In 2014, after ten years together, three albums, and three EPs, indie rock band Hey Ocean! broke up. Thrown for a loop, lead singer Ashleigh Ball found herself in an unfamiliar place of fear and resentment.
“It was harsh,” says Ball of the hiatus. “It was really hard. We weren’t happy. We wanted different things. There was a lot of pressure to get a new album out. [The band] wasn’t working.”
Scared and hurt, Ball wanted to continue making music but doubted her ability to go solo. She recorded a five song EP with Hey Ocean! bandmate Dave Vertesi but scrapped it because it didn’t feel right. Unwilling to give up, Ball got in touch with a friend, record producer and songwriter Ajay Bhattacharyya (Stint), and started sending him song ideas. Together they would make Ball’s debut EP, Gold in You.
The seven track record offers a glimpse into one’s inner turmoil. Ball writes about a delicate relationship on the verge of tumbling down, feeling torn between two different lives, and finding the light among shadows. In this track-by-track interview, Ball shares the stories behind each song.
1. Never Found
“That was an interesting song to build up. It didn’t come from a ukulele, or a piano, or any of the usual things I write [with]. It was me drumming on my table with a pencil.
I had this story about a motorcycle accident. A friend of mine got in a really bad accident. It spawned this memory of the son of my neighbourhood piano teacher. He died in a motorcycle accident when we were growing up.”
“A lot of the album, I feel like this is common with artists, is from a time when things blow up in your life. I was going through a really intense time in my relationship. I think a big part of it was because musically huge changes were happening and, I was just really crazy.
I started making “Crazy” when I was in Amsterdam. I went on a trip with my boyfriend and we got in a huge fight. He was feeling sick and didn’t want to go out. And I was like, ‘Well, we’re in Amsterdam. I want to run around and enjoy the city.’ And he’s like, “You’re acting weird. You’re acting crazy.’ And I’m like, ‘No, baby. I’m actually crazy because you’re making me crazy.’ That’s where it came from. I wanted to own my crazy.”
3. Gold in you
“We had a really hard time. [The song] was very different. The chorus repeated “find the gold in you”. But it wasn’t working. It sounded almost like a self-help tape. Self-help-y vibe.
The title spawned from a quote that I read. Your shadows follow you around. You have to go find the gold in you – the light. I was really drawn to that line. I kept writing it over and over again in my lyric book. We reworked it to be more about the troubles in a relationship.
The chorus at the end was actually my friend, Dawn Pemberton. I was like, ‘This bridge needs to be like a gospel chorus.’ She came in and was a gospel chorus! It’s our vocals layered on top of one another.”
“Lover was definitely the most heartbreaking song.This was around the time my boyfriend and I were maybe going to break up. Things were really uncertain. I went to the beach. It was the summer. It’s always crazy to go through weird relationship things in the summer because everyone is always happy, biking around, or swimming in the ocean. I was just miserable and went to the beach. I had my ukulele and was singing to the mountain.
If you go to a certain place in Jericho beach and look at the mountains, it looks like a woman lying down. It looks like her arms are stretched out. So, [the lyric] ‘my lady lying down,’ I was singing to this lady of the mountains to help me feel better. I decided to tell the story about what I was going through – the potential breakup, feeling like he didn’t understand me, and that he was dimming this light I had inside of me.
When you’re and artist and you’re not dating an artist, it’s sometimes hard to bridge that gap and feel super connected because you’re dating someone who is very different.”
5. Wild Eyed
“Wild Eyed was a dream I had about an apocalypse that happened in the city. This crazy apocalyptic time. There were fires everywhere. I remember waking up and writing.
The bridge of that song, ‘said it was all a dream/ didn’t mean anything,’ is me explaining this crazy dream that happened.”
6. Blue Moon
“I was literally singing to the moon one night. Two years ago there was a blue moon. I was just trying to work out my hesitations in my relationship. When you’re with somebody for a long time, you’re like, ‘Is this the person that’s forever?’
A lot of my friends were getting married or making that forever commitment. And I was like, ‘What the fuck? Is that what I’m supposed to do?’
I was thinking about this double life. I want those things. I’d love to have a vegetable garden, live in the country side, and raise kids. But I also want the freedom to do whatever the fuck I want – to be selfish, to be an artist, and to be a bit more wild and free. How the fuck am I supposed to make this decision when I want two completely different things?”
7. Shining Colours
“I had a friend that wrote me a poem. She couldn’t show it to anyone because she was having this really, crazy affair. One of the lines was, ‘you split me open into seven shining colours.’
I was like, ‘I can’t let this be unheard. This is such a beautiful idea.’ This secret romance and having such an insane connection with someone that they see all of your colours. There’s something so visual and beautiful about that.
With her permission I made it into song form. I drew from my own experiences of connecting with people and walking that line of scandalous behaviour. I wasn’t going to put in on the album because it made me seem really scandalous, like admitting that I have wandering eyes. But it came from a poem that a friend of mine wrote. I’m glad it made it on the album. I played it live in Toronto. It was one of my favourites to play live.
With Hey Ocean! there’s that ‘we’ factor. The songs are not necessarily about anyone in particular. With this album I had to do some deep digging. It came from some inner turmoil I was going through. I couldn’t not write about it. It was what I was living. It was a lot more nerve-wracking to release this stuff. It’s definitely a display of a relationship in the midst of turmoil. But it’s the only way I really know how to write.”