Huntington Beach band The Aquabats have never been your average ska-punk group. For starters, they play the part of a costumed superhero team, tights and all. Then there’s the scripted stage shows, the kids’ TV show — the Aquabats have a lot going on.
Earlier in 2019, they released their first live album, The Fury of the Aquabats! Live at the Fonda, placing into posterity the gig which celebrated the Fury of the Aquabats album’s 20th anniversary.
“The Fury of the Aquabats! came out in ’97 and interestingly enough our bass player was doing electrical at a vegan restaurant and Travis Barker [Blink-182, Transplants, former Aquabat] walked in,” says frontman Christian Jacobs, aka the MC Bat Commander. “Our bass player Crash [McLarson] was up on a ladder and Travis was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ Crash said that he was doing the electrical in that building. They got talking and Travis brought it up, that the 20-year anniversary of that album was coming up so we should do a show. Crash said, ‘OK, sure.’ We kinda coordinated it so that Travis would come and play a few songs with us. Hey, it’s the 20th anniversary and Travis was gonna come and play with us for the first time in 20 years, or 17 years, whatever. The point is, we might as well record it. We also videoed the show and we’re planning on putting that out in 2020.”
The band released the live album by raising money through crowdfunding on Kickstarter, despite the fact that, to Jacobs, it initially felt a little icky.
“I was like Kickstarter and crowdfunding feels like digital panhandling to me,” he says. “It was really the fans — they kept asking for it. So we dealt with a couple of guys that are crowdfunding experts. Talking to them, they really talked us into doing it. They said, ‘You’re giving the opportunity for your fans to become part of something special and something that they’ll actually have ownership in. Rather than looking at it as panhandling, look at it as an opportunity to let your fans be a part of something and make history with you.’ I think that was eye-opening for me because I never really thought about it like that. We were able to raise almost a million dollars and do some new episodes of the TV show for YouTube. It’s been really fun meeting a lot of our fans, so having them be a big part of this is something I’m really proud of.”
The Aquabats’ most recent studio album was Hi-Five Soup!, released at the start of 2011. It’s been a while then. Fortunately, there’s plenty on the way — part of the Kickstarter campaign involved funding two new albums.
“One of the albums we’ve already recorded and we released a single around Halloween,” Jacobs says. “That’s ready to come out and we’re just trying to figure out manufacturing dates, and doing something independently like that without a label has been a little bit tricky to figure out so we’ve been talking to some distribution companies. We’re looking at April, and we’ll hopefully be going back in the studio in February to record another album that will come out at the end of the year. A new video/DVD will be out. We’re gonna put out a ton of products that were featured in the TV show as fake products but we’re actually gonna have them available. 2020 will be a big year, for us at least. We’re setting up dates. Unbelievably, the Aquabats have still got some game.”
It’s astonishing to think that The Aquabats is now a quarter of a century old — pretty impressive for something that they themselves will admit is a bit of a novelty. Or, at least, it started out that way.
“We started the band as a joke, and every time we would book another show we would laugh,” Jacobs says. “We can’t believe that we’re actually playing another show because it was just a silly thing. Now, it’s spiraled out of control but in a good way. The positive spin is that we were trying to do something fun and now it’s literally fun for the whole family and not in an ironic, sarcastic play on that. We were parodying kids’ shows and superheroes. Back in the ’90s, we were thinking ‘What’s the stupidest thing we could be dressed up as in a band?’ and it was superheroes. Years later, superheroes are the coolest thing in the world. It’s fun to see Marvel and the studios turning a corner into acknowledging the ridiculousness of superheroes and all that, but we’ve been doing that a long time.”
Nowadays, all of the guys in the band have kids of their own, and having a dad in a superhero punk band is something pretty damned unusual to grow up with.
“I think I was the first to start having kids, and in fact probably having kids was what rescued the band from breaking up because my wife was ready to kill me,” Jacobs says. “But my kids really liked it so she said I should probably keep doing it. As teenagers, it was more like ‘What is this?’ Then realizing that it’s actually pretty rad. My son is 17 and plays music, and my daughter sings. I think the younger kids in our crew really dig it. It’s been really fun having our kids grow up with us as superheroes, and finally it’s that a-ha moment where they realize it was a joke the whole time. When I was a kid, watching Batman with Adam West was the best thing ever. As a teenager, I watched it and realized that they were totally joking around and it’s amazing. It’s fun having that same experience with my own kids.”
This week, The Aquabats play at the Fonda with Sasquatch-themed band PPL MVR and Dirt Farm. The latter featured some of the Aquabats’ kids — Jacobs’ son plays drums, and the bass player is McLarson’s son. It all makes for a fun family affair around the holidays. And in the new year?
“We go into the studio to record the new album,” Jacobs says. “We have new episodes out every other week on our YouTube channel, and they’re 8 to 12 minutes long. We’re talking about doing more this year. We’re just trying to see where the 25-year wave will take us next. I don’t know. I hope people will come out and join us at the Fonda because it’ll be really fun.”
The Aquabats play with PPL MVR and Dirt Farm at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 28 at the Fonda.