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Whether it’s from behind the bar, from on the stage, or just walking the streets of his adopted hometown of Kingston Ontario, Greg Ball is a keen, honest, and often an acerbic observer of the fascinating character traits of the people around him.
For more than 20 years he has used his songwriting as a way to interpret and process these observations, as well as his own frustrations and curiosities. With much help from his tight-knit group of talented bandmates, Ball has composed his most revelatory and most sonically diverse album yet, (his 4th album) “Spoiled Sunday”, due for release on May 11th on the Ching Music and Cadence Music labels.
“There are songs about family, songs about violence + drug abuse – lots of things from the past and present. Every song I write is a personal thing, they’re not really made up at all. Some of the songs on this album are about characters around town that I interact with on a fairly regular basis,” says Ball.
“Overall I hope and think that this represents an evolution not only of me as a songwriter but of the band as a whole. Even though it’s called Greg Ball and I write the lyrics, this is a very collaborative situation – they come up with their own parts and make suggestions, and we work hard together on the songs. It’s a band thing and a very open process, based on our music and friendship.”
Guitarist Joe Carscallen (Handsome Joe) weaves his six-string magic in cahoots with Ball’s guitar throughout the album, at times with hard-driving intensity (+ flashy solos!!) and at other times with great subtlety. Drummer Rob Radford, a gifted drummer who’s well-known in Kingston, and bass-player extraordinaire Rob Gillet are a uniquely talented, rock-solid rhythm section, who serve the songs admirably, and at appropriate times add a lot of melody and syncopation.
Recorded at TheTragically Hip’s Bathouse Studio, producer (and Hip member) Paul Langlois and engineer Nyles Spencer were able to capture a tight, great-sounding band who were enjoying playing their new songs together.
Says Langlois: “My favourite thing about working with Greg and the boys is that they all have a great sense of arrangement and can easily adapt if we change little musical things. We didn’t have to change much, but whenever we did, it went quickly. We’d just discuss it after a few takes and if something might improve a verse or chorus, or we wanted to lose or add some musical part, they’d just go back into the player’s room and nail it. They’re that good.”
“With each record I’ve done with them, they’ve been very well-rehearsed coming in, which is obviously a handy thing when you’re trying to get great takes. I also really like Greg’s singing and lyrics, and that makes it fun for me to record them. He’s also a great back-up singer, as are the 2 Rob’s, so there’s a lot of that action as well.” (Langlois sings back-ups on Cocaine Friendly and Scared to Fail).
Ball explains: “Paul is so good at trimming the fat. There were songs that we had been playing for eight months and we had it a certain way, but once Paul got hold of it, it almost totally changed – for the better. The essence and the vibe is still there, but he is so good at getting to the nub of an idea. He is a very kind individual and approaches it in a very nice way, but at the end of the day, he’s the producer and he knows how to get the best sound, the best songs out of us. We’ve definitely learned to trust him.”
Music is how Ball, as the primary songwriting instigator of the band, processes the sometimes conflicting emotions one encounters in life and is his way to blow off steam in a more or less healthy and productive manner.
“It’s 100 per cent the way I deal with stuff. If this was our last record and I never recorded again, I would still be writing songs. Music is kind of my safety valve. There’s one tune on this record, Cocaine Friendly and it’s about a guy who came into the bar I work in and just totally want to grab me and get into a fight. At the end of the night, the fight didn’t happen but I looked at the situation from both sides and wrote a tune about it. And I was angry and it’s that sort of emotion that I take home at the end of the night and it has to come out in a song the next day,” he said.
This is further exemplified on the song Congrats.
“It’s about some people in this town and something that happened to me, but I can’t really mention names because they’re all local. It was a situation where a promoter said I can do one thing, if you do this other thing for me. But then I didn’t get to do the first thing after doing the second thing. It’s the concept of someone dangling a carrot in front of you and then yanking it away. It’s a song of betrayal, I guess, but of a real petty kind of betrayal. It’s me lashing out at them. I was so mad at that person that I just had to get it off my chest,” Ball explained.
“It’s really blunt, sharp song, but it’s also a really good song musically and does a great job of showcasing everybody in the band,” Carscallen added.
Ball was born and raised in the picturesque southwestern Ontario community of St. Marys, near London. At summer camp as a teen, he experienced one of those ‘life changing’ moments that many adolescents endure, but it’s one that has made his life richer.
“It was when a camp counsellor stole the heart of one girl away from me. We were about to make out and he brought out a guitar and sang a song around a camp fire and she fell in love with him. He was counsellor so nothing happened, but it totally turned her off me. I witnessed first-hand the power that music could have. I was like, holy crap; I need to get a guitar. I asked my mom for a guitar and my folks have always been totally supportive so I got a guitar and a chord chart and started plugging away.”
After playing around the southwestern Ontario region for a while, he moved to Vancouver to follow his musical dreams, before eventually finding his way to Kingston in the early 2000s, where he has become an integral part of the vibrant local music scene. Early in his tenure in the Limestone City, he came into the orbit of Langlois who was in the process of setting up his indie label, Ching Music, and who saw promise in the scruffy newcomer and his unique creative take on the world.
Ball and Langlois have developed both a musical and personal friendship over the last few years – Langlois has produced (and sung on) Ball’s last 3 albums and Ball sang back-ups on 2 songs on Langlois’ 2nd solo effort, Not Guilty (Common Ground and Not Guilty).
They also play regularly in a side project of theirs with 2 other musical friends (Jim Tidman + Joe Carscallen) in The Campfire Liar’s Club, an acoustic songwriter’s circle type-thing.
Greg and his band will be touring their new album in the late-spring/early-summer, venues + dates to be announced…