If there’s one bad thing about releasing a widely popular, critically acclaimed debut album, it’s the pressure that comes with the follow-up. It seems all too common for bands to cave under the pressure, producing some kind of vague, freak-out record with none of the explosive force of their breakthrough.
Ball Park Music’s sophomore effort however, has thankfully emerged unscathed from the trials of ‘Second Album Syndrome’.
Museum is a logical step forward from the sugary indie pop of Happiness And Surrounding Suburbs, venturing into richer sonic territory. Talking with guitarist Dean Hanson, it’s obvious he and his band could not be clearer of what they were trying to accomplish; and what that is isn’t indie, so please don’t call them that.
“I think when we begun as a band we kind of got pushed into a corner of – ‘you’re an indie rock band, you know – indie-pop, that’s what you are, sunshine and lollipops, flash in the pan sort of crap’,” he says. “But we always knew that what we wanted to do, what we wanted to make, was a lot more substantial than your run of the mill indie-pop band. I think personally we kind of hate being labeled as that.”
“So I think with this record – or I hope – that it sets us apart from that indie-pop mold. For me it’s more of an alternative pop rock album.”
So how exactly does a band that’s been established as indie-pop make an album that isn’t of that genre? By drawing on influences that are further out of the – dare we say – ball park – than what listeners may expect.
“We’ve listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin for this album, mainly because we like to listen to the kind of mistakes that they made – and how great the mistakes really are,” Hanson says.
“We also listened to a little bit of Queen, mainly for Brian May’s guitar sound. I think it’s track number 11 – ‘Harbour of Lame Ducks’ – has a really good solo in the middle which is like, it’s self-indulgent almost, cock-rock stuff, but it’s awesome.”
“I don’t know if it actually sounds like that,” he admits, “but that’s the influences we were taking, and putting them through the Ball Park Music filter, and whatever came out, came out.”
Upon further inspection, it is possible to hear those influences on Museum – if not directly in the music, then in the longevity it can be predicted to have. While Happiness And Surrounding Suburbs was undoubtedly a great album, it was very much a product of 2011, whereas their latest seems likely to outlast musical trends.
There is a rather large melodic gap between ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and Ball Park Music’s ‘Surrender’ however, with the latter having more in common with the guitar-hook-heavy alt-rock of the nineties than seventies arena anthems. Which makes it appropriate then, that the five-piece have been selected to support Weezer on their upcoming Australian tour.
“I think we have a knack for writing songs that kind of have a nineties edge about them,” Hanson agrees.
“I think it’s because we were born in 1989, most of us, so we were there for the whole thing. Our knowledge of music – when we first realised that music was a thing – was just nineties music. We just have this natural, nineties feel to us, on our music and I think that people always draw comparisons to Weezer, we get a lot of comparisons to Pavement and bands like that.”
Are they comfortable with the comparison? “The nineties were a great time for music! You know? Like a lot of bands sit there and say ‘we’re trying to go for a sixties vibe’. The sixties was also a great decade for music, obviously. But there’s not too many bands realising that the nineties were so great. So many awesome, massive bands were spawned out of the nineties.”
The band also seem to have ‘the look ‘down, with Hanson stating that “Sam [Cromack, singer/guitarist] looks a little bit like (Weezer frontman) Rivers Cuomo, with his glasses, and he’s skinny and small.”
The Weezer tour will allow Ball Park Music to once again show off one of their greatest strengths, their much-commended live performance. They’re setting off on a headlining tour later this month – only having just completed one in March – along with an incredibly well-received billing at Splendour In The Grass.
Unfortunately however, following their latest tour, Ball Park Music went from a six-piece to five, with third guitarist Brock Smith leaving the band before work began on Museum. Hanson says the split was for the best.
“There’s not really much to it, other than it was not particularly practical having a third guitar player,” he explains; “and Sam as the songwriter wasn’t passionate about writing songs for a band with that many members.”
Hanson continues, “Sam’s a guitarist and has been for many, many years, and it was getting to a point where he would write songs and then not play the guitar in those songs, just because, you know, there wasn’t enough room for a third part and unfortunately that meant we had to lose a member.”
Fans needn’t worry about the lineup change. Listening to Museum, it’s certain that Ball Park Music haven’t lost any of their sound or gusto; besides Hanson finds plenty of good things to remember from their national trip as well.
“Our last Australian tour was so great,” Hanson recalls. “I think playing four shows at the Corner Hotel back to back was probably one of my favourite memories. I just remember the last time we played it, really great show, and after the show finished the curtains closed, and I just lay down on the stage on my back for like five minutes – just thinking ‘that was just awesome’. Such a great ride. That was just such a euphoric moment for me.”
Museum is out now through Stop Start Music, read the Tone Deaf review here. Ball Park Music are currently on tour in support of their second studio album, and will also appear at Homebake 2012 in December, play Falls Festival for the new year, and support Weezer for their 2013 Australian tour, dates and details here.
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