On Stage: Less Than Jake is more than fun

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Less Than Jake

Just over a year ago, ska/punk/indie rock veterans Less Than Jake energized and thoroughly entertained a sellout audience at The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 202-730-3331,www.thequeenwilmington.com).

Now, the band from Gainesville, Florida, is back to do it again. LTJ will headline a show at The Queen on April 17 and then return to the area for a show on April 19 at the Chameleon Club (223 North Water Street, Lancaster, 717-299-9684, http://www.chameleonclub.net).

Formed in 1992, the band features Chris DeMakes (vocals, guitar), Roger Lima (vocals, bass), Matt Drastic (drums), Buddy Schaub (trombone) and Peter “JR” Wasilewski (saxophone).

DeMakes and Lima are founding members. Schaub joined the band in 1993 and then Less Than Jake welcomed aboard Wasilewski in 2001. Yonker recently came on board to replace Vinnie Fiorello, who was also a founding member.

“Vinnie isn’t touring with us anymore,” said DeMakes, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“He’s still with us – behind-the-scenes. Life caught up with him and he wants to spend time with his daughter. Matt Drastic was our sound guy and tour manager. He’s been with us forever.”

Less Than Jake is an act that knows how important performing live is with regard to a band’s popularity – and longevity.

The ultra-popular band, which shares its hometown with the University of Florida, is known for being obsessed with interacting with its fans — both online and after shows LTJ is a band that is so concerned with making sure the fan gets the perfect experience it features well-known hijinks in every live performance.

“We probably do 150 shows and up each year,” said DeMakes. “Ever since we started, we’ve never taken off a year from touring. By now, we’ve probably played over 4,000 shows.”

It is a band with seemingly unlimited creativity in the form of physical products — from custom-made cereal boxes to unique vinyl packaging. In its earlier days, the group even had its own set of baseball card-sized trading cards. Less Than Jake also has recordings – nine studio albums, six live albums, several compilation discs and a large smattering of diverse EPs.

Less Than Jake’s latest recorded output is an EP titled “Sound the Alarm” which was released more than a year ago.

“We haven’t put anything out since ‘Sound the Alarm’,” said DeMakes, who grew up in Sarasota, Florida. “We made that EP back in 2016.

“We’re just still out doing our touring. We spend so much time on the road that it’s hard to get time to go in the studio. We have been writing songs. All of us individually have songs written.

“Sometimes, we’re all in a room together and other times we’re sharing files. Then, at some point, we all get together as a band and write whole songs. Roger, our bass player, has a studio and we made our last two records there. Roger and I write most of the songs.”

Less Than Jake are true road warriors.

“We end one tour and then we start another,” said DeMakes. “Right now, we’re booked until the end of  next year. We might take a little time off in November to do some recording. But, basically, we’re road-dogging it. This is what we do. Life on the road is what I’m built for.

“We keep picking up new fans as we go along. Our main age group is 28-40 and now parents are bringing their kids to our shows.”

2017 year marked the band’s 25th year together but the group didn’t play up the landmark anniversary.

“We did a big thing on our 20th anniversary,” said DeMakes. “We really didn’t do much for our 25th. We could have capitalized more. The fact that we’ve been playing together for 27 years is pretty amazing.

“Actually, touring has gotten easier. When you’re young, you’re running 150 m.p.h. every night. Now, in our mid-30s, it’s a lot easier. When we tour, we have dinner with friends and visit our favorite record shops – the few that are still remaining. It’s kind of funny that when our friends come out, they want to raise hell like the old times. We have to remind them that it’s their one night out and we’re out every night.”

Less Than Jake is a band loaded with experience – from playing small dive bars to large arenas on the performance side and from recording with major labels (Capitol Records, Warner Bros./Sire Records) to self-releasing their records.

“We started with Capitol and then went to an indie label (Fat Wreck Chords),” said DeMakes. “Then, we went back to a major – Warner Bros. We left Warner Bros. in 2008 and we’ve just been doing our own thing ever since. Leaving the majors was never the end of our career.

“In our live shows, we go all the way back to the beginning. We still pay stuff from ‘Pezcore’ (the band’s debut album from August 1995). We never had these huge albums that were all over radio and TV. Bands like that don’t play older catalog stuff – but we do.

“When we’re putting a set list together, we have enough songs that we can rotate a lot of them in and out. There are a few songs we have to play. Bnads that have been around for a while have songs the fans demand – like if the Eagles didn’t play ‘Hotel California,’ the fans would riot.”

Video link for Less Than Jake — https://youtu.be/y8yvtX9GzHA.

The all-ages show at The Queen, which also features Kali Masi, Punchline, and Mest, will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $23.50.

The all-ages show at the Chameleon Club, which also features Mest and Punchline, will start at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Becca Mancari

Becca Mancari, who is now based in Nashville, grew up in central Pennsylvania. In the last two years, she has returned to the Keystone State several times to perform shows at venues in Philadelphia – MilkBoy, World Café Live and Underground Arts.

All the shows have been in support of her debut album “Good Woman.”

Now, Mancari is coming back to Philly. On April 18, she will make a return visit to the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400,www.worldcafelive.com).

“Good Woman” is still her latest release but work has already begun on the follow-up.

“I just finished making a new record with Zac Farro at his studio in Nashville,” said Mancari, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from Woodstock, New York.

“He’s a really good producer – and the drummer for Paramore. Some of the songs were written before the sessions and some were straight-up in the studio.

“Then, we went to L.A. to work with Carlos De La Garza at Eagle Rock Studio, He’s an incredible engineer. We did all the vocal tracking with him.”

When Mancari released “Good Woman,” it immediately established her as a Nashville musician who was not a run-of-the-mill country artist.

Listeners immediately knew that there was something special about “Good Woman” – right from the opening track “Arizona Fire.” A unique, almost-industrial intro leads into Mancari’s sinewy vocals and then atmospheric steel guitar by Blake Reams supplements the hazy-but-still-country sound.

“This was my first real album,” said Mancari. “It took a while, but it was worth waiting for. It took a year in the studio with Kyle Ryan producing it.”

Two years ago, Rolling Stone Country named Mancari one of 10 New Country Artists You Need To Know and called her music, “The spacey soundtrack for sunbaked afternoons, full of atmospheric Americana, hazy folk-rock and songwriting that drifts, drawls and draws you in.”

Her album-in-the-works explores new directions.

“It’s sonically different –- and rhythmically different,” said Mancari. “It’s just a different vibe than ‘Good Woman’ – less drenched in reverb. It’s more open-sounding.

“It is very connected to ‘Good Woman.’ They’re like sisters – but you can’t compare sisters. It’s definitely rhythmically different. Zac is a drummer. That’s his main forte.”

Thematically, Mancari is reaching out to her fans in a heart-felt way.

“It’s a sad pop song album,” said Mancari. “It’s about family, coming out, families not accepting coming out and suicide. It’s for my fans. I need to heal, and they do too. It’s a goal we set for ourselves.”

Born in Staten Island, NY, to an Italian-Irish preacher father and a Puerto Rican mother, Mancari has spent time working as a janitor in South Florida, writing songs with train hoppers in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and traveling to India seeking spirituality.

Mancari’s debut is hauntingly lonesome, with dust cloud swells of electric guitar and don’t-look-back lyrics that reveal scenes from Mancari’s well-travelled life.

“I actually grew up in rural Pennsylvania,” said Mancari. “It was a little town near Harrisburg. I went to Harrisburg Christian School and even played soccer there. I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida when I was 16 and graduated high school there.

“My parents were involved in ministry work and non-profits, so we traveled all over. We were in Africa for a while. Between the ages of 18 and 23, we were living in Zambia and Zimbabwe.”

Mancari’s travels introduced her to an amazing variety of music. For example, her time in Harare, Zimbabwe introduced her to the mesmerizing music of African music legend Thomas Mapfumo, “The Lion of Zimbabwe.”

“I moved to India when I was in my early 20s,” said Mancari. “I’ve always been really interested in learning from other cultures. I spent a lot of time wandering.

“I went back to West Palm Beach and worked as a janitor in my old high school. That was one of the best times in my life. I did my job and then went to the library and just read. And, it was near the ocean.

“I went to Nashville in September 2012. I just got in my car and moved to the city. I’ve been living here ever since.”

Ever since relocating to Music City in Tennessee, Mancari has been writing songs that blur the lines between genres as well as sharing shows with artists like Hurray For The Riff Raff and Natalie Prass (with whom she shares the bill at the World Café Live)..

Mancari never backs away from challenges. As a gay woman in the South, she has found a way to balance her sexuality with her spiritual background – an avenue to travel a trail that frequently divides people.

“I’m in a generation where being gay was really taboo,” said Mancari. “I’m really thankful for this generation where it’s more normalized. I think I’ve been a role model of sorts.”

Mancari doesn’t push the boundaries. She steps beyond them and pulls them out to her. The results are very refreshing.

Video link for Becca Mancari — https://youtu.be/oGwjMGCUKSI.

The show at the World Café Live, which also features Natalie Prass, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

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