Less Than Jake


Less Than Jake: “I always felt odd about being called a ska band”

Less Than Jake are in a rare musical position: almost undisputed kings of a musical niche. The long-standing band from Gainesville, Florida, sit at the head of a genre that arguably peaked in the late 90s, ska punk, and perform a vibrant mix of colourful, poppy punk music backed up by a horn section. It’s loud, descriptive, and while the band are still going as strong as ever, somewhat of its era. For many who grew up in the late 90s, the band are a true symbol of teenage rebellion.

“The spirit of the band is still the same, to get out and play a live show, that’s all we really wanted to do,” singer Chris DeMakes says on a video call, in which he’s surrounded by Less Than Jake’s incredible selection of records and merchandise, something of a calling card. “It’s got easier, though. You have to listen to your body, so staying out until 5 or 6 in the morning isn’t conducive to a good show.”

“We’ve been playing shows that are a little bit like a 30th anniversary, with songs from every album. But you have to please yourself and the audience, to keep it interesting for yourself. We don’t mind making a mistake on stage, it keeps it real, so we keep a rotation of a lot of songs on the setlist.”

“I always felt a little bit odd about being called a ska band,” DeMakes says of his sound. “I felt it was a little disrespectful towards bands like The Selecter and English Beat who were doing it ten or 15 years before we were even a band. We have elements of ska, but we’re not the forefathers of ska. We weren’t the first.”

“It’s important to us that we do things correctly, and that we don’t gouge people for our tickets or merchandise, that things are priced correctly. We try to stand by that. But we make a lot of merch” 

“I have one of everything the band ever put out, which looks pretty insane. There are albums on top of albums. At one point I had 700 or so different Less Than Jake shirts, and I took them all to a show in Gainesville and sold them. They took up multiple closets, and I thought I’d get them to fans. The clothing became too much. But I have all the albums, cups, belt buckles.”

New Book Contribution: Punks Listen

Just a quick post to draw attention to ‘Punks Listen’, a book in which people into punk music write about albums that have had an impact on them, out this month. I have a piece in the book on my childhood love of Less Than Jake and the road it led me down.

I’m particularly proud to be involved in this, firstly because the book is entirely in aid of the Red Cross Ukrainian Refugee Appeal (in fact, producers the Hope Collective are even covering the print run, so it’s not so much ‘profit to the Red Cross’ as ‘entire cover price to the Red Cross). It also has a remarkable list of contributors including Suggs (from Madness), Amanda Palmer, David Gedge (The Wedding Present), Roddy Doyle, Mike Scott (The Waterboys), Henry Rollins and Andy Cairns (Therapy?). Which is the kind of company I could get used to!

It’s for sale now, here, priced at €15.

Here is a very brief extract from my own piece, which focuses on the Less Than Jake album ‘Hello Rockview’:

“When I turned 18, Less Than Jake toured the UK, and I followed them, to Glastonbury, to Reading Festival, and to a series of gigs across the south of England, blowing all the money from my supermarket job. My friends and I stood in the front row clutching a huge blue and yellow flag that said ‘I Stalk Less Than Jake’, a reference to their cult song ‘My Own Flag’. 

The band gave us plecs, and beers, and occasionally edited their setlist on the fly after we shouted out tracks. In Southampton, the whole band crowded around us, three feet away as they blasted ‘My Own Flag’ into the ether. In between, we explored record shops, and drank in parks, and wasted days in Camden, or Portsmouth seafront, or pulling donuts in car parks in a friend’s Fiat Punto that he later drove into an old oak tree.”

Huge thanks to Hope Collective for including me in this great project.

The Ten Commandments Of Less Than Jake…

I wasn’t a cool teenager. I took my A-levels at one of those intensely conservative UK ‘grammar schools’, a place where late teens are forced to wear a suited uniform that prepares them for their anticipated future as the nation’s politicians, insurance salesman and – heaven forbid – bankers. We lived in a fiercely white, ferociously middle-class corner of rural Wiltshire, where – in the late ’90s – punk was still making its way down the tracks from ’70s London, and urban music was a concept so foreign that ‘Crazy Town’ actually seemed fresh. Like most teenagers, we had our own limited form of rebellion.

Cruising the backstreets in my friend’s ancient, lowered, alloy-wheeled Fiat Uno when we should have been in Chemistry class was about the height of things. Our livelier evenings were made up of underage drinking in the cemetery outside the local arts centre, if we could obtain the alcohol. Local musicians of limited talent combined the trumpets they played in the school band with a few chords on guitar, and quick as a flash, an entire generation of rural gig-goers became huge ska punk fans. In that shiny-rimmed, decrepit old Fiat we listened to only three bands. Rancid were the angry, political, edgy punk monsters who we dreamed of seeing smash their guitars across the art centre’s stony floor. An obscure American ska band called The Gadjits fell at the other extreme, fixated with nothing more than bouncing like idiots, singing about juvenile delinquency and bouncing like idiots some more, only whilst on top of various different women. Less Than Jake – a sizable group of Florida based musical miscreants – fell nicely in the middle. They summed up the feeling that there should somehow be more to life than middle class rural boredom with tracks like ‘Is This Thing On?’, and caught onto the teenage tendency towards misbehavior in tracks like ‘Sugar In Your Gas Tank’. They were, in short, our idols.