Someone You Should Know: Chris Ballew, Caspar Baby Pants
Written by Alayne Sulkin; photograph by Justin Duray
Filed under: Someone You Should Know
In another life, Chris Ballew, known in toddler circles as Caspar Babypants, was lead singer of the rock band The Presidents of the United States of America. These days, his sound is much mellower. Catch those sounds on ParentMap’s first-ever collection of Seattle kindie music artists, Shake It Up! Shake It Off! Go to cdbaby.com/cd/kindiemusiccompilation.
How did having kids change you?
Having kids made me less selfish. I also needed to accelerate my search for an enlightened perspective on life and its purpose. I wanted to be able to give my kids self-awareness and felt that I could not do that unless I was first as self-aware as I could be. That included taking care of some burning questions about what the heck we are all doing on this planet. So my kids made me a better human.
How have you come up with such interesting band names?
I really want a band name that makes people light up and smile and think, “Can you really call a band that?” Every time I say “The Presidents of the United States of America” or “Caspar Babypants,” I get a sort of tilt to the head and a broad smile and chuckle. A good band name opens people up to feeling happy.
What moved you into this music realm from Presidents?
For years while I was doing the Presidents, I had this feeling nagging at me that I was not at my final musical destination. The success was amazing, but the feeling that I had not found my true voice persisted.
I experimented on the side endlessly, but it was only once I met my second wife, Kate, and saw her art that I found the real me! Her art just spoke to me and had all the qualities that I wanted this elusive music in the back of mind to have. It was charming and innocent and bright and funny and well crafted and folksy and simple. So without Kate Endle [an illustrator], there would be no Caspar Babypants.
Tell us about the “kindie” band movement in Seattle and the U.S.A.
There’s a drive among talented, focused songwriters to use their talents to sing to kids. The movement in Seattle is diverse, and we all occupy different spectrums musically. That’s nice, because we don’t step on each other’s toes as we connect with our audiences.
There is a great sense of generosity in the scene and eagerness to see each other succeed. It reminds me of the punk rock scene in Seattle or Boston, where I lived, where bands were supportive and shared resources.
How have your groupies changed, other than their height?
Ha! I really don’t think that I have ever had groupies, but the fans have changed in only very subtle ways.
The parents that come to the shows could be the same people that come to a Presidents show. They just have their kids with them now! So really, I have just added the children to my sea of regular folks that like what I do.
Does underwear ever get thrown your way?
I think any underwear coming my way at a Caspar Babypants show would potentially be discarded for reasons that would make them something to be avoided at all costs.
What don’t people know about you that would surprise them?
I love physics and quantum theory and how it relates to brain function and perception and our illusory perception of our place in the universe. Also, I am excited to try eating bugs, once that food option is popularized.
How about a piece of parenting advice you won’t find in ParentMap?
It would be advice that I got from Elaine Mazlish, one of the authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. She said to be as empathetic as you can with your children. Make them feel heard. If emotions and needs they have are difficult or impractical, do not say “No.” Instead, tell them you hear them and wish that they could have what they want.
If they want candy for dinner, tell them, “Wouldn’t that be amazing? If we could back a truck up to the house and dump a ton of candy in here, and it would break the floor and crash to the basement, and we could eat it until we fall asleep!” They understand that the answer is no and that you heard their request, but you never said “No” and did not shut them down. I use it all the time!
Tell us more about the books you and Kate are creating.
All three books are based on songs of mine that Kate and I have expanded to long-form books. There are exclusive songs that go with these books that do not appear on Caspar albums that you can download for free from the downloads page on my website at babypantsmusic.com. It was Kate’s art that got me on the right track in the first place, so bringing my music and her art together like this is a dream come true!