Going on 17 years now, Christian Jacobs has been the front man for the colorful SoCal band The Aquabats. During out interview, Jacobs describes the formation of the band as a kind of joke at a time when large ensemble ska and punk bands ruled the Southern California music landscape back in the mid-90’s. With their colorful blue costumes and stage personas, Jacobs (who goes by the moniker MC Bat Commander), bassist Chad Larson (Crash McLarson), keyboardist and sax man James Briggs (Jimmy the Robot), drummer Ricky Falomir (aka Ricky Fitness), and the group’s newest member, guitarist Ian Fowles (Eagle “Bones” Falconhawk), the assembled Aquabats are leaping off the stage and onto the TV screen with their new show, The Aquabats! Super Show! this Saturday, March 3rd at 11 AM ET on The Hub TV.
Jacobs is the executive producer on the live-action and animated series which blends music from the band, fake commercials, and super hero action in each half-hour episode. This isn’t Jacobs’ first time behind the camera, though: he’s also the co-creator of the hit Yo Gabba Gabba, which as you’ll see from our chat was instrumental in getting The Aquabats on TV.
Find out more about the show and check out an exclusive clip after the jump.
MTV Geek: Could you give us a little sense of the genesis of the show? Where did it come from and how did you end up bringing it to the Hub?
Many years of development with different studios and different pilots, and then a few years later we developed the idea for Yo Gabba Gabba, and then the Aquabats was still hanging around, we were always touring and doing things, trying to make the show happen—we never thought it was going to happen and once Yo Gabba Gabba happened, it pretty much gave us a second look with a lot of the studios that we’d already pitched to and we’d already been turned down. And we got a second look, but here comes the Hub and the timing couldn’t be better.
We love the Hub because they were never—I guess, hesitant is the word. They had no hesitation, they were like “Yes, we wanna make this show. Let’s do it finally.” And we were blown away because I think we’d been feeling the runaround and hesitation from a lot of the other kids’ networks and stations. Even though Yo Gabba Gabba had started to gain popularity, it felt like there still was some hesitation there, but the Hub was not hesitant at all and ready to do it.
So, kind of long story shortened. [laughs]
Geek: Now how do the experiences compare working on Yo Gabba Gabba versus The Aquabats Super Show?
Jacobs: It’s a lot more challenging. Yo Gabba Gabba is a sweet and fun kids’ show and we shoot on a soundstage and everyone knows the drill. People can finish each others’ sentences over there and we have our own vernacular and it’s a lot easier.
And making the Aquabats show, even though the band itself we’ve all been friends for years and years along with all the people on the show, we’ve all been friends, it’s really different. We’re shooting on location where it’s conditional, and it’s running one day and the next it’s sunny, and there’s schedules. And we’re trying to put explosions, and car chases, and mummies, and monsters and it’s like a whole different thing.
It’s been tough, it’s like try picturing [shooting] an indie action film every week—because we’re shooting single camera too, whereas Yo Gabba Gabba we’re multi-camera on a soundstage. So it’s a whole different challenge, but exciting and fun and satisfying.
Geek: Has the mix of styles and genres always been part of the concept?
Jacobs: The main thing we always wanted to do was make the show like Danger Island or some of the live-action Batman or live action kids’ shows. Because I feel like there are so many cartoons out there and there’s really not—I mean, there’s Power Rangers, there’s some live-action kids’ shows. But most of the live-action kids’ shows now are almost sitcoms, and there’s not live, capital letter “Action” shows for kids.
And I think there were several fun ones we watched growing up and that was just something we always wanted to do. The retro, epic angle really appealed to me early on and as we took 15 years to get the show made, tastes change and trends change and the feelings towards things change and writing the up and down it’s like, is this the right idea or should we add more stuff into it? Gradually the format became more of a magazine format, almost like Yo Gabba Gabba for older kids, where there’s animation and fake toy ads, and different diversions away from the main narrative.
But that was always something we wanted to do, to do it as [a] campy live-action, funky kids’ show.
Geek: In dealing with the animated versions of the Aquabats, was there anything in particular you wanted to see, or any particular exaggerations that you wanted to end up on screen?
Jacobs: I think for the most part, we got it. Eriko Uruma [aka PEY] The girl that did the character designs in the animation, she’s a fan from Japan, we met her in Japan and she started drawing these cool pictures of us in an anime style. And so we were like, “We gotta contact this girl!” So we’ve been working with her and she’s been doing art, so when it came time to make the show, of course, she was our first pick to have do the animation.
I think there’s always things in rushing and trying to get a show made you wish you did differently or had more time to work on the backgrounds. But I think, overall I’m pretty excited about how the animation turned out. And if anything, going forward I’d love to see more variations and different styles of animation. But with Erica, I think she did great character designs and she made us look really young and in shape.
And I love the way she exaggerated us in the animation. She gave us a really youthful flavor to make us a stark contrast from the live-action. And that was something we wanted to do: we wanted to make the animations more hyper-realistic than what we’re really dealing with everyday—what we’re dragging around behind us as we’re walking.
Geek: You guys look great in the show, don’t worry about it.
Jacobs: Thank you [laughs]. I appreciate it. It’s fun, we’re having a lot of fun.
Geek: You mentioned that kind of change that went into the concept. How have the characters of the Aquabats themselves changed leading up to their current incarnation and getting them into the show?
Jacobs: Yeah, I mean being a band that been together going on almost 17 years now, there’s been a number of different member changes and a number of different people coming in and out of the band. I think we did a pilot back in ’98 and there were eight guys in the band and we did another pilot in ’99 and it slimmed down to six guys, or seven guys. And now we’re down to five guys.
It’s one of those things [where] it’s a lot of guys, and gradually people quit and move on with their lives, and it kind of became this core five guys. Along the way things changed and streamlined creatively and the things we’re interested in now are a little different now than they were then. But I think overall it’s retained its general shape.
Geek: Did you have any trouble at all getting the band onboard with making a TV show out of the Aquabats and then doing this demanding gig each week?
Jacobs: Not really because it’s always been something that we’ve been shooting for as a goal. And I think going out and playing live shows, never being on a major label—always being on indie labels and punk rock DYI, and touring—we’ve always had great responses from small audiences and we always thought, “Man, if this could get out on TV and people could see what we’re trying to do on a bigger level, then this could really get out there.”
And we always thought that, maybe with the nature of the Aquabats being written off as kind of a novelty thing from the music side, we never really got a ton of support from radio stations or things like that. So we thought that the only way to really grow is to make a kids’ show. And maybe that was lofty aspirations and it sure did take quite a long time, but I think the band was always right there, and were kind of like, “Hey, if you can make it work, we’re there to do it.”
But then once we got picked up and once we got greenlit, I think that’s when some of the panic started to set in from the other guys who are incredible musicians but worried, “Can we act, can we pull this off?” And so we got a little help from Matt Walsh from The Upright Citizens Brigade, he came in and gave us some pointers on how to be actors and comedians and how to pull off comic timing and stuff like that. We did some crash-course training and I think we’re getting better, we’re getting better at acting [laughs].
Jacobs: I tried to keep it together, like “Hey, it’s going to be great,” but beneath the surface I’m always a mess. I mean, even before we play shows, I’ll get to the venue and I’ll be panicked because I don’t think anyone will be there. And then we get there and the show’s sold out and I’m like, “Well, what if we mess up?” I’m like that every show.
So definitely, beneath the surface, I’m always a basket case. And when it came to making the show, I put on that smiley face, but I’ve been incredibly stressed out. Because with Yo Gabba Gabba, I‘m used to being behind the camera and calling the shots and writing things and directing things with my friend Scott [Scultz]. But with Aquabats, I’m in front of the camera, and I’m trying to act at the same time I’m distracted by “Hey, I think that light is shining in the wrong direction,” or, “I think we should frame the shot this way.” And so there’s all these extra pressures and weird, creative things that I’m dealing with—it’s been a little stressful, that’s for sure.
Geek: On the music side, are there any plans in place to release any of the tracks that you’ll be putting into the show?
Jacobs: Yeah, for sure. I mean, there’s a couple of songs in every episode. And it’s pretty ridiculous, because we’re trying to weave music into the narrative a la a musical or something like that. So yeah, I think definitely. I’m actually excited to take some of these songs out on the road and see how they do, playing them out in front of audiences and kind of get a gauge on if our fans are watching the show or not.
It’s exciting because there’s always been a big gap between Aquabats albums—a lot of years in between—the main reason being that we could never do this full-time. You know the last time we were full-time Aquabats was back in our early 20’s. And so now being full-time Aquabats again, the guys show up, and we’re working on music every day and we’re scoring the show and it’s exciting to see what we can do now that we can work on the show full-time.
The Aquabats! Super Show! Premieres Saturday, March 3rd at 11 AM ET on the Hub.