With Less Than Jake back in the UK, I spoke to Saxophonist Peter “JR” Wasilewski about the stories behind their songs.
When it comes to third-wave ska, there are few higher authorities than Less Than Jake. The Gainesville band has one of the most recognizable sounds of the early 21st Century, and each of the members are regarded as the relative Kings of their genre. Behind the upstroke guitars and happy-go-lucky horn sounds, however, there are concepts that show our favourite court jesters in a very different light.
“I think an outsider’s perception of Less Than Jake might be ‘they are silly on stage, the songs are very major key, ergo the lyrics are about ska and skanking. Lame.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth.” Says saxophonist Peter Wasilewski, ”Our lyrical topics tend to be much darker than the music that surrounds them and I think that’s what may confuse people about our band. If they wanted to scratch the surface any deeper than listening to Johnny Quest, they would see that being a band for nearly 19 years gives you a wealth of topics to write about.”
Granted, their latest release, TV/EP may not demonstrate this, but you only need to glance at its predecessor, GNV FLA to get a feel for the irony in Less Than Jake’s songs. Wasilewski explains:
“Take Malachi Richter’s Liquor’s Quicker. It’s our take on the story of human rights activist Malachi Ritscher. In protest of the Iraq war, he burned himself alive on the side of the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, during the morning rush hour on November 3, 2006. Part of his manifest is read at the beginning of the track. The event went unnoticed by the media.”
So there it is, the dark behind the light. It is a testament to the combined abilities of Less Than Jake that such stories can find a place in their music, particularly when the genre the band find themselves in is deemed to be such a happy one. The message, Wasilewski says, focuses on a very human emotion, and for such reasons the song’s lyrical content deserves great plaudits.
He said: “I think we have all wanted to change the world. Ritscher’s intentions were to ‘make the evening news’, and make a statement that would make the world ‘wake from its walking dream state’. It went unnoticed. We all wonder what our mark on the world will be. Sometimes we care about it too much. What if you make that mark, will anyone notice?
“I’m not saying I know what it’s like to light myself on fire, but I do know what it’s like to feel the need to take a stand and make a statement. Sometimes no one is listening. Then why say it? Because someone is listening. I think that’s what kept me going all these years: the fact that someone is still listening.”
Food for thought the next time you hear a Less Than Jake song. Just remember: Take care when removing the mask of the court jester you may not like what you find beneath.