Yo Gabba Gabba

by Kellie Abrahamson
“It’s basically a Flaming Lips concert for kids”
When Yo Gabba Gabba! first started airing on Nickelodeon, my son was three and couldn’t get enough. I too was entranced by the weird children’s show with colorful characters, Nintendo-esque graphics and the parade of musical guests straight out of my iPod. Imagine, then, how bummed I was when my son uttered the words I hoped I would never hear: “Mom, this is a baby show!” It was like a dagger to the heart, but I knew he was right. My little boy has outgrown my favorite kid’s show. Still, I just can’t give it up, which is why I’m hoping my kids will placate me on October 27th when Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! comes to the Times-Union Center. In anticipation of the show I jumped at the opportunity to speak with co-creator (and Aquabats frontman) Christian Jacobs about the series and what to expect at the live show.

EU Jacksonville: Tell us how Yo Gabba Gabba! came to be.
Christian Jacobs: My buddy Scott [Schultz] and I [have] been working together since high school; doing video production and music videos and. We’re into graphic arts during the day and did bands at night. Long story short, basically about 2000-2001 my daughter was two and his son was about a year and a half and we were watching a lot of kids programming as we were simultaneously trying to develop another show actually based on [my] band the Aquabats. There wasn’t really a show that [I] as a parent really enjoyed watching with my child, and Scott [had that problem] too. We were really introducing our children to stuff that we like and listening to music together and, discovering what our kids were responding to. It just kind of hit us- we should try to make a preschool show that harkened to the shows we watched when we were kids but at the same time [have] a more modern sensibility to it. It had a little skateboarding in it, it had some hip hop in it, it had some punk rock in it- stuff that was a little bit more indicative of what our generation was [about]. I grew up in through the 80s and in the 90s. Once we were developing we realized this was a show that a network would just not really be able to wrap its giant brain around, so we thought “Let’s just make it ourselves and best case scenario we could get it picked up and worst case we’re selling it on the internet on our own site and using that e-commerce system to make our money back” and that’s what we did. We took out loans on our houses and quit our jobs. Once we started developing, [we] realized that this could be something really cool and fun. We got picked up by Nickelodeon and here we are.

EU: What’s the band selection process like for the show?
CJ: We’re big, huge music fans, Scott and I both. We started off with that lofty ambition to have bands on the show but when you’re creating a show in your garage it’s really hard to look attractive to bands. I think in the pilot Scott had the idea, we were listening to a lot of 80s hip hop and he’s like “Let’s bring out Biz Markie on the show and have him teach a dance” which was essentially the beginning of the “Dancey Dance” segment on the show. And for some reason Scott was like “Biz Markie. We’ve got to get him,” and I agreed. I think Biz Markie is awesome and entertaining and funny and a great pioneer in hip hop. So we got a hold of him through MySpace (or something like that). It just worked out that he was into it and we paid him some money to come out and be in the pilot. I think from that point forward we were like “We could actually do this. With the help of the internet we could find bands.” So the next person was Mark Motherbaugh [Devo]. We showed him the pilot. We went out to a lot of bands [the] first season and the ones that responded, I think they’re really influential and cool- Cornelius, the Shins, even Sugarland (being a country western band). It seemed like Biz Markie and Sugarland and the Shins would never be on the same stage. For them, to all share that equal respect and love for kids and want to do the show, I think it just seemed like a great fit and a great idea. The first season we were a little less selective but the bands that responded were influential in making it cool and ok for the next couple seasons’ bands to come on. Then after that we just really went first and foremost with the bands that we liked, that we were listening to [and] didn’t bring any baggage to the show. They weren’t controversial or busted for smoking crack with Kate Moss. We wanted to stay away from stuff like that and have some really cool, fun, unique, innovative bands come on the show to show kids different styles of music and different styles of presentation and performance. But also as a couple of big music geeks, having Weezer or the Flaming Lips or the Killers come on the show is just thrilling to us as well.

EU: You’ve had Jacksonville locals Sunbears and Black Kids on the show. Do you recall how you came across them?
CJ: The Black Kids, we were into them first season and I think the second season Scott went to see another band that they were touring with and he came back and was like “Black Kids are awesome! They’re so good! We gotta have them on the show!” So at that point it became a priority. Going out to shows and being involved in live music has really been key in helping to find cool bands. The Sunbears too, we were into Sunbears and liked listening to them. It’s not always convenient or easy for bands to come and actually make an appearance on the show. We were fortunate enough to have Sunbears do a song and a really cool video.

EU: How is the Yo Gabba Gabba stage show different from other kids’ productions?
CJ: The approach was similar. Scott and I, we both have kids… and we’d go see [kids’ live shows] and it’d be kind of a letdown or “Ugh, this isn’t really for us.” It seemed like, again, a lot of the shows and the shows’ decisions were being made by people that maybe had preschool kids at one point, but [were] grandparents now. It just seemed like a lot of the kids’ live shows were narratives or Broadway musically-inspired, it just wasn’t something that rocked. So we wanted to come out with Yo Gabba Gabba! and really turn up the party meter and make it, without sounding really lame, but we wanted it to bump, you know? We wanted to come out and there’s bass and it’s boomin’ and people want to get up and dance…It’s more like a concert. Being in touring bands for years and years we had the opportunity to throw caution to the wind and say “What would be the most awesome thing to do?” So it’s a concert where at one point 3000 balloons fall on you and there’s bubble machines and confetti cannons. I guess it’s basically a Flaming Lips concert for kids… There’s a lot of audience participation but it’s not like a narrative or a two-act play, it’s like a concert with a potty break in the middle. When you go see a band play, instead of having an encore; why not just make it obvious, turn the lights on and have a potty break and everyone come back in 10 minutes and they’ll play some more? I think we’re ahead of our time with the live show with this new rock format with the potty breaks.

EU: Do you know off-hand who will be performing at the Jacksonville show? I know that Sunbears have mentioned they’re going to be there, and Aquabats, right?
CJ: The Black Kids may. That’s the other fun thing about the live show. It takes a lot of coordination to get bands to perform on the television show. It’s fun to see who shows up and what surprise guest will make it onto the stage. It’s usually someone local or on tour. [Sometimes we don’t] know until a couple days before whose going to be on the show so it’s surprising. We’ve had the Roots, we’ve had Dinosaur Jr., DMC from Run-DMC, Kid Sister and Solange and Erika Badu. We’ve had some awesome groups just show up on stage at the last second.

Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! will be at the Times-Union Center’s Moran Theatre on October 27th for two performances, one at 10:30 am and a second at 7 pm. Tickets are from $33.25 to $43.25. You can also opt for the VIP party pass ($116) which includes premium seating, a lunchbox filled with organic snacks, access to the VIP party room with music and dancing with the Gabba Gang, participation in a backstage version of Biz’s Beat of the Day with Biz Markie, a photo op with the characters and more.