20 years in, Less Than Jake still rocking

Photo by NICOLE C. KIBERT<p> Less Than Jake Show caption
Photo by NICOLE C. KIBERT

Less Than Jake

Ska-punk band Less Than Jake celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Even so, 2012 wasn’t any crazier than any other year for the band that formed in 1992 at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

“If we wanted to do the cash grab,” singer-guitarist Chris DeMakes said, “we probably could have made a lot more money, because it was our 20th anniversary.”

All of the shows Less Than Jake played last year were great, DeMakes said, but 2012 also was a year when two band members opted to perform less than the group could have, preferring to be at home with their newborn children.

Despite growing families, DeMakes believes Less Than Jake can continue doing its fun, high-energy music for at least another decade.

“Punk-rock music is one of those things that you can have a little more longevity with,” he said. “And our band was never a band with a bunch of pinup-poster guys who had their five minutes of fame. A lot of punk bands aren’t the best looking bands in the world.”

Speaking for himself, the 39-year-old DeMakes added, his only difference between Less Than Jake’s early days and now is his desire to stay home with loved ones rather than stay on the road.

“But other than that it’s easier to tour,” he said. “I don’t feel my age mentally and rarely do I feel it physically. I can get up there and still do my thing and not be walking around with a cane the next day.”

DeMakes has always seen Less Than Jake as a three-piece power-pop band with a horn section.

“Whether you want to call it rock or punk or ska, we’ve always been high energy,” he said. “We’ve kept our sound intact but we have evolved at the same time.”

When Less Than Jake began 21 years ago, it was unique in central Florida.

“We started when the grunge-rock phenomenon was happening,” DeMakes said. “That’s all anybody was playing. But we didn’t like grunge. We thought it was boring. It reminded me of the ’70s rock, but I actually liked ’70s rock better than grunge.”

The popularity of grunge rock and preponderance of elderly and working class people in the Gainesville area made Less Than Jake an unlikely success story.

“We were playing bars where people wanted to hear grunge rock,” DeMakes said. “We walked in with blue hair playing fast reggae-ska music with horns. So, on the one hand people would look at us like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ On the other hand we stood out. That’s why we gained of momentum.”

Despite being rough around the edges and unskilled with its instruments, Less Than Jake quickly built a following.

“Our shows were crazy from day one,” DeMakes said. “We gained a following through our shows.”

Less Than Jake released its latest album, Greetings and Salutations, in November. The elaborately packaged CD combines two EPs that had been available only at the band’s shows and website. The band is working on a new album now.

“I will never say our new stuff is our best stuff,” DeMakes said. “Due to the fact that an album we wrote in the ’90s, or whatever, hit people at a certain time, when they were going through whatever they were going through in life. But these songs that we’re doing now, I can say that I haven’t been this excited since 10 years ago, when we wrote a record called Anthem. That’s a good sign.”