"It’s not about now, it’s timeless": caspar babypants is making kids' music for everyone
Photo: Brian Kasnyik
caspar babypants' music appeals to kids; it's also helping parents stay sane.
Chris Ballew, better known to the kindie rock world as his alter ego caspar babypants, is making music for an imaginary family.
Though such a family might sound odd, for Ballew, it’s a tool he uses to envision the audience he’s creating music for. Ballew says that the music he makes as caspar babypants appeals to kids, but it’s also music for adults. As such, he keeps an imaginary family in mind when making music as babypants to remind him that’s he’s making music for the nine-month-old in the carseat, the six-year-old older sibling in front, and, importantly, the parents at the wheel.
Parents “need help, they need information, especially first-time parents,” Ballew says. “I want to be the musical helper. I want to be part of a resource for those tired, exhausted parents.”
Ballew’s work after leaving Seattle alt-rock group the Presidents of the United States of America has focused largely on making music for children as the character caspar babypants. Moving into the so-called “family music” genre has allowed him an unprecedented level of creative freedom, a freedom that he didn’t feel he was afforded in his time in the Presidents. Such a blossoming of creativity is evidenced by the ten full-length original albums he’s put out in the six years he’s been writing and performing as babypants.
“Now that I’ve removed the pressure to be cool or relevant in the world of grownup music that I never felt very comfortable with, a volcano of songs has just erupted. Once I realized I could write songs that were just innocent and playful and about nature and animals and babies doing impossible things, my creativity just exploded,” he says.
Although kids’ music is often framed as simplistic, Ballew challenges such a characterization, hammering home the immense work that goes into a seemingly simple Babypants song. “I have people come up to me and suggest that it must be so easy to make children’s music,” he says. A single song, he notes, can reflect ten months of work recording, producing and mastering the song.
Despite a lack of meaningful critical attention to music aimed at children, Ballew is unperturbed; He’s ultimately making music for a different purpose. “I don’t need anybody’s validation,” he says. He’s making music for parents, and trusting that “if I make great music, it’ll make its way to the people that need it.”
Ballew’s newest album, Beatles Baby!, is the second Beatles cover album he’s made as caspar babypants. He hadn’t originally planned to make a second Beatles album, but one day happened to hear “Strawberry Fields Forever.” He started messing around with the song, learned the chords, and ultimately ended up making an entire second record of covers that came out in September of 2015. Beatles Baby!''s covers are imbued with incredible charm, channeling the lightheartedness of many of the classics, like "Here Comes The Sun," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," and "Octopus's Garden." "Octopus's Garden" in particular calls back to the underwater vibes of the original song.
“All my albums use the same instruments,” Ballew says. This creative decision produces a melodic and lyrical ambience where “all the songs live in the same world.” One incredible element of the caspar babypants oeuvre is that Ballew mixes all of his albums to match the very first song on the first babypants album. Because of this sonic continuity, parents can make their own mixtape of babypants songs from any of his ten albums if they want to, Ballew says. “I’ve found this wonderful planet that I’m making music from,” he says. “It’s been my life dream to make a body of work that holds together. I want to make a little box set when I’m kind of done” performing as babypants, he says.
One of Ballew’s goals as caspar babypants is to give parents a lifeline, “relieving tension and bringing them together.” He’s making music that can be functional in the world, hoping that people can have “a shared aesthetic experience as the whole family.”
Ballew’s vision of his work is a musical experience that doesn’t condescend to parents – or to kids. Rather than attempting to make a creative product with in-jokes and adult humor that goes over kids’ heads, Ballew aims to make music that speaks to a more universal human experience. “Any human mind should enjoy this story. I’m trying to appeal to parents and kids, but only because I’m writing music that I want to be universal. It’s not about now, it’s timeless.”
caspar babypants performs at the Neptune Theater on November 28 at 10:30 am; find tickets here!