Chris Ballew conquered the nation’s pop charts with his Grammy-nominated band, Presidents of the United States of America, in the 90s. But after penning some songs to complement his wife’s art collages, Chris realized he had a knack for children’s music – and Caspar Babypants was born.
Photo credit: Brian Kasnyik
Being an elitist music blogger and all, I’m pretty sensitive to exposing the “right’ music to my kids. I consider the foundation in classic rock my father instilled in me to be a key element in the formation of my personality.
When it comes to new music, after a quick screen to their sensitive ears from utter crap, I let my kids decide what we play in the car. And since we’ve been driving the Pizza Ranch for their epic buffet a couple times a week we’ve been using that time to test out a bunch of childrens’ music that’s come to the PO Box lately.
Keller Williams has been the undisputed king thus far. But he has a new and worthy competitor.
It’s Caspar Babypants, whom my kids know from XM Radio’s Kids Place Live station, but I know as Chris Ballew from The Presidents of the United States of America.
From track one to 20, my kids and I are just loving Capar Babypants’ new album, This is Fun!.
If you think back through the POTUSA catalog, you can see why this is a natural progression for one of its co-founders. Ballew applies his knack for writing immediately accessible songs with simple chord structures and catchy choruses ala POTUSA’s “Lump,” “Peaches,” and “Kitty” to write Caspar Babypants equally compelling and lovable tracks like “All You Pretty Babies,” “Speedy Centipede,” and “Googly Eyes.”
Exhibit A. Check out the video for “Googly Eyes.”
Exhibit B. Some downloads:
MP3: Caspar Babypants – “Baby And The Animals”
MP3: Caspar Babypants – “Mister Rabbit”
Beyond these gems, I must mention a big bonus on this album is a cover of Nirvana’s “Sliver,” featuring Krist Novoselic on bass! Talk about my adolescence coming full circle.
What I’m loving about Keller Williams’ and now Chris Ballew’s children’s material is that they aren’t just releasing a kids’ album as a marketing ploy, which I felt was Barenaked Ladies’ motive, and they aren’t a bit washed up and needing to crutch on kids, which I felt The Verve Pipe’s motive. They truly love kids, and this is a progression of where their careers are at right now.
Beyond motives is the music itself, and this is where I feel a new generation of children’s music has arrived. Those of us who grew up listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” on the stereo instead of Barney’s “I Love You” on the TV now have kids, and we expect a higher standard of music for our kids.
I had the opportunity to interview Chris Ballew about why he’s doing kids’ music now, how he tests his material, the story behind the Nirvana cover and what’s next…
Perfect Porridge: So after conquering the nation with Presidents of the United States of America, how did it come about that you released a kids’ album?
Chris Ballew (aka Caspar Babypants): I made a bunch of songs inspired by my wife Kate Endles’ art, and I didn’t realize that they were kids songs until I started thinking about who would want to listen to them and then BAM! I figured out that I was writing kids songs!
So now that you know, do you approach writing for kids differently than adults?
I do approach them differently. When I write for kids I enjoy keeping it simple and innocent and irony free with musical quotes from nursery rhymes and old American and European folk music and African spiritual music. When I write for adults I use different instruments. I use more distortion and complex chords and chord relationships and the themes are more complex and abstract as well. By far I prefer writing for kids and my writing for adults has completely stopped at this point.
Where do you find inspiration?
Nature and the radiant cuteness and freedom of little kids mostly. The woods and the sea and animals and how I anthropomorphise them. Amazing things that kids say.
What’s the reception to your material been like? I hear it on Kids Place Live on XM Radio all the time.
Seems great! I am making this music to go out into the world and help people chill out and help families sing together and relax. I get a ton of feedback from real families that the music is helping keep stress down and car rides feel shorter!
How did you come to cover Cobain’s “Sliver” and get Krist to play bass? It’s a favorite track from my adolescence, so I have to say it’s a bit weird to blast it for my kids.
I love that song. I have loved it since I first heard it but didnt realize it was about such personal memories of being little and passed around and forgotten till I printed out the lyrics. Then it seemed like such a great no brainer to cover it. I just asked Krist! He was excited. He said that he wished more people would ask him to collaborate.
Lots of your songs are about babies. How come?
HA! cause I wrote songs for BABIES!!!
The liner notes thank “all the test families and friends.” Did you demo your material at birthday parties and Chuck E. Cheese?
I have about 25 test families and they give me feedback on a huge batch of songs so that I can focus the 40 or so I start out with for each record down to the 20 that appear on the CDs. I found out about that process from readin a book about Seseme Street and how they developed the show with test kids and made sure that the skits they produced would really hold their attention.
One of my kids’ favorite movies to rent from the library is an old Bill Nye the Science Guy DVD that features POTUSA rocking a song about farming. Was that a precursor to Caspar Babypants?
HA…I remember that. Nope. That was just a one off thing I did for fun.
What’s next for Caspar? Chris Ballew?
Next for Caspar is launching a thing on the website (babypantsmusic.com) called FUN-RAISERS. I will be assigning an exclusive song to a non profit (the first one is for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) for 6 months and 100% of the profits will go to that non profit. I hope to have a dozen of them up there by the middle of 2011. Chris Ballew is just watching Caspar go NUTS!
This Is Fun! is available now at CD Baby