After a five-year hiatus, the perennially goofy Orange County ska-punk band the Aquabats will be releasing a new album.
Unless you've been living under a rock in the interim, you know lead singer MC Bat Commander (aka Christian Jacobs) has been busy creating, writing and directing the hugely succesful Nickelodeon kids' show Yo Gabba Gabba.
Like Sesame Street, Gabba teaches kids the basics about being polite, eating healthy and being OK with the dark, but adds a serious dose of hipness. Featuring a bona fide DJ as host, performances by established indie bands and weekly art lessons from former Devo singer Mark Mothersbaugh. I recently spoke with the Bat Commander to find out where this grown man, now in his late-thirties and a father of four, draws his inspiration.
OC Weekly (Brandon Ferguson): Weren't there rumors the Aquabats were going to star in their own cartoon? Was that ever in the works?
Christian Jacobs: It definitely was. We had been a band a couple years, and I got the crazy idea that we could be a kids' television show, cartoon, live action, whatever. It just had the makings of a Batman-meets-the-Monkees kind of show. That's when I got the idea to start pursuing that, and quickly we had a couple deals with a few major studios, but, along the way, we came up with another idea for a show and that show became Yo Gabba Gabba.
A lot of your work has either been geared toward children or (at the very least) the young at heart. Can you talk about the things that have inspired these projects over the years?
If you come to my office and check out the posters on my walls and toys and stuff, I'm just a big kid at heart. I really have a passion for young people's things and I don't think that's exclusive to me. I think I'm part of a generation of 30-somethings that still collects Star Wars toys and goes to conventions. It's my generation that made Comic Con huge. It's just being that first generation to graduate from Ground Zero of all those shows like Sesame Street, the Sid and Marty Krofft shows and being that first generation that got an avalanche of awesome children's television shows like Spider-Man and Superman, you know?
I seem to recall seeing you guys play with Reel Big Fish at Al Capuccino's in Fullerton back in 1995. I think you guys were wearing chef's hats.
[Laughs.]. You're right. You're totally right--that was in '94. I'm so stoked you brought that up. In the beginning the idea was every show we'd be something different, but we'd all be in uniform. I think we played a show at Checks in Santa Fe Springs (long gone), and that's where we had the rash guards and the shorts and the Buck Rogers hats. But yeah, I remember opening for Reel Big Fish at Al Capuccino's. I think we were all wearing baker's outfits. We had a barbecue out there, and we were cooking while we were playing.
You guys have a new record coming out. Talk a little about recording this time around.
We were without a label for the last two years, and we were like, "What are we going to do?" And we knew if we didn't give ourselves a deadline, we'd never do the record. So this summer, I said, "New record coming out December 1st." We didn't have songs, we didn't have any studio time booked...Fearless Records gave us a call, and we were like "Guys, we'll do it. You just got to delay it a little longer so we can market it a little bit." But everything fell into place right at the last second.
So I take it an album was recorded during that time?
It became a month of 60-to-70 hour weeks in the studio, trying to figure out what we were going to do. It was the most fun we've had recording a record, but also the most dramatic and hard. We were arguing with each other and fighting, then laughing and drama. It was lots of drama and lots of fun...It's definitely a departure... I guess what we came up with with is more Yo Gabba Gabba-meets-the-Aquabats. I wouldn't say the themes are about brushing your teeth and eating vegetables, but it's definitely a little more Dungeons & Dragons.
You're touring with Reel Big Fish again. Both of you guys came out of the hugely popular '90s Orange County Ska scene. How has the crowd changed between then and now?
That's a tough question, because it was such a unique scene in Orange County. But what's cool is you go places like Texas, Australia or England, and there's 1-2,000 kids just psyched on the music. Maybe it's not as much as a ska thing as they're into the bands and having fun. I remember in the '90s the ska scene was a reaction to the punk scene, which was super violent: just a bunch of jocks fighting each other and the whole Huntington Beach thing with the Nazis...but you'd go to ska shows and, whether you liked the music or not, it was fun. You could dance and no one was going to stab you and salute Hitler at the same time.