Ball Park Music were caught right in the crossfire of this year. Gearing up for their new album, plans were put on hold, release schedules were paused, and gigs were cancelled while the world stopped and waited. Last Friday, the indie-rock sensations’ self-titled album finally made its way into the world and what a treat it was.
Ball Park Music champions the band’s trademark blend of light and dark, opening with flouncy melodies that are mellowed with lyrical melancholy and introspection. Yet, as the album progresses, their sonic begins to move with the weight of their lyricism, like a pendulum drawn across the agonising spectrum of adulthood. From anxiety, to love, to self-loathing; emotionally, the record feels like it’s holding itself together by a thread, masking its vulnerability with billowing choruses. It’s so raw and relatable that it hurts.
The self-titled album has always been a catalyst for a band. This record must capture your artistic ethos, your entire personality, and ambition within a refined sonic aesthetic. Many choose to cement their legacy with their brightest, punchiest release to date. Ball Park Music have chosen a mixtape of imperfection as their calling card. Sonically, the record sees the band deliver their tightest performance yet, but, thematically, they are writing hopeful songs for the defeated.
A collection of pristine, peachy anthems just wouldn’t have felt right for the Brisbane five-piece. Since the beginning, the band have been nothing but honest. They don’t sugar coat their stories, but they always try and find the silver lining in them, punching out some seriously powerful songs in the process.
Like they’ve reminded us from the start, life will never be perfect, but maybe we should just be happy with where we are right now. As told in 39-minutes of sonic bliss, meet the Ball Park Music of now.
HAPPY: I really just want to throw it back to March of this year real quick for you guys. So, you just started the run of The Drop festival and the night before the Manly show everything gets shut down, basically. Could you paint a picture of what these last seven months have been like for Ball Park Music?
SAM: Yeah. Well, let me first say thank you for being so specific, because I can remember that like night and that weekend so clearly. And it gets weirdly skipped over in interviews because it just ends up getting so generalised, like “oh, what’s the year been like with the pandemic?” When you describe it like that it takes me right back. Like, we rehearsed that morning. We’d been rehearsing the shit out of Spark Up! because we were just about to release it and we were gonna play it for the first time that weekend. So yeah, giving it a good nudge in the studio. We packed up all our gear, I remember it was a really overcast day, went home, there was talk of the virus stuff worsening and yeah.
Some of us were like, oh you know, maybe some of the other Drop shows will get postponed or something like that? And yeah, we got a call at like seven o’clock that night being like tomorrow’s cancelled, the council pulled the pin on the event. I was just glued to the TV that weekend, just couldn’t stop watching the news. I’m sure the whole nation was doing the same thing, it was a real panicky weekend. Just being like, how bad is this going to get? I remember ringing my parents being like, can me and my wife and daughter come and live with you if everything turns to shit? But thankfully, it didn’t get to that.
SAM: It’s been a wild year. Definitely not going to sit here and complain too much, I think we’re doing better than probably a lot of people are. It’s been weird and aspects of it have been tough for sure. I think we just really remembered how much performing music is such a huge part of our identity. We’ve missed that and we’re really looking forward to doing these shows in Brisbane. There’ve been a lot of silver linings, a lot of chances to reflect on what Ball Park Music really is and what we do and what we want to do with the future. So I guess that’s been kind of refreshing.
HAPPY: Was this like the longest time you guys had gone without touring a while?
SAM: I think it might be. We have always toured pretty relentlessly, even when we’ve had breaks between albums we’ve been touring non-stop. So March until, what is it now, October? How many months is that? Seven or eight?
HAPPY: Yeah, something like that.
SAM: I think that’s one of the biggest gaps we’ve ever had really. Certainly in a long, long time. I mean, we had a three-month gap at the start of the year and we were commenting on that. We had a gap from like November through till February, or something like that, and we did a show in Canberra and were all like, wow, what a huge break between shows! We all felt like that show was pretty rusty and we’re all feeling pretty damn unfit. So, yeah, hopefully we’re not confronted too much by our ageing bodies this Friday when we play at The Triffid [laughs].
HAPPY: [Laughs] Yeah, well, what’s it been like teeing up this new album during rona? Because I’m guessing that not being able to give the singles like a good, solid test out on the road would have been pretty challenging, hey?
SAM: Yeah, and that really took me by surprise because, I guess, I took it for granted, how much touring is such a part of my life and something I got so used to that I just didn’t really acknowledge how much it’s a part of the puzzle in terms of this whole music picture. I just totally didn’t realise how much going out and performing a single in a real physical space with people responding to it gives you kind of closure in a way on what that song really means. We just haven’t had any of that. So, yeah, it feels like we’ve put them out into the world and they’re just hovering there. I think it kind of sucks, to be honest. Like, we’re very, very excited about doing these shows that are coming up. We just can’t wait to perform and we’ve ended up learning like most of the album for it.
HAPPY: Oh, it’s going to be a good show for sure then.
HAPPY: The self-titled album is always a bit of a big defining moment for a band. Why decide to release your self-titled record now?
SAM: Well, you know, it’s such a strange set of circumstances that it came about in. On every record we’ve sort of always joked at least once, like, oh, this should be self-titled, this record, knowing that it’s a bit of a tradition in music. But it’s never felt right. We’ve always been like, nah. And this time, we picked the album title, Mostly Sunny, announced that we were going to call the album that, and then a few weeks later, we finished the record, coronavirus would take over and the whole world would feel so different. I think we were looking at our record just being like, I don’t feel like it should be called Mostly Sunny. Of course you’re going, oh well it’s too late to change, we’ve told everyone. I guess the cool thing about this year’s that you get to sort of go, well fuck all those rules and traditions. Everything is out the window.
And you got to remember too that the weekend after the one we were just talking about, when the show was cancelled, was when Triple J had the Hottest 100 of the Decade and Nice To Be Alive came in… I can’t even remember what number was, but it’s in the top 20. For us, that was just like such a huge fucking moment. It felt like the end of a chapter, it felt like the last 10 years had ended and that we’re about to begin something new. We just felt really good about self-titling. It felt like a boss move.
HAPPY: Yeah. Well, it’s super interesting. You bring up the whole rebranding yourself because I really feel like this record is kind of taking or redefining your music in a way that I never associated with Ball Park. Was it a conscious effort to try out these different sonic routes in your sound, or did it just kind of come about naturally?
SAM: Well, the one sort of guiding theme that we had on the album was to lean into each song and treat the record more as like a mixtape, not so much as your classic album. We always felt that maybe our records were too eclectic or that we didn’t really achieve the cohesion that we had always hoped for. I guess we’ve always had a little mini identity crisis going on where we haven’t known exactly what it is that we do or what our sound is, even though I’m sure, to listeners, it probably feels like we’ve got a thing. On the inside, for us, it didn’t necessarily feel that way.
And this is the first album where we just went fuck it, let’s put blinders on, let’s work on each track one at a time, not think about the rest of the record. If it’s Spark Up! and it sounds dancy, and kind of disco, and fun, and shiny, let’s go with that. If it’s Cherub and it’s really stripped back and folky and beautiful, fuck it! Let’s go with that, you know? If it’s Head Like a Sieve and it sounds like some ’60s, Beatles rip off, fuck it! Let’s just do that and go down that rabbit hole. That’s what we did for every song, so we really just followed our nose and tried to forget about all those worries that we could have. And I think it’s worked out well.
HAPPY: Yeah, totally. Do you reckon that’s being a decade down the road, you feel like you got a little bit more freedom to do that sort of stuff in the studio?
SAM: Yeah. Maybe? I’m thinking about it this morning because, I guess in a way, I believe that people typically have their best years of writing when they’re younger. But I would say musicians, typically, are playing their best on their instruments, maybe a bit older than that. So, you know, fuck! Maybe our best years of writing are behind us? I don’t know.
HAPPY: I would beg to differ [laughs].
SAM: [Laughs] Well, that’s kind of you. It’s certainly something you worry about. But, in terms of our playing and our bond as a group and how we make music together, that feels in a really good spot. This feels like more fun and effortless than ever before. I just felt like on this record, we’d come in, we’d look at the song, we’d set up the mics, we’d talk about what we might want to do, and we’d play through a bunch of different ideas, we’d press record, and within a few takes, we’re listening back just being like, this feels great. Yeah, it’s the confidence you gain playing together for so long.
HAPPY: Well, I’d like to talk about Prawn Records for a little bit, which is such an exciting new step for you guys.
SAM: Yeah, I think releasing independently is something that we had in the back of our minds for some time. We actually got approached by one of our managers, who was also the head of our record label, Stop Start. He sort of said to us, “look, the record industry is changing so much, you guys are very established now. You could essentially, you know, do all this yourselves, mainly fund it all yourselves and you’d see a lot more money back from the sales of your records. I think you’d have fun with it.” And we were like, all right, let’s do it.
At first, we thought it was more going to feel like a structural, behind the scenes kind of decision, we didn’t even know where we’d make a big song and dance about having our own label. But we just had this kind of joke idea for a label called Prawn Records for ages and had this squiggly little prawn that I’d drawn that we thought would be funny. And now it’s like hard to believe that, you know, it’s an actual label and that our record’s coming out this week. I’ve actually been talking to some sign makers in Brisbane about getting a little Prawn Records light-up sign made for the studio that we’re going to move into soon.
HAPPY: Yeah, that’d be sick!
SAM: Yeah, on one hand like such a laugh. Like, we definitely had a few moments where it’s like, lol we started a business called Prawn Records this year. But at the same time, you’re like it’s so exciting! It’s just another thing, who knows what Prawn Records could become? We’re definitely interested in expanding in the future to support other Australian artists, particularly Brisbane artists that we really love.
HAPPY: Oh, that’ll be so good. Have you noticed any differences in the process of releasing on your own?
SAM: Oh, we’ve always been very involved in a lot of the behind the scenes work. But yeah, that’s stepped up even more with going independent. Like I said, our manager, he’s the head of our old label, he’s been amazing, he’s held our hand and guided us through the whole transition to being independent. We’ve had a lot of fun learning a lot of new things. I really need to give another special mention to Dean, because Dean’s just kind of assumed the position of Prawn Records CEO. But I think he’s so destined to do that role. He loves thinking about all that sort of stuff and he’s done an amazing job so far.
HAPPY: Oh, so excited for you guys. Thanks so much for the chat and congrats again!
SAM: Thank you so much!
Grab your copy of Ball Park Music here