Less Than Jake have been one of the leading bands in the ska punk scene for a long time now. With a career spanning two decades, the band has just released their first record in five years, titled ‘See The Light.’ Frontman Chris DeMakes had a chat with Killyourstereo.com about the new album, and returning to Australia for Soundwave next year.
How are you this morning Chris?
I’m doing good, how are you?
I’m all right. New album See The Light’ has just come out. What are the initial thoughts?
Yeah, we just released that record about a month ago. Exactly a month ago today, actually. It’s out through Fat Wreck Chords worldwide, it’s got 13 songs on it, and it sounds great. It sounds like a Less Than Jake record. If you like our band, you’ll like this album.
How have you guys found the reception for the album so far?
Great! The people that love our band, the feedback from them has been phenomenal, they love it! And that’s kind of the best pat on the back, getting the feedback from people that actually enjoy our music.
The feedback from critics and the press, and people saying harsher comments don’t mean all that much to us, since frankly, they probably didn’t like us in the first place, so it wouldn’t matter what we record, they’d just s**t all over it anyway! (laughs) It’s been a very good response.
You guys have been saying that you’ve taken a “total back to basics approach” to this album. What, specifically, did this entail for you guys?
That kind of aggrivates me, ’cause I don’t know who said that, and I certainly didn’t. We write from the heart, and I write from the way I’m feeling at the time. We as a band, I feel like we definitely have our own sound now, so in terms of ‘back to basics’ or ‘back to our roots’ or whatever, I don’t feel as much of that.
We did what we do best on this record. We took elements of pop, of punk, of ska, and combined melodies, and horns and tried to make catchy songs with poignant lyrics. Basically we wanted to make it as good as possible. I feel like we’ve made the quintessential Less Than Jake album.
Is there anything you guys went through in the process of creating this album that you hadn’t done before?
Kind of. The only thing would be that we didn’t really get in our rehearsal space and play the songs as a band. We would just sit around with a couple of guitars, and a lyric pad, and just come up with melodies, and the songs came about really organically. It wasn’t until soon before we recorded that we started playing them as a band.
We wanted to make sure that the basic songs, the basic chords, the basic melody of all the songs were as strong as they could be before we recorded. We didn’t want to record anything that we didn’t love with just a guitar and a vocal. That was a bit different to how we’ve done things previously.
This release saw Roger take on lead production duties for a full length for the first time. How did having someone from the band in that role impact the production of the record?
It’s not quite the first time. He produced GVN FLA. It says Matt Allison on the record, but Roger co-produced it. He basically started producing for us on that record, so all the EP’s and everything we’ve done between those releases he’s been doing. He’s been producing for a while now.
The producer’s chair isn’t the easiest place to be, and even more so when you’re in the band as well. Now you’re wearing two hats, as the band member and the producer. But I think over the past few years we’ve kind of figured things out a bit more. Just like with everything else, there’s disagreements, and there’s times where someone thinks it should be one way, and someone thinks something else, but in the end, we’re all striving for the same thing, for the song to be the best it can be, and I think in the end we make it there.
Personally, I reckon the artwork for the album is pretty cool. Is there any particular meaning or idea behind that?
Not so much, but the light coming from behind the door represents some kind of a new journey, or a new path to take. It’s hope, and that comes across a lot in the lyrics of this record, there’s a lot of hope, and that’s what we were striving for when we were writing it. But hey, that’s my interpretation, I won’t shove that down your throat. If it means something else to anyone else, then that’s great. That’s what music’s supposed to do, anyway.
Having quite an extensive back catalogue now, what makes ‘See The Light’ stand out among the rest of your material?
I hear a lot of people in bands say things like “this is the best record we’ve ever done!” I’m not going to say that. Mostly because it’s too new. I’ll need to revisit it after a few years to be able to make that call.
I do think it’s our best sounding record. The production is just insane on it. It sounds full, and fat, and I think it’s the best sounding Less Than Jake record.
Having been in the game for so long, you guys have a fan base that spans from teenagers to middle aged fans who have been listening to you since their youth. With that in mind, do you guys take any measures to appeal to everyone in that wide range, or does it come about more naturally?
Honestly, it just comes about naturally. It’s amazing, we write from the heart, and then there’s this 40 year old at a concert, and he’s brought his 16 year old son, and it hits them both, and they both love the same songs, and when you see that connection, it just really hits you. You know, the 16 year old kid gets it and his 40 year old dad gets it, and that’s when you know you’ve done something right.
When things start to get contrived, and you overthink it and try too hard. I dunno, maybe making a record that sounds like you’re old material, and it’s like, “Oh, the 40 year old loves it, but the 16 year old doesn’t get it at all,” then I feel like that’s when you’re not being true to yourself.
How are you feeling about coming back to Australia and playing Soundwave?
Beyond excited. This is the third interview tonight where I’ve been asked that, and I’ll give the same answer: Soundwave is amazing. Your country welcomes us with open arms, the fans are amazing, and as I said in the last two interviews, and I’m not making this s**t up. There’s a lot of countries I’ve been to that I wouldn’t say this about, because I don’t feel that way about them. The festivals are amazing, the people are great, the atmosphere is amazing, and it’s going to be in the summer. The line-up is over the top, and it’s one of the best put together festivals in the world. Every time we come back to Australia, we feel very lucky.
What are your best memories from playing the festival in 2011?
It wasn’t so much playing the festival. It was the stuff that went on in between. We hung out with New Found Glory quite a bit, and went to the sideshow after parties that they had, and it was insane.There were people drinking to the point that I thought they were going to kill themselves. You get that many bands together in Australia and it’s a combination for disaster. The playing is the cherry on the top of the cake. The rest of the stuff is like a vacation with your best friends, it’s awesome.
Having played similar events all around the world, how does Soundwave stand up as a festival in the worldwide scene?
Top five best in the world. It’s up there with the bet in England and Europe. If you ask any band that’s played it, they’ll probably say the same thing. I’m not sure if people will have heard of it outside of that, but honestly, it’s amazing and it’s a world class festival.
Are there currently any plans to play sideshows while you’re down for Soundwave?
We’re doing them! We’re just working out who we’ll be teamed up with. There was talk of us and Pennywise, or us and one other band. I can’t remember who it was at the moment though.
All right, I’ll just give you a few quick ones to finish up;
Favourite songs to play live?
That’s a tough one. (laughs) Probably the newer songs. So the two or three new songs we’re playing at the moment.
Favourite albums released this year?
Bad Religion – True North, that’s a great record. A band called Red Sea Radio. I’m blanking on the title of their record. Those are the two that come to mind.
Favourite band to have shared the stage with?
Probably The Descendants.
Having been touring for over two decades now, what’s the craziest thing that you can remember?
Probably getting hit in the back with a large object, and looking down to find a prosthetic leg. It even had a shoe attached to it, so I was kind of wondering whose it was when I saw the shoe attached to it. You know, I was like “This isn’t a joke, someone’s lost their f***ing leg.”
I looked into the crowd and there’s this guy hopping around, and the whole crowd’s pointing at him, so they lift him up, put him on the stage and he just straps his leg back on. I couldn’t make this s**t up (laughs).
Any final words for your Australian fans?
I hope to see as many of you when we come down to your beautiful country.