November 2017


Vinnie Fiorello Of The Ska Punk Kings
Less Than Jake
Interview By: Owen Jenkins

Enjoy This Repeat Interview With Vinnie

The up tempo Ska band from Gainesville Florida, now in their 24th year are about to embark on their Fireball &ndash Fuelling the fire tour around the UK next month. But don't worry any of you American readers they will be back state side in November.

Less Than Jake formed in 1992 and is still made up of two of their original members Vinnie Fiorello and Chris DeMakes. I got a chance to catch up with Vinnie during the preparations for the up and coming tour.

They've had a busy year so far making their annual appearance at Warped tour completing a milestone in the number of shows they've done.

The Band have just come back from Ska fest down in Mexico City and their annual Wake & Bake shows in their home town Gainesville but as usual for this hard working Ska Punk band, they won't be sitting still for long.

Vinnie was kind enough to give me the time to answer some questions for the Punk Globe and all you lovely loyal readers.

On a plus side it's interviews like this one that makes this writers job easier as along standing fan of this band, it was actually a Less Than Jake gig in a Small city in the south of England called Plymouth that this writer found himself being ejected out of his first gig for crowd surfing, but still managed to get back inside in time to hear 'All my friends are metal heads'.

We talk about Brotherhood, smartphones, scene politics, up and comer's and the world being at our fingertips.

Punk Globe: So how have you been recently, I know you guys have just come back from Ska Fest, down in Mexico City.

Vinnie Fiorello: We did actually, about a week and a half ago we got back from Mexico but then over the past weekend we did our hometown show Wake & Bake Weekend. Where we do different sets every night, there's a lot going on. So its definitely one of those things where its three days worth of Less Than Jake in their home town.

Punk Globe: It must be good to get back to your hometown to play in front of the crowd.

Vinnie Fiorello: Crowd's great, its funny because it's a college town, so you don't really have the history of the people that have been around for a real long time. Because I'm not sure if you're familiar with a university town but its very transient, every few years you have a new crowd. So LTJ in our hometown is fun but it doesn't have the history or the lineage of lets say a New Jersey show or Chicago show.

Punk Globe: Taking it back to the beginning, growing up what sparked your passion for music and especially Ska and the Punk genre in particular?

Vinnie Fiorello: Well my brother is four years older than me. He started to get into new wave music in the 80's, so I was just barely a teenager then, so he was listening to the B -52's and listening to The Clash and a lot of like Blondie type bands. Then all of a sudden he played the Ramones and something just clicked inside. Before that I was listening to Kiss and things like that. The Ramones kicked off this thing for me like "how? This is crazy" but at the same time I heard the Ramones, champagne was just starting to wrap up being in a band, but I had gone to see champagne and during that set a band called Minor Trip played, so it got me into at a very very young age and barely a teenager into Punk rock and basically from that stand point I found my own scenes, like the pop up Chicago scenes in the late 80's and early 90's. The San Francisco Lookout Records scene when that first started, Epitaph, when that first started, those where the things I fell into, that wasn't my brothers music but became my music and that's important. I think you have to find your own music to be passionate about. It can't be your friend's niche it has to be about what moves you, that's what passions about. So that happened and in a sort of very weird happen stance I was up in Gainesville before I moved, Operation Ivy had played at a house party and that got my brain twisted in a "oh yeah" and I got into bands like The Specials and the early Ska music and a lot of early Reggae. It really didn't move in the LTJ thing and sort of come together until a friend of mine made me a mix tape with a band from the UK called Snuff. Snuff mixed a trombone with fast punk rock and I went to Chris [DeMakes] and said "you know what, if we did this and mixed it with bands like Green Day and mixed with Operation Ivy and mixed with The Specials, I think we could combine all this stuff and do something cool." It's funny because there was no gauge of reference for Ska punk music. There was Operation Ivy but that's not what we were doing or what we wanted to do. There were the early Might Mighty Bosstones but they were a bit to rough and a bit to rock. We wanted something that was more up-tempo and fast but catchy and had horns all over it. Snuff really lit the fuse of what could happen, there was no diagram for what we were doing. We were just sort of genre bending at the time. Just to try and find what we were looking for. It was a cool time to be honest, there was no one really out there doing what we were doing. Later we found brother bands across the world and that was everyone from Kemuri from Japan, Slapstick from Chicago, Supermarket Allstars from Houston, The Hippos out of California and Reel Big Fish also from California. We found those bands and they became brother bands. It was like when we played with Capdown, it was like these guys were doing it at the same time we were doing it but were just in a different head space to us. It all came from the same bottom line of inspiration.

Punk Globe: You're all about to head off round the UK and Europe over the coming months. How does the touring now compare to when you guys first started touring in the US?

Vinnie Fiorello: Well you know what, its much easier now, technology has its ups and downs. Really the up is touring, you're always in contact and you not always looking for a pay phone, before you relied on postcards and payphones and if you couldn't find a payphone or you couldn't find a postbox to mail stuff or stamps even, you just were detached from you friends and family. So to be honest with you, technology changed touring forever, its now much easier to tour. I'm a dad and my daughter is still pretty young, she's five and to be able to be on tour and to have her see my face and to be able to talk to me, is really a kind of mind blower. Ten years ago that couldn't happen and twenty years ago that would be fantasy talk for that to be happening. Its crazy to I think that its much easier, the only thing that's a lot weirder now is it that its much more dangerous in the world.

Punk Globe: I was leading to that, you've got a night lined up in Paris. The Parisians have really held a good spirit for live music and nightlife after what happened. You guys over there have had your share of the tragedies with Orlando. Now you guy are facing heading out round Europe, has it changed anything with how you have to prepare or look at how to tour from now on?

Vinnie Fiorello: Not really per city but definitely how you will operate while you are in that city. Before I'll be honest I operated fairly fucking loose. I would go down any neighborhood that I wanted, I would just walk in to it. I wouldn't worry about doing anything besides just enjoying the city and now I always enjoy the city but now my senses are heightened to what my surroundings are when in these city, including my own. Its not that I will enjoy travelling any less but I also try and be more aware on what's going on than I used to be. It the world we live in no, man.

Punk Globe: On a more lighter note, I've seen this number thrown around and I wanted to check with you, is it true this summer you guys played your 365th Warped tour show?

Vinnie Fiorello: Well we are actually over that now, we are on, I think 413 right now after this year, but yeah. We played that many shows on warped tour, no days off, not being on the tour we are talking about that many shows. We played that many shows.

Punk Globe: You've been part of the Warped tour evolution over the years, how have you seen it evolve and change?

Vinnie Fiorello: It's funny because I always hear people say, "Warped tours changed" or "its bullshit and not punk rock anymore" but to be honest man, Warped tour has always been about youth culture, its about youth movement and youth music. Of course whatever is popular with the kids at that time is going to be part of Warped tour that's just by sheer design of it. It just so happens that when a lot of people cut their teeth on warped tour, punk rock was super popular and sold billion of records. For me, it's like being on warped tour and kind of walking around and kids are the same. You could transport that crowd back to any year and they would all still be the same. Because they all are just finding the music they are passionate about. When you first get in to music and you're living it and breathing it and you are passionate about everything. Everything that has to do with the band you are passionate about. That's never changed, its like, that 14,15,16,17 year old who is just finding music, the passion is all the same, its always has been and always will be same. So walking round warped tour maybe some slight changes of how people dress or people act, but to be honest with you it's really the same.

Punk Globe: Well with all those Warped tour shows or the number of other gigs you've got booked in the US, Europe and the fueling the fire tour coming up in the UK to prepare for, you've got 24 years worth of material to choose from. How do you go about selecting set lists and choosing which songs stay and which songs go?

Vinnie Fiorello: Usually its starts with Chris saying, "I really wanna this" or "I really don't wanna play that". Then everyone chops in with what they think. It's hard because there are some songs, that to be honest with you, are good in the studio but never quite feel right playing live and that's some of the songs we don't play. Its like all of a sudden you have this magic comes to life in the studio with this grove and this vibe but you can never replicate that out of the studio, I don't know what it is. There fine and we can do it but it's not the same.

Punk Globe: Do you have that the opposite way round as well, songs for the stage but no the studio?

Vinnie Fiorello: 100% man! There are some songs that we play live that are better on stage than what we recorded. There is no doubt in my mind. We'll record it but when we are on stage playing it together its comes alive. It wild but it's a very democratic way for choosing what we play and what we don't want to play, what we want to try and what we don't want to try. Inspiration most of the time comes from Chris who, for some reason changes is mind on what he wants to play, and he has songs he doesn't like to play.

Punk Globe: I've seen you've been know to do some crazy thing on stage, like wrestling matches and game shows to select songs.

Vinnie Fiorello: Well, we're hitting the near 25 year mark now. After that you have to throw everything in to make it fun. You want to keep the people that come see you play 13,14,20,40, 200 times, you want to keep them engaged but you also want to make sure they're still having fun and also be up there yourselves having fun. The beautiful thing has always been about LTJ is that the way that I particular feel and the way the other dudes feel while we are on stage. It's this chemical reaction that happens between the guys in the band and he chemical reaction that put back to us from the crowd, and that why we are here. You want to them to have fun and be entertained but you also want have that thing that always happens that's the gas, the fuel. It's live it's the vibe, its everything. I don't know id the fans of the band really realize how much they keep the band going. It's that interaction between crowd and stage, that's the thing that makes LTJ go "Yeah, this is what we are doing it for, this is why it's all worth it". Its that movement and momentum its just chemical.

Punk Globe: You said in then you are coming up to your 25-year point. You've been a big participator in the Ska Punk scene over the years. You would have seen a lot of changes between starting out and now. How do you see the future of the scene be it distribution or live music in like 10 years time?

Vinnie Fiorello: I'm going to be honest, it's a beautiful time to be alive if you are a fan of music because everything is at your fingertips. Its all there, its all immediately downloadable, its all immediately there for streaming. Its all there for what ever you want it a great to be making music and a great time to be listening to music. The unfortunate part to all that and I'm not talking about Punk Ska or anything like that I mean generally speaking. The problem is there is so much white noise, so much distraction, so much of everything being thrown at you at the same time. Here's any music you could listen to, here's every song for you to listen to, and Here's every movie you want to watch on Netflix or TV show online. There are ton of things for people to get through for people to find something to pay attention to now. Much more so now than when LTJ first started, so I think the future of music is great and it feels good to be able to have all this, the problem is having people get the chance to notice what you are going. There is so much option so I think although the future is great its is being subdivided of subgenres of subgenres. I'm not really in to pop punk but I'm into post 2000 emo punk, because its all there, so I think music will just be more divided up more and more. I think having everything at your fingertips should be unifying but its not unifying at all.

Punk Globe: Talking about having music at your fingertip. I've seen you have a number of albums available on places like Amazon prime music. What lead you down the route of making these available on streaming website and does that change or options on distribution?

Vinnie Fiorello: I think you have to really have an eyeball on how things are distributed digitally. That while you can make an exclusive album for Apple music or iTunes but at the same time some times countries, lets say Japan for instance, who don't really use apple music or iTune, they have their own music sites. You sort of have to green light everything. Make its digital everywhere, and sometimes Spotify, and you get people so say "I don't really own any of your records, I just steam it all" and it like "oh fuck" but that's just kind of where we are now. People stream music and it take to really be a fan to want to actually own something by a band. It goes back to the point where you figure all these way to distribute digital music would be this glorious "hay here it all is for everyone to come and check out" but its really not. It "Hey, I have to sift though 10,000 songs to find a LTJ song that I like" so very wild time. So I think to answer your why here and why there, if you make a decision to digitally distribute music, you've got to go to every place that people can go because while most people go to iTunes store or music or Spotify not everyone like you mention goes there. Like to me, it's foreign that you mentioned Amazon Prime because I don't know anyone that uses that. You can't be picky and choosy where it goes digitally, you just have to get it out there, you have to think worldwide.

Punk Globe: Touching back on the fact you guys have been together coming on 25 years now, being together for that long, your success must come with sacrifice. You all must have shared highs and low together. Does there come a time where because of your history together as a band, you could take on anything.

Vinnie Fiorello: I hope that's the case, I think that everything we've been though with the highs and the lows creates a bond between the guys. Like I mention earlier, there is this chemical reaction that happens amongst everybody on stage and we need that. I think on or off the stage these guys are more my family than some of my actual family.

Punk Globe: Like brothers!

Vinnie Fiorello: They are most definitely my brothers. I think that when push comes to shove I would take a bullet for every single of the dudes in the band and I feel like they would do the same. I would hope we could make its though whatever comes our way.

Punk Globe: For those that are playing in young bands now and that dream of doing what you guys have been doing for so many years. People see the parties and touring and live shows but what kind of sacrifices come hand in hand with that?

Vinnie Fiorello: This is the thing, while you're on tour and your world spins in a certain direction but at home the world spins its own way. I used to go on tour and this was before cellphones or stuff I would come back like "oh those people are together anymore" or "oh that house burnt down, oh this person went though this or that" peoples lives carry on while your away doing your thing. You families lives go on, while your out doing what your doing. It's the only thing I've ever said that's negative about touring, is the fact the world goes on without you. You a ghost, you're the person people talk about when they're out at dinner or at a bar or party. "Oh I wonder what Vinnie is doing or Chris is up to?" and they go home and to their job carry on their lives and you become this ghost who get talked about once in while until you're back, then its great. It's a very odd world to be in.

Punk Globe: As were talking about the punk scene in the US earlier and we touched on something I want to make a point on because there is such a option now within scene, that you get these sub genres of sub genres and so forth, having now looked into more and more of the American punk scene on places like Facebook or other forums. I see more and more people arguing about "that not punk, this is punk" or "punks don't wear that, they wear this" which to me completely disqualifies it from punk at all, because as soon as you put guidelines or rules you've ignored the meaning of punk. To you what personally out lines the term "Punk"?

Vinnie Fiorello: I sort of follow the same head space, there's this point where people get caught up in "what it not punk rock" for me it was always a spirit, a spirit of rebellion, and doing what you want. Its not doing what someone expects you to do or what someone tells you to do, punk is doing what you want to do. People get caught up in all this bullshit and scene politics, its always been the same. There is always these people that get caught up in the scene politics and I'm here to tell you, you still have to go out there a get a fucking job, you still have to pay your fucking bills regardless of how great your haircut is or how rad your tattoos or how in tunes you are with some rarest to the rare screamo, if that's what your in to but I'm here to tell you, people grow up. You have to move on, but the punk spirit to me never moves on because if you are doing what you want to do it doesn't matter if your at your 9-5 job because you have to pay your bills but you get home and you do these amazing things and you keep that spirit alive and ultimately do what ever you want to do, where ever you want to. That's fucking punk rock man! It's beautiful! Its doesn't matter if you only know 4 chords of music, you can get up on stage and you can tell people how it is and what you feel like and people will either like it or not like it, and that's cool. But it's about doing what you want to do not what is expected.

Punk Globe: Amen to that! There has been a lot comments made by artists in nearly every genre of music about the use of smartphones at live shows. People spending more time watching the live band though their 4-inch screen than the actual artist live on stage. What you view on having your audience stood there with their iPhones raised rather than there arms?

Vinnie Fiorello: I can't tell people what to do. Do I wish that it were different? Yeah of course I do, I wish people would be more in the moment. The minute I or we collectively go "hey no smartphones are allowed" that's kind of a drag isn't it. Some people want those memories, they want that video and who am I to say don't share our music, don't share the thing you like by sharing in on social media. Like dude I'm stoked people do that, I love that people to that. It's a double-edged sword, I wish they were more in the moment sure but hey it's up to them.

Punk Globe: Ace, getting ready for today interview I've had a proper nostalgic Less Than Jake walk down memory lane. One thing that stuck me when jumping between first albums to you last is how tight and fresh you sound. How have to manage to keep that same energy alive all this time.

Vinnie Fiorello: To be honest it goes back to this very cool chemical reaction that happens with the dudes in the band and that continuously refreshes it self with everything we do. It just goes back to the fact these guys are my brothers and we share this collective head space. Because we share this collective head space we can kind of be honest when we need to be honest with each other, that a really important thing. Where sometime you have to say "this work and this doesn't work" or "this is what I think and this is what you think" and sometimes we disagree and them we sometimes agree, being in a band is equal amount of playing and creativity but the other part is this communication and communicating amongst the band you reside in. people forget that to be in the band you have to be IN a fucking the band.

Punk Globe: A relationship.

Vinnie Fiorello: Yeah a relationship. To relate to each other to people who are bonded to each other. Its not some "oh its just a group of guys" sometimes that works if you lucky and other times that doesn't work at all.

Punk Globe: You have a couple of member come and go but the nucleus of the band has always remained the same. Who've also had a number of record labels over the years and even releasing under your own label "sleep it off records" at one stage. Have you always found that the labels have given you artist freedom to do and play what you want or have the constrained you at times?

Vinnie Fiorello: Of course, everyone has a view on what they think Less Than Jake is. With that said most labels let us do what we want to do, where as some labels see us as a Ska Punk party band and think we should be that or that LTJ are a radio band and we should write radio songs. There are people that are in labels that try to put this box around what we do, but there is no box. Each record is a snap shot of who we are and what we are about at that time. Its every changing and that's the way it should be and how should always be, ever changing. Mind you, the nucleus is the same and that's why we still sound like Less Than Jake, a few mishaps have happened through production at times but when we play those songs live we sound like Less Than Jake again.

Punk Globe: JR has been quoted that you are working on a new album and the moment and it will be ready for release sometime next year, is that true and how's it going?

Vinnie Fiorello: We currently we are putting some finishing touches to some songs and we are going to record sometime soon. Next year, early next year we'll have something out. Not sure what its going to be but its going to be something. The beautiful thing about being in a band for this long it that there is no time line. For us we are going to finish some songs and head in to the studio and if the songs come out cool then cool if they don't then that's cool as well. Could it be a bigger release? Sure. Could it be a 7" or 45 that could be to.

Punk Globe: Does the writing of the album come easier now or than back then?

Vinnie Fiorello: It all goes by the songs themselves. Some songs come easy some you have to labor over, depends what it is.

Punk Globe: Will be released under Fat Wreck Chords?

Vinnie Fiorello: I don't know. I mean again we are the point were we are just writing songs or going to a studio. We don't need a label to go to a studio or write and record. So many we'll take it to Fat maybe we'll put in another label maybe we'll put it out ourselves, that's the beautiful thing.

Punk Globe: One question I always ask, and we did touch one why, because there is so many new bands out there. Are there any young bands out there now who you would say to keep an eye on, a band that could be big in the future?

Vinnie Fiorello: Well I would say a few, says the Pomps from Boston, Red city radio also you know what The Interrupters I've been enjoying, and Masked Intruder is another, they're some sold bands.

Punk Globe: Well you guys are coming over next months and I'll be heading over to see you guys. Thanks again for chat Vinnie been ace to talk with you.

Vinnie Fiorello: Nice one brother and I'll see you soon.

Well Punk Globers that was Vinnie Fiorello of the awesome Ska Punk band Less Than Jake. I'm sure you have all heard their up beat ska tempo music before and if you guys missed them at the Warped tour this year fear not, for they will be back in the land on liberty for a home town gig in Gainesville on the 28th October as for my fellow Brits, check out www.lessthanjake.com for a full line of the UK dates starting in Bristol on the 3rd October and ending in Bournemouth on the 11th. Not missing any of you Europeans they will be in France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria between the 13th and 22nd.

Hope you all enjoy as much as I!

I lost some who I called my brother I while I was writing this article – I want dedicate this one to my little Brother Ryan Stephens, not always your type of music but you always put up with it for me. Just to think people from around the world will now be reading your name.

RIP Little Brother!

Eric Core's new album: No War, No Where, Know Peace