John Ball

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E-mail interview with John Ball on his solo career & The Sleep Design. Head over to John’s website to download his new album, Found Among The Broken.

First off, since you’ll be new to most of our readers, can you give a short back story of yourself and your solo project?

Well growing up I got my start in music by playing at my church and in local pop punk or hardcore bands. In high school I played in a Christian screamo kind of band called I AM TERRIFIED but left to go to college in Nashville, then later helped start and continue to play in a post-rock band called The Sleep Design. The timeline always sounds pretty crazy but in reality most of the bands have consisted of the same guys. After putting out an album with The Sleep Design on Come&Live! last year, I had these songs just sitting around that I had been working on that didn’t really go with TSD so I figured “Hey, I might as well record them.” We worked on the album for a few months and released it digitally for free last November.

What led you to release an album apart from The Sleep Design? Should we consider this a side-project to TSD or is this your main focus?

I’ve always really enjoyed leading worship, whether its at a church or on a missions trip or wherever. So I have a background of doing this sort of thing that not a whole lot of people are aware of. Most people think of me as a bass player but I’m also really passionate about leading worship. I basically had these songs that I had written mostly out of prayer and just conversations with God that I felt needed to be heard.

Right now I’d say this is my main focus, but I wouldn’t really put more importance on my stuff or TSD. I really really love both projects and as TSD has a little down time I’m just shifting my focus to this.

Describe your overall sound.

I think a good way to put it might be alternative worship. My lyrics are very worshipful but most people don’t really catch on at first listen because it doesn’t really sound like worship album. Its more like a rock album with real lyrics about God I think. Also everyone who played on the album is in The Sleep Design so I think those post-rock influences are pretty apparent.

How is the music scene in Birmingham, Alabama? Has it been receptive to your style of music?

The scene in Birmingham is an interesting one. There’s not a whole lot of places to play as an indie artist, especially a “Christian” indie artist, but I’ve honestly felt really accepted. The hardcore scene that I grew up with has died down a lot in Birmingham but there is a big indie rock following and I’ve felt like even as a Christian artist I’ve been able to break into that a bit. I had a little write up about my release show in one of the local Birmingham papers a few months back and that really meant a lot to me.

Who are your biggest influences musically and lyrically?

Musically I’d probably say Thrice and some worship artist like John-Mark McMillan and Phil Wickham. There is also those post rock roots that I mentioned earlier. Lyrically I love Matt Theissen from Relient K. I’ve been listening to that band since 7th grade and still love everything they put out. I love looking at songs from a Christian perspective and be able to pull out obvious similes and comparisons to faith so I try to do that as well.

Did you record Found Among The Broken, your first solo release, yourself or do you have other official/unofficial members? If so, were they involved in the writing process as well?

I did a lot of the recording myself but had Nathan and John-Mark from The Sleep Design track electric guitar and drums for me. I guess I have an unofficial band in the sense that I have and ideal band that I would love to be able to play with every show I do (which includes those guys), but will find fill ins if they aren’t available. I came into the studio with the bare bones of the songs and new for the most part what I wanted everything to sound like so it was just making them come to life. Nathan wrote almost all the electric parts though so I gotta give him huge credit for that.

Where did you record the album?

We tracked drums in a house studio in Birmingham and everything else at Nathan’s house in Nashville.

Was this recording process much different than with TSD?

It was actually really similar in the sense that we did it all ourselves. The Sleep Design record was tracked all in my pool house behind my parent’s place in Birmingham and my project was mostly all at Nathans house. Both were super low budget and honestly sound better than they probably should. I’m not really sure how we pulled it off.

Do you have any other material written that wasn’t recorded for this EP?

Yes I have some new material I’ve been working on for the past few months. I’m trying to write more now that I’m realizing how much I enjoy the whole solo thing.

I would assume that both of your bands are a part-time thing for you right now. Would you do this full-time if the opportunity presented itself?

Absolutely. And I say that about either or. I love doing this solo stuff and I love playing with The Sleep Design.

Any upcoming tours/tour dates we should take note of? Do you plan on hitting any of the summer festivals?

The Sleep Design is trying to get ready for a new album so we don’t have any gigs coming up. We are planning on doing some stuff in Birmingham this summer but no touring to speak of. As for myself I’m actually putting together a little acoustic tour with my buddy Joseph LeMay this summer. He’s one of my best friends and great songwriter so I’m really pumped. We are hoping to make it out to California and back by doing some coffee shop type shows along the way. If you read this and want to help out shoot an email to johnballmusic@gmail.com. Not planning on really doing any of the festivals but hey who knows.

I saw on TSD’s Facebook that you’re currently writing. When can we expect to hear some of the new material?

I’m really excited for this new record. I think we all agree that these songs are way better than the first album, so hopefully the fans feel the same way. We are hoping for a release sometime late this year/early next year but you know how that goes. We have a whole bunch of new material its just getting it into album form and finding the funds and time. All of us are super busy with other projects but it felt really good to get together a few days back and play again.

Do you consider your solo music to be a ministry or just music created by a Christian?

I would say its a ministry for sure. I think if anyone were to listen to my music and lyrics it’d be tough to just say I’m just a Christian in a band. The lyrics are pretty upfront. I hope that people hear this stuff and can really connect with it as well as use it in there own personal times of worship.

What would be the main goal you’d like to accomplish in your solo career?

My biggest thing is just to make real and honest music. I feel like a lot of times with Christian music it has to be a certain way to be successful, and because of that I think that we hold back on the creativity that God blesses us with. Most of my stuff is super personal and written in times of struggle or just my own times of worship with God so nothing you hear is watered down in any way. I don’t write with a formula, I write from my heart and I really hope that is made evident through the music. So I guess in short I hope that my music is refreshing to the listener out there who is totally saturated with and possibly even a little tired of Christian music.

Give us one major positive & one major negative about the current state of the music industry.

The biggest positive point I think is the resources that are available to indie artists like myself. It’s been amazing to see the response to this EP that honestly started as almost a selfish worship album of mine; personal songs I decided to share with others. If it weren’t for the internet, iTunes, websites like this one, etc there would be no way that people would hear about my stuff.

I think the negative would be this formula type song writing. There is so much out there that is just totally shallow and cheesy but catchy so it makes it to radio while there is a huge amount of extremely creative stuff that no one ever hears. I think this year in main stream stuff we saw a little shift in that with bands like Mumford & Sons and The Arcade Fire, but I guess in the end the industry wouldn’t exist without pop music.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Thanks a ton for checking this out! Download my EP for free at johnballmusic.com and The Sleep Design’s album for free at comeandlive.com.

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