Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions and observations about the local scene. This week: Ed Hale speaks. We listen...
I encountered an interesting parallel story during a recent weekend in New York. During lunch with musician pals Richard X Heyman and Edward Rogers, an obscure British musician named Jimmy Campbell came up. Campbell wrote a few mildly successful hits in the mid '60s during the full flush of the British Invasion. Few Americans know of Campbell, but Hale sure does. His label, Dying Van Gogh, has a multi-artist tribute planned and Rogers is contributing a track to the effort! Anyhow, here's the rest of my little chat with Mr. Hale.
What is the current state of Transcendence these days? You have an all star line-up with Roger and Fernando on the new disc, but are they also in the live band?
That's been a major issue for us the last few months, trying to brainstorm what that's going to look like... But we'll figure it out. We'll find a solution. Most likely it will look a lot like "a touring company" or a "Four Great Artists! One Night Only" type of a thing, where we all tour together and each of us switches to different instruments depending on who's on stage that hour. If we manage to work it out right, it should turn out to be a really groovy scene for the fans that are able to go to the shows.
All Your Heroes Become Villains is our follow up to Nothing Is Cohesive, our third album of new material, (not including the rarities album we released last year, The City of Lost Children). Our previous effort, Sleep With You, may have put us on the map commercially, but Nothing Is Cohesive was the one that gave us that street cred with the critics. So we were psyched to start the next album. We worked with a big dry-erase board and I wrote about thirty songs on there. One by one we worked them out as a group. That whole time we thought we were making an album called Cinematique, because all the songs were kind of operatic and sounded like film soundtrack songs.
One day Roger's cousin Jasmine Kripalani was hanging out with us at rehearsal. We were taking a break and talking about the current state of the world and Jasmine just casually commented "Isn't that just the way it is? All your heroes eventually become villains in the end..." I immediately took out my notebook... because it was a very insightful and cool thing to say. It was in that moment that I realized what this album was all about. The songs were dark anyway. And heavy. And they mimicked the times we were living in. Jasmine catching that phrase out of thin air like that just cemented what was already appearing as the undercurrent of the album.
A lot of people are already calling the album a political statement. And that's cool. Because it is to a certain degree. But the album isn't just about politics. It's also about one man and his personal story. His pain, but his hopefulness and faith. And song by song we see it get whittled down, for all the various reasons mentioned in the songs... by the third song he's already screaming at his idea of God and threatening to kill himself if he doesn't get some answers. It's a realization of just how alone we all are in the world and how we can spend our whole life looking for something like "a God" or justice or fairness and still never find it, nor find anything else of real substantial meaning in life... so in the end the guy kills himself. The song "After Tomorrow" is word for word his suicide note if you read the lyrics.
It also deals with the bigger picture of how fucked up things are in the world geopolitically and how all of our heroes do turn out to be villains in the end, no matter how much "audacity of hope" we may start out with. The Obama euphoria that gripped the nation at that inauguration quickly left the hearts and minds of America, and now look where we are. It's one statement. It's not the end of the world. It's just an observation. And as dark as it is, that's why we chose to end it with the optimism of "Last Stand at the Walls of Zion," which is a very subtle and symbolic piece using Zion, or Israel, as a reference point for the entire world. If we can feel hope for peace in Zion, we're gonna be alright in the end. No matter how bad it gets. The lead character may have offed himself, but the world still turns and Zion has survived.
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I stay connected to the SoFlo music scene because I'm from the South Florida music scene. And of course I'm connected through my boys. We have a satellite office in Miami for Dying Van Gogh, which Roger runs. I run our office in New York with one other person, and my wife and another staff member runs our office in Seattle. Some of the guys in Transcendence still live in Miami, so I cannot help but be connected to that scene. Plus, the Miami music scene is where I got my start, with Broken Spectacles. And it's the scene where I first started learning the game and paid my dues. Regardless of where I live over the course of my life, I will always be "originally from the Miami music scene" and I'm proud of that.
Compared to fifteen years ago, there's an endless supply of great talent there. But there's just not enough people into pop/rock in a way to build a big enough fan base to make a big enough noise nationally unless you make a very specific style of music. So that's why we've seen all these artists over the last fifteen years leave SoFlo -- either before their career takes off, or right afterwards. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's not a bad thing. It just is. Now someone like Jorge Moreno, who I love dearly as a person and as a fan of his music, he's cool there. He can stay because he fits in with the kind of music that the majority of the population there likes. And that's the key.
Same thing with Enrique (Iglesias) and Shakira and Pitbull. Miami's a great place for them as artists. But for artists like that band Kingsley, who were pulling from influences like the Beatles and Wings and Jellyfish or whatever... what the hell do those artists have to do with the local music fans? It's a dead end if you're goal is to sing power pop. So all those guys left Miami and moved either to New York or LA, where power-pop is thriving. Or even North Carolina or Seattle.