Interview: J.R. of Less Than Jake

During the week of the release of the new Less Than Jake record, Silver Linings, I had the chance to sit down with J.R. to discuss everything that went into the recording process of the new album. The conversation also captured J.R.’s perspective on looking back on his band’s album anniversaries, what he misses most about touring and the venues he’s played at, as well what he draws inspiration from to continue his growth as an artist.

I’m here with J.R. from Less Than Jake, today. Thank you for your time! 

Thank you for your time. 

Sure. So you guys have been a band for nearly 30 years, which is an incredible achievement. What are you most proud of looking back on this band’s longevity? 

That none of our hips have broken, I suppose. (Laughter) It’s like when you just said, almost 30 years, I kind of cringed a little bit. But then I always think about Bad Religion. And they’re at 40 years. So I’ve always said like, if they can keep going, we can keep going too. So I don’t know what to attribute any of it to specifically. But I’m just glad that people that our band still resonates with people, and puts people in a good space. You know, that’s a blessing. And so we do not take that for granted at all. But if we don’t know how it happens, we’re just glad that we’re able to do that. 

And it sounds like people are excited about the new album. So let’s talk a little bit about that. Your new release, Silver Linings will be released on December 11, which happens to be tomorrow. So good timing for us! Where did the title of the record come from? And why did you decide to brand these songs with this title? 

We finished recording Silver Linings in 2019 in November, actually, well, probably more like this time, December last year. And we’ve kicked around some different ideas of what we thought the title should be. And I’m not sure I think it was Buddy that had said “silver linings.” And it seemed like a nice capitalization, I guess, of what we were trying to get across, you know, the overall look of the record, you know, you try to listen and look at the lyrics and figure out like, you know, what is this all mean, kind of, and what’s the, what’s the thread that ties it all together? You know, and “silver linings” just seemed to hit us all correctly. And, it felt right. And, you know, we made the decision to move forward with that as the title. And then, you know, come March of this year…who knew? And so, you know, I guess in a retrospective kind of way, I’m glad that we named it prior to the pandemic. You know, just because we didn’t want it to be like, Well, yeah, I mean, kind of low hanging fruit here. But no, I thought about prior to the whole thing. So you know, it for us, it’s about not so much about recognizing the silver linings, because I think everybody is always in a bad situation, you’re desperate to find something good. You know, it’s more about appreciating them than just recognizing them. In order to go, yeah, this just so… you’re you distracted from what the negative is. We don’t take the moments to live in the moment. Appreciate it. And I think if more people actually did that we would be different as an entire society. But you know, our little record isn’t going to really change all of that. But you know, that’s the idea around it, I guess. 

Gotcha. So this new album is your first new music since 2017’s Sound the Alarm. Do you feel more creative freedom at this point in your career now that you don’t have to rush out new music,or what was your state of mind at this point?

You know, I can only speak for myself, at least in this particular interview. But I’ve always sort of lived under the guise, at this point in my career, I’m not interested in just putting out music to put out music just going through the exercise. I want to put out something that is thoughtful that we put some thought into that is cohesive, that isn’t just you know, a group of songs, it seems a lot of artists just focus on one single or two singles over the course of maybe a year, you know, and I just think that that’s kind of a I don’t want to knock it but I think it’s a bit of a lazy man’s approach to being an artist. However, that being said, you know, this is a different market, and it’s a different industry. So I understand why it exists. But for Less Than Jake, we prefer to put things into a collection because really, albums are just like an oral picture where you are at this moment in time. And so in 2020, this is where Less Than Jake is, and we’re very pleased with it. And we just hope we hope that people are our fans are too. 

Yeah, I’m sure they’ll be thrilled with it. I’ve already listened to a couple of the tracks from the new record. I look forward to getting fully into it tomorrow. 

Awesome! Thank you. 

Describe the writing and recording process for this, this record what stood out most looking back on this process. 

Um, what really stood out was our new drummer, Matt Yonker. You know, he really, it’s not to take away from any members that we’ve had in the past, but he certainly broadened our horizons and our capabilities in doing stuff musically. So, you know, he’s truly a musician who understands, how to create songs, write songs, sayings, plays, guitar is not just, you know,

it’s a jab, it’s kind of a jab to say, “Oh, he’s just a drummer…” He’s not just a drummer, he’s a true musician, you know, it’s a real pleasure. It’s always a pleasure to create in an environment where everybody’s excited to create, you know, so this process was a little different. But it always tends to be the same. We start the demoing space, and people listen to the demos and decide what we like, what we don’t like, and want to focus on. And then, you know, it’s a needle in the process of figuring out how it all works, you know, and playing the songs and figuring out some forms. And maybe the only difference in this particular group of songs is, I don’t think we’ve ever played these, any of these songs, live as a group, yet, maybe a couple in rehearsals. But not live, and a full performance. But we’re about to tomorrow night when we do our online show. So, you know, that’s exciting. It’s exciting to play these songs. But, you know, as far as the branding, you know, it’s always a push in a poll and a lot of head butting and, you know, moments of tension. But in the end, when you listen to the collection of songs, you know, if as long as we’re pleased with it, that’s all that matters, even if it’s just kind of it’s over, ya know? 

And sometimes you come to the end of a writing cycle, album cycle, whatever it may be, and you feel either refreshed, or you feel like you want to keep going, or what was the mindset that you had after this one was kind of ready to be released to the world as of tomorrow?

Yeah, I mean, we all have to be finished this particular session. You know, there’s always like a residual, you’re kind of on a buzz. And you know, there were some other songs that were written and we’d released songs earlier in the year, when the pandemic kind of the lockdowns, quote, unquote, started in March, you know, and we call that the Last at Home Sessions. And it was basically us doing remote recordings of songs that were not besides so much of the sessions, but actually like songs that were written right post of the session, while we were also kind of buzzing from the recording and the mixing of the record, you know, so that was kind of a, an interesting thing, you know, but now it’s kind of a…I was just talking to another friend of mine, who’s an artist as well, it’s, it’s hard to be creative in this sort of sense, you know, the things that would normally inspire myself or my bandmates to write, you know, maybe isn’t quite there just because of lifestyle changes, or whatever, you know, so it definitely is hard to be creative. Some people find more creativity in this time, I suppose. But for me, it’s not been the most creative time, but I’ve had other sports and creativity and other areas of life, maybe not so much music, but other areas of life have been good, you know, so hopefully getting back into 2021. And now that Silver Linings is coming out. You know, it’s just been kind of waiting for this record to come out, too. Because it’s been a year, you know, yeah. And so now, once this record comes out, I think it’ll kind of like, I feel like I’ve kind of been like, shackled to it a little bit, because there’s so much that I want to say about it, but I can’t because you know, you don’t want to reveal things too quickly. You want to let it roll out like it’s supposed to. And so now I think once it’s out, maybe I’ll feel some sort of relief, that it’s out. You know, like I said, like a sigh of, ”Ah, there it is!” You know what I mean? It’s different when you listen to when I listen to somebody else’s record versus listening to my record, I listen to somebody else’s record 100 times. I can’t listen to my record more than three times. You know, and that’s a weird thing. Like, maybe it’s more than three, but it’s not a lot and I don’t listen to it frequently. You know, because I just, I just want to make sure that everything that’s supposed to be there is there, you know, it’s, it’s almost like,

I don’t know, I don’t know how to describe it. I just want to make sure that everything that I think is supposed to be there is there for the listener. Yeah. And then it doesn’t become, it’s not mine anymore. You know, I think Nick Cave had a brilliant quote that “at some point, the song becomes not mine, I’m not the curator of it anymore. I’m done with it. It’s somebody else’s, you know.” And that’s kind of how I look at our music. You know, at some point, I mean, it’s always mine. But at some point, I’m not the curator anymore, it becomes there’s and I’m good with that. I think it’s great. 

Yeah, and I think a lot of ways, the way your band has been able to react and interact with your fans online, as well as at shows and stuff like that both before and after the shows, and it shows you’re basically keeping an open mind to how people are going to be receiving the new music. So that’s one of the things I’ve really appreciated about your band over the years. 

So well, thank you. I mean, we’ve always felt it was a very symbiotic relationship between us and our fans. And, you know, we also, I’ve always felt that we’re not to use the term “gatekeepers.” We’re not the gatekeepers of anything. As a matter of fact, I’d like to hold the gates open, we’re holding it open. It’s like when you used to hold the door for your friends, when they were rushing in sneaking into a show. I’m just holding the door open for as many people we can get in. Because I feel like I’ve always felt like I’m the person that doesn’t belong. I’ve always felt like I’m the person that I snuck in back here. And they’re going to kick me out at some point. So I would like to hold the door open for those people to get as many of us in here as we can, because more like minded people change the world, you know? 

So this year marked the 25th anniversary of your debut album Pezcore. Do you get nostalgic looking back on album anniversaries? And how do you continue to keep longtime fans of Less Than Jake engaged over time?

I like to look back at things that we’ve done fondly, and celebrate them, you know. There should be a birthday party. There should always be a birthday party, you know, and there still should be a celebration, like, next year, our record Losing Streak turns 25. And that’s a big record for a lot of people, you know, so we try to make sure to celebrate the important milestones of things. But I also, certainly and I also I can’t speak for the gentlemen in my band, but I know that they feel similarly. We don’t like to rest on more morals or live on what we were, we like to be who we are. So, you know, what we did was great. You know, and I know that it touched people in ways and like, got people in, there’s always that argument…”What’s the best version of Less Than Jake, what’s your favorite?” I see it all the time. Like on our socials, there’ll be somebody who starts the battle, what’s the best Less Than Jake record? And so, you know, it’s like anything else. It’s when you discovered the band, whatever record that is, that’s probably going to be your favorite record, you know, and that’s, it doesn’t matter, like my nephew’s 21 years old, and his favorite record is, See The Light. And that’s that, but that’s when he really got into my band. Yeah, you know, so it’s like, that’s, and then you have other people who’s like, Oh, my favorite record is Anthem. And other people are like, my favorite record is Losing Streak. And so the beauty of that is the fact that we’ve been able to really get such a reaction from such a broad age group of people is fucking mind boggling. I mean, it’s mind boggling that we’re still able to do that. And like I said, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Like, we super appreciate it, and are more aware of it. And so we always want to cater to that, you know, and those people that are, they want to come and have a good time and be a part of the family, you know? 

Yeah, definitely. And I imagine that most bands like you are eager to get back on the road as soon as it’s safe to do so. But what do you actually miss the most about touring?

Um, you know, that if you had asked me that question, maybe six months ago, I don’t think I probably would have some like, candy, no cookie cutter answer. But I’m actually kind of thinking about it now. And you know, there’s a lot of facets to it that I really do miss. I do miss the interaction with the fans. You know, that’s the biggest thing. You know, the performance, always. You miss the show. That’s the whole reason that you’re there is for that hour, hour and a half energy transfer. I miss the cities themselves, the places that you know. I’ve become familiar with over the last 30 years of traveling to them in the coffee shops and the local places that I would go get lunch, dinner, or meet friends for drinks after the show. And I wonder that when I go back there are those places still going to be there, you know, because this is changed the world in such a drastic way that the places that I would walk to from the venues that I could tell you how to get there. Like, if you were standing in front of, you know, the “Milk Veg” in Amsterdam, I could tell you how to get to my favorite breakfast spot, it’s around there, I could walk you right there. But I don’t know if it’s gonna be there, when I get back there. You know, that’s kind of a mindfuck. Because over the years venues open, and shutter and places have come and gone, you know, but that’s just because of the time, you know, like time tends to make things go away. But this is just something that’s never happened before. So, you know, what do I really miss was the whole thing. But I certainly am gonna have to tell you, if you should ask me this question, in a year from now, when I’m back on tour, and what do I miss about how tours used to be versus how tour is now because it’s going to be a different experience too. I can’t say that it’s going to be exactly the same as it was prior to because I don’t know how many people are excited to go into a small, you know, enclosed space and have other people breathing into their mouths. You know, immediately whether there’s a vaccine or not. So it’s definitely gonna be an interesting couple of years coming up. So that’s why I’m, you know, if you ask me, now, what I miss about it, it’s a lot of things. And what do I really miss about it, you’re gonna have, again, you’re not to ask me in the future, because it’s going to be different, complete that I don’t think it’s going to be completely different. But it’s going to be different, at least for a period of time. 

Yeah. And it’s a big part of our culture like, and where I live, just outside of DC. Just going to shows getting to interact with other fans that I’ve kind of gotten used to over the years and stuff like that.  I go into either the 9:30 Club or the Fillmore (Silver Spring), stuff like that. And it seems like each venue has its own personality, it’s kind of a unique thing, that it kind of gets over time. And I wonder if you ever share some of those same nuances to some of the places you visited over the years? 

Of course, you know, there’s venues in each city that you’re gonna always remember like in DC, it’s the 9:30 Club. And then it was the Capitol Ballroom, and then there was the old, you know, the Black Cat, always the black cat. You know, then those are the venues that I’m always gonna think about, and then the old 9:30 Club. And those are places that are talked about almost mythologically at times, you know, like, a Fireside Bowl in Chicago. CBGBS. You know, there’s spoken about, like, they’re these like, bastions of glory, but you know, they were hellholes, you know. But isn’t that the beauty of it? Yeah, you know, it’s like, that is how you truly were decided that you made it, you know, you were able to play these places that legends have played before you. There’s a place here, I live in Connecticut, there’s a place in New Haven called “Totes Place.” And that’s the spot man. And it’s been the spot forever. Itt smells like piss and beer over there. But you know that the Rolling Stones played on that. Know that Van Halen played there, and U2 and Bob Dylan and like, all these legends played this crappy little stage, and you’re playing this crappy little stage to0, you know. But these venues are crazy, because they connect generations, you know, they connect time frames and stuff. And like, 100, you know, some of these places that you play their historic, you know, if you really look at it, yeah. But here we are, in this weird time. And I don’t know how many of these places are going to be left? Yeah, once all this is quote/unquote, back to normal. So I’m interested, I definitely am interested on the historical side, but like, on a live side, it does make me sad. 

Yeah. That’s why it’s important for some of those movements, like “Save Our Stages” and other things like that, are trying to make sure that these venues have a place to come back to. And the fans…the fans, and the bands have a place to come back to that. 

That is….well, I mean, I’ve said this, and I’m not saying it, and I certainly don’t want it to come off as being a you know, “woe is me” type thing, but I am going to be the last person to go back to work. Before anybody, everybody else is going to have to go back to work full time before I get back to work, you know, because they’re not going to open up. They’re going to have to open up venues and people are going to have to be well enough that they’re going to be able to open up places they could open to full capacities, you know, so I will be the last person to go back to work, and I’m okay with that. If I’m the last person to go back, when I go back to work, that means that everything’s good. So that’s why I look forward to the day that I get to go back out on tour, because that means that everything is good. And we’re good. You know, that to me is that would be the best news that I could get. 

So the last question I have for you today, J.R., and thank you so much for your time again, is after so many years of being in Less Than Jake, what sources of inspiration do you still use in your writing? Or, that helps keep you motivated as an artist?

Oh, boy, that’s a good question. Um, you know, I guess the source, the inspiration comes from the same things, it’s always been, there’s always the five or six key sources of my pickings of, you know, people who’ve influenced me as a writer. As a writer, you know, but then I also listen to, you know, new music and music that my friends make and stuff that friends of mine suggest to me. And, you know, maybe stuff that I’ve discovered on whichever discovery platform you want to reference right now, you know, and I think it’s cool to hear how people manipulate sounds, and how they can create interesting nuances in music that I had probably couldn’t create or wouldn’t want to, because I wouldn’t be like. There’s an artist, Jacob Collier, and I think he’s brilliant. You know, he does things that I couldn’t even grasp, you know, and I think he’s like, 25, you know, and so that’s just mind blowing. And it’s, it’s great. Because, in a time where I feel I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine at a time, when I feel there’s a lot of stagnation in art, and music. I find stuff like this, and I’m elated! And I’m excited. And I’m excited for what’s to come, you know, I just hope that when the next phase kicks in, that everybody’s

able to get on some sort of same page in life. You know, I think we focus on the wrong things. Sometimes, you know, we should focus on the love, and what’s good about humanity, and what’s good about the world. That’s, to me, more important than, I guess, Silver Linings. But you know what I mean? That’s what we’re here to talk about. 

But, just kind of like what you’re saying, it’s like the great restart of life. You know, whenever this pandemic kind of comes and goes, it’ll be interesting to see how everybody kind of reacts to it. So I think some people have dealt with it in harsh ways. Sometimes people have made it beautiful. So finding the right type of inspiration and how you want to be seen as both an artist or person, moving forward is going to be a big deal for a lot of people. 

And it’s cool to be inspired by the people that you’re in a band with too. And I don’t take that for granted, because those four dudes definitely inspire me. And they pushed me to want to write great music. And hopefully, we do that to each other. So, if you’re in a situation where you’re able to push the people around you to create great things, then you should foster that as much as possible. 

So thank you so much for your time, J.R. I wish you nothing but the best as you move forward in your career. It’s been a storied career so far, and I hope it continues that way. And congratulations on the release of your record tomorrow. 

Thank you very much. I appreciate it. 

Sure thing, and enjoy the rest of your evening.