Although he may be better known among a certain set of the population as founder of The Presidents of the United States of America, Chris Ballew may eventually be best known for his ongoing string of excellent albums for kids under the moniker of Caspar Babypants.
On September 17, Ballew will release his seventh Caspar Babypants album, a record of Beatles covers called -- naturally -- Baby Beatles . So when I asked Ballew to write the latest "How I Got Here" entry on albums that were significant influences on kindie musicians, it's not surprising that he chose one of the Fab Four's most famous albums.
When I was 2 years old in 1967 I got a copy of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. I was right there glued to the speakers as it found its way into everyone's cultural landscape. I started to plant the songs in my wee sponge like musical brain and as it seeped its way deep into my personal musical landscape, the songs and I became fused. Although in later years I would go through a phase where I sort of hated the album for doing away with the small tight little early Beatles rock and roll band I loved and creating the concept album, I could never deny its influence.
The feeling that you are being taken on a fantastical ride into a silly and beautiful and melancholy atmosphere is what I strive to recreate when I write and record music for families. If this is about how I arrived then this album was the mode of transportation for sure.
There used to be a time when I wrote songs that were "serious" about tortured love or big ideas and metaphors. I found after years of scratching at that idiom that it was a frustrating dead end of overstuffed concepts. One day I stumbled onto a man on a chair in the back of a bar in Boston singing songs about frogs and cats and monkeys in the most groovy simple way. That was Spider John Koerner and he gave me permission to write songs that made the impossible possible. After a long break from the Beatles and Sgt. Peppers, I went back to that early source and I was blown away by how connected those songs were to the fanciful imagery of those early public domain folk songs. I had finally found a way to link my early fascination with psychedelic groovy songs to some sort of historical heritage.
As I dove back into Sgt. Peppers, I had the most intense time travel back to childhood sensations and I felt that this feeling of being connected to childhood and storytelling was the core of something worthwhile and important. Still, I had to push my way through a bunch of years of missing the mark including almost hitting it with my grownup rock band The Presidents of The United States of America before scoring a creative bullseye hit with Caspar Babypants. The Presidents are very close to my true musical vocabulary but still rely on the sting of innuendo to make the songs sparkle. Caspar is a pure innocent version of the same energy and I find it very sustainable. I hear that innocence when I listen to Sgt. Peppers and I am sure that album planted that seed long ago.
Now as I make simple innocent music for newborns, toddlers, kids and parents I feel like the emotional vocabulary of the album and my own childhood and my new creative enlightenment are all intermingled to make music that feels fresh and familiar at the same time. Without those mop tops and their intense desire to expand their awareness and get out of the spotlight and make a work like Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hears Club Band I would not have found my true musical home. Thanks, Paul, John, George and RIngo!