Christian Jacobs | RADIO DOWN!

"The Aquabats! are like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get." 


Christian Jacobs, aka MC Bat Commander, of the pop punk band The Aquabats! has one of the most enviable job descriptions we’ve heard in a long time. In addition to making awesomely fun music with his band of self-described "rock superheroes" for the past 16 years, Jacobs co-created Yo Gabba Gabba! (hands down, the coolest kids’ show on television). On Nov. 9 The Aquabats! are releasing their new digital EP, RADIO DOWN!, which includes a song with Biz Markie. After that, the band kicks off an international tour with Reel Big Fish. Amidst his crazy schedule, Jacobs took the time to chat with Playback and shed some light on the upcoming tour and the band’s next full-length album.
Where I am speaking to you from currently?
Still in So-Cal finishing up the final touches on the new album, then headed back out on the road Monday. Hopping from a preschool show to a college rock show; four kids in and I still haven’t grown up.
With the show [Yo Gabba Gabba!] going so well, where did the inspiration come from to get things together for the new record and to keep touring?
My kids are a huge inspiration; they kind of discover and rediscover The Aquabats! from a DVD made a while back that has gone though the networks and been passed around. My kids love it. They ask me questions like do you fight bad guys? The kids actually do respond to it quite a bit, so it leaves us with a feeling that there is still an audience and it makes us feel like we should do something with it; it’s a responsibility. We have to keep going and having fun.
What would Biz Markie’s official Aquabats superhero name be?
It would definitely just be The Biz. He is an enigma of a man. He’s a giant—he’s got to be like 6’7”. We’ve become pretty good friends over the years because of Yo Gabba Gabba!, and we were joking around about the new album and he of course wanted to be on it.
Any names or hints at other possible special guests on the new album?
We’ve been under such a crunch and tried to get other people involved. It seems weird to have one song with a guest and no others, so we wanted to go after cartoon voices like Tom Kinney, who does Spongebob, but due to licensing issues it just wasn’t a possibility to have an Aquabats song with Spongebob Squarepants. With all of the legal stuff it’s not fun anymore, and you have to fight with the network. But we still have a few days and are trying to throw some surprises on there. Literally, we have three songs left to record and we leave for the tour Monday.
Why was there a decision to not enlist a new trumpet player?
Aquabats really started off as a big joke and it still kind of is the sharpened stick of jokes. We were all friends and the idea was to put this super group together, and when people started to leave the band the decision was to replace our friends and change the energy of the band. So it’s hard to replace your friends with somebody else, and with the band being like 14 people at one point, then 8, then 7—it started shrinking. We didn’t want to tamper with the chemistry of the band with Chainsaw [Courtney Pollock] leaving, and Eagle [Ian Fowles] was a close friend so he joined up. Then when Travis [Barker] left, we replaced him with a good friend of ours Gabe [Palmer], then Ricky [Falomir] replaced Gabe. We decided it was best to not mess with the chemistry any further.
What can fans expect on the setlist, as far as mixing new songs into older tunes?
One of the challenges with the new songs, with production, [is that] we have kind of been going crazy trying to make a sonically fun record, but it becomes harder to play on the road. So we are going to attempt to do some new ones off the RADIODOWN! EP. We can’t make it sound exactly the same due to not having the same funding as a Lady Gaga or Black Eyed Peas, as a punk band. So it should be a good portion of older songs mixed in with new ones from the EP. The EP is kind of a transitional period, but when the new record comes out there will be a lot of surprises, and we will have more rehearsal time to figure out how to properly play these newer ones live.
Will 2011 be a big year for touring?
We have some stuff lined up. We are going to Europe and some stuff in January with Reel Big Fish, who, I honestly don’t know how they stay on tour constantly. Having family at home you get homesick real fast, and we all have families and we miss those milestones with the kids. I missed the first steps of my daughter and came home from tour and she was walking, and that definitely burned a lot! If we are going to go on the road it needs to be entertaining to us and not just playing the same old songs over and over again. Just playing music isn’t enough—we need TVs in the background and monsters fighting. It’s not just about the music; it’s about the whole thing. I am really excited about our new songs, but the album even more is going to make people scratch their heads.
How does touring with a band like Reel Big Fish affect your performance?
We have to scale back a little bit in some ways due to changeover between sets, but there are going to be a lot of diehard Aquabats fans there, so we have been calculating what we have to do setlist-wise and as far as production. By the time we roll out onto the stage, we will have it figured out.
Do you expect any collaboration between the bands?
We had some guests like Biz, and we have been friends with Reel Big Fish for so long. It’s crazy, we haven’t toured with them in forever but we’ve been really great friends. We have also known Suburban Legends forever and discovered Koo Koo Kanga Roo up in Minnesota, and those guys and just nuts! I could see us doing things with any of them on this tour.
What is a usual day on the road like during an extended tour?
I think it’s more special because we don’t tour as much, but for this tour we are going to try to do daily tour videos and make it a little more exciting than just one of the band guys falling asleep. It’s really boring until you get to the venue and play the show, because you’re just driving in a van and your muscles hurt from not sleeping well the night before. When you get to the venue and get to walk around and sound check it’s alright, but you don’t have much time to walk around and explore. It’s really super unglamorous until you walk out on stage, but we are going to try to make things fun. I don’t like to foreshadow, and you never know when we are going be done, but it’s more special when we do go out because you never know when it could be over. Touring is a gift; we are fortunate that here we are 16 years later, and we can still be touring. We are really lucky, so we want to champion it and celebrate it in our own funny way.
I saw the Flaming Lips a few months ago, and they actually had a large group of dancers on stage dressed up as DJ Lance Rock [host of Yo Gabba Gabba!]. How has what you’ve done with Aquabats worked its way into YGG?
The Flaming Lips have been really big fans, and Wayne [Coyne] kind of obsesses with all the Lance Rock costumes on. But we treat our production schedule [at YGG] in an odd way, like every day could be your last day. So we have costume contests every day; everyone behind the cameras is like, . . . “Monday is vampire day.” Anyway, the Flaming Lips came in at lunch time and we were having some kind of dance-off because all the costumes were really good, and when they walk in they are probably used to being the life of the party. Wayne was kind of like, this is where I wanna be!
If you go see Yo Gabba Gabba! Live it’s kind of like the Flaming Lips for preschoolers, with confetti and streamers everywhere. It’s cool to talk to bands through Yo Gabba Gabba! like MGMT, the Killers or Weezer. MGMT said they liked The Aquabats! when they were younger, and we toured with Attaboy Skip, which Ronnie [Vannucci Jr.] from the Killers was a part of. I still feel like The Aquabats! are one of the most hated bands in the world, but it’s better to have this group of really cool people that like us. I’d rather play in a small club with an intense crowd than a large arena with a lot of people that kind of liked the show. Last time we played the Firebird and it was super fun and crazy. It felt like a hardcore show and people were climbing all over each other because they couldn’t see us, because the stage was so low. | Bruce Matlock

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