Interview: Ball Park Music
Words by Cameron Nicholls - Published on September 6, 2014
In between releasing three albums and touring around Australia, we had the opportunity to talk to Sam Cromack, lead singer of the wonderful Ball Park Music. They’re heading off on their Trippin’ The Light Fantastic tour, supporting the latest single from critically acclaimed 2014 album Puddinghead. If their shows are set to be even a little reminiscent of their brilliant Splendour in the Grass set (which ended with a mind-blowing rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody) it will be something very special indeed. We chatted to Sam about the new album, old songs, and even a curious owl figure that seems is accompanying them on tour.
Hey Sam, how’s it going?
Yeah really good!
So firstly, how was your experience at Splendour? I was there and I honestly thought yours was the best of the entire festival!
Yeah it went really well, I think a big event like that creates a lot of excitement for the band. For the months leading into it we were pretty excited, but also anxious. Not because we doubted ourselves but because we wanted to enjoy it and wanted to come away from the experience knowing that we did the best that we could. It’s easy at a big event like that to lose yourself and lose perspective and be really overwhelmed by it. The scale of the event and all the other artists, there can be a weird, competitive atmosphere that can throw you off your game. But I think we were in a really good place going into Splendour. I tried really hard not to put too much pressure on myself and to treat it as a special event but also just as any other gig. I felt good personally, I went in with a really level head. I just tried to stay calm and enjoy the moment. It was truly one of the best sets we’ve ever done, it ran really smoothly. I loved it!
Yeah it really was something special. Were you surprised by the amphitheatre? Such an enormous place! Is it one of the biggest stages you’ve ever played on?
Yeah definitely! I was surprised by how massive it was. Splendour was at that site last year and we were at it last year but they didn’t use the amphitheatre. It was their second year using the site, but I was blown away when I saw it. We obviously came into through the artists’ entry. You’re just in a van and then suddenly you’re amongst all the artists’ tents. I went for a walk and saw the stage and I was gobsmacked and how big it was. Obviously it’s a pretty impressive natural location.
So some of the songs in that set you’ve been playing for years now, such as Nice to Be Alive, do you ever get sick of playing these same songs at gigs or festivals?
Yeah absolutely. For a long time it didn’t bother me but as we go on and we have more songs – I mean we have three records now – there’s a lot of songs competing to be in the set. It does definitely get a bit more difficult to juggle them. I wouldn’t want to go on record saying I hated those songs but it’s more that we’ve performed them hundreds of times. It makes it harder to find a connection with that song. When fans love it you lose ownership of it. These songs, at least for me, can feel a bit meaningless to perform. In most instances we still do it. But for example at the moment we’ve been rehearsing for our tour, and we were all arguing the other day about what we should play because some of us are still in favour of playing the hits. I know Paul and myself are very much on the side of paying the songs that feel fresh and exciting to us. I know you have to try and strike that balance but it’s getting harder as we go on because we have so many songs. But I really believe that if you’re performing songs that you the artist are passionate about performing then you’re going to give a sincere performance. I think if you get to the point where the whole set seems like a bit of a farce then that’s a bit of a crummy situation. But I feel like even though we argued about it we still have a really good balance.
Definitely. I can imagine it would be difficult because some people’s favourite song might be one from your first album such as Sad, Rude, Future Dude – it must be hard knowing you will inevitably disappoint at least one fan.
Yeah, and some of those songs from the first record – Nice to be Alive, iFly, Sad Rude Future Dude – we’ve played them probably 200 times.
My god that must be crazy!
I’ve certainly given them a good flogging.
I guess it’s an advantage to have other songs to move onto though. I mean, you’ve had three albums in four years and you’ve been on tours pretty much constantly since your first album – are you afraid of burning out?
A little bit. I wouldn’t say that the schedule is so intense that I’m run off my feet. We still have a lot of days when we are just chilling in Brisbane. We might do a little bit of music stuff – I’ve got a bit of a setup at home. We might do some writing and recording here and work on some pieces here. But I’m not terribly busy. To keep it in perspective though, Ball Park Music has worked at a pretty rapid rate. I think three albums in we’re beginning to reach a point now where we can afford to take a larger gap between releases and there’s no point releasing for the sake of it. We can just release music now that we’re really passionate about, that represents where we want to be going into the future. We’re doing a lot of writing and experimenting at the moment so I’m really looking forward to where we’re going next.
So with those first three albums, did you release them intentionally close to each other to keep yourselves relevant or did you really feel you were ready to release another album?
I think a little bit of both. I think from a strategic point of view we did think let’s keep releasing so we don’t just disappear into oblivion. I guess that worked. It certainly wasn’t forced though, we were writing a lot during the last three or four years so it wasn’t a chore. It wasn’t as if we only had three or four songs and we had to really struggle to get the last lot. I have plenty of songs – I still have plenty of songs. The problem now is not that I don’t have enough material, but rather that I write so much and I have so many ideas that I can’t quite put my finger on what it is I want to do. I can’t just pick one stylistic approach that is going to work. Every day I wake up and listen to a new artist and think ‘Fuck yeah that’s what I want to sound like’! Then the next day it’s a different artist and I change again.
Yeah, must be difficult! So when you create an album do you have that stylistic idea in mind. For example, Puddinghead is quite different in its sound from the other two. Did you think, ‘I’ll pick these songs because they fit this sound’ or was it just a choice of the best songs?
I think compared to many other bands we have a history of really flying blind when we record. We’ve never gone into a record thinking ‘this is what we are going to achieve or what the record is going to sound like’. We generally just show up and record the songs that we feel like. It has definitely resulted in some good songs but I don’t necessarily think our albums have been super-cohesive or really made a statement as a whole. Each one has included some good tracks but I think we’re starting to reach a point now where we’re starting to think about the overall approach to sound of an entire record. Whatever we do next, at this stage, will have a unified approach for the whole record which we’ve never really done before.
Speaking of that, you recorded this album after leasing a house and recording it all yourself – what was the experience like musically? Was it positive?
Yeah absolutely, we learnt so much and I’m still reflecting on that experience with a whole mix of emotions. The most important thing for me was that it felt like we were covering new ground. I’ve never done that with a full band. I’ve never done the whole experience of preparing it for a mix engineer, liaising with all those people. It was a whole new challenge which I thought was the most positive thing. I don’t necessarily think we nailed it with the entire record but there are absolutely moments from some of the songs that I cherish and am so proud of. I think the experience of producing it ourselves allowed us to explore a lot of those things. In terms of what we did and will we do it again, the answer is yes we’ll definitely produce it again ourselves in some capacity.
How was experience of all being in the same house – did it bring you closer or drive you all a little bit insane?
We didn’t live there so we just rented the house and left all our equipment there. We still lived with our friends or partners or whatever. We just went there during the day. I think it was really good though, it was nice to have a shared space that we had responsibility for. We spent a lot of time there and it had a really nice family vibe. We’d duck and out and go to the bakery together.
Sounds really nice!
Yeah, we hung out there heaps. We had parties there and would stay there late in the evening drinking coffee or beer – it was a fun place to hang out.
Yeah cool! Did you like the experience of filming the video clip for Trippin’ The Light Fantastic? It must have taken some guts to pull off those dance moves solo in a video! Was it your idea or pressure from the other guys?
Yeah weirdly enough it was spearheaded by the other guys. That dancing has been a part of the live show for quite some time. I don’t know why it took so long for us to think to put it into a film clip. Eventually we reached the point where Daniel said ‘we really should have a film clip with that as the focus’. It was fun to shoot, but I felt quite shy. I love dancing but its harder on demand! I like dancing when I’m drunk or when I’m performing. But the film clip shoot was at 7 o’clock in the morning in front of a film crew with little kids running around in the background. I bought a bottle of gin and started drinking at about 7 in the morning just to take the edge off (laughing). I was pretty worn out at the end of the day!
I bet you were (laughing). So last question, I can’t finish without asking about the owl mascot! Where did that emerge from and why?
It was one of those things that came out of nowhere and evolved really naturally and now it’s become quite a thing and a real connection with the album. We had the name for the album for quite a while kicking around and I had some draft artwork which was really different, very minimal. At the last moment though, I changed my mind and thought I’d do something different. I’ve always loved doing collages and collect images from illustrated textbooks. I made a whole bunch and there was a recurrent theme where I was putting different heads on different bodies. I thought weirdly enough the owl looked like a cut up piece of apple. I wasn’t really thinking about the title of the album necessarily. We actually had a different version for the album cover that we all agreed on. Right up until the last minute we were waiting to get clearance from the copyright holders of the images and we didn’t get it. So about two days before the album cover was meant to be released I had to re-do it with public domain images to create the one we wanted to have as the album cover. So that was definitely stressful (laughing). The actual image that we wanted for the cover is actually in the record sleave. We ended up getting clearance in the end. But in terms of the owl, it evolved naturally and the record label then made the mascot suit and thought we might like to take that on tour. Just evolved into this really weird thing!
I think its brilliant! Anyway, thanks so much for the interview. I’m heading to your tour to review the show, and I can’t wait!