Every week, KEXP features a new local artist with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. This week we're highlighting Seattle children's music project Caspar Babypants, who play KEXP's Music Heals: Beyond Cancer this Thursday from 6 to 8 PM in the KEXP Gathering Space.
Savvy Seattlites will quickly recognize Chris Ballew, aka Caspar Babypants, as the former lead vocalist to The Presidents of the United States of America. But long before the band broke up in 2016, Ballew began releasing children's music under the Babypants moniker in 2009. Over nearly a decade of the project, Ballew has had the chance to help kids find joy in music, jump for joy, celebrate life through dance, and just have fun. We caught up with Ballew to learn more about his latest album, SLEEP TIGHT!, and what families can expect from his performance this Thursday as a part of our Music Heals programming.
It’s been nearly 10 years since you started recording the first Caspar Babypants record back in 2008. What first motivated you to start making children’s music and what’s fueled you to continue doing it for the past decade at such a steady rate?
I have been searching for this particular musical voice my whole life! Every band I was ever in and every creative impulse was accompanied by a little signal in my gut telling me that I had not found my true voice yet. I just kept searching through a bunch of failures and a major commercial success (The Presidents of the United States of America) until I found this simple, innocent, purely silly way of writing songs. I really write this Caspar Babypants music because it make me happy first and foremost. It is a bonus that kids and parents like it as well. The fuel to continue comes from the sheer volcano of creativity that started erupting once that life long search was over and I had found my place. That volcano is still erupting and I will hold on and enjoy the ride until it runs dry. Who knows when that will be but for now I do not see the end!
You recently released two albums on the same day, a greatest hits compilation called FUN FAVORITES! and SLEEP TIGHT!. What made you want to release these two albums together?
SLEEP TIGHT! is a collection of lullabies. I write way to many quiet songs for families because they can be a bit surreal and abstract and subtle which is a nice aspect of this family music palette to have access to. So I did not plan to make a second lullaby record but one just sort of slid together and I decided to release it in between regular albums which come out mid August each year. The vinyl only album FUN FAVORITES! is a collection of my most popular songs and I just decided to release them together because that album was finished and ready to go at the same time. FUN FAVORITES! is the first of a series of vinyl only collections that I plan to release over the next few years. Parents were bugging me for vinyl so...YOU'RE WELCOME!
SLEEP TIGHT! is intended to be a family bedtime soundtrack. What inspired you to explore these types of themes on this record?
One flavor of song that I love to write is about a parents love for their child and a child's love for their parent. It is intense and unconditional and inspiring to me. A lullaby record is a way to facilitate quiet, loving, mellow times between little kids and their parents so the whole family can feel relaxed and grateful together. I got so much great feedback to that effect on the first lullaby record called NIGHT NIGHT! which came out in 2015 that when I looked at my current batch of songs and saw that I had a ton of lullabies it felt natural to make a second companion album to that first one.
This is your 14th album under the Caspar Babypants moniker. How do you remain so prolific? How do you keep yourself creative and able to churn out such fun and inventive ideas?
There are a few forces at work here! Historically I have written songs quickly and if they did not make the cut I would just discard them to the trash heap. In the last few years I have enjoyed picking my old failures and recent failures apart and finding the core intention buried under the wrong words or wrong tempo or key or chords and pulling it out to the surface and rewriting the song to support that intention. I also use a treasure trove of old public domain songs as inspiration for new tunes. Then there are the songs that just fall out of the sky fully formed into my brains. I even dream songs from time to time although most of those are really bad once I wake up! My wife Kate is always saying things backwards and upside down and so she provides me with inspiration. Basically I always have my song radar on and they come to me in many many ways.
Your performance on Feb. 1 in the Gathering Space is a part of KEXP’s Music Heals: Beyond Cancer programming. Given the heaviness of the topic, do you think it’s important to find time to celebrate the good things in life? How do you think music can help families heal?
I get letters and emails from families quite often that speak about how my music helped them get through a tough time with an illness or diagnosis or difficult birth or early childhood process. I am genuinely touched by these stories because I make this music to help lower stress for families so to hear that it is working out in the world as I intended is incredibly thrilling. I feel that part of healing is forgetting your problems long enough to quite your inner dialogue and just feel good being alive. Meditation does that for me and I have found that part of loosing your sense of self is an elation and silliness that rushes in to take the place of fear and sadness. The songs are really just tools to get to that place of feeling light and silly and that is what makes families feel better.
For those who’ve never experienced a Caspar Babypants show, what can they expect from your Gathering Space performance?
Lots of smiling energy and sing along good times! I play solo with an electric guitar so the show is loose and unpredictable as I never make a set list. I flow with the crowd and let the energy in the room determine which kind of songs I sing. Sometimes there is a lot of call and response and sometimes there is none. Sometimes there is a lot of physical activity and sometimes it is all about story songs and mellow times. Really it is up to YOU what a Caspar Babypants show is like! No matter what happens the show will be full of simple, infectious and silly songs played with clarity and energy and LOVE!
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