When I was a kid, I loved watching Saturday morning television. I loved my cartoon heroes but as I got older, I got into music. For most of us, we dream of being rock stars or in the movies. As the fates would have it, they looked kindly upon the Aquabats’ Christian Jacobs, who was able to do it all.
His story began a long, long time ago, in a place far, far away …
Before he was MC Bat Commander, he was born Christian Richard Jacobs as the second of five children. As a kid, he worked a lot, which helped him grow up quicker. The family eventually relocated to Utah then again to Los Angeles in 1976. Along with his older sister Rachel and younger brother Parker, the trio embarked on careers as child actors.
Being child actors benefitted them in many ways. Jacobs told us that working with a lot of professionals and people who weren’t that professional opened his eyes. It helped him gain direction and a sense of how he wanted to be treated. His most valuable lesson was developing a work ethic. The Jacobs’ kids were constantly trying to get gigs. Christian personally went on an insanely crazy number of auditions, estimated in the thousands. The number of parts he landed was small. The rejection actors experience helped him realize that failure and rejection are part of the bigger picture. He recognized that if you give up and don’t try, you’ll never make anything happen.
All the effort paid off when he finally did land a few landmark gigs. He appeared in films such as Pretty in Pink, Gleaming the Cube and TV shows like Married with Children and the original Roseanne. Before he left the acting life, he befriended some highly influential skate boarders and artists that became lifelong friends. Jacobs designed board graphics for Tony Hawk, Jason Lee and Steve Berra.
Jacobs eventually moved on for a more spiritual calling. A lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), he left the U.S. in 1991 to serve as a missionary in the Sendai, Japan, mission and lived in and around the city of Tōhoku for two years.
In 1994, Jacobs moved in with Chad “Crash” Larson in Orange County. They played in different bands and a third roommate, Justin … we’ll circle back to him later. Back then, OC had a ton of “serious” ska bands, and Jacobs and Crash wanted to start a joke ska band. They wrote four songs in an afternoon and played a party. Their buddy Boyd Terry (Cat Boy) showed up with silver Buck Rogers-like helmets. They put them on; played those four terrible songs and the Aquabats were born.
As the band’s front man, Jacobs developed an on-stage persona. First known as “The Capped Commander” and “The Bat Commander” he eventually settled with MC Bat Commander. Encouraged by the success of his brother Parker’s ska band, Go-Go13, The Bats jumped in capes first as an eight-member ska band. In the early 2000s, they reinvented themselves as a New Wave rock quintet. The band’s current musical style mixes rock and punk with elements of ska, New Wave and synth-pop. Perhaps more than their music, the Bats are better known for their masks, costumes and theatrical stage shows. Their sets feature stunts and fight scenes with costumed villains and monsters.
Asked about blacking out his tooth and drawing on mustache to portray MC Bat Commander, Jacobs laughed and explained that after the Fury of the Aquabats came out in 1997, the band had a lot of different colored costumes. They were always mixing weird stuff and color combos. He recalled one night seeing one of their album promo posters where someone had taken a Sharpie to his face, drawn on a mustache and blacked out his tooth. Jacobs thought, “Hmm … BOOM!” A legend was born.
Parts of the Aquabats’ origin story are fictional, which is understandable for a group of superheroes, but not everything has been intentional or calculated. For example, many believe the legendary blink-182 drummer Travis Barker was the Bats’ original drummer. Nope, it was Justin, Jacobs and Crash’s original roommate. Unfortunately, he only had time for one-off shows, so he was replaced when the band needed someone who could play beyond only weekends.
Crash knew Barker from other bands they were in. He called him up to come practice, and Barker drove up in an orange low-rider truck. Jacobs recalled that Barker was young (18 or 19) and super skinny. As the story goes, the drummer set up his kit and they started to practice. What impressed them most was Barker would listen to part of a song and then annihilate his drums playing it back perfectly. Before you knew it, he was the Bats’ new drummer Baron von Tito!
Von Tito officially started in late 1995. Jacobs recalls renting a motorhome for their first two-week tour—and then things blew up. What happened to Von Tito? The band joined a few tours with blink-182, notably the SNO-Core Tour. The Bats got to know the blink guys well and vice versa. Barker stood out as a drummer at a time when blink experienced challenges with their own drummer.
A few months later, the original guys from Madness got back together and did a short West Coast tour that also featured blink-182, Royal Crown Revue, Dance Hall Crashers and the Bats. After blink’s drummer missing for a few shows, Barker was asked to fill in. He learned all their songs in no time and did what Barker does: make a band sound even better. One thing led to another, and Barker was made an offer he could not refuse.
At a rehearsal, Barker let Jacobs at the rest of the Bats know he was joining blink full-time. Anytime anyone spends a lot of time with people that grow close, feelings get hurt and it’s a tough time for everyone. For Barker, he didn’t tap out because of any band issues, it was just a good business opportunity. His last show with the Bats was at Grad Night at Disneyland in 1998. And just like that, the von Tito era was over. It took a little time and a few gigs for Jacobs to realize how special the drummer he lost was. Life goes on and time heals all wounds; Barker and Jacobs are on the best of terms these days.
Of course, Jacobs also went on to succeed where he started: in showbiz. In 1999, he and Scott Schultz formed a company that became The Magic Store with the goal of creating family-oriented television. Schultz is a longtime friend, fellow LDS member and, since the very early days of the Aquabats, a behind-the-scenes figure with the band. His brother Ben used to play alto sax for the Bats. The Magic Store’s first big hit was the preschooler-targeted Yo Gabba Gabba!, which Viacom’s Nick Jr. picked up in 2007. It gained numerous awards and international success before ending its run in 2015.
On March 3, 2012, The Aquabats! Super Show!, a live-action musical TV series starring the band, premiered on cable channel The Hub, with Jacobs serving as co-creator, producer, writer and star. Despite accumulating six Daytime Emmy nominations over the course of two seasons, winning one for stunt coordination, The Hub declined to pick Super Show! up for a third season, effectively cancelling the series. But Jacobs, as MC Bat Commander, said from the OC Brew Ska Ska stage Sept. 7 at Oak Canyon Park that a Super Show! would be back and, sure enough, recently made episodes of The Aquabats! RadVentures! now appear on the Aquabats’ YouTube channel, thanks in part from online crowdfunding.
So what’s next for the artist/surfer/skateboarder/musician/producer/married father of four? Jacobs says that’s a very good question. He is performing with his fellow Bats at upcoming shows. The current lineup also includes Crash McLarson (Chad Larson, bass); Eagle Bones Falcon Hawk (Ian Fowles, guitar); Jimmy the Robot (James Briggs Jr., keyboards) and Ricky Fitness (Richard Falomir, drums and percussion).
The band has learned a lot of lessons over the years, and they still have great ideas that they’re currently pitching. Getting people to take a chance on you or your projects is something Jacobs hasn’t completely figured out just yet, but he’s getting there.
The Aquabats with special guests PPL MVR and Jacob Turnbloom at The Concert Lounge, 3557 University Ave., Riverside. Tues., 7 p.m. $25-$125. All Ages. Click here for tickets.
The Aquabats Tribute to the Cure is also scheduled during the Vandals 24th Annual Winter Formal at the House of Blues, 400 W. Disney Way, Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Sat., Dec. 21, 7 p.m. $27.50. Click here for tickets.