[MUSIC: Interview] Ball Park Music
Music seems like a fairy tale career – travel, fans, fame, money (allegedly) – but as songwriter, singer and guitarist Sam Cromack and his ever-rising Ball Park Music have discovered, the reality is different. The Brisbane band’s debut album Happiness And Surrounding Suburbs hit the indie/pop world with a bang last year, but rather than stretching out the album life cycle to three or so years, BPM decided it would be a better move to smash out album number two with haste.
“Things are going well for us, but in the grand scheme of things we’re a small Australian act, and we figured we needed to strike while the iron was hot,” Cromack explains. “If we went away for a couple of years people could easily forget about us; there’s plenty of other artists ready and eager to jump in and take your spot. We’re confident about what we’re doing and we do hope people like the record, but we thought, ‘Let’s just smash this now, and then even if it disappoints some people we’ll probably be forgiven because we turned it around so quickly’,” he laughs. “And if it’s received really well and everyone thinks it’s great, well, people might be like, ‘Holy shit! How did they do that so quickly?!’”
Cromack is often seen as the face and the soul of BPM. His side project, My Own Pet Radio, has furthered his growing reputation as an inexhaustible songwriter, and it’s been easy for many to assume Ball Park Music is really just Cromack Music. But while that may have been the case in the beginning, it’s certainly not the case now. “I think I’ve gotten better and better at accepting who my band are and what role they play,” he says. Ball Park Music also consists of bassist Jennifer Boyce, Paul Furness on keys and trombone, and twins Dean and Daniel Hanson, on guitar and drums respectively. “I still write the songs – the core of what’s there – but the band were a lot more vocal this time on the direction of the songs. Another thing they don’t get credit for is that they’re often the ones that spot what’s missing on the album, noticing that a certain energy or idea has been left out. Then I’ll sort of write to their brief.
“The group effort is something I’ve been desiring more as we grow as a band,” he continues. “I think I’ve had enough gratification for my songs to not need to have a bunch of people along just representing them.”
On their debut record, BPM came across as a quirky, fun band. While some of that remains on Museum, Cromack and co. were driven by a hint of cynicism and darkness this time around. “The first songs were full of positivity because I was yet to put out my first record, I was yet to do my first real tour, and it was all such a mystery; the music industry was filling me with such wonder,” he says. “In the making of this record there were a lot of times I felt burnt out and cynical about the whole thing. I was still striving to achieve balance – I couldn’t commit to an album that has one emotion throughout. There were some times where I didn’t even want to write lyrics, though; I was just enjoying making the music so much… A massive influence on this record was Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel. When I listen to his songs, the lyrics really speak to me, but I often have no idea what he’s talking about. I really wanted to incorporate the surreal and the poetic.”
BPM have been treated well in their time as indie favourites, but once money enters the equation, patience, and potentially friendships, can be tested. “When you first get into music, you’re so excited and so enamoured with the whole rock star fairy tale, but then at some point you realise that this is turning into a full-time commitment,” he explains. “The band started to bring in a little bit of money, and you have no choice but to be responsible for that – and figuring out the business side of things was really trying for a long time. It was new territory for us and the people who work with us. We’ve gotten through that now, but there’s still some days when you feel like you needed to have studied business or something.”
They may have knocked Museum out swiftly, but you can’t be indie favourites through your debut album and escape scrutiny with its follow-up; critique is sure to come flying thick and fast. Still, it seems that BPM have matured and evolved enough that they’ll manage to keep their fans engaged and win over some others who failed to be charmed by the debut’s youthful exuberance. “I wanted to shake off a little bit of the novelty factor of the first record, without losing too much of that because that’s what makes us fun,” Cromack says. “I wanted to explore more ground because it’s weird for us; I never thought we really had a sound. A lot of people criticised the first record for being too eclectic, and I think that’s just in my nature as a songwriter: I always want to be doing more styles than what I am. The second record
has that and we’ll probably be criticised again. You get to a point where you stop caring. We just wanted to make pop songs that were solid and relatable, with more creativity than we offered before.”
What: Museum is out now through EMI
With: Loon Lake
Where: The Metro Theatre (all-ages)
When: Thursday October 25 & Saturday October 27