Baby Alpaca (Profile)

Using nature and collaboration to craft musical escapism

Oct 28, 2009 at 2:06 pm

If you’ve never seen Chris Kittrell (aka “baby alpaca”), he’s like this 7-foot-tall autoharp-wielding Ginsbergesque satyr who’s on a personal mission to provide others with an auditory escape from the everyday, as well as an outlet for creative collaboration and/or a skinny-dipping partner, all under the umbrella of his cuddly moniker.

And because he doesn’t really separate his identity from his band/brand name, Kittrell looks the way baby alpaca sounds. Both his clothing and his lyrics have a pro-experimental, psychedelic sensibility he’s picked up from his frequent travels, partially thanks to DAAP fashion design co-ops and partially due to his own wanderlust.

It’s not uncommon to see Kittrell onstage (or off) draped in fur, scarves and necklaces, which he creates in partnership with local jewelry label VEIN, or decked out in short shorts with combat boots.

His latest song, “Vodka Lemonade,” has this same sort of soft, neo-hippie ethereal Dream Pop feel, like Mazzy Star but not as dark, with lyrics that revel in the freedom of giving yourself up to the seasons: “Let’s quit eating/ Only drinking/ Winter weight/ Waste away/ Let’s live out heroin dreams/ Let’s dance fast with the coke fiends/ And waste away in the sun/ Sunken in our vodka lemonade.”

“Whenever I think of baby alpaca, I think of the song, ‘These Are a Few of My Favorite Things,’ ” Kittrell says, “because that’s what baby alpaca is. … It’s about escape and being free. Doing what you want.

Living free. Living fast. Not being afraid to fall down. Walking over fire or playing with fire but also knowing how dangerous fire is and knowing when to stop.

“The sound is definitely up in the clouds, for sure. Kind of far out, breezy.”

Kittrell achieves that loose, breezy feeling through his mobile recording techniques, a collaborative band lineup and by utilizing sounds from the natural environment.

Lately he’s been putting effects on his autoharp, an instrument he refers to as “traditionally Bluegrass,” in order to create a “trip acid-type Jazz spin.” Along with that, he’s been incorporating a variety of nontraditional percussive sounds.

“We’ve used bongo drums, tambourines, partial drum kits with a bass kick, vodka lemonade bottles,” he says. “Whatever’s lying around — shakers, clapping, snapping.

I like the idea of using experimental drums… and things that you find.”

“Things that he finds” also includes random band members. Kittrell tends to be the only consistent member of the group, though the current lineup of his brother Brian and Tony Kuchma, both from Gold Shoes, seems relatively stable. Because he’s so mobile, he thrives on collaboration. To him, baby alpaca is “whoever’s around, whoever wants to make beautiful music.”

“I really like it that way,” Kittrell says, “and that’s the idea behind everything about baby alpaca. Almost anyone that is creative and talented and loves beauty, nature, freedom and fun totally fits in.” Eventually he wants to lend his name and spirit not only to jewelry lines like VEIN but also to fashion endeavors, writing, philosophy, art, photography and more, like a cross-country Warhol Factory.

Part of this obsession with nature, freedom and fun is inspired by the time Kittrell spends at his grandmother’s farm out in Owensville, Ohio. It’s been in his family since his mother was a child, and he’s grown up watching the landscape change and sees it anew through the eyes of the friends he brings there.

“The peacefulness of the music really comes from the farm and the peacefulness that I carry around in general,” he says. ”Just like I would say the farm’s a breath of fresh air for me, I hope people say the same about baby alpaca.”

To capture that essence, he’s been experimenting with incorporating sounds from the farm.

“I’ve been playing a lot with recording vocals outside, like in a barn, by the creek, with birds in the background,” Kittrell says. “I’m trying to make sure (it’s) not contrived in any way.

Like it really has the free sound and it’s not just trying to be free.

“I hope people listen to my music and … feel more free like they can do whatever they want, which I feel like anyone can because there are so many possibilities. People see limits and boundaries where I just see no ceiling.”

And if you can’t spend your days out on the farm drunk on vodka lemonade, that’s what baby alpaca is for.

“I want people to listen to it that need it,” Kittrell says. “Some people need the escape that feel trapped. People can learn from it. baby alpaca is me giving that back to whoever wants it.”

BABY ALPACA ( plays the Southgate House in some incarnation Saturday as part of the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards’ BRINK New Music Showcase. Get show and venue details here.