They’ve sung and danced with the likes of Weezer, DEVO, Of Montreal, Hot Hot Heat, The Ting Tings, The Killers (and many more), played at this year’s Coachella fest and received rave reviews (Video), played at The White House, and recently released a chart-topping hit album. Who do I speak of? This may sound surprising, but it’s Yo Gabba Gabba! Yes, the children’s television show that began in 2007 and has since developed into somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. The YGG! crew is no longer solely loved by kids, but also by college students, adults, and hipsters worldwide, who refuse to believe that such a great musical show is not geared towards them. YGG! was created by musicians Christian Jacobs (lead singer of punk rock band The Aquabats) and Scott Schultz, and following a sold-out debut tour, the gang behind the show recently hit the road again, this time reigning over Canada from September 4 – 19.
Heading out to see the show on one of their first Canadian stops in Montreal, I had no real idea what to expect. I knew that YGG! has become a mass hit because of its lighthearted nature, simple yet appealing visuals, and great original music, but I had my doubts about just how much fun it could be for “adults”. A few minutes into the show and it soon became evident that what co-creator Scott had told me a few days before over the phone – “We’re just doing fun, simple songs that are basically [saying] throw off the whole adulthood thing and have fun!” – was absolutely true. It didn’t take long for me to relax, forget about the stressful problems of everyday life, and begin rockin’ along to songs like “Get The Sillies Out!” And judging by all the parents proudly wearing YGG! tour shirts and singing and dancing along to the music, I wasn’t alone in my feelings. Which raised a (still unanswered) interesting question in my mind; who really brings who to the shows?
Co-creator Scott Schultz took time to talk about the roots of YGG!, the show’s stunning success, favorite musical guests, and writing hundreds of songs in the span of a few months.
Q: I read that Yo Gabba Gabba! came about from the boredom that children’s television evoked in you and Christian, but what specifically brought on the idea for YGG!?
A: We think back and it was probably a good nine or ten years ago when we first kind of got the idea. We were just musicians, we were in bands – Christian was in The Aquabats, I was in a band called Majestic – and we played with Lance Robertson, who was in this band called Raymakers. Just at that time me and Christian had our first kids and that kind of sparked this renewed interest in preschool programming … That was the nucleus of us sitting down with our one-year-old kids, my son and Christian’s daughter at the time, and just being so fascinated with what they liked and what they were interested in, and what music really made them jump around and dance. What music made them stop and turn their heads when the TV was on … It was just a kind of fun, interesting time when we just got fascinated by preschool television. And the stuff that was actually on TV wasn’t bad, we just kind of looked back when we were kids and all the rich differences in children’s programming felt like they were missing a little bit. I guess it was naïve of us to think, “Let’s do something awesome! We’ll just do something with all the different types of music, art, and animation – bring all that stuff back.” And I guess the base of it was a music show.
Q: Was there a specific moment where you thought of YGG! A moment where the idea just hit you?
A: [Laughs] A moment? There’s been a few moments, for sure. We had been working on developing a kids’ show for The Aquabats and I think there was definitely a moment when we looked at each other and were like, “Wow, we could just do a preschool show. We could just do the little kids’ version of The Aquabats show that we’re making.” You know, the nucleus of the idea sort of rested with that. Like, “Oh, this will be the little show for The Aquabats.” Which is kind of ironic because The Aquabats, we’re still working on it, but yet Yo Gabba! has been going strong for five years. Really has a life of its own.
I definitely had a little distinct moment when I was talking to Lance Robertson at a show, I think we were at a Ladytron show in Hollywood, and we were talking about the band Love and I was just like, “Wow, this guy is so unique and interesting; he needs to be a kids’ show host.” … That was way before we had even started defining the characters, any of that stuff.
Q: What is your and Christian’s involvement in putting the show together?
A: I would say, totally different than most television shows out there. I mean, most preschool shows, for better or for worse, the creators kind of sit back and maybe give some input or whatever, but for us this is kind of like our baby. It’s like our dream come true, if you will. So really for the most part we write and direct and do everything. I mean, not do everything, but we write and direct the shows and we’ve brought on other writers and directors that work with us, but I would say predominantly, we’re the writers and directors on the show. Which is fun for us, you know, we love it. It’s kind of like our favorite show and Nickelodeon allowed us to make the show that we wanted to make, you know?
Q: When you set out to put together a new episode, is there a specific way you go about it?
A: Well, you know, we have a whole process that is kind of, I think, it’s a little more how you’d approach an animated show, like a Simpsons or something … We all get together, we include our friends and our family, and a lot of our staff and people that work for the show that we trust and love, and we all get together and go out to dinner and brainstorm a bunch of ideas. Then we work those out with Nickelodeon on which ones we want to pursue … All that while, from the very beginning, because we really view it as a music show, we start with our team of musicians, which we put together as kind of like, our rockstar team of four core musicians and about four ancillary guys that are kind of like part-timers, and we all just write music. And every week we get together, listen to all the stuff we’ve written, everyone’s written about five songs a week, and we do that for about three months. By the end, we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of songs and we’re ready to start pairing the songs, whether they’re instrumental or fully fleshed-out songs, with episode ideas. And it’s just kind of a fun process for me because it’s so musical.
Q: Over the years YGG! has become a real hit with an older crowd as well – why do you think that is?
A: You know, that’s interesting. We never really designed it like, this will be a high school or teenager phenomenon, or college kids, you know, watching it in their dorms or whatever. It was kind of always for kids, but it’s a very core of the show that we wanted to be able to sit down with our kids and watch it, and that was a real important idea to us. So I guess, in a way, we sort of got these guests that are really exciting to us, our favorite bands, you know? Celebrities we think are funny … and it’s kind of created a show that works both for us and our kids.
I guess I could philosophy it, I don’t know, but at a basic level it just seems fun to throw off your inhibitions and just kind of be a kid again. Just be wild and jump and dance around. I don’t know, there’s something, I think, simple and more reminiscent of a happy time in your life – it just feels kind of innocent and awesome. It just feels like the bands and celebrities, everyone’s just doing it for the kids and they’re doing it for a more honest reason than just “Oh, I’m promoting my career”, or “I’m trying to sell my new single”, or whatever. We’re just doing fun, simple songs that are basically [saying] throw off the whole adulthood thing and have fun!
Q: Who’s been your favorite musical guest so far?
A: Um, you know, I’ve had a few. That’s a hard one … This year had, I was having a really rough day and Flaming Lips came in to shoot and Wayne Coin was just like, the awesomest dude ever. He really was just a genuinely great person and I think that was one of the memorable experiences.
Q: Who would you love to have on the show that you haven’t been able to?
A: Interesting question. It’s so weird because, with the popularity of the show, so many people that are my heroes as bands have been able to come on the show. We’ve just been so lucky. I think there’s probably still a few people. I think if Bill Murray came on the show, that would be an all-time high. It would be pretty epic. Or, you know, Paul McCartney. If one of The Beatles came on, that would be quite amazing. But other than that, I’m excited for season 4 to come around because there’s still so many bands that I’m excited that want to come on, but it just [hasn’t] worked out in the scheduling, but that I’m just such a huge fan of. Like Passion Pit; an awesome band that I can’t wait to start working with.
Q: Favorite character on the show?
A: You know, I kind of feel like, probably [pauses] Yeah, that’s a rough one … I really like Foofa. She’s just nice and she appreciates flowers and all the happy things in life. She’s really more simple; I think she’s my favorite.
Q: How do you define success for YGG!?
A: Success, for me, has been just to be a good influence on the kids and give something back to the kids of the world. And if kids have learnt a little bit of life lessons, or even if they haven’t learnt much, but if they just are able to have some fun times along with their parents, you know, maybe their dad actually sat down and watched it with them for a little bit, or both parents brought him to the live show and had a great time – that to me is success. That’s what I’m trying to promote; the common ground between a parent and their little kids, and having fun moments to share together – that’s the success for me.
For all the latest YGG! news and tour dates: http://www.yogabbagabba.com