COVER/MUSIC: Hey Ocean’s Ashleigh Ball ‘reins’ over My Little Pony
Being the lead singer of an indie rock band brings its own unique experiences — road warrior fatigue, playing dingy bars, bad pick-up lines. But Hey Ocean’s Ashleigh Ball has an entirely different, not-so-secret second life, that makes being a rock star seem almost normal. As the voices of Applejack, Rainbow Dash and more, Ball is saddle-deep in the animated world of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And that’s where things start to get a little — well, strange.
“It’s pretty weird! That whole thing has just gone crazy,” Ball says, over the phone, having ducked inside a coffee shop to escape the Vancouver rain.
In part, she’s referring to how the cartoon television series — just one of her many voice-acting gigs — is not only hugely popular with its target audience of children, but is also an underground pop culture phenomenon for grown men, known as Bronies. Media outlets all over North America have reported on the craze, which has spawned huge online followings and real-life groups, as well as BronyCons. Yes, conventions dedicated to the television series. It’s where Ball found herself this past January, feted as a guest of honour for her voice-acting work.
“It was pretty crazy,” she laughs. “I actually brought a friend of mine along to document it... I was hoping they would be okay with him coming, and the organizer, a person named Purple Tinker, was like, ‘Of course!’ They paid for him to come as well and treated me like royalty! They put us up in this fancy hotel and I just got to talk about being a pony... He’s going to put together some stuff for a trailer and we’ve got some work to do on it. It was very, very bizarre.”
It’s not the future Ball envisioned for herself as a kid interested in musical theatre.
“I went to a fine arts mini school and did a lot of improv and theatre,” she says. After graduating from the Canadian College for the Performing Arts, she performed in a talent showcase and was scooped up by an agent who ended up representing her at the beginning of her voice career.
“I was originally signed to do TV and film stuff and theatre, but I didn’t have very much success with that,” she laughs. “It’s not something I really ever wanted to do that much. I get a bit camera shy, and I’m not that striking beauty they’re looking for, so the voice work seemed to be the right fit. I was super lucky to get my foot in the door; it’s a really small community of people in Vancouver that do it. I work with people time and time again, it’s very close-knit. I landed some of my first roles six years ago, and then slowly built a bit of a name for myself among the voice directors. And now being a part of a series, like My Little Pony, that’s going crazy, it’s pretty cool.”
For Ball, it’s a weird culmination of six years of hard work, most of which has been also spent balancing her increasingly demanding role in Hey Ocean, one of Vancouver’s hardest working and most popular bands.
“Music is my number one passion and I’ve always wanted to pursue it,” Ball says. “Being in a band takes an incredible amount of commitment, but a lot of musicians have to have side jobs. All the guys in our band have side jobs, whether it’s teaching music or working at a coffee shop or whatever. It’s hard to be a full-time musician, so this is really incredible. It gives me the freedom to not have a full-time job. If I go into the studio once or twice a week, that’s my rent for the month.”
Second jobs might not be the reality for Hey Ocean in the near future. The band has a management deal with Nettwerk Records and recently signed to Universal as their Canadian label. The new album, their major label debut, is expected sometime this summer and they’re about to set out on a coast-to-coast Canadian tour for the month of March. While Ball is grateful for the momentum in both aspects of her creative/professional life, she admits that juggling both isn’t easy.
“It can be a struggle. I use my voice for everything. It’s all I do. That’s kind of weird to think about!” she laughs. “[When we’re on tour], I usually have to come back and do a bunch of scripts I’ve missed out on and then go back on the road. You have to make it work. I’m getting a steady income from the voice-over world and if I do a series, obviously they expect me to be there part of the time. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. I’ve lost a couple series because of my schedule. It sucks... But I love both of these things so much. They’re both so important to me. I try to keep people happy and keep myself happy.”