Finding the Hurt of Happiness with Hey Ocean!
After a difficult hiatus, Hey Ocean! finds its feet with it's new album The Hurt of Happiness
“We went through a lot to make this album,” say Ashleigh Bell. This spring Hey Ocean released their first album in almost 5 years – The Hurt of Happiness. The album is packed with indie pop gems like “Amsterdam” and the harmony rich “Just Enough” that you've come to expect from Hey Ocean.It is our first release in almost 5 years. Simply because we have been through A LOT as a band.
“It was a very drawn out process in terms of where the songs came from and what we were going through emotionally as a band,” explains Ashleigh, “it is our first release in almost 5 years. Simply because we have been through A LOT as a band.”
And indeed they have. Back in May, I caught up with Ashleigh Bell – one third of Hey Ocean to chat about their new album. We dug in and talked about the bands' break up, brony love and trippin' around Amsterdam.
After the release of IS in 2012, the band was building some serious momentum but the life balance just wasn't there and things got tense. “We needed to take a step back and re-evaluate. It is pretty tough to do that as a band with a label that is expecting things of you. We were happy that things were finally kicking off. We were playing a bunch of festivals, nominated for a JUNO, saying yes to everything tour wise. We just basically decided we were all gonna jump off the cliff. It was a lot of pressure, it was a lot of trying, of being afraid to say no to things because you know the pressure of the other band members and the team we had built behind us.” Ashleigh sighs. “It wasn't at all well timed but these things never are. It needed to happen or we were just going to implode. We were missing out on things that were really important in life to us.” And so they broke up.
“It was a sad restaurant break up which was really heart breaking. We decided we were going to meet up and it just kind of came out. Dave was like 'well I feel like we should probably just break up', and I was like 'guys c'mon, we can work this out'. It hurt a lot at the time. It was a big realisation that a lot of our lives had been thrown into this band for a long time. We were like, what now?”
Well they all released solo albums, thats what. But the three members of Hey Ocean have a pretty strong connection to each other and before long they are drawn back together. “We all went off and did our own thing for a bit, and kind of healed. I ended up recording a full ep with Dave Vertesi. When it was done, I realized that these were Hey Ocean songs – it wasn't me – well it was ME but a lot of the songs stemmed from songwriting sessions that we were doing as a band. It felt kind of weird, like I was betraying Dave Beckingham... it just didn't feel quite right. And then we ended up having a conversation about putting our toes back in to the Hey Ocean” Ashleigh laughs and apologizes for the pun.
The song “You stole my heart” was another one that was going to go on Dave Vertesi's album but he didn't feel right about it so he brought it back to Hey Ocean. That was a song they had been working on together. The upbeat summer jam “Mama Said” was also going to go on Ashleigh's solo ep.
So they dove in. They started with a pretty intense weekend of songwriting as their first time in a room together in that capacity after a couple years. “We all came to my apartment for the weekend and smoked a bunch of weed and hung out and just kind of dug in and ended up with four songs. It was – good to remember that we have a bit of magic when we come together”.
The time apart seems to have done the trick, the pieces are fitting into place this time around for Hey Ocean. “Being in the studio was really fun. The last album we had recorded was very emotionally taxing, we had to beat the buzzer to get all the songs in on time, we were in the studio until 4 in the morning, tearing our hair out, getting no sleep – in contrast, this album was like a leisurely stroll along the beach.”The last album we had recorded was very emotionally taxing... in contrast, this album was like a leisurely stroll along the beach.
They recorded The Hurt of Happiness with producer and engineer Elisa Pangsaeng of Monarch Studios in Vancouver. Elisa has worked with loads of cool artists including Kinnie Starr, Data Romance, You Say Party, and Shad.
“She is so lovely to work with. Most of the songs are done with Elisa and it was just a whole new experience. Usually, I just hate the studio by the end of it but I wasn't ready to leave this time, I was like “Really guys? Should we do more, I want to hang out here more” so it was a nice re-approach to recording and being a band again.”
I am sure by now it seems pretty obvious where Hey Ocean derived the name for the album The Hurt of Happiness. “I think we all sort of faced this pretty dark time especially trying to appear happy, Ashleigh recalls, “ because after we broke up we still had a bunch of shows and we basically just had to fake it, you know? We were all like dying inside and had to play these super happy pop songs on stage and pretend like we were in this wonderful happy pop band when we really just falling apart. It wasn't easy, they were some of the hardest shows we had to play.”
The opening track on the album, Amsterdam, is a catchy danceable tune. “It was one of the songs I originally recorded with Dave Vertesi. I went to Amsterdam and met up with my friends. I had never been there and it was just so cool to finally get “it”. You hear about Amsterdam where you can get any drug and there is the red light district. You kind of think that it is this crazy party city. You imagine a kind of dark, weird and abstract place. And we got there and I was kind of blown away about how amazing Dutch people are first of all and then the city is just this magical place.”
And the magic inspired a great opening track. “ We ended up doing some psychedelics and having a really fun crazy time. The song Amsterdam stemmed from that feeling. Discovering a new place and being with a cool group of friends and seeing someone for the first time through the lens of psilocybin. That line “ Blame it on the drugs (laughs and jokes about quoting her own song) but I know what I felt in my heart that night was true... see the world through love and you'll never have to follow, it will find you” is kind of trying to hold on to that feeling that you get when you are in a place when you might be on psychedelic drugs and feeling this high of love and everything flowing through you, remember that the world is a crazy extraordinary place and not let the mundane seep in.”
Along with the magic of Amsterdam, Ashleigh brings a little magic to the voices of Applejack and Rainbow Dash in the animated series My Little Pony. She even made a movie about the subculture of Bronies so I had to ask “yes, it has been very interesting to see that fandom build, I remember doing some cartoons with friends and people that have played Optimus Prime in the 80s cartoon and this one guy Scott McNeal who I work with all the time he would always go to the conventions and I always thought “that's so weird” , why would you go into this weird world? And now I am well aware of what happens. It is fascinating. It has been really cool to see how a subculture like that can really help people to connect. It is nice to know there is a safe place, I mean people just want to find a place to be accepted whether it is wearing your tiny pony costume or whatever.”