Formed in 1992, legendary five-piece ska punk band Less Than Jake is comprised of Chris DeMakes, Roger Lima, Vinnie Fiorello, Buddy Schaub and Peter “JR” Wasilewski. Since their inception, the band has released eight albums to widespread, international success. In early 2016, they’ll be touring the Eastern United States, playing two-night stands in a slew of cities, rocking “Losing Streak” (1996) the first night, then shredding “Hello Rockview” (1998) the second.
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Sean Ritchie: Lets start it off with somewhere local. Coming from Florida describe your hometown a little bit. Where, in the state, would you suggest someone to go?
Chris DeMakes: Well, I don’t live in Gainesville anymore, but for the purpose of the article I’m going to say Gainesville, because that’s pretty much where I spend the most time in Florida. That’s where my band’s from. Gainesville is a college town. If it wasn’t for the University of Florida, there wouldn’t be much there, just another town in North Florida. It’s about 80 miles from the Georgia boarder, so it’s considered North Florida. It’s a different vibe up there. It’s a real liberal college town.
Photo courtesy | Wesley Hetrick
Very different — it doesn’t have the palm trees, beaches feel, because it’s landlocked in the middle of the state. There are a lot of oak trees. There are hills in Gainesville — you get south of Gainesville and Florida is pretty flat. There’s not much to the topography here in terms of mountains or hills. You get a little bit of cooler weather in Gainesville, colder temperatures then you will in the southern part of the state. I spent most of my time there. It’s really seen a boom in the last five-to-six-seven-years — tons of local establishments, mainly food. It’s a cool place. It’s a great place for live music — tons of live venues, tons of bands.
SR: Awesome. So, you just touched upon a bunch of live venues. How did that play a role in your music progression? Did that in anyway inspire you to become who you are?
CD: I live where I grew up from seven to 17 years old. It’s a town on the North Coast of Florida called Port Charlotte. For lack of a better term, it’s a retirement community. It’s a little beach town — lots of elderly people here. The per capita has the most nursing homes and doctors in the United States. Growing up here we had one record store in town. We had to drive to Tampa, which is two hours away, to see a concert. There was nothing around here as a kid. I’m going to date myself here, we didn’t have internet, so it was really hard to keep your pulse on music.
Photo courtesy | Nicole Kibert
Moving to Gainesville was insane, because I was four-months shy of my 18th birthday when I moved there. I was like a kid in a candy store. I mean there was four or five different venues, two or three of which were punk rock venues. You know, I saw everybody before they were anybody: Green Day, Fishbone, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Rancid, Bad Religion, Pennywise. I mean you name it. They all came to Gainesville, because it was a great, great punk rock town. It was a totally different world than here. It wasn’t a beach town. It wasn’t elderly. It was young. It was vibrant, there was lot going on and for an 18-year-old kid it was amazing.
SR: Bringing it into travel, what type of vacationer are you? Are you more relaxed on a beach, looking for some serenity almost? Or, are you looking for that adventure — little active travel?
CD: I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t taken a “vacation” in well over probably a decade. I just don’t go anywhere when I get home. If your speaking of traveling with the band, lets say I’m out and have a couple of days, I’m more of an adventure person. I live 15 minutes from the ocean right now and I never go. It’s funny too, sometimes I’ll get the guilt trip, because I’ll be like, “There’s all these European tourists here, that spent $10,000 with their families to get here to enjoy this. I have it for free and I don’t even use it.” But, I like to get out and go. I like to do things, see things. I don’t do very well sitting around. I have a crazy energy about me. I like to keep going.
SR: How does music bring people together? Does traveling to new environments increase the connection?
CD: Music brings together people just due to the fact that you could listen to a song, and 10-20-30 people could listen to the same song, and all get a different meaning and feeling out of it. It brings together a whole cross-section of people. Then add the element of booze, food and the opposite sex and what that brings — it’s an excuse to party. We recently were in Russia August of 2014, and it was a trip exactly what you just said. You look out and there’s a sea of people. I think we played at a festival probably 20-25,000 people going completely insane. A lot of these people maybe never even heard of Less Than Jake, but they were there to have a good time. At some point you look out and you don’t even realize that I could have been in Chicago, Brazil, Europe or Japan. Music is music and it brings together people. Our fans seem to be cut from the same cloth. One’s crazier than the next one.
SR: That’s a beautiful thing!
CD: I mean that endearingly. I don’t mean that in a bad light.
Photo courtesy | Sandee Pachetan
SR: At of all the cities that you’ve performed in are there any that stand out in terms of crowd atmosphere? Was it in line with that city’s nightlife?
CD: God, certain ones I mean for sure. I mean I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Brazil, but I just talked about Brazil. You always hear about Rio [de Janeiro] and Sao Paulo being crazy party destinations and they’re up all night. The first time we went down there it was complete mayhem. I mean we had never been big enough of a band to have to walk with a security detail, or anything like that. They had security people for us, because the fans are just rabid. When they like a band they love you. I mean we pulled into the venue and we were coming in these little sprinter-type vans, and the fans are just rocking the vans back-and-forth.
Then, we’re backstage and we were supposed to go on at 11:30, and the promoter comes back and he’s like, “Look we have a bit of a problem, people are still coming in, we’re going to push the band back a little bit.” So our managers like, “Okay, what time?” He’s like, “Oh you know, 12 o’clock.” 12 o’clock comes, same speech — 12:30 comes, one o’clock comes. Finally, he tells us we’re going to come on at 1:30, and he came back at about 1:15 and said to our manager, “Hey, can we push it to 1:45?” Now, this is 1:45 in the morning. Our manager is like, “No, my band’s going on at 1:30.” We went on at 1:30, played until almost three in the morning and people were going berserk! When we left the venue that night people raised hell there until six-seven in the morning. So, yeah a place like that is indicative of the nightlife for sure.
Photo courtesy | Tiago Celestino
SR: What’s the first thing you try to do when you get to a new destination? Is it find the local restaurant and get some food? Or, kind of look around and see what you can while you’re there?
CD: It depends on how far I travel. If I do anything over six-seven hours, international travel, the first thing I do when we get to the hotel [is] strap on my running shoes and I’ll go for a run. That might seem ludicrous, “You just traveled this whole way. Aren’t you tired?” Well, you’ve been sitting for so long, all that blood is just sitting in your legs. I just get out and get moving. It does wonders for jet lag. It’s so much easier now with our smart phones to be able to know where the hell you’re at. A lot of the places, we’ve been touring for 23 years, we’ve been to multiple times. So, we kind of know the cool places to eat, the areas to stay away from and what bars are cool.
SR: I know you’re well traveled, but are there any destinations that you haven’t been to that you want to see?
CD: We’ve wanted to get to Indonesia, Philippines, China — we know we have fans there. We want to get to some Eastern European countries. We just played Budapest, Hungry for the first time a couple of months ago, that was cool. We want to get to like Poland and some of the countries below Russia. People write us from there and they want us to come play.
Photo courtesy | Moyan Brenn
SR: Lastly, to wrap this up, when’s the next trip and what for?
CD: Next trip is going to be just up the road it’s looking like to Tampa, Florida. We’re going to do a couple of shows in Tampa in February.
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For more on Less Than Jake visit their website:
Cover photo courtesy | Dan Cox