photo by Brian Kasnyik
I love music. I love finding great music, especially for my children. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to interview Chris Ballew of Caspar Babypants. My new found favorite children’s song artist. You might recognize Chris’ voice or face from the alternative rock band, The Presidents of the United States of America. And since summer of 2008, he has been playing for a new audience, children.
Perfect timing for the interview since he has an album releasing November 2 called, This Is Fun! I guarantee the whole family will love Caspar Babypants. My girls sing along to the lyrics and have special requests for their favorite Babypants songs. If you go to the Caspar Babypants site, you can pre-order the new CD and receive a signed copy from Chris. Awesome, right?
Chris is a father of two, 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. His new gig as Caspar Babypants involves the whole family. His son help write music and lyrics. His daughter Josie makes the music videos. And his wife, Kate Endle, also a children’s illustrator, does the artwork and helps with the music videos. They are also at his shows selling merchandises.
In talking with Chris, I love his passion and motivation for creating children’s music. He expressed his purpose of Caspar Babypants music as a way to bring the family together, relieve stress and tension. Bring happiness and joy onto the faces of children. It’s so refreshing to have music artists with such integrity and passion. And here’s Chris Ballew who simply said…
SMM: This Is Fun! is your third Caspar Babypants album. How is it different from the first two?
Chris: It’s not super different. I have been searching for the past 15 years for the chemistry of sounds, topics and presentation that has become Caspar Babypants. And having found it, I am really not trying to reinvent it. I want people to be able to buy single songs from any of the albums, put it together in a mix and have it sound like they belong completely together. I’m trying to stay in this spot where the music is simple, innocent, clear, relaxing and intelligently energetic. All those adjectives will apply to every single Caspar Babypants records.
The only difference [with this album] is I have a couple of guests on this record that I am excited about. Krist Novoselic from Nirvana playing base in Sliver. Elizabeth Mitchell singing with me on a song that my son and I wrote together. And Charlie Hope singing on the old Civil War classic song Mr. Rabbit.
SMM: What is your main source of inspiration for Babypants music?
Chris: There are a few sources that share importance. One of them is my kids. And little bits of songs that I made up for them and with them when they were very little that I recorded.
Another source would be my wife, Kate Endle. She is an artist. She does board books, children’s books and illustrations. Her artwork is the visual companion to my music. My music sounds the way her artwork looks because it was her artwork that aesthetically tipped me into this innocent, simple presentation.
Another major source of inspiration is old American folk music and African-American spiritual music and nursery rhymes and early rock and roll. Those four areas I am constantly listening to for old rhythms and rhymes and imagery that has stood the test of time and still has integrity.
SMM: You started doing children’s music by recording songs you wrote for your children. Do you think your will keep doing music for toddlers even as your children grow? Or will your music grow with them?
Chris: Definitely stay targeted to little children. I have complete respect and admiration for the 0 to 5 year olds. They are perfect humans. They are happy and free. Even when they are little, they have a sense of themselves like they have no boundary to their bodies. They are enlightened, they are honest, they are brilliant humans. And I just want to be around them.
But the music I am making, I want it to sound timeless. That’s the way I bridge the gap between the kids and the grown ups by making things universal. I’m calling it kids music because that’s how it fit into culture. And it is for kids, but it is also for their parents.
SMM: Have you always had an interest in children’s music, even back when you were performing as The Presidents of the United States of America? Or how did you decide to start Caspar Babypants and perform children’s music?
Chris: I didn’t know this music that I was looking for was children’s music. I knew that the Presidents was not my final destination. And I couldn’t figure out what that chemistry was that was going to be my final destination. Then I saw Kate’s art [my wife] and started making music that sounded like it looked and it was kid’s music. Then I suddenly went, “This is it! What is it? It’s kid’s music. OK, that’s great.” I didn’t have an interest in kid’s music before I started making it. I didn’t really make it to be kid’s music. I just made it and it was kid’s music. The desire to make it came first. The label of kid’s music, that being how it fits into the world, came second.
SMM: How did you come up with the name Caspar Babypants?
Chris: I changed my name to Caspar Babypants in the early 90s. I didn’t like my first name Chris. I thought it was boring. I tried out Caspar for a while. And I wore a pair of baby’s pants on my head in Boston for a winter hat. The kids in the neighborhood started calling me Babypants. I put the two together. It didn’t stick though. My family didn’t want to call me Caspar Babypants so I dropped it. Flash forward to 2009 and I had to pick a name [for what I am doing now]. I was like, wait a minute, I already had it. I’m Caspar Babypants.
SMM: Caspar Babypants and The Presidents of the United States of America. What has been the biggest difference with the audience other than age?
Chris: Alcohol. There is none at a Caspar show. Nobody is drunk. Although you can pretend that very little kids are just drunk people. I always pretend they had like nine martinis. I’m like, “Whoa, slow down.”
Another major difference is size of venues. I play in libraries, meeting rooms and field of grass. I’m just really tired of rock clubs. The kids shows are great because there are a ton of variety. I’m playing outdoors, indoors, little rooms, hallways, basements, just wherever I can fit. It’s always unique, it’s always random and it’s always different. That keeps me interested.
SMM: What do you find fulfilling about performing children’s music?
Chris: Getting to use old music in the way I am using it. Getting to use raw material of old ideas, slice them and dice them then mix them up and make them my own. That is super thrilling.
Also being around that random, free intelligence that kids have is a big bonus about playing live. Kids would walk up to me and say things to me in the middle of a song and I’ve got to deal with them. It’s hilarious.
In the Presidents, the song writing is about innocence and innuendo. It’s where where innocence meets the coolness of sexuality and the vibration between those two. It is incredibly satisfying to remove the innuendo, be free of it and just be innocent.
SMM: How do you balance your time with work and family?
Chris: By taking a deep breath and closing the computer. It’s hard because when you are self employed there is always something you can be doing. But that’s exactly the solution, that there is always something you can be doing. So you need to walk away at a certain point and take a deep breath. Close that box in my mind that has all the to do list items in it and be present for my kids. I think it cheats them if I am talking to them while I am answering emails or whatever. So only in cases of extreme emergency when I do that.
Start treating everyday like a little life. Like you are born in the morning, you go to work, you retire and you relax and you die. You have to provide yourself with a little time in the day where you just stop. My wife and I try to take a walk everyday for at least an hour. Just absorb the world and relax. It’s from that place of relaxation that creativity and solutions come anyway. So it’s very valuable to breathe and slow down and relax.
» Tell me… Did you used to listen to The Presidents of the United States of America? What do you think of his tips on balancing life, family and work?