The Aquabats are 20 this year.
If that sounds crazy to you, imagine what that means to its members: That's 20 years of tights-wearing, gravity-defying, villain-fighting, rock & roll shenanigans on stage. Led by the M.C. Bat Commander, backed up by Crash McLarson, Jimmy the Robot, Ricky Fitness and Eagle "Bones" Falconhawk, this 'super'-team never really planned on staying together for two decades. And yet here they are: middle-aged men in superhero costumes, entertaining kids and kids at heart everywhere. Guess the adage is true: Time does fly when you're having fun.
Over the phone, the indefatigable MC Bat Commander (Christian Jacobs to you noobs) — lover of fast food, sporter of black, obsidian tooth and curly, drawn-on mustache — is pretty matter-of-fact about it. "We've never had much ambition to be a band, we were always just having fun. It's pretty ridiculous and very absurd that we've been able to do this for 20 years.But … pretty cool too."
The we includes a steadfast and loyal bunch of fellow heroes/musicians. Bassist Chad Larson has been in the band since the beginning, in 1994. Keyboardist James Briggs, since 1996. Drummer Richard Falomir joined in 2001 and guitarist Ian Fowles — the newest Aquabat — has been in the group since 2006. Jacobs says, "We all scratch our heads and ask ourselves, how is it still happening?"
Consider everything that goes on within an Aquabats show and that headscratcher becomes even more of a mystery. Jacobs admits that he still gets nervous before every live show, especially when thinking about its technical flow. "We have stage props and videos, and monsters come out. Once you get onstage, you can't say, 'Wait, cut, let's do that over.'"
Way back in 1994, though, the Aquabats' performance challenges were quite … different from what they are today.
"[When we started out] we were definitely more on the defensive," Jacobs says. Before riding on the 3rd-wave-ska heyday, the Aquabats would perform at punk shows with hardcore bands such as the WhiteKaps or HFL. "We'd be playing shows with these tough dude bands, and people would be angry, like, 'Why are these guys here? We hate them!'
"We used to provoke it a bit, too," he added. Not that the Aquabats were ever violent — quite the opposite, in fact. "Onstage we'd tell them to go do their homework or listen to their parents because … they're always right. HA!"
Jacobs' early anxiety onstage in the Aquabats' early days had less to do with what the band was doing wrong, and more about what the crowd was going to do to the band. "Like, will someone throw things at us? Is someone going to spit on us?"
But Jacobs says the mantra was always to try and put on the best show they could. "We were always trying to do something crazy to make people go, 'Oh man, did you see the Aquabats last night? They jumped a golf cart off the stage with dogs flying out!'"
That didn't always make the Aquabats too popular with the bands they performed with, either, who would more or less accuse them of trying to steal the show. Jacobs would tell them, 'Dudes … you're headlining. Everyone's paying money to see you. If you're not doing something to make people remember you, that's your fault. We're only getting paid $100, if that. So … we're lighting our cymbals on fire! We're going for it."
Ironically, the band's staying power probably has everything to do with its silly onstage persona. "We were never that 'cool' band, which is good because cool usually has an expiration date," Jacobs explains. While diehard fans have no problem imagining a 70-year-old M.C. Bat Commander doing backflips onstage, he's quick to add — "I don't even think I can do that NOW — I'm getting old!"
Still, many fun bands call it quits before they have to (hear that, N Sync?). Luckily, the Aquabats had a few brilliant maneuvers that helped keep them sane — and together.
First, they stayed consistently silly. "We always did the band for fun first. We really didn't do it for money, to get dates, or have a PAR-TAY every day of the year. It was just because we enjoyed making music together and finding ways to make people laugh and smile," Jacobs says. They also resisted following trends for fame and fortune. "If we'd wanted to make money, we should have done it when we had a record deal back in the day, when we had a shot at KROQ and MTV. We could've changed our sound to pop-punk or emo, or whatever was popping at the time. And flat-ironed our hair or something. But we always wanted to be who we were — a silly bunch of dudes."
Transforming the band into a TV show also kept the Aquabats alive. The idea of what eventually became the Aquabats! Super Show! germinated in 1996; similar to the Monkees or Jem and the Holograms, Jacobs and his crew eventually made a pilot for Disney in 1998 and pitched to various major networks through the last 15 years. It finally premiered in 2012 at the Hub Network. "We never set out to make $100,000,000 and buy a castle in Ireland like Bono, but our goals were realistic to us because they were always within our grasp, and there was always some kind of interest in it."
And in between playing the Weenie Roast, Warped Tours and early Coachella festivals, Jacobs had other projects, such as the hugely successful children's show, Yo Gabba Gabba. That meant the Aquabats didn't have to tour constantly. "We're all really close, like brothers, but it's interesting to see how many weeks on tour it takes for all of that fondness to unravel," he says. (The answer? About five weeks.) Going on tour just a couple of times a year keeps the band's energy levels up, something that Jacobs is keenly attuned to. "I remember watching the Smashing Pumpkins from the stage at Lollapalooza in '93 — before the Aquabats started — and they were yelling at each other between songs. I took some mental notes. I thought, 'I bet if they were all stoked on each other they would sound so much better.'"
And then there are their fans. Aquacadets are probably some of the most devoted fans around, and despite how cliche it sounds, Jacobs stresses how they wouldn't be around without them. (Luckily, they keep regenerating new generations of fans through their TV shows.) "In essence the Aquabats was always a band for kids and kids at heart," Jacobs says. "People that are perpetually young at heart are the core of our crowd. And as long as they're coming to our shows, we're going to be a band."
The Aquabats perform with the Interrupters at the House of Blues Anaheim, 1503 S. Disneyland Drive, (714) 7782583, www.houseofblues.com/anaheim. Fri. July 11, 7 p.m. $33. All ages.