By Allie Graham
VANCOUVER – Ashleigh Ball has been at the helm of a Juno-nominated band, touring around North America for the last decade and it’s only this year that she’s started to refer to herself as a musician. She’s always felt it never quite fit, but since releasing her debut solo EP, Gold In You, she’s been warming up to the title.
“It’s been a learning curve for me,” says Ball. “With this album I was kind of doing it myself, and it’s been emotional and taxing and tricky — I’m glad that it’s finally out.”
Best known around Vancouver as the lead singer of alternative pop-rock band, Hey Ocean, her shiny seven-track EP has been two years in the making. Hot on the heels of summer, the sultry synth-pop ballads have proven to be worth the wait.
The EP is a leap for Ball lyrically and sonically. Her songwriting for Hey Ocean, often drew on the trio’s coastal surroundings, whereas Gold In You is inspired by a whirlwind of new experiences and growing pains prompted by her band’s unexpected breakup in 2014.
“It’s sort of a direct narration of what I was sort of going through,” says Ball. “My band, that’s sort of been my identity for the last ten years…and I was trying to figure out who I was supposed to be without this thing.”
A few months into this murky hiatus, Ball met Grammy-nominated producer Ajay Bhattacharyya at a jam with fellow musicians, Zach Gray of The Zolas and Hannah Epperson.
Bhattacharyya—who goes by the moniker ‘Stint’—has worked with the likes of Santigold and Carly Rae Jepsen.
They sent vocal demos back and for the better half of a year, until Ball eventually met Stint in Venice where they recorded and produced the EP together.
“It was the clean break that I needed, in terms of not working with the guys that I’ve worked with for the past 11 or 12 years,” says Ball. “I just needed to do something that was totally separate.”
You’re as likely to hear songs off of Gold In You at the club, as you would at a cafe. It’s as cathartic and unhinged, as it is keenly orchestrated. Ball is dynamic and raw, and purposeful in every verse, at every drop.
From powerful layered vocals paired with aggressively catchy beats on her track “Crazy,” to soft synthy ballads like “Lover,” Ball shows off her impressive vocal range, and her thoughtful, resonant songwriting abilities.
Though it was recorded in the U.S., Gold In You still has it’s roots here in BC. Along with Stint, who grew up in Victoria, Vancouver-based musician, C.R. Avery, is featured on “Blue Moon,” playing harmonica, and local singer-songwriter, Dawn Pemberton, has backup vocals featured on the EP’s title track, “Gold In You.”
“She’s like a one-woman gospel choir,” says Ball of Pemberton.
She plans to begin performing music off of Gold In You this fall, and hopes to eventually tour with a backing band.
Though Gold In You is Ball’s first solo release, it’s not her first solo album. Following Hey Ocean’s temporary break up, she recorded an album, which her bandmate David Vertesi helped produced, but Ball ultimately decided not to release it.
“I just was sitting on it and it never felt quite right, because all of the songs were Hey Ocean songs,” says Ball. “It didn’t quite feel like the solo thing I was really looking for, so I sort of shelved them.”
For curious Hey Ocean fans, some of these ‘shelved’ songs will be featured on the band’s upcoming album. Ball says in the past year, they’ve recorded, mixed and mastered a full-length album, which she expects they’ll release sometime in 2018.
“It’s funny, I was so ready for this solo adventure,” says Ball of their decision to reunite. “I think we all just needed a break. We all just needed to do our solo thing—flex that muscle, prove it to ourselves.”
But for now, she plans to bask in the gold-tinted glow of her new release.
“I’ve learned that it takes me a long time to do anything—Oh, and that I can be an emotional wreck,” says Ball. “I never want to take my band for granted again!”
Gold In You gives us a glimpse into a determined, joyful and badass Ashleigh Ball, as she candidly confronts and names intimate doubts and challenges with fervor and conviction, reckoning with what she finds in herself. Thankfully, Ball strikes gold—and we’re reaping the rewards.Ashleigh Ball, Hey Ocean!