Updated: Oct 22, 2020
From the boldly blissful Happiness and the Surrounding Suburbs to the nihilistic scintillation of Every Night the Same Dream, Brisbane champions Ball Park Music have a monopoly on indie anthems. Just last year they released album number five Good Mood which once again took on a new sonic direction, whilst still taking the Ball Park sound to the upper rungs of the charts. The band are soon embarking on a regional tour of Australia and we chatted with Front man Sam Cromack during the downtime.
It had certainly been a while since we last spoke and I found myself oddly nervous. Maybe its the desire to impress a fellow Brisbanite or the fact that he's probably had many many interviews in his time. But Sam was very gracious, and we started chatting about the 'tree people' who had come to remove the trees around his Brisbane home. I then asked Sam what drove the band to embark on another regional tour, since many bands often skip those remote venues, understandably so, given the logistics of such a tour, and Australia's urban density. Sam answers, "We did a fair bit of regional touring back in the day and we always had a good time and felt that it was important to take our music beyond the capital cities and play for our fans who exist all across the country. When we started working on Good Mood right from the get go we said let’s do another regional run. It's definitely a different ball game doing regional runs. It’s been in the works for some time and now we’re ready to kick off. We’re excited". It is the one thing that sets apart bands, particularly those as dedicated and humanistic as BPM, a true love of their fans, and a willingness to get amongst the action rather than observe from a high stage.
"I actually have so much respect for you guys," I said gushing, "by my count you’ve played ninety-eight different venues in Australia." Sounds about right he said, "We've seen them come and go" a tinge of sadness in his voice.
"What do you love so much about touring?" I interrupt. "Well, we make money haha! Well, it’s really about making the record where you capture your vision for the music you create, but that’s only one step in the process. I think getting out and performing it to people is what really brings the whole thing full circle. I see the whole arc as one big process from conceptualising and writing songs, to recording, then putting all this effort into releasing that music so that people can hear it and identify with it. Then you resolve that process by visiting those people and performing the songs. Singing the song live I think can cement an idea for a listener and make it mean more than it ever could on record. It's a cycle that we repeat but it's got so many parts to it and I just really love performing music". Ninety-eight venues. Definitely no lie there. And Sam is spot on. I think for many fans including myself, BPM have a great deal of hits but some of those more emotionally charged or experimental songs really strike hard in the live setting in a way that is impossible through a pair of headphones.
"We haven’t lost any enthusiasm. We were just rehearsing today and we’re still feeling excited, revisiting old songs and trying all this new stuff".
I wanted Sam to share this next story because its such a random yet entirely believable occurrence for a band touring to woop woop. "What has been the strangest thing that has happened on tour?" I asked, knowing full well the story but low-key hoping for a new one.
"Well a lot of strange things happen on tour when you travel the world with your friends and visit weird towns and cities all the time".
"It's a story I’ve told a million times..." sorry Sam "...but its the one that always comes to mind, where we were in Bussleton WA staying in a caravan park sort of thing. One morning, the twins (Dean, guitar and Daniel, drums) ran into the room and said there’s someone in the bathroom. We’re like what? Cause we all heard someone had come in late at night and we all just assumed it was someone else in the band. One of the twins had opened the door and there was this naked guy sitting on the toilet haha. Classic.
We were thinking just to go and say ‘hey I think you got the wrong place.’ That’s when they locked themselves in the bathroom and started getting really aggressive and yelling at us from behind the locked door haha. I remember the quote being
‘you’ll need a gladiator to get me out of here!’
We’re just like f-ck what do we do?! We were all sitting in the lounge scratching our chins, thinking what do we do?! And then out of nowhere they walked straight through the apartment stark naked, didn’t make eye contact with any of us - making their escape! And we were like ‘there they go, see ya later.’ We looked in the bathroom and they had done a sh-t in the bathtub - their parting gift to us haha". A true testament to the randomness of life.
I went on to ask "You once said you were too easily inspired, is there a 7th album in the works for next year?" I wrote sixth but I said seventh perhaps I am dyslexic after all - You were right Ms Harris. Sam politely corrects me, but the shame lingers. "Yeah, we’re working on new stuff now. It's all still in that conceptual phase, early demos that we’re kicking around. I think we’re in that kind of experimental, almost want to call it the ‘research’ phase where we’re looking for ways we can innovate in the studio. Making sure we come into the studio with a fresh approach. Probably later in the year we’ll knuckle down and put something together, but I don’t think we’ll get a record until maybe next year". There's definitely an Apollonian process to the Ball Park Music formula. Otherwise there would be no explanation for the sheer number of memorable hits they're able to turn out. And I don't mean 'process' in the artificial sense, I mean a multi-dimensional approach to song writing that respects a natural stylistic progression of sound. With songs like 'The End Times' you get the nihilism of the 2016 record, with the uplifting choruses that feature in 2018's Good Mood album.
"Last year you helped Alex the Astronaut with her album. You also have a solo project. A while back you said you considered Ball Park Music a full-time job, is that still your feeling?" "It's very literally a full-time job. It's my income and what I devote most of my time to. I think the big change has been once upon a time when I was younger, I felt like I had of lot of things to express artistically and I couldn’t get it all out. Sometimes the bands felt really restricting, not through any fault of the bands but I had other stuff I wanted to do as well. That’s what fed into things like ‘My Pet Radio’ (His solo project). But as time has gone on, I’ve made more effort to make the band the be all and end all. That’s not to say there won’t be any more Pet Radio records. But at this point trying to funnel all that creative energy into the one thing that has the biggest fan base, because that’s the way I can communicate what I’m doing artistically to the most people.
I think when I was doing Pet Radio stuff, a little part of the band said we like some of these ideas, we’re not opposed to exploring them. These days there’s a real blank canvas as to what the band can do and sound like. In the past, I would’ve made something and been like this isn’t right for the band and shying away from it. Now I just say ‘hey everyone this is what I’ve created how can we make this work?’ That’s healthier for me". Its quite interesting because if you listen to a track like 'All Colours' circa. 2010 from his My Pet Radio project you can almost see a silhouette of the BPM releases that would come. Harmonically and certainly instrumentally (if you consider computers to be instruments), its seems retrospectively a beta testing ground - at least for the more exploratory bends of the later BPM pop bops.
"In the past it was this weird thing where I’m seeing the band at this pop rock thing and my other project as this more artistically ambitious experimental project. I was making this strange division in my mind. The band were sort of saying hey we can be this too! If you can have crazy ideas don’t think you can’t do them here. Let’s f-ckin do the ambitious sh-t!"
"And it does come through in the later records"
"Yeah, I’m really proud of the records and I feel like the sound is more what I had in mind from day one".
I had prepared some tabloid-esque questions I would unleash on Sam if we were to burn through our time together. 15 minutes is just too little time to pick such a sundry musical brain. I concede. "Who is your favourite new artist or band?" "I’ve been listening mainly to old stuff at the moment. Actually, I’m on this ginormous Kanye West binge. I’ve been listening to this podcast called ‘dissect’ which dives deep into a particular album or artist for example Kanye’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. There’s a whole episode on each song. I’ve been absolutely frothing on that album and its definitely giving me some fresh inspiration.
I’ve been exploring a lot of old Australian rock music, which is ‘maybe’ going to be related to what we do next. I don’t want to give too much away but that whole Kanye West inspiration has gotten me interested in sampling, I’ve been poring through all this old Australian music hunting for samples". I'm already sold.
"Some quick questions. According to a few of your social media posts you turn 42 this year - how do you manage to keep such a youthful look?"
"Haha eat well. I’m not going to reveal my real age even though it’s not that hard to find!" Honestly he doesn't look a day over 40 ha! But definitely has the ubiquitous millennial nihilism of a [redacted] year old Brisbane leftie like myself.
Onwards. "Triple J Memes came out with a ‘what ball park music song are you’ based on your initials - S and C makes ‘Whipping Flopper’, would Whipping Flopper make the short list for a single title on the new album?"
"I love Aus Music Memes. Yeah I’d say so! Whipping Flopper!"
A sequel to ‘Whipping Boy'
"If you were going to invent a genre using any words that represents Ball Park Music what would it be?"
"I remember years ago we toured with a band called Eagle and the Worm. They said that we should call our style of music Brisbeats. I always thought that was a cool sounding genre name. A little part of me always thinks we’re a Brisbeat band". Certainly a genre that would catch on, but in the distant future as a cult classic.
Hopefully for the album release I'll have some more cerebral questions. "If Ball Park Music was a food or drink what would it be?" Honestly a stupid question, and yet I'm pleased with the answer.
"It would be a toasted sandwich".
Did your dad really run Ball Parks in Australia?
So the story behind this one was that Sam once said that was the reason he named the band BPM. In the pursuit of truth I had to get a definitive answer. I think the real story goes that he was a teenager when he made up the name Ball Park Music, as a play on the expression 'give me a ball park figure'. I'd say BPM is 100% music...but there's always a margin of error.
"If you could add any musician to your band who would it be?"
"Oh! Maybe Freddie Mercury, he could take all the lead vocal duties and I could go back to playing guitar!" Don't stop me now.
"Did Jen ever rebuild the house?"
Well she rented that place so the owners did that haha. She’s moved on!
No context for this one.
"Are your shows still in 3D?"
"Last week you shouted out to your top fans™ 💎 on Facebook and around the same time Splendour announced its mystery act and they posted a mystery photo silhouette. People in the comments section thought it was definitely going to be Ball Park Music because they used one of the photos that was taken of you guys. There was one person in particular that commented “Please for the love of god anyone but Ball Park…please”. What message do you have for that person".
"Look I understand! We don’t have to be for everybody. We’ve played Splendour four times, as if we’d be the mystery act! All the people who were like 'yes! It's us' were disappointed. And the people who didn’t want it to be us - they’re also disappointed. So we just disappointed people no matter what. You can’t be for everyone!"
"Any last words?"
"Our next album is going to be the best album of all time!"
It might be in jest, but it seems to be the natural progression for the band. They have gone from strength to strength, and the amount of album plays, hit singles and sold out tours can't be argued with. There's no band that instils fonder memories than Ball Park Music. Their stirring lyrics are cryptic commentaries on our way of life. And yet the euphoric melodies that buoy them lend an inexplicable relatableness to lyrics like "riding in submarines that the government bought". Even their music videos gush sincere energy. Live, Ball Park Music are a patient band even when they’re chasing a massive chorus. And even more so when smashing out genre bending psychadelia. The tempos are slowly assembled. The lyrics are carefully phrased life questions, even if they sometimes come from a subconscious place. The melodies desperately uncover optimism amongst existential crises. Ball Park Music is an inspiring vignette of the versatility of 'independent music', of truly personal song-writing, and a recklessly enthusiastic embrace of the masochistic naivete of being young in our devitalising society.
Go and see the damn shows! They'll change your life.
Ball Park Music – Good Mood Regional Tour 2019