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Ex-President Chris Ballew Explains The Giraffes

April 15, 1998, 12:00 am PT

At first, the Giraffes, the new, wacky "hand puppet" project from former Presidents of the United States of America leader Chris Ballew, seemed, well, just a little silly and, yes, even a bit self- indulgent. That is, until you listen to it.
  Following in the familiar footsteps of Beck's early demos, and much of Lou Barlow's lo-fi inclinations, Ballew -- who actually made lo-fi 4-track bedroom tapes before hitting multi- platinum status with the Presidents -- cooks up quite the sonic treat on his first post- Presidents release, 13 Other Dimensions (allstar, Dec. 19, 1997). The album has been slowly hitting select record stores via My Own Planet Recordings, and could possibly be picked up by Columbia Records if all goes well, according to Ballew.
  "I've always hung out in my bedroom and made these 4-track tapes and they've always had a really diverse sound to them," says Ballew. "In fact, the Presidents started because of a little record I made at my house... The music I really want to have coming out of me is diverse. One song could be like just a bass and vocals, and the next could be like a massive production with strings and horns and whatever. The point is that I really wanted to make records that were more of a sonic joyride than a document of a band, because a band goes to one place -- bass, drums, guitar, vocals -- and stays there."
  Ballew says he hopes to make two or three more of these kinds of albums. "I may develop this thing a little further and I may start a band and it may go. But the point is I just... I needed to take the risk to start over and create something different that I was happier with. It's like a step backwards, but it's a comfortable step backwards for me."
  Many of the songs -- such as "Brain on Yer Tung," "Every Crocodile," and "Hopeless (Rub It In)" -- were written 10 years ago, while others were freshly penned. "I've always written these songs that didn't have a home in the band, and now I get to kind of resurrect them and finish them up."
  Ballew is still under contract with Sony, and says he's allowed to sell up to 10,000 albums of 13 Other Dimensions before the label can opt to get involved. "The point is to stay creative now and not worry about business because I can sort of afford not to. I just needed to get back to what I do best, so we'll see what happens."
  As previously reported, the Giraffes have a highly entertaining story behind them (allstar, Dec. 30, 1997). Ballew made up this story about a fictitious group from the '70s, who are actually hand puppets, who come back from obscurity and put out this album. Ballew explains the concept's origins: "I hung out with my brother one night, who I credit, and when we were kids we used to sit around singing songs -- I definitely credit those rainy Seattle days -- we were like four or five.
  "Anyway, he continues, "we were sitting around one night and brainstormed and all of a sudden I got this flash -- this band called the Giraffes from Kentucky. So we got on the Internet and looked up Kentucky and found this town, Bowling Green, so we decided the band was from Bowling Green and just started making stuff up."
  The album credits one Caspar Babypants as the mastermind behind the Giraffes. Caspar is a name Ballew recorded under for those older homemade tapes of his, while Babypants was a name kids on the block once called him after he was seen wearing a pair of baby's pants on his head as a hat.
  Ballew's already looking to the next Giraffes album. Titles he's tossing around for this one include Thank You for Finding Me and We Hear Music. "I think I almost have enough [material] for two records right now," he says. "But I'm going to try to boil it down to one. I don't know when it's going to come out -- it kind of depends on how things hash out with Columbia and this record."
  Ballew has a few other projects up his sleeve, which he'll talk about in part two of this interview.


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