Hey Ocean! Interview: Music is Magic

One of my more chaotic interviews happened in the cold and dark month of January, a time when I usually don’t go out unless I have to because let’s face it: January and February are the most unpleasant months of the year if you live in the parts of the hemisphere where the sun is mostly absent, the weather is mostly cold and dire (just like your wife, ammiright?) and the flu has the same characteristics like glitter e.g. it sticks to everyone and stays there for weeks.

BUT with an upbeat pop act, you can hardly make a mistake, so I threw on my 12 layers of clothing and fought my way to the Bii Nu in Berlin, waited for a very long time (because of soundcheck – it’s always soundcheck when you have an interview-appointment) and then was led to the creepy backstage-area of the club which resembles every horror movie set based in the basement of a large building.

The band is a very fun bunch and it’s therefore a good thing for you, dear reader, that this is not the audio file because that was messy. Hey Ocean! was founded in 2005 by long-time friends Ashleigh Ball and David Beckingham (henceforth referred to as ‘David’) and David Vertesei (henceforth referred to as ‘Dave’) makes three. The rest of the band is a somewhat ever-changing rag-tag group of musicians (currently being Devon Lougheed and Johnny Andrews who travelled the whole world, if I remember correctly).

Their music is the kind of indie-pop that is sugary sweet that it sticks to your teeth. It’s absolutely adorable and innocent and therefore perfect for the times when you feel really vulnerable and just want something pure and lovely that hugs you like a giant teddy bear or…pony. Ah yes, because Ashleigh might be known to some avid cartoon watchers as several voices on the miraculous cartoon-phenomenon that is “My little Pony – Friendship is Magic” (hence the title, clever, ey?). Although the band and Ashleigh’s work on the show should be treated mostly as unrelated, the tone of both sure fits into a common theme which is a bright smile and a skip in your step. Cuteness Overload!

Their new album is called “Is” and is a lovely fruitbasket full of different instruments and styles just the way I like my pop-album.

They are also a great live band which is something I quite often say when I post an interview but that’s mainly because I really dig good live bands that are not only able to play but actually perform and engage with the audience. Connecting with the audience doesn’t come easy and I am always happy when I find yet another band that really manages to create something special for their live-shows, especially as it can be really exhausting and demanding on a tour when you have to get that kind of energy up every single night in front of strangers.

By the way, when I was young (oh, the 90s) I also had a couple of My Little Pony-ponies and a My Little Pony-bakery that my parents bought me for my birthday, only to tease me endlessly afterwards by saying: “How the hell are ponies supposed to bake anything? They don’t have hands!” My usual (and quite enraged) reply was: “They’re magic, that’s how!” So…you see, I totally got the whole pony-thing right from the beginning.

Anyways, let’s gallop to the interview which was very funny, maybe a little un-coordinated but entertaining. Because everyone in the band at one point had something to say from all corners of the room, I might mix up some answers, but as no one said something horrible, I think we are safe.

The Interview!

By the way, the first words on my audio file are “The Shrimp” because they just got their dinner.

Me: Is this your first European tour?

Ashleigh: We were in Hamburg for the Reeperbahn Festival at the end of September, so technically, we did a European show and then we went to the UK and played a couple of shows and then we all dispersed and did some traveling, it was a nice first taste of Europe. We are happy to be back and do the first official tour of Germany.

Me: So, what was the biggest culture clash when you came to Europe?

Ashleigh: Dealing with the time difference. I never really had to deal with Jet-Lag before and it’s crazy. And then obviously the language. I didn’t know how I felt about the German language before. I always thought it was kind of harsh but being around it now, it’s a really beautiful language and very fluid.

David: All the rules.

Ashleigh: Paying to go to the bathroom on the highway.

Me: But the bathroom is nice at least.

David: It’s super nice, I actually prefer it because really, if you’re buying something at the gas station you’re only spending 20 cents and those cents clean the toilet.

Ashleigh: Sometimes at truckstops in Canada you have the grossest bathrooms.

Me: I only know those bathrooms from horror movies, so my impression of them is not the best.

Me: Is it difficult to keep the connection with your fans – because you have a really good relationship with them – the bigger you get?

David: I don’t know if we’ve gotten that big yet. In terms of knowing how that would work.

Dave: You definitely see a change. At the start, they’re all your best friends.

David: I think you’re just trying to respond to everyone you can…I think we’re pretty good at it.

Dave: Someone once gave us the advice that what people are really wanting in a relationship with us as an artist is to get to know us, to create a personal connection, so you can do that and have fun with it at the same time. The internet provides you with a really cool way to do that. We did the “Make a New Dance Up”-video that had fan-videos of them dancing to our song and we made a whole music video out of that.

Ashleigh: There’s tons of things how you can do that. And we always make a plan to stick around after we played a show, saying ‘Hi’ to people…

David: …making out and stuff….

Ashleigh: I just remember as a kid or even now going to a show and sticking around. Getting to say something to the artist who performed because you were impacted by it. The chance to interact with them is always really special.

Dave: Nowadays you don’t even need to do that you can just write them on Facebook and directly go on their personal page, asking them if they are ticklish…you can ask them whatever you want – I mean, until they block you.

Me: Well, the ticklish-question is a little odd.

Ashleigh: It IS a bit odd. That happened to me. That men kept writing me, asking if my feet are ticklish.

Me: Your feet, that’s even worse.

Ashleigh: Over and over again, twenty different messages…

Me: So, was that the weirdest fan encounter?

Ashleigh: There’s been really weird ones but that was the most recent one that was weird.

Me: I read that you were somewhat involved with My Little Pony. So do you have Bronies as fans?

Editor’s note: “Bronies” – in case you don’t roam the internets as often as I do – are adult, mostly male fans of the cartoon series that are REALLY into it. They are mostly harmless, goofy and fun (just like Whovians and Supernatural-fans) but some are just outright weird.

Ashleigh: Oh yeah. That’s the weird ones. I do two voices of “My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic”, so because of that – and the internet – they figured out that I play in a band and a lot of them really like the music and come for the music. But some of them are really big fans of the show and come with their littly plushy dolls and ponies on their t-shirts. Most of them are fine.

Dave: But then there is always a small group that is a bit weird and another group that make you actually feel pretty uncomfortable. But pretty much all of them are there because they like the music.

Ashleigh: Some are just really into it and are like, ‘Do the voice’ after the show and that’s not really why I am here for.

Me: Do you write your music on tour?

Dave: We have. It always depends on the kind of tour. Sometimes you’re on a tour that is really inspiring and sometimes it’s exhausting. There are times when we take breaks on the road and stop somewhere for a weekend. Dave (David) actually, he just hangs out in his room sometimes and plays guitar all night.

David: Sometimes you’re more creative than others. I think it requires a certain amount of energy to be creative and sometimes touring is not very inductive to saving energy. It’s just like give give give and not get a lot of sleep. I find that I am most creative when I am happier and more comfortable in my life.

Dave: It’s also about being tapped into yourself and being able to be in touch with yourself when you’re sad or whatever. And when you’re on tour it sometimes involves turning off your brain. You’re in a car for twelve hours every day in Canada and you have to find a way to numb yourself to be in the car. You stop being a person, you stop being in touch with yourself because you’re just trying to pass the time as opposed to really taking in your surroundings which is what you really need to do to be creative.

Me: So, do you write the core of the songs individually or as a group?

Ashleigh: It depends on the song. I usually come with a melody or some lyrical stuff. Dave (David) has this new thing called a Tenori-ON. It’s like a little mini-synthesizer and he’s creating this musical sequences and recently we started playing them and tried to write all together this one song.

Me: Is it a harmonious process?

David: I think that’s the best way to go and I think it’s because at the end of the day whatever we put into the band is considered a joint effort. We all put in creatively different ways. I think it would be different – and weirdly so – if we would all try to fight for having a certain amount of MY songs on the record.

Dave: But the process itself can be quite brutal. We’re like siblings.

Me: Do you have musical side-projects where you can put those ideas that everyone hated in the band so they come to fruition?

David: Dave has his own thing, I have songs that I have got aside…

Ashleigh: I have a lot of pony-songs.

David: But this is our priority, it takes the most of our time and our energy.

Me: I’ve read that you had to change the producer, was that scary? Because I know from one other band that had to do that and they said it was really risky because of the deadlines and they had to postpone everything.

David: Yeah, it was getting postponed anyway.

Dave: We did it all independently so we didn’t have someone who was like, ‘It’s gotta come out on this day!’ So we finished it and then we dropped it to labels.

David: It was taking longer than we had planned because the thing with the producer went so far and then totally fell apart. We had spent a bunch of money and were totally crushed and emotionally drained. It was a very negative relationship toward the end. And after that we took a little time off and then decided to regroup. And when we decided to do this, Dave was really keen on doing it ourselves.

Dave: It would have been weird to bring someone new in. It was like coming from an intense break-up and then dating someone right away.

Me: You also changed labels – I mean, a couple of years ago but was that a big change?

David: We were independent before and that’s been a big learning curve for sure but not in a restricting way because we maintain all creative control over what we do. Our label (Universal/Nettwerk) is…we are working on a new album and they have been responding to our new demos and giving us their opinions like, ‘This will be hard to work because of the radio and this will be easy because of this’. They are giving us a heads up but we never wanted to be in a position where someone is telling us what kind of music to make or how to make it. It was nice to have people advising us.

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