Interview :: Ball Park Music – Sam Cromack
March 18th 2014
Five bandmates. One house. An entirely self-produced album.
The upcoming release of Ball Park Music‘s third record Puddinghead is going to be pretty freakin’ epic – so naturally it should be read in a rugged, movie-trailer voice. This is “the most excited they’ve ever been about releasing new music” – and with good reason. Leasing a three-bedroom house or “fibro shack” in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, the five-piece took a new approach to their sound and production on album number three, ultimately wanting to try something different.
Lucy Smith chatted with Sam Cromack (vocals, guitar) ahead of the band’s Puddinghead tour and got in-depth about the recording process, first single “She Only Loves Me When I’m There” and wet t-shirts.
Lucy Smith: When you went back to Brisbane to record Puddinghead, you put a lease on a three-bedroom house in the northern suburbs and you were going to produce this all on your own. How and why did this decision come about?
Sam Cromack: I think it was always on my agenda; I’ve always wanted to be able to record the band’s albums and produce ourselves. I didn’t anticipate that it would happen so soon, I sort of imagined that it would be something we’d do later in our career – but it all just came about really quickly. We were touring supporting Weezer in January last year and we were taking a flight, and a member of our crew had an audio technology magazine which had a big special on DIY recording. That was always an interest of mine prior to reading that magazine – I’d done records on my own under My Own Pet Radio, had a basic recording set up at my house and loved doing it.
But we went through this magazine, all of us, and got talking about it. I didn’t really expect that my band mates would be super keen on the idea. But everyone was really supportive, and we got a bit more gear and looked for a place and before we knew it we were sort of getting stuck into it! Yeah, it was really exciting when it all started happening.
In terms of production, was there anything you actively sought to do differently in creating the new album in comparison to the first two?
Well when I was recording on my own… I think for a long time that was an outlet for me, because doing the band – it kind of had its own vibe and I still felt like musically there was stuff I wanted to get off my chest. So I liked producing on my own, it gave me a bit more flexibility to experiment and use different instruments, different sounds, different production techniques, and again I always hoped that in the future I could incorporate that with Ball Park Music. So when it did start to go down that path, I felt for me personally, I was gaining a real sense of freedom in the studio to really have more control and do what I wanted, and be able to sort of have my production flavours influence what the band does. And everyone was really receptive to that.
So next to old Ball Park Music stuff that we’ve done, it’s been very ‘all-to-tape’ – which meant that it had a real live-band kind of feel. We all set up in a room and would play our song, just as any rock band would. Whereas this time, we were recording digitally using the computer, which meant we could manipulate what we were working with and have a lot more modern techniques that we hadn’t really explored in the past. For me, that was a real step forward on this record and something that I really enjoyed doing, and I think the band really took to it as well. I think we’d definitely go down that road again.
I think with “She Only Loves Me When I’m There”, you can definitely hear from the opening that it has a more sonic sound – why was this particular track chosen as the first release from the new record?
It’s funny you mention that you can hear the change in production on that track, because that one is a good example. We were about halfway through the process of making the record and I got to a point where I thought, hang on, even though I’m producing it this time and have got more control, I realised I was starting to produce the tracks in the same way we were already doing previously in the studio.
I had this moment where I thought, ‘I need to really put my print on this and make sure I’m really fully utilising this new set up that I’ve got going on.’
So I actually had bits and pieces of that song lying around and I went to the studio by myself one weekend; I wanted to do something really different that I’d never tried before. So I looked online how to use a vocoder within the software… and I made up the introduction using that, played the synths through the vocoder… and surprised myself with how nice it sounded. I showed my band mates when they came in and straight away they were like, ‘Holy shit, we love it, let’s roll with this!’
They wanted it to be track one on the record and we all got behind it being a single as well – it came about really naturally. But also, the message of the song has that universal theme – love, breaking up, yadda yadda – so that really resonates with people.
It’s interesting you mention that too – was there any particular story behind these lyrics?
Even though it has those universal themes, the writing actually came about in a really roundabout kind of way. I’d written a song originally about an experience I had where I got followed by a guy one time when I was walking home from university five years ago… And every time I hit the chorus, another song that I had lying around for years just fit so well there, so we put that in and then all of a sudden the lyrics weren’t really making a whole lot of sense because it was all this patchwork kind of song.
It was Dean who gave us the lyric “she only loves me when I’m there” – which was a bit of advice he’d been given from his grandfather about trusting people in relationships. And we all kind of had a laugh at that and then I changed all the lyrics that were ‘he’ to ‘she’, so now it’s kind of like this fictional song about this turbulent relationship. Even though it came about in that funny way, it still kind of made sense.
I do have to ask about the video – standing in the rain, wet t-shirt and all. How was the filming process for the new clip?
Yeah it was good! I’m really stoked with how it came out in the end. We did want to try something different, and we worked with the same film companies that have done the last couple of clips for us. It was originally meant to be really minimal, and only have two or three cuts in it. So we filmed the different scenes, but it wasn’t quite flowing, it got a bit monotonous. We ended up adding in a lot of extra cuts and shooting a few extra scenes. So this clip was definitely a little bit more of a challenge, I think for us and for the film crew… But we stuck at it, and I’m happy with where it got to, it had a really good response.
The rain stuff was kind of interesting to shoot – thankfully it’s really hot in Brisbane so it wasn’t too bad. But I was shivering really badly because we had to shoot it over and over and over again. By the time I got home to have a shower I think my core temperature had dropped a fair bit. I had the hottest shower in the world and was still like shaking…
So on the topic of ‘Puddinghead’ – I read an interesting definition on Urban Dictionary: “A person who has the ability to fuck up the easiest tasks.” Is that related to your record?
[laughs] Well, we actually had a song called ‘Puddinghead’, which I wrote years ago now, and we recorded it a bunch of times and it didn’t end up making the record, it just didn’t fit. But when I first showed my band mates the song, they were like, “I love that, where did you get that title from?”
I originally found it in high school when I was studying a Shakespeare piece, and there was an insult in the play where they called someone a puddinghead and I remember everyone in the class pulling up the teacher and asking “What was that?!” And he said, that’s a popular insult at the time, to call someone a puddinghead.
Daniel was really curious, he looked it up on urban dictionary too… we thought it was really funny, I think we all related to that as well. There was definitely times on the record where we’ve felt like we were a long, long way from having a finished product – we had some successes and then hurdles as well. We felt a handful of times… ‘we’ve managed to screw shit up’ [laughs]. It’s a loveable term, even though it’s an insult – it sounds a bit like a pet name. It just stuck, it felt right for the record – especially given that we did it ourselves, and it was a real challenge and learning process for us.
Your 180 Degrees tour in 2012 was labeled “your most ambitious tour yet” and I think I read that was 14 dates, and now the Puddinghead tour is almost 20 dates – what would you label this tour?
Oh, it’s funny when the press release comes out for each tour and like even though you’ve spent months organizing it and getting it together with everyone – when the press release comes out and you look at it you kind of think, “Oh! So that’s what this tour is that I’m about to do.” You just kind of lose track of all the touring, it just becomes a big blur of dates.
It feels kind of difficult to remember where I’ve been and what shows I’ve done over the last two or three years cause it’s just been constant, non-stop. And even though the tour gets its own reputations, to me it always just feels like a big bunch of shows in amongst an even bigger bunch of shows. So, I wouldn’t know what to label it – I know it’s technically probably our largest.
To be honest, I’m so excited to go and do it. I think it’ll be about 9 months since we’ve done a show by the time we hit the road, and I’m just eager to get out and play again.
WHAT :: Ball Park Music – Puddinghead tour
WHEN :: Saturday April 5, 7:30pm
WHERE :: The Metro Theatre
HOW MUCH ::
$43.90 – sold out! All Australian tour dates & deets here