How warm and cute and fuzzy is Vancouver band Hey Ocean!?
So warm and cute and fuzzy that lead singer and flutist Ashleigh Ball voices not one but two characters in the TV series “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic." (Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Squeal!)
Maybe you're not a “brony," which is what you call a grown man who is a fan of “My Little Pony." Ostensibly, the cartoon show featuring pink ponies and magic rainbows is targeted toward A) people who have not gone through puberty and B) do not have an Adam's apple.
That's OK. Rainbows and ponies (squeal!) don't have a lot to do with the fact that the Vancouver-based band is playing Sunday at The Sound Garden in Bend; however, much like the show Ball lends her vocal talents to, Hey Ocean! also boasts its own sunny, life-is-good aesthetic (see “If you go").
Whether the thought of pop music tops your list of preferred genres or reflexively causes you to shake your head in bitter disgust, you'd be a fool to write off a band this talented.
Hey Ocean!'s latest album, “IS," is chockablock with swirling keyboards, guitar hooks and infectious harmonies. It's such a deceptively well-crafted pop record it comes as little surprise when guitarist David Beckingham mentions Fleetwood Mac's landmark pop album, “Rumours," among the influences during the recording of “IS" — and Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham among his guitar heroes, along with Jimmy Page.
Comparisons to “Rumours" — recorded during a period of internal strife that led, many believe, to its shining brilliance — don't have to end there. Like Fleetwood Mac, Hey Ocean! endured a breakup of a sort — if you count Beckingham and Ball's meeting back in the fifth grade. Their sisters tried to set them up, but it never worked out romantically.
Everything did work out musically. When they were about 19, they met another David, David Vertesi, who heard some of the acoustic stuff Beckingham and Ball had been playing.
“He was excited about what we were doing and asked if we wanted another guitar player," Beckingham said. But what they really needed was a bassist.
“So he bought a bass and learned to play ... he was just really stoked about it. Stoked enough to buy a bass and learn to play it," Beckingham said.
But the cost of sunshine and rainbows is sometimes dark clouds, and sometimes you spend more than a month holed up in a Toronto studio with a producer with whom you just don't click.
“It was a real tumultuous process making the album at times," Beckingham said. “We beat our heads against the wall for five weeks with this producer. We all built up our expectations and ended up spending a lot of money before he or we were satisfied."
Hey Ocean! exhausted its savings and still went home without a record.
After that, “We took a few months off to mentally (recuperate)," he said, “then decided to get back into the studio and finish it ourselves."
They were able to make use of some drum tracks and other pieces from their Toronto sessions, and stuck to their original goal, which was “(making) a good pop album and good studio album (with) classic pop songs presented in a really nice way in terms of (listening)," Beckingham said.
Having toured much more extensively in Canada than the States, Hey Ocean! isn't sure what kind of turnout its U.S. shows will garner.
But, judging from a strong social media presence, the new album and marketing efforts, Beckingham said, “We're optimistic that we'll get some people out to the shows. If there are 10 people there, whatever. We'll just put on the show as if there were a couple hundred."
One possible barometer of their fanbase: Hey Ocean! recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to help crowd-fund a world tour. Fans in other countries who want to see them live helped them overshoot their $30,000 goal by a whopping $12,000.
Before they leave North America, they're doing their first full-length U.S. tour, which brings them to Bend in the early stage. They'll visit places as far away as New Orleans and Florida, where they've never previously toured.
They'll wait till they get overseas to spend the Kickstarter money, though. Hey Ocean!'s U.S. dates are being paid for in part by a Canadian government grant program.
Beckingham just calls it lucky. “We are a lucky Canadian band," he said. “We are lucky to have that (program) in Canada."
The trio often grows to incorporate added instrumentation and has played as a sextet. This reporter's name also being David, I figured I might have a shot at joining.
“Yeah, totally," Beckingham said. “We need auxiliary percussion, so maracas and congas."
(Note to self: Google image search “maracas" and “congas.")