Let's face it. For kids who idolize their rock and roll heroes, can you really look up to a bunch of skinny little guys The Vines? Wouldn't be better to worship at the altar of some REAL superheroes? Then look no further than The Aquabats. This California band is one of rock's best kept secrets. Combining great music with superhero alter-egos, The Aquabats are busy saving the universe, one set of ears at a time.
Rising out of the ashes of the punk and ska scene, The Aquabats craft rock that's fun but also memorable. The antics are not at the expense of good music. Their latest record Charge! is a collection of the wackiest and most galvanizing nerd anthems ever. No regular pop fodder here. Consider titles like "Tiger Rider vs. the Time Sprinkler" and "Stuck in a Movie" and you just know you're not dealing with the average rock band.
My daughter Kaylie is the one that got me into The Aquabats so it was only proper I dragged her along when the band was playing Montreal recently. We had the opportunity to interview the band's vocalist and de facto leader, MC Bat Commander. As was the case with many of the band's fans, Kaylie came to the show in her alter-ego of Captain Shockwave, sans costume as she was on her day off. As was to be expected from such an entertaining bunch, Bat Commander proved to be a great interview, obviously loving the road and more importantly getting to convene with the band's ever growing legion of fans. Look for a live review to follow shortly.
MC BAT COMMANDER: Love it, awesome. (pointing to Kaylie's home-made shirt) I like her shirt --- floating brain, cool. Homemade lobotomy kit. I like it. You're Captain Shockwave? Cool. I'm in my disguise now too. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: Is there a mission statement for the Aquabats?
MC BAT COMMANDER: I don't know. I think the mission statement for this summer might have to do with…I don't know. Survival. Hanging in there. Let's make it work. I don't know what the mission statement for The Aquabats is. That's a good question. That's a hard question. Give me something easy.
antiMUSIC: Are you superheroes --- super-villains or something in between?
MC BAT COMMANDER: I think we're more like action heroes because, we're not really quite super.
antiMUSIC: I mean it's hard to tell. You seem like you're on our side but this could be your master plan in that you're drawing us in as part of a large evil plot for world domination?
MC BAT COMMANDER: Well that's interesting because we have had that response from people before. Maybe we're super villains. I assure you people, we're good to go. We will fight evil and help fight people. Fight the good fight. We're available for help. And then if you have a chance to come and see our band. We're kinda like superheroes in our part time. But not super, action…we're action heroes.
antiMUSIC: Like Ninjas?
MC BAT COMMANDER: Kind of, with less money. A lot . Less ninja skills. More like sarcasm, wit. We use our wit.
antiMUSIC: Can you introduce the band for those that don't know you?
MC BAT COMMANDER: There's myself, MC Bat Commander, and then there's keyboardist Jimmy the Robot, who you met earlier with the yellow shirt on. Then there's Crash MacLarson who plays bass. Ricky Fitness is on the drums and our newest member Eagle "Bones" Falconhawk on guitar.
antiMUSIC: Yeah, we heard there was an injury in The Aquabats camp of late.
MC BAT COMMANDER: Yeah Chainsaw, our guitarist. He opened a wood shop and he hurt himself, so he's not able to join us this summer. But we get live feeds from his hospital room sometimes, like during the shows. I'll just be holding his guitar and he says, "Hey, guys think of me." We miss him though. He's a good guy, good ol Chainsaw. But Eagle "Bones" is doing a good job. He's a different type of hero. He's really skinny.
antiMUSIC: Like Casey Jones from the Ninja Turtles?
MC BAT COMMANDER: He's not as tough as Casey Jones. He's actually a lot more fragile. He's really fragile His bones are made of glass. But he can fly…in an airplane.
antiMUSIC: From what I've read, some if not all of you guys have a great love of punk. How do you make the leap from the no-frills approach to punk to superhero rock?
MC BAT COMMANDER: Well I mean, I can give a silly answer, or I can give the real answer, and that's like early on in the days of when The Aquabats first started the band, we kinda wanted to do something that was a little different. I guess more punk in spirit, so because we all grew up in the punk scene, and going to punk shows. And then we started going to ska shows and the ska shows just seemed a lot more fun, but we had all these of friends in the punk scene so we started this kinda fake band we called it The Aquabats. So we go play shows with really hard core punk bands and guys would get really mad at us, like spit on us, like want to fight us, just because we we're like "make sure to brush your teeth next time" and wearing tight superhero costumes at a punk rock show to them wasn't fun, but to us it was. Cause that's like what the spirit of punk rock is. It's not like one specific style. I wear leather and I have a Mohawk, so I'm punk rock, you know? But that's one look. But really the punk spirit is doing something really different and getting a reaction from it. And we got a reaction from the punk scene, like a big reaction. And even the ska scene initially didn't really like us either because weren't a traditional ska band either. We just a sorta floating punk rock superhero band. But we found our audience. People who are creative, understand the punk spirit and I think they get it. Rather than hanging on to something that doesn't really exist anymore, and to further the cause of punk rock. I like to say we're doing that. But maybe we're not. (laughs) It's all in how you look at it. But the original punk bands were doing something different, and going against the grain. Like from the Ramones, the Clash, Devo. I mean Devo was classified punk back in the day, because there was no definition of what it was. It was kind of in the tradition of what The Aquabats…we want to follow that road. You can't really describe what Aquabats is. You just have to go see it. I like that.
antiMUSIC: Are you ever afraid of the spectacle overshadowing the music?
MC BAT COMMANDER: That's a good question. Case in point, with Charge! our producer Cameron Webb, he's produced Social Distortion, Motorhead, and like a bunch of big rock bands. We've worked with him for a long time. But on this record he was just like, it's amazing how you guys can write really good songs. He thinks we just push good songs off a cliff with the lyrics. Writing songs like "Mechanical Ape". He's like "None of this is going to get you guys a really huge audience". We don't really care. Who cares, you know? Who cares? It's kinda funny because we strive to make good music, but at the same time we're just throwing it, with just the weirdness of it all. It's kind of a love-hate relationship with ourselves. (laughs) But yeah, I mean we can write songs, like love songs, or songs about destruction but it just wouldn't fit, or whatever, or songs about destruction, or political, it just doesn't make any sense to The Aquabats. There's plenty of bands doing that. There aren't enough bands writing about the Tiger Rider. Know what I mean? The Legend of the Tiger Rider. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: Charge! was such an awesome record. Tell us about the 1 year anniversary edition.
MC BAT COMMANDER: As with every classic album or movie, (smiles) every few years they repackage it and put it out with few extra special bits …It's kind of in the tradition of George Lucas…putting things in the movie that weren't originally there, and then taking them out and then re-releasing. It's kind of a joke but it's for real. We really have it here tonight. We thought it would be so ridiculous to do a one year anniversary edition. You know it's not like we sold millions of copies. We sold thousands of copies which is awesome. We're hoping everybody wants to buy them again. (laughs) We have some extra songs on it that didn't make it the record, cuz we wrote a lot of songs, then we whittled it down to like 12 that are on Charge!, so we added them, so we recorded some extra ones. There's the CD, and then on the DVD, we talk about what's on the CD and we're being silly about it, photo shoot footage...just a bunch of extra CD stuff and that was just silly. It's fun and funny. It's just in the spirit of The Aquabats. We try to think of an idea and we do it, instead of "You know what would be funny? If we did this and then we did it, or wouldn't it be funny if we released a one-year anniversary...let's do it!" We're fortunate that our record label went along with this little joke. But kids seem to like and so we like it. It's just silly and I hope you guys get one. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: Can you tell us what Demolition Rickshaw is all about?
MC BAT COMMANDER: Good question. Kinda like, on the surface, a lot of Aquabat songs are really like shallow and like Legos or something, you know. I think a lot of the songs, on the surface seem pretty simple, the guys in the wreck shop, having a demolition derby, that would be kinda funny. But it's really kinda about the rickshaw is like the symbol of oppression, in a way, without sounding too deep. It's kinda like turning the monkey on your back into something offensive, I guess or taking the step forward and getting the rickshaw off your back. (laughs). I don't know. There's a guy waving chequered flag at the Malibu Grand Prix. The Malibu Grand Prix...do you guys have that up here? It's like a miniature golf place but they have go-carts. So if your job is the guy who has to wave the chequered flag, like you're watching everybody win. One of these days, it's time to throw down the flag and go out and win yourself, know what I mean? It sounds kinda weird. But it's symbolic, metaphoric. (laughs) It's kinda, basically, just about quitting your job, chucking caution to the wind being in The Aquabats which is what we have done.
antiMUSIC: Is Fashion Zombies a message to the Goth kids of the world to lighten up?
MC BAT COMMANDER: Kind of. Fashion is funny. When I was younger I was kinda into punk, so I dressed like a punk...what punks looked like. I look at old pictures, and I'm just like "Oh man, I was such a kook." And I just hope that in ten years, if they're zombies now, with their flat ironed black hair, crazy dark circles under their eyes, I hope they can say why they looked like that and why they liked it. I hope they can say that. It's not just about the Goth kids. I think fashion can be fun. Like doing your own thing is fun. If you follow a trend too much, you're kinda in danger. It's a warning, fashion alert. Too many flat ironed hair. In nutshell, on a grander deeper message it's kinda like, be careful of fashion trends: you may not make it out alive. (laughs) You know what I mean? Cause nowadays fashion is a lot more permanent, of course tattoos are really popular now. And I know a lot of friends who got tons of tattoos a few years ago and now they're like "Wow. Why did I get this wizard holding a crystal ball on my back? Can't even remember WHY I did it." And they kinda regret it. Painting yourself into a fashion corner, can be dangerous.
antiMUSIC: Tell us about your fans, the Cadets. What's one of the more unique identities that have been presented to you?
MC BAT COMMANDER: From way back, we've always had people like yourself (looking at Kaylie), who've come as their own superhero… which is really cool. When we see things like that's encouraging because again, it shows, like our underlying message is just have fun, and don't take life so seriously. It's permeating, I may be going back to our mission statement. Maybe that's what it is. Just have fun and it's just music. It's just fun. It's just silliness. From the early, early days to even now, they've come as their own characters. Our lives are cartoons; good or bad. Some of the characters we've had Cheerio Man, Banana Man, Exact Change Man. Banana Man wasn't in a suit. He had bananas all over him, real bananas. And by the end of the show...it smelled really good but it was so goopy, because he'd go in the pit and he'd smashed bananas against people. And Exact Change Man, had a change machine and shirt on and you'd say a dollar thirty! And he'd go pft and he was really fast. So he actually had skills. And then more recently we had a kid dress up like a hot dog in Boston, loud and proud. I mean there's all kinds. Girls that dress up like Martian girls, cowboy dude, like all kinds of weird characters. It's just fun. We definitely encourage that. And of course then there's a whole crop of kids who dress up like The Aquabats, but they're their own characters. Like I'm Goofy Bat. I'm Radiator Bat, with a picture of a real radiator on, and a traditional Aquabats beard or whatever. So that's kinda fun.
antiMUSIC: What's the worst name for a cadet you ever heard?
MC BAT COMMANDER: Probably couldn't say it out loud. There's this girl in Venture and she's really nice. But her name is like…I don't really want to tell you…okay I'll tell you (to Kaylie), cuz it's a scientific term. But her superhero name was Vagina Man, which is kinda like, okay, alright, you go with that. But she's really nice. I warned you! But that's probably the worst one I can remember because it scarred my brain thinking about it. Anyway, I'm sorry. PG 13.
antiMUSIC: You guys go to great lengths to cultivate a healthy fan base. Tell us about the Cadet Summit?
MC BAT COMMANDER: We try to do the cadet summit every year, but basically, you join the cadet fan club and you get your card, newsletter membership and all that stuff. Once a year a try to do it but we haven't done it in a few years. We have a big gathering and everybody comes, and if you have a card you get in for free. This year we're having it in a big convention hall so it's like 10 bucks to get in…it's awesome…but you can't get in if you're not a cadet. It makes it special. Members in separate booths, like at a convention. Crash is going to be selling "How to play Aquabats song on your bass" tapes, signing autographs, and each guy will have his own little station, then we'll do an awards ceremony like: cadet that's come from the furthest,…cadet of the year award goes to, the one who's gone above and beyond like, in his duty as a cadet. It'll be all awards that we make up.
It's just kinda to give back because with really without the fans, the kids, cadets who come out to the shows, we wouldn't be The Aquabats. It's definitely to give back to the most hard core members of the fan club. Because those kids buy all the shirts, and they buy everything that comes out. So it's kinda like a thank you. I think more bands should do stuff like that. I think, as band it's our privilege to be able to be in a band and play, not vice versa. It's not like the audience is privileged to see me tonight, I'm awesome. You know what I mean? That's just messed up thinking. But I do wear a superhero costume so maybe I am messed up.
antiMUSIC: Where would one find the best Aquabats audiences?
MC BAT COMMANDER: A few years ago it was the west coast, because we played there a lot, but now it's everywhere. We played in Quebec City last night. Maybe a hundred kids there, but everybody was going crazy. It doesn't really, the size of the crowd doesn't really mean it's the best audience. Like we're playing in Cleveland in a couple of nights, And Cleveland for some reason, it's always crazy, people flying off balconies, kids with capes and swimming suits on, water balloons. It's just crazy but it's everywhere now. We played Boston the other night and New York and it was crazy. It's great to get out and tour places we haven't been in a long time. We haven't been here in 9 years maybe. It's been a long time. We just keep our fingers crossed that some people will show up. But even if not, if only 20 people could show up tonight and it would still be fun. It's never disappointing. People show up, it's a good sign, any number, and it's fun.
antiMUSIC: Your live shows are legendary amongst your audience. With so much going on, on stage there must have been some stunts that went awry, like a plastic seahorse becoming deflated or something like that. What's the most memorable thing to go wrong on stage?
MC BAT COMMANDER: We've had all kinds of funny things happen at a show. From throwing young kids into the crowd, giving them their first crowd diving experience, but one time, just off the top of my head, we were playing in Colorado. A guy jumps up on stage and before we could think, he basically pulled his pants off and he was totally naked and before I could get someone or stop him, I went to grab him and he did a back flip off the stage, but because he was naked, like no one wanted to catch him, so everyone went "oooh" and basically he did a back flip, over-rotated and hit his head-BAM! super hard on the ground, and I just saw his eyes roll back in his head, and I thought "Oh, no". We had to stop the show for about five minutes but it seemed like five hours. (laughs) There's a naked man on the ground! I think it was at the same show that some kids were dressed like Chip & Dale and the chipmunks, you know? They were crowd surfing, as Chip & Dale, and there's a naked guy on the stage and chipmunks in the crowd, and it was totally weird, but weird stuff happens all the time. But we don't have many naked guys.
At these events. I guess security just came in and threw him out in the streets. He was okay but he kinda lost his memory because he hit his head so hard, and he was just walking around, and somehow he had lost his shirt, but he had his pants back on at the end of the show and he was just walking around asking people where he was, where his keys were, "Do you know where my car is?"
It was crazy. We had Assisted Living that night. That one kinda stands out as one of the weirdest things. One time we played a show and a homeless woman wandered onto the stage, while we were playing and no one knew where she came from and everybody thought it was part of the show. She was probably like 70 years old and she just came up stage and started singing. So we just tried to back her up. Just let her sing.
antiMUSIC: Was she in tune at least?
MC BAT COMMANDER: Oh no, she was going all over the place. But she was rocking out. That was a good treat for her. That was a good day in the homeless world. Weird stuff happens to us for some reason. Imagine that? (laughs)
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thank MC Bat Commander for taking the time to speak with us.