When Ashleigh Ball talks about her band Hey Ocean!’s hiatus, she doesn’t sugarcoat the story.
“When we parted ways it felt like a full-blown break up,” she says. “We met in a restaurant and it was like that tragic sort of break up—a classic couples-leaving-crying. I remember walking home and feeling so gutted, thinking, ‘What the fuck am I even going to do? How am I going to continue with this?’”
The upbeat, Vancouver indie-pop band had been on the rise when they decided to take that break in 2014. They had just been nominated for Breakthrough Group of the Year at the Juno Awards, were signed to a big label and had 10 years of hard work behind them.
But they were deeply unhappy. “We were touring non-stop and saying yes to everything—burning out as a band,” Ball says. “We were at this important place where our label at the time was asking for new music. We were like, ‘How do we write new music if we don’t want to be together?’ It got to this point where we decided that if we were this unhappy, we needed to take a step back.”
While the trio—who, alongside Ball as lead vocalist, includes David Beckingham on guitar and David Vertesi on bass—occasionally played charity events together, they set off on other pursuits, with all three putting out solo albums in that time.
“For me, it was really cool to realize that I could put out music as a solo entity,” Ball says. “I had been writing with the same two guys for the last (10) years. I didn’t know I was capable of writing and recording by myself. It was really important for me to recognize that and feel like I could stand on my own two feet—that I didn’t need the comfort of the people I’d been working with forever to release new music. It was good for all of us.”
The time apart allowed them to grow, achieve other goals and realize what they had had as a trio. And so, one weekend in October 2016, they decided to come together for a trial song writing session.
“We kicked around a weekend and came to my apartment in Vancouver and just posted up for the weekend and decided we were going to write music just as an experiment to see if we could still be in a room together or how that felt,” Ball recalls. “As soon as we started writing and singing together—we know each other’s voices so well—we set it in three parts. We knew where we fit in a song, the ease we have together writing felt really good… and effortless. We made a record not really knowing we were doing it intentionally.”
The result was The Hurt of Happiness, the band’s fourth full-length record, released last April. The title track in particular—which blends their vocals into flawless harmony—came out of that initial weekend writing session.
“(That song) was a healer,” Ball says. “It stemmed from people thinking of our band as this happy, poppy, West Coast, quintessential indie band. We were feeling broken. We were pretending we were still together fulfilling all these obligations, having to fake it when we were really broken inside. That was a cool song to write together.”
A year-and-a-half later, things are different. Hey Ocean! ditched their label, got a new manager and is being more selective about the shows they play, ensuring they all have the time and space they need.
“We’re doing things now in a way that feels right for us,” Ball says. “It’s like being in a three-way relationship. You spend so much time together, sometimes you need to take a break.”
Meanwhile, two of their handful of summer gigs (they start a more extensive tour in the fall) are in the Sea to Sky corridor. The first will be at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Friday, July 21, as part of the free Whistler Presents Outdoor Summer Concert Series.
Then, on Saturday, July 28, they’ll headline the Squamish Wind Festival with an afternoon slot at 1 p.m.
“I’m excited,” Ball says. “I love Whistler. I spent a big chunk of my youth there—especially Whistler in the summer. That’s the best.”