The album that Ball Park Music set out to make and the one they’ve ended up releasing are like night and day.
That’s quite literal, in this instance – originally titled ‘Mostly Sunny’, the band’s sixth album later became a self-titled effort. To reflect the change, the album’s artwork centred on an anthropomorphic moon – think Georges Méliès’ A Trip To The Moon, but with a cheery disposition. Don’t feel too bad for the loss of ‘Mostly Sunny’, though. In hindsight, frontman Sam Cromack feels as though this should have been the album’s path all along.
“It’s so funny the way things happen,” he tells NME from the band’s studio in Brisbane.
“We’ve joked about self-titling a record at least once every album cycle. It’s a classic move in rock ’n’ roll history – it can really fall anywhere in a band’s career. We thought that we couldn’t change it once we’d already announced the original title, but then we just thought ‘Fuck it! We can do anything that we want!’ That attitude is more prevalent in the band than ever before – especially considering we put this album out on our own label.”
Cromack name-checks Kanye West as one of the inspirations behind changing the album title – after all, in 2016, West made drastic changes to his album ‘The Life Of Pablo’ even after it was officially released. “I mean, he’s just Captain Unreliable, isn’t he,” laughs Cromack. “We even considered changing the album title again!”
Even though the world around ‘Ball Park Music’ (the album) has changed a lot, not a great deal has changed within Ball Park Music (the band). Cromack’s unique brand of quizzical, eccentric and emotive lyricism remains matched with the band’s firebrand indie-pop. It’s a pairing that might seem diametrically opposed in theory, but in execution works impeccably well – as the band’s six studio albums each attest to. “I’ve always done what felt natural to me, right since the beginning of the band,” says Cromack.
“We’d been at it a while before my bandmates turned around and pointed out to me that the songs were really often fun, energetic and dancey, but the lyrics were really personal and honest. They were really encouraging of it – it was like, ‘This could be your thing!’ In the interest of trying to write sincerely, though, I try not to give it too much thought. I don’t want to start writing a song specifically [with] my ‘thing’ in mind. I just sit patiently, and let the songs come in that way.”
“A lot of my musical heroes have done exactly what they set out to do: They fucking love music, and they stuck with it”
It’s this approach that has given Ball Park Music wiggle room for progression in their sound. Although remaining idiosyncratic by design, each album has seen the band branch out just enough to develop a noticeable change. Cromack ultimately describes the album as “an expansion on what you already know”, adding: “I feel like it’s got this adventurous sort of spirit – we’re all pushing what we can do as musicians.”
This is exemplified on the eponymous album by ‘Cherub’, officially their longest song to date and the album’s third single. Cromack notes the song’s unique background and subsequent blossoming when presented to the rest of the band. “We didn’t really reinvent the wheel or anything,” he recalls. “The way it came about, though, was so unusual.”
“I did this demo by myself and recorded it, and that’s still the main chunk of it until the outro comes in. I felt like we’re so deep into the career now, and have such a respect for one another, that the band can hear that and hear it’s well on its way. We don’t have to strip this back down and start it from scratch. ‘Let’s just add this and this and this, and it’ll be done.’ That was more of a process thing – I just don’t think we could have executed that process when we were starting out.”
Cromack is right to point out the band’s longevity. It’s been a decade since they first emerged onto triple j rotation with the explicit joy of ‘iFly’, while next year will mark the ten-year anniversary of their beloved debut album ‘Happiness & Surrounding Suburbs’. “It’s certainly an unusual thing to be reflecting on our debut record turning ten. I guess all records turn ten eventually,” Cromack quips. “The only thing that makes it meaningful for us is that things are still ticking along. We’re still here, still together, still making music and people are still listening. It’s too good to be true.”
Indeed, many bands that emerged around the same time in Australia ended up as footnotes or flashes in the proverbial pan. Ball Park, on the other hand, never left the marquee position. They’re as popular now as they were when they first kicked off – which is something not lost on Cromack.
“It’s easy to slip into feeling like you’re just rinsing and repeating,” he says. “You can fall prey to that kind of thinking, but I definitely think it’s a trap. A lot of my musical heroes have done exactly what they set out to do: They fucking love music, and they stuck with it. It’s the love of their life. It makes you want to forget about what anyone else is saying – especially the voice in your head asking if you’re done. You just want to keep going, and keep getting better over time.”
That motivation has driven Ball Park Music’s latest endeavour: A whopping 13-show residency at beloved Brisbane venue The Triffid, marking the first time the band had performed live since early March. “Doing so many shows in a row in the same room motivated us to really bring something different,” says Cromack. “We’ve rehearsed like never before, and deviated entirely from the usual tour setlist. We’ve rehearsed 50 songs in total, and there’s a good chance we’ll get to play all of them.” (The band have memorialised the 13 different setlists on Instagram, if you’re curious.)
What an unbelievable album release week ❤️ You’ve all made us feel super loved. We had a huge week of shows with so many highlights. Thanks to everyone who sent us a message or came to a gig ❤️
📸 @luke_henery pic.twitter.com/iLKhl0HAUF
— Ball Park Music (@ballparkmusic) October 30, 2020
Although Cromack and co. obviously haven’t had the chance to play shows for most of 2020, life outside the band has certainly kept them occupied. Cromack has been getting accustomed to a life of fatherhood, his one-year-old child keeping him active and learning during the supposed downtime. The burning question remains, though: Is she a Ball Park fan yet? “If I play acoustic guitar in front of her, she usually just starts yelling,” laughs Cromack.
“She just wants to hear ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’, or she wants to hear ‘beep beep’ – that’s what she calls ‘Wheels On The Bus’. I check a lot of mixes in the car, though, and often it’s just me and her. I might be dropping her at daycare, or just heading across town, and I’ll put something on we just recorded to see what she thinks of it. It’s fun to gauge her reaction.” She’s been a fan of the ‘Ball Park Music’ singles, Cromack says: “She’d wave her arms around to ‘Day & Age’, and sometimes ‘Cherub’ would put her to sleep when she was really tired.”
Cromack is looking forward to hearing his daughter’s properly verbalised opinions of the band when she gets older. “Daniel [Hanson, drummer] has a daughter as well,” he says. “It really cracks me up thinking of a future where our two girls are telling us how lame we are.” Cromack laughs, before adding: “Hopefully there’ll be a couple of times where they tell us it’s a keeper.”
’Ball Park Music’ is out now