Saturday, February 6, 2010

Interview: Caspar Babypants

My musical tastes have always been a little left of centre. I'm drawn to quirky lyrics, unusual subtext and an irregular beat. So it's no surprise that in my miss spent youth, and quite a considerable amount of my so called adulthood listening to Triple J. I now have two sets of mini ears to educate with my musical tastes, I find that I'm always having to tune out every 5 minutes when they give a language warning or when a song comes on that just isn't suitable for little ears.

So when I came across Caspar Babypants music, I was in heaven not only because of his fun lyrics and great beat, but because the words of the songs are exactly what he's singing about. No irony and no subtext. But this is a little unusual considering that Caspar Babypants also moonlights as his alter ego Chris Ballew, lead singer from the hit 90's band The Presidents of the United States of America, who's songs are laced with irony and subtext is their middle name.

Although Chris did hint at an in store appearance to celebrate the arrival of Here I Am and More Please to the Monkeytail and Wellington catalogue, we had to pass it up as "In store" means my lounge room and my advertising budget just won't stretch that far no matter how much I try. So we settled on an interview. Hope you like it :-)

Q - So The Presidents of the United States of America are still going strong, but how did you get from there to Caspar Babypants?
A - Well Caspar babypants is really pretty close for me to the Presidents in some ways. It feels like another step in a long trail for me as a songwriter to find what I call TRANSPARENCY in my writing. I want to make music in my life that sounds exactly like ME and how I want to live. As I get older I want to live more quietly and simply and this form of expression fits that shift.

Q - You’re receiving some rave reviews – not only from peers, critics and the press, but from kids and parents too – but how awesome is it that you’re adult fans are making music videos for you too?
A - Its dreamy! I love to get an email from a parent who says that the music made a long car ride tolerable and even fun and that the music is helping lower the stress level for the whole family. That is my true goal for making this music. And the fans are totally encouraged to make "official" videos for me and so far I have one up on the YouTube site ( and another one is coming out later this week that a student at a local high school made for me. It feels great to inspire people to make things!

Q - I’ve read about your musical influences when writing and recording for the Presidents, but how about as Caspar?
A - Some other kids artists are very inspirational. Elizabeth Mitchell and Dean Jones of Dog on Fleas and Enzi Garcia and I just discovered Charlie Hope this morning and cant wait to explore her songs more. The biggest influence is listening to old blues and public domain songs from hundreds of years ago and African American spirituals and nursery rhymes and trying to feel out what makes them timeless and durable and inject some of that into my own stuff.

Q - How does the process of creating music for adults differ to children?
A - The part of making this music that I love is that it is about REDUCTION. It is a challenge to see how LITTLE I can get away with when recording and still make something that is fun to listen to over and over. The story of the song was always important in the Presidents too and this is an extension of that. The biggest difference is that I am free of the pressure to be cool or ironic! When I sing about a bug or a cat or a peach now there is no double meaning. I have stripped away the innuendo and I am left with just the innocence and I find that way more peaceful and sustainable at this stage in my life.

Q - Every time I listen to your albums I come away with a new favourite track. Either the beat grabs me or I hear something in the lyrics that puts a silly grin on my face. What are your favourites and why?
A - Thanks! As far as the Presidents go its easy: LUMP! I am never bored playing that song and I love the vague but irresistible lyrics and the simple punchy music. In the Caspar thing I think so far it is BABY BEAR from HERE I AM! or $9.99 from MORE PLEASE!. Baby Bear never fails to get the kids going and I wrote it originally as a love song for my girlfriend and transformed it into a kids song so it has love in it. $9.99 I love cause it tells a story and fell right out of the sky fully formed (mostly) as I was getting a glass of water while taking a break from recording last summer. It just came to me in a BAM moment!

Q - The first two Caspar albums have come along in fairly quick succession – what’s next?
A - Caspar Babypants album number 3!!! I think it will be called THIS IS FUN! and I am listening to over 100 demos right now to decide which songs will make the cut. It is going to be AWESOME!!!! I am also developing a theatre sized version of the live show with sets and props and costumes to pitch to children's theatres. And more live shows than I can shake a stick at too...the phone is ringing off the hook! Maybe someday I can come to you guys!

Click here to hear The Cuckoo demo on Chris's blog

Q - When I listen to More Please I’m hearing a much more country/folksy feel than on Here I Am, and the imagery that springs to mind is The Muppets Gogolala Jubilee Jug Band for some reason. Please tell me one day you’ll do a cover of Grandma’s Feather Bed! A - HA! maybe I will! Yes there is an old connection in my family to bluegrass that I am getting to enjoy with this music too. I have always wanted to feel that connection to a heritage in my songs and its cool to find that here. The Caspar stuff is my Dads favorite music of anything I've ever done! I think it is mine too!

Q - Any other last sage words of wisdom you’d like to impart?
A - Just that I am very serious about making something to help the world feel good and relax and help parents take time to sing with their kids and enjoy music together. I am working with non profit groups that focus on early education and parent education and assistance to homeless and low income families and I think that if I can make songs that lighten the load for someone under stress or get a family singing then I am doing what I was put here to do!

Chris also makes some of his own video clips, this is my personal favourite just cause I think it's a little bit clever. You can find more of his clips and press coverage on his You Tube page

Caspars Albums Here I Am and More Please are of course available right now from Monkeytail and Wellington :-)

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