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By Jon Wiederhorn
The rock 'n' roll kiddie TV series "The Aquabats! Super Show!" is about to rock harder than ever. For the debut of the second season, executive producer Christian Jacobs ("Yo Gabba Gabba!") collaborated with My Chemical Romance vocalist Gerard Way to co-direct and help bring a new element to the music.
The episode, which airs June 29 at 1 p.m. ET, co-stars My Chemical Romance bassist (and Way's brother) Mikey Way as the frontman for a death-metal band called Asthma. The group seeks revenge against the Aquabats after losing a battle of the bands because Aquabat Ricky Fitness (Richard Folomir) develops a crush on a contestant named Rachael Moonbug and unjustly awards her the $750 grand prize.
"My wife wasn’t so stoked that we had a death metal band on a kids' show," said Jacobs, who also plays lead Aquabat M.C. Bat Commander. "I said, 'Honey, kids need to learn about these things early.'"
"The thing is," added Gerard Way, "for anybody who’s bugged out by it, they have to realize that Asthma are the bad guys. So they should be a little scary."
Scary, but funny. The death metal song was demoed by Way, but the directors chose to go with a version of a song by "Yo Gabba Gabba!" contributor Matt Gorney. And while the song rips like Behemoth, it’s not exactly typical death metal.
"The lyrics are about the mailman," Jacobs said. "You can’t tell what they’re saying, but it goes, 'When I’m walking down the street, you can hear the sounds of my feet. The mailman brings me mail.' It was a winner."
The other main song in the episode is a Jewel-style acoustic number, for which Way contributed lyrics and Gorney wrote the music. "The lyrics originally went, 'Everybody needs somebody touching someone somewhere,' but we had to change that," Way said. "I did it pretty naively and Christian was cool with it, but we brought it to the network and they said, ‘Yeah… Um, I don’t know about touching.' So we changed it to 'hugging.'"
In addition to directing and coming up with lyrics, Way helped concoct the bizarre plot. Originally, Asthma were turned into the Antibats by the evil "Silver Skull" and sent to seek revenge on the Aquabats. The rest of the episode was pretty much a slugfest between the two bands. But when a producer at Hub Network pointed out that the characters seemed to lack motivation, Way added a new plot element, involving a donated brain that the government entrusts the Aquabats to deliver to a political leader called Governor Robot.
"We realized, 'yeah, these characters are basically just beating the crap out of each other the whole time,'" Way said. "So I came up with the character Governor Robot, and the brain came from the Aquabats needing something to bring to him at the end of the show.”
There’s also a touching — if you consider poking a slimy brain to be touching — scene between Ricky Fitness and Rachael Moonbug, in which the superheroes track down the singer at an amusement park where she’s performing.
The seeds for the Antibats were planted when Way hooked up with Jacobs a couple years ago while the former was working for "Yo Gabba Gabba!" The vocalist was talking in an interview about watching "Yo Gabba Gabba!” with his young daughter; and Jacobs, who is a big fan of My Chemical Romance and Way’s award-winning comic book series "The Umbrella Academy," decided to contact the vocalist.
"I thought, 'We gotta work together! I love this dude!'" Jacobs enthused. But it didn’t happen right away.
"A year later, I was flying back from New York and [guitarist] Frank [Iero] from My Chem was on the plane. I was like, 'Oh man, that’s Frank, I gotta talk to him!" said Jacobs. "I was sweating and nervous. I don’t know how to approach people without being a cheeseball. But I met Frank. Then Gerard and I talked on the phone and we had My Chem on the show. That was awesome and one thing led to another."
"We hit it off right away," said Way. "We started collaborating immediately without realizing we were doing it. He would have an idea that would give me an idea to draw something, and then I’d send him the drawing. We kept giving each other ideas, and as soon as we got on the set it was easy. Christian’s a great director and a great leader. Everybody really loved working with him on set and took his direction super-well because he communicated well."
Way worked with Jacobs on four treatments, but so far "The Antibats" is the only one in which Way was involved. Yet even off the set, Way’s working harder than ever.
"I’m definitely not taking a break," he explained. "I’m usually up until a minimum of 2 a.m. writing music and I’m up at about 7 a.m. with my daughter. So I’m sleeping four to five hours a night and I work from the minute I’m up after I drop her at school until I go to bed."
While Way revealed that he has been tinkering in his home studio with multiple styles of music and playing different arrangements with various instrumentation, he won’t specify whether the songs are rock, punk, pop or something altogether different. "I’m just trying to figure out exactly what I’m supposed to do," he said. "I take a cue from the universe and I think about that pretty deeply and go with my gut 100 percent."
He did, however, deny any interest in doing a solo record. "I’ve never seen myself as a solo guy. Some of my favorite artists, like Nick Cave and Tom Waits, are so far beyond me right now and I feel that if I was going to do something like what they do, I’d have to be a lot older and I’d need a lot more life experience. So I don’t feel like doing that. It just doesn’t feel right."
That puts Way in an uncertain position that will probably be dictated by fate or the right meeting with the right group of people — though he said that right now he’s putting no effort into forming a new band.
"I really haven’t been doing anything concrete except writing tons of stuff," he said. "I’m just having experiences. I’m playing tons of instruments, constantly writing music, and I guess I’m putting myself out there and not pushing anything away. The only way I can describe it is I don’t know who I was before I started My Chem. I know that answers nothing, but that’s the point. I’m just exploring and seeing what happens."