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The first time I met the ska band GOGO13, they gave me free coconut ice cream. Actually, I didn't feel all that special; the band, dressed as soda jerks in overalls and aprons, were giving everyone Longboard ice-cream bars in the Press Box parking lot while waiting to go onstage.
"We just like to give away things for free," says lead singer Parker Jacobs. "People are always happier when we give them ice cream." Sometimes, they give away boxes of breakfast cereal. "One of our songs is about cereal, and everyone uses it as a shaker," Jacobs says. But Longboard uses GOGO13's music for its commercials, so it's a natural giveaway. "We're not really good business people," Jacobs mused.
"People come to the shows because we do this stuff; otherwise, we could just hang out at our house and listen to the CDs really loud," guitarist Johnny Beutler says.
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"Maybe it's because our music can't stand on its own merit!" Jacobs adds, laughing.
GOGO13's silly, pop-ska tunes are vehicles of happiness, with monster voices and toy instruments, sing-alongs and lessons for everyone. There are a lot of kid-friendly lyrics; "Es-Ploded," "I Like It" and "Big Red Cup" are all variations on gustatory themes. "Everything comes from Parker's crazy mind," keyboardist Ryan Blake says. "We open it with a can opener, and nonsense comes out. He's the genius behind it."
The mystery for GOGO13, who formed in the early 1990s, is why they're not more popular. Until 2013, they haven't played in this century all that much. Their debut album (yes! Their first!), I Like It, was released just last year.
GOGO13's close ties with the Aquabats and Yo Gabba Gabba! make that lack of fame even more inexplicable. In the 1990s, brothers Tyler and Parker Jacobs formed the original GOGO13 in Utah, naming the band after Japanese manga series Golgo 13.
"We got a whole bunch of people together, and when my older brother Christian saw it, he said, 'I could do that!'" Parker Jacobs says. And that was the inspiration for Christian to form the legendary ska band the Aquabats.
GOGO13 and the Aquabats not only shared the same DNA, but also songs, band members and resources. "I toured with the Aquabats as the Professor for many years," Jacobs says. "I played villains, too, but I also helped with music, sang backup, managed the stage show, designed merch and ran the fan club."
Most important, the two bands shared a vision: the idea that as a band, they had to do something more entertaining than just play music. "We used to have our guitar player that would always die — we'd use blood capsules onstage," Jacobs says.
Today GOGO13's lineup consists of Jacobs as the lead soda jerk, Beutler on guitar, Erin Ashley on saxophone, Paul Kloepfer on the drums, Blake on bass and keyboards, The Grik (née Garrick Hargrove) on bass, and Jared Scott on farfisa. And they're looking at the band as more than a hobby.
"It took 20 years to finally make an album, so we finally put it out, and we decided to finally tour," Jacobs says. The impetus for both came from Jacobs' recent divorce. But it's not a coincidence that another family effort was the vehicle for GOGO13's biggest hit.
"Pick It Up," a song about putting your toys away, is big with the 5-and-younger set, having been featured on Yo Gabba Gabba!, which was created by Christian. (Parker is the art director, and Tyler is the creative director.) "I guess the success of Yo Gabba Gabba! also got [the revitalized GOGO13] going," Jacobs says.
The songs on I Like It cover a 10-year expanse of GOGO13's songwriting, and it was worth the wait, Beutler says. "We never really felt happy with anything [we recorded]," he says. "The Aquabats did a professional album, and for us to do demos in our garage . . . the quality never made us happy. So then we waited for technology to catch up."
Playing random shows also means that fans are always eagerly awaiting performances, which most recently included a stint on the 2012 Warped tour and at the OC Music Awards. "Every time we play, we do well," Jacobs says. "I think that's because of the Aquabats' success. We toured Warped Tour, and we didn't have an album. That was the awesomest thing ever."