Music/Interviews

It isn’t all sunshine and bubbles for Ashleigh Ball

Jul 07, 2017

My Little Pony actress and Hey Ocean! singer Ashleigh Ball opens up about going solo.

From the outside looking in, it seems as though the grass is always green for Ashleigh Ball. She voices a beloved cartoon character on My Little Pony (the show’s adult fans famously had a documentary made on them). She fronts Hey Ocean!, a popular indie rock band. Hell, she even lives in Vancouver, where the grass is literally always green (save for the past year’s bizarrely-harsh winter).

But all that glitters isn’t gold, and as Hey Ocean! slowed to a halt, Ball got scared, so she decided to bail on the glitter and the green, and go right for the gold. That process found her recording Gold In You, a seven-track EP of fear turned into strength.

“[Hey Ocean!] sort of stopped and I thought it was the end,” she says, perched atop a bench across from Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods Park. Her eyes are wide and concerned, her shock of sandy blonde hair waving in the wind from passing cars. “I was like, ‘Fuck, I don’t want to stop doing music… I guess I’m gonna have to do something on my own.” It wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion; after years with Hey Ocean!, she questioned if she could do like Beck and go it alone. “It was like, ‘Can I even do this? Can I do music without these two guys that I’ve been working with my entire music career?’”

She could, and she did. Creating Gold In You made her “remember that I can stand on my own, because I wasn’t really sure I could do that before.” Ball holed up in Venice Beach with friend and producer Ajay Bhattacharyya, recording her EP in his home studio. It came together quickly, and then came time to figure out how to release it. Ball, so often in the spotlight, isn’t comfortable with self-promoting. “I was hoping that someone would want to put it out, but I’m not very good at asking,” she shrugs. “With being a solo artist, the ‘we’ factor is gone. ‘How do I do this without seeming really desperate?’ That was definitely a struggle.” After limited luck getting labels interested, Ball, in typical fashion, developed an alternative: she’d do it herself. Ball scrunches up her face and heaves her shoulders, recalling seeing her label name, A-Ball Entertainment, on streaming services: “I have a record label! What the fuck?!” she shouts.

That practice of self-actualization and self-empowerment is a vivid throughline in Gold In You, a name that came to Ball at precisely the right time. “I was in a weird, dark place. I was just trying to figure out what the fuck I was doing, really.” The societal pressures of turning 30 weighed on her, as did the various unexplored paths she yearned for. “I’ve been feeling this weird pull to normalcy,” she remarks. “You think of yourself as this free spirit, but the time is crunching down. I see my friends starting families, and it’s like, ‘Am I supposed to do that?’”

 

Do I have a vegetable garden and kids, or do I try and do this musical thing on my own?’ The struggle is real!

 

On “Blue Moon,” she observes that magnetism towards a settled life: “When I’m high, I see a family,” she sings simply. “I love that idea, but I also love the idea of fucking all of that, and totally living for myself,” she says excitedly, noting the pressure women face to have kids. She starts laughing, “‘Do I have a vegetable garden and kids, or do I try and do this musical thing on my own?’ The struggle is real!”

That sporadic yin and yang drives the heart of lead single, “Crazy,” a bombastic, R&B electro-pop anthem for embracing the turmoil within rather than glossing over it. “Everyone’s a little bit crazy,” Ball says. “There’s this guy that walks down Commercial Drive, and he sings opera, and he’s always singing in this amazing baritone voice.” Ball is visibly delighted as she describes his habit of narrating goings-on and notes mundane details, like what shoes someone is wearing near him. “Maybe that guy’s onto something. You have to open things up a bit so you allow those chaotic things to happen in your life.”

And that hits on the crux of Gold In You: accepting all the colours and nuances and kinks of existence. The record is about “wanting to honour yourself and your journey,” Ball says. To do that, it also meant reconciling with those closest to her, including her longtime boyfriend. Some of the songs on the EP, including “Crazy,” are products of her need to express and release difficulties and issues she felt. She chuckles as she recalls playing demos for him: “I’d be like, ‘Ooo, I don’t know if you wanna hear this.’” She adds candidly, “During the writing of this album we almost broke up. I’ve never been so scared of losing somebody.”

 

I can’t always be sunshine and bubbles. Although I like to live in a bright optimistic place, obviously. I’m a fucking cartoon.

 

She’s quick to accentuate the necessity for acknowledging the darkness. “It’s so important to realize how fucked up you’re feeling when you’re in a relationship. It’s so important for me to have that,” she says. She notes that her bright disposition can make it hard to discuss tough issues; people just want her trademark My Little Pony personality. “I can’t always be sunshine and bubbles,” she says, adding, “Although I like to live in a bright optimistic place, obviously. I’m a fucking cartoon.”

Gold In You is about burning the expectation that you have to be one or the other: light or dark, sad or happy. Our intricacies were made to be explored. “It doesn’t always have to be straight and narrow, black and white,” Ball says. “Let’s live in colour.”

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