Less Than Jake

author PP date 15/12/08

It's been five long years since the last time Less Than Jake played in Denmark. Knowing that punk bands are known to avoid this country like plague for some reason, there was no way I'd pass by the opportunity of interviewing one of the most influential bands to have existed in the genre. What's even better is that I was given Vinnie, the 'brains' behind the band's lyrics as well as their own record label, the dude who started Fueled By Ramen, signed bands like Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy, and helped them become the success stories that they are today. When at the same time his own band made a great return to form with "GNV FLA" after a few disappointing major label releases, there were just so many questions to be asked, which is why this interview lasted about ten minutes longer than they normally do. But it turned out to be one of the most interesting interviews I've conducted to date, enjoy reading it.

RF.net: Hi and thanks for doing this interview! Can you please introduce yourself?
Vinnie: Hello! I'm Vinnie, I play drums in Less Than Jake.

RF.net: So what's new in the band?

Vinnie: Finishing off this European tour in about a week, and then taking time off for the holidays, but nextyear will be busy. Australian tour, Soundwave Festival, Punk Spring in Japan, full South American tour. Also we are confirmed for the Vans Warped Tour in the United States so it'll be busy next year.

RF.net: Sounds good, so how's this tour going so far?

Vinnie: It's been great, it's been three weeks. Been to the UK, then came over to Europe, and we've just about done three weeks here right now, and we have about a week left, so it's been awesome.

RF.net: Have you actually played here in Denmark before or is this the first time?

Vinnie: We played about five years ago in Denmark at Christiania...

RF.net: Oh yeah, at Loppen right?

Vinnie: Yeah, long time ago.

RF.net: You have a new album out, "GNV FLA", short for Gainesville Florida. It's obviously about your home town in Florida... tell me how did you choose the name?
Vinnie: Well, if you look at the lyrical context part of it, it's just sort of a bird's eye view of a middle class family life. There's a lot of lyrics that are based on people that are living in Gainesville, so it's sort of a nod to Gainesville. For me, I think that Gainesville is a nice cross-section of people as far as race, religion and economics. So I always kind of looked at that and it seemed to fit. It could've been called, you know, "Copenhagen, Denmark"... but I write what I know about and I know my home town, so it really lends itself for that.

RF.net: That city seems to have a pretty vibrant music scene, what are some of your favorite bands from the area?

Vinnie: Absolutely! Oh man, Hot Water Music's great, Against Me! is great, Strikeforce Diablo, Young Livers... you know, there's a lot of great bands.

RF.net: Why do you think it is such a hotspot in the states?

Vinnie: It's a university town so I think that a lot of the times when a town just has the university, that's sort of the focal point. You have lots of influx of people coming in from every place around Florida and beyond, so I think that it starts to become a hotspot. It started to become a hotspot back in the late 70s and then it started to continue the tradition. The only thing I can really attribute it to is a rich tradition in music and a diverse cross section of people that come there for the college.

RF.net: Your new album was received really well both by the press and the fans, from what I've seen anyway. How do you feel about the record yourself in contrast to all the rest of your records?
Vinnie: I think that this record was just us doing what Less Than Jake does best and what people expect of Less Than Jake: fast melodic punk with ska and horns, you know? I think that the last record, "In With The Out Crowd", we branched out a little bit and explored new territory musically, and I think that this record was just a comeback to what we do best.

RF.net: I'm just going to skip one question cause this is related to what you just said. When I was reading some interviews while researching for this one, couple of them stuck out to me. In one of them, you said, and that was before the previous album, you said "you shouldn't make or can't make the same record twice because you need to keep pushing the genre and the band forward, right, and then on the interviews for this album, I saw JR say that for this record you guys just wanna do it like you said, do what you do best. So does that mean that your view or outlook has changed?

Vinnie: No, I think that with the new record, I think that we pushed the boundaries to inside the genre. But not necessarily pushed beyond the boundaries of the genre. I think that on the last record, we pushed beyond the boundaries and I think that for ourselves and our fanbase both, we felt that it was a bit beyond what the safety zone I guess was. Looking back on it, I think there's good songs on there, but I think that it suffered from overproduction slightly. I think that it was us being a band for fifteen years experimenting with sounds and trying to do that. I think that if we did it again, I'll go back to my statement, you can't do "Hello Rockview" part 2, you can never do "Pezcore" part 5, you can never do "Losing Streak" part 6, you can't do those records because that's when you start to stay stagnant. But I think when I saw doing what Less Than Jake does best doesn't mean a static thing. I think that we always push ourselves musically forward. But I think that doing what people know us for is not necessarily a static move or a linear move.

RF.net: Absolutely. Related to that, for the previous album, you also used hit-writers as far as I know, how did hat come about?
Vinnie: Two! The producer for the record basically was like "I wanna work with you guys but you have to explore this other option". And for me, I always thought that option of him giving that to us was a bit shitty and a bit cross, because when you're a band, and we were on Warner Brothers at the time, so when you're in the middle of writing and you're in the middle of.. "okay, we have a producer", it's hard to go back and destroy all of that. So when he said to us that you have to co-write..some of us wanted to, other people didn't want to, and again, for me, it was the 11th hour at that point. So I was like "okay we'll try this and we'll have it happen". Again, it goes back to the point that I made, on "In With The Out Crowd" we tried pushing the boundaries of who we were as a band and who we were as songwriters. I think that some of us looked at sitting down with other people as maybe a positive thing to kind of gather other people's knowledge on songwriting, which I don't think is a bad idea, I just think that maybe again, we pushed over those boundaries.

RF.net: After that record you guys split up with Warner, you had one record left with them if you wanted to, I'm just curious, how did that come about?
Vinnie: It was time for us to go. I think that Warner Brothers, like every other major label in the United States, they wanted a 360-deal where they own your publishing, they own a portion of your merchandise right across the board, and Warner was in that sort of mode as is Atlantic Records and Universal even down the line, and I didn't feel comfortable with that, nor did they feel comfortable sort of having a band that didn't have that deal either. So when you're faced with that stand off, I had asked the president of Warner Brothers to just let us out of the record deal. Thankfully so, they owed us X amount of dollars on that one last record that allowed us to record our new record, shop it, and do everything ourselves. So it was sort of a win deal for us to be honest with you, and even a win deal for Warner Brothers because to start that machine up for a major label costs hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not to say that's right or wrong, it's just fact. So I think for them that saved promotion cost and all of that as well as the money they owed us for the record itself. So it saved them money, and it gave us money to start our own label, Sleep It Off, and do our own record and things like that. So to answer your back simply, it was just time to go, period. No ill-will for them, the answer to you is no ill-will from us towards them because they treated us fairly. They could've easily said "you have one more record, you're stuck with it, you're gonna give it to us no matter what". And the president's coolness factor I guess said yeah, it's time.. our relationship is not working, we want this out of bands, we don't have this deal with you, lets go our separate ways. It was awesome!

RF.net: Yeah and you did get your own record label out of it, so that's good. How's that going?
Vinnie: It's good. I think that right now, it's very mellow just because the record's out and we just have released a deluxe version of GNV FLA. It's cool for me, I like that side of the business anyway, and I've done it in different avenues and different companies before. So for me, I enjoy the business side of it and the marketing side of doing music as well as playing it.

RF.net: Are you guys planning to maybe sign some other bands in the future?

Vinnie: We've talked about it, I think we just have to find the right band to do that with.

RF.net: Have you thought of about a style? Is it going to be more ska-punk, is it going to be metal?

Vinnie: I don't know, we'll see. We first have to find... we've found a few bands that we like, we always read on something. We'll see how it goes. I'm in no rush because I've released records on another label that I owned, so for me, it has to be the perfect storm to do it for the Sleep It Off side of things.

RF.net: Yeah, you started Fueled By Ramen right together with John. That's quite a big accomplishment considering how huge they are today, they are pretty respected in my opinion. I noticed that you left from there two years ago because you didn't agree with the direction of the label or something like that. What direction did you want Fueled By Ramen to go towards?
Vinnie: I think that to be a viable music label it has to be an eclectic line up. Because you never know, the wave that's cresting right now is pop tinged punk rock with some electro feel to it, you know? I think that you need as a label to set up where the waves are starting to form, and John didn't agree with me on that. He wanted to stay and continues to stay in that same realm of kid pop, okay, and that happens to be the wave that's cresting, right? That wave's gonna end, and we didn't agree with that. I said we need to start signing a diverse roster, it's a very important thing to do. Because I've seen it so many times. You have Fat Records, or Drive Thru records, or you go down the line, where they just stayed in a static sort of genre. It affected the label, and made the label feel stale and, for the lack of a better word, tired. I never wanted to be a part of anything that felt tired. I always wanted to stay vibrant when it comes to releasing music, because music is always a diverse thing. What's popular now and what's selling now is not what's gonna sell three years from now. The funny thing is that we had a discussion about that, and he was like "well you wanna sign these bands that don't sell" but I would sort of go back to and say that "if I told you two years ago that there'd be a bidding war on Against Me!, you would've thought I was crazy. But that's a true statement, you never know what genre of music or what band is going to start cresting. So you can't box yourself into that. I understand why because we sort of perfected the art of marketing kid pop, you know? And that's cool, but to stay vibrant and to stay ahead of the curve you have to be prepared. He wasn't prepared to do that and I wasn't prepared to stay around and deal with 16 and 17 year olds. And that's no fault for him and that's no fault for me, think of it as what it is. I had sold my half of it to Atlantic Records, so I'm totally fine with that.

RF.net: So is there some label out there that you perceive as the vibrant one that you're describing here?

Vinnie: I think that on a smaller level obviously but a level that they stayed at the same level, which I find sort of mid-level label, not massive like Fueled By Ramen. But lets say No Idea Records, also from Gainesville, I'll use that as an example. They've been doing it for... going on twenty years, sold a lot of records. They release a lot of records and they sell a decent amount of each record, but they do from grindcore to pop punk to acoustic country tinged music. I think that's a cool thing to do and I always look back to No Idea as a blue print of a label that can sustain itself through two decades. Ultimately, if you're in that business of selling records and putting out music, I wanted to be a part of something that can sustain itself. When faced with that not happening, I decided that it was a great time for me to cash out, no big deal. I can put my energies and creative thought into other places than into something that I don't have my heart and soul in.

RF.net: Do you have a favorite band on Fueled By Ramen?

Vinnie: It's a hard thing actually because there was bands that were my friends that aren't necessarily my favorite band musically, you know? I'll go with Kane Hodder, they released a record.. I really liked them as people. As for the music, I thought that it was great but not my favorite. Punchline the same way, great people good friends, not my favorite band. If I was going to mark something that was my favorite thing on Fueled By Ramen, it was "Papercut Chronicles" by Gym Class Heroes, because it blended the perfect sense of hip hop but live music. And mind you now it's so far from what that was when we released that record, it's more loop based and rap based, but "Papercut Chronicles" by Gym Class Heroes is my favorite thing. And among anything, when I listen to that record, it was the start of something cool, and I wish they had continued in that direction instead of going in the usual direction, you know? I thought that was cool, I thought that early on we did records... I would say The Impossibles record is the record that, for me, made me really like putting out records. I listen to that record when we are on tour, I listen to that record so many times just as we're driving around, it was insane. That made me fall in love with wanting to put music out and things like that.

RF.net: So if we go back to Less Than Jake now... last year you guys played those "one album per night" shows both in Florida and London, is that something you're looking to do also in the future because I think people really liked those?
Vinnie: You know, I don't know! Doing those shows was like doing a final exam. It was cramming a lot for that hour that you had to perform, and I thought that was cool. I'd like to do it again, there are records that we didn't do that I would love to do, I would love to do "Losers, Kings, And Things We Don't Understand", we didn't do that, or "B Is For B Side", or "Goodbye Blue And White", like really old music I think would be cool. It would take a long time to get the headspace in there, but I'd like to go back and do the records that we didn't do, or do "GNV FLA" in its entirety, that would be cool thing too.

RF.net: Yeah, sure. I've got a couple of fan-like question because I've been a fan of the band for quite a long time. So... Johnny Quest, is he a real person?
Vinnie: He was a real person, that was his screen name, he was a student of architecture in the University of Florida. He was a very big ska fan, so he said... "Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sell-outs" is basically someone saying that we sold out the ska-scene by adding punk rock. So it was a real person.

RF.net: What about Jen?

Vinnie: Jen was a real person, she had a crush on Chris, and she was a very weird character. Just her whole family was sort skewed, she would just sort of pop over at random times at our apartment, me and Chris were living together, to sort of make food and then really not talk to anyone and then leave. And she told us stories about her kissing her cousin and her dad basically waiting for you to go to the bathroom and then unlock the door and surprise you and take a polaroid of you going to the bathroom and things like that... so yeah, real person!

RF.net: Where's "Lion City"? Is that Gainesville?

Vinnie: Lion City is a metaphor for any place that was a vibrant city that now is falling apart because of economics of life.

RF.net: Where does your lyrical inspiration come from?

Vinnie: If I were to sort of cut everything away, there's little bits of Billy Bragg in there, little bits of Bruce Springstreen in there, little bits of Elvis Costello, but my major influence is from a writer, his name is Aaron Cometbus. He played in bands like Crimpshrine and played in Sweet Baby for a while, and he does a magazine called Cometbus, which is like a travel journal kind of thing. And that's my main inspiration as far writing lyrics goes.

RF.net: I was kind of more going for the things that you write about, how do you come up with them?

Vinnie: No idea, I just do! That's one of those things...

RF.net: So you don't like sit down and say "now i'm gonna write about this topic" and then...?

Vinnie: Not really, I'll explain the writing process for me. Lets say on this tour, I'll have my phone and I'll go "oh! just think of a phrase or a word" and I'll write it down or I'll have scraps of paper on fucking napkins and like backs of packaging and scrolling, and I just save all them up, and when it's time to write a record, I just take everything out, I print out everything that I've written on either a computer, just like typed up randomly, or on the phone... print everything out and take all those scraps of paper out and just dump it out onto a table and I just start filing through it. And then I look and sometimes I don't even remember, you know, lets say because you just mentioned "Lion City", there was a piece of paper it said "Does The Lion City Still Roar?" on it, and I don't remember ever writing it, I don't remember ever why I wrote it or any reason, but I picked it up, and said to myself "oh yeah I like that". So I wrote it down on a piece of paper, and immediately, as soon as I sort of picked things up, I go "oh, this is about this" and my brain just adds to that, and there we go. It happens, so I just write throughout a year or two, and then just go back in and collect my thoughts that I don't remember and write off of it. It's a very sort of organic process too, it's not a very forced thing. I usually pick things up and just go "oh yeah" as soon as I pick it up or read it, I know what it's about. I like to sort of tie titles to people a lot so lots of things are based off of people I know, family and friends, acquintances... everything is sort of based off that. A lot of times, more so than anything, 75 to 80% I use other names but I always refer back to myself. So even though "Al's War" is called "Al's War", it's about me, I just used Al for short for alcoholic, so it's "Al's War", alcoholic's war, but "Al's War" is not about me per say, but I'm writing it about myself. I use other people to personify, weirdly enough, that's what I do!

RF.net: Alright! That was my last question, have you got anything you wanna say to the fans and the readers?
Vinnie: You know, I think that who's ever coming tonight, thanks, because we haven't been here for a really long time. When you stay out of a city and out of a country for a long time and people sort of waited for you to come back that saw you before, waited for you to come in general... and you know, it's those people that you never get a chance to thank really everyone at a show personally. But people who read this, thanks for coming out, thanks for supporting the band, because it does mean a lot. I think that as we become a band that goes into 15-16-17-18-19 years, I think that it's a cool thing to be able to go onto cities that you haven't been to, doesn't matter what size the show is, doesn't matter anything. It's a cool feeling just to be able to go to a place that you haven't been or haven't been to in a long time. For people to show up and sing songs and be supportive of the band is a fucking cool feeling, no matter what size the show is, no matter anything about it! That's it!

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