Riding the wave 

Vancouver-based quartet showcase unique blend of playful pop and thoughtful lyricism

click to enlarge 1605ocean.jpg

Who: Hey Ocean! w/The Release
When: Saturday, Jan. 31, 9 p.m.
Where: GLC
Admission: $10 in advance at GLC, Billabong, Katmandu & The Hug, or $15 at the door

Often touted as one of the hottest up and coming young bands from Vancouver, Hey Ocean! is Ashleigh Ball on vocals and flute, David Beckingham on vocals and guitar, Dave Vertesi on bass, and Dan Klenner on percussion.

Late last week the crew was getting ready to head over to Vancouver Island, where they were to play a show at Sugar in Victoria. This coming weekend, they're heading up the Sea to Sky to play a gig at the GLC.

The foursome came together in their musical endeavours rather randomly.

"Ashleigh and Dave Beckingham have known each other for quite a while," Vertesi explained, "But I don't think they really started playing music together until a little while before the band started to form."

All independent songwriters who are passionate about their music, teaming up to write collaboratively for Hey Ocean! was an exciting new challenge. Each member of the band has a hand in every song, though in varying degrees, of course.

"I think all of us have our own music that is separate from Hey Ocean!, but when it comes to the band, it's incredibly collaborative. Even if one person were to come in with a relatively finished song, it changes a lot once we get it into the band context."

Turns out, though they each have distinct musical preferences and identities - even overall personalities - they just so happen to work well together. Ball is the musical creative powerhouse behind the group, Beckingham writes beautiful songs, and often Vertesi comes in as the "finisher" - tying up the loose ends.

"I wouldn't necessarily have expected it, but everyone in our band plays a really distinct role, especially in songwriting."

Their diverse personalities even help maintain balance, especially when it comes to setting and meeting goals for the group, without going overboard.

"I'm very gung-ho," Vertesi admitted, pointing out that the other members often remind him to just relax.

"It's been a great lesson for me to learn, and to learn just how to enjoy the moment... The truth is, we all have a real faith and belief in what we're doing, and we all really enjoy the project and the music we make together."

Though Hey Ocean! started out casually, just playing a few shows around town, it seemed that people wanted to see them perform again. So they kept going.

Their sound is definitely unique, and while Hey Ocean! is frequently lumped under the umbrella of "pop," their music encompasses a variety of genres, sounds and influences, including funk, folk, reggae, jazz and acoustic.

So what's playing in their van on tour?

Paul Simon, and old school hip hop, like A Tribe Called Quest and The Roots. Apparently, you won't find any death metal in there, though Vertesi said through touring with other artists, they've really learned to appreciate a broad range of music.

"For instance, Shad, who we toured with in September, him and his DJ, they listen to gutter rap and it's just not really our thing," he admitted. "But what Shad's really shown us is just something that he as a person believes, that is there's something in everything to be noticed and appreciated."

Now, they've played gigs across the country and dedicated themselves to the band. In 2008, the group managed to record and release a new album independently - It's Easier to be Somebody Else.

They even took the unique step of creating their own label, Pop Machine, with fellow band Said the Whale to act on behalf of both groups.

"To be honest, releasing our own album was huge, for me, personally, because that's what Hey Ocean! has been about since the beginning," Vertesi said.

It's Easier to be Somebody Else certainly captures the feel of the band's live show, which was one of their central goals.

"We were looking at our first disc and the feedback we had from that, and how we felt about it, and one of the things was that people really enjoyed it, but felt that there was an element of the live show missing."

So, the band dug up a producer who specializes in capturing that live vibe.

"The drums, guitar and bass are all recorded at one time in one big room, and a lot of the vocals with all the harmonies, we did those at the same time as each other," he explained. "There's a lot of the fundamental chemistry in the recording."

Last year they also completed two coast-to-coast tours, even making it down to California.

"It's been really busy," Vertesi said with a laugh.

Their sound was well received south of the border, and the group plans to return this year. They hope to do more international touring in the future.

And in the midst of tackling all of these projects, they also had to deal with a change in their group dynamic last January, when drummer Benny Schuetze left the group to pursue a career in film. But Klenner took over, and according to Vertesi the transition was relatively seamless.

"I think it was a positive change," Vertesi reflected. "Anytime you do something like that, working with someone new, they're going to bring something great to the band."

While entertaining a room full of people may seem like a daunting task to many, the men and woman of Hey Ocean! actually look forward to the challenge. A social group of natural performers, it comes quite easily to them, really.

"The experience of going up and performing is a fun one, so I think that's one of the reasons there tends to be a lot of energy in our performance," Vertesi said, adding that the audience seems to feed off of their genuine enthusiasm.

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