NEW PORT RICHEY
It doesn't seem so long ago that Less Than Jake burst forth as the latest flavor of the pop punk scene. • The funky little ska band from Gainesville had plenty of company back then, including notable peers such as Operation Ivy, Reel Big Fish, Sublime and Mighty Mighty Bosstones, all of whom helped to create something of a mini musical revolution in the indie rock industry.
Now, 18 years after guitarist Chris Demakes, drummer Vinnie Fiorello and bass player Shaun Grief formed the nucleus of the spunky, horn-driven quintet, Less Than Jake, which will perform June 12 at the Bourbon Street Concert Club in New Port Richey, stands as a testament to tenacity in the up-and-down music world.
"We've been pretty lucky," Fiorello said by phone from his home in Gainesville. "To not only be able to make a good career from music, but to work with people that you love and respect for such a long time — that's something rare in this business."
Of course, the music business has changed a lot in the two decades since the band was the toast of Gainesville's vibrant alternative rock scene during the early 1990s. According to Fiorello, Less Than Jake came along at a time when bottom lines weren't the chief concern in the industry.
"We felt that you created your own destiny," he said. "And the best way to get what we wanted is to stay busy, stay focused and have some fun along the way."
Indeed, the collective work ethic of band members Demakes, bass player Roger Manganelli (who replaced Grief in 1993), trombonist Buddy Schaub and saxophonist J.R. Wasilewski probably did more than anything else to convince Capitol Records, which had no punk acts on its roster, to sign Less Than Jake.
The 1996 debut of Losing Streak showcased the band's fast-paced sound to the world. Success followed like a rocket. The following year, the band embarked on its first U.S. tour, which concluded with a closing slot on the 1997 Warped Tour.
The band's popularity quickly soared as college and independent radio stations discovered the ever-expanding third-wave ska and punk rock scene. Songs like History of a Boring Town and All My Friends Are Metalheads became anthems to the Generation X crowd.
Fiorello said that despite their success, the members of Less Than Jake were determined to stay true to their musical independence, which by 2003 meant leaving the oversight of a major record label in favor of creating their own operation. In 2008, the band launched Sleep It Off Records with the release of GNV FLA, its first studio album in two years.
Fiorello admits he's not sure why Less Than Jake remains so relevant when so many participants of the original punk scene have faded. His guess is that it's because the band has worked hard to keep its musical perspective fresh.
"We are lucky enough to be in an underground music that tends to stray from the norm," he said. "We have an agreement between ourselves to always try to keep things a little left of center. That's what keeps it interesting and fun for all of us."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.