Less Than Jake Are a Happy Bunch, Even When Facing Grumpy Drag Queens

Less Than Jake plays Saturday at Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill.
Less Than Jake plays Saturday at Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill. Nicole Kibert
When Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie Fiorello thinks about all the times his band has trekked up to North Texas, nothing really tops the first trip to Dallas in the early '90s. Long before headlining tours, Warped Tour dates and support slots, the ska/pop-punk band found themselves facing a locked door to the venue they were supposed to play, Flamingo’s. After knocking several times to no answer, a 6-foot-tall drag queen emerged and said the bar closed. Then she slammed the door.

With no place to play or stay, the band went to Six Flags.

“We did what any self-respecting band would do that had their feelings hurt. Went to a theme park and rode roller coasters all day,” Fiorello says. “Everything else has been great shows.”

Fiorello laughs about this memory, but he is grateful his band is in the position they’re in. Rounded out by Chris DeMakes on lead vocals and guitar, Roger Lima also on lead vocals and bass, Buddy Schaub on trombone and Peter "JR" Wasilewski on saxophone, Less Than Jake is touring off last year’s EP, Sound the Alarm.

“We’ve been blessed to play punk rock for a living,” he says.

Other than missing their families for weeks at a time, there are few downsides to doing what they do. When they play, there are smiles on their faces every time.

“Why be bummed?” he adds. “We’ve won the lottery, so to speak.”

The band built a strong reputation with constant touring and having piles of EPs and 7-inches in their catalog. Their mix of ska rhythms and pop-punk attitude stood out in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida. DeMakes’ and Lima’s vocals were not afraid to be user-friendly, singing lyrics Fiorello wrote. They even covered a handful of songs from Grease for an EP. Fans ate it up.

“We did what any self-respecting band would do that had their feelings hurt: went to a theme park and rode rollercoasters all day." – Vinnie Fiorello

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When the ska punk craze happened in the late-'90s, the band benefited greatly, inking a deal with Capitol Records. The albums they cut for the major, Losing Streak and Hello Rockview, were well-received.

Like most trends, the ska craze came to an end in the mainstream after a couple of years. For all the great acts like Voodoo Glow Skulls, Dance Hall Crashers and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, there were tailcoat riders like Save Ferris. Ska fell out of fashion, and then became a joke.

But Less Than Jake didn’t quit. The longest they’ve been between shows is six months.

“We hit that rough patch and we got over that rough patch,” Fiorello says. “For most bands, that rough patch is the thing that is the killer.”

Fiorello is happy they have Face to Face on tour with them. Face to Face is a pop-punk survivor that has survived many rough patches, making inspiring music for decades that speaks to teenagers and adults.

“It’s good to tour with a band we’ve never toured with 26 years in,” Fiorello says.

Since the band members spend more time together than they do with their own families, they chose to make themselves happy when others are down.

“That’s the way it’s always been, so why stop now?” he says. “Let’s continue to go.”

Less Than Jake, Face to Face, Direct Hit! and The Jukebox Romantics play Saturday, April 21 at Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill.
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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs