Upon listening to the first track of Here I Am!, the debut album of Caspar Babypants, one has to admit that it’s a bit startling and not at all what is expected. Caspar Babypants is, after all, Chris Ballew, the lead singer for The Presidents of the United States of America. Embarking on a new journey now, Ballew has taken up writing, singing, and performing children’s music for the younger set (think birth to 5). If the listener is familiar with Ballew’s musical history, therein lies the confusion: This is not The Presidents. Instead, it’s music with a hill-billy, bluegrass feel that is simple and sweet, but still fun for both kids and parents.
How exactly did Ballew go from fronting The Presidents to singing about ‘Small Black Ants’ and ‘Baby Bear?’ as Caspar Babypants? Inspired by folk singer Spider John Koerner, Ballew has admitted in a phone interview that he has been gravitating towards children’s music for some time. With family ties to Missouri, Ballew has been getting in touch with his roots by creating this hilly-billy type of kid’s music. Ballew acknowledges that songs like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ are classic and timeless because they tell simple stories and “paint vivid pictures.” Ballew wanted to create music that is “lyrically visual” and that will provide a “relaxing atmosphere for stressed parents.” On his website, he writes “I choose to base my melodies and patterns on the blues, old American folk music, African spirituals and time tested nursery rhymes.”
Describing his music as organic, it’s obvious he’s achieved his goal with Here I Am! Self-produced and self-released, the album contains 22 tracks that are simple and not full of drum beats and manic tempos that one might find on other children’s albums. Ballew isn’t interested in tackling subjects like ABCs, 123s, and teaching kids to dance. He wants his music to be a calming influence, not just for babies and toddlers, but for their nervous and anxiety-ridden parents.’Small Black Ant’ is a toe-tapping song with an easy beat and repetitive lyrics that you can’t help but sing along to. ‘Babies Little Self’ is sung by Jen Wood and is melodic and soothing. Ballew even takes classics like ‘Three Blind Mice’ and adds new verses and adventures for the mice. Perhaps the best song is ‘Sleeping Baby,’ which is a lullaby that will easily help babies and parents drift into slumber.
Given the likelihood that Ballew’s fans from The Presidents may be transitioning into his new musical foray with their own children, does he feel any pressure to be hip for those parents? “Nope, not at all,” he said. He makes it clear he wants his music to be “timeless, not trendy.” Ballew is careful to avoid cultural references that, while may entertain parents, would ultimately date his music. His goal is for his music to seem as though it’s been passed along from one generation to the next.
The Seattle music scene has always been hot, and now it’s becoming known as Ground Zero for children’s music as well. Ballew is developing relationships with other local children’s bands, like Recess Monkey, Board of Education, and the Not-Its! These musicians have been meeting to discuss ways to bring their music to families in new ways. One idea that resonates with all of them, and Ballew in particular, is creating a center where bands can come play for kids and families. Ballew envisions a place filled with bright, kid-friendly artwork (possibly by kids themselves) and where kids can come take songwriting classes and experiment with music. It’s a niche that hasn’t been filled in Seattle – yet.
So what’s next for Caspar Babypants? Well, to begin with, a busy summer concert schedule that will take him around Puget Sound. There’s also a plan in the works for an online show that will allow kids to send in keywords to Caspar Babypants. The hope is that each week, kids from all over will tune in to see if Ballew has chosen their idea and made it into a song. And of course, there’s music. Ballew estimates he has enough material for many more albums. Not only is his writing new material, he is also poring over old songs to see if there are possibilities there and is surprised to see how much there is. It just goes to show that Ballew truly has been working towards children’s music -he just didn’t know it.
If you’re looking for some new music to play to your children, try Here I Am! You’ll be pleasantly surprised by its effect on your child and on you.