"Hopeful monster" is a colloquial term used in evolutionary biology to describe a rapid development of species on a macro level. In the Canadian music scene, Hopeful Monster are a fine pop band who mix Zombies-like melodies with subtle metaphor-drenched lyrics.
The debut album from Hopeful Monster developed out of a musical partnership with fellow musician, Paul Aucoin (leader of The Hylozoists).
“When Paul Aucoin & I opened Nervous System Studio in January 2001, we each had material to record. Paul's recording was ultimately released under the name The Hylozoists and mine, under the name Hopeful Monster, explains Hopeful Monster’s Jason Ball regarding the initial creation of the band. “Each project was managed separately and produced, arranged and performed by the author of the material it features. Of course we played on each other’s songs and helped each other with engineering and production ideas — but all artistic decisions about Hopeful Monster were always made by me, while decisions about The Hylozoists were always made by Paul.”
After the initial recording that became the Hopeful Monster album, the band existed as a full band in Halifax from 2002 to 2003, then again in Toronto since 2008. The Halifax line-up was: Dale Murray (guitar / pedal steel / harmonies); David Christensen (keyboards / flute); Greg Fry (drums); Andy Patil (bass); Damien Moynihan (vibes / percussion / harmonies).
Much has changed for Ball since recording Hopeful Monster's debut. He got married, became a father and made a number of moves between Toronto and Halifax. All the while, he continued to write and record bed tracks for the new album.
"I started some of the bed tracks in Seabright [Nova Scotia], and then [wife] Catherine and I moved up to Toronto and we lived in a succession of apartments, recorded a little bit here and a little bit there, wherever I was living," explains Ball. "And then finally when Catherine was pregnant with Zola, we rented a house and it had a basement and it was there that I did the other half of the beds and a whole lot of overdubs."
The five years spent on Metatasking contrast the intense labour of the first album.
"We spent about three or four months — practically around the clock — eating, sleeping and then recording," Ball explains of his work with Aucoin. "Just a couple of us, and bringing out session players from Halifax."
The overall feel of the band changed as Ball took over Hopeful Monster's reins. The eponymous album featured spacious orchestral elements, which made it difficult for Ball to find musicians willing to commit the time needed to learn the material. So he decided to go in a more straightforward direction with his new material.
"It's always challenging to have a band, because people who like the songs don't realize that they are hard to play compared to some other songs. So I tried to write easier songs, and they called for different arrangements. I was able to get people to come in and play parts that they made up rather than parts that I made up.
"I tried to write songs that would have a guitar solo and let [By Divine Right leader] Jose Contreras or whoever play a solo instead of having a string quartet play what they are told, or it would be a total mess. Jose and I are old friends. I played on [By Divine Right's] Good Morning Beautiful, though I only played one show live."
From 2004 to 2006 Jason and Jose played together a dozen times as accompanists for Contreras' wife, Lily Frost.
Hopeful Monster will be able to double that number of live appearances with Contreras when Hopeful Monster play their first full band gig along with drummer Gavin Maguire, keyboardist Jeff Heisholt and bassist Jeremy Little at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on Thursday on a bill also featuring Madison Violet, Brothers Cosmoline and David Celia.
"It's David Celia's show at the Horseshoe," explains Ball. "We met when he came out to play in Halifax earlier this year.
"He had this upcoming gig soon after my return to Toronto, and I'm not good at being on top of booking. So it made a lot of sense for me to be on that bill with him. This is the record's coming-out party. I'm done with it. Now it's the world's turn."
Ball hopes the show and album will lead to someone putting Metatasking album out on a larger scale.