Hey Ocean! Reach a Sea Change

Photos courtesy of Paquin Artists Agency 

After a decade together, Hey Ocean! needed time apart. Taking a break to work on their own projects, singer Ashleigh Ball finally dived wholeheartedly into her work as a voice actress as well. Being able to get their live back together, the band have already released a handful of track with a The Hurt of Happiness LP on the way.

We caught vocalist Ashleigh Ball ahead of the band's November 18 show at the 27 Club to talk about their extensive and unique tour, what time apart meant and how Ball's work on My Little Pony has affected the band.

Ottawa Life: Why exactly did you decide to take a break and what made now seem like the right time to start playing again?

Ashleigh Ball: It was about three years ago that we decided to take a breather, we actually decided then not to be a band anymore. We had this big discussion about running ourselves into the ground by saying yes to everything, touring non-stop, trying to fulfill our record label's demands and wanting to be this international. We even played Warped Tour one summer thinking "What are we doing?" There was a lot of touring, and we started trying to work on a new album, but it wasn't happening because our family was broken. Mommy and daddy needed time apart, mommy and daddy and daddy.

We all decided we needed time to release our own music, we'd been working together as a band forever. I know it was important to Dave Beckingham to release his solo record, and Dave Vertesi had a bunch of music he'd been working on as well. It was a time where we could all do music without each other and be able to stand on our own legs. I know for me it was really a challenge to do an album without the Daves, because we'd worked together for nine years. The breakup happen and we didn't want to say anything to our fans or label. We wanted to keep it open so we didn't talk about it. After releasing our solo albums and re-establishing our friendships with each other, we all ended up on the same soccer team, it was nice. When you're in a band you always together, it's like these forced business hangouts  and you start to resent each other. This person you play music with is taking over your life, and you're seeing them more than your significant other or your family. It just seemed like a really good time. We met up last October, cuddled up for the weekend and wrote three songs. We smoked a bunch of pot, drank tea and cranked out some songs. It felt like we mended, we know what sets each other off, it's like any relationship where you take some time and realize "Oh what we have is really special" and we wanted to give it a try again.

Considering how recently your solo record came out, what did you pull from this experience when it came time to work with the band again?

After we broke up for a bit, I was freaking out because I didn't know what to do, we had written part of a record already. Dave Vertesi helped me produce what was at the time my solo album, and we recorded five songs together. I sat on them for a while and thought I couldn't release them because  they were Hey Ocean! songs. I needed a clean break from working with anyone in the band. There were three songs from there that we tinkered with for the new record. After that, I worked with this producer friend in L.A., and I was nervous because I hadn't been in that situation before. Serving my own voice and not being afraid to take control was nice, it's hard to be heard sometimes. The process enabled me to have my voice be heard because I was the only one who was using it. For this new record it was being able to shine and say "This is what I think."

Looking towards The Hurt of Happiness, how did you want to achieve the happy medium between your pop and more experimental sounds?

There was really no pressure with this record, we didn't even tell our label were doing it. We silently got back together and no one knew, so we did it as an experiment to see how it would feel to jam on some songs like when we started for fun. With our last record there was so much pressure to have these pop hits and go to radio, have a sound, and we lost ourselves a bit in that from the pressure. It was pressure we put on ourselves to be this big band with big sounds, even though that's not where our roots were. Sitting with guitars together was where we vibed best. We weren't afraid to have a seven minute song on the album either, pull in our musician friends to make it a more fun creative process.

How have you found balancing your voice acting career while keeping the band going?

During the years leading up to our hiatus, it was intense for me trying to hold up a voice career while being in the band. I remember one Canadian tour we had was 62 dates and I was flying back to Vancouver every Sunday night to work on the Monday and Tuesday, and then fly back because we'd always have Monday off. I never had a break so I just remember looking at myself in the mirror at one point and seeing the bags under my eyes and thinking "I'm exhausted, I look like a zombie." I just remember trying to stay positive while burning the candle at both ends. After that tour I didn't audition for anything for a long time, much to my agent's dismay. I said no to things voice-wise because we had taken a giant leap as a band and didn't want that pressure on me. During the hiatus I reintroduced myself to the voice world and that's when My Little Pony really started picking up, and the Brony movement was going strong. I started picking up roles because I just hadn't been accessible before, so I've been working in the voice industry a lot recently. A lot of Lego stuff, new Barbie movies and obviously Pony is going into its ninth season. It was really nice to be able to have my career blossoming while missing music so much.

Coming back in now, we're not going to be as intense as we were before, so we're not doing 62 dates across Canada. With this new tour, our booking agent spread it out so we spend two weeks in Western Canada, take two weeks off and now we're spending two weeks in Eastern Canada. It's a much better pace so we're not killing ourselves.

How have you found the My Little Pony crowds attending shows like you mentioned in your documentary 'A Brony Tale', and have any interesting stories come out of it?

Bronies will come, they will find us. It's always fun to look for them. At our last show there were bronies that came up to the merch booth, just asking everybody to sign their album and then one guy brought out his Rainbow Dash toy and said "Can you sign this too?" I didn't even notice them because they're not as apparent as they are at conventions. There was a few people recently who found us purely through the documentary  because they loved documentaries. They had found us through the doc, they weren't even bronies, they just liked our music after seeing the movie.

I've also heard your doing multiple sets a night on this tour, so what exactly can fans expect?

We decided to do an evening with Hey Ocean! because we've been a band for so long that we have songs that we can't play in a normal set. We decided that we wanted to give fans a chance to see songs that they might never see live. We're the opening band and the headlining band, we'll take a 15 minute break between the two. Because we have these new solo albums, we're playing songs from each of our albums, so together it's kind of a missing Hey Ocean! album. It's been really fun playing on each other's solo stuff because we're all big fans of each other's work. We go into our back catalogue, so we'll play a song that I wrote when I was 19 and people always yell for at shows. It's been fun to dig back into the old material and get a crowd reaction for these songs that are 10 years old now.