"We’re always going to love working on music but the underlying piece of that is the connection that makes with people and the way that it makes them feel" - Roger Lima
Next year will mark 30 years since Less Than Jake formed, and you better believe that they aren't thinking of slowing down anytime soon. The band released their latest and ninth full-length album, the raucous and relatable 'Silver Linings', in December of last year, marking a new era and, most importantly, a continued streak of positivity in their songwriting output. Yet what exactly keeps the band going after all these years? What keeps them coming back time after time to keep on making music together?
We jumped on the phone with guitarist Chris DeMakes and bassist Roger Lima to talk about the record, touring and how they keep the fire burning after nearly three decades...
What was the catalyst for you when it came down to the decision of working on a new full-length?
Chris: “Back in 2017 when we did the ‘Sound The Alarm’ EP, there were extra songs floating around that we wanted to get to and work on. The problem is that we still tour an awful lot as a band. We put our best foot forward at the time in trying to get some music out, because it had been four years at the time since ‘See The Light’.
“I think a record would have happened quicker, but our original drummer Vinnie [Fiorello] left in August of 2018. We got Matt [Yonker] in the band then, who has been with us forever. He’s been our tour manager, he’s been our sound guy, he has always done a job with us. So we couldn’t just throw him in the band and make a record. We had a ton of touring ahead of us when Matt joined. We didn’t have six months that we could take off, we were in the full throws. So it took us a minute to actually get this record done.
“We’re always writing songs though. If we could record quicker and faster we would, and I think that’s part of the plan as we move forwards. With Matt now in the band, there’s almost been this renewed energy.”
So what did Matt bring to the band, in terms of a different feeling or opinion, when he was involved in the writing?
Chris: “So Matt comes from a very different place to Vinnie in terms of being a drummer. Matt has played more in punk-rock bands, he played in a band called The Teen Idols, so he is cut from that cloth. He is first and foremost a rock drummer though, and there’s definitely a different feel to that than straight-up punk. So he has brought a different dynamic to the band. He brings his own DNA and he has been really easy to communicate with as he understands music in a very interesting way. He played the guitar as well, so when a chord structure changes, he can apply that to his drumming. That’s then very useful to Roger and me as songwriters as we can communicate on a different level.
“Then you have to remember that he has been with us for so long. He didn’t even rehearse with us before he played in front of 10000 people for this first show. We were so confident that we knew what he was doing.”
So when it came down to carving out this album, what were the things that were inspiring you? How did they mould into the overriding themes of this record?
Roger: “I’m very much a musician first, so writing the music comes first and then it’s about the feelings that you’re getting off the music. Then that’s what gives you an idea of what the vibe of the lyrics should be. Is it going to be a super happy song? Is it going to be a melancholic song? I really think where the band is at now, we’re doing whatever the song calls for. That comes with writing from the heart. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. Some of the songs on this album have a positivity to them and then we can also relate to when shit is fucked up and it’s trying times.”
Chris: “The only lyrics that I wrote were very much a stream of consciousness during the times of writing. There was only one track on this record where we really thought, ‘We’re going to write a story about something here’. That was ‘Bill’, which is about Bill from The Descendants. It’s an ode and a tribute to him. Other than that, it was pen to paper what we were feeling and what the song called for?”
Is that something that has always been the case, or something that has developed more over the years?
Chris: “We get flooded with comments from fans and the interesting thing is that as they have gotten older they have started to go through the same things that we have been through maybe ten years ago. It’s amazing to see them saying something like, ‘Did you write this song about me?’ They say that it feels like we’re writing about their year or their marriage or their divorce or whatever. From us writing from the heart and the fans still being to feel that emotionally, between the brain and between the heart.”
Roger: “When we’re writing I think that there’s a standard in terms of what the song should feel like and what actually makes a song feels complete. That’s one of the only things we strive for, and then we hope for the best when it comes to the fans on the other side of the speaker. I think we have always been that way, never specifically writing for the fans.”
How do you feel as though over the years your relationship with the band and the role it plays in your lives changed? As you have grown older and different aspects of your life has changed, how has it been having the band as such a constant?
Roger: “We’re a career band. It’s combined a lifestyle with the way that we pay the bills and it’s created a community with our fans that I think is the thing that I have latched on to and appreciated the most over the last ten years. Our fucking fans are amazing and they continue to do so. That community is stronger than it has ever been right now and that’s way different to a decade ago when we were almost flying by the seat of our pants and going a thousand miles an hour.”
Chris: “If you had asked me 15 or 20 years ago if I was still going to be doing this at my age at the level and the intensity that we can still bring, I don’t know if I would have believed it. I think we are still getting better. We get up there, we give it our all and go crazy and have fun and still feed off the fans as much as possible. Also, it’s very different now. Social media has changed so much. There are bands who are elusive to it and there are bands that embrace it and we’ve used it to get closer to our fans. Also, even though there are still things that still feel exactly the same as they did 30 years ago, we’re very conscious and protective of the band now. We’ve been doing it for so long, so we’re going to continue doing it for as long as we possibly can. We’re lifers after all.”
In the way you say fans have helped to keep you going and that relationship has intensified, them being able to see you still enjoying doing Less Than Jake all these years later has the same effect on them. It’s a perfect full circle…
Chris: “If you told us that we were going to go play shows, keep the status quo going and be able to support our families, but the fans are just going to stand there, we probably wouldn’t last two months. We feed off what they give us. Roger said to us the other day on a band phone call, ‘I never realise just how much I missed playing live’. We just didn’t stop for all of those years and we haven’t been able to do our thing recently. You’re addicted to that feeling and there are a lot of other feelings that go along with that as well. If that wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be doing for much longer.”
Roger: “Cruising around the world, feeling like you’re doing something good, brightening people’s days. You’re helping and contributing to the world in a positive way. All of that is why it’s such an addiction and it’s part of why were’ on the path that we’re on. We’re always going to love working on music but the underlying piece of that is the connection that makes with people and the way that it makes them feel.”
So what does ‘Silver Linings’ as a title to represent this current era of the band to both of you?
Roger: “It’s the yin and yang of things. The good that comes with the bad. The hard times go with positive times. It’s about trying to find the balance in that and it’s where we find ourselves as a band right now. We’re just trying to find those silver linings and that positivity in everything that we’re doing right now and the changes that we are going through. The whole is pre-pandemic as well, so it also fits really well within all of what’s going on now.”
And how have your aims and goals for the band changed over the years? How has how you look forward to the next step adapting over your career?
Chris: “If you were a band who started ten years ago, not a lot has changed in that time. We started nearly 30 years ago in 1992. We came from a completely analogue world. We used to head out in the van with a map to figure out where to go. We used to have to use payphones if we wanted to call somebody. We have been through so many changes and all we do is continue to adapt. We can’t change what’s going to happen, all we can do is move in the best ways that we can to keep up with it. At our age, I think we do pretty well. There’s a lot of bands who get up there and want to operate in the same ways that they did in the ’80s and ‘’90s. You just can’t do that now. So we don’t dwell on what’s next because we don’t actually know what’s next. What’s going to happen is going to happen, and we’re going to keep on going through it.
“There are some constants that are always going to stay the same though. I still get the same feeling when I get in a room with the guys to write and record songs. It’s warm and comfortable. It’s the same when I’m standing behind the curtain and I can hear the roar of the crowd. That has never changed in 30 years. Everything else is periphery shit. That feeling is the real meat and potatoes of the band and always will be.”