Flannel may have proved inescapable during the ’90s grunge heyday, but a subsequent Seattle music boom boasts an even more distinctive fashion trend—diapers. Since the late ’00s Seattle has been a hotbed for children’s music. Standouts include “baby’s first rock band” the Not-Its!, 2016 Grammy nominees Recess Monkey (which targets slightly older kids), and Caspar Babypants, the solo endeavor of former Presidents of the United States of America frontman, Chris Ballew.
It’s a long way from playing Bumbershoot’s main stage to performing 10am sets at local libraries and Top Pot Doughnuts. Armed with little more than his guitar and pop sensibility, Ballew crafts pander-free children’s music that keeps his target audience—newborns to five- or six-year-olds—entertained while not driving moms and dads mad. “The secret is, I actually make parents music,” says Ballew. “A lot of people write what they think kids want to hear rather than what makes them as musicians satisfied and happy.”
In a sense, PUSA was a warmup for Caspar Babypants. “When I was writing for the band, the friction between an innocent theme and innuendo is what made those songs work. With the kids’ music, it’s all innocent. That’s my actual voice.” Ballew has made more than a dozen Caspar Babypants records since 2009, but writing children’s music isn’t as easy as one might expect. It’s difficult to carve sentences out so that they are intelligible for a four-year-old but palatable to an adult. But the sweat equity is worth it, he says, when parents tell him, “You’re the soundtrack to us raising kids.”
Ballew even turned Seattle’s family-friendly music scene into a family itself, known as the Kindiependent collective. Together these performers make collaborative tunes, put on a series of concerts at Mount Baker Club, trade business info, and even gather for a barbecue or two every summer. In Ballew’s view, there’s something powerfully connective about parents and kids loving the same song. “Healthy, empathic parent-baby relations are gonna make healthy, empathetic adults.”