Chris Ballew: From Rock Star to Tot Star

The first time my daughter and I went to a Caspar Babypants concert in Seattle, we pushed through a crowded room full of excited tots and their parents to find a seat. After finally sitting down next to a mother holding a baby, she leaned over and asked, “How many Caspar concerts have you been to?” I smiled and answered it was our first. She nodded and said, “That’s nice. This is our seventh.”

Caspar Babypants at the Seattle Public Library / Photo: Charlie Bartlett (Used with Permission)

After experiencing the fun and exuberance in that first concert, and many more after, I understand why that mom and many others are diehard Caspar Babypants fans. From an ode to googly eyes to the life of a flea with dogs, and new takes on old favorites like the Itsy Bitsy Spider, Caspar Babypants’ songs are catchy and imaginative.

Caspar, also known as Chris Ballew, is releasing his fifth album Hot Dog! on April 17. Not only does he write and perform children’s music, Chris Ballew is also the twice Grammy-nominated lead singer of the alternative rock group Presidents of the United States of America. I was curious about his background and work, and Chris graciously agreed to answer some questions for me here on GeekMom.

GeekMom: How did you create the name Caspar Babypants?

Chris Ballew: Well, I got kind of bored with my first name back in the early 90s and decided to change it to Caspar. So I tried that and then one winter when the snow came I was cold and had no winter hat. I went to a “free” store for people that needed winter clothing and found this little unique pair of hand knitted baby’s pants. I put them on my head and they fit perfectly. The kids in my neighborhood started calling me “babypants” as I walked by and I put it with Caspar, and the name was born. Years later as I started doing kids music and was considering what to call it, I remembered the old nickname and thought it was perfect!

GM: What inspired you to shift your career from rock to children’s music?

CB: I had been looking for my real voice for years even as the Presidents were topping the charts. I had this haunting feeling that I had not found my true musical self even as I was appearing on late night TV and MTV. Years and years of searching on the side led me to this simple innocent music for kids by way of my wife Kate and her art. When I saw her art, a light bulb went off in my head and I realized that I wanted to make music that sounded like her art looked. It had an innocent, folksy, bright, childlike, intelligent and well-crafted vibe that I was immediately drawn to. I started to make that music and it turned out to be kids music!

Hot Dog! © Aurora Elephant Music

GM: With Hot Dog! coming out this month, you’ll have released over 100 songs as Caspar Babypants. Do any stand out to you as personal favorites?

CB: Wow… that is a tough question. I record twice as many songs as I need for each album and only release the best of the best that I can do so I am physically unable to pick a favorite, I think. They are ALL my babies!! My current favorite to play live is More Moles from HOT DOG!. It is a really successful call and response with the crowd that always sounds amazing live.

GM: You’ve worked with some great artists on your albums, from big names like “Weird Al” Yankovic and fantastic singers like Charlie Hope. How do these collaborations come about?

CB: They mostly come about from me just finding people I like on the Internet and reaching out to them. Some are old friends like “Weird Al” and Krist Novoselic and some are new friends like Elizabeth Mitchell, Charlie Hope, and Frances England that I just contacted because I respect their work. Elizabeth Mitchell was really, really influential for me in the beginning stages of Caspar because I learned that you can be gentle and dear with a song and make the listener feel taken care of and calmed while maintaining some artistic edge.

GM: When you’re performing for a live crowd, which audience has the more enthusiastic fans — Caspar Babypants or Presidents of the United States of America?

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CB: Well it is a different kind of enthusiasm so it is really apples to oranges. The rock crowd is a yelling sweaty jumping heaving drunken happy smiling mass of joy. The kids crowd is a random goofy smiling jumpy teetering unpredictable mass of joy. So there are some differences AND some similarities in there!

Caspar and Friends © Caspar Babypants (Used with Permission)

I love the kids for their randomness. They will walk up and talk to me during songs and tell me the funniest fragments of ideas and stories and their lives. I think I could do a whole show where I just TALK to them for 45 minutes!

GM: And finally, a question from my three year old daughter. “Is yellow your favorite color? Mine is pink. You should wear pink. But that would be silly.”

CB: HA! I have thought about wearing a different color for each album cycle. Maybe the dominant color for the album cover but I didn’t jump on that idea fast enough in the beginning. I LOVE yellow so crazy much. It is the color of energy for me. So I wear it for energy at every show be it PUSA or Caspar! YELLOW FOREVER!

Like his favorite color, Caspar’s songs remind me of a summer day: warm, happy, and full of sunshine. If you’re looking for new music to share with your tot that makes you both dance and sing, be sure to pick up Hot Dog! on April 17.

Kelly Knox is a freelance writer in Seattle, WA, where she contributes to local parenting magazines. She also writes for StarWars.com, Geek & Sundry, and more. You can find crafts and art projects for geeky families at her blog The St{art} Button.