Beat on the 'Bats
So, until we meet again, remember: Don't take yourselves too seriously. Leave that to the all-important Billy Corgan." That declaration comes courtesy of the Aquabats' "Bat Commander" Christian Jacobs via the band's website -- which Jacobs apparently hasn't visited in a while.
"I don't remember who wrote that," he says, "but that's kind of a mantra of ours. Nothing against Billy Corgan, but we're definitely not the types that take ourselves too seriously. I guess that's a good thing?"
No one should accuse this Southern California six-piece of being too serious. At least, not when it comes to its quirky, theatrical metal- and new wave-infused ska. The most striking thing about the Aquabats is their (admittedly) ridiculous superhero uniforms, which come complete with capes. But Jacobs insists it isn't fair to pigeonhole the band. And how could you classify lyrics like "Pool party baby/It was a cool party/Cool pool party/Popcorn, hot dog buns, and hamburger patties/Millions of people want in to my party/But it's invite only/And you're on the list baby/Your pool rips/I cleaned it yesterday."
"Probably never before in the history of man," Jacobs muses, "has anger and angst and depression been so popular. Sure, I get angry. We get angry. The world is not a perfect place. [But] I'm not 15 anymore. Fighting negativity with negativity is just... stupid. But I'm sure there's a place for it. Not all of our songs are 100 percent happy."
Darker bands like Bauhaus, the Cure, and Devo do factor indirectly into the Aquabats' sound. Jacobs finds comfort in the fact that '80s music is now finally getting some respect but warns that people are realizing it through fashion. "The substance has always been there," he says. "Unfortunately, it's fashion that's leading people back to it."
For a band that wears matching capes and masks, that's an understatement. "We don't consider ourselves a ska band," Jacobs says. "But people think we are, and so there are certain types of kids that come and dress like they think ska kids are supposed to dress. We're not into discouraging people from doing anything. You can do what you want, but you don't have to be a certain way. Just be smart. Just read between the lines of what we're trying to say and do."
The Aquabats apply the spirit of their costumes and stage presence to merchandising as well. This month, they debuted the Aquabats stress ball, a squishy replica of their cartoon bat mascot. There is also a new, rodeo-themed coloring book by Brandon Bird, who, Jacobs explains, is also the author of a coloring book based on the show Law and Order. "Who would ever want a Law and Order coloring book?" Jacobs asks incredulously.
The band hasn't always been so smart, and Jacobs admits it's gone too far with merchandise and props in the past. "We don't do fireworks anymore out of respect for the Great White thing," he says. "Being irresponsible is not very smart. We wanna be smart and funny, not ignorant and stupid, so we've toned things down. We definitely had our heyday."
By heyday, he means one of their more ambitious but misguided merchandising ideas.
"We had a friend who worked at [an exotic] reptile distributing center," Jacobs explains. "We bought, like, 30 tarantulas from them, and we put them in jars and covered them and labeled them at shows. We actually brought a whole box of them into [famous L.A. club] the Roxy and tried to sell them under the table. The owner freaked out and flipped the box over and kicked us out of the club. There were tarantulas crawling all over the street. There could have been legalities, but we had a pet care sheet with it and a [consent form] so that if you were under 18, you needed your parents' signature."
After several years of label-jumping, Jacobs -- understandably weary of music-industry politics -- says the band is still seeking a label that is "unafraid" of the Aquabats' vision. He points to the Warped Tour as an example of the underlying politics of the game. This year, the Aquabats are relegated to playing three local shows in SoCal, instead of the whole tour. He expects many of the bands will be playing golf on off-days. Not exactly what you would associate with rock 'n' roll, especially punk.
"Well, that's what you would think," he answers, with a secretive hint of "there's a lot more to this business than you know" in his voice.
When asked about former member Travis Barker's current success as Blink-182's drummer, Jacobs is refreshingly honest.
"Well, I feel glad for Travis, 'cause I know where he came from -- really humble beginnings. He had a tough time growing up, and his mother passed away when he was in high school. But obviously, I'm human, so part of me feels a little envious, like, 'Man, I wish we had that much cash -- imagine all the tarantulas we could buy. '"
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