Interview:10 Questions with Chris from Less Than Jake
by Don Dawson
How many bands can you name that have been around for more than five years? Seven years? How about ten years? Soon enough, you'll find yourself resorting to bands from the 60's or 70's, just to fill up the list. Try making that list up from bands that started post 1990 and you'll find the task a wee bit harder.
Less Than Jake is celebrating their eleventh year as a band and in the current musical climate, that's a major milestone. Musical trends change quickly and fans' finicky taste in music can make bands disappear quicker than a kicked-off cast member from the TV show Survivor. So what makes Less Than Jake so special? We asked Chris, lead guitarist, lead singer, and one of the two contributing songwriters for the band 10 questions on the who's, how's, and what's of Less Than Jake.
Guitar.com: Hey Chris, how's it going?
Chris: Not Bad.
Guitar.com: So do you consider yourself an Internet-savvy guy?
Chris: Yeah but I guess I haven't run into Guitar.com as of yet.
Guitar.com: It's a pretty interesting place between the many interviews and such, but we've been really focusing on making better guitarists out of the many players that are out there. Please feel free to stop by and check it out.
Chris: I definitely will.
Guitar.com: So you've been with Less Than Jake for 11 years. Does it really seem like that long?
Chris: Not at all. It's like anything else you know. It's one of those things where someone asks you about elementary school and you can think back to when you were in 5th grade and how it seemed like yesterday. It's very much the same thing.
Guitar.com: Plus I think you guys really seem to be enjoying what you're doing, which can really make the time fly right on by.
Chris: Yeah, we're still having a great time.
Guitar.com: I would have to think that in those 11 years, you must have some pretty interesting road tales. Gotta favorite you can legally share with us?
Chris: Oh god (laughs) hmmmm, we could probably be on the phone for a good six hours to cover even a "best of" — that would take forever. Let me try to think of one or two... ..one of the better ones was when we were playing a show in San Francisco for a radio station called KOME.
Guitar.com: I know that station.
Chris: Right, well it was one of those radio type shows where fifteen or twenty bands that were getting played on their station play all day. Sort of like a festival kind of thing, with a couple of stages. This is about 1997, maybe 1998. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the band Save Ferris.
Guitar.com: Hmmm, no I don't think I've heard of them.
Chris: Anyways, that was a band that was around at the time. They re-did that song "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners.
Guitar.com: Right, I vaguely remember them.
Chris: Okay — anyway, I was on the side of the stage, as we were getting ready to go on after them. This was about three or four songs into their set and their bass player went up for a jump and just **** his pants.
Guitar.com: (laughing hysterically)
Chris: And it came straight through his shorts. It was just a puddle, totally liquid. Stagehands were running around — one of them ran off to the side and almost puked. The smell was so f-ing bad. That may not be the best story but it's the one that jumped out. I frequently tell that one because it's so ridiculous. It's one of those tales that falls into the category of, I can't believe I saw that at my job.
Guitar.com: Frightening, truly frightening. So you're out touring until the end of the year with Fall Out Boy. Is that more or less your current schedule to date?
Chris: Yeah, we're going to be out until the seventh of December and then take the holidays off.
Guitar.com: And then you'll pick up another leg in the early part of next year or... ?
Chris: Well, at this point, we've been out since April first of this year. So we're definitely taking January off but who knows. There could be more scheduled at this point but we're kind of playing it by ear. We don't know what we'll be doing in the New Year.
Guitar.com: That's a long time to be out but good work if you can get it.
Guitar.com: On Anthem, You chose to work with Rob Cavallo. He touts quite the resume. What was it like working with him?
Chris: He was great. Basically, the thing that surprised was all the things that we thought he was going to do that he didn't do. He didn't come in and try to change the band. He let us be ourselves and I think that's why we still enjoy the latest album, after a year, I can still go back and listen to it and be pleasantly surprised. Whereas before, give me a couple of months after we recorded something and I'd be pissed off about it, cuz I wanted to change things. So far it's stood the test of time. He said look, I'm not going to come in and completely make the drums in time through Pro-Tools. I'm not going to make sure that every vocal is perfect. You guys are going to do your performances and if the performance sounds good — I'd be in the vocal booth and I'd say, "I can do better than that." And he goes "better than what? It sounds f***ing great. It sounds like you sound like. Why do you want to make it sound like you don't sound?" He brought some freshness that we had lost on some of the previous records. We'd gotten a little stale.
Guitar.com: Right, understood. You've played a fairly eclectic mix of guitars over the years; Les Pauls, Teles, Music Man, what do you consider your main guitar?
Chris: The ones that I get for free (laughs).
Guitar.com: Wouldn't we all. (laughing)
Chris: To be honest with you, I had been playing Les Pauls for a while. They're kind of heavy and I had switched to Teles, which I really enjoyed. I played them for a good long time. Then we got hooked up with Ernie Ball/Music Man because they were out on the Warped Tour. We made friends with them. They were kind enough to give me a bunch of guitars and I played those for a couple of years. We're a one-guitar band. I'm the only player in the band and I wanted something that was a little more ballsy and I knew what I was missing. I knew I needed that big Les Paul crunch, that full-bodied sound. It's aggravated my left shoulder again because they're about ten pounds heavier than the music man guitar but I'm making do with it. I just love the way they sound. They just sound amazing and work for what I do.
Guitar.com: They definitely have "that sound." Have you tried any of the thinline Les Pauls? They're a bit lighter and maybe easier on your shoulder.
Chris: I've tried SG's and stuff and I've played them in the studio. I love those. But the Les Paul Standards are my guitar of choice. I probably won't be playing anything else for a while.
Guitar.com: What about your rig? Whatcha got on the floor? You bring a lot of toys out with you?
Chris: No, not really. I'm running two full stacks on this particular tour. I have the triple rectifiers that I've been playing, but this tour, on loan from Marshall, I've got the new Mode Four amps. Are you familiar with those?
Guitar.com: No, I don't think so, not yet.
Chris: They're a 350-watt head.
Guitar.com: Now that's some power.
Chris: Yeah, they're brand new. You can go online and find more about them. After I get off the phone with you, I get to go in and fire them up and play with it a bit more. I played with it in a music store a couple of weeks ago — messed around with it a bit but you really couldn't turn it up too loud. So I ended up talking to our management and they knew someone over at Marshall and they were kind enough to loan a couple out to us for the tour. But for the most part, I use the Triple Rectifiers. I use three tones — the clean tone, something I call my semi-clean tone, and then the dirty crunch. That's pretty much it. Then I have a pedal board that I run. I have a tuner, a digital delay pedal, a chorus pedal and a compressor/sustainer. That's it.
Guitar.com: Now as far as writing is concerned — do you write collectively or are you the primary writer?
Chris: Well, actually, I come up with song ideas. Our drummer Vinny writes all the lyrics. So we kind of do it different from that aspect. I write the music and so does our bass player Roger. Sometimes him and I will write songs together. Other times I'll have a song that's seventy percent there and I'll bring it to rehearsal and we'll finish it. Sometimes I'll have a song that's completely done and the same for Roger. We're the two songwriters and Vinny handles all the lyrics.
Guitar.com: I had read a number of interviews with you, in which you had said that a few of your influences were bands like Snuff and The Descendents. But did you continue down that musical timeline for you or your band mates? Did bands like The Buzzcocks, Black Flag, The Stooges, or The Ramones have any impact on what you do?
Chris: You gotta remember too, it's one of those things where — I listen to stuff from the 50's, 60's, 70's, all the way up but as far as the punk rock thing goes, especially some of the older bands, I completely missed all that. I never knew who the Sex Pistols were until I was like 17 or 18 years old — I never even heard one of their songs by then. So they weren't direct influences for me. I love the Buzzcocks. But growing up, they weren't an influence for me either. It was more like the Southern Californian stuff — Agent Orange, The Descendents, NOFX, Bad Religion, those types of bands. More so than the earlier punk stuff.
Guitar.com: Cool stuff. We actually did a Video Guitar Lesson that we feature on the site with Brian Baker from Bad Religion. You should check it out.
Chris: I'll have to do that.
Guitar.com: LTJ is in a rather unique position. You've gone from being an indie band to getting signed with a major. Back to being an indie and then back to being with a major. That gives you a very unique perspective on what it's like to be in both camps, at very different times in your career. Do you prefer being with one over the other?
Chris: Good question. At this point, I find the preference being with the major (Warner Bros), just because when we go out there seems to be a little more promotional money to put behind the band. In terms of radio advertising and stuff. For a band that's been around as long as we have, we've built our careers on our live shows so the more people that know about our live shows, the better. The major most definitely has the advantage in that respect. The disadvantage is that there is a great deal of red tape that you have to go through that you don't have on an indie, but such is life. It's a hard question to answer because we've had a good career being on both majors and indies. So I can't take a shot at either one. The whole ride has been good for our particular band. For some other bands, when you're first starting out, it depends on the band's situation. I can look at them and go "if I was you, I would go indie" or "if someone's throwing money at you, I'd take the major label offer." So it really depends on the situation with the band. In our instance, we've had a good run with both of them.
Guitar.com: I think that that's an insight that a lot of bands don't get to see. You're blessed with a very interesting perspective, given the circumstances.
Chris: Yeah, we've always done things our way and had a really weird road. I mean not many bands go from indie to a major to an indie back to a major.
Guitar.com: Right. The odds of that happening must be staggering.
Chris: Correct, yeah and for us to take sides on either one or the other just wouldn't be fair. It's been great both ways and for us, it's been great so far.
Guitar.com: Okay, one more question for you. You get to be in a band of your choice. You get to pick any band you want from the 60s, 70s, and the 80s. Who is it?
Chris: Van Halen, 1978.
Guitar.com: Sweet. Good choice.
Chris: Touring off of the first record, opening for Black Sabbath.
Guitar.com: Chris, thanks for taking the time to speak us here. Be sure to stick your head in at Guitar.com.
Chris: I absolutely will. I'm going to come by and take a lesson with Brian Baker (laughs).
Guitar.com: Very cool. All the best.