With their new record out today, we spoke to Ball Park Music's frontman Sam Cromack about their music, career and how they've conquered a new music chart!
Ball Park Music have returned with their sensational sixth studio album, aptly titled Ball Park Music. We caught up with frontman Sam Cromack to chat about the eponymous record, their 12 year long career, how they’ve finally cracked Shazam and more!
Having already teased us with the release of three stellar singles, Ball Park Music are back with their first full-length record in two years, lifting spirits in an uneasy time. Originally titled Mostly Sunny, Cromack tells MILKY that after completing the album during the COVID-19 pandemic, isolated from one another, the general consensus was that the original title "doesn’t feel right anymore". After having flirted with the idea of an eponymous record in the past, the band felt like it was the right time, and the right record.
Each song on the record holds its own space as an individual piece of art, however still feels threaded together to create a standout record from the band. Its eclectic nature doesn’t hinder the timeless qualities of the tracks, with Cromack's honest, relatable and conversational lyricism as potent as ever. He effortlessly crafts and weaves together themes that are cross-generational, yet also feel specific to differing demographics. The release of Cherub as a single saw the band conquer a new chart: Shazam. The track has become Ball Park Music’s most Shazamed song, something Cromack finds interesting, but difficult to identify what about the track would prompt such a reaction.
Whilst the band can’t embark on a nationwide tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the band will be performing a whopping 13 show residency at Brisbane’s The Triffid. Kicking off tonight, Cromack shared with MILKY that the band can’t wait to hit the stage, and have been rehearsing over 40 tracks from their catalogue with plans to change the setlist for each performance. Fans worldwide can register and tune into tonights show via livestream, with an exclusive Q&A before the performance.
Ball Park Music is out now! Read our interview with Sam Cromack below.
We’ve been treated to three tasters from the record, Spark Up, Day and Age and Cherub. Each track has its own space but still feel somewhat sonically intertwined. Is that an indication of where the record is heading, exploring different avenue of sounds but still creating one overall soundscape they exist in?
Yeah, I guess. On this record more than ever we really tried to lean into each individual song and not think about the record too much when we were writing. That was sort of our whole philosophy when making this one was to concentrate on the song in front of us. So yeah it ended up being pretty eclectic overall, but it’s nice to hear you can still get some sort of link between them. I guess we’re hoping that there is a natural kind of thread that runs throughout all our music because we’re the ones playing it sort of thing.
The record was originally to be titled Mostly Sunny. What influenced the decision to re-route and have this album be eponymous?
Yeah well we had that title which we really liked and that title sort of popped up like halfway through making the record, we felt really good about that. We even announced it like when we put Spark Up out which was the first time we’d ever announced the album title that early, and everything was feeling really great but just like obviously the world changed so much around March and April and we were finishing the record under really different circumstances. With all of us locked at home, Mostly Sunny in my mind felt almost like a continuation of a title like Good News on our previous record, it nearly like has a feeling of a sequel almost. And then I think between what was happening in the world and how our record suddenly felt when it was finished, I think we were all just like ‘it just doesn’t feel right anymore’ and the idea of self-titling an album is sort of always there at the back of maybe every bands minds when you make an album. Like 'oh we could just let this be self-titled'. I think we’ve considered it on every record we’ve made, and finally we were just like this is the one, let’s do it, it feels like the right time to just be like 'bang this albums called Ball Park Music.'
Yeah, it definitely feels organic after listening to the record that this is the album you’ve chosen to self-title! You mentioned there that you finished working on the album in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Was the experience of working on the record during the pandemic more challenging, or did it allow you to carve out time and space to immerse yourself completely within creating?
Well we were lucky in that we recorded probably like 90% of the album at that point. The only things we had to finish remotely when we were all on lockdown was a few random little overdubs and vocals and stuff like that. Jen just recorded like a bunch of vocals just on her iPhone, and would just send them to me and I’d put them into the song and stuff like that. I think what would’ve been different if the pandemic didn’t come is that we probably would’ve just continued working on the album for a bit longer, and maybe done a handful more songs. And probably still whittled it down to the kind of length that the record is, but yeah we just would’ve done those few extras that we like to do so you’ve got more to choose from. But we kind of got to the point where we were like 'oh my god like this is crazy'. Thankfully, we’re pretty pleased with the way the record is. We’ll just have to sort of call it finished.
And in answer to what you said, like definitely for me like lockdown was not a super productive, creative sabbatical kind of time. I’ve got a one year old and me and my wife were just flat out trying to keep her entertained while we were locked in our house.
Did you find the prospect of releasing a record during the COVID-19 pandemic scary or challenging considering you wouldn’t be able to undertake a traditional album rollout?
Yeah look, it’s good and bad I guess. I think the fact that it has to be different is cool because you know, by virtue of it being different you’re learning new things. We’re launching our record in different ways, like we’re doing a residency in Brisbane where we’ll play a bunch of shows here, we never would’ve done something like that. And now we’re really excited about that. I guess the whole time we’ve moved through the pandemic it’s been sort of like playing it by ear, trying to just survive and pay the bills and figure out how to get this record you know just chugging along. I think really early on we decided ‘let’s just reach for the stars kind of thing, we’ve not stopped lets just keep on going, going, going’ you know. Like it might be cool to look back one day and think 'we put out an album that year, and that was an insane year'.
You’re now six studio albums into your career, celebrating 12 years since the band formed. So obviously there’s been a lot of life in between that, like you said earlier you’ve become a father and whatnot. So what new knowledge and experience are you bringing into the sessions working on the new record, that differs from creating your debut album and subsequent albums?
Oh yeah, that’s a really good question! I think my answer is two-fold. One part of my answer would be that as friends and musicians we, I guess, have nurtured that friendship and become so close, and for me I feel like that’s reflective in the playing. When we play together these days, like just yesterday we had a huge rehearsal and we were exploring all these old songs that we hadn’t played for years and we were just buzzing after. Like we’ve all been texting each other today and it’s like 'that was the best fucking rehearsal, like holy crap'. It’s the best we’ve played together and I feel like we genuinely just got better at playing. And we all joked because we assumed it would be the other way around, that you know you kind of get worse as time goes on. But it’s just so nice to feel like our playing is actually improving.
The other part of the answer is I guess more from the writing perspective. I recall a few years back thinking to myself like, 'I don’t know what to write about anymore' it feels like I’ve sort of lived through all the traditional ups and downs of your early twenties, which is a really big rollercoaster at the time emotionally. Life was feeling more steady all of a sudden and I was like 'oh my gosh, maybe I don’t have anything left to add' sort of thing. But the last year or so, since becoming a father, there’s been a lot of, I guess personal growth. Looking inward, I suddenly felt like I was excited to use my words again and it’s a ride. I guess I feel like we’ve brought more wisdom in our playing and hopefully a bit more wisdom in the writing too, I don’t know.
And so what do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish when I was starting out that I knew that I didn’t have to be such a people pleaser. I feel like when I was younger I was bending over backwards trying so hard to be some imagined thing, that I thought people wanted or needed, and just almost destroying yourself trying to do it. And just end up feeling like in retrospect like you tried too hard. Like you could’ve just relaxed a bit, taken it easy, and I think I still would’ve done a good job at expressing myself. When I listen to our old tunes, it is such a walk down memory lane. Now I feel like I’m basically 22 year old Sam, and it’s like just so interesting. One part of me is going like 'wow I cant believe we kind of got our hands dirty and did that much work when we were that young.' But another part of me is going like 'just relax man, just take it easy, you don’t have to try so hard in your singing and your writing, take a breather'.
Could you give me your standout track on the album, that if you played to someone who hadn’t heard your music, would make them an instant Ball Park Music fan?
Probably Cherub our latest single. It’s out in the world now and people will know it as a single, but we deliberated massively over whether we should release that song or not. I guess it had more or less become everybody’s favourite on the album. And I think just being like a slow burner, and it’s a bit longer than the other songs, I think that made us feel like 'oh you know, is this the right song to send to radio or whatever'. But I’m so glad we did it’s had such a great reaction and it’s been Shazamed heaps! Like we’ve never, ever been in the Shazam charts, which is obviously not a huge priority for us but its just so interesting to have put out a song that people are Shazaming heaps. Like it’s really hard for me to identify what it is about that song that would make people do that, I guess it’s so inside the whole experience having had that clear perspective but yeah that’s been refreshing so I guess that’s the song I’d share.
It is such a great song! Could you kind of talk us through your creative process when writing and recording songs?
I still do a lot of writing on my own. Just in that traditional format of playing guitar or piano and writing songs like that. I guess even when I’m doing a lot of the writing and early sketching of ideas by myself, I still like to really keep the others involved in that process. So I guess I’m sharing everything I am doing with them, and always seeking their input on like what songs they like and what songs they think are worthy of pursuing. Sometimes I’ll even do really fleshed out demos of songs, and I still really like going to the studio just by myself and sort of just having a day to just basically explore a song and see what might be hiding in it. Again, I share all that with the band so they can get an idea. And then, by the time we’re all in the studio together, we sort of all jump on instruments and tend to just start playing the song and then it evolves as we perform it as a group. It might start with them more or less imitating a demo that I’ve made and from there we just naturally grow. I really love letting everyone sort of approach it in their own way and do their own thing. I’d say now more than ever, I’m embracing the sounds of the band and the unique combination of the five players all performing together. That’s a big part of it. But yeah, it’s like really collaborative when we’re recording. I think we like to think of ourselves less as like, 'I’m the drummer, or I’m the keyboard player, I’m the guitarist' and more just as musicians across the board. We’ll all suggest things for one another and no-one’s precious about like who plays what, or what’s in a song. What you hear in our band is really like a good effort for the recording to be that way I think.
You really do have this knack for writing timeless songs. They’re cross-generational but also feel quite specific to very differing demographics. Is that something you’ve consciously worked on or is it just some kind of brilliant pure happenstance?
Oh that’s a very flattering question! I guess I try not to overthink it too much. I still have memories of when we were doing the first record, and I was just writing in the same way anyone would write. The band was still so young and I hadn’t really had the chance to try and understand how other people thought about my music, I was sort of just making it for myself still. It was my own band mates who started telling me, I remember on old songs like Sad Rude Future Dude our drummer Daniel saying to me like, 'dude these words are cool, people can relate to this, it was sort of like just singing how people feel on the inside, you should keep doing that'. And I had never really thought of that, I was just saying what I felt like I needed to say. And I guess in an effort to keep it real, for lack of a better term, try to block out the outside world the best you can, block out all that noise and just try and keep that writing pure and true, something you do in your own time and express how you feel.
You guys have consistently released great music videos and visuals for your music. How important are the visuals to you when it comes to conveying the story and meaning present on the track and how involved are you in the creative process?
I think it’s become much more important to us as time’s gone on. When we first got together and started making music, the whole concept of like a viral video on YouTube was such a big deal at the time. I don’t even think artists even had Instagram accounts. There’d be all these artists, obviously something like OK GO, they’re the like classical example of this band that had all these viral videos. It was kind of annoying really, everyone was trying to make fucking viral videos, it was so dumb. I think that kind of thinking really sort of played to our early music videos. Again with the trying too hard thing, I think we were always thinking of some goofy reason for why it could potentially be viral in some way. It’s been so nice to just get deeper into our career and just shake that off. And to realise more than anything that a video or any visual is really an opportunity for us as the artists to invite people into our world more, and have them understand the music in a deeper way. To have them see something that makes the song strike twice as hard and I think that’s become really important to us, to cherish that opportunity to invite people into your world more.
You mentioned earlier you’re in rehearsals for your upcoming residency in Brisbane, which is super exciting! How are you approaching crafting a set and overall live experience for these socially distanced shows?
To be honest we’re fucking pumped about it! It’s really exciting, the shows I think will be really good. When we found out we were gonna do some shows like this and had the option to do it, I think naturally we were like, 'what’s the vibe of this gonna be like, is it gonna be stuffy and awkward and weird' cause that made us concerned. But Dean and I went to a couple of shows at this venue where they were doing them in this style, and we were like 'this is sick!', it was awesome. Everyone’s seated, it feels fun, they bring booze to your table and it just felt so great to be seeing some live music. We had a great night out and we were just like it would be great to do the shows like this.
It’s amazing timing actually, we’re moving studios again. So we’re gonna basically move all our studio onto the stage. I think we’re gonna put all our gear there plus stuff like all our rugs, and couches and plants and fake plants and all that bullshit down to the venue. Our goal is to do a different setlist for every single show, we’re rehearsing like over forty songs for the shows. We’re really excited actually!
Do you have any post pandemic touring plans?
Fuck yeah! But like none worth mentioning. I think touring plans have gone up on the drawing board just over and over and over again this year, just to be scrapped every time. It’s really hard to plan at the moment and to depend on what the future looks like. So the answer is definitely a broad yes, we’re fucking desperate to tour as soon as we can. That’s how bands make most of their money, so it would be great to try and make some money again. But as soon as we can, absolutely. And plus, we’ve really missed it! I think the pandemic made us realise how much touring and performing is a part of our identity. It’s been a weird feeling to put the three songs out so far, and to have not had an opportunity to perform them. We’ve really missed it! It kind of bums us out in a way, like you get so excited to put it out, and our fans still receive everything really warmly. But you realise that the final piece of the puzzle is getting to perform it, and seeing how the song fares when it’s in a room getting shared by all these people. I can’t wait to do that again.
Biggest Musical influences?
The Beatles, Radiohead, Neutral Milk Hotel. They’re probably my three favourite bands.
I feel like I’m already in my dream collaboration with my bandmates, or the other people I’ve already collaborated with that are just my close friends who no one knows. I don’t really daydream about collaborating with anyone really big to be honest.
Album that has had the most impact on you?
Probably Kid A by Radiohead. I think it’s a great album of course, but it’s also great because of its context. It was a huge left turn for the band and I think thats just always stuck in my mind, that whole concept of if you ever do something great or that people love that you challenge them the next time around and keep people on their toes. I think thats the big reminder that album has given me, and plus I just love the shit out of it.
Best song of 2020?
I love Honey by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. That’s one of their best, and such a creative song. Or a smaller band that deserves a plug, is a band from Melbourne called Obscure Hail and they had a song called Doomer which is really great.
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which film would it be?
I feel like this is so cheesy but I’m gonna say Juno because it is already just the most classic indie film, and I’m just trying to think about one that our band could actually be on. It would be so fun to re-do a film like that. Part of me wants to choose something more moody and pretentious, but I feel like that’s the film that always bloody comes up when people are talking about our band.
Best concert you have been to?
I saw Dirty Three at Splendour In The Grass when I was probably 17 years old, I saw them by myself and that was a life changing concert. And kind of on that thread, I saw Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds at the start of 2017 in Brisbane, that was definitely one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. And then I can’t go past when I saw Radiohead for the first time and only time, that was in Brisbane in 2015 or something like that. That was a dream come true, I’d been waiting a long time.
Largest crowd you have ever performed for?
I think we’ve done a couple of 20,000 shows. We did the One Night Stand in Dubbo years ago and that 20,000 and we did Spin Off festival in Adelaide recently and that was about 20,000. I honestly think once you go above 5,000 people, it’s kind of hard to process it and make sense of it.
Guilty music pleasure?
Heaps! Shania Twain is probably number one. And Incubus are a terrible band that I loved during my teenage years.
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
I’ve been playing music since I was pretty young. I was about 10 when I started playing. I think it was when I formed a band with some kids on my street, and even then it still just felt like something to do, and we performed at this stupid thing at school when I was like 13 years old or something. And I think I just immediately was addicted. We felt so proud of ourselves that we put something together to perform, and it felt like so cool to perform for our friends at school. Especially for me, I wasn’t good at sport or anything like that, so it finally felt like I had a cool thing! It’s pretty addictive when you’re a teenager wanting something that you can build an identity around.