Less Than Jake
Less Than Jake
Arguably the biggest band to break out of the college town of Gainesville, Florida, Less Than Jake melded punk with power pop, added a healthy dose of horns, mixed it all together and covered it with silly string for the ska-starved youth of America. “They were completely left of center,” Craig Aaronson, the Capitol Records Artists and Repertoire (A&R) executive who signed them, told Moon Magazine ’s Michael Rennie. “It was the first thing I’d heard with horns in a long time, but horns with an edge. You get so much pop-punk coming in, but these guys had something original. And, more importantly, they had good old-fashioned song writing.”
According to Caffeine Nation, Less Than Jake got their name—which means something like “not quite up to snuff”—from drummer Vinnie Balzano. Balzano claimed he was fed only TV dinners while growing up; Jake, the family dog, however, was given meals from Red Lobster. If one believes the story, Balzano has been “less than Jake” for most of his life.
In the summer of 1992, Balzano joined up with singer and guitarist Chris Neil and a long-forgotten bass player and formed the pop-punk trio Less Than Jake. By early 1993, the original bassist had left and been replaced with Roger Sixx. They also incorporated a horn section comprised of Jessica Horner on saxophone and Buddy Lee on trombone. Baritone saxophone player, Derron Mars, joined ashort while later. With the line up intact, Less Than Jake started playing the Gainesville club circuit.
Balzano described their sound to Jam Magazine. “It’s three chords that has punk, that has ska, that has pop sensibilities, that has a bunch of horns. There’s no real ground-breaking—it’s just the songs we play. It’s Less Than Jake.” Neil concurred. “The whole reason for adding the horns,” he told Rennie, “was just to do something different. Three-chord pop-punk—there’sonly so much you can do with it.”
At first, Less Than Jake was embraced by the Gainesville musical community. But, as Balzano told Brian Jarmon of This is the Sound, things soon began to change. “After we started adding ska elements into it, we were shunned from the Gainesville music scene. As we stuck it out and kept doing it, we were brought back into the fold of the music scene in general, not necessarily the punk scene but the Gainesville music scene. So, yeah, we were supported and we’re supported now. But there was a time when we weren’t supported by anybody. We were pretty much on our own, doing what we had to do.”
Less Than Jake released a five-song seven inch, Smoke Spot, on No Idea Records in January, 1993. This was
Members include Vinnie Balzano , drums; Jessica Horner (joined group, 1993), tenor saxophone; Buddy Lee (joined group, 1993), trombone; Derron Mars , baritone saxophone; Chris Neil , vocals and guitar; Roger Sixx (joined group, 1993), bass and vocals.
Formed in Gainesville, Florida in 1992; released Smoke Spot on No Idea Records, 1993; contributed to 3-way Split on No Idea Records, 1993; released Better Class of Losers on Fueled by Ramen Records, 1994; contributed to No Idea Fanzine II on No Idea Records, 1994; contributed to Six Pack to Go on Stiff Pole Records, 1995; contributed to Songs About Drinking on Too Many Records, 1995; contributed to Attaining the Supreme on Whirled Records, 1995; contributed to Misfits of Ska on Dill Records, 1995; contributed to Punk TV on Red Dawg, 1995; contributed to Genetic Skaca on Stiff Dog, 1995; released Unglued on No Idea Records, 1995; released Pez Kings on Toybox Records, 1995; released 10 Song Sampler on Dill Records, 1995; released Pezcore on Dill Records, 1995; signed to Capitol and released Losing Streak, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —Capitol, 750 Vine St., Hollywood, CA, 90028.
followed by a trackon the seven inch compilation, 3-way Split, released on Toybox Records six months later. Less Than Jake was committed to the do-it-yourself work ethic of punk and they recorded incessantly, as Sixx told Jam Magazine. “No matter what, the first thing a band should do, immediately upon writing songs, is attempt to release a record. It doesn’t matter if a label does it for you, just go through the process of recording and sticking together through all that—that’s the most important thing you can do as a band.” That was the band’s philosophy throughout 1994 and 1995 when they released a multitude of records and contributed to numerous compilations, including a six song cassette, Better Class of Losers on their own Fueled by Ramen label, and atrack on the No Idea Fanzine //compilation.
1995 turned out to be an extremely busy year for Less Than Jake. From January through August, the band was either in the recording studio churning out albums and seveninch records, recording tracks for various compilation records, or touring. Their own recordings from this time include the Unglued seven inch on No Idea Records, PezKingson Toybox Records, 10 Song Sampler on Dill Records, and the Pezcore album, also on Dill Records. Less Than Jake also contributed songs to a number of compilations: Six Pack to Go, Songs About Drinking, Attaining the Supreme, Misfits of Ska, Punk TV, and Generic Skaca.
In the interview with Jarmon, Balzano explained how Less Than Jake came to be so prolific. “It’s just that people who like us make compilation tapes for friends. There was a time when we would be on everything. If some one said, ‘I wantyou to be on our tape compilation. Do you want to do it?’ Sure, take a song. And we just did it and did it and did it. I think that’s one of the reasons It’s because the people who like us, like us a lot and they spread the word.”
A copy of their demo tape eventually found its way to Capitol Records. After listening to it, Aaronson decided to check out Less Than Jake on tour. He liked what he heard and followed the band around America for the next six months before signing them to Capitol. Ironically, Less Than Jake was not even courting any major label deals when Capitol became interested in them. “Less Than Jake doesn’t rely on the record company to break them—they’re going to break themselves,” Aaron-son told Jam Magazine. “They’re like a well oiled machine that’s been doing this for a long time. They know how to tap into their audience much better than we do. What we’re going to try to do is, spring off from the base that they’ve laid and try to take it to the next level. The hardest fans to get are the first 25, 000 and they’ve already got them on their own from 3–4 years of hard work.”
Less Than Jake’s recording contract with Capitol gives them a great deal of freedom. They are allowed to release a specific number of compilation tracks and seven inch records on their own, provided that those do not interfere with any albums Capitol is marketing. “The reason we did this is because they felt it was important for them to stay true to what they’ve been doing for so long, so well, and continue to sell to their base audience,” Aaronson told Jam Magazine, “and we think that’s the right thing to do.”
The year 1996 saw the release of Less Than Jake’s Capitol Records debut album, Losing Streak, yet another rousing blend of ska, pop and punk. They were well aware that they were perceived as part and parcel of the American ska/punk revival of the late 1990s. Neil summed it up for Jam Magazine. “When [the ska/punk revival] gets overblown, it’ll be as cheesy as Poison and everyone will know it, and we’ll get kicked off the label, and we’ll be sitting here with our thumb in our ass collecting unemployment. If you over saturate anything, it’s just gonna die.”
Smoke Spot, No Idea Records, 1993.
3-way Split, (Compilation), Toybox Records, 1993.
Better Class of Losers, Fueled by Ramen Records, 1994.
No Idea Fanzine II, (Compilation), No Idea Records, 1994.
Six Pack to Go, (Compilation), Stiff Pole Records, 1995.
Songs About Drinking, (Compilation), Too Many Records, 1995.
Attaining the Supreme, (Compilation), Whirled Records, 1995.
Misfits of Ska, (Compilation), Dill Records, 1995.
Punk TV, (Compilation), Red Dawg, 1995.
Generic Skaca, (Compilation), Stiff Dog, 1995.
Unglued, No Idea Records, 1995.
Pez Kings, Toybox Records, 1995.
10 Song Sampler, Dill Records, 1995.
Pezcore, Dill Records, 1995.
Losing Streak, Capitol, 1996.
“LessThan Jake,” http://www.afn.org/ltj/text/jam96.html (January 22, 1998).
“Less Than Jake,” http://www.afn.org/ltj/text/moon1.html (January 22, 1998).
“Less Than Jake,” http://www.caffeinenation.com/ltj.htm (January 22, 1998).
“Less Than Jake,” http://qstart.com/thesound/star/jake (September 25, 1997).
—Mary Alice Adams
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