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Monday, Oct 2, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Less Than Jake taps into youth

The ska-punk band Less Than Jake performs at The Masquerade in Atlanta.
The ska-punk band Less Than Jake performs at The Masquerade in Atlanta.

Peter Pan didn't really want responsibility. He wanted to do his own thing and stay young forever doing it. He was a little impish and arrogant, but everyone looked past that because they were more focused on the fun adventures he offered.

Chris Demakes, the vocalist and guitarist for a band of lost boys seeking perpetual youth under the title of Less Than Jake, is a lot like that.

"When you're in a band you never grow up," he says from the leather seat on his band's gold and black tour bus. "Perpetual youth in terms of the eighth-grade fart joke is never ending."

But maybe everything isn't quite as juvenile as it seems.

After 16 years of playing together they've embarked upon the considerably adult adventure of running a record label, Sleep It Off Records, based in Gainesville, Fla.

After extricating themselves from a contract with Warner Bros., who LTJ still owed one album, they launched the label in January 2008 and then released their ninth studio album GNV FLA in June on it.

After turning down a cell call he explains that running the label doesn't really change things, it just adds more work.

"Everything comes from within so any time we have press or marketing and all those things we're footing the bill, so it's not having a label behind you to do some of those things," Demakes says.

After another interruption of his generic issue ringtone he adds that one change is the band can no longer shift the difficult decisions to someone else.

"We decide everything. Yeah, we like that you have more control. I'm glad we have our own label, yes," he says. "But it was never about the label it was just, is the CD gonna be out and is it gonna be in the stores?"

However, there remains the never-ending issue of internet leaks. He jokes about how owning their own label makes that easier.

"Now we can leak our own shit to the internet quicker," Demakes quips.

After a mention of Radiohead's release of In Rainbows as both an in-store CD and a digital "donation album" which was available for a few months, Demakes says he didn't buy the idea of allowing fans to decide the price they pay for an album if they're also given the option of downloading it for free.

Calling it a "marketing gimmick" in the tone of someone who feels it incumbent upon himself to make children understand Santa doesn't actually bring their gifts, he said, "I think it's a nice gesture, but I think it's ludicrous to think that anyone's gonna give you money."

Kyle Baker, the tour manager, picks up his head from his Mac to disagree, "If I support the band, and I actually am a fan of the band, I'll pay for it."

Baker takes a second to carefully straighten out his thoughts and adds, "I'd download it first, but then I'd go buy the LP version or something like that."

Demakes refuses to yield, "A lot of people aren't like that, though. I'd say one or two out of ten people are maybe like that."

He goes on to say real record sales no longer exist because of internet leaks. The proof is in the voices of fans singing brand new songs back to LTJ at shows.

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"If record sales reflected, we'd be playing to three people a night in each city, basically," he says. "We're still playing to a lot of people, so they're getting the music from somewhere."

But more than a decade and a half ago, LTJ was focused more on getting gigs than worrying about whether their music was getting leaked. Back when they were a little-known local ska band from Gainesville, Fla.

Back when people didn't even really know what ska even was.

Demakes says in the early days, when LTJ was just cutting their teeth on touring, they offered something other than the dreary alt-rock everyone else seemed interested in mimicking.

"It's funny, when we started there was only a handful of bands doing it. Like the ska-punk thing," he recalls. "And we were playing Florida, and we would get on bills with bands and everyone was trying to sound like Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots and their baggy shorts and their flannel and stuff and we were just five crazy kids that wanted to be fast, loud, obnoxious and party. We weren't about being a downer."

He admits they may not have had much polish to the quality of their music, but their energy and enthusiasm in person made up for that.

"People would be like, 'You guys put on the most fun show I've ever seen, that was awesome,'" he says.

While going to school at the University of Florida Demakes and drummer/lyricist for LTJ Vinnie Fiorello were heavily influenced by other ska bands like Operation Ivy and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and they were seeking to meld that with the sound of punk acts like NOFX and Bad Religion.

However, although they've improved musically over the years, and are no longer just playing to a dozen or so kids, Demakes says not much has changed.

They're not signing checks for private planes, and on days off LTJ only rent one hotel room. He wasn't necessarily looking to strike it rich, Demakes says, he just wanted to play music on the road.

They had their first tour in the summer of 1995 after being together for about three years.

"It was brutal. Especially in our van with no air conditioning," he recalls about the oppressive Southern heat.

"But if the band would've ended after that tour, I can't say I would've been happy," he says about the experience, "but I wouldn't ever had to wonder when I was 50, 'Aw shit, what if?'"

But the band is still going strong 16 years after that first tour and Demakes says he thinks the reason they're still around after so long is because their main goal wasn't to make it big. He says he wants LTJ to do as well as they can, but he thinks there are very few bands that have the staying power to still sell out stadiums year after year.

"Most bands will sell two or three million records and then three years later they can't sell a 200-seat club," he says. "That's just the reality of the business. There's only room for so many of those bands."

But he seems satisfied enough where he is, "We've played big shows, and we sell a good amount of tickets on our own, but it never got to that point of private planes and limousines and MTV and caviar and South Beach."

And it doesn't look like he will ever have to grow up, either. Although he swaps his Old Skool Classic Vans for a more supportive pair of black sneakers before going on stage, he still gets to blast face-melting guitar riffs, taking die-hards in the circle pit off to a modern-day Never Never Land.

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