The Rock City archives: 2015

Less Than Jake & Yellowcard, Rock City Main Hall

  • Saturday 7th March 2015
  • Supported by: Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!
Back

 

Less Than Jake are back!


“But they never went anywhere,” you protest. Well reader, in that sense you are correct. But this fall
they’re not only serving up their first full-length in five years, but—after more than two decades together—
also embracing a total back to basics approach.


Throughout a career that has run the gamut from self-releases and small indie imprints to large
independent labels and major music conglomerates, the band has always been more than the sum of its
parts. Now more than ever, though, they espouse their stature as a DIY collective that works together—or
at least in tandem with a few trusted allies—on every element of their creative output. Drummer Vinnie
Fiorello recalls, “We started out very internal, and nowadays we handle a lot internally again. ”


The result of their old school approach is the old school sound of See The Light, created without any
external meddling from corporate lackeys. “Everyone had their alone time with chords and some quick
structures; we all put our ideas down before we got together,” says Vinnie. “Then we sat at an octagon
table in our warehouse and went through: this is what we think about this song, maybe we should do it
ska, maybe we should do it punk—true band songwriting in essence.”


Not only was the songwriting a true group effort, but—like the three EPs the band have released since
2008’s long-player GNV FLA—so was the actual recording of See The Light, which was tracked entirely
at Gainesville’s The Moathouse, owned by LTJ bassist Roger Lima, who took lead production duties with
communal input and assistance from his four band mates and live sound engineer.


“Roger has been recording our demos since the beginning of the band and steadily has worked his way
up learning about studios from everyone we’ve worked with in the past,” says trombone player Buddy
Schaub. With no ticking clock and no studio fees piling up, the band used their breathing room to create
somewhat of a rarity in today’s prefab music world: a full-length album that gels as a complete thought,
lyrically and musically. Buddy adds, “I think this is one of the closest representations of our band to date.
We’re all really excited for this record to get out into the world and we can’t wait to hear what people
think!”


Like 2000’s release Borders and Boundaries, the new record was mixed at the famed Blasting Room by
punk rock legend Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag) and Jason Livermore, but don’t let that lead
you to believe that there’s anything same-ish about See The Light. "If you’re expecting retreads and
repeats, this record will disappoint,” exclaims Roger. “It’s all new songs and new vibes only recorded in
our old school way.”


While some other bands of a certain vintage are latching onto musical trends, you won’t find any dubstep
beats or vocoder distortion on See The Light—a title that nods to the band’s history of marrying dark
lyrical content (the tunnel) to bouncy musical arrangements (the light at the end). Less Than Jake aren’t
turning away from their roots, and echoing Mark Twain, Fiorello points out that the rumors regarding their
genre’s demise are greatly exaggerated: “Punk has been declared dead every year for 30+ years and it’s
still going stronger than ever. People like to declare things dead just because it’s dead to them, but if
bands are passionate about what they’re doing, they’ll attract fans who are passionate.”


As fits a band born long enough ago to now be of legal drinking age, Less Than Jake pulls in a multigenerational
audience, which Vinnie notes is often a family affair. “Our crowd now is 16 to 40, and I’ve
met kids as young as eight or nine. Dads bring their sons and it’s a weird rite of passage; moms bring kids
in saying, ‘We’ve watched you guys for 15 years.’ But will the band stick around long enough to draw in a
third generation of fans? “I don’t know man. I think our guys on that would be NOFX and Bad Religion.
When you see Fat Mike or Bad Religion hang it up, maybe: but like them, we’re gonna ride that
out.”We’re glad to be along for the ride. Hop on board when See The Light sees the light on November
12!

 

Yellowcard:

 

For their seventh studio album, Lift a Sail, Yellowcard had a simple but ambitious goal: to outdo everything they’d ever done before. The guitars and drums had to hit harder; the songwriting had to cut deeper; the choruses had to reach heights only hinted at on their previous outings. Frontman Ryan Key believes he and his bandmates—guitarist Ryan Mendez, violinist Sean Mackin, bassist Josh Portman and guest drummer Nate Young (Anberlin)—succeeded on all those fronts. “We really feel like we got where we wanted to be, and made a proper rock ‘n’ roll record,” Key says proudly.

 

Recorded with longtime producer Neal Avron at The Casita, his studio in Los Angeles, Lift a Sail is Yellowcard’s first album for Razor & Tie and by far their most dynamic, full of massive rock anthems and haunting ballads shot through with Mackin’s evocative violin and string arrangements. Young, who recorded his drum tracks at East West Studios, gives songs like “Transmission Home” an extra hard rock kick, over which Ryan Mendez’ guitars have never churned with more intensity.

 

After two of the most eventful years of his life, it’s the kind of emotionally cathartic record Key needed his band to make. In 2012, while on tour in Europe, Key met the woman who would become his wife, Alyona Alekhina, a professional snowboarder from Russia. By the end of the year they were engaged—but just a few months later, while training in California, Alekhina suffered a spinal cord injury, causing paralysis below the waist.

 

In the end, the tragic turn of events brought Key and Alekhina even closer together. Key was at her side for months in intensive care and through the beginnings of physical therapy. They were married in the ICU. “It's been an unimaginable challenge for us both,” Key admits, but his wife’s will and determination through it all has been an inspiration. “She’s incredible. She is by far the strongest human being I’ve ever known, and I know she will walk again."

 

Key’s whirlwind journey with Alekhina inevitably influenced the lyrics on Lift a Sail, as on the ballad “Madrid,” named after the city in which they met, and album standout “One Bedroom,” which Key wrote about the apartment the couple shared in Denver during the first part of her rehabilitation. Over acoustic guitars that gradually give way to an anthemic power ballad, Key sings, “You’re the one for the rest of time.”

 

It was just the two of us most of the time and that apartment seemed to be the only safe place on Earth for us both,” Key remembers. “We went through so much, we shared so much there. So the song is sort of a love letter…letting her know what she means to me.”

 

Obviously that was a massive life event,” he adds, “and as a songwriter, it’s hard not to put that down on paper. A lot of the record is about she and I and what we’ve been through.”

 

Another of Key’s favorite songs on the record, “My Mountain,” is about another important person in his life: his grandfather, a poet who passed away earlier this year and who Yellowcard fans will know as the voice on “Dear Bobbie” from 2007’s Paper Walls. His dying wish was to have his ashes scattered on a family property in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, next to one of his daughters, Key’s aunt, who passed away two years earlier. “As my grandfather was passing, in hospice, he kept asking my mom if he was on the mountain yet. And my mom kept saying, ‘You’ll be there soon.’” Key’s lyrics to “My Mountain” imagine his grandfather looking out from his final resting place: “I have found my mountain/I can be with her/When I finally came across/I recovered all I lost.”

 

To match the most profound lyrics of Key’s career, Yellowcard had to step up with some of their most risk-taking music. “MSK,” in particular, stands out with a sparse arrangement that sets Key’s emotive vocals against a backdrop of Mackin’s swirling violin and atmospheric keys and electronics, the latter programmed by Nate Young. It’s one of the few Yellowcard tracks ever to feature no guitars or drums at all. “It’s a bold leap for us,” Key declares.

 

Elsewhere on Lift a Sail, Yellowcard returned their early ‘90s alt-rock roots, finding inspiration in the dense guitars of bands they grew up listening to like Nirvana, Filter, Foo Fighters, and Smashing Pumpkins. Ryan Mendez’ raging guitar parts on hard-charging anthems like “Crash the Gates” and “Illuminate” channel those ‘90s influences into songs that push Yellowcard’s sound well beyond their pop-punk origins—especially when Sean Mackin’s increasingly sophisticated strings come swooping in to take the songs to another level.

 

We really changed lanes, I think,” Key explains. “It’s still a massive rock record, but there were a lot of choices made while we were writing the songs that were new for us. We continued to challenge ourselves throughout the writing and recording process.”

 

The song that perhaps best sums up that attitude is the anthemic title track, whose resilient lyrics (“If a storm blows in on me/I am ready now”) reflect both the inspiring determination of Key’s wife and Yellowcard’s increasingly fearless approach to making music. “It’s the one song that really encompasses this whole experience,” Key declares, looking back on everything he, his family and his bandmates have been through over the past year. “It’s saying, we’re ready for anything now.”

 

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