MUCH TO TALK ABOUT WITH LESS THAN JAKE'S VINNIE
Back in the early spring, actually it was more like winter, since there was still snow on the ground, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the true good guys, and also one of the shrewdest dudes in punk rock, Vinnie Fiorello, the drummer from the band Less Than Jake. Besides being a pretty solid drummer, and main lyricist for the band, Vinnie is the co-founder and owner of Fueled by Ramen Records, the people behind some of the hottest new bands today, among them Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, the Academy Is Yellowcard and Jimmy Eat World. As if that isn't enough to keep him busy 24/7, he also owns a couple of toy companies, Monkey vs Robot and Wunderland War, both of which are hugely successful side projects. Pretty heady stuff for a ska drummer who transplanted to Florida from humble roots in New Jersey.
F! The punk ska movement is no longer the flavor of the month, and some would argue that it really never caught on in the music industry as some predicted. Your band has never had much help from radio or MTV, yet here you are like 10 years after Losing Streak was first released on a major label still plugging along. Not only are you still doing it, but your music is arguably better than ever, and you're still on a major label (Warner Bros.). How have you managed to stay successful in such a rough industry?
V! Well, I think it's just because when ska was the next big thing, we never wore suits or flowered Hawaiian shirts, but just played honest music that people could relate to. We never pigeonholed ourselves into any one corner. And we've never veered off the path we set out on, which was to just play what we felt, and what we wanted to do, not what some record label or radio programmer wanted us to play. By not being one of the really 'big bands', and pandering to what was popular at any given time, we never really went out of style.
F! Your music has a lot more depth than your average ska punk stuff. And not just that genre, music in general. I don't mean deep in a pretentious U2 (Vinnie laughs at this comment) sort of way, or the angry dirty punk way of a say Rancid. But your music is very introspective and seems very autobiographical. You are very adept at writing about subjects such as alcoholism, isolationism, depression and hopelessness. Is this something you set out to do intentionally, or has it sort of happened in the creative process.
V! It's just about lyrics. I was taught that you should write about something you know about, guys like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg, guys that I like lyrically and listen to. So when I decided to start writing songs all those years ago, I wanted to write about things and people in my life, you know, friends, family and acquaintances. You know, at some point, that's the way life is, it isn't perfect, but it's honest. It isn't meant to be depressing or hopeless, but sometimes how life can be, it's just meant to be real. There are enough people putting out candy-coated crap in music, and I didn't want to do that.
F! Right now Fueled by Ramen is as hot as any label out there, indie or major. From the huge success of Fall Out Boy and Yellowcard to the next big thing buzz of bands like Panic at the Disco and the Academy Is, right now FBR is picking all the winners. What advice to you have for up and coming bands out there?
V! I'll be honest with you, just tour. Play anywhere, anytime. There is no substitute for playing live a couple hundred nights a year. Just keep practicing, keep playing, keep getting your name out there and it will happen. With bands like Panic and Academy, it's like any other trend. Like Drive Thru Records and Epitaph, once you have the one big band, like Fall Out Boy was, then a lot of doors get opened. Once you have that one, it's like dominoes, they all fall into place for you. It's not necessarily picking all winners, you've picked one winner, and you piggyback that one winner with other good bands while you're given the opportunity. In my brain we were picking all winners, we're just now getting the exposure that allows our bands to be successful.
F! From the obsession with Pez figures to the Monkey vs Robot (now called Wunderland War) toy and figurine line, what is it with toys and Less Than Jake?
V! It all started with Pez Figures. I had a small collection of Pez when we started practicing at mine and Chris's apartment we shared with my girlfriend at the time. It just started growing from there, then Roger started collecting, and it blossomed into something even bigger. Now it's not just Pez, but I'm an avid toy collector, and Roger's a big toy collector too. It really kind of adds to the whole band image we have.
F! How have things changed for the band since touring the country in the Blue and White (their first van they did tours in)?
V! Van touring and bus touring are two totally different animals, no doubt about it. The funny thing is, the general aspect of the band hasn't changed all that much, it's pretty much the same, as It's always been. We're a very close-knit band, and if you see us on tour, we all work hard together as a group. We don't travel with a lot of people, and we have had a lot of the same crew for a long time now.
F! The band has been notorious for it's collection of cover songs over the years. Whether it be TV theme songs (Laverne and Shirley and Partridge Family), movie soundtracks (Grease), 80's songs (Twisted Sister, the Outfield) or classic rock songs (Cheap Trick, J. Geils), you leave no stone uncovered. A lot of bands separate themselves from covers once they 'make ' it. But no matter how big the band got, you always had a cover or two up your sleeves What other songs do you have your sights, and instruments set on. And do you have any plans to go the route of Me First and the Gimmes, doing all covers song discs every couple years?
V! I can definitely tell you we definitely have no plans to do the Gimmes thing. You know what, it's just that Surrender was one of the songs we talked about putting on the last record. We also did a Springsteen cover and a few others, but they never got past the playing around stage. How do we go about picking a song to cover? Quite honestly, it's just spur of the moment. Maybe we'll be practicing for a tour, recording some demos, and someone in the band will bring up a song to try. Comparatively the output of covers we're doing now to years back is a small portion. Back then we were doing Slayer 7 inch singles, or a Grease tribute cd, or this or that. Now for us, covers are an afterthought. We'll still say it'd be cool to do this cover or that cover, but now it's more like cool if we do it, but it's fine if we don't.
F! Fat Mike (of NOFX, the Gimme Gimmes, and owner of Fat Wreck Records) once called you guys in an interview I read the hardest working band in punk music. That's a pretty big compliment from a guy of his stature, with his two bands and major indie label. Besides the band, tell me what else you have going on right now.
V! Well, I think Mike was referencing, when he said that, not so much what we had going on besides the band, but rather our stage show. We have so much movement, stage banter with the crowd, interaction, and general craziness. He said that during Warped Tour few years ago. We were doing like eleven songs, without stopping in between songs, in our thirty minute set. Our live show is pretty crazy, and that was what he was talking about, I'm sure.
F! When the sun sets on Less Than Jake as a band, how do you want it to be remembered?
V! Wow, that's a really tough question. I don't know how to answer that, I never really have thought about that before. I guess I'd have to say I'd want people to know we were more than just a band.