You might not recognize the name Christian Jacobs, but you've probably heard of either Yo Gabba Gabba or The Aquabats. Christian is the lead singer and creator of The Aquabats, a ska-punk rock band from the 90's that managed to land itself a television show in March. He's also the co-creator of Nickelodeon show Yo Gabba Gabba.
Formed in 1994 in southern California, the Aquabats started out as friends just getting together to play music. Inspired by bands like No Doubt, Sublime, and Fishbone, they started to do local live shows. Pretty soon people started asking about where they could buy their CD (which they hadn't created). They recorded and released their first CD in 1995, pressing the CDs themselves. With an independent record release they were able to sell about 20,000 copies with no distribution. That's when they realized they had something. Audio from my interview with Christian is embedded at the bottom of the article.
From the beginning, Christian obsessed with turning the band into a television show. With inspiration from shows like Pee Wee Herman and the fun nature of the band members, it all lent itself so well to the TV format. "It was already like a very tongue and cheek children's program. It was sarcastic, but it was very safe too. We didn't play 21 and older clubs, and we thought it was more fun to be inclusive," Christian who is also the lead singer of the band and the star of the show recently told me.
Band member Boyd worked at a wetsuit factory, and that's where the band's original costumes came from. The band had between 5-15 members at any given time. Originally that was designed to get more friends into their shows for free. When a club owner would say, "Who is that?" about one of their friends, they'd say he was part of the fight scene during one of the songs and he's get in for free. They also had drummer Travis Parker (Blink 182) as a band member for a while. "We never took ourselves to seriously."
But the idea for the TV show never went away and they didn't give up. They went all the traditional routes to get a TV off the ground but it never worked. Using that learning they were able to leverage non-traditional channels like the internet to get Yo Gabba Gabba off the ground when it was eventually picked up by Nickelodeon in 2007. Christian says, "The key to success is to meet like-minded people that are willing to join the team and take a risk."
(Napoleon Dynamite's John Heder was recently featured on the show)
When asked about how after 15-years of rejection on the TV show he was still motivated enough to see it through, Christian said that the worthiness of the idea was reinforced time and time again.
"We always thought (we had something worth pursuing) based on what we were doing live. If you have a dream there has to be something to confirm that what you are doing is working. If it was failure, after failure, after failure it would have been different. The live shows were affirmation for us that what we were doing was the right thing. Whether it's a band, or a new product, or a piece of software, if it's working on a small scale then that's the green light to keep going. I was driven and obsessed at times. I believed in it so much that I wouldn't let it go. Even my kids and family would push my to keep going. If you know what you're doing is positive and it is helping people and making people happy then you don't give up."
Aquabats Supershow is available on The Hub, Saturday mornings at 11am EST. My phone interview with Christian is included below.
The best part comes at the 11:30 mark where a random PR person joined our conference call. I was going to edit it out but this is Startup Grind after all. Plus it's just funny and that seems in-line with the Aquabats mission so it seemed only right to leave it in.
Christian answer questions posed to the Aquabats from "the social network Movie" or in other words Facebook.