By Emilie Medland-Marchen
CALGARY – You’ve probably heard Hey Ocean!’s 2011 single “Big Blue Wave”, a quintessentially west-coast pop hit featured on rotation with CBC Radio 3 and 102.7 The Peak. The band is one part of the collection that make up some of Vancouver’s biggest indie starlets — Mother Mother, Said the Whale and The Zolas. But until this year, they’ve been on hiatus, stepping away from the studio after the height of their success with 2012’s IS to replenish their creative energies.
Between now and then, each of Hey Ocean!’s diversely talented members have released albums of their own. In 2017 frontwoman Ashleigh Ball’s Gold in You was a dynamic collective of electronic-influenced pop tracks, a well-received foray from her indie roots. Vocalist/guitarist David Beckingham released Just When the Light in 2016, a moving record that navigates his tumultuous time as a solo musician following Hey Ocean!’s hiatus. And bassist David Vertesi threw his hat in the ring with 2016’s Sad Dad Cruise Ship, while also founding and directing Vancouver Mural Festival, set to celebrate its third anniversary this summer.
To say Hey Ocean!’s members have been busy since their hiatus would be an understatement. But it took the band three years to coordinate their individual moving parts and focus back in on their studio dynamic— something that Ashleigh Ball explains was necessary to replenish the band’s passion for performing.
“We’ve always been this quintessential West Coast pop band from Vancouver with happy music,” Ball said. “[In 2011] it got to the point where we were kind of miserable, and we were really struggling interpersonally and in the music industry. We were feeling really worn down and we needed a break, but we kind of had to put on our happy face and keep on pumping out the music.”
The struggle to perform while facing creative and emotional difficulties was where the inspiration for the band’s upcoming release, The Hurt of Happiness, came from.
“That period was kind of painful in itself, and that was what ‘the hurt of happiness’ meant to us — how you have to fake it through your job and keep smiling. I think all of us went through some pretty bad depression and anxiety and it means different things for each one of us, but we all related to the title in some way.”
Although the record’s title track reflects upon some melancholy tones, long-time fans of the indie pop collective will be pleased to discover that the new album is top-heavy with boppy surf hits. The album begins with Amsterdam, a light-hearted tribute to the colour of the European city and what it feels like to fall in love with a new place. The record brings on the nautical-inspired tones fast and furious, heading into “Can’t Let Go”, a fast-paced radio-ready jam that echoes the carefree attitude of 2011’s Big Blue Wave.
But dive a little deeper into the album and you’ll find that the surface-level pop tone doesn’t match the intensity of the songwriting. On “Can’t Let Go”, Ashleigh Ball’s saccharine voice coos, “You can cut me with a thousand knives / Just the way you’ve done a thousand times / If it keeps you close then I will gladly let you take my life”. Hey Ocean! may have settled into their indie pop sound, but that veneer conceals a deeper struggle to establish themselves as creative individuals.
“We’re a lot more solid in ourselves and stylistically being on a bit more of a cohesive path,” Ball said. “The three of us are obviously very different, but we’ve found the magic ‘thing’ that makes our songs distinctly Hey Ocean!”
That ‘thing’ is especially apparent on the album’s sixth track, ‘Mama Said’, a hand-clapping Canadian pop hit that picks up where Hey Ocean! left off. The album then meanders into more unfamiliar territory, with the titular track “The Hurt of Happiness” providing a synth-dominant transition into the more melodic “Soul of My Heart” and “To the Sea”.
More than anything, the band has had to learn how to love the music again. Ball describes the time spent in the studio putting the album together as a “joyful experience”. After parting way with their record labels and getting more hands-on with producing and editing, Hey Ocean! have returned to their roots and rediscovered how they work together as a cohesive unit.
“We wanted to take away all of those label pressures,” she said. “We wanted to do it ourselves and go back to square one, back to our roots, because that’s where we were most comfortable working from.”
As for finding inspiration, Ball only has to look beyond her front door.
“I’m sitting on my couch looking at the ocean right now,” she said. “It’s very much a part of our life here. You kind of just write what you know, and it’s hard to avoid. I feel crazy if I’m not on the coast.”
The Hurt of Happiness will be released independently on April 6. Hey Ocean! will kick off their summer tour on April 5 at Wild Bill’s in Banff.102.7 The Peak., Big Blue Wave, CBC Radio 3, Hey Ocean!, The Hurt of Happiness, west-coast pop, Wild Bills