Last Thursday, Less Than Jake came through Baltimore, and last Wednesday, because their show in Poughkeepsie had been snowed out, JR [far right] from Less Than Jake took some time out to talk to me. Except he ended up taking a lot of time out to talk to me. A lot. So what follows is not just the normal ‘I’m on tour’ stuff, but instead a look inside an experienced band’s member and his views of the road, the [now] defunct Strike Gently, and why he think Justin Bieber is punk. Seriously.
It’s early in the tour, but there’s no name for the tour, is there?
Yea, it’s a no name tour. We’ve been calling it the no-name tour. That doesn’t happen anymore; nobody gives a carp about these tours with 15 bands on it. We’re Less Than Jake, we’re going on tour, come find us.
You have great bands opening up this whole tour. Are they just friends who you had to pick and choose for each date or was there a method?
When we sat down and tried to figure out what bands we wanted to take on this tour we had decided Off With Their Heads for sure and The Supervillains, we were going to take them on all the dates. But then for the rest we didn’t know exactly what we should do, so we decided to choose openers for a couple of shows; have different bands playing. You know so we could see a bunch of different bands, and it also kind of changes it up for people who go to different shows in different areas. Sometimes people travel to come see us play. So it keeps it interesting for the people who are on the tour, it keeps it interesting for the people who come to see the tour, and it gives the opportunity to a lot of bands that wouldn’t get that opportunity otherwise; it spreads the love out a little bit.
Congrats on throwing it together. I just downloaded the comp you put out and I was impressed by all the bands you rounded up.
It was cool to put the comp out. It was a good thing for all the bands. It’s cool to be a part of a comp with a bunch of good bands; a lot of younger bands too.
What was the idea behind that? Just to give a preview of the tour for everyone?
I think it was just ‘people like free music, so why not?’ Spread the love a little bit. It puts a group of bands together under a certain thing, and all the bands together try and promote it, and it’s good. It’s the new way of the music industry a little bit.
On the subject on releasing things, you are re-releasing two records, is it in March?
Yes, March. But we have them on tour right now – for Hello Rockview and Losing Streak. We have copies on tour with us, so if you come see us on tour, you can purchase them there.
So the question is then, why these records now out of your whole catalogue?
I think it was just the timing of it. The right time for us to re-release them, the clearances that needed to happen happened and it was good opportunity to rerelease some of our classic records with some new artwork and then give the live DVD of each one of the records being played live. It’s pretty cool.
We’ve always tried to stay away from doing a bunch of re-releases because it just seems so – it’s already been done. We’ve always liked to think forward, not behind, but we figured because these have become two records that are very difficult to find, so why not make them available again. We’re just trying to give our fans what they ask for, I guess.
Well, it’s a good idea. The fans are always chomping at the bit, so it’s good.
Thanks… A lot of bands just go with what they think is the right thing to do, instead of asking their fanbase what they want. This is something we feel our fanbase has wanted for a while, so why not make it available?
I have to ask about something I enjoyed quite a bit as well, which is the TV EP.
Yea it was an idea we’ve been kicking around for a couple of years – it was incepted three or four years ago – and we finally had time to do it, so we just did it. It was probably more talking about it than there actually was recording. We had fun doing it and we put it out and it was fun. And we tried to take an idea we’ve had and stretch it to its full capabilities, and I think we did that. I think everything came out the way we had all envisioned, and it came out better maybe in some aspects than we’d envisioned. We’re happy with it.
Some people took it for more than it was supposed to be though. ‘It was just another covers record,’ well, no it’s not another covers record. It’s a record of TV theme songs and commercials. And it’s meant to sound like you’re listening to the television. It’s eleven minutes long, and it’s a collector’s item; it’s just for fun.
And I forgot, I didn’t actually read the Rolling Stone article about you’re not supposed to have fun in music anymore, it’s not allowed, to have fun. Or maybe it was Spin, I don’t know. Somebody, somewhere along the lines said you have to be really serious about everything that you did, so, we don’t buy into that pile of bullshit. We just continue to do what we do. If you like it, I’m stoked, if you don’t like it that’s cool. A lot of the people who didn’t like it are the ones who didn’t pay for it anyway, so whatever.
Speaking of downloading, you’re always – at least on Twitter – in pretty constant contact with StrikeGently. What’s you take on his or her or whoever’s whole deal? [This interview took place days before the site was shut down so we don’t mention that part – ed.]
I think it’s great. I think it’s great. It’s the Wild West isn’t it? Put it up, put it up for download, I think it’s fair. It’s really the great equalizer, so, what that person did – and just so everyone would know, I don’t have any more information on who runs that particular website than anybody else does. I wish I did. Whoever they are has been kind enough to send me some T-shirts and they’ve always said funny things about my band and they’ve always been very cool and supportive of my band which I think is awesome. I don’t care if they put our whole fucking [collection] up there for download; I don’t give a shit. I just think it’s awesome that the guy cares enough about our band to ever say anything. Yea I think it’s great; I think it’s revolutionary. It’s kind of like the Americans fighting the English in the Colonial times. It’s these little sections of people fighting these big conglomerate corporations, taking all that music that they’ve spent so much money and marketing dollars on and saying ‘fuck you, here it is for free.’ I think it’s great.
Admittedly, I’m at that site every day, so it’s interesting to hear that you support it, at least in a way.
But that’s me, you know what I mean? Ask other people and they’ll say completely different things, but this is a revolution and there’s no rules in a revolution. It’s all fucking ‘guns are blazing.’ Things and forces that are out there on the internet are much bigger than the record corporations and companies think they are. They could shut down the internet in a second and end this all, and that’s true. So it’s still the Wild West and the government hasn’t put the clamps down on it [prophetic words as it turns out –ed], fuck, enjoy! Enjoy! It’s like a free pool, ‘pool’s open to the public, enjoy.’
Yea you know, I have mixed feelings. I like to go there and yes, I download things too, but I still buy music, still buy vinyl, so just very mixed feelings.
And people who buy music will continue to buy music. I continue to buy music. People aren’t going to stop buying music or records or T-shirts from bands because they download the music for free, that’s sort of on the contrary. I still buy things from bands that I like but I think it just makes the entertainment dollar that much more special when people are spending that dollar on certain things, it must be a special item. Especially when they know they can get it for free on the internet, they must like the physical holding on to it. It always is an interesting analysis to see why someone buys or doesn’t buy something, I’ve always found that interesting.
I read this interview with you recently where you basically said that you were happy that the band [Less Than Jake] never had a big mainstream single because that would make the music more disposable.
Well, yea that’s also like you peak; we’ve never peaked… I guess maybe we peaked. It’s that thing, where it’s just like ‘whoa that was the biggest thing ever’ craziness, smash Green Day hit. And yea that makes some people somewhat disposable, because if it’s a hit single, and it’s just one hit – a one hit wonder – you’re just a disposable artist. You sell your million copies of your one song and you drift off into nothingness like Leif Garret or the Osmonds or whatever was big in the 70s. Then you look in the 80s and you have Flock of Seagulls, bands like that, they have one or two songs. And it’s continued on up until now; it’s rock and roll, popular music: a couple of hit songs here or there. But there are so many songs now, and they’re so interchangeable and they sound so similar so you can’t tell them apart, but they’re familiar enough that you’re comfortable with it and so immediately your defenses are dropped because they’re so familiar to you.
That being said, are all songs like that disposable? Yes, to a point. But for our band, it made sense that, looking back on it now, we didn’t have the big hit. It was maybe a mistake of the label, maybe our management, but it was probably a mistake of our own; not letting something happen that we didn’t feel was the right thing. We could have had that single, we’ve had enough chances that’s for sure. It’s not that we haven’t had the chance, it just never happened for us in that way. And that’s all right. I’m not bummed by it at all.
Well yea, you’re still around. Unlike other bands you mentioned, what are they doing?
There are a lot of bands that we started touring with that don’t exist anymore. There’s a lot of bands that have come up, and I’ve said this a couple times, we’ve had bands that we have taken on their first tour, that then become huge pop acts, broken up, gotten back together and have done tours, and we’ve still been a band. We just kind of hang out, watch what happens – we’re not trying to be anything more than we are –we are entertaining [people], and that’s why I would hope people still come back and see us play. It’s definitely about the music, but like I said man, we’ve never had that big massive radio or MTV hit and I think some would find that a curse, but it may be more of a blessing.
So looking back like you’ve said, not as a retrospective, but just looking back, what’s it like being in music in general, but especially being in the punk community, today? Is it like a close-knit circle of you and your friends hanging out or are you still trying new things, to make new things happen?
Well in life, you’re always trying to make new friends, I don’t think you ever get tired of meeting new people. We have our friends that we’ve had forever, our closest friends, and we have friends that we’ve made that are newer friends. As far as friendship goes, yea we’re trying to make new friends, but as far as the music goes, you know, I have friends in bands who I don’t like their bands at all. They’re still my friends, it doesn’t mean I don’t like them any less as people; I just don’t like their bands. It’s not weird but punk rock has become more bastardized than it was when we started and I heard it was bastardized then. So like I said, punk rock is more of a mindset, I think, than a musical style these days. People who will claim they’re punk rock, to me, aren’t punk rock. And then when I say things to people about what I think is punk rock they say ‘what are you crazy?’ Like I personally think Justin Bieber is more punk rock than most of these fucking kids that claim to punk rock…
I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to elaborate on that one.
Well, you look at what he has. He’s been very lucky in the opportunities that he’s had, but prior to him get signed to Usher’s label and him and Justin Timberlake hanging out, that kid as doing mall shows and created his own thing. All from doing little videos on YouTube and posting little fucking songs that he wrote on YouTube; he did his own thing and created his own fan hysteria. And really, what’s more fucking punk than that?
Well… That’s true.
Try arguing me. That’s pretty fucking punk rock. And now he’s obviously got this whole thing: he’s a little kid and he’s trying to figure out who he is and where he stands in this whole thing, and has become a whole pop-cultural phenomenon, but what it was, was an idea. And it was a revolutionary tactic that he took in order to build his fanbase. And who would have thought that just putting little videos on YouTube would create a pop sensation, you know what I mean? Not how it was done, how it was marketed, how he was involved with his fans, you know. When I was a little kid Michael Jackson was the biggest thing in the world, and there was no computers and it wasn’t so one-on-one, so [Bieber] has redefined what a pop star is, what’s expected of a pop star. To me, where you re-define something, you’re a creator, you’re an innovator, and that’s punk. Punk is innovation and doing something that’s different, Joe Strummer said that to me.
Well it’s an interesting way to look at him, but you’re very right, in that way. It’s very DIY. It’s pretty punk to just go out and do that.
He did what he wanted, he wasn’t doing what everybody told him to do; he did what he thought was the right thing for what he was doing. Love him or hate him, you don’t have to change your thought on Justin Bieber, I would never say that, I don’t really give a shit about the kid to be honest with you, but a lot of times you have to kind of step back and look at it and see what it is. And I think a lot of people have had a hard time doing that because we’re so judgmental right off the bat. But when it comes to something like punk rock, something that has grown, like a band like All Time Low. You can claim to be punk rock, you can play fast punk, pop-punk songs but you’re not punk rockers. You might like pop-punk but, dude, Jack or Alex would never, Ryan or Zac, would never sit and go ‘Oh, we’re punk-rockers,’ they’re pop-punk kids. And they’re going to have fun with it. But those dudes are pretty punk rock. Fall Out Boy is pretty punk rock to me; we took them out on those tours before they were “that band,” before they were the greatest things on the planet. It’s cool when you see bands like that grow up and earn what they get and create something, they earn it.
So to speak of punk, in the traditional sense, in the musical sense, the style, it’s good; it’s still strong. Kids still go to punk shows. They still go see bands like The Dopamines and fucking The Menzingers. They still go to see the legends like The Bouncing Souls and NOFX, bands like that. But as far as the ideology of it, what punk rock is, it’s as alive as it has ever been, it really is. The creativity is there, and maybe sometimes it’s not the packaging that you’d want a punk rocker to be, maybe not like Sid Vicious, but that’s my thought on punk rock, you know.
Totally man, I see it.
And maybe I’m wrong. And I’m sure there will be a lot of dudes who will tell you I’m totally off because they’re more punk than me, but whatever. They have a Punknews.org screen name and I don’t.
No, I agree. And I was reading an article on, I think NME, that said 2010 was the worst year for rock ‘n’ roll, ever, and I was thinking ‘man it was a great year for punk rock though.’ You named Menzingers but everyone was coming out with great records last year.
Yea but they fly under the radar, like it’s right under the radar. The magazines don’t see it, the print media doesn’t see it. It’s there and it’s rare even on the internet that you’ll see it. Like nowadays, its not that hard to find it, but there are only so many major labels and the majors are only putting so many acts in to get reviewed by magazines and MTV and everything else. So of course NME is going to say that because everything they got to review was shit. It was all crap, it was just like everything else. Or it sounds like a bad version of The Klaxons or something [laughs].
Well this has been great. And I have to admit that your band is one of my favorite bands, and has been for years, so it’s good that you have a vigor, and I appreciate it.
Well I just want to thank you and for still wanting to speak to us after two decades as a band [laughs].