The Aquabats are a band from Southern California who dress as superheroes and are also the stars of their own television series. In "The Aquabats! Super Show!," which airs Saturday mornings on the Hub, they travel about in their Battle Tram to play concerts and fight monsters. It is a show, in the old circus parlance, for children of all ages.
Recently, on the occasion of the start of the series' second season and a DVD release of its first, I traveled down to Orange County to interview three of the five Aquabats in their world headquarters, a small suite of offices in a Santa Ana office park. The resulting feature, which ran in last Sunday's Times, can be read here.
Present were Christian Jacobs, Ian Fowles and James Briggs, also known as the M.C. Bat Commander, EagleBones Falconhawk and Jimmy the Robot. (Absent were Chad Larson and Richard Falomir, also known as Crash McLarson and Ricky Fitness.) Jacobs, co-creator of "The Aquabats! Super Show!" also co-created the very popular Nickelodeon series "Yo Gabba Gabba!," which one might say is for smaller children of all ages.
Present as well was Joel Fox, an animator and filmmaker who works on both band-related series and appears as the Fox Man (a man dressed as a fox) in the background of every episode of "The Aquabats! Super Show!"
What follows is some of the rest of our conversation, which ranges over the band members' early days on the punk/ska/surf/skateboard scene, the influence of old TV shows, their heroes, their fans, and a few of the nuts and bolts of making their series.
What did you learn as musicians that helps you make television?
Ian Fowles: Before we were even in bands, we'd just go to shows, growing up, and try to be part of that. And no one was better than anyone else.
Christian Jacobs: It was part of that late '70s/early '80s punk rock, DIY thing. Also, I worked in skateboarding for a long time, too, so that's also very "just do it yourself, don't wait around for someone else to sign the check, just go get it done." We were doing skateboard videos, being in punk bands, touring. But, at least with "The Aquabats," even though we were doing so much ourselves, the one thing we seemed to be waiting on was the TV show -- we were waiting for somebody to say like, "OK, we see what you're doing, let's do this." Whereas with "Yo Gabba Gabba!" it was like, "No one is doing that, so we have to go do it."
James Briggs: We kind of missed the Somebody Else Doing It For You movement.
The costumes you wear now, how far back do they date?
JB: Within the first year the general concept was pretty nailed down.
CJ: The costumes were an initial thing. Myself and Crash -- Chad, who plays bass -- were really big Devo fans, and we were like, "Let's do something where it's more uniform." But also around that time there was that kind of surf band explosion, like the mid-'90s bands like Phantom Surfers and the Go-Nuts and Man or Astro-man? -- there were a lot of those kind of bands doing that thing, which I thought was really cool. But at the same time it was a little bit exclusive, it was a little bit 21-and-over, like, cool guys with cool cars and vintage equipment. And we were just surfer kids that were joking around. We wanted to combine Devo with surf music and ska. But we all came from punk bands, so the whole ska thing was more of a reaction to the scene at the time -- there were a lot of ska bands, like No Doubt and Sublime. Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris were all happening at the same time. And we were like, "Let's get in on this and just be silly about it."
At one point, we were trying to do something where every night you wouldn't know what to expect: One night we'd come out with suits and fezzes on, or the next night we'd be dressed like chefs, or in hula skirts. One night we dressed up like Abba-Zabas, like, black and yellow, and we just looked like candy bars.
What was the reaction?
CJ: The punk bands really hated us and then the ska scene didn't really like us that much either, because we were coming from a different angle.
JB: They didn't like that we were just messing around. They were so serious about what they were doing.As a band you played all-ages shows, and now you make all-ages kids' shows. You've always been kid-friendly.
CJ: I think from going to all-ages shows as a kid, like, taking the bus and going to Fender's or going over the hill, 'cause I grew up in the Valley, right in North Hollywood, so taking the bus over and seeing shows at the Whisky or the Roxy ... just that kid out there on the sidewalk with a skateboard that can't wait to get in to to see the Descendents or whatever -- that's always driven the music part. We never wanted to play 21-and-over clubs. We played a few in the beginning, Jimmy was ... 17?
JB: Eighteen or 19.