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Music

A Brief Conversation with Less Than Jake Frontman Roger Manganelli, In Which the Band and its History Are Discussed with Some Measure of Pragmatism

Posted by Stefan / September 28, 2008

LTJ Dennis Ho.jpg Less Than Jake wrote the soundtrack to my adolescence. In the diluted realm of the Greater Toronto Area’s suburban sprawl, where the GO Train offered cruise control to freedom and defining yourself against the mainstream was as simple as donning a band shirt, their snarling intensity and infectious ska sound provided hours of distraction and release. In retrospect, most of their three-minute anthems sound pretty much the same, and their modest talents probably retarded my musical education. How could I know at the time that after I left the suburbs my knowledge of punk music would expose me to mild ridicule in the illustrious pages of The McGill Daily? At the time, however, you couldn’t find a record that could make me feel more alive than Losing Streak.

On September 27th, I sat down with the band’s bass player and vocalist Roger Manganelli. Characteristically wearing a Pez shirt, with a baseball cap covering his dredlocked head, I wasn’t surprised to hear him announce that the punk rock scene “hasn’t changed much.” Approaching the venue, I had to elbow through dozens of fans lined up two hours before the opening band was to start, all looking like sixteen year old versions of my high school chums. While his assertion immediately conjured images of Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused – hardly a flattering assessment – he quickly acknowledged the role of generational influence in his band’s ongoing success: “It’s like anything else, people get into the music through their brothers or uncles or something.” Unlike the delusional and creepy mid-90s actor, Manganelli appears aware of his precarious role as aged entertainer of youth.

With over sixteen years of touring behind them, Roger laughed at the suggestion that the band might have day jobs, but tempered his dismissal with a dose of Puritanical frugality: “We live beneath our means,” he offered frankly. Describing his house as “small, but cool”, he went on to paint the perfect picture of a reasonable man. This did not escape my notice. In contrast to the relaxed and contented musician, I see myself living beyond my means, in what sometimes feels like a vain attempt to embody the more traditional version of reasonableness. When did playing bass in a punk band supplant law school as the path toward recession-proof stability and self-actualization? Perhaps sensing my palpable jealousy, he comforted me with a reminder that with all the time he spends on the road, he finds himself missing his “local Wal-Mart.” Conceding that the Zellers down the street from me is pretty rad, I opted not to inquire whether the band could use a respectable tambourine player in order to boost their credibility with the grad school set.

I was surprised at Roger’s willingness to present the band’s journeyman longevity as a product of unenlightened pragmatism. Dismissing persistent rumors that the band’s 2000 tour in support of Bon Jovi was the result of an early childhood friendship with the patently uncool rocker, he allowed that they were simply filling a void which other bands thought beneath them. “People didn’t think the tour was going to do well,” recalls Manganelli, “We were like ‘Bon Jovi? Fuck yeah!’” It turns out that they shared a booking agent at the time, and the thought of playing to a wider audience proved tempting. Despite representing the uncompromising ethos of independent label punk, they were willing to make some compromises: “We had to be a bit more innocent,” the suddenly earnest Roger confides, “We didn’t want to offend all the divorced moms in the crowd.”

The band is still making music. At least within the narrow sphere of Hot Topic shopin', parents' car borrowin', life-isn't-fair adolescents (and their uncles, apparently), they have the ability to generate a lot of excitement. In these troubled times of Wall Street crisis, and wolf shooting beauty-pageant vice-presidential candidates, that simple fact offers mysterious comfort. On any given night, a couple thousand teenagers somewhere are convinced that the band on stage just gets it. They're very likely wrong, but do you want to be the one to tell them?

Photo by Dennis Ho.

Discussion

10 Comments

S. / September 28, 2008 at 11:53 pm
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note: after i wrote this, i played a few tracks off Losing Streak. it's still awesome. and i bet Hello, Rockview would still make me all retrospective.
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