught their ears thanks to a certain legendary British punk band that also deals in brass.

“There’s a band from England called Snuff; they’re a punk band and they had a horn section—a trombone player—and we thought it was really cool, so we were like, ‘We should find a horn player,’ and we did,” says DeMakes. “From there, we started to incorporate ska into our music.”

Florida ska/punkers Less Than Jake are playing this year’s Victoria Ska Fest (photo by Jodi Cunningham).

That wasn’t a really common thing to hear in ’92. Up to that point, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Operation Ivy, and Fishbone were among the few who had combined different styles—including punk—into ska. 

“There was never any grand plan of, ‘We’re gonna be a ska/punk band,’ it just became what it became,” says DeMakes. “When I first started doing interviews, the band was probably three, four, five years old, and we’d get asked questions like, ‘Do you think you’re gonna be around in five years?’ And it’s like, ‘Man, I just wanna go play my friend’s backyard keg party.’” 

Although there wasn’t really any grand plan for the band members—then in their late teens—Less Than Jake are still around today. The band like to live in the moment, but record producers, fans, and the pressures of having a following have made for a more regimented creative process since the early days. And speaking of pressure, Less Than Jake was even signed to a major label for a stint during the pop-punk mania of the ’90s. 

“At times it was great and at times it was tough,” says DeMakes about the band’s career so far. “We were young—for lack of a better word—punks; we were just kids. When I got signed to Capitol [Records] I was 21 years old; all of a sudden you have these people who are older than you are that have influence at a company, and you’re part of that. There were some hard pills to swallow, but overall it all worked out; we’re still here.”

DeMakes says there were some growing pains along the way: it was never meant to not be fun, but he says there were times when it wasn’t.

“That’s part of it, too,” he says. “Life isn’t all a bowl of cherries.” 

There are a number of bands in the world—some who have made it, some who haven’t—who would give a shiny new Fender to have made it 27 years in one band. In the span of their life, Less Than Jake have seen vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and MP3s come and go, eventually giving way to streaming services. 

“Who knows what the next format or model’s going to be?” says DeMakes. “All I know is that until you can somehow download me to stand in your living room and play a show for you, nothing’s going to replace the live show. That, for us, has always been our bread and butter and why we’re still a band. That’s how we make our livelihood, because people want to come and see the band play. 27 years into this and we’re still getting asked to travel 3,000 miles across the country to play a ska fest in Victoria. It’s pretty cool.”

Victoria Ska Fest
Various times, Wednesday, June 19 until Monday, June 24
Various prices and locations
victoriaskafest.ca

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