The Aquabats are southern California’s premier superhero rock group, having entertained & saved countless individuals for almost 20 years. As of late our heroes have found themselves the stars of a television series on The Hub Network, bringing their comedic style of justice to cable. Recently I was able to speak with Christian, known by many as the MC Bat Commander, about their upcoming Christmas special. Their holiday special, simply titled “Christmas with The Aquabats!”, airs this Saturday at 1pm ET/10am PT.
In our conversation we discussed the evolution of The Aquabats holiday special from it’s humble beginnings as a small live concert to a full blown television event. We were also able to go into a fair amount of details as to what can be expected of the upcoming episode including it’s many guest stars. Before wrapping up our little chat we were also able to briefly talk about plans for The Aquabats 20th anniversary set to take place next year.
Mondo: The Aquabats had their holiday show at the Fonda theatre this past Saturday (December 7th). I was there and it was fantastic. How long have you been doing these shows and what was the original inspiration to start doing them in the first place?
Christian: We’ve been doing them since 96. I think that was the first holiday themed show that we did. (The band has been doing holiday shows)Kind of since the beginning and it’s become somewhat of a tradition. Sometimes we’ll do holiday tours like a week or two weeks before the holidays. We always play at least one show in LA every year and it’s a holiday themed show. It started because they were doing a Christmas benefit show at the Barn in Riverside back in 1996. It was like bring your food and soup cans to donate to a local charity. It was a mission type of a charity to help people in need for the holidays. There was a toy drive, things like that. So we all brought presents for the drive but then I think we stuffed some M-80s or a M-1000 or something in a present and lit it on stage as part of the show. Like “here’s a present” and there was a wick hanging out of it with a lit fuse and going “what’s this?!” Then it exploded on stage and we incorporated it into some Christmas t-shirts with the little bat and a Christmas tree. Kind of like everything else with the Aquabats, if it works keep doing it kind of. So we just kept doing it, doing holiday shows. Of course transitioning into a television show, doing our first Christmas special, it seems like everything has come to pass.
Mondo: Yeah, I’ve been going to the holiday shows since about 2004 and for me I see it as the best Aquabats show of the year every year and it’s like a tradition now.
Christian: I kind of agree too. You know our friends The Vandals do a holiday show too and I think at one point we crossed over and played our holiday shows with the vandals. They did their Christmas show and then we did our Christmas show and then we played a show together. Then our audiences stopped mixing so well.
Mondo: I’ve seen The Vandals and I’ve seen them do their Christmas show before but one of the showsyou’re talking about is actually on DVD. Your set is only on there for like 30 seconds though.
Christian: That’s right. They shot that. They shot those shows. That’s crazy.
Mondo: So as you talked about those shows I thought, “I’ve seen this on DVD.” Assorted Jelly Beans opened up which I guess is really cool foreshadowing.
Christian: Mhm. That’s right. That was before Ricky was in the band. Ricky was in Assorted Jelly Beans and that was pretty much the show where we told him he got the job because he tried out for the band a little bit before that. I think that was the one where we decided Ricky was going to be our new drummer. It’s kind of weird how it comes together. And then Warren, guitar player of The Vandals, he also writes songs and episodes with us on the TV show. So we’ve all been working together.
Mondo: Cool. It’s like a tight knit little circle.
Christian: He was at the show Saturday night. There’s all good friends and fun and hey! (Laughs). Alright, Sorry.
Mondo: Speaking of the show on Saturday, you mentioned there and a little bit earlier in our conversation that you have Christmas special coming out. It’s coming out the 21st on The Hub, what can you tell us about it without really spoiling much?
Christian: Well I think it’s definitely one of the best episodes we’ve ever made. It came together really well. It’s a Christmas themed episode so it starts out with The Aquabats on their way to play a show before Christmas time and there were some previews in the show we performed on Saturday night. I don’t know if you remember but on the video screen the battletram is all decked out in Christmas stuff. There is a robot Santa Claus on top and we’re driving down the highway all in Christmas mode. We get lost and ask for directions in a town, in the episode we don’t ask for directions in Los Angeles we are at a different town. Basically this town has been taken over by the Krampus which is like the anti-Santa Claus and Christmas is now illegal. He’s taken over this town and anything Christmas or Christmas related is against the law and punishable by death or violence. It’s kind of extreme because Christmas has become a crime in this city and we have to help save the town. Ultimately the only one who can really save Christmas is Santa. There is a magical appearance by Santa at the end of the episode. Robert Smigel who wrote on SNL forever, did Saturday TV Fun House, and is most famously known for his work as Triumph the insult comic dog on Conan O’Brien show; he does the voice of the Krampus. Matt Walsh of Upright Citizens Brigade and Veep plays Santa Claus.
Mondo: That’s actually really cool.
Christian: Yeah, it’s an all-star cast. And a friend of ours named Jordan Burt who isn’t necessarily a household name yet but he’s on vine, he’s a vine guy. I don’t know if you’re on vine.
Mondo: I watch vine videos occasionally.
Christian: Well Jordan is one of the top viners I guess and he has some really funny vines. We were trying to cast people for the episode and were like “let’s look at some of these vine people, they’re hilarious” and Jordan just happened to be around. So we contacted him through facebook and did a really great job. He is playing a character in the episode that has a big role in The Aquabats escape the Krampus. Check out his vine, you’ve probably seen it before.
Mondo: I’ve probably seen a video or two because I watch those best of vine video compilations on YouTube. I have a question in relation to the show and the Christmas episode. I know (for season 2) there were 5 episodes shown and the last episode with the Anti-Bats kind of left things on a cliffhanger. Is this episode not going to address that?
Christian: The first season we had an order to do 13 in a row. So you have 13 episodes and you know if this guy comes in this episode and we want to bring him back, have a cliffhanger here, want to tie all the episodes together or do a season arc you can do it because you have 13. These last few orders that we’ve gotten, we did 5 then had a cliffhanger with the anti-bats and silver skull holding governor robots brain. Then we got an order for 3 and we just did the Christmas episode and New Year’s special. It’s tough because we do have a lot of things like cliffhangers to answer and bad guys to bring back; things left as unfinished business that we want to finish but again we haven’t really been able to get a solid run of episodes that we can string together. Does that make sense?
Christian: Getting little orders here and there has made it difficult to resolve cliffhangers and things like that but we have the intention and we wrote the follow up scripts to that as well we just haven’t shot it yet.
Mondo: You just haven’t gotten the order to do it but potentially when the order does come you know what you want to do and how you want to do it. It’s not like a cancelled TV show where you never found out how it ended?
Christian: I hope it’s not like a cancelled TV show (laughs). We’re always kind of waiting to find out what’s going to happen. It’s a fancy problem to have, it could be worse. We’ve been a band for almost 20 years now and we’ve been trying to make a TV show for most of those years. Now we are doing it and now I’m here complaining that we aren’t getting more episodes. Just the fact that we got 13 is amazing and we are totally grateful for but it has been hard to create the universe and not be able to fully explore it. It’s tricky but if it all ended tomorrow we would be stoked we got to do it and it was a goal (we accomplished). Most bands don’t get that opportunity or don’t fight for that opportunity at all.
Mondo: Yeah, I can’t think of any band that was a band first and then went on to make a TV show, not counting major stuff like the Jonas Brothers or anything like that. You’re the first band on a small scale to successfully do that which is cool
Christian: Right or like The Monkees which is what we initially starting thinking, that we could be the punk rock Monkees. We were a band first and made a television show that was silly and stupid. Whereas The Monkees was something they were trying to do. A network brought them together and they did screen tests. Not that they did that with the Jonas Brothers but the Jonas Brothers were a bit more manufactured than we were. We were a garage band who was like “let’s make a TV show” and a lot of people looked at it sideways and went “what are you talking about? You can’t do that!” I always knew we could and it took 17 years or whatever but it always seemed like it could work.
Mondo: Yeah, and I’ve been a fan of you guys since about 2002 or 2003 so I’ve seen some of the pilots. I was at your panel back when the show was first announced so I am familiar with the history and it’s definitely been a struggle that might have made the average group call it quits much earlier in the game. So the fact that kept with it and actually succeeded is really impressive. I don’t know if most people would have waited that long.
Christian: Yeah and it definitely took its toll on other guys in the band. People we started the band with and other people who were in the band got restless and left or they had enough. I don’t know it was just one of those things that became; I don’t want to say it but an obsession. (It became) kind of an obsession. It was kind of maddening; it was madness to know that something in your heart could work but it takes someone to help you do it. Like you need a place to put it out, you need a network, you need the money to do it, and you need a budget. We always wrestled with idea of “should we raise themoney ourselves, how do we do and how can we make it?” but we never stopped believing it could happen. It might be because Journey sang that song. Maybe, I don’t know. I remember they used to play that song at the ice skating rink and I would pump my fist and go around in a circle. So I never stopped believing. (Laughs)
Mondo: No you didn’t. You never stopped believing and it happened. Now out of curiosity, I know you do Yo Gabba Gabba as well. How did you balance the two back when did you did the first season (of the super show) how did you manage them both?
Christian: That was crazy. That was definitely the craziest year that I had being alive because we started writing and shooting for The Aquabats (Super Show) and then we took a break. While we were shooting I was writing episodes for Gabba. Right when we took a break we started shooting for Gabba and I started writing more episodes of The Aquabats (Super Show) while we were shooting Gabba. Then we shot the rest of the season for The Aquabats (Super Show). So it was just nonstop crazy work. You know it definitely did something to my brain, something popped. It was stressful, very stressful. I don’t want to say it made me lazy afterwards but I was definitely less motivated to pick up a pen or start writing. I just wanted to sleep for 6 months after we did that. Again, that’s a fancy problem. Like what a fancy problem, I’ve got two shows going on at the same time and I’m not complaining about it but it was very hectic. It was totally a dream come true and it was super fun. We had lots of help, obviously Scott Schultz of Yo Gabba Gabba was holding down the fort and Jason Devilliers on Aquabats was directing. Our buddy Nate Rogers was the producer and our buddy Warren (Fitzgerald) of The Vandals helped write stuff. Matt Chapman and Mike Chapman from Home Star Runner, those guys were helping out with both shows. So we had a lot of help, it wasn’t just me.
Mondo: Earlier you talked about future episodes already being written for The Aquabats Super Show. Out of curiosity what kind of ideas or episode themes could we expect to see; any new villains or any old villains from the rogue’s gallery?
Christian: Yeah, we just brought silver skull back, we wanted to do a Martian girl episode. We did just shoot a shark fighter episode and it happens to go along with the song we have called “Shark Fighter”. The idea was to bring back all the bad guys for an episode. We had written out a bunch of things we wanted to do with a second season and we were assuming the second season was going to be another 13 episodes or close to that number. So we had all these ideas but things don’t always go how you planned, especially with The Aquabats. You know doing Yo Gabba Gabba it’s been really weird because it seems like with Yo Gabba Gabba, no matter what happened, it always worked out perfectly. Almost like it was meant to be or like it’s blessed or something; whatever it touched it worked perfectly and whenever we did Gabba everything was great. The Aquabats has always been, from the beginning, very hard and you can never count on it. So the next season, season 2 and season 3, really they’re not really seasons. They’re just small orders of episodes. We haven’t been able to a lot of the things we wanted to do like bring back a lot of the old characters and to do a Sandfleas episode but we have one written. So we have a bunch of episodes written and ready. There was also a character that may or may not see the light of day but there was a character we wanted to bring in that was like a benefactor type person to the Aquabats. If you’ve seen the “Return of the Aquabats” episode where we come back from space and have the beards and stuff. The secret friend fixed the battletram for us. That secret friend was supposed to show up in that episode and other episodes as a new character in the show kind of like a Charlie from Charlie’s Angels; a guy sending us on missions, giving us money, and helping us out. That was a character that we wanted to add in. There were a lot of things we wanted to change and make The Aquabats missions bigger. The big idea in season 1 was we were kind of unknown, stupid heroes and people didn’t respect us. We were just wacky superheroes and the idea was in season 2 we would come back to earth as the saviors of the world and everyone is stoked on the Aquabats because we are the best. But then by the end of the season people figure out that we are the same stupid guys we’ve always been. I kind of wanted it to mirror people’s rise to fame in music, acting, or whatever. People don’t really change that much, if that makes sense.
Christian: So that was the idea with season 1, we are just these inept superheroes and yet somehow we blunder our way to saving the world from Space Monster M. Then in season 2 we are like the Supermen of the world and everyone looks up to us. Everyone thinks we are the best but then everyone starts to realize we are just clowns. By the end of the season they’re not fans anymore, they’re angry at us. That was something we really wanted to put into the second season but we haven’t been able to because we haven’t gotten the episode order yet. So now we have to shift and if we get any more orders for episodes we will figure out what to do but that was something I kind of always thought was interesting. Along the way, being in the band we’ve been able to see a lot of our friends become very popular and how fame has changed people and then regress.
Mondo: Yeah, I gotcha. So right now superheroes are pretty big, how does The Aquabats Super Show find a way to stay relevant being superheroes but not necessarily in the same way as what most people see in comics and movies?
Christian: Something we try to do in the show, we try to make the show competitive in a way that it can be;it’s low budget and live action. You know if you’re 4 years old and you’re watching the Aquabats super show and then your parents pop in the avengers you’re watching these super heroes that are incredible. Like Iron Man or Thor, they can do all this crazy stuff and they have this incredible budget to make incredible movies. These movies are fantastic and then you pop in the Aquabats and its low budget city. I think we know that and we choose to kind of go that way but we still want the show to be cool. So last season and even this season we really ramp up the stunts and effects like in the anti-bats episode with the stuff in the car and the drum helicopter. We try to be somewhat competitive with our superhero contemporaries even though we are the worst. We’re like the dumbest superheroes out there but we still have to be competitive so it gets tricky.
Mondo: Yeah, that makes sense. To wrap things up, speaking more so from the band perspective, what’s next for the Aquabats in 2014.
Christian: That’s the thing, if it was Yo Gabba Gabba I could say “we’re going to make another 20 episodes and it’s going to be awesome.” With The Aquabats I have no idea but I think one thing is for certain, we aren’t going to stop believing we are making more episodes. We’re not going to stop believing we are going to play more shows and just keep doing it because its fun and we have a good time doing it. We are going to put out a new record this next year. 2014 is actually our 20th anniversary so we’re going to have a cadet summit and do Comic Con again. Hopefully we will get to make more episodes, we love making the show. I know we are going to be doing a lot of touring next year. We are going to play a lot of shows because it is our 20 year anniversary but we don’t ever really know what exactly is going to happen until it happens so don’t stop believing.
Mondo: I like that and I think I am going to end things on that inspirational note.
Be Sure to catch “Christmas with The Aquabats!” airing this Saturday, December 21st at 1pm ET/10am PT. As well as their subsequent specials, “Shark Fighter!” and “Kitty Litter!” airing December 28th and January 18th respectively also at 1pm ET/10am PT on The Hub/