Coming out of the 90s alternative rock music movement, bands in the third-wave ska movement of the 90s were music’s Captain America: the man out of time. Brass, punk and upstrokes on the guitars caught a unique wave that even the most seasoned of label employees couldn’t say they saw coming.
Less Than Jake reached a lot of ears at the same time The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish were, but have had a lasting impact far beyond the blip of commercial success that ska had. Over the course of their 30 years together, a lot has changed in the industry, but their passion and seamless transition between records and songs has not. Before Less Than Jake’s upcoming Richmond show at The Canal Club on Friday, December 2, we caught up with bassist Roger Lima, who talked with us about what still keeps things strong after 30 years, fans from all eras of Less Than Jake, and what songs they’d play at a wedding.
Music genres are pretty cyclical. Being a part of the last ska wave in the 90s, do you see a revival coming in the future?
It does sort of feel that way. I think with The Interrupters catching a bit more of a national attention with the tours they’ve gotten, I think it’s brought some younger people’s attention to sort of like “what the hell is ska?” kind of thing. For me, having the studio, I’ve been getting some work in with younger ska bands. So I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to tell from my perspective, because I’m in my bubble. But with bands out there, like Kill Lincoln and Catbite, those bands have been around for a while, but they just seem to be kind of catching more attention just in the last couple of years. I do feel like there’s new ears that are listening to ska/punk, and figuring out that’s actually a thing that exists.
Fair or not, you guys do get lumped in with the bands that were part of that mid-late 90s movement: Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Is there a fraternity amongst you with that collective experience or was the rise at the similar time just happenstance?
I think that the genre just got some attention from the major labels that were still active at the time. And we were lucky to be friends with a lot of those guys. I saw the Bosstones play in the early 90s, so I was always a big fan. It’s weird, it’s like we’re all in the same club or something. We didn’t really realize it until we started playing together.
Another band that you’ve got to mention for us is The Suicide Machines. When we first started, The Suicide Machines, we thought that was our long lost brother band. We totally related to what they were going for with their ska/punk. So yeah, there’s definitely a brotherly feeling, but we didn’t really know that that happened when we started playing together.
We’re on year 30 of Less Than Jake. What do you guys do to keep the studio and ideas fresh after being together that long?
Luckily, I feel like all of us are inspired on our own. I just write a lot of songs and then we just get together and we hammer stuff out! Sometimes we lean into things like we need to write some more ska style stuff, or we need to do a reggae song, but a lot of times just whatever comes out comes out.
We try to stay focused on the new stuff. We realized that we could just play songs from our old records forever, but it’s still inspiring for me and Chris to hang out and work on songs together. With Matt as a drummer, we can kind of do anything. We can write any kind of song, so whatever floats to the top and everyone is into sticks. We don’t really have a formula or expectations of ourselves. It’s just very natural. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been able to stick around so long is that we actually love all of our songs. We always wrote our songs with the right intentions, we never were trying to fit into any mold or anything. So, they’re still fun to play. It still feels like us, and I think we’re lucky in that way.
I sincerely apologize for this next question, but are you ever worried that there is a more accomplished band out there called More Than Jake?
[Laughs] Better Than Ezra? No, no, not so worried about it. I think we jackpotted on the band name, and I think that’s a really difficult thing to have in your corner, but we feel lucky with that. No, we don’t have to worry about any More Than Jakes out there, we’re good!
Since you guys have been around so long you may be catching people who liked you for a time, but maybe stopped, let’s say, at the Hello, Rockview days. Is that fun, or a challenge connecting with those fans at the shows?
It’s fine by me. I think some of those records that got a little bit more commercial success and pushed us on to some people, we were just very lucky that we brought those people in. But if you go to a Less Than Jake show, it’s pretty seamless between our records.
I feel like even like with Silver Linings, our latest record, a lot of those songs intertwine well with our older songs. It still feels all related. So when some of those fans come that maybe they know “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads,” or they heard “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” or something off Anthem, and aren’t really familiar with stranger things, stranger songs, I think we include them well. They think of the show knowing ,”Hey, that new song that they played was pretty cool, and it kind of reminds me of something off Hello, Rockview” and I think you can sort of see there’s a seamless strand through the career of the band,
It’s been for the most part Chris and I writing the songs and coming up with melodies, and they just have an inherent sameness to me. I don’t know, I kind of like the challenge. I love playing the newer songs. I like playing some of the obscure stuff, just for our own enjoyment, not just to play the “the hits,” so to speak. We’re very lucky that we like our songs, but I feel like it’s a good challenge.
After 30 years of touring, it’s not your first rodeo in Richmond. What are you looking forward to the most when you’re in our neck of the woods?
For me, the Virginia memories go back to playing with bands from JMU and playing these house parties with a band called Swank. That was a long time ago, but it’s always been a great vibe there. We’ve got some family in North Carolina; Chris’s family comes out to hang out in that area. So it’s always a blast. People know how to party in that part of the country, that’s for sure.
Bands don’t just get hit up for tours anymore, the game has evolved where they can be hired for corporate events, weddings, parties, you name it. What’s the strangest one you guys have played, or been pitched?
To be honest, we have not really had much exposure or much activity in any kind of like private parties. Someone tried to get us to play their wedding once, but it just didn’t pan out.
I have to say, for me, [something] we were fortunate to do a few years ago, and we’re doing it again next year, is the 311 cruise. I feel like that is a really special, specific thing that we’re just lucky to be a part of. Kind of like its it’s own world that you’re there. It’s all 311 superfans; you’ve kind of got to win them over, and I feel like we had a good run of that last time we were on the cruise. So anytime we have some sort of cruise, it just feels like a special event. But the 311 cruise in particular, I just feel like it’s a real special thing. Like we just won the lottery somehow, we get to be on that thing with such a cool band.
So we really haven’t had any private parties or that many corporate gigs. We just kind of just hit the road, old-school style.
What would have been the first dance song?
I don’t know, some reggae song, maybe. Something they can slow dance to, maybe “The Science of Selling Yourself Short.” Something reggae that will make people sway around a little bit. That would have been interesting, to learn a bunch of covers for something like that.
What’s the biggest change you’ve personally witnessed in the music industry since 1992?
So many. A gajillion things. Really, the financial support that the labels are willing to offer, the tour support, the budgets for things like videos and artwork, the behind-the-scene marketing, and all that kind of stuff. It was just a different world back then. The label would spend $40,000 making a recording and then they would spend way more than that promoting the recording. And these days, it’s just not like that. The budgets are way smaller, there’s way more bands, and a lot of people doing things completely on their own, without extra studios or producers or anything like that.
There’s way more fish in the sea. It’s harder to find the one that you like. I feel like the good bands still kind of rise to the top in these days — the stuff that’s good, people find out about it. There’s just way more noise to sift through.
For bands that were around then and that are still around now, like our band or a Pennywise or something like that, it’s a massive change on what’s going on on the financial side. It’s nuts. It’s a lot more expensive to tour. We’re all a little older, so we need a few more comforts. The whole radio thing, it’s just shot out of the water. Nobody listens to the radio the way they used to. The whole Spotify playlist era has kind of taken over how people find out about music.
And a major thing that I’ve really noticed that’s a huge change is: in the mid to late 90s, you would put out an album, and people would listen to the whole album. You would get an album experience out of it. These days, more and more often, I swear, everything’s singles-based. When we put out an album, you can see it in the reports from Spotify and everything. People get through those first three songs, four songs, five songs, but by the time it gets to the seventh song on the record, you’ve lost a lot of people. They don’t have that attention span that they used to. That experience of a whole collection of songs, and enjoying it that way, I feel is lost on a lot of the younger fans. They just want to hear the hit, they want to hear the single, and that’s all they’re going to latch on to. It’s kind of crazy like that.
It’s weird for me too, because a lot of times, my favorite song is track eight or track nine, and sometimes people don’t even get to those. I would hope that when people see a whole album, 30 minutes, 35 minutes of material from one of their favorite bands, that they sit through the whole thing. That they get the whole picture of what was going on when they were working on those songs as a collective.
Make sure to check out Less Than Jake at the Canal Club on Friday, December 2nd, with Cliffdiver and Keep Flying. Tickets can be purchased at www.thecanalclub.com, and you can listen to Less Than Jake’s latest album, Silver Linings (in it’s entirety!), on Spotify now.
Top Photo by Gavin Smith (@gavfrontrow)