Q & A with Less Than Jake’s Chris DeMakes

Less Than Jake 2 by Katie HovlandThey have had more shows than any other band on the Vans Warped Tour, have started their own record label and been topping the Billboard Top 200 for over 20 years. Their name is Less Than Jake, and they are paying a visit to Alaska for the Vans Road to Warped show. Less Than Jake currently consists of vocalist and guitarist Chris DeMakes, vocalist and bass guitarist Roger Manganelli, saxophone player and vocalist Peter “JR” Wasilewski, trombonist Buddy Schaub and on drums Vinnie Fiorello. TNL took some time to get to know the band before their performance by talking to DeMakes.

TNL: Was your first Warped Tour experience in 1997? What was that like?

DeMakes: “Yeah, it was great. We had a manager at the time that called us up a couple months before the tour, and I had never heard of the tour before. I mean, you got to remember that 1997 was pretty much pre-Internet, so it wasn’t like you were waking up every morning hearing about things. So there was a traveling tour going around and we had been asked to do it and we were offered about three weeks of that initial tour. We jumped at the chance and it was awesome.”

What’s it been like, going on Warped Tour year after year?

“The only time that we only ever did it — it was 1997 and 1998 — we did it three weeks, and ever since then, every year we have been on it we have done the whole thing. We played the Warped Tour in all three decades: the ‘90s, the 2000s and the 2010s. We’ve played it more than any other band by a long shot. We’re going to celebrate our 365th show this summer on Warped. We’ve played the Warped Tour one year straight.”

So you’ve really seen it grow and expand?

“Oh yeah, it was a really different thing back in the day … there wasn’t the sponsorships that there are out there now. There’s a lot more people and a lot more bands involved.”

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What can people expect from Warped Tour?

“Well, in Alaska it’s probably going to be a lot different than in the continental U.S. just because the weather is not going to be as brutally hot. Usually I would say to expect it that it’s hotter than heck. It should be awesome. It’s going to be great — a whole day of music. There’s different stages. It’s not boring. It keeps you bouncing back and forth between different stages. There’s vendors out there and food and beverages. It’s an all-day thing. It’s great.”

It might be hot for us Alaskans.

“It very well may be. Anything above 50 is warm for you guys.”

Do you just play the whole day?

“It’s going to be smaller because they’re only inviting a certain number of bands to Alaska. It’s so much to get people up there. It’s a long flight, whatever. (In the) continental U.S., it’s about 80-100 bands — there’s like seven or eight different stages. They have a huge schedule on this tarp, and you take a picture with your phone and that’s the schedule. So you just bounce back and forth between whatever stages you want. It’s about the size of, I don’t know, 10 Wal-Mart parking lots. They usually hold it at a stadium or something, like a parking lot or the arena of a stadium or a baseball field. It’s massive. I think they’re expecting about 4,000 people at the Alaska show. Typically the shows on the mainland are anywhere between 8 (thousand)-15,000 a day. It’s big.”

Are you excited to come up to Alaska?

“Absolutely, we’ve never been. We had a show in Alaska about 10 years ago, and about a month before we were supposed to go there something happened with the promoter and it didn’t happen, so we’ve never had the chance to get up there. Like I said it’s expensive to get bands up there, so we’re really excited to come.”

You guys named one of your albums “Goodbye Blue and White.” That was after your late tour van correct?

“Yes.”

What was so special about this van, aside from it being your guys’ first touring van?

“It was a 1979 Chevy Nomad Van. The floor of the van, there was no insulation. It had rotted out years prior to us. We didn’t get the van till 1995. It was a 16-year-old van when we got it, and the floorboards were so hot we had to go get a bunch of carpet from behind a dumpster from behind a store and put cardboard down and put carpet on top of it. It was just so hot, so we just poor-manned insulation like that. The van smelled, but it never let us down, you know? The thing used to catch fire. The engine would just catch fire for no reason and we had to all jump out … and pour whatever we had — Gatorade, soda, water — into the engine to make it stop, but it was great. We slept in that thing. We ate in that thing. We peed in Gatorade bottles in that thing. We did everything.”

Why did the van finally break down?

“It died in San Francisco. We realized that we were at the end of a tour, we had a friend of ours that really liked old vans and that worked on them. He tried his best to get it up and running, and he realized he needed more parts than we had, so we flew home and bought a new van. We left the van with him and he gave us a couple hundred bucks for it or something. He got it up and running and last I knew he had it, but that was going on back 10 or so years ago. It might be in a junkyard somewhere.”

You have been in the music industry for over 20 years, how has that affected you?

“How long you got? It’s made me into an insane and neurotic person. I mean I lived on the road for 20 years. It’s been awesome. It’s all I ever wanted to do. All the things I missed out on — weddings, funerals, graduations and moments of life with loved ones — I missed out on those because I chose to be a musician. Some of that’s the hard stuff of it, but this is what I chose to do and I have no regrets, and it’s been great.”

What’s been your favorite place to tour to?

“Probably Japan, Tokyo, just because it’s so different — from the language to the culture. Most everything is written in Kanji, the Japanese letters. It’s not written in the 26 letters we recognize in our alphabet. It’s different and cool. Japan is great. The food is great.”

Why did you guys decide to start your own record label, Sleep It Off Records?

“We didn’t have a label at the time and we didn’t want to look for a label. We had been a band for going on 15-16 years at that point, and we decided we had a record recorded and we needed to put it out, so we just decided to do it ourselves.”

What does that entail having your own record label?

“Not as much as you would think … There’s no office. It’s just the five of us. It’s just an imprint for putting out our record. We don’t sign other bands. It’s just to put out projects by Less Than Jake. It’s different than working with a label because we have to do everything ourselves, but there’s a lot less red tape to go through because we only have to deal with ourselves. We don’t have to deal with other people. There’s pros and cons to it, but for the most part it’s good for us.”

What do you do as your own record label that normally would be done by the record label you are signed with?

“Just everything. We have to hire someone to be a publicist, go out and look for interviews and have people like yourself get in contact with the publicist. The label usually has things like that. Anything, like getting distribution for your label, you have to find someone that’s going to get the records into whatever remaining stores there are and have an online presence and everything. So we handle everything from the artwork to everything. You do it all yourself — really, the only difference.”

Do you think having 15-16 years’ experience before you guys did that helped?

“Oh yeah, because we had been doing it all those years. It wasn’t like we were a band in our second year trying to start our own label. We had many years of experience behind us.”

You guys did “TV/EP,” covering a bunch of television show and commercial theme songs. Why did you guys do that?

“It was just something wacky and fun. We’ve always recorded cover songs, and we had some free time. We were off the road and we decided it would be something fun to do. That was it. It wasn’t to be taken seriously. It was literally to make people laugh, the few people that got it, and piss the few people off that didn’t get it.”

Do you have anything in the works currently?

“No, we just put out a record about six months ago. We are still touring for that and we’re going to be on the Warped Tour this summer, going to go to Canada this fall and have plans booked into next February to March 2015. Probably sometime after that we’ll go record.”

 

Vans Road to Warped Tour is happening June 11 from 2-10 p.m. on three separate stages in the parking lot at Northway Mall. The bands 3OH!3, All Time Low, Falling In Reverse, The Devil Wears Prada and Yellowcard will perform as well. Tickets are available for $40 at Mammoth Music, the Rock Wood Fired Pizza, Northway Mall and Mad Hatter. They are also available online at http://www.flavorus.com/event/The-Road-To-Warped-Tour-Alaska/231306.