posted July 8, 2008Tweet
Out front on the main stage and on a smaller adjacent stage, teenagers decked out like rock stars are playing respectable covers of Van Halen’s “Panama” and Yes’ “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” on a cloudy but extremely hot and humid Philadelphia day. Their music instructor, Paul Green, made semi-famous for the 2005 “Rock School” documentary about his school which teaches kids how to play music using largely classic rock tunes, pops up on stage during the introduction to “Panama,” stops them and makes them restart. There’s no spandex or crazy jumps but the singer, looking rather bored, does stand atop a small speaker.
Not yet even one in the afternoon on a Sunday, the Penn’s Landing outdoor venue on the not so scenic Delaware River has a fair attendance but it is not yet full. Headliners The Dropkick Murphys won’t be on until around 7 while their lead supporters Less Than Jake aren’t scheduled until 6. So while the kids are out cutting their teeth on tunes that might actually be older than some of their parents, in the back of the venue-slash-fenced-in-parking lot amidst a maze of tour buses, vans and tents are Less Than Jake.
For this ska laced pop punk band, it’s just another day. In the middle of summer tour dates in support of “GNV FLA,” the band’s seventh studio album, Less Than Jake is up and awake but alert and out of trouble might be another thing.
In a black cap and sunglass, front man Chris Demakes is stretched out one of the bench seats in the front of the bus. After brief introductions, he immediately apologizes for a hangover and “a look of Hell” but he promises to struggle through.
Uh huh. It becomes quickly apparent that getting Demakes to actually answer a question directly or to answer seriously is not happening – at least, not today. But how many other bands, after more than a decade and a half together, are still even talking let alone having fun?
“Oh God, I could answer that question a thousand ways. I won’t take the nasty way cause we do keep things interesting on this bus but we can’t talk about those things,” Demakes says when asked how the band keeps things fresh.
“When you’re in the studio for too long, you want to be on tour. And when you’re on tour for too long you want to be in the studio. So the grass is always greener on the other side. In terms of keeping things fresh, coming up with new song ideas automatically keeps it fresh. In terms of doing something different? No, I think maybe we’ve just gotten better as musicians.”
But as the band has solidified their musical skills over the years, the musical landscape has changed. Demakes is quick to acknowledge that they don’t fit in to the current scene. It’s a fact that may explain what he describes as an “amicable” split with Warner Brothers Records. The two split prior to “GNV FLA,” which the band released on their own newly formed label Sleep It Off Records.
“We owed them another album and they let us walk,” Demakes says of Warner Brothers. “They gave us a lot of money to walk away. Which is good.”
As his band mates file in and out from the back to make coffee, Demakes cannot help himself from cracking jokes such as praising the shirtless, love-handled body of one as “Phys-ekiel.” He, in turn, returns the compliment by agreeing that Demakes is better looking than Fall Out Boy and Panic At The Disco.
The window of seriousness is officially closing. But one last shot: how do they balance it all, from the label to the band to outside projects?
“Unprotected anal sex.” With each other?
“God, I can’t ever talk serious, can I?” Demakes says. “I think that all the other stuff that we have going on makes us concentrate harder on the band, in a weird way. If you have other things going on and you have a certain amount of time to do the band, you have to really focus all your energy. I think we all do a really good job of that.
“And, yes, we have sex with each other. To answer your question. The groupie ratio’s down because we decided let’s just keep it in house. We have a shower, it’s safer and I know where these guys have been.”
It’s just another hot and humid summer day on tour for Less Than Jake.