Less Than Jake’s major label emancipation
By Andy Argyrakis
From the pages of the official publicity biography
In the sixteen years since its inception at the University of Florida, Less Than Jake has steadily evolved by always sticking to its musical ideals without being hampered by the influence of emerging trends or record company pressure. After spending time in both the indie ranks and with many majors, the band recently emancipated itself from label life all together to form Sleep It Off Records, in turn hitting the studio with producer Matt Allison (Rise Against, Alkaline Trio). The end result is the ambitious and ultimately infectious GNV FLA (pronounced Gainesville, Florida), sure to connect with its extremely loyal fan base, while enticing new audiences thanks to a deft blend of alternative artfulness and accessibility.
“Obviously to people who’ve been following us for awhile, the title is a tribute to our roots in Gainsville, but others might not have any idea, which makes it a little cryptic,” offers Vinnie with a laugh. “We did that on purpose to kind of use those six letters as a metaphor, because if you look at the entire record lyrically, it’s about chasing something better- though not necessarily better in a good or bad way. Take for instance ‘FLA,’ which used to be the abbreviation for Florida, but has since been changed. There’s an example of taking something that’s working perfectly fine and becoming something new even if you don’t need it! So thematically, it’s about chasing that shiny penny around or the fact that people find themselves chasing something they may not even need or want.”
A fitting sentiment indeed considering today’s culture thrives on quick fix solutions and the search for greener grass on the other side, not to mention instant gratification on all planes- particularly music and the tendency for fads to go in and out of fashion within seconds. Obviously Less Than Jake’s longevity throughout such fickleness is an impressive anomaly, but one that can be traced to an unrelenting work ethic, a magnetic relatability level with listeners and continuous sonic progressions that simultaneously make GNV FLA a raucous return to form and a bold step forward.
“When we first started out, we built a foundation on the love of playing music, which a lot of people don’t,” asserts Vinnie. “Then after we started gaining momentum, we took baby steps and always made sure the foundation stayed very solid. When you build a house on sand, it’s going to fall f---ing fast and we took time in LTJ’s early days to make it strong. Plus we’re all good friends who are basically like brothers and there’s still a certain chemistry between us when we play.”
As for the sounds themselves on the new endeavor, expect rowdy, in your face riffs, a ballsy punk centering, the group’s signature horn aesthetic updated with a fresh coat of paint and an abundance of unshakable harmonies. “The State of Florida” explodes with insistent grit, “Devil In My DNA” menaces with raw, unrelenting power, while “Conviction Notice” and “Does the Lion City Still Roar?” are undeniably amongst the most catchy in Less Than Jake’s catalogue thus far.
“There are elements of dark pop/punk with ska influences and it sounds really crunchy and up-tempo,” Vinnie continues. “People have been saying ‘oh, it sounds like your other stuff but it’s a continuation” and another friend said ‘it’s like everything you’ve done in the past yet like nothing you’ve done in the past at the same time.’ We wanted a sense of urgency so people would listen to what the music and lyrics were conveying.”
Overt examples of dual relevance include the surging intensity of “Handshake Meets Pokerface,” which Vinnie describes as the semi-autobiographical story of a single mom in a smaller town working intently to get by and chasing the so-called “American Dream” even though it doesn’t apply to her anymore. The ferocious “Settling Son” is all about feeling trapped within the stifling confines of society’s traditional forty hour work week and being told to submit to authority, while the brooding “Abandon Ship” yearns for something to believe in outside of the daily grind. Even more telling is the edgy, horn-driven “Summon Monsters,” which calls attention to teens’ mounting drug use and suggests a straighter path without ever coming across as preachy.
“The songs are filled with something anyone can be relate to: desire, despair, drugs, parents, learning from your mistakes and ultimately hope,” observes Chris. “The topics hit home whether you’re 12 or 50, and year after year, we find this wider and wider cross section of fans coming out to our shows.”
Given the versatility in all areas throughout GNV FLA, the band’s reach is sure to extend even further on the road, continuing a tireless tradition of headlining shows, Warped dates and even a sold out arena stint alongside Bon Jovi. Though sure to strike a chord during a personal listening experience, the entire project seems tailor made for tour with the ability to once again break down audience boundaries.
“To be able to speak musically to such a wide age group is a really good thing and really flattering,” adds a humbled Vinnie. “Music is very compartmentalized now and it’s almost like there are categories that say ‘here’s the music thirteen year olds listen to,’ then ‘here’s the music late teens listen to’ and ‘here’s what twenty year old’s listen to.’ But I think it’s pretty cool that we can cross over those barriers and speak musically to that varying degree of age who all seem to like what we do.”
Outside of connecting with this current studio venture, the band is also excited about Sleep It Off, a move that finally puts members exclusively in the driver’s seat after inking contracts with a series of indie and major labels throughout its illustrious career. Beyond the mere home of GNV FLA, the entity is also responsible for recent re-issues of Less Than Jake catalogue classics: Pezcore; Goodbye, Blue & White; Losers, Kings and Things We Don't Understand, plusthe DVDThe People's History of Less Than Jake.
“Between the state of the industry and all the deals we’ve been in before, I just think it was our time to do it ourselves and to plug in our punk ethics with the way the industry is moving,” Vinnie shares before Chris comments on the choice. “We’ve always been very active at promoting ourselves and meeting fans face to face, so it was a natural step. We started with the first round of re-issues and the plan is to license our other records and re-release them as well, but spread them out every six months or so.”
Indeed faithful have plenty to look forward to, though even with the plethora of projects, Less Than Jake remains committed to quality over quantity. Even after all this time, the guys refuse to rest on their laurels throughout GNV FLA and are already taking about keeping the momentum going well into the future.
“It’s been so cool to see five guys put together a record from scratch, admits Vinnie. “To have it sound fresh and to stand up to the fans’ test are pretty f---ing cool feelings. From here, the plan is to keep the creative juices flowing in the engine and continuously raise the bar for ourselves.”
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