Impact caught up with vocalist/bassist Roger Manganelli from ska/pop-punk band Less Than Jake to discover the deeper thoughts of the band behind the brass, as well as the meaning of their ominous band name.
How’s the UK tour going so far?
It’s going really good. It’s been totally awesome. There’s been no complaining, we haven’t been here in 2 years and people are showing up and going crazy, and we’re having a good time. So it’s been totally perfect.
You used to be part of Fat Wreck Chords – what made you start up your own independent label?
We were on Fat Wreck Chords for a record in 2000, then after that we were on a major label for 6 years. Then we decided we could just handle everything on our own, and take care of things ourselves. There’s really not that much money to be made selling records these days because everybody’s downloading everything anyway so it’s not like it’s a really big job.
Where did the name of the label ‘Sleep it Off’ come from?
It was the title of one of our songs, which was on a B-side record. If you read the lyrics to that song, it’s the idea that sometimes you’ve just got to do things on your own and you’re not always going to wake up without a hangover. That’s kind of the idea.
You guys were around in the early 90s when the grunge genre was quite prominent. What made you decide to go down the ska/ pop-punk route instead?
We were just playing three chord punk rock and trying to sing together and trying to write some horn lines when all that stuff was really popular. I really like Nirvana but that was never the sort of thing that was a musical influence for me or what I wanted my band to sound like. It was co-existing at the same time, but I didn’t really think about it as much as people think you think about it. You just kind of do what’s to be done in the moment and the music that comes out comes out with the people who are involved. That’s what happens if that chemistry is there. For us it was never like,what kind of band are we going to be? We knew what kind of band we were because the songs we were writing.
Have you drawn any inspiration from grunge?
Inspiration can come in a lot of different forms. Musically maybe not, but there’s definitely the energy and the attitude of that sort of stuff. I was into Nirvana before they even really broke. I was a fan of their records and their band, but it wasn’t a music thing, more an attitude thing. I definitely grew up on metal. understand that those bands knew what it was to put on a really good show and I think that’s something that’s influenced the band a lot.
How do you think your sound’s developed since your early albums like Pez-core and Losing Streak? Do you think you’ve changed or matured at all?
We haven’t matured, that’s for sure! Musically, maybe a little bit. When you first start writing songs, you’re sort of taking stabs in the dark. You’re not sure if it’s going to work or not and you just go with it. Then as you write songs for another 5 or 10 years, you start knowing what’s going to work and what isn’t going to work. It’s a crazy thing. I’ve been writing songs for a really long time. It’s definitely a change in the way you know what the boundaries are.
A lot of your music is quite happy-go-lucky but there’s some underlying serious messages of apathy and anger in there. How do you want to be conceived as a band?
I think the beauty of Less Than Jake as a band is that it really is a mash of both. We try to have a good time and sing things that are catchy and sound positive or hooky but at the same time the lyrics or the message can be something that’s a little on the darker side. That dichotomy is what defines the band. I think if we were singing about flowers and rainbows it would be weird, or if we were singing those lyrics to really dark, heavy hardcore then it would all be negative, so we’re sort of a mix of both. We’re light hearted and we like to have a good time and enjoy ourselves. Sometimes the lyrics show a darker side of your mind or a darker idea but the overall vibe of the show is to have a good time and get through those darker things together.
Are the darker things from personal experience or separate/conceptual?
Our drummer writes the vast majority of the lyrics and I think that a lot of is from personal things: stuff that you see or maybe your friend’s told you a story about somebody and it impacts you in a certain way.
Do you think punk music has an everlasting quality to it?
Yeh, why not? I think it’s helped to change or destroy the music industry really. It’s proved that a few dudes with some skill on a guitar and a melody line can become a huge, massive band called Green Day by not really doing anything except using three chords and writing really catchy songs! It’s torn down the whole ‘You’re going to need to have a big label and all these producers and contacts and money’. None of that really matters, all that really matters is the songs. Punk rock is a viable way of just delivering this idea.
Are there any modern-day punk bands you admire?
I’m really picky! I really like Dillinger Four, I think that’s like a model punk band. There’s a bunch of great punk bands out there but I’m not really one to plug a lot of bands.
So what made you do your Grease cover album Greased a while back?
Bored! Being experimental and wanting to goof around in the studio. We recently did the TV/EP, the same sort of idea of cover songs that are fun and silly. It was sheerly for our own entertainment and just to laugh.
How come some of your songs turn up on more than one album?
It’s only really happened twice, but I think that’s something that happens when you’re a young band. If there’s a song that has some excitement in it and maybe you feel like you didn’t capture it correctly or maybe you didn’t get the mileage out of the recording that you wanted to, you could consider re-doing it. Like ‘Look What Happened’ – it’s a good song and we wanted to continue to nurture the song a little bit.
Which album would you say was the most fun to make?
Anthem. We were living in California, it was a very relaxing two month recording process. We were slightly spoilt and had a good producer. It was fun.
What is the story behind your band name?
We had a dog named Jake that had his own spot on the couch. My parents made steak for the dog, hence everything was ‘Less than Jake’!
What do you think the future holds for Less Than Jake? Any plans for a new album?
Nah, who needs an album? People will just download it and only listen to three songs anyway! I’m not sure we’ll do a full 15 song record, who knows. We’re just going to hang out and do some singles. I want to do a reggae single and a punk rock one with no horns on it maybe. We’ve got a lot of touring plans, we’re going to tour Europe for the next couple weeks. We’ve got a tour in January and February and the States then we’re going to Australia, then we’re coming back here for some more festival tours over the summer. So we’re busy touring and working on new songs but I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t do a full album so to speak because the world’s f*cked up and people download sh*t and and it’s all disposable.
If it was 1977 and everybody who had our record had paid for our record then we would definitely be able to pay our bills a lot easier! It’s definitely affected bands. I’m not complaining though; we’re super lucky, and that’s just the way the world is.