Hailing from Gainesville, Florida, Less Than Jake has been been producing it's special brand of flavorful ska punk since 1992. Their quirky love of Pez candy helped to produce one of their albums - Pexcore (parodying the way the fans and media seem to have a penchant to label everything). Their music is fun, energetic and filled wih humorous lyrics and uptempo beats. Less Than Jake has become a must see live act.
Livewire's Karen Bondowski got the chance to interview Roger Mangenelli recently before show.
LW: So, how's the tour going so far?
Roger: It's been wonderful! A little cold for my taste but the shows have been really good and the fans are coming out. That's all I can really ask for.
LW: Been selling out?
Roger: Yeah! There's been a couple.
LW: How old were you when you first started getting into music?
Roger: I was super, crazy little! Yeah, like my dad's a guitar player and my uncle was in bands when I was growing up. I sat behind a drum set when I was like six years old. I started taking piano lessons when I was like nine. So, like I've been around music my whole, entire, entire life.
LW: Who were your influences when you were younger?
Roger: Umm.. I had a lot of different phases when I was younger. When I was really little, I liked a lot of stuff like, Iron Maiden, Kiss, and Def Leppard and like Aerosmith. Stuff like that. That's what I grew up on in the '70s you know. Metal like Slayer and Metallica and then I got into punk rock and metal when I was in junior high. like The Descendents and like Operation Ivy and you know.. that whole era of stuff.
LW: Who are you listening to now?
Roger: Uhh.. You know.. I'm really picky and I don't actually like very many bands. The only like new band that I really like is System of A Down. I think they are amazing! It's good stuff. It's aggressive and unpredictable and I love it!!
LW: So going all the way back.. How did everyone come together?
Roger: Let's see.. Chris and Vinnie knew each other in high school and were in bands and then moved to Gainesville, Florida for college. I moved to Gainesville, Florida for college. And then Chris had a party and I told him I played guitar. Which I played guitar at that time. And he said you should come and play guitar then I went to practice with a guitar and then they're like, "Oh, by the way, we're going to be kicking out our bass player - would you mind playing bass?" I said OK. So I went out and bought a bass and that was in '92. And that's how it started. Then we started getting into the horn player thing. Shuffled a few horn players over the years but it's been the same main four guys the whole time.
LW: How many horn players did you go through?
Roger: Only three. We had one guy that was in the band for five years. Then another guy who was in the band for about five years. And the sax player we have now has been in the band for five years. The five of us now.. we used to have a six-piece band with three-horn players, but two horn players seems to be just enough. We're pretty solid with what's going on now. I think we're done swapping people around.
LW: Well, you've been together for 13-14 years now.
Roger: You got it!!
LW: What's the secret of your longevity?
Roger: Umm.. I couldn't tell you! I don't really know what the secret is. I've never been in any other situation. For us, we just really try to really deliver when we play and make that the focal point of what's going on. And then there's the live show. We try to be really good to our fans in the way of musically by having things up. Fans that have been fans of our records will always have something to relate and not have a record that is completely different ever, but also not doing the same thing over and over and over again. Trying to have a steady change on what kind of music we're writing and stuff like that. I think touring is the key to it. We've always been a touring based band. We play a lot, a lot of shows and that's what keeps us fresh in peoples' minds.
LW: Can you go 45 years like The Stones?
Roger: Uh.. I don't know! How far along are we so far?
LW: A long time! (laughs)
Roger: Yeah, we get along pretty well.
LW: No fighting??
Roger: No, not really. Everybody has a quirk or something but everyone at this point.. we've been doing this for so long that everybody knows what everyone's going to do. So, I don't know. It's life. It's easy. It's like having a bunch of brothers with you all the time.
LW: What was your very first concert?
Roger: See.. that's a tough question 'cause I went to a lot of really small shows for bands that nobody knew who they really were 'cause that's the kind of thing that I grew up on - was like going to clubs and stuff. The first like real, real concert that I went to was U2 at the Orange Bowl in Miami for the Joshua Tree Tour. I think it was in '87? Something like that. Yeah... I think that was it. We were way up in the nosebleeds and Bono was like this big! (Roger shows thumb and index finger really close) (all laugh) But, that's what I thought a concert was at that point - really huge. Everything else was more like a rehearsal or you know.. club shows. Like oh, that's nothing - 500 kids. It doesn't seem that weird. I've played in front of 500 kids at my piano recitals and I didn't think it was a big deal.
LW: So how did you feel when you played your first sold out show?
Roger: Yeah, I don't know. It was awesome. It's a great feeling. I don't really know. It's built up so slowly that I can't even tell you when it actually went over the threshold of 500 kids or 1000 kids or 2000 kids or whatever - but we've stood it all. We've played with 80,000 kids at these festivals in Europe and we've played to eight kids, you know? It feels great. It feels great every time. As long as there's somebody out there singing or jumping around making an idiot out of themselves just as much as we are, then we think it's ok.
LW: Who was your favorite band to ever see live?
Roger: Hmm.. I don't know! That's a good one! I like bands that have some spontaneity going on with the banter. I think that's a really important piece of the whole thing. We did tour with The Decendants which is like one of my all time favorite bands and I got to see them play every night for two months and that it was amazing.
LW: What do you think the highlight of your career has been?
Roger: Has been? So it already passed?
LW: No, no! So far! As of right now!
Roger: Oh! I think just having the opportunity to be on yet another major label again after being on Capitol in the late '90s and then going to an indie label and coming back.. and now we're on Warner Brothers. Just having those kind of oppurtunities is pretty awesome. Because there are bands that struggle their whole entire life time to just like you know.. "oh, we just want to be on the radio - we want to be on a major label. That's all we really want." We've had the chance to do that twice. I think that's pretty amazing.
LW: Do you still have a lot of say on what you're doing?
Roger: As far as?
Roger: Oh, musically? Absolutely! Of course. Totally. (laughs)
LW: Well, the difference between an indie label and major label.
Roger: I think it's different in the way of how they handle stuff. I don't think they were really trying to. They wouldn't want us on it if they didn't like our music, you know what I'm saying? They obviously want us to create what we create and then they do what they're going to do. It's more things like interviews and more videos and photo shoots.. things like that with a major label kind of brings to the table. Which I may or may not be into - but it's a cool chance.
LW: Are you working on one for the CD that's coming out?
Roger: Yeah! There's one that we'll be supposedly filming when we get back from Europe. Not really sure exactly what's going to happen or anything in the video 'cause Vinnie and I had like a great idea for the video and they basically said that they would have to spend way too much money on it so.. there you go. They don't want to pay for the special effects that we were talking about. It's a bummer though. It would have been good. (laughs)
LW: Since we're talking a little bit about the new CD, what do Less Than Jake fans have to look forward to?
Roger: Umm.. I don't know! It's kind of um.. a little more.. it's more in the darks of being really singy songy. It's nothing super blazing fast. There's not any super slow reggae kind of thing that we've done before. It's not like that. It's sort of in the tempo and sort of really poppy and really catchy. There's some really good stuff. There are some songs I'm really excited about. It's always been melody based I think. When we did our last record, we wrote like 32 songs and they ended coming out on two separate CDs. And this time we didn't really do that! We kind of just took 15 ideas and used those as the focal point and then we wrote around those and just improved on those 14 and kept bringing things in and out of those songs as opposed to having a whole bunch of songs. Whether that's better or not, I don't know. It definitely seems a bit more focused. We don't have a bunch of extra songs or anything like that. When is was time to actually record, we have everything pretty well sorted and that was cool. There's definitely some good stuff on there.
LW: Whose the main song writer in the band?
Roger: It depends.. A song is melody and lyrics and the music, you know? For our band, Vinnie the drummer writes like 95% of the lyrics so he's the main songwriter if you want to look at it that way. But he doesn't write any chords or melodies or any of that kind of stuff. So, it's kind of hard to split up or dissect a song that way, you know? On this record.. it's pretty fair, you know, pretty even between myself and Chris.. Actually JR and I. JR's the first song writer outside of Chris, Vinnie or I to like actually sit down and reword a song for the record. So he's becoming like a bigger part of that sort of thing. I don't know. It just depends. I definitely write a bunch of them! (laughs)
LW: Where is your favorite place to play?
Roger: Hmm.. I don't know. I like playing at home because sleeping at home after the show is a bonus. That's really nice. I'd have to say I really like playing Japan. There's just a different level of respect or something that goes on with the fans. They're just completely animalistic and going crazy during the show and then in between songs like as soon as a song stops, it's silent 'cause they want to hear what you have to say so they can try and understand what you're saying. It's really awesome - it's great. Even in the UK and London - places like that, fans are just rabid and go completely crazy and it's always fun. I'd have to say Tokyo and London are pretty awesome.
LW: Ok, two different scenarios - best show and worst show.
Roger: I think the best show is every night. I don't know every night we pretty much have the best show. We don't really have bad shows. The only thing that would contribute to a bad show is if nobody showed up. But, people do show up - so I can't really say. We did this tour in Australia and it was like a.. we were playing way out in Perth - you know, like in the middle of nowhere, the most remote city on the planet! But, we had a day off before that, so our booking agent got us to play at this tiny, tiny town north of Perth. It was a tiny club show, tiny PA, no baracade, like less then 200 kids and it was completely insaine! It was awesome! And then the next night we were playing in Perth and it was like 700 kids but the show just wasn't as awesome, you know? So it doesn't really ever matter where it is. I don't know. It wasn't a bad show! (laughs)
LW: Has anyone ever hurt themselves on stage?
Roger: No, not anyone in the band. No, not really. We don't get that. There was one time where we played a show and we were playing at Sunlight Convention Center or something and they just had no idea what they were doing security wise. Kids were dancing and stuff and kicking stuff on the stage and this security guy had no idea on what to do so he just pushes this kid right off the stage and he just falls and breaks his leg in like a second! There's been some stories like that. Faulty employees, I called it. (laughs) You have no idea what to expect. Sometimes we'll play a college show and we'll just show up and start doing our thing and security's like stop, no moshing, no crowd surfing, no circle pits or whatever. Well, why did you have us play here? Don't you know that's what we do? Haven't you ever heard of us before? That's what we do! We get people excited, get them running around! They're going to jump around! That's what we're trying to do!! (laughs) Get some energy flowing between us.
LW: And then they get kicked out.
Roger: Yeah, and then they get kicked out and then I got to go bail them out and then the security guards are having a fit and then we have to send our tour manager to talk to whoever's running security. Ahh, it's crazy. Crazy times!
LW: Now you're on a big bus but, how many times have you broken down on one single tour?
Roger: On a single tour.. Hmm.. Probably more than five. Cause when we first started, we had a really old van. It was a '79 Chevy. It was like the kind of thing where we'd pull over and get gas and it'd need two quarts of oil every time. That kind of thing. It'd break down pretty frequently. We have bad luck with vans. It's some sort of curse. But, then we got another one after that and that one was good to us for many years.
LW: What's the best Less Than Jake fan?
Roger: Uhh.. I don't know! They're all great! I like when fans sing back towards the band. I like that energy exchange thing. I like the smart fans. Like the ones who know the history and that kind of stuff. I like to think that are friends are pretty smart and pretty educated and kind of up on what's going on, not with just us but on any band that they are into. That's why we have a lot of releases and we always do stuff like singles. Kind of extra stuff out there to give people things to talk about.
LW: On the "Scream 2" soundtrack, you guys did a specific song just for that, which one was it?
Roger: Well, we ended up rerecording it and it came out on Borders. It was a song called "Faction." That was the song that we wrote in the van and we're like we need a song for the thing. And we recorded it and he was like I like it but what if you guys did this? And we're all like OK. You're Wes Craven! Tell us what to do! We'll do whatever you want. (laughs) No problem. It was really cool. Totally awesome. I love the cover that we did for that though. It's a good song.
LW: How would you describe your typical Less Than Jake show?
Roger: Hopefully it's fun and energetic.
LW: If you were describing your music to someone whose never heard of it before..
Roger: Yeah, we're kind of like a rock band with a horn section and high energy. That is how I do say it when I meet people who have no idea who we are. Well, it's like fast reggae and a lot of singing and harmonies. There's a lot of jumping and sweating involved. There's a lot of exchanged energy. A high energy level kind of thing. I really don't like bands who stand around and stare at their shoes and don't really have anything to say.
LW: Like the new indie bands?
Roger: New bands..old bands - whatever. It's kind of weird. I guess I stay out of the loop on new bands, younger bands an who's getting signed or how many records this band is making. Persoanlly I don't care about things like that. I like melodies and lyrics and songs and energy. Isn't that what's it all about?
More Less Than Jake
Concert review - Milwaukee Feb. 14, 2006
Concert review - Projekt Revolution Tour - East Troy, WI Aug. 27, 2004