Backstage: Transcendence's Ed Hale on Iranian Diplomacy and Why D.I.Y. Works

Backstage: Transcendence's Ed Hale on Iranian Diplomacy and Why D.I.Y. Works

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions and observations about the local scene. This week: Ed Hale talks music, mobility and his attempts to save the world... 

When translated into Latin, the word Transcendence suggests an upward motion and a feeling of going beyond, freely tempered by shifting historical or cultural connotations. Fortunately, Transcendence, the group with South Florida roots manages to live up to its banner, with five ambitious albums released over the past decade, as well as the various solo outings from its individual members.

Formed in Miami at the start of the millennium, the members of

Transcendence are scattered across various locales, but three of its

chief mainstays remain the same -- singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboard

player Ed Hale, guitarist Fernando Perdomo, bassist Roger Houdaille and

drummer Ricky Mazzi.

Each boast their own back story. Hale was formerly with the South Florida outfit Broken Spectacles, Perdomo helms his band Dreaming in Stereo and his own Forward Motion Records roster, Houdaille fronts the group Ex Norwegian and Mazzi is an in-demand session player. Nevertheless, they find a common bond in Transcendence, which Hale directs from his home turf in New York and Seattle, and which, along with Miami, serve as headquarters for his record label, Dying Van Gogh. "It's a crazy way to live," Hale says. "But it's a blast." 

The frequent trips to South Florida also allow other musicians to lend their talents from time to time, and in fact, no fewer than a dozen players contribute to Transcendence's upcoming album, All Your Heroes Become Villains. The title is telling, a dissertation on the confusion and contradictions that confound today's humanity. There are mystical and spiritual elements imbued throughout, and with its dark, dense tones and textures that enhance the symphonic sound, it becomes both majestic and grandiose. Production plays a key part in its construction, underlying the riveting themes with a progressive gaze. Hale shares billing with the band these days, but there's no doubt this is a collective effort, and one that benefits from it robust blend.  

I recently caught up with Hale who spoke to me by phone from New York as he talked at length about the band, his various world adventures and his advocacy for peace and understanding. A few days later he was in Seattle, dressed in a bathrobe, pajama bottoms and slippers on the streets of the city and marching in support of the Occupy Seattle protest. That Transcendence tag seems apt after all. Here, then, is part one of our discussion. 

Hey Ed! What's been going on since we last spoke? 

What's not going on since last we spoke? The last six to twelve months have been incredible. The short quick answer -- I got married. That was big. I still can't believe it most of the time. I converted to Islam to be able to marry my wife in a "traditional Persian Ceremony" which was beautiful, as she converted to Christianity in order to marry me in a "traditional Christian Ceremony"... so it was a wild experience. I released a solo album, Ballad On Third Avenue, and watched it climb to the Top 100 at college radio for a few months. I toured the U.S. coast to coast and shot a bunch of music videos. I signed a major distribution deal for our record label and watched it take off bolstered by the success of the solo album and Ex Norwegian's Standby album. 

You've gotten a lot of notice lately it seems

Somehow we managed to turn into "a national act" at some point along the way. We did a ton of TV and radio interviews in the U.S. and Canada and got picked up by one of the largest music PR firms in the U.K. The album's second single "New Orleans Dreams" made an impact on the charts and broke into the Top 40 in adult contemporary where it now sits at #30. That's a brand new radio format for us. We've always been an alt-rock or modern rock act. Now the song is in rotation in 21 different countries around the world. I sincerely hope to see it hit number 1 by Christmas. We've never had a national number 1 before so that would be a blast. 

It seems you've done a lot of international travel recently and even become something of a freelance diplomat. What's that all about? 

I became a "Civilian Diplomat" and travelled to Colombia, Africa, and Iran where I met with former president Khatami and all the major Ayatollahs to discuss US/Iran relations and peace. I also attended a meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad at the United Nations to talk about the same thing. Talk about a trip! I helped build a three-story Community Center in a very poor and remote village in Colombia, and two brick houses in an even poorer village in Ghana. They were amazing experiences, all of them. 

Of course right now we are also jumping out of our seats with excitement over the upcoming release of the new Transcendence album All Your Heroes Become Villains, which hits the street on November 15th. I just can't wait for people to hear that one. We worked so hard on it... 

How about giving us some background into the new album? 

The last time we spoke we were discussing the new solo album Ballad On Third Avenue, which was a big shift in direction for me and the guys in Transcendence, with me putting out a softer more acoustic adult contemporary album. That was a touchstone for us. We weren't quite sure where things were gonna go, but we were happy as hell and excited about the possibilities. As a label, we had just gotten major distribution again, which meant we were free to be able to start releasing our music again. That was a big coup. It took a lot of pavement pounding and phone calls, but we nailed it. The three of us released solo albums as a kind of "prelude" to the release of the new Transcendence album. That was the plan, but who knew? Roger's solo project Ex Norwegian blew up and kicked some serious butt on college radio and with the critics and in the touring department. Ballad On Third Avenue, which at the time we thought was a risky venture -- me going "singer/songwriter" -- exploded. It was like a whole new world opened up for us. A Top 20 Most Added album at College Radio and the highest CMJ charting we'd ever had up to that point. 

What has the advance reaction to the new album been so far? 

The phone's started ringing. Billboard, Mediabase, MediaGuide and all these commercial radio promoters and PR firms started calling. Right now as we speak, the album's second single "New Orleans Dreams" is spinning on radio stations in 20 countries around the world. And now it's climbing up the Adult Alternative Album Charts. PR Firms that never used to take our calls started calling us. I signed five endorsement deals in six months; all for products that I love. I get free guitar strings for life, and I sing through the best microphones in the world. 

Sounds great! What else? 

Someone leaked a few tracks from the album and then we get this call from a guy in the U.K. who said he heard the songs on his phone over the internet at 3 o'clock in the morning at a club and "just had to contact us." It turns out it was James Parish of Prescription PR. These guys are huge in the UK. They represent Beck and the Kinks and Rufus Wainwright... they're way big. And now they've added Transcendence to their roster, which is great for us, because we've been trying to get into the British music market for a long time. Radio and TV interviews keep coming in. We're in glossy print mags now! It seems we've taken it to just a whole different level. 

How do you explain this sudden success? 

For me and the guys, it just goes to show that D.I.Y. works... if you work it. We're all very happy and the album hasn't even come out yet. But the reviews are starting to come in and they look good, and the fans seem to be really digging it so far. We're all very aware that any success we experience with our solo projects can only help Transcendence, which is "our group project." We're also in the process of recording three new Ed Hale solo albums. So yeah, we are working 24 hours a day and seven days a week. But it's fun. As hard as it is, the payoff makes it worth it. 

How is the label operation going? What's new on that end? 

Running a real record label is a mammoth undertaking. It's 24/7 and then some. To be able to operate at the level where we currently are, we can't hire enough people fast enough. We're trying, but we keep realizing that we need more and more people working at the label to handle the momentum. And truth be told, running a record label does get in the way of being your best as an artist. But we're" in" now, at least a little bit more than before.
Other than that, we've got some incredible releases coming out over the next six months, which is very exciting. Besides the new Transcendence and Ex Norwegian albums, Roger already has another album recorded and ready to hit the streets. So does Transcendence. We're also soon releasing a Jimmy Campbell Tribute album with some really big names on it and we're in negotiations with that classic band Flash, plus a few others like Arlan Feilis (of Natural Causes), who I just adore. Being able to help other artists that you love achieve their dreams and goals, that's the mission. But as artists we're also aware of how much we as artists still need to do every day. So we'll see. If we can get it to the point where we can merge with a larger indie label and pool our resources together, that's the direction we're headed in now.

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