Hopeful Monster, begun in 2001, is the main musical project of Toronto-based Jason Ball, and not just a mere term used in “evolutionary biology to describe an event of instantaneous speciation, saltation, or systemic mutation, which contributes positively to the production of new major evolutionary groups,” (as stated in Wikipedia). Hopeful Monster has toured countries as far and wide as Norway and the UK (with Sufjan Stevens), and when in Oslo during that tour, Jason Ball was invited to perform at the wedding party for Of Montreal star couple Kevin and Nina Barnes. That’s quite a touchstone for a boy who started out in the Halifax, Nova Scotia scene. Just take a listen to tracks from Hopeful Monster’s second album, Metatasking, and you’ll get the drift.
Do you have other musicians to fill out your sound when you do live shows?
Yes, there has been a long list of collaborators since 2001, people from Halifax and Toronto, depending on which city I was living in. Currently I play with Jose Contreras on guitar, Randy Lee on violin and Alex McMaster on cello. When we play big shows we bring in extra players on bass, drums, vibraphone, pedal steel, back up singers etc.
What is your favorite venue/city to play?
That’s a tough one, every situation has its own pros and cons. I had a particularly memorable show in Oslo, Norway. Don’t remember the venue name, but it was in the middle of a park, with a stream running past the door… might have been a decommisioned mill or something. It was the wedding party for Kevin and Nina Barnes from Of Montreal.
What’s your funniest audition story?
I don’t think I’ve ever auditioned, exactly. Does that make this a sad story? I do send out EPKs regularly though. Once I was contacted by a booking agent in Seattle, which is pretty far from Toronto (where I live)… there was no way I could get there to audition in person, so I videotaped myself playing a few songs at home, posted them online & emailed the link. My friend said I looked like Daniel Johnson in the videos… maybe that’s why I never heard back from the agent! What can I say, genius ain’t always pretty..
What was the strangest/most interesting thing to happen to you as an artist yet?
A band I played in toured with Guided By Voices once (need I say more?)… On a dare, a friend of the band pulled his pants down onstage and sat in the potato salad the caterers had provided. I was hungry, but not after that. Then we all peed in a bucket backstage. Oh, interesting? I thought you said horrifying… Actually the whole tour was a liberating, Iron John kind of experience. For real. Once you get certain rituals out of the way, a large group of men can become quite close and trust each other with their lives. Isn’t the army kinda like this?
If you could meet any musical hero living or dead, who would it be and what would you say to this person?
It might be Mark Linkous [RIP] from Sparklehorse. I would say, “Hang in there friend, we love you!”
What do you simply hate about being a musician? You know, like the sound man showing up two hours late for a gig, buying guitar strings from “that guy” at the music store who is more interested in his Chinese food than ringing you up, or trying to find your drummer, (sorry drummers), or insert your band mate who always goes missing, two minutes before your set time.
Musicians work really hard and earn very little. People don’t understand this because part of the job is putting yourself into the public eye — but just because you’ve heard of us, doesn’t mean we are rich. Some musicians who are very well known in Canada are still struggling to make ends meet. I don’t blame audiences, the general public has an open mind, in my experience. The music business is, of course, dominated by people who think in business terms, such as risk, profit margins etc, so it’s hard for new acts to break into the circuit and get paid like the professionals they work so long and hard to become. I really hate to see the erosion of publicly funded cultural institutions, which employ or commission artists on the basis of something other than marketability.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been writing and demoing new material since last fall, getting ready to record this coming winter. I’m very excited about the next Hopeful Monster album, I’ve never recorded this way before — that is, stockpiling a ton of songs so I can assemble an album conceptually, from the beginning. Should be out next spring. –Madeline Virbasius
Video for “Uncivilized,” from Metatasking
Video for “Stepping In,” from Hopeful Monster