Interview: Less Than Jake Provide a Silver Lining to 2020 with New Album

Silver Linings is the first full length release on Pure Noise Records for Less Than Jake, but it’s the latest in a long line of full brass, big fun, “ska-rockin’” for the band. It’s out everywhere on December 11.

Stuck at home and needing motivation? The latest tunes by Chris DeMakes, Roger Lima, and the rest of Less Than Jake are a kickstart. They will get Grandpa Joe out of bed faster than a ticket to the Chocolate Factory. Laid to wax before the world shut down, this album sets the body in motion and the mind dreaming the best new realities, even if that reality is stuck inside four walls.

“This record was recorded last year,” vocalist and guitarist DeMakes says. “We recorded it in November and part of early December. The record was completed mixed by the end of February last year. It was pre-pandemic that we had the record completed. We were hoping to release it earlier this year, late spring, it got pushed to summer, it got pushed to a fall, and now it’s December 11. We pretty adamantly wanted the record to come out this year, and here we are.”

Here it is, Silver Linings. It’s a continuation of Less Than Jake’s bouncing vibes. Fans can pogo their dogs to this album, the cat too, at a socially acceptable distance. Maybe keep six feet apart, but good luck being bummed while this platter’s spinning.

“Takin’ what I’m makin’, spend it on a Saturday night. Try to make a livin’, maybe I just ain’t livin’ right, but I found my paradise.” The track “High Cost Of Low Living” starts the record, and screams “Malt Liquor Tastes Better When You’ve Got Problems,” except comfortable and settled with the world. Cherry picking lines from Less Than Jake’s pre-COVID thoughts is therapeutic in pandemic times. It’s a strong performance from the whole band.

“I just think the new record in general, at this time, with all the depressing things that are going on in the world, is a great start,” drummer Matt Yonker says. “This is my first record playing drums in the band. I’ve been touring with them for 20 years now in one form or the other, but this is my first time jumping behind the kit. While I do definitely go by the style of past Less Than Jake records— I was so influenced by that stuff anyway—I’m bringing in my little things here and there.”

Longtime touring partner Yonker, also a touring member of Teen Idols and The Queers, began keeping time after Vinnie Fiorello’s departure from the band. It’s a hard-hitting, heart-pounding fit. He brings a beat old fans will respect, and new fans will love.

“Hopefully it is something new and fresh for a lot of people,” he says. “I’m excited for people to hear it. If you’re a Less Than Jake fan I think you’re going to be stoked, because I’m basically bringing classic Less Than Jake, but I’m just trying to throw a ton more energy into it. I’m basically up there beating the crap out of things, and you can tell I’m having a good time.”

This is one of Less Than Jake’s cleanest sounding albums. Mixed and mastered at Blasting Room by Jason Livermore, there’s no dullness on any track. Recorded at bassist and vocalist Roger Lima’s studio—the Moat House in Gainesville, Florida, where the band has recorded every release there since 2013—the album grabs you like a leashed pack of scrapyard dogs. It runs you through ups and downstrokes on guitar, lyrics full of feeling, constantly dodging the slide of trombone and horn, and gut-punching drums and bass.

“I’m really happy with how the studio has grown, and how the experience has grown, and how we’re able to tackle and come up with a part and get it on tape, feeling the way it’s supposed to feel,” Lima says. “I’m really fortunate that there’s been a lot of stuff that I’ve recorded that I’ve been able to pass off to Jason at the Blasting Room, and he just does an incredible job. I feel like we communicate well between the lines and through the tracks, and he gets what I’m going for. I’m super excited about the production.”

From “Jen Doesn’t Like Me Anymore” to “Danny Says,” Less than Jake likes to pay homage to their pals. “Bill” is a Descendents style homage to Bill Stevenson of Black Flag, Descendents, and Blasting Room recording studio. They’ve known Bill since the ‘90s.

“I think that it was just something fun,” DeMakes says. “You had mentioned that we’ve had songs about people on our records before, and it’s been a while since we recorded. I don’t think ‘Bill’ is necessarily a silly song. We recorded a song about one of our friends, and he was as good as anybody as a person to write about. As Roger said, he’s a very unique and quirky, amazing musician and individual. We thought it’d be fun to write a song about him, and the song has this little Descendents-y thing going on in it, a vibe, and it lent itself to being about him.”

“Bill” can be parked comfortably next to “Thank You,” and it’s a poetic thank you done in the style of Descendents. “I go for all and still want more.”

“The last song on that Everything Sucks record is called “Thank You,” and it’s basically our thank you to Bill,” saxophonist Peter “JR” Wasilewski says. “You asked, why now? My response is, why not now?”

There’s no better band than Less Than Jake to give Bill this honor, and it’s best they didn’t wait for one more day.

“The lyrics also have something in them that relates to that as well,” DeMakes continues. “Why wait until someone’s gone to praise them? We all feel the same way about Bill, so it was like, let’s write a song about him before he’s not with us anymore, so he can raise a glass too, and while he’s still around. It’s definitely better to write about somebody when they’re still around.”

Less Than Jake is spread out during the pandemic, across Connecticut, Tennessee, and, of course, Gainesville, Florida. Nonetheless, they are ready to weigh in together as a band on this release.

“I feel closer than ever, because we can still communicate, talk and text each other, but we don’t have to smell each other’s dirty laundry and feet across the hall in the bus,” trombonist Buddy Schaub says. “It’s actually brought us closer together.”

“This is the longest time that we went without playing,” DeMakes says. “We haven’t gone longer than maybe, two-and-a-half, three months in 28 years as a band not playing a show. It’s been different in that aspect, but we talk almost every day either by text or email. We have conference calls with one another, so we’re talking about new projects and things, we’re moving the band forward.”

Less Than Jake are aching to get back on the road, but safely.

“I think, realistically, what’s going to happen is in the new year, maybe we’ll get offers to do some sort of fly-out gigs that are socially distanced, outside things that we can possibly put on, because that stuff is happening,” Schaub says. “I think we’ll probably do more live streams and stuff like that until it’s safe to tour again.”

In the meantime, the record drops with an online performance that will be a little three ring circus and pure Less Than Jake— funny, thoughtful, and high energy.

“We’re doing an online show, on the date of our release,” Wasilewski says. “It won’t be the entire record, but we will be performing some new songs off the record, and it will be a Less Than Jake show, a 2020 version of a Less Than Jake show, online. I think people are going to be really interested to see what we do.”

In a year with lots of trials, ska reminds us life is fun and makes resisting the urge to dance to the beat impossible. Silver Linings is just that, a silver lining in a challenging year. With ska making a big comeback in 2020, this album is an exclamation point. Less Than Jake’s Silver Linings is a complete thought on incomplete feelings. It deserves to be heard from beginning to end.

“The record sort of deserves to be played live and stuff,” Yonker says. “I just hope that people do get into the depth of the record. I feel like sometimes it’s really easy just to listen to the first couple of tracks, or the first couple of singles, and then you sign off on the rest of the record. I feel like people consume music that way these days. I think that when we make an album, we really try to make all the songs as good, and make the thing have a feel to it, and ebbs and flows, and ups and downs. I feel like this album, as a collection of songs, is really strong and has some depth to it.”

Turn it on while stuck at home— it’s a wake up full of virtual caffeine— and do some vacuuming. If Silver Linings doesn’t motivate you to cleaner carpets or spotless floors, nothing will.

“It’s funny that you bring that up,” Wasilewski jokes. “You didn’t hear the vacuum track in there? We have a vacuum track running through the whole thing, so it makes it sound really full.”

Pick up a copy here.

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