It’s summertime, and that means swimming pools, popsicles—and if you’re anything like us—some uptempo ska-punk joyously exploding from your speakers. And what better group to satisfy those sunny cravings than with sounds from Gainsville legends Less Than Jake? With a brand new EP and a slew of dates on Warped Tour 2011, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to groove to the five-piece’s horn-infused punk this summer. We sat down with Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie Fiorello to talk about the new EP, the good old days and what it’s like to return to Warped year after year.
OS: You guys just surprised everyone by releasing Greetings From… on Monday. Why release a surprise EP instead of doing a lot of promotion?
VF: Well, here’s the thing: are we really living in a world that needs advance promotion when you’re talking about music? I think that’s left to pop stars who want to be actors or actors who want to be pop stars. With Less Than Jake, we don’t have the budget allotted to us that, let’s say, is from a major label where you can do some long term promotion and sort of build it up. I think that the model that we have right now… Less Than Jake has its own brand, we’ve been around for twenty years. So doing something unannounced allows that immediacy of hearing about it and spreading the word from fan to fan to fan. That works where we’re at currently. There’s so much white noise and competition—there’s 150 channels on TV, there’s infinite possibilities on the Internet, there’s your cell phone, there’s everything down the line—so I think that… to cut through the static, a long lead-up for our band is just not possible. Doing it the way that we’re doing it, we’ll probably continue doing it because we’re only a few days in and it feels right. I’ll go back and say to be able to cut through the static, you either have to have a lot of money or you have to have an initial sort of lightning bolt. We went with the lightning bolt.
VF: Yes, it’s the first thing we’ve done that that’s basically band-written, band-recorded, band-marketed, band-distributed. And it’s going well. Without getting too lofty on it and making it a music industry interview rather than a Less Than Jake interview, here’s the thing: You have a certain amount of the pie, right? And ten years ago, the revenue of that pie for a musician was three-quarters record sales. And that shrinks, and you have to find ways to fill that gap as that revenue shrinks out. So people replace it with extra touring, you know? But there’s only so many days of the year where you can do that, so many people that will come see you, so many hours that those people will spend. So when you starting talking about, “Okay, we need to fill this void in revenue,” and you start working it out that way, you realize that currently if you’re signed to a major label it’s a 360 deal where they own 1/3 of your song, 1/3 of your touring revenue, 1/3 of merchandise sales. So you start figuring it out like that, and I think doing it how we’re doing it extends the revenue flow into our band. We may sell less records, but we’re making much more money than we would if we sold ten times the amount of records on a major label because we’re not profit sharing with anyone.
OS: So you can enjoy that freedom now of not owing anyone and being able to record and distribute on your own terms. But last time we spoke, you said the most creative freedom you ever had was when you were just starting out. If you could choose between the two would you go back to the days when there were no expectations or preconceived notions of what your music should be, but you maybe had a little less freedom in other aspects?
VF: I’m going to have to say yes. And I’ll tell you why, because I like the days when we could do whatever we wanted and we didn’t have a twenty-year track record. When we did, let’s say, the Grease soundtrack or we did something else that was fun, Slayer covers, no one was judging it. To give you a familiar sort of scenario… we did TV/EP last year, where we covered TV theme songs from the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s. And the reviews of that EP… it was eleven minutes of fun. It was meant to be fun. It was meant to be a stopping point between writing new material. And people took it and reviewed it as such that it was this release, and they sort of dragged the fun out of it…if we were a band of two years, the review of TV/EP would have been decidedly different. So I think that doing a TV covers CD when you’ve been a band for twenty years, people are judging it as this decisive career move and all this shit. It’s not! It’s just fucking fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. People trip out and get sort of wound up in the details and facts and history when they should just let it be what it is. Not everything is supposed to be a social statement, not everything is supposed to be exclamation marks. Sometimes, there’s a fucking comma in there, and that’s okay.
VF: Exactly! But it goes beyond that. Lately music is so dour. It’s such a downer. I understand why dubstep and that sort of modern DJ-based music is much more popular than its counterparts in live rock and roll. Because people are showing up to go have fun, you know? I would defy anyone to get together thirteen mid-sized rock bands and have 10,000 people show up and lose their fucking mind. But that happens on a weekend basis across the United States when it comes to DJs and live DJ gigs. People are showing up to dance and have fun. I think the state of rock and roll over the last decade or maybe more, it’s dour. It’s a downer. It’s taking itself way too seriously, and I think it has to have a turnaround or live music is just sort of going to go the way of the buffalo.
OS: Well the good news is, bands like Less Than Jake and ska/punk bands in general are certainly keeping the fun in the live show.
VF: Yeah no, the style of music that we play is definitely indicative of fun and it’s based on a live show being fun and being… not very mellow. That’s who our bands are. But I think we can only be a life-preserver in that way for so long before people start not coming out to go see live shows. [Laughs] But let’s move on on that one.
OS: [Laughs] Now that we’re sufficiently bummed out. Well on a less depressing note, Anthology was also released earlier this week–you’re not worried about overwhelming fans with releases or one taking attention away from the other?
VF: No, because with Anthology it’s directly for the fans, directly for the longtime fan. It’s eight hours worth of music, it’s four DVDs, it’s awesome. And the price is right, it’s $15.00 direct from the band, $15.00 from Amazon, Interpunk.com, things like that. It’s for the longtime fan who wants to see six records played in their entirety. And beyond that, I don’t think it’s that overwhelming. I think with the EP, it was sort of designed for shock and awe, and with the DVD it was meant to be more of an organized release than what the EP was.
OS: Hitting them on both fronts.
VF: You have to. Once you have people paying attention to you, you sometimes have to kind of jump into the fray a little bit more and throw a few tricks out while they’re looking at you.
OS: That’s something that’s notable about Less Than Jake in general–you all seem like pretty savvy businessmen in terms of getting fans to buy your records and keeping fans interested in your merch. Were you clever about it from the beginning, or did you get better at it through trial and error?
VF: I think that it’s something that we’ve been good at all along. We’re on our 287th release, between vinyl records and things like that. But we always designed it where we were adding some extra touches like doing a 7”. There was a little bit where we were concentrating on touring more than doing releases, and we’re sort of reversing that—we’re touring less but we’re going to release more music.
OS: And speaking of tours, you guys are gearing up for Warped—is that strange for you now, since with the exception of bands like Big D, you guys have been playing together for a lot longer than most of the other bands on the tour?
VF: It kind of is, you know? It’s a loaded question, and I’ll tell you why. We were a young band once, and I understand it. You’re trying to go for the brass ring, everything’s fresh, everything’s new, and I’m cool with that. I’m cool with bands who get overexcited about being on Warped Tour and maybe let the excesses and the fact that they’re on a big summer tour get the best of them. I’m okay with that, and I don’t feel weird about that. But at the same time, I think that how Warped Tour is designed—Warped Tour is designed for popular music. A lot of people sort of give it a bad rap of, “Oh, it’s changed.” Well, Warped Tour hasn’t changed, the skeleton is the same. It’s always about popular music, and what’s popular now is Christian metal and sort of poppy screamo. And that’s what most of the tour is on. So when I’m sitting around, are there a lot of bands that I’m going to enjoy listening to? Not particularly, you know? And that’s not being an old fuck about it. I can appreciate them as musicians, I can appreciate them for their show and for their drive, but there’s not a lot out here for me to go like, “Oh, yeah, you heard that one song? Oh, I love that one song. Or that one record.” It’s not that tour anymore.
OS: Then what is it about the tour that brought you back this year?
VF: I think it’s a good way to play in front of people who have heard our band but maybe not necessarily ever came to see our band play.
OS: So if the Christian metal isn’t doing it for you, what are you listening to these days?
VF: A lot a reggae, to be honest with you. Sizzla, which is great, and then a lot of old reggae as well. Punk rock— I think that there’s a really good, fresh generation of punk rock out there. Red City Radio, the Menzingers, bands like Make Do and Mend which are great friends but also did a great record. I think that you have a new group of bands that are coming out—like Tigers Jaw is a great band, you have Dear Landlord—there’s a massive and healthy crop of catchy punk rock, and I pay most of my attention to that. And a lot of reggae as well, just to kind of balance things out. It can’t always be fast and rough punk rock, the converse side for me is slow and mellow reggae.