Chris Ballew Interview #4 by Mike Lyon

(The 4th Annual Mike Lyon Interview With Chris)

For 4 years now, the impending arrival of fall has been my cue to have a chat with Chris about life and the future of his music. This year, it's incontestable that Chris has never been so active, and this month alone has been HUGE for Ballew fans! So it seemed there was no better time than the present to shoot the shit once again with the man himself, and the results yielded more exciting news than I could have expected! Read on...

Mike - Even with albums coming out the ears and new projects lined up through the door, I'd wager nothing quite compares to the birth of Josie! Any words to say on the subject real quick?

Chris - Well, HELL YES!!!!!!! I got a girl! She is SO good and quiet and sweet and BE-U-TI-FULL. I have a great feeling of happiness about my family and, like the feeling of coming home to Seattle back in 1991 that sparked the PUSA sound, I feel like this joyous situation is sparking a new sound...

Mike - Now that I've seen Augie playing the piano on the cover of your last album, I was wondering, is he already getting into music at such an early age? In such a musical family, I imagine it'd be hard not to pick up an instrument!

Chris - I think that Augie will prove the "rebel-against-your-parents" theory correct and become a construction worker. Which I would be VERY happy with, because the chances of having the kind of success you need to have to support a family with music is small small small... But if he were driven to do music I would help him get started and all that. I think he will take piano lesson no matter what because even if you don't do music, lessons build good work skills.

Mike - Well, don't want to pry into your personal life too much. I guess what we all want to hear about is the new music! Judging from the videos up at Musicblitz, it looks like you had a really great time back in the studio with Dave and Jason. Was it better than you expected, going back into the studio for another go at The Presidents?

Chris - Yes, it was. It was pretty easy because the songs I offered up I had already demoed a lot and I knew what I wanted out of the recordings... And the ones that needed work needed exactly what Dave and Jason brought to the table. And we had a producer (Martin Feveyear) this time which made the whole thing a lot less stressful, because when we would get into a conflict about a part of a song or sound we would just ASK THE PRODUCER TO FIX IT! It was Jason's idea to have a producer because he said it would make him more comfortable... And it worked!

Mike - Q was talking to Dave awhile back about touring, and he was saying that he hadn't yet "lit a fire under your ass" about going out to play live. Now, I know from past conversations that you love playing live; is it just the pressure of doing the whole "I'm a rokstar" thing again that makes you hesitate?

Chris - I LOVE TO PLAY!!! I would love to play every night... WITH THE GIRAFFES!!! I don't need Dave to light a fire under my ass about anything. I want to get on with the next sound, and I found it in the Hammond organ, acoustic guitar, and small-drumset combo that I have put together for The Giraffes. I think that this album we [The Presidents] made is a VERY successful recording project and I had GREAT time with them during the process. BUT I don't feel that it makes us a band again. I am looking forward to touring and putting out records with The Giraffes for the rest of my days, because I am going to allow The Giraffes to be whatever I want for years to come. If it is a band then that is cool or it could be just me with my 8-track or me and a friend on acoustic guitars... Who knows? I have found that the 2 year period of saying "yes" to everything was really productive and I learned a lot playing with all these different people, and putting my songwriting skills through their paces was hard and productive, but the light at the end of the tunnel has arrived and The Giraffes are here!

Mike - If you played just one big, strictly-for-fun show in Seattle, would it still feel good to get up on-stage and hear everyone scream like a schoolgirl when you started playing "Lump"? Do you still feel an affinity to those old PUSA tunes, 3 years down the line?

Chris - I may just play "Lump" and some others with The Giraffes, if I want that thrill and the show demands it.

Mike - I haven't seen the video for "Tiny Explosions" yet (and I love the song to death, I should mention). So what's the video like? And was it strange doing the whole video rigmarole again?

Chris - The video is a loose affair with us camped out in a music store for the night and running about playing all the guitars. It was strange, but MUCH MORE homegrown this time. I was in charge of playback during filming so it was like being on the crew AND in the the band.

Mike - Which songs are you most proud of on the new album? Or is that an unfair question? At any rate, what are you and Dave and Jason thinking of using as the second single?

Chris - I like "Tiger Bomb" and "Nuthin' But Love" and "Headin' Out" the best. "Headin' Out" is cool because Dave wrote the music and the main vocal riff and I wrote all the other vocals, so it was a good collaboration. I would go with "Nuthin' But Love" as a second single, maybe.

Mike - You talked with me once about doing a fan club for The Giraffes, but passed because of the horrorshow that the PUSA fanclub had been. Now that PUSA is back, are you thinking about doing any sort of fanclub again, or is it just too much of a pain in the ass?

Chris - Probably now that the web is everywhere the fanclub concept is antiquated...

Mike - Well, enough about the Presidents for now. Let's talk about your other projects. As I've told you before at great length, I really think that The Days Are Filled With Years is the best work you've ever done. I'm naturally curious, how has it been received critically, and is it selling as well as 13 Other Dimensions?

Chris - It has been received really well critically and I am very proud of it. As far as numbers it is too early to tell, with the indie distribution and all, how many record we have sold... I am not too concerned with topping the charts with those two Giraffes records. I see them as transitional to the band format... In fact, those songs will show up on future Giraffes' albums after the band gets a crack at them. The new album has a version of Poodle Mouth on it.

Mike - (!!!) Is the next Giraffes album already in the works, or will it be another 2 years or so till we need to start wishing for that?

Chris - The new one, Congratulations in Advance, will be done in a month or so and out hopefully in 2 months. Then I want to tour the west coast and sell some records!

Mike - Between the "bookend" instrumental pieces on The Days Are Filled With Years and old work of yours like Lint Cake, I've spent plenty of time lately telling you how much I dig the instrumental stuff. You had mentioned the possibility of your next album being an instrumental piece; is that something we should all keep our hopes up for?

Chris - YES! I can't wait to get to the FIFTH giraffes album which I think will be a meandering instrumental record. I already have a lot of the FOURTH Giraffes album demoed up, and I am working on tightening up the songwriting a bit before I show the songs to Mike and Jason. I love the instrumental stuff too and Tad and I are still looking to do movie soundtracks and theme song work for TV. The instrumental phases fill in when the lyrical ideas burn out or I am finished saying what I need to say about a phase of life... So I have been saving ideas for an instrumental album for a while!

Mike - Onto older projects that have slipped out of the spotlight for the moment - Subset and The Chris & Tad show. Any headway on projects with either group? With your prolific output of late, I don't think anyone's complaining that we're not hearing enough of you, but these projects have been so highly anticipated for so long that I for one am dying to have a listen to some of the studio stuff...

Chris - Subset is in neutral at the moment and that is all I know... The Chris and Tad Show will put out a record on the same label that I am on - Orange Recordings, in October, I think... We are finishing it up now.

Mike - I always ask you about Beck, and hey, it's probably the dream of every Ballew fan that you'll cut some more tracks with him. If you could, would you work with Beck again? Would it be too hard nowadays? I don't know if you keep contact with Beck, but the publicity-shy, noisemaker/bluesman that you once played guitar with on "Morning Becomes Eclectic" seems a far cry from the polished auteur that the media makes him out to be these days.

Chris - I would be into doing anything with him again. I would love to play keyboards for him on some shit. I have got some sounds piled up that he would eat for brunch...

Mike - Are there any other projects in the pipes (like maybe that album with Dave Thiele?) that I've neglected to mention? Anything else exciting going on in Chrisworld?

Chris - Yup, the Creepy Stick record that Dave Thiele and I have been working on for 25 years in still going... We may or may not ever finish it! Other than all the afore-mentioned stuff... Nothing but love.

Mike - Can you tell me the 5 albums that you most urgently think people should be listening to today?

Chris - Brendon Benson: One Mississippi -Amazing pop poop.
Spider John Koerner: Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Been -12-string footstomping animal influence.
Daniel Johnston: Artistic Vice -Weird man with a band for the first time.
Robyn Hitchcock: A Star For Bram -Storyteller with a razor brain and haunted teeth.
Ass Ponys: "Astronaut" - Not an album but a song I heard on a sampler the other day: pop heaven.

Mike - Given an unlimited number of monkeys at your disposal, how would you ensure their loyalty to your cause?

Chris - LOTS and lots of kibble and encouragement.

Mike - Well, that's obviously enough out of me for now. Thanks once again for being such a courteous interviewee, Chris!

Chris - Thanks and enjoy.

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