Since forming in Gainesville, Florida in 1992, ska punk quintet Less Than Jake have released eight studio albums, eight EPs, five live albums and five compilations. To date, they’ve sold over 1.5 million records worldwide.
Their fan base is perhaps largest in the UK, where their mix of traditional, rhythmic ska, fast, melodic punk rock, vocal harmonies and heartfelt lyrics truly connected with a mass audience during the third-wave ska revival of the mid-90s.
Team Rock caught up with the band whilst they were on tour in the UK to promote their latest release, Live From Astoria, recorded at the much missed London venue during the band’s 2001 UK tour, and we set bassist/vocalist, songwriter and occasional producer Roger Lima the task of ranking their studio albums in order of personal preference.
The dread-headed Lima fervently rose to the challenge. He even managed to sneak in one of the band’s B-side albums…
9. PEZCORE (Dill Records, 1995)
“At the bottom of my stack would be our first real album Pezcore. I think there’s some great songs on here, and a lot of energy was captured in the recording, but when I listen back to it so many of the songs sound like they were written really quickly. A lot of the lyrics were applied in the moment in the studio too: we’d just be like, ‘OK, that’ll work.’ Some of those songs we’d been playing live for a couple of years and they were a little bit more grown up, but when I look at the list of songs in general I’m like, ‘Wow, a lot of these songs never really got their fair handshake.’ They were just considered done because they needed to be done and that was it. So I think Pezcore is our least nourished album as far as letting the songs grow up goes. Sonically, it was recorded on an 8-track analogue machine, and because this was very early on in the band’s career we didn’t pay a lot of attention to tempos or guitar tunings, so it’s definitely a pretty raw sounding record and it’s my least favourite Less Than Jake album for that reason.”
8. IN WITH THE OUT CROWD (Sire, 2006)
“I know some fans will probably say that some of their favourite songs by Less Than Jake are on In with the Out Crowd, and I wouldn’t really argue with that. I think there are some great songs on this album and we were a little bit further down the line with our song writing abilities by this point, but there’s something about the way it was put together and produced and the tension that was going on in the studio during this record that kind of bothers me. I wanted to write songs that were a little bit faster, edgier and more punk rock sounding, but the producer that we were working with at the time, Howard Benson, who we’d worked with previously on Hello Rockview, was kind of curving us in the direction of a softer, more slow-tempo mainstream sound. So this album kind of rubbed me in a bit of a weird way. Overall I like the songs, I just wish the production was a little bit more on the punk rock side of things, and I don’t feel like this album was the best representation of how we wanted to sound at that time.”
7. GNV FLA (Sleep If Off Records, 2008)
“Next up I’d like to talk about GNV FLA. This was the first album where we had ultimate control over what the thing was going to sound like. We’d also been getting better at the song writing and demoing process, and 90% of what you hear on the final GNV FLA album is actually identical to what was on the demos. Our producer [Matt Allison] came down to my home studio [The Moat House] in Gainesville and he was so happy with them that he didn’t really have too much to say in terms of changes or suggestions. The other thing about GNV FLA was there were no outside writers and there was no one outside of the band leading the ship or telling us what to do. It was just a great time to be engulfed by our own ideas and have all five of us contributing to the song writing. It was a little bit of a different process in that way. I look back on the six weeks that we were living in Chicago whilst making this record as a really great time as well. It was enjoyable and chilled. I just feel like at that point in time maybe we still needed someone to be around and kind of kick us in the ass a bit and maybe suggest some changes. But when all’s said and done I like how the record sounds, and I like the ideas that we came up with for some of the concepts, like the way it starts with two songs intertwined and ends with three songs intertwined. That was also new territory for us and it was fun to do. Ultimately, this album was a successful dry run for taking back control of the production and getting rid of any outside influence on the band.”
6. BORDERS & BOUNDARIES (Fat Wreck Chords, 2000)
“Next we’re going to go back in time a little bit more and talk about Borders & Boundaries. We’d just done Hello Rockview, which everyone loved, and we’d had a really great time making it. So we were out in LA working on a follow-up to that record and everything seemed to be going really well. I felt strong about the songs and we’d really bonded with the engineer [Steve Kravac] from the Hello Rockview sessions who was brought in to produce Borders & Boundaries, which at this point was going to be released on Capitol. He was awesome and we really got along well. But close to the end of the recording process there were all sorts of leadership changes taking place at Capitol Records, and low and behold they told us they weren’t going to put out this album that we’d been working on. That kind of took us by surprise. Luckily, we were already friends with Fat Mike [NOFX] by that point and we ended up putting the album out on Fat Wreck Chords, and that kind of brought us back into the regular punk rock world and back down to earth a little bit. Song writing wise, I feel like we were trying to hone in more on the rock side of what the band sounds like and we consciously played less ska music on this album. We felt very close to the songs, too. I distinctly remember writing Gainesville Rock City on the porch at my mum’s house and kind of always knowing the song was on another level for the band. We hadn’t really tried anything quite like that before. I feel like we made a real connection with our fans on that song as well. It’s just a shame that we didn’t have the marketing and promotion that we’d had with the previous couple of records on this one, and I kind of feel like it got pushed under the rug a little bit. It’s a solid record, I just wish more people would’ve been exposed to it at the time.”
5. LOSING STREAK (Capitol, 1996)
“By this point in our career we’d been through writing tons of singles and 7 inch releases, Pezcore was done relatively quickly, and we were kind of in the touring phase of the band: we’d bought our first van and started playing our first out of town shows, and all that sort of stuff. And it was around that time that we started working on the songs that became Losing Streak. I was definitely in a really good spot in my life back then: we found out we were going to have a major label deal and I quit going to college to focus solely on the band. So I spent a lot of time writing songs, and Chris [DeMakes, guitar and vocals] and I spent a lot of time harmonising and learning how to sing together. I think the way we sing together is one of the things that people have always remembered about this band, and Losing Streak was when we really began to perfect the way our voices meld together: a lot of the songs feature Chris and I taking turns on vocals, then coming together and singing together. This album was very melodically influenced in that sense. It was also our first experience in a real recording studio and we did the bass and drum parts at a studio in Miami called Criteria. The producer [Michael Rosen] we worked with had done the first couple of Rancid records, and he really let us do what we wanted. We didn’t use a click track for any of the bass or drums and that definitely helped capture the live energy of the band. The album doesn’t sound perfect; there are tempo fluctuations and all sorts, but I feel like we got a really good representation of the songs and I look back on this album as kind of like my first-born. It was an amazing time where everything really felt like it was on the up, and it was a great time to be a young musician travelling around the world. A lot of those songs are still Less Than Jake staples as well.”
4. HELLO ROCKVIEW (Capitol, 1998)
“Next up we’re gonna go right into the second album that came out on Capitol, and that was Hello Rockview. When I listen to this record today, I can just tell that we’d gotten better with our song writing. There are no co-writes on this record either, and my first home studio was built right around the time Hello Rockview was being written, so a lot of these songs were written in my old apartment. I can still place myself on that old couch just by listening to a song like History of a Boring Town. And there was some real ditch digging on this record. Some of these songs didn’t take five minutes like the older ones, or even five days. There was weeks of pulling our hair out and trying to decide on arrangements and ideas for how to lay the songs out. There were more key changes and time changes, too. We were trying to be a little bit more fluid with our musical language, and trying to mix things up. The songs are a little bit more grown up because of that. This was also the first album that we made with Howard Benson, and he’s like a different kind of animal. He came in with ideas and he had suggestions for harmonies, and he was an arranger so he’d say, ‘Well, why don’t you take this piece of music and put it in this part of the song instead, and make this part half as long or this part twice as long.’ I was in love with all that stuff. I was in love with the idea of working with someone who was enthusiastic about making the songs better, who had the musical palette to be able to throw all those things around. We’d never worked with a real producer like that, and he definitely helped bring out the best in those songs. And All My Best Friends Are Metalheads is still a song that propels us twenty years later. I could never have imagined that when I wrote it. We still play it every day and we still put our heart into it every day.”
3. B IS FOR B-SIDES (Sire, 2004)
“I’m going to choose B Is for B-sides as my third favourite Less Than Jake album. Anthem was arguably the height of the band’s commercial career, and whilst we were writing the songs for that album there was another record being made at the same time. We’d written 40 songs and presented all of them to the producer Rob Cavallo, who’s Green Day’s producer, and he’s a super rad guy with lots of great ideas. He forged through those 40 songs that we’d written and picked the ones that he felt should be on the album, leaving us with all these other songs that were complete that we also really liked. So we took it upon ourselves to record B Is for B-sides in the downtime during the recording of Anthem, and after Rob would leave the studio at 8pm and the official recordings for the day came to an end, that’s when we worked on B Is for B-sides. We’d just kick back with a couple of beers and work on these songs in this professional recording studio, purely for our own amusement and enjoyment. When I hear these songs today I hear the live energy of the band and the excitement in our voices. I love all the songs on this album too, and it’s probably closer to the identity of the band than all of the records before – for me. It has more of the harder edge power-chord stuff, and the more aggressive sound that I really like. If you’re a fan of Less Than Jake and this is a record you haven’t listened to, you might be surprised by the songs on here, both musically and lyrically.”
2. SEE THE LIGHT (Fat Wreck Chords, 2013)
“Number two is going to be See the Light. GNV FLA was our first record off on our own, and after that we did the Greetings and Salutations compilation album that was released on Fat Wreck Chords. That was recorded at my studio. We also did the TV/EP, which was a collection of cover songs and commercials, and silly shit like that. That was done at my studio too. They were just done for fun, and we weren’t really breaking our necks on them. After that it was time to move on to the next thing, and that was See the Light. If you’re a fan of the band, I think you can really hear the effort that went into this album. We definitely put it to ourselves to write a record where the songs had a feeling, that were presented in a way that if you were a fan of Less Than Jake then you’d be a fan of this record, because this is what Less Than Jake sound like. That was definitely the mission statement on this album: to make an album that sounded like what we felt the band should sound like. And I’m really proud to say, as the producer of this record, that it sounds like what Less Than Jake is supposed to sound like. It’s a little deeper and little bit quirky, and it’s got all the energy and the hooks and the lyrics. It’s been three years now since the record was released, and I still feel like it’s my young baby cub. I still look at the cover and get that warm feeling knowing that we put a lot of ourselves into this one. It was a really good experience being back on Fat Wreck Chords too, and they were behind us 100%. It was good vibes all round.”
1. ANTHEM (Sire, 2003)
“Playing these songs and living this life, there was nothing quite like working on Anthem, man. It was an amazing time in our lives. The A&R man that signed us at Capitol Records, Craig Aaronson, went on to work at Warner Bros. and he re-signed us at Warner Bros. Not a lot of people know that. So not only did he give us our first chance; he gave us our second and third chance as well. He was a true believer. Like I was saying earlier, we put our nose to the grindstone and wrote as many songs as we could for this album, and we were able to get Rob Cavallo onboard as the producer, who at the time was Green Day’s producer and definitely a big name in the production world. We had an exorbitant recording budget as well, which was a ridiculous amount of money to spend making a record, but that was back in the day when people still bought CDs and bands still made money off record sales. So we took a bit of a vacation to New Orleans to record the bass and drums at a very old studio there, mainly because Rob wanted to eat at a certain restaurant in New Orleans and so we went there to record. Then we packed everything up and went to Malibu and rented a giant mansion, where we had all kinds of luxuries like an in-house chef and a party budget, and we made the rest of the record there. Rob Cavallo didn’t really do too much in terms of splicing up the songs and changing the arrangements, he just had a really good vision and a way of featuring parts so that they’d never lull on any of the songs throughout the whole record. And I was the kind of guy at that point in time that would take notes every day in the studio. I can’t tell you enough about how much I learnt about recording and production and the philosophy of being in the studio from making this album, and I’m so thankful for that experience. I feel like everyone who was involved in this record did a great job, and our fans really responded all over the world to the songs. Honestly, without Anthem I don’t know where we’d be today. It gave us our five minutes, and because of that we’re still here doing what we love to this day.”
Less Than Jake will release Live From Astoria on April 29 via Rude / Saint November. The band will headline the Fireball - Fuelling The Fire tour in October.
Check out more from Less Than Jake in our archive…