Sam Cromack opens up on the recording of the band's new album.
Now a decade into their illustrious career, Brisbane indie stalwarts Ball Park Music are showing no signs of slowing down. Their unique blend of indie rock and folk has garnered them a bevy of loyal fans across the globe. On the heels of their upcoming self-titled album release, we caught up with frontman Sam Cromack to chat all things Ball Park.
2020 has been hell for many groups across the world – in between cancelled tour dates, botched album releases and border lockdowns, it’s not a nice time to be a musician. But Ball Park Music are optimists and have found some silver linings in all the discomfort.
“Jen (Boyce, bass guitar) who now lives in Sydney came up for a visit, then Sydney got declared a hotspot, so she ended up staying here for most of the year,” Sam says. “It’s been so nice!”
Despite the stuff-ups of Melbourne, it’s obvious that we’re pretty lucky with our COVID scenario here in Australia. As live music slowly making its triumphant return, groups across the land are adapting to the situation and making the most of it. Ball Park Music aren’t far behind, getting back into the swing of touring with their upcoming mini-residency at The Triffid in their native Brisbane.
“We wanted to do something to celebrate the record coming out,” says Cromack. “In the past we’ve done some real casual things at The Triffid like an acoustic set and some signings, so we first thought we could do something like that, but then the idea kept expanding and expanding, then the possibility of doing a real show, albeit one that’s COVID-safe came up, and we were into it.
“We thought let’s put as many as we can on sale, and keep doing them for as long as people keep buying tickets … now we’ve got 13 shows, it’s like a full Aussie tour, but in one room,” he laughs.
Ball Park Music follows 2018’s Good Mood, which was met with much critical acclaim, and was loved by their fans across the globe. The new record also marks the first release on the group’s own record label; Prawn Records, and while it may sound like a gambit for artistic freedom,Sam mentions the band always had it pretty lucky with their previous record company, who had produced all their records to date.
“I’ve got to pay a lot of respect to our old label, Stop Start. No one has really ever interfered with our music making whatsoever, we’ve always been free to do what we want, and people have always respected that.”
The idea to release Ball Park Music under their own label came about due to some other reasons, according to Sam; “It was more of a business decision that works out better for us in the long run, with the group wanting to have more control of “the songs to put out, when to put them out and how to market them.”
The singles that were released; ‘Cherub’, ‘Day and Age’ and ‘Spark Up!’ have gotten plenty of exposure across the airwaves, with some even popping up on some more commercial radio stations, which has opened the group up to wider, predominately older audiences.
Sam mentions that there was no intent behind this, they ultimately just wanted to make music “they were proud of” which should be a lesson to all budding musicians out there.
The group recently celebrated ten years since uploading their first song to Triple J Unearthed, which helped catapult them into the hearts of many adoring fans across the country. After ten years in any band, you wouldn’t be blamed for bouts of boredom or cabin fever, but this isn’t the case for Ball Park Music, who are still gelling and finding new ways to keep it fresh, even six albums later.
“We’d do a lot of free – jamming, it helped us bond as friends, I always compare it to going out and kicking a ball around,” Sam says.
“We’re always trying to reinvent ourselves, do new things, see what happens. I love that in music and in art-making: there’s no rules,”
This no-rules attitude can definitely be heard in the group’s upcoming album; by a long-shot, Ball Park Music is one of their most inventive yet, with an abundance of new textures and flares that give the album a fresh edge. “There was some kind of attempt to innovate and go to new places. I think naturally we’re always trying to evolve and move forward,” Sam explains.
This interesting and distinct sound is especially evident on the track ‘Katkit’ which functions as a intermission between the two halves of the album – because it’s made to be listened to in full.
“We felt like the record had two distinct halves, especially with ‘Cherub’, which kicks off the second side,” says Sam of the track, which was one of the first recorded during the Ball Park Music sessions.
“We really felt like ‘Cherub’ was a mammoth of a song and needed a lot of space either side of it, so we thought it’d be cool to have a song break it up.”
Although this isn’t the process for other tracks on Ball Park Music. Sam writes a chunk of the tracks, with Dean Hanson (rhythm guitar) contributing some as well before bringing them to the group to flesh out.
“Dean and I still definitely write in that traditional mode, working by ourselves in that singer / songwritery kind of way at the piano, or with a guitar.”
“Then we’d come in and say ‘Hey I’ve got this song’, then we’d all build an arrangement from scratch, then we’d look at those free-jams and say ‘we did this kind of thing really well, maybe we could use that sort of approach in this song’.”
Ball Park Music was recorded over the scorching summer of 2019 – 2020, and as Sam details, extremely poor conditions impacted a fair amount of the album’s recording and production. “The room was so hot, and we had so much noise pollution from other rooms, we had to work much quicker than I wanted to”
These inferior circumstances drove Ball Park Music into new areas musically, going about the recording of Ball Park Music in a different, unfamiliar way.
“I think that on this record, more so than any other, we had to do a lot of ensemble playing; recording drums, guitar, bass, keys, all at the same time. When we got a window of quiet, we were like ‘Fuck! Press record!’,” he laughs.
It’s apparent that the unsavoury recording conditions also had an impact on the general vibe of Ball Park Music, with the group’s irritation at the situation seeping into some of the tracks.
“I felt like especially the first half of the record that’s much rockier, you can really sense the urgency and kind of frustration and anger in some of the music, it’s got a real hard edge to it, by our standards,” Sam says.
“I love hearing that. I can really sense everyone’s willingness to just bash it out, and in the production too, I can hear many times where I think I would’ve normally taken my time more. But sometimes it was like ‘fuck it’… let’s just rock out!”
Ball Park Music drops on Friday October 23 courtesy of Prawn Records. Preorder it here.