Photos and interview by Alex Duncan
Born and raised in Vancouver, BC, Ashleigh Ball is a flute-playing, forest-wandering wonder of a woman. She likes honey in her coffee and saltwater in her hair. Splitting her time between a career as a musician and job as a cartoon character, she can often be found buzzing about on the east side of town, between rehearsals and auditions, on her speedy turquoise bicycle. In the music scene, Ball is most known for her leading role in Hey Ocean! alongside fellow Vancouverites David Beckingham and Dave Vertesi, however, she has recently embarked on her first ever solo exploration and released her debut album Gold in You in June 2017. After more than ten years of friendship with this creative powerhouse female, my admiration for her is no secret, so when I thought to write an article about inspiring women in my life, she was the first to come to mind. I met up with Ball over wine and pie to discuss where’s she been, what’s to come and how she’s felt along the way.
Loose Lips: If you met a stranger and they asked “what do you do?” what would you say?
Uh, I don’t know…it’s changing, over time. I used to be uncomfortable saying that I was a musician because it felt sort of weird, or, I guess wrong.
I guess I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want people to get the wrong impression. For some reason, I had this weird feeling about saying that I was a musician.
LL: What would you say instead?
I don’t know, it’s weird! As a creative person, it’s hard to pinpoint what you do and feel like you can really own it. I think that’s what I struggle with and still struggle with. But I guess, yeah, I’m a musician…I’ve played in a band for eleven years.
LL: YOU’VE RELEASED FOUR ALBUMS WITH YOUR BAND AND ONE ON YOUR OWN!
(Laughs) Yeah. I have. And I’m working on more. So, yeah, I guess just started to feeling like…
LL: Like you’ve earned the title?
Ha, yeah. I guess I’ve earned it.
LL: I think part of your discomfort is because of how society views the arts. At every Christmas party I ever attend, I am undoubtedly approached by my second cousin’s wife with questions like, “so, are you still doing ‘the acting thing’ or what…?”
(Laughs) Ugh, yes! Like, you mean, this thing that I wake up every morning thinking about and pursuing, actively.
(At this point, I think both of us furiously air-punch at an imaginary second cousin’s wife)
So, yes, I’m a musician. And a voice actor. I would never say that I’m an actor. Voice acting is it’s own kind of thing. I know that a lot of people think that voice acting is just doing ads and stuff but it’s way more than that. It’s creating lives and characters. Like, when you get a breakdown for an [animated] audition and you can instantly think, “I know what that pickle sounds like” – that’s what I do – you have to decide what that little dude or some old woman sounds like.
LL: Is there often gender attached to cartoon characters? Like, is the pickle a boy or a girl or is it just a pickle?
It’s been shifting, I’ve noticed that. A lot of the time men and women will read for both parts or sometimes they’ll ask for ‘authentic kids’, it kind of depends on the project and the director. I have often found myself in the quiet corner of my closet practicing an array of little boy voices on a Sunday afternoon, you know, normal stuff.
(At this point, Ashleigh starts mumbling in a slightly raspy, somewhat squeaky voice that is undoubtedly one of a young pickle boy, who is struggling to find his place in a spicy world.)
LL: You’re often a little boy, aren’t you?
Yes, I definitely do play a lot of little boys. But I’ve also noticed a shift in what kind of characters are being written. There’s a lot of strong female lead characters coming out, especially since My Little Pony has been so successful and it is a show that is propelled predominantly by female characters.
*Ball is not one, but two characters on the fan-obsessed show, My Little Pony*
LL: Speaking of strong female leads, you’re a musician (and you’ve earned the space to say that) can we talk about your solo album that you released earlier this year? How long have you been working on that for?
I started working on it when my band went on hiatus, I guess it was the fall of 2014. I recorded a full EP with my bandmate Dave Vertesi but it felt too weird and too much like a Hey Ocean! record and so I reached out to producer AJ Bhattacharrya and ended up going to LA and connecting with him in 2015. He had worked on my friend Hannah Epperson’s album and I thought her album was amazing; I just really loved the sounds. So, I reached out to him and he ended up being free a weekend here and a weekend there so, over time, I would go down to LA and slowly work on things with him. He sort of took my songs and flipped them, some of them he would apply a completely different time signature. It was so interesting to watch someone work that way. He took the songs and shone an entirely new light on them.
LL: Do you feel happy with the result?
Yes, I do. I’m happy with the songs and how they came out but sort of felt like I could have done more with the release. I guess I was just really stressed and sort of felt this huge pressure to make this big statement with this music. But, in the end, I was just excited to release something and know that it’s out there for people to find online. It has been so nice to know that I can stand on my own two feet and be a solo artist; to know that my ideas are valid and that I have a strong voice and can use it.
LL: Ash, I hate to say it, but you’ve perfectly and eloquently defined your earned title as a musician. Which means you extra-earned it. Can you leave us with one last thought on what this experience has meant to you?
The whole thing was just such an emotional taxing experience because I felt so personally connected to the material and was stressed and anxious and basically crying every second day. I remember being at home and listening to the CBC Top 20 Countdown one afternoon around the time of my album release and my song was #6 and it was just this big moment for me where I felt really proud – like, I did it.
It’s out there. It exists.
Alex Duncan is a freelance writer, professional actor and author of the children’s book An Army of Hearts. She enjoys spending time in the forest with her dogs, Maddie and Scout, and often thinks in rhyme.