I was sixteen years old the first time I saw Less Than Jake. The band was playing the Buffalo stop of The Warped Tour. The tour had set up in the overflow lot of the local Six Flags and after a morning spent eating cotton candy and chickening out of double loop coasters, I was ready to watch some bands. Less Than Jake was opening the mainstage. While my holier than thou teen persona didn’t stop me from eating pink sugar fluff, it did allow me to develop a certain amount of cynicism about ska. I’d learned The Specials –- who at that point in my life I had never listened to –- got a pass, but anything else in the genre was to be met with eye rolls and extreme skepticism. I started the Less Than Jake set standing at the edge of the crowd. Midway through I had joined the circle pit and was singing along with “Look what Happened.” As the song finished up a girl on her boyfriend’s shoulders flashed the band. It was the first pair of breasts I ever saw. I decided Less Than Jake got a pass.
Even at that stage of their career, Less Than Jake were elder statesmen of the scene. They had caught some of the shine of the mid-'90s punk wave, then caught a bit more as bands like Blink 182 rose to stardom in the earl aughts. Less Than Jake responded to this success by touring as much as possible and putting out a steady steam of horn-based punk tunes. By the point I was seeing the band their stagecraft had been well rehearsed and the show was more than entertaining enough to win over any cynics in the crowd. Twelve years after seeing Less Than Jake for the first time I had the chance to talk to Vinnie Fiorello, drummer and founding member of the band, about the Less Than Jake’s legacy, their unlikely political participation, and their new album.
Scene Point Blank: Less Than Jake is celebrating 25 years together. Many of your contemporaries in the punk scene -– such Chuck Regan or AFI –- have shifted their sound as the years went on, while Less Than Jake has always consistently sounded like a ska band. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages are to sticking to those roots?
Vinne Fiorello: We have branched out to some different styles on specific songs, but the strength of Chris and Roger's voices make songs sound like LTJ songs. At this point we continue to write songs in the style of what we think our band is and who we are as writers. It seems odd to let other people dictate who we are and how and what we write.
Scene Point Blank: At this point of your career, are you content with the level of success you’ve achieved as a band? Is there anything that you haven’t done that you’d still like to do?
Vinne Fiorello: Twenty-five years doing anything is a success. I mean we have seen literally genres of music come and go in popularity. It’s wild. There are plenty of countries we want to play still, plenty of roads to be traveled.
Scene Point Blank: Is it weird that some of the kids coming to the show are younger than the band itself?
Vinne Fiorello: No. It’s always been like that. Youth culture propelled the band and still continues in a lesser degree now, but it's still felt when doing something like Warped Tour.
Scene Point Blank: Previously, the band had a Jones Soda named after them with Less Than Jake Root Beer. Are you aware of the small batch beer “In with the Stout Crowd” that was named in your honor?
Vinne Fiorello: Ha ha, no I wasn't aware of that one. There have been others I’ve seen though.
Scene Point Blank: The band just released a seven song EP. There are a lot of bands who have your history who would rest on their back catalogue rather than continuing to make new work. What do you guys get out of writing and recording?
Vinne Fiorello: There’s songs left to be written. Every experience leads to that spark of inspiration. Continuing writing and being current is important top all five of us in the band.
Scene Point Blank: Out of curiosity how much money did you guys make over the years on The Tony Hawk games?
Vinne Fiorello: I have no idea, weird question, but doing something like that wasn't about money it was about the exposure to other people who wouldn't know our band.
Scene Point Blank: Less Than Jake have described themselves as a pseudo-political band, but have been closely associated with many political acts over the years. Do you feel like punk rock still has a place in the modern protest movement?
Vinne Fiorello: Punk rock, for me, was more about social politics. But, yes, I do think punk music still has a voice in politics and political movements.
Scene Point Blank: The band was involved with Rock Against Bush (your collaboration with Billy Bragg is still my favorite song from Less than Jake) what do you feel like was the ultimate legacy of those compilations? Is there anything people can learn from them?
Vinne Fiorello: Well, [it] depends on what you think about music’s place in all this. I think music can bring change so, yes, the lasting legacy is change and that lives on and on.
Scene Point Blank: My favorite memory of Less Than Jake is a 200 person long circle pit/conga line happening at the Buffalo Warped Tour. The band has always been consistently fun whenever I’ve caught you live. After playing this many shows how do you keep it fresh for yourselves? Does it ever feel like a job?
Vinne Fiorello: The energy exchange between the audience and the band. It makes it fun, it makes playing worth it. And, yes, all of this after 25 years is still a blast.
Graham Isador is a writer living in Toronto @presgang