Chris DeMakes of Less Than Jake is a musician’s musician, from signing to major labels and booking shows DIY—he’s had a lifetime of experience on the road. As singer/guitarist for nearly three decades, Less Than Jake have never been off the road as much as this year.
Thankfully, DeMakes is using this transition time to develop projects that may otherwise have been getting covered in cobwebs. Debuting next week on December 8 is his book Blast From the Past, and an EP of his own songs to accompany the surplus of memories contained in the book.
Both available from Smartpunk Records, we had the chance to catch DeMakes over Zoom to learn more about the new projects that are coming just a few days before Less Than Jake’s Silver Linings is also released.
You had some incredible costumes in the early days that are mightily catalogued in your new book Blast From the Past. Do you have a favorite costume or evening in mind?
It was one night we were playing in Memphis, I’ll never forget. This fella, the security guard and I had kind of made friends earlier in the day. We were talking about about music. As I do in venues, I always like to talk to the local staff and get to know the locals. So we spent a couple hours that day chatting with each other, and he was kind of like security up by the dressing room. Well, [later on] I get off the bus in my get-up and go to come into the venue. Dude grabs my arm and I’m like, “What are you doing?”
And he’s like, “I need to see your pass!”
I go, “Why do you need to see my pass?”
And he’s like, “I need to see your fucking pass!”
He’s like, you know, getting angry and I go, “Hey dude, it’s Chris from Less Than Jake.” And that’s, that’s what I liked about it. I don’t know if you remember, back in the ’40s, there was an actor named Lon Chaney, who is the original Dracula. And he did Frankenstein, all these different characters. We were on tour with Descendents years ago and Carl the bass player, out of nowhere, said to me that I’m the Lon Chaney of punk rock, and it killed me because I totally got it.
In the book, there’s a lot of costumes in the late ’90s, and you sort of dwindled off with it. You’d mentioned doing a lot of calisthenics before show and that you felt you couldn’t pull that off anymore. Do you feel like you couldn’t pull off the calisthenics or the outfits anymore?
No, you know what it started to become? I feel people were getting lost with their eyes after a while [and] that we didn’t have an identity as a band. You got to remember this was pretty much pre-internet. So yeah, there it was print promotion and magazines, which we didn’t have much of, we were playing major label, whatever.
But, people really didn’t know what we look like. And here they are turning up to the gigs and they think it’s their dad on stage or his BBQ, bowling buddy and thinking what the hell is going on? So it kind of felt like it ran its course that I needed to find an identity as a front man and be myself.
It wasn’t ego. It wasn’t anything else. It kind of felt like we didn’t have an identity. Which was cool, and it’s great, but I just couldn’t see myself at my age now doing that. Once in a while I’ll dress up, we did a boat show in New York last year where I had crazy wig on, and I’ll still have fun with it now and again, but for the most part it was about kind of having an identity.
Well in a way you kind of look like the band mascot, the Evo kid.
It’s funny that was that was drawn by a long time artist of the band. And I want to say that was drawn before I started bleaching my hair. Everybody always thought that that was me.
It definitely did comes full circle in the 2000s, when you had the really sharp spike points. You mentioned that people think Buddy hasn’t changed, though he almost looks like Ross from Friends in early photos.
I know exactly the photo you’re talking about. There’s a lot of it’s a lot of tongue in cheek. A lot of ball-busting with the other guys in the book, but mostly ball-busting on myself.It was a cool trip down memory lane [this book], and I did not set it out set out for it to be this at all, but it was kind of cathartic. To go back to some of those stories—it brought me right back.
I mean, I could smell the vomit in the dressing room. I swear it just took me right back. It’s amazing how keen the memory is when you when you take it places. And those are pictures that were just in my scrapbooks and collections that I knew they were there and filed away. And when I went back and realize what a treasure trove of material I had that’s when the light bulb went off. I was like, “wow, this is pretty cool.”
I can see it all behind you right now (in his studio full of memorabilia). Some of these are from the book like your memorabilia stacks. It really is incredible.
I mean, yeah, I’ve saved everything.
It’s cool that you mentioned this has been cathartic because you guys are absolute road warriors—I imagine that this is a strange time for you guys, of course. How’s the time been during this change.
It’s worked out fabulous for me, you know—before any of this happened, I was already putting the book together. I was starting a side business where I was writing custom songs and jingles for folks. Also doing one-on-one video consultations. I did one this morning, before I spoke with you, with a guy from Texas about his band. He just wanted advice and we talked for an hour and it’s really rewarding for me. I’m supporting my family through it, but I get as much out of it giving back to the fans that gave me a career.
So, I’ve been doing that, and I started my podcast. And basically, as you said, we’ve been road warriors all these years. We didn’t get to the point where our vacuum company took off enough where we could stay home and sell $3 billion worth—we had to go door-to-door as vacuum salesman and take our show out there. And that’s how we’ve made a living, man, we’re working class musicians.
A couple of the guys in the band over the years have had side projects and things, but I’m not really an all or nothing kind of guy. I have to zone in on something, and some of these things would have been really difficult to zone in on the road as much as we tour. I’m middle-aged, if I were to live to my 90s, and this is the reset, it’s the second half of my life. It’s hard to say this to some folks as they’ve had an awful year. You know, this year, losing friends, family, I lost an uncle to Covid, but in the aspect professionally and personally, this has been one of the best years of my life so far.
That is great. I’m very happy to hear you’ve been able to pivot, because I know it is very challenging for everybody. I love live music and I definitely feel for a lot of these bands I’ve grown up on that are in a transition right now.
It’s really tough. I got buddies of mine in bands that are less known than my band, and bands that are bigger than my band, friends that I’ve talked in the last eight months that are having a hell of a time. They lost their identity. They lost who they were, they lost how they can support their family. And luckily for me … y’know I’ve had my moments where I’ve been depressed before and I’ve been like what am I doing—those crossroads in life.
And luckily I was able to transcend that, and go the complete opposite way, and throw myself into all these projects to keep myself occupied and to provide for my family. Because otherwise I would have been right there with those guys, because predominantly what I’ve done the last 28 years as tour.
Yeah, absolutely. Have you been able to see any other bandmates during all of this?
Yeah, I saw the guys. We had to do a photoshoot and stuff together. But we hadn’t seen each other since February, so we got together for a couple days and just basically got together because we had to do promo for our album that’s coming out, December 11.
The new Less Than Jake record’s coming out so we had to do promo for that. It was the first time I’d seen them in a minute, and matter of fact that’s the longest I’ve gone without seeing any of those guys—the longest ever I had gone without physically being in a room with them was probably two, two months. It was weird.
And it feels good to see them again, I imagine.
Roger, when I saw him, you know, I went to his house and he didn’t know I was coming over. Like I got in that night and he didn’t know I was stopping by. I knocked on his, and he was just [had] this smile on his face like he was happy to see me. Which was cool, because, you know, like I said, we’ve worked so closely in such close quarters over the years that we all love each other, but sometimes you don’t like each other.
I imagine so, in the book you mention being in Australia in an small trailer or something—and that you had 10 people stacked in an Astro van during the early, early, early days.
It’s funny [how] your resilience is different then. In my twenties, I’d drink all night, wake up at eight in the morning, I’d just pop a couple ibuprofen, have half a Gatorade and I was ready to go again. If I ask where we’re sleeping tonight, and someone says “in the van,” that was okay. Things didn’t hurt them.
Did they guys help on the book, or these all your photos?
Yeah, there were photos that I knew they had. And I actually got a couple pictures from Roger. So they all contributed. The main two people were our old roadie Mr. Skull (André) and our old trombone player, Pete. So Pete was the photographer. He always had a camera around his neck. He went everywhere with this thing. He was always shooting.
And another roadies, this guy, Jeff. He was our stage manager for years and he has a treasure trove of pictures as well. He had come up with a bunch of them, but I’d say probably a good two-thirds were my collection. And then there was a couple of photos from random fans. It would trip me out because here’s a photograph that was in some dude’s shoe box under his bed for the last 25 years. And I’m looking at it, and I never knew it existed. I know that’s me, but I don’t remember that. It’s a weird story.
It’s amazing that you remember so many old shows anyway!
That’s definitely what people I know have commented. A lot of people wonder, “How do you remember all this stuff, did you write it all down?” And the fact of the matter is, is I’ve always just been blessed with a photographic memory. I was a, B and C student in school … and that was not studying. If I would have just paid attention in class, and actually applied myself and actually studied, I probably could have done pretty well, but I always just I paying attention.
Did any of the photos that you had or that you received spring up any regrets or memories of a crazy night?
There was a couple where I could tell just looking at my eyes—I was just gone. And that part of my life served its purpose. I don’t party anymore. I got young kids and it’s a different time of my life.
There I don’t regret anything. I wouldn’t change anything. But if I were to go back, knowing what I know now it’s kind of like all the shit your dad told you as a kid. Like applying what I know now back then. And when I looked at a picture. The only feeling I get is, instead of drinking all night—what if I was in the back of the bus writing songs all those nights?
It definitely resonates in your new music as well where you’re talking about going back, but not wanting to change anything for the world. Is there a specific character that you miss?
Well I talked about this with Mark Hoppus on the podcast recently and we were talking because we did a bunch of touring in the early blink days and he said that he wishes that he could just go back for one day and soak it in because it all happened so fast. Especially for them because—they were on a different trajectory.
They were getting tugged from every different way because of how many records they were selling and their popularity. Even for us it was happening so fast. I got caught up in the numbers game: we’re on the major label, we should be selling more records. And you’re getting spreadsheets sent to you and this and that and radio stations And I kind of lost sight for a little bit there, of why I was doing this. I was doing it because I love music.
And hey! I get to live in a tour bus. I get my mortgage, and rent is paid back home. I’m living the dream. I’m always thankful of that and appreciative of it, but again hindsight is 2020. I just wish I could go back and soak it in for one day. And I think that’s really the allure of doing the book because I was able to kind of go back in time and have a little bit of a do over and that cathartacism.
Did you record all the music on your own in your studio at home?
Some of it. I did demos, and I sent it to the drummer of Less Than Jake, Matt Yonker. He has a studio in Nashville, he tracked the drums and then I had to go over there to film the new less than Jake video. I went over and tracked all the guitars, a friend of ours played bass on it, and I did all the vocals there.
It’s awesome that you’re putting this book out right now. While you mentioned it’s cathartic for you. I think that just for from a standpoint of a fan that it’s just as like gratifying. I feel like it’s coming out at a good time.
Yeah, thanks for saying that. I do too. I think that it’s a cool visual. It’s a little different approach to a book, as I said in the in the forward. I always wanted to do a book. So when I was doing the Instagram thing—a couple weeks in, it dawned on me. I said, “I’m writing my book one story at a time. It’s not going to follow any timeline. It’s going to be random!