Monday, March 14, 2011

Less Than Jake

Photo Credit: Dennis Ho
This interview can also be found on the National Underground website HERE.

I could go on forever about the wonders of the ska/punk band Less Than Jake.  These guys have been making a name for themselves ever since their first full length Pezcore came out in 1995, and they're still going strong.  LTJ is still dedicated to their music, they still put on an amazing show, and their music still sends a nostalgic chill down your spine.  Check out this interview with saxophonist JR Wasilewski as he discusses the dynamic of the band, record labels, and what it's really like to be a part of a legendary band.

LTJ has been together for almost two decades now, how has the band managed to stay together?

JR: Number one, Jägermeister.  Number two, communication.  Like with any relationship, if you can’t talk and say what’s on your mind or feel like you’re able to say what’s on your mind, then you’re gonna fail.  Communication is maybe a little bit more important than Jägermeister, but it’s definitely up there.  Then, just trusting in each other.  There’s four other dudes I can totally look at and they’ll have my back.  We trust in each other, have good communication skills most of the time, and we drink a lot of Jägermeister. 

Bands like We Are The Union have stated that ska bands seem to be more popular overseas now than in the States.  Would you agree with this and what are your thoughts about the current state of ska music?

JR: Ska music was always underground and then at some point, as major labels did what they always do: They find something that seems profitable and grab it up, they put it through their machine, they knock it through the ringer, they squeeze every bit of life out of it that they can, and then they just throw it back into the garbage pile.  Ska music never really went anywhere.  In the United States, yes it’s not as big as it once was.  There’s also a lot of competition in the United States, it’s the entertainment capital of the world so people’s entertainment dollar is pretty stretched to begin with.  I think this year will be our 19th year in existence, to be able to be shy two decades and continue doing what we do and have people continue to come see us play, is pretty mind boggling.  I don’t think ska went anywhere, it was just removed by the mainstream.  So, what’s the state of ska right now?  I couldn’t tell you.  I do know there are a number of bands like WATU, The Flatliners, and other bands that are playing ska and ska/punk, and people still go to underground venues to see these bands play and they enjoy it.  The reason ska music has survived and will continue to survive is because people like to have a good time, and that’s what it provides.  It provides a fun soundtrack.

LTJ’s most recent work is the TV/EP, which received some mixed reactions where people loved it but thought it was too short, or they wanted more.  What were the band’s expectations with the TV/EP?

JR: Our expectation was that we had talked about doing it for four years and we just wanted to fucking do it!  We just wanted to make our conversation become a reality.  I think people put more thought into trying to figure out what we were trying to do than we actually put into doing it.  All we wanted to do was something that was different.  Everybody releases cover records and does cover songs, but nobody that I know of has released an EP of all TV songs.  We wanted to see how far we could take the idea so we put it out on CD, we put it out on vinyl, we made a viral video of all the intros of television shows and commercials we found on YouTube.  I think our expectation was to just do something that was fun, and it was.  People are going to say what they’re going to say regardless.  If we came out with a full length record of original material they would probably say “Oh, well it doesn’t sound like their old material,” so we’d still get mixed reviews.  My father once told me opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and everyone thinks that everyone else's stinks.  I just let everyone have their opinion and appreciate the fact that people are still talking about my band.  And there’s always some dude who will come up to me and be like “So dude, I really like that Spongebob Squarepants song.”  Of course you do!  It’s a guilty pleasure just like anything else.  When you have a forty-year-old man come up to you with tattoos on his neck and say that to you, it makes it all worth it. 

LTJ is reissuing Losing Streak and Hello Rockview in March, what would you say are the benefits of a reissue for the fans?

JR: We’ve always been a little cautious on reissuing things because both of these records are considered our classic records, but we wanted to add a little bit to it.  What we did is back in 2007 we recorded six live shows, and during those shows we played each one of our records in order.  So what comes with this new record is the artwork, a DVD of us playing the entire record live, plus little extra add-on clips.  There’s a little extra value added to what it already is.  The reason that made me feel so weird about releasing things is that you’re asking somebody to  re-buy what they’ve already purchased.  Or maybe they’ve already stole it, or downloaded it, or whatever.  So we’re just giving the option for people who maybe didn’t get that record or wanted that record because some people still collect CDs or vinyl records.  But we don’t care, it doesn’t matter.  Go take all of our music for free, and come out to a show and buy a shirt.  People get so caught up in what it is.  For us the reissue was just to make it available to our fans because it’s really hard to find in stores. 

Sleep It Off Records is LTJ’s own record label, has the band considered releasing other band’s work on the label? 

JR: We’ve talked about it, but it’s a lot of work just to do our band.  To be a label is tough, because bands have expectations of what they can use and what they deserve.  A lot of times the labels don’t have the kind of capital that bands would think that they have.  In other instances the label might have the capital, but they want to spend it on bands that are building a profit.  Then, it would have to be a band that we all agree on.  We’re five pretty different personalities, so to find one band that we all agree on that’s still together, is tough.  So at this point we don’t want to be a label to anybody but ourselves because who the hell do I want to work for as hard as I work for my own band, that’s what it boils down to. 

Vinnie runs Paper + Plastick, did LTJ ever consider releasing records off of his label?

JR: We’re doing something with P+P in the future, but we keep that separate.  That's Vinnie’s thing, we all support the bands that he signs just like when he started Fueled by Ramen and we supported him and took the bands out on tour.  We’ll still do that, we still take bands out if they’re on P+P and it’s totally cool.  He’s got a great staple of bands that he put on there, but we do try to keep it separate.  It should be its own entity, kind of like Fueled by Ramen became.  You know people forget that Fueled by Ramen was started by us, by Vinnie.  And it’s cool, just start another one.    

When you consider doing a full length album, does the huge success of past album’s like Pezcore and Losing Streak ever add pressure? 

No, of course not.  You just write a record.  People put pressure on themselves, but in reality a record is an aural meaning, like an aural photograph of where you are at the time being recorded.  You’re not going to look the same in a picture when you’re 19 as you do when you’re 35.  So musically speaking, it’s not going to be the same thing either.  The only expectations we have are the ones we put on ourselves and they’re pretty high to begin with.  We just write songs and record them.  That’s what we’ve done for as many years as we’ve been a band, and that’s what we’re gonna continue to do. 

So many bands from WATU to the Dopamines list LTJ as an influence for their music, what’s your reaction to being such a huge influence to these newer bands?

JR: I don’t think any of us think about it, because we have those bands that are influences to us.  And as we’ve grown up now we’ve met a lot of those influences, and those influences have become friends.  We try to just not think about it too much, we just continue to do our own thing.  It’s very humbling and it’s a little embarrassing, you don’t really know what to say a lot of times.  ‘Thank you’ is a good thing to say, I say ‘thank you’ a lot.  I would just rather we hang out and be friends.  It’s not awkward, I just know what it’s like to be on the giving end of something like that and a lot of times you’re just speaking from your heart.  Then to have the person on the receiving end just walk away and not even acknowledge it, that’s tough.  That’s a shitty thing especially from someone that you put on a pedestal.  So sometimes it’s just better to knock yourself off of the pedestal. 

LTJ still creates this fun-loving and carefree vibe, but I think sometimes people forget the sacrifice and hard-work that goes into a band.  Would you say that being in a successful band is like having a full-time job?  

JR: It’s weird, I was talking to one of the guys in Off With Their Heads and he goes, “You know we were talking in the van the other day how difficult it must be to be in LTJ.  Sometimes you gotta get on stage when you’re bummed and you gotta fucking play Animaniacs or whatever.”  I never really thought about it that way, so I just kind of thought about what he said.  And yeah, it sucks.  Everyday is not a great day and life continues even though when you’re in a band you live in some kind of weird bubble.  Some days are just not good days and creep into the bubble and ruin your day, and you still gotta get on stage and play.  If you’re sick with a 102 fever, there’s no calling in, you still gotta get on stage and play.  I think the perception from a fan is that it’s a party 24/7.  They don’t tell you about the loneliness, they don’t tell you about the fucking fear, and they don’t tell you about the questioning that you do.  So unless you live it and experience it, it’s hard to explain it.  There’s always sacrifices, but if you don’t sacrifice then you don’t gain any reward and you just stay in limbo.  You stay very static.  We’ve never been a band that just stays static, we like to push forward and not look back.  We’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past, but you know, if you’re not failing then you’re not trying. 

I know this might be hard, but if you HAD to choose, what’s your favorite LTJ song?

JR: Probably “P.S. Shock the World”, the last song on In with the Out Crowd, for a couple of reasons.  One because it’s the last song on the record that a majority of our fans think is our worst record.  Also, it says probably the most potent things that we’ve ever said as a band.  And again, a lot of times people don’t look beyond their own nose to dig deep enough to find a tact like that.  That’s probably my favorite song that we’ve created as a band, it really encompasses how we feel after almost two decades of being in a band, lyrically speaking.

What’s the most common misconception people have about LTJ?

JR: To be honest, I don’t really read any press.  I try to stay away from it because people make judgments about someone without knowing the person.  I think the misconception is that maybe we’re stupid or we don’t know what’s going on.  Or that we don’t care and we just write a bunch of shitty songs.  That’s the stuff that we care about, we care about the music probably more than most of these bands that “care about the music.”  And honestly, I don’t think I even give a shit what other people think whether it’s positive or negative.  I appreciate it if it’s positive and I could give a fuck if it’s negative, but that’s not going to make or break me.  I used to have this misconception when I was a kid that I had to be nice to everybody all the time and not speak my mind because it’ll ruin my career.  And now almost two decades later, the only person that can ruin my career is me.  I’m not afraid of anybody and I think that’s the whole thing, we’re not afraid.  We’re not afraid to make mistakes, we’re not afraid to fuck-up, we’re not afraid to speak what’s on our mind, and we’re definitely not afraid of the repercussions.  We’re just us.  We’re not gonna put on tight jeans, comb our hair over, and start fucking screaming.  We’re still LTJ, we’re still gonna be LTJ tomorrow when we wake up.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mighty Mighty Bosstones Photos

Girl Talk

Picture this: A concert with 372 of your favorite artists collaborating and killing it on stage. I know what you’re thinking, this would be impossible even in your most jaw-dropping fantasy. Think again. Greg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, makes dreams come true from his fingertips by emitting fresh mixes of music from his top choice of musical instruments, his laptop. This Pittsburgh native is more than just a hometown hero; he’s out to take over the music world and bring our favorite artists along with him.

Gillis is breaking the mold of music, starting with his stage name Girl Talk. “It wasn’t a reference to anything specifically, but it was somewhat calculated in an effort to not sound like a male laptop artist. I wanted something very pop culture.” Not only is Girl Talk breaking misconceptions with his name, but he is reinventing the music scene altogether.  

Girl Talk’s latest release All Day consists of 372 overlapping samples of music, a number sure to overwhelm anyone. “It’s a huge project to really put together an album,” Gillis confesses. “It’s a slow process too. A lot of the work I do with the samples goes with just cataloging them in a system I can understand and having documents that reference where I can find things.” Organization is key for Girl Talk, since pulling song samples isn’t as simple as some people might think. “Going into the album it is kind of overwhelming, also in terms that there is 372 samples on the record, but there may have been a few 1,000 samples laying around on my computer. It’s just a matter of taking it slow, I try to be as calculated as possible.”

There are still bound to be some skeptics regarding Girl Talk's unique take on music. “I think a lot of people hear it and they say ‘Oh, he just layered together a bunch of pop songs and that must have been fun for him to do and it’s fun to listen to, that’s it.’ So when people think that, it’s a compliment in a lot of ways, because it actually is very detailed.” Girl Talk takes pride in producing a clean-cut album that sounds effortless. “I think a part of it for me is to put something together that’s really complicated, but ideally when people hear it, it just flows smoothly and sounds like a cohesive piece of work.”

Another thing that helps Girl Talk create a cohesive album is using a combination of the material he’s already made. “On All Day at the beginning with the Black Sabbath and Ludacris bit, that’s something I had played live many times, so I do which parts fit together and how it’s gonna work.” It doesn’t end there though. Girl Talk's final edits can easily turn into a ten hour workday of intricate transitions and minute details. “I don’t expect anyone to hear that and ever imagine the level of detail that goes into it.”

Being made from such an abundance of music, it’s clear that Girl Talk’s work is a reflection of his musical obsession. “I’m a pop music enthusiast and I think the albums reflect that to a certain degree.” You might be thinking Girl Talk is just your average music listener, what makes him so different from the rest of the world who obsesses over music? Well, think about your typical night and compare it to Girl Talk. “Last night I was just sitting around listening to CDs and jumping around on YouTube checking out different tracks. Going through the Billboard Top 100 from 1989 and just looking at those lists, finding songs I might be interested in hearing. I really enjoy going through all that pop music.”

It’s been two years since Girl Talk’s former release Feed The Animals, and he felt the added pressure when making All Day to prove himself as an artist. Pressure that he’d been feeling awhile now. “Going into Feed The Animals I really wanted to prove to people that I wasn’t a one-hit wonder or a novelty, this is something I’ve been working on my whole life. For a while, maybe a year after Feed the Animals, I honestly didn’t think I’d make another record in that style because I thought Feed The Animals sounded the way I wanted it to sound and I didn’t think I could top that.”

Girl Talk admits that it’s hard to avoid criticism in an age with tweets and blogs that share people’s opinion with the world. The added pressure didn't distract him from making a new record, though. “You never want to end on a sour note, that’s why it’s like every record goes further and further. Going into the new record I was focused on doing something that would be better than the last one, and that was the goal.”

How has Girl Talk managed to push himself further on every record? Well, he feels his level of detail in production has gone up from album to album. “When I listen to Night Ripper, it’s a record that I still love a lot and is still a lot of people’s favorite record from me. I just think the production on it is a lot more raw and a lot less thought out and put together. I think the stuff on All Day is a lot more calculated and I had a lot more source material that I could pick and choose from.” He also focused on not cramming every possible sample into the album, giving the samples some breathing room. “I feel like it’s a level of detail to really sweat over every bit and piece of it to the point that it sounds smooth enough where it doesn’t sound so disjointed and technically challenging.”  

Then there is the issue of controversy, which Girl Talk has been familiar with since he first began making music. “I think when Night Ripper came out a lot of people had never really heard a record like that before, so it was a novelty to people and they were really quick to dismiss it based on that. A lot of people were really waiting for that record to die off and never hear from me again.” There have been issues of copyright laws and infringement used against Girl Talk, however there has never been any legal action filed against him. “The way the majority of the public views it is: If you use unauthorized samples it’s illegal, end of story. But actually it’s a grey area.” Girl Talk is unsure about why he has never been challenged, yet he likes to think that artists and record labels are thinking along the same lines as him. “I think a lot of the bands now are excited about being included on an album, they see in no way am I taking sales away from them and it’s potentially turning a new generation and different demographic onto styles of music.”

There are people who are openly on the same page as Girl Talk, most being his beloved fans who turn his shows into blissful mayhem. Although Girl Talk is all about interacting with the audience, he does admit that as his shows have gotten bigger he has incorporated other elements such as flashing lights, onstage dancers, and a toilet paper launcher to help engage the audience. “I do truly have to concentrate on playing the laptop 95% of the show,” he admits, “but outside of that I like to just take my body to the limits. I like to go nuts. When I get up there, I wanna just work myself until I’m ready to puke.”

Despite controversy, Girl Talk still reaches a variety of fans, from college students to congressmen. “I feel like my lifespan in the music world is maybe longer than people expected.” Perhaps what has kept Girl Talk alive is the unique ability to stitch different styles of music together while also opening up the demographic of listeners. “I definitely want to make the sort of music that a 15 year old can get down to, a college kid can dissect conceptually, and a 50 year old can get nostalgic over.”