Roger Manganelli and Vinnie FiorelloFat Wreck Chords
By Pete Bataillon on November 21st, 2013 at The Waiting Room - Omaha, NE
For over twenty years now, Gainesville, Florida’s Less Than Jake have been delivering unrelenting ska-punk tracks. Nine albums and a never ending touring schedule, the impact the Gainesville quintet has left on the scene is undeniable. Returning to Fat Wreck Chords for their ninth album, See The Light, also saw them headlining the annual Fat Wreck Tour alongside Masked Intruder, Anti-Flag and Get Dead.
Catching up with bassist Roger Manganelli and drummer Vinnie Fiorello at the Waiting Room in Omaha, NE, Pete Bataillon discussed the band’s longevity, their legendary live show and the new album.
Roger: Is this a radio interview?
No, this is getting (in tandem with Roger) transcribed.
Roger: **unintelligible banter to screw me up**
See The Light has been out for a little over two weeks. How has the reception been to the new material so far?
Roger: Pretty good. I mean considering that we’re starting the set with a new song and there’s at least a couple handfuls of people that are mouthing the words I think we’re doing OK.
Vinnie: By all accounts the reviews I’ve seen, whether it be social media or through magazines, most anyways have been positive. There’s been a few a bit “whatever” like there always is. So I consider it a success.
Roger: It’s only been a couple of weeks so who the fuck knows.
Vinnie: True. When the dust settles, people figure it out.
Roger: It’s not doing as good as Lady Gaga so.
Vinnie: Even Lady Gaga isn’t doing as good as Lady Gaga.
Roger: That’s what I’m saying and that’s terrible.
What kind of set list is on this tour? Is it a mix of new and old or are you emphasizing new songs?
Roger: We’re not playing anything we wrote before 2007. I’m just kidding. That would be a really dumb thing to do. That was a bad idea.
Vinnie: Dude, at this point, 21 years in, you have to play off every record, or try to play off every record. But, we have a new record out, so you have to play those songs too. People who show up to hear an ALL nostalgia set might be slightly surprised. We put three new songs in there and that’s a good balance when you’re talking about a 21 song to 23 song set.
Roger: We try to mix it up and make everyone happy. We’ve been following Twitter and taking requests here and there for stuff we wouldn’t usually play to try and make everyone happy. Try to make ourselves happy too.
Going back to Fat Wreck Chords, why did you decide Fat instead of Sleep It Off or Paper and Plastick?
Vinnie: Well, we worked with Fat for the Greetings and Salutations record and that was our 2 EP’s plus 2 extra songs and when it came time and we decided that we were going to do a full length we just kinda mentioned it to them “Hey, we’re gonna do that….”
Roger: They were immediately interested. He [Fat Mike] was totally like really liking the songs on some of the other stuff. “I Totally want to do it”. So even as we were just getting started with the writing, really, we already knew that Fat wanted to put it out. There were no expectations. It was pretty awesome. Like they never listened to a demo, or never heard it until it was totally done. That’s kind of an awesome thing too.
Vinnie: They’re happy with it, and we’re happy to be there. They’re good people and we have history with them and it’s a natural and sort of solid relationship that we have.
Roger: I mean we definitely learned that there’s only so much that 6 of us, I’m including our manager Matt in that. But there’s only so much we can do, you know. With Fat there’s another team of another 6 people that are talking about the Less Than Jake record or working it a little bit. So it definitely helps. Definitely more than we can do on our own. It’s a good place to be.
Vinnie: Here’s the thing, and Rodge touches on the subject. I don’t necessarily mind being the island of Less Than Jake. But occasionally having a ferry that goes back and forth to the main land every once in a while is a pretty good thing. Or building a bridge and letting some people come back and forth. We’ve been around 21 years. We know we’re a fairly self-realized band. We know what we sound like. We know what we want. But we could foreseeably do everything ourselves and stay in house. But sometimes you need some other stuff.
Roger: We’re just doing what they did in the 90’s. We’re gonna put a record out on an indie, then it’s gonna get picked up by a major….
Vinnie: Lock into a big contract.
Roger …Then the major is going to buy the indie out for the rest of their catalogue so they can sign the band. You know, just typical music business stuff man.
Vinnie: We’re back.
Roger: We’re back. We’re getting scouts coming out to the shows and shit. [laughs]
You were doing the re-releases with Sleep It Off. What were some of the pro’s and con’s of that?
Vinnie: Pro is we’re handling everything internally and we have our hands on back catalogue records and that’s a great thing. Cons, there’s no real con to it.
Roger: There’s no pressure on the thing man. It’s just simmering on the back burner, you know what I mean. It’s an easy thing to manage. There’s not really any problems with it. It’s cool. People that like our band, that know our band, that want some of that kind of more rare stuff that’s not the most popular songs and that kind of thing, the newer songs, then they know where to find them.
What does the future hold for Sleep It Off? Is it going to remain specifically for Less Than Jake or are there any plans to add bands to it?
Roger: I think that basically we were just self-releasing a record and we needed to come up with something that would identify that record label as something as our own or whatever. So we chose the moniker and had the logo on the thing. But I don’t think anybody ever thought that we would put out any other bands on Sleep It Off. It’s not that. It’s just our imprint, for lack of a better way to say it.
Vinnie: It’s better than calling it Less Than Jake records.
Roger: Less Than Vinnie, Roger, Chris, J.R., and Buddy records.
You’re several weeks into the Fat Wreck Records tour now. How has the tour been so far?
Roger: It’s been pretty solid man. It’s been pretty fun. The bands have been having a good time. The shows have been pretty good. All except for Get Dead flipping their van, it’s been a flawless tour.
Vinnie: I agree. I wasn’t really familiar with Get Dead prior to this tour. They’re good dudes and a good band live. Masked Intruder, they’re a good band as well and fun. That’s an important thing, their fun live show. And Anti-Flag, we’ve played with a bunch before and they’ve been our friends for a long time. So while occasionally I don’t back the rhetoric, I back their passion for the rhetoric. So kudos to them for it. Great live band too.
There’s usually something that goes on on-stage during your set to make it a pretty special show. What can people expect on this tour?
Vinnie: I think we topped out last night man.
Roger: Last night was a little over the top last night.
Vinnie: Two double beer drinking contests that led to someone puking….
Roger: Hold on. Let me. The two guys in question may or may not be on the tour. But they were wearing black masks so you couldn’t see who they were and they had a two beer at the same time double beer drinking contest which tied. So then the tie breaker was a tall can. Now, unbeknownst to some people, one of the guys got his knife out and put a shotgun in the top of his tall can so he could just shotgun it. After maybe half the beer of that contest started, he started vomiting on stage. It was fantastic.
(Buddy from the side:) Almost on Roger’s shoes.
Vinnie: And then after that, the one guy tackled the other guy and they proceeded to roll in the vomit. Go figure.
Roger: It was a good time had by all.
Vinnie: I think we hit the plateau that night. I can’t really say anything is gonna happen tonight because it just hit the grandest mountain top of the mountain last night.
Roger: It’s good stuff.
Does it change from night to night or do you have anything you do every show?
Roger: We’ve never had anything really planned aside from The Price Is Right tour or something. We just go up there and see what happens and goof around and do our thing.
Vinnie: It depends on the crowd to, you know. If the crowd doesn’t want to have the fun and they don’t want to get that energy into it, there’s only so much you can try to force this thing to happen.
The juxtaposition of these songs and the lyrics are very heartfelt and anthem-like mixing with a fun live show. Someone sitting at home can really take it to heart but it’s mixed with this fun atmosphere live.
Vinnie: Live and recorded Less Than Jake have always been two different animals. I think that maybe stands to have some reason for some of our longevity because there is something that you can take away that is a bit more intellectual, and a bit more heartfelt, and a bit more emotional when you’re sitting at home and you’re sort of soaking it all in. But when you come to see us live, or any other band live, it should be entertaining and it should be fun. You’re coming there to celebrate, not to necessarily mull over bad things.
Roger: I mean, I wanted to all have eyeliner and candles on and be very somber between the songs and only play the saddest songs that we have and have the horns have mutes on them so that it sounded very sad. But we decided to have fun at the shows instead, go figure.
Vinnie: Rodge wanted two backing gospel singers.
Roger: I actually didn’t want horns, I wanted two cello players to add to the somberness of it. Na man, that’s the dichotomy and that’s the beautiful thing. We have songs that say something, that mean something, that can stick with you, and that kind of thing. But we’re just dudes that get to play music and we have fun. We love our songs and we put our hearts into our songs. But you know, playing a show, that energy transfer has got to be a fun experience.
While there are songs on See The Light that are in the style of past Less Than Jake songs that Less Than Jake fans are going to be familiar with, you added some elements that really show through on the record. For example, on “John the Baptist Bones”, there’s almost a Caribbean vibe to it. Is there any special place where that came from?
Roger: Well, you know, there’s been a couple songs that have had kind of calypso breakdowns and that’s something that we’ve sort of dabbled with. Our sax player J.R. kind of conceptualized a lot of that song and it definitely came from a different place and time. So it’s a little bit different but not really. Once the distortion kicks on and the chorus is going, than it just feels like a Less Than Jake song. Like a “normal thing”. It’s songwriting man, you gotta experiment a little bit, you gotta stretch it a little bit, and try some different stuff you know.
Vinnie: Dude it’s funny because it’s sort of how it works. You have this idea and you bring the idea in and J.R. brought that particular sort of shell in. What the shell was and what it turns into is a totally different thing. We have to run it through our collective filter. The same thing lyrically, and chords, and choruses, and verses get run through 5 dude filter because everyone wants to have that fingerprint on that song and wants to have their personal thing to it. So J.R. brought that in, but it was a decidedly way different vibe and kind put in the bowl and everyone takes a turn stirring it and you get out what you get out which is a decidedly Less Than Jake song, but with this other flourish to it that we’ve never done or done in passing. Which is cool, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to dabble and have different paintbrushes.
Roger: This record more than usual, everyone else was mixed in everyone else’s business. Our band’s weird. When we’re writing songs it’s OK for the trombone player to say, “hey you shouldn’t do such a fast bass line there”, or it’s OK for the bass player to say, “hey, that fill shouldn’t be as long”, or it’s OK for the drummer to say, “dude, that guitar part should be a little….”. We all stick our fingers in everyone’s business when it comes to music.
Vinnie: 5 guy filter. We gotta pass it through.
[Buddy is off to the side cleaning himself up]
Roger: I tell Buddy every note to play. Then he says “No”. [laughs]
Vinnie: He says, “Don’t tell me how to shave.”
Roger: 5 guy filter.
Vinnie: 5 guy filter.
[To Vinnie] You have a history of writing lyrics that have a tendency to inspire people and reach out and pull someone through whatever they’re going through; providing personal anthems. That theme seems to come through on this record to. As a lyricist, where do you draw from to continue to write those kinds of lyrics as years go by?
Vinnie: You know what, on this record it was very weird because I just became a new dad, Rodge became a new dad two years ago. While my daughter didn’t inspire those lyrics, kind of thinking about the future and thinking about what she’s going to read about what we do and how we do it and things like that kind of paints a different picture. We started this record out and when we started writing, it was right early on that we were like “It has to be a bit more positive. It has to be that light at the end of the tunnel thing. It can’t be this dark cloud.” Some of our stuff has been decidedly dark cloud, especially In With The Out Crowd; a lot of dark imagery on GNV FLA, you know. This record man, it’s a happier time dude. If we’re alive and we’re breathing man, that’s a good thing man. There’s so much shit on TV and coming at you constantly of bad news, and bad, and the economy, and everything. The lyrics on this are inspired by a lot of what’s going on outside of the band, but also because of being new dads and thinking about what the future should be or could be. It adds that extra inspiration to kind of bring to it. So each record there’s something maybe internal that happens and you just kind of pull the external in and you kind of use that as inspiration and go with it. With Rodge’s son and my daughter, you start to kind of internalize and it shouldn’t be this dark cloud, we should talk, it’s good times man. I’m proud to be a dad, and I know Rodge is proud to be a dad, and talk about the future; the future being good, not the future being bad. Even though we may be talking about the present being bad, but it always winds up being the future being better than the present.
Roger: Yeah man, just having that common theme through the whole record too. In a nutshell the whole thing is not a concept record but enough things that are relatable within the songs. It helps get that message through the cracks and in between the lines and stuff. That’s why people say it’s been five years since we made a record, because the last time we made a full album like that, there was some sort of thought behind the way it was going to glue together and what you’re going to get out of it after listening to it for a half hour, the whole thing.
[To Roger] You recorded See The Light at your studio, Moathouse.
Roger: Sure did.
I noticed a difference in the sound, and that it has progressed from the records of some of the bands that you have recorded in the past.
Roger: Yeah, well there’s a bunch of stuff going on that helps it out.
Were you doing that all amongst yourselves or did you bring anyone in?
Roger: No, I kind of rebuilt the studio to some degree. It takes up the entirety of the house and I’m using different rooms that I never used before. That’s the first time that we recorded in that configuration. That kind of did a lot for the initial sound of the thing. Honestly man, the playing factor is another thing to. Some of those other bands that I record, they all play pretty good and it’s easier to capture. We had four weeks to figure it out too. That’s a lot longer to get a guitar sound than a lot of the punk rock stuff. You know what I mean? It was just a little bit more care. Some experience, some having the time. Also having the songs really figured out before we even step foot in the studio. That’s another huge factor. We really had the songs pretty much done, aside from maybe a second verse lyric or something in the rehearsal space before we even went into the studio. So when we got there we started working. So that has something to do with it too, being really well prepared. But for sure man, Jason Livermore mixed it at The Blasting Room and that’s the first thing that I’ve had mixed at The Blasting Room that I recorded. The guy is incredibly talented. I don’t even know if he knocked it out of the park or not, because it’s the first thing he’s done that I’ve recorded, but it fucking sounds amazing. I know I have some good gear and that kind of crap, but man it sounds really good.
What’s up next for the band after this tour is done?
Vinnie: We’ve got the holiday, and then January and February is going to be the UK with Reel Big Fish and Zebrahead. Then we come home for a tiny bit and then go over to Australia for the Soundwave festival. Then after that….
Roger: Maybe some tour. Maybe some long thing.
Vinnie: Maybe some long summer tour.
Roger: Something. The other thing too is that I think that we’ll kind of continue to shove See The Light down people’s throats for a while because I feel like there’s a bunch of songs on there that kind of deserve a chance for people to kind of identify with. You know, the first song was “Long Shot” and it was kind of like a re-intro of the band. It had some ska elements, and it’s a little bit different, you know. We have plans to kind of keep doing that. I think we’ll try to make another video that will come out sometime early next year and then sometime before the summer have some really fucking cool video that people are like, “Wow” and to have one of the songs that we feel is really strong to support that and kind of keep pushing it along. Wait to get that arena offer opening for…..
Vinnie: Going out on tour with Paramore and The Offspring. Na.
Roger: Playing at the Enormodone or whatever. Na man, just hanging out. Having fun. Touring. Playing shows. There has been some discussion about the HDTV EP, possibly putting a little bit of time into that project.
What would that entail?
Roger: Have you ever heard the TV EP?
Roger: Well that would be similar to the EP, but in HD, and maybe some more songs.
Some different songs?
Roger: Yeah yeah, different songs. Like maybe some different songs on the TV kind of thing.
Then Vinnie and J.R. have a side project called Scared To Fart and they’re in pre-production right now.
Vinnie: It’s like fast hardcore. 80’s inspired hardcore. It’ll be a good one.
Any chance of another Rehasher record coming out?
Roger: Possibly yeah. I have a bunch of songs and I’m just kind of trying different drummers, and doing different things with them.
Oh yeah, Jake moved didn’t he?
Roger: Yeah he moved, and I don’t really want to do all super blast beat stuff anymore anyways. I finished a record with my friend Jen called Greenhorn and that should be out in a couple months or something. It’s just an EP that we did together. So yeah, just trying to make other stuff when we have time, but it’s all on the side kind of stuff but it’s fun.
Seems like everybody has stayed busy in the last 5 years.
Roger: Coffee it up and get something done. If I don’t feel like I did something in a day I feel pretty crappy. In this kind of thing, it’s really easily to not be motivated. Like “Oh, we’re not on tour, we’re not writing a record, I’m not doing shit.” But none of us have that kind of personality really. It’s fun to do shit. It’s fun to make fucking crazy acrylic skulls.
Roger: It’s fun to record my friends’ band from Orlando and call it work.
Vinnie: Truth on that man.
Roger: Yeah man.
Anything you want to add?
Roger: Less Than Jake continues enjoy the ride 20 years in.
Someone from the side: Don’t lie to him.
Roger: Alright, it sucks, it’s horrible, I’m outta here, this interview is over!