Greg Ball: Mr. Rightplace
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Round the bend
Set against a backdrop of lean, straight up rock and roll with a hint of country haunting the edges, Mr. Rightplace - Kingston, Ontario-based singer/songwriter, Greg Ball's sophomore record on Ching Music - is as personally revealing as it is universally appealing.
Ball has a knack for drawing listeners into his songs and stories immediately and nowhere more so than on the album's title track; an open letter to his girlfriend's ex that, like any good story, hooks listeners from the very first line when Ball sings, 'For you she's the one that got away, for me, she's the one that stayed.'
While you could label many of the tracks on Mr. Rightplace love songs, rather than the dreamy, airy brand of love you'd normally associate with that description, Ball's tunes concern themselves more with the real triumphs and misunderstandings people encounter when dealing with their spouses, partners and exes on a daily basis. Although some of Ball's lyrics are drawn from personal experience, others depend heavily on the observations he's made over the years as an 'Alcohol Transfer Technician dealing with Consumer Affairs and Public Relations,' he says: "When you're tending bar you see people at their absolute best and absolute worst. There's a lot of drama, and a lot of the songs on Mr. Rightplace are about situations and moments that just stuck with me over the years."
Consequently, Mr. Rightplace covers a lot of emotional ground; from highly personal tracks like 'Jackie's Song,' where Ball describes burying a family member's ashes among the trees he'd planted for her in past years, to songs like 'My Forte,' a song written entirely from the perspective of a bar patron Ball noticed staring down his ex's new boyfriend all night.
The stories Ball tells are often influenced by his tendency to be in the right place at the right time, he adds; a factor that's also had an impact on his development as a songwriter/recording artist. "There's a lot of charm in the little things help you along the way," he says, referencing the experience that prompted him to pick up a guitar and start writing songs in the first place. "I remember sitting around a campfire as a kid and watching the girl I liked fall in love with a camp counselor who was singing and playing guitar and I was like, 'Right, I've got to get on board with that.'"
Based on that experience, Ball taught himself to play guitar, began writing his own material and playing with a variety of bands in his hometown of Stratford, Ontario; relentlessly honing his chops as a writer and player and "sponging off of other people's musical knowledge," he says, laughing.
In 1995, he left Stratford and headed west to take a gig with a Vancouver-based band. Unfortunately, soon after he arrived, the band parted ways. Still, Ball stayed on in Vancouver, tended bar and developed his chops as a performer during a weekly house gig at a pub on Robson St. called McKenzie's Cabin. There, he found ample raw material for new songs, but by 2001 had begun looking for new sources of inspiration and decided to spend the next six months traveling and songwriting in Southeast Asia, Bali and Australia.
Although he had a job waiting in Vancouver when he returned to Canada, his travels left him tapped out, so instead of heading west he picked up a bartending gig in Stratford. Soon enough, however, he picked up stakes again and moved to Kingston with his new band, The Harpies. But while Kingston boasted a thriving independent music scene and offered The Harpies an ideal location to hub out of for gigs in Montreal and Toronto, after recording their debut album in 2004 the band split up. Again, Ball stayed on in his adopted hometown to gig with a variety of local acts and - during a Christmas charity show - met Tragically Hip guitarist and Ching Music founder, Paul Langlois, by chance - thereby setting the stage for the next phase of his development as a singer, songwriter and recording artist.
After the gig, Ball and Langlois partied into the night and, later, when Langlois and fellow Ching Music artists Jim Tidman and Jeff Montgomery formed the Campfire Liars Club in 2010 they approached Ball and asked him to join. "Paul and I started hanging out a bit, but mostly on stage. As a bartender, I'd see him around town, but one night we were headed somewhere and I asked if he wanted to give my music a listen." Impressed, Langlois offered to release Ball's 2011 debut record, Excessive Until August, and the two have continued to work together ever since.
Like Ball's debut, Mr. Rightplace dwells heavily on love and loss, but in a way that's more focused, lyrically and sonically; a product of his growing confidence as a songwriter, the contributions his touring band - multi-instrumentalist Joe Carscallen, drummer Rob Radford and bassist Paul Müller - and Langlois' ability to capture the urgency and immediacy of their sound in the studio.
"I chipped away at Excessive Until August with my producer, Zane Whitfield, over the course of a year and a half without the band," Ball says. "It was sort a rainy day record. But for Mr. Rightplace, we just went in, set up and did the beds with the band in two days, which really helped us refine our sound." That sound, however, is primarily a product of Ball's chops as a storyteller and his ability to mine virtually any experience - even the effect of a Brown Recluse Spider's bite Ball likens to the symptoms people experience when they first fall for someone on 'Her Bite' - for raw material and inspiration.
The result is a set of songs that are raw, real and unfailingly honest - all characterized by an urgency that reflect Greg Ball's talents as a vocalist and songwriter and storyteller in equal measure.