To be or not to be. To rock or to roll. To be an The Aquabats or to not be an Aquabat, that is the question. If you're an Aquabat--or rather an Aquabat Cadet--you know your pop culture, you know your Play-Doh, you remember who drove the Mystery Van, you watched the Krofft Superstars and you probably ate a Colorform or two in your day. If you're not an Aquabat, well, then..."Well then, you're just too worried about being serious or and just too uptight," says Aquabat bassist and Master Of Disaster Punk Rock Fists, Crash McLarson.
I don't know his real name. I don't want to. You see, the Aquabats are modern-day ska superheroes. They journeyed from Aquabania in a hollowed-out log to fight something, or someone, called M. They were taken in by the Professor, who gave them superpowers and the ability to both rock and think of excellent merchandising gimmicks. (Yes, you too can buy your very own Aquabat outfit from the mailorder catalog!) If they rock and rolled all night, they'd be Kiss. But they skank all day, so they're the Aquabats.
Or, they're a bunch of wacko surfers from Huntington Beach who like to dress up in rash guards and Hawaiian shorts and fill the world with over-the-top ska and pop wackiness. But don't tell anyone.
"We grew up obsessed with television; stuff your parents are always telling you not to do. 'No, don't watch TV, do your homework.' And now it's turned out that we're using all the stuff we learned from television to incorporate into our band and help us," laughs McLarson.
Led by the Bat Commander, this eight-member super-unit with stage names like Catboy, Jaime The Robot and the Barron Von Tito (because every band needs a Tito) evolved out of an unstoppable need to blast a quick bottlerocket up the ass of Orange County's trite ska-pop scene. And the Aquabats came out fighting, for the kids of course. They fought the Powdered Milkman (because he makes your cereal taste like drool), they had run-ins with a Two-Headed Cat and made friends with the Magic Chicken. They threw fireworks, marshmallows and powdered milk at their audiences. They named their first independent album The Return Of The Aquabats. They ended every song title on their latest release, The Fury Of The Aquabats, with an exclamation point. They had Bobcat Goldthwait direct the video for their first single, "Super Rad!" And they did their own stunts.
And the kids followed, by dressing like the 'Bats, signing up to be official Cadets (the Cadet roster's nearing 1000), attending the Aquabat Cadet Summit and skanking to tongue-in-cheek ska numbers like "Super Rad!" And you know why? Because, says the Commander, "The Aquabats are all about fun with a capitol F-U."
And it's a good life being a 'Bat--until the real world steps in. Since they climbed to nationwide fame (before they even signed a record contract, they could easily rally over 1000 cadets a night), the Aquabats have had to tame their live show--especially the enclosed fireworks part.
"It's been brought to our attention a number of times, the element of danger," the Commander admits. "So we've had to tone things down a little. Because it's one thing when it's 50 people and you're all just having a fun time and screwing around. But it's another thing when you're playing in front of 2000 to 3000 people and there's police outside your door waiting to arrest you."
An Aquabat in 'cuffs, not a pretty picture. The Commander confirms that the Aquabats' live shows still lean toward the lighter side of Gwar antics and Green Jelly goofiness. "I spent a hour and a half cleaning marshmallows and powdered milk from my outfit just last night," he says.
Oh yeah--and they had to learn how to play their instruments, too.
"In the beginning it was just, 'What can we do to make ourselves laugh?'" recalls McLarson. "The fact that we have costumes helps us a lot, but it also can take away from our credibility. Since we started working on this album, musicianship has definitely become more of a focus than, 'Hey how cool do I look jumping like a nerd on stage?'"
Maybe it's their superpowers, but something brought their musicianship up to snuff. The Fury..., while so silly it could potentially ooze nacho cheese if you squeezed it too hard, sounds coherent enough to not be annoying...it's almost good, actually. But you're not an Aquabat Cadet because of the musicianship, you're an Aquabat Cadet because you don't know what's going to happen next. Hip-hop breakdowns and jamboree knee-slaps are right in there with clumsy ska clankings that all tell some kind of story that's probably been made up to explain some other story beforehand.
"Everything's so over-dramatic. We can pull anything off as long as it fits within the Aquabats' theme," brags McLarson. "The legend of this band and its history has kind of evolved out of just trying to explain how things came about."
"We broke it down and we figured that our songs fall into two categories: battling evil monster villains or cheesy love songs. We've labeled ourselves superheroes and lovers," explains the Commander. "We're loving or we're fighting. We're fighting for love."
Scared yet? Well, get ready. Rumors of a live- action TV show currently circle the 'Bats more than sandfleas, and while not a single 'Bat will confirm or deny the gossip, you have to wonder if it's possible. One thing's for sure: the show's theme song is ready. It's on the new album. It was written over a year ago. Things work in odd ways in Aquabania. Just understand that the 'Bats answer to a higher power. But first they have to answer themselves.
"It was like, 'Okay, the Aquabats, you've got to live up to your hype now,'" says the Commander. "Whether we meet people's expectations or not, we're not worried. We've already won, because we've already decided that we're just going to have fun. We're still gonna take over, like it or not."