Greg Ball Releases Excessive Until August With a Little Help From His Friends
By Jay Moon
Greg Ball’s solo debut, Excessive Until August, is an album that has been a long time in the making. However, it’s the blood, sweat and tears of the journey that saw Ball hopping from town to town across Canada for ten years before finding his adopted home of Kingston, Ontario that makes the collection of eleven songs well worth the wait. Ball, who more often than not can be found wearing a shit eating grin reminiscent of a kid whose hand is constantly being swatted away from the cookie jar, puts his experiences to good use on Excessive, and his voice, with its shades of REM’s Michael Stipe minus the Shiny Happy People-ness, is a defining characteristic across the album.
Part of Ball’s musical past has already been documented on these pages before, as a member of the Kingston-based band The Harpies. And although Excessive Until August may have only his name on the cover, it still has the feel of an album that has benefited from a collaborative process similar to what made the Harpies disc such a find. In this particular case, it’s producer/multi-instrumentalist Zane Whitfield, who Ball readily acknowledges was a valuable partner in crime behind the creation of many of the tracks on Excessive.
Of course, being signed to Ching Music, a label started and run by Tragically Hip guitarist Paul Langlois certainly doesn’t hurt, either. The Hip, one of the biggest Canadian acts of the past twenty years, (for those international readers who aren’t familiar with Canadian music history) are yet another band born out of the Kingston music scene. Langlois and Ching had already released a handful of albums from Kingston area singer/songwriters before Ball came into the fold, including Headstones frontman Hugh Dillon’s The High Cost of Low Living, Jim Tidman’s Stealing Ghosts, plus My Friend Andy’s Songs From the Middle. Late last year Langlois found time to assemble his own album of solo tunes, Fix This Head. It is with Langlois, My Friend Andy’s Jeff Montgomery and Tidman that Ball worked and re-worked some of the songs on Excessive as part of The Campfire Liars Club, a collective of musicians assembled by Tidman to do casual live shows, minus set lists but heavy on storytelling.
Langlois, who rather than your stereotypical label head acts more like a musical mentor to the artists on Ching Music, wanted Ball on his label because first and foremost he was a fan.
“He’s got a really cool voice, I think. And killer tunes.”
He was also impressed with the restraint shown by Ball and Excessive producer Whitfield, in a time where ‘more is more’ sometimes takes centre stage in the studio.
“It’s cool. It’s really unique. The sounds on it-it’s just different from a lot of records. A lot of people making records these days, you can’t help it with ProTools and computer recording just to lay shit on there all the time and you can’t stop. I think 90% of the records out there are just too over-recorded. On this one, you can hear the space.”
Ball’s and Whitfield’s recording process also had a little help from one staple found in most studios: alcohol. As Ball explains:
“As I strum away on acoustic, then Zane (Whitfield) would be, ‘I can put a drum beat to that…okay might as well put bass to it.’ Well, I might as well have another beer. And then at the end of the night, half a bottle of scotch is gone, and I’m like, ‘Can you burn me a copy so that my girlfriend doesn’t care that I’m wasted? Just so she knows that we did something?'”
Excessive Until August
As mentioned earlier, it’s the journey leading up the making of Excessive Until August and the little bits and pieces of stories Ball includes from those experiences that help give the album its character. And while it’s a little more laid back than what you might come to expect from artists from the Kingston area (Excessive owes more to Sarah Harmer than to The Trews or The Hip, for example), that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some bite to the album, including the liner notes where Ball sends a little ‘fuck you’ shout out to some past musical rivals.
“I moved to Vancouver and I played with a couple of brothers who will remain nameless…It wasn’t really a good experience. I didn’t have a great time with it. There was a lot of, ‘My brother is Paul Simon and you are Art Garfunkel.’ I was the Garfunkel. And I was like, ‘Really? That’s fucking bullshit.’ Years and years and years later, and now I’m under a fantastic record label, he is not, and that is a little bit, ‘Go fuck yourself’. I hate to be that guy, but it still rings in my ears. I’m just being honest.”
Ball may still be a little peeved at the nameless brotherly duo, but the rest of us probably owe them a debt of gratitude. In part because of them, Ball finds himself where he is today-a singer/songwriter with a strong debut album under his belt, and the promise of a long musical career ahead of him. So on behalf of those of us who have discovered Excessive Until August, may I just say this to the brothers: