Five years ago, Vancouver’s Hey Ocean! were just dipping their toes into Vancouver’s seemingly bottomless indie music scene. Nowadays, the pop-funk quartet (singer-flautist Ashleigh Ball, singer-guitarist David Beckingham, singer-bassist Dave Vertesi, and drummer Adam Cormier) are seasoned pros who have built up such a substantial following, they took the top spot in the Best Local Band category of this year’s Best of the City readers’ poll.
WE interviewed Beckingham about Hey Ocean!’s success, and the group’s unlikely connection to Gene Simmons of KISS.
What are some of the biggest challenges for up-and-coming bands in Vancouver, and how can you get past them?
Beckingham: We started off just playing locally, in Vancouver and in Victoria, and with the odd Whistler show. And then, about three years ago, we started touring coast to coast in Canada. About two years ago, we played our first show in the States, and since then have toured there a few times, and our visits there are ever-increasing in length and response. To up-and-coming bands in Vancouver, I would say the biggest challenge can be our own misconceptions of the music industry. A lot of bands think that someone will discover them, sign them to a major label, and create a career for them that makes them rich and famous. They’re wrong. This happens rarely, but more and more bands these days are finding success — or at least making a living — being heavily involved in doing their own dirty work. If you believe in the music you’re making and people dig it, then go with it: make a record, and tour as much and as far as it makes sense and you can afford, then make another record and tour even further. It’s hard work sometimes and rewarding other times, but as long as you have a good team and you’re constantly creating and showing people what you do, you’ll be fine.
The band has a pretty strong DIY ethic. How important is creative control to the group’s success?
That depends on one’s idea of success. People have tried to persuade us to make changes to our songwriting and band dynamic that they thought would make us more commercially viable, and we’re always open to listen to people’s advice. If we completely disagree with it, then it goes in the can, and if it seems to make us all go, “Hmmm, interesting,” then it gets talked about. We’ve been a DIY and a LAYG — learn-as-you-go — band from the start.
Gene Simmons came to check you guys out back in July. What’s the best piece of wisdom he offered you?
I think that Gene saw us as a Canadian DIY act that really didn’t know too much about this biz — compared to him, the veteran, anyway — and that wouldn’t be doing anything really significant in the future without his resources. I think he was quite taken aback when we didn’t jump at the offer to open for the likes of U2 within a year if we signed all of our creative power over to him. He did have some good songwriting advice for us to brew over; he was very adamant that we focus on personal pronouns, giving the listener an immediate person with whom to relate. What a guy!