ORLANDO – Growing up in Port Charlotte, Chris Demakes used to feel like the odd man out at school whenever he talked about is parents’ profession.
He didn’t think it was the least bit unusual that his parents made a living as a cover band, touring across western Florida to perform at everything from New Year’s Eve parties to birthday bashes and Bar Mitzvahs.
“It was one of those things where a lot of kids would ask me questions about it and thought it was weird,” Demakes said. “But it was all I knew. I thought it was weird if your parents didn’t play music.”
Growing up in a musical family may have been what inspired Demakes to similarly pursue a career as a musician, and it was while attending the University of Florida at Gainesville where the singer and guitarist came together with Robert Manganelli (vocals, bass), Vinnie Fiorello (drums), Buddy Schaub (trombone) and Peter “JR” Wasilewski (saxophone), to form Less Than Jake in 1992, a ska punk band that’s built up a strong reputation for their albums and live shows.
Less Than Jake will be back in Orlando on Saturday, Aug. 11 when they perform at The Beacham Theater, which marks the band’s only Orlando show during its 20th anniversary tour. The event is going to be accompanied by a one-time-only poster show, which will feature 20 different limited-edition screenprinted pieces of art celebrating Less Than Jake, created by designers such as Horsebites, Joe Simko, and more.
Less Than Jake will also be celebrating two decades as a pioneering ska-punk band, and Demakes recalled when they first started out, it was a bit harder than it is today to find an audience for their brand of ska punk.
“That’s kind of hilarious in a sense,” he said. “We started in 1992, and nobody was playing ska punk in Florida back then. We were cutting our teeth in Central Florida redneck bars. We played places where the crowd wanted to kill us. We definitely cut our teeth in one of the hardest places for that type of music. Now it wouldn’t be so hard, but that was 20 years ago.”
Born in Michigan, Demakes moved to Florida when he was 7 years old, and his family settled in southwestern Florida, where his parents were always involved in music.
“They were your local cover band,” he said. “It was my dad on the drum machine and mom played tambourine. They did nightclub gigs and birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs and whatever else, and I was always around music. My first memories of music were watching my father play at clubs and bars. They played everything, all the standard rock stuff from the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s. They played in the Port Charlotte area. The farthest they went was Sarasota to the north and Fort Myer to the south, and they were always busy. I don’t think mom and dad were ever home on New Year’s Eve.”
Not surprisingly, Demakes developed a love for music as well.
“As far as early influences, it was everything that my mom and dad were listening to, all the stuff they had been playing,” he said. “Then when I got into my teenage years and all the angst that comes with it, I got into rock and metal, and then I met our drummer Vinnie in high school. He and I played in a high school band — we just played in our area and stuff. It never became Less Than Jake until we ended up in Gainesville.”
The band’s name comes from Fiorello’s bulldog, which happened to be named Jake, and which both Demakes and Fiorello sometimes felt got treated better by those around them than they did.
“They treated the dog better than our drummer,” Demakes laughed. “So we were Less Than Jake.”
After touring and performing across the state in the early 1990s, Less Than Jake released their debut album, Pezcore, in 1995, after issuing a series of independent seven-inch singles. That was followed by two more studio albums, Losing Streak in 1996 and Hello Rockview in 1998 on a major label, Capitol Records. Their fifth album, Anthem (2003), included the singles “She’s Gonna Break Soon” and “The Science of Selling Yourself Short.” The band founded its own label, Sleep It Off Records, in 2008, and continues to release albums like GNV FLA.
“I always age our band when I say this, but everything was pre-Internet back in 1992,” Demakes said. “The playing field was way different. You couldn’t go on line then and research punk rock. Now everything is accessible with everything being on the Internet. Everything for this type of music was kicked into the mainstream in the 1990s with Green Day and Offspring. That brought this music to the forefront. Punk rock is no longer a — no pun intended — four letter word, it’s a part of mainstream society these days.”
Less Than Jake as also endured, he said, because they put so much passion into their live shows.
“We’ve always stayed true to ourselves,” Demakes said. “We’ve seen every freakin’ trend come and go. But we’re still all about engaging the audience. If there’s a guy in the back, eating popcorn, we’re about making him aware of who we are.”
Less Than Jake is now on a busy touring schedule, doing shows every weekend in August, then heading over to England later this month for a punk festival.
“Then we come back and do a pair of Gainesville shows on Labor Day weekend,” before starting a tour in Toronto, Canada in September, and the West Coast in October, Demakes said.
The Beacham is at 46 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando, and can be reached by calling 407-246-1419. The Less Than Jake show begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, and tickets are $20-$35.
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