Running On Spirit

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

High energy ska-punk that’s guaranteed to have even the most reluctant audience member on their feet dancing.  That’s what Florida-based band Less Than Jake will be bringing to the Catalyst in Santa Cruz this Saturday when it headlines a three-band show which also features Rufio and Fall Out Boy.

Less Than Jake’s history began in 1992 when two high school friends, Chris and Vinnie (none of the band uses their last names) began to jam together.  Vinnie played drums, Chris sang and played guitar and the resulting sound was, by their own admission, a little rough. “It was sloppy and messy but it was fun to stumble over drumbeats, hear all the mumbled words and half-finished chords on guitar.  It was our noise, our messy songs.” 

The duo enjoyed their noise enough that when Chris moved to Gainesville to go to college Vinnie soon followed, figuring that they could form a band together.  They began looking for a bassist, and eventually met Roger, a friend of Chris’s roommate.  Although he was a guitarist, Roger was willing to learn to play bass, and Less than Jake was born as a trio.

The band began its career playing straight punk-pop music, but soon a ska influence began to creep in.   “I didn’t grow up listening to ska, and neither did Roger or Vinnie,” Chris recalled, “I learned to play guitar jamming to Green Day, 7 Seconds, Screeching Weasel…  Then Vinnie came to me one day with a Specials (British ska band from the late 70s) record, and we started throwing some ska strokes into the mix.”  The band members also listened to another UK band, Snuff, which combined high-speed punk with a horn section.  Inspired by the sounds of these bands, Less Than Jake recruited two horn players, Buddy and Jessica.

Soon, the five-piece version of Less than Jake was writing, recording and booking dates for its first US tour.  Of the tour, Vinnie said “It was 48 days in the middle of summer sweating in our 1979 blue and white Chevy Nomad van.”  The sweat paid off, however, as the band gained fans across the country.  Less than Jake released its debut CD, “Pez-Core” in 1994 on Dill records, following several changes in line-up of the horn section.  “Pez-Core” was followed by two other albums which, combined with the relentless touring (an average of eight months in the year on the road) enabled the band to move from small local clubs to larger venues, and eventually lead to Less Than Jake being noticed by Capitol Records.

In 1996, Less Than Jake released “Losing Streak” on Capitol, followed by “Hello Rockview” in 1998 and “Borders and Boundaries” in 2000.  The band is currently on tour to promote its latest release, “Anthem.” The members of the band have also formed their own label, “Fueled By Ramen,” an independent label which gives exposure to and promotes new bands in the punk / ska genre.  If the spirit of punk is all about doing it yourself, then Less Than Jake can certainly be held up as a shining example of that spirit.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, November 13, 2003

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