Backstage with the (Rock) Stars of I'm in the Band

Hannah Montana, meet your match! There's a new musical act in town: Disney XD's I'm In The Band (premiering in January, but catch a special preview on Friday, November 27 at 6:45 p.m.) is a show about a kid named Tripp Campbell (Logan Miller) who auditions for the lead guitar spot in his favorite rock band, Iron Weasel. We'll give you a hint—he makes it into the band. But but he's also the newest, youngest member of a zany, immature clan of 80's has-beens, desperate to climb back to the top of the charts. Derek Jupiter, played by Steve Valentine (Crossing Jordan, Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie), is Iron Weasel's charismatic frontman. Burger Pitt, played by Greg Baker (Sports Night, Hannah Montana), is the bassist. And the drummer, who goes only by the name of Ash, is played by Stephen Full (Hannah Montana). spoke with all three of Iron Weasel's original members about their newest gig. Why did you decide to jump to children's television after being on adult-oriented shows for so long?
Steve Valentine: It’s such a strange transition. I know, I've done a lot of dark stuff. Did a lot of comedy in the early '90s and then moved into more of the dramatic stuff with things like Crossing Jordan. I'm a big believer in going where life takes you and following those signposts. It all started off with I'm in the Band, when they were talking to me about playing this role of Derek Jupiter and it just snowballed from there. I loved the pilot script and then they're, like, "Hey, you do magic too, right?" And, I was like, "Yeah," and they were like, "Well, you know, there’s this role in the Wizards of Waverly Place movie that's perfect for you. You want to do it?" And I thought, "Yeah, of course." It just grew organically.

Greg Baker: I don't know why. In my career, that just happened. But I am very thankful that it happened because it has made me re-evaluate my ambitions as an actor. I wanted to originally be a television film actor, mainly for adults. I didn't really have a children's direction in mind. I'd actually started earlier—I did an episode of Lizzie McGuire. But ever since Hannah Montana, it's fantastic to be able to entertain kids. I absolutely love it. I love the reaction on the streets, I love being able to stop and take a few minutes with a kid on the street and answer some of their questions. And kids are just so honest and they're so genuine and they just light up.

Stephen Full: I didn't envision this necessarily being my path, but I like [bringing] the funny and I'm kind of childlike in a lot of ways. So I guess it was a good fit. It's just not something I ever really anticipated ... I did a lot of children's theatre when I was in Chicago, and there's just an innocence about it that really appeals to me.

What do you think kids will like about I'm in the Band?
SV: I think it's wacky. It's pretty insane. The writing is really wonderful, so it's a very funny show. So, the first thing is [that] you’re going to laugh. Secondly, I think the characters are quite lovable, even though they're very flawed. But the three adults on the show are the kids ... and the kid is really the adult in this scenario ... One of the things that appealed to me when I initially read the pilot script was that you had a kid who's going after his dream, to be the lead guitarist in his favorite rock band of all time, Iron Weasel, and he gets that dream. And now he's got to fight to really make it work. He wants to succeed. And I think there's an aspirational thing that will hopefully inspire kids to go after their dreams and take that leap or give it a shot. If you believe in it and this is what you really want in your life, then you should go at it full steam.

GB: Honestly, it's very, very funny. That's just the bottom line. I think the reason why it's funny is because you've got these three adult rock stars, which are essentially children and Tripp, the kid, is essentially the adult. And, we live in a world that really doesn’t have boundaries, so we can do outrageous things, and it's all believable in the world that we live in as rock stars. Because we can be so big and so huge and so over the top, and yet have it still be believable, [it] gives the show an edge that you just aren’t going to see anywhere else.

SF: It's pretty wide ranging. It's got a lot of action. The number one thing that's the priority when we come to work every day is just to make it funny ... I think the show is hysterical, and I probably have [some] arrested development issues, so I think I can speak to what kids are finding funny because I basically find the same stuff funny ... There is rock music in every episode—we basically perform a song an episode. And, that '80s style of rock is in vogue again, I think, because of Guitar Hero. It's a what's-old-is-new-again situation.

How did you create the band's dynamic?
SV: It's something that clicked when we all started working together. Even when we originally shot the pilot, there was just this feeling that we'd all been working together for a long time. I remember that the three of us were called in when they decided the cast ... and there was something that happened and we had to wait for two or three hours. In that time, we just laughed and joked and bonded ... before we even started working on the show, and that was really tremendous. We also went out a couple of times before we started filming the show. I think there's a real desire amongst everyone for this to be the best that we can possibly try and make it. Nobody's hitching a ride here—everyone’s so good.

GB: Being with each other creates the band dynamic. When we go out and we rehearse, that solidifies it because when you're playing together as a band, especially when it's just the four of us in a locked room and we're playing and we're all plugged in, you really become one with each other ... But, the bigger thing is that we all really enjoy each other, and so that has helped to create that chemistry that we have. It almost feels like we've been together for fifteen years.

SF: The more time we spend together, the more it becomes a brotherhood. We've been thrown together, but there's something that I think we all bring to the party and we get along great, on and off the set. There are moments where, the director's having to yell "action" two or three times because we're all caught up in other shenanigans.

Where did you find inspiration for your character?
SV: I watched a lot of rockumentaries and music videos ... And I have a number of musician friends that I talked to. Got some great stuff from a buddy of mine Chuck Wright, who's the bassist for Quiet Riot. He gave me some wonderful tips on some of the stage moves. And just watching Freddie Mercury and as many performances as I could, because I knew I didn't want [Derek Jupiter] to be a cheesy performer—he had to be really cool. If he was cheesy, then it would be silly that the kid would be in love with this band. When they're on stage, they've got to be a great band ... So, it was learning all those Steven Tyler moves at the mic stand and [watching] Guns N' Roses, ... Iron Maiden and the Rolling Stones. I ... just kind of let it all soak in and then even came up with a few of my own moves with the mic stand, which is fun. You put the clothes on and you put the boots on and you put the wig on and put on the eyeliner, and it’s kind of what Laurence Olivier said about creating a character from the outside in. It becomes—when that wig goes on, you know, I look in the mirror and I'm, like, "Oh, there he is."

GB: I am a big fan of Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Gene Simmons, Nikki Sixx, [and] Geddy Lee from Rush. But [Burger Pitt is] more Flea and Gene Simmons. They have such a stage presence. There's a raw, grounded element to being a bass player, because you're part of the rhythm section. When you’re playing the bass, you're really the foundation of the song. There's a stance that you can see in bassists, where they're just grounded and they take these thunderous steps. Robert Trujillo from Metallica is the same way. He takes these big arching footsteps, almost like he's Godzilla, wrecking a town. It's really fun to watch. And I love playing the bass, because when you are connected to a really big bass amp and you pull on those strings, you can feel it shake the room and it shakes you down to your core.

SF: I wouldn't say there was necessarily a musician. I just try to tap into someone who is completely unfiltered and really good at his core, at his heart. And I approached it from the character first. He's not jaded, he doesn't have that mechanism in his brain that filters information before it comes out of his mouth. Pretty much whatever he's thinking, you're going to hear it and it's not always pretty, but hopefully it's funny. Musically, drumming was something that was new to me. I never thought I'd be learning drums at this part of my life. But I like the theatricality of Tommy Lee. There were clips I saw where he was basically drumming upside down. I would say Tommy Lee and Animal from the Muppets would be the two drummers that I really aspire to be.

Are there any musicians that you'd want to guest-star on the show?
SV: We would love to have Steven Tyler and Slash and all those rockers out there that the kids admire so much. And what's awesome [is that] games like Rock Band have really brought '80s music back to the kids today. They're aware of who these bands are now. That's huge. So this show is so timely because of that. If you go to any kid's house, they're playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band or any one of those things ... I think that's what's actually kind of brilliant about the guys that created this show, because it's right on the money.

GB: Yeah, there's a lot of people we'd like to have. I think, because my hair is blond and curly, I often get compared to Sammy Hagar ... They used to be, like, "Hey are you Sammy's brother?" I was, like, "Yeah, I’m Sammy’s brother, Rudy." I don't even know if he has a brother, but I think that would be fun, just because we look so much alike and I was always a big fan of [his]. I would love to see ... Mötley Crue [and] Cinderella. Love that '80s rock [and] bands like the Rolling Stones.

SF: If there was any way that Aerosmith could come on ... When I was young, I was just addicted to anything Aerosmith. So, first and foremost, I'd like to see them. There are so many great bands out there, but this is an '80s rock show, so I'm thinking maybe a little Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Journey of course. I’d like to be old school, someone that maybe in this fantasy world of Iron Weasel. Maybe we actually hung out or got kicked out of a couple of their parties. Who knows?

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