Transcendence's Ed Hale on Heroes, Villains, & an "All-Star Lineup"

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... 

After catching up with Ed Hale last week in the first part of my interview with the singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboard player for the former Miami based band Transcendence, today we delve further into the group's current status and the making of their latest album, All Your Heroes Become Villains.

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?

This "all-star line-up" as you call it is the exact same lineup that we've had since 2001. The only difference is this strategy we experimented with back in '09 when we got this idea to do solo albums and build up little fan-bases for each of our solo projects. By the time the new Transcendence album comes out, we've got like ten times as many people into the band. Instead of people just thinking about Transcendence as "that band that Ed Hale is in," they would see the band for what it really was, a tight knit collective of super talented musicians from the Miami music scene who record and tour together because of their shared likes and tastes in music... 

Now people are like, "Hold on dude, are you telling me that Ed Hale and Fernando Perdomo and "the Ex Norwegian guy"( Roger Houdaille) and the drummer for the Tremends (Ricky Mazzi) are all in the same band?! And Zach Ziskin from Passion Seeds and Karen Feldner of Trophy Wife?" And we're like, "Yep." And that's not new, nor unique just to this new album. This is our fifth album as Transcendence. Same guys. Same line-up. Roger joined Transcendence when he was like 18 years old. Right out of high school. Now he's reaching his peak as an artist. But now it's not just we in the band who recognize how talented he is. He's making a name for himself on a national level. It's awesome. 

Even when I did the solo album, Fernando produced it and played and sang on it, and Roger executive produced it and played and sang on it. Just like Transcendence. The only difference is that we felt that the time was ripe for Ed Hale to record a more "adult" album if you will... just to give it a try. And also to allow the other guys to do solo projects too. That way we could all be totally satisfied artistically. But Transcendence is our home. It's our family. It's our homebase. 

Yet, with everybody still doing their own projects simultaneously with the group dynamic, it seems like it would be really tough to get everyone together for the sake of a tour. 

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. 

Please give me some background and insight into the making of the new album. For example, when and how did it come about? And what's with the title? Is this a concept record? 

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. 

So where did the title come from? 

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.

So then what is the album about? What's the concept? 

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. 

That sounds pretty intense. 

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. 

Are you still connected to the South Florida music scene? 

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. 

What do you think of tour local music scene at the moment? 

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.

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Lee Zimmerman