Right this very minute, as I sit here typing, over three-hundred and fifty college and non-comm (public access etc) radio stations across the United States are listening to and playing various songs from an album entitled All Your Heroes Become Villains. The group responsible for the creation of this dark moody eclectic and conceptual work is now called Ed Hale and The Transcendence; which brings things full circle right back to where they began nine years ago when a group by the same name released their debut album entitled Rise and Shine. Rise and Shine was a utopian dream; filled with hope, faith and optimism. Ed Hale was known as The Ambassador. He sang in multiple languages and believed every positive-message that entered his mind and sprung from his heart. The world was a stage where all we need do is believe to create our lives any way we desired or preferred. For a good long while, life really appeared to operate like this.
Songs from the album began spinning on radio stations all over America and in Europe. TV shows and movies picked some up as well. Life was good. My God was it good. At least in the insulated private world that The Ambassador and company kept themselves wrapped up in. Hale had created a fortune for himself at an early age as both a musician and as an entrepreneur. Early-retired before the age of thirty, it was hard not to feel that life was good. But that was soon to change.
Soon it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be all peace signs and roses once the band hit what is called “national status”. For every music critic who applauded the group for its experimental modern-rock meets world-music fusion, there were always a few who derided Ed Hale for his blind and naive idealism. As if there were something inherently wrong with being positive minded, trusting and optimistic. Two years of club and college gigs, articles, CD reviews and interviews, road trips and “music business meetings” quickly jaded the once jolly Ambassador. Indie-rock sprang up and the new cool was to not give a shit and look like it. The Bush-Cheney White House made life in America seem somehow ugly and corrupt. Cynicism was the new calling card of “bands in the know.” It didn’t help that Hale’s long-term fiance and business partner — often nicknamed Naomi Balcombe in the Transcendence Diaries, walked away with every cent Hale owned in a deception so fraught with fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, phoney bank transfers and endless lies, that it took every ounce of hope the once optimistic Ambassador held in his heart not to turn bitter and lifeless.
So when The Ambassador wasn’t dressing up as The General to protest the illegal occupation of the sovereign nation of Iraq, he was quickly morphing into The Libertine. Booze, pills, parties, girls galore and invitation only fetish clubs. Now he sang of guilt, lies, deceit, drugs, and one night stands. Being a “guys name and a band name” kind of band didn’t fit any more. And neither did most of the players in the band. So the band changed its name to the shorter Transcendence to reflect the casual we don’t give a fuck attitude that began to fill the halls of the School of Rock.
And in walked two new players. Fernando Perdomo was the first to join. He was the most creative and inventive guitarist South Florida, or any other city for that matter, had ever seen. He was early-twenties and was eager as hell to prove himself. In a band like Transcendence he could. In Ed Hale’s Libertine persona Perdomo found his other half, a singer who could pull off vocals as wild, eccentric and unpredictable as his own guitar histrionics. Hale didn’t just jam with Perdomo. Nor did he just jam off of him. Instead he nurtured and helped shape him, spending hours upon hours in the recording studio demanding grueling re-takes until both of them felt that what they laid down was as “transcendent” as humanly possible. There were times when Hale had Perdomo so tired and frustrated that he would fall to the ground and refuse to get up. Instead of getting upset, Hale just simply continued to force Perdomo to keep re-taking his parts lying down. Occasionally they yelled. Occasionally they stormed out of the studio. But more often than not, they were able to stay inspired enough to record all their parts for each successive album.
Ed Hale and Fernando Perdomo were cut from the same mold musically. McCartney’s Wings, France’s Phoenix, America’s cheesy but irresistible Hall and Oates. Both longed to do nothing but make music for a living. Both spent their childhood as outcasts. Both thought the other was a genius. But to add just a bit of tension to the mix, as seems to be always necessary for the perfect singer-guitar duo, Hale and Perdomo couldn’t be more different in their upbringing; and in the ensuing personalities they’d developed since their school days.
Bring in new bass player Roger Houdaille. A mere 18 years old when he joined the band, he never even formally auditioned. They met at Miami’s infamous Churchill’s music venue and based on a ten minute conversation, Hale told Houdaille that he “was in.” Roger remembers his first meeting of the rest of the band was in the recording studio where the band was doing a photo shoot, giving an interview with New Times magazine, and half way into recording their second album. Ed Hale and The Transcendence now looked and felt like Transcendence. And for the next seven years and five albums that’s what they were called. Roger Houdaille not only added more youth to the group, he also added a Monty Pythonesque sense of irony to the group’s mentality. No more overt messages allowed. Which at first was challenging for Hale who was still attempting to capture a brutal Lennonesque honesty in his lyrics. Houdaille added as much to the band in what he didn’t say as he did with what he did say with his bass.
The band’s second album Sleep With You captured Hale’s Libertine character as well as Rise and Shine captured The Ambassador. For their third album, Nothing Is Cohesive, the band was in full indie-rock form and decided to leave the professional confines and comforts of a “real” recording studio, choosing instead to record the whole album in Perdomo’s mom’s garage.
Newcomer Bill Sommer joined the band as a fill-in drummer for longtime member and cofounder Ricky Mazzi who started the band with Hale. Mazzi wasn’t out. He was just too busy to do both life and band full time. Bill Sommer was also young. After rehearsing a few songs with the band, he asked Hale when he thought they might possibly record these cool songs they were playing. To which Hale replied “Dude, we ARE recording them. NOW. Those three songs already went to tape. Let’s power up the next one mutha-fucka!” Young William, as Hale called him, recalls that that was just about the strangest thing he had ever heard. No rehearsals. No planning or talking it out. Just jamming and recording simultaneously. But Young William must have not been too turned off by the crazy antics surrounding the band and their questionable methods, for he is still in the group to this day.
More road trips, tours, club gigs, articles, interviews and CD reviews both good and bad. Transcendence was on a roll. Nothing is Cohesive, titled as an inside joke by the band about the music critics and their insistence that the band needed to create more cohesive albums sonically, did just that. And it paid off. A+ and five star ratings and comparisons to everyone from the Beatles to U2, David Bowie, Lou Reed, the Kinks… One “tastemaker” music blog called the album “one of the most important albums of the year.” Three albums in and the band finally achieved both “the street cred” and the commercial success they had been going after since their formation. Of course like all good stories, this is precisely when the shit hit the proverbial fan for the group. A sinister cabal of greedy leech-like despots disguised as the band’s distribution company, Synergy Distribution is what they called themselves, owed the group tens of thousands of dollars and decided to go bankrupt overnight. Leaving the band penniless and without a viable way to distribute their music to their fans.
Rather than break for business, or even recognize that he was headed down a long dark road to extreme poverty, Ed Hale maxed out every credit card he owned and then some to begin what was to eventually become the All Your Heroes Become Villains album. If Nothing Is Cohesive was effortless in its creation, AYHBV was it’s antithesis in nearly every aspect. The band went back to Dungeon Recording Studios to have Fred Freeman produce them. Their sound had matured. It had also darkened and gotten much heavier. Indie-rock was so “in” that it was the last thing in the world the guys in Transcendence wanted to create more of. Instead they opted for something more conceptual. Many of the songs were inspired by movies or musicals or plays. “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Becket, “Solaris” by Stanislaw Lem, “Last Stand at the Walls of Zion” alluded both to the Matrix Trilogy and to the literal land of Zion, namely Israel. “We Are Columbine” is just that. The story in song-form about the Columbine massacre.
The AYHBV album cost tens of thousands of dollars. Hale traded penny stocks in the early morning to augment the maxed out credit cards he was using to pay for its recording. He also sublet his Manhattan apartment out and lived on couches and beds at various friends’ houses to save more money for recording. He also slept in the recording studio often. Month after grueling month Hale and the band hit the recording studio every day to try to get a handle on just what the hell they were crafting. Hale flew a trance-hop DJ in from San Francisco named Kamran. Perdomo resisted the idea vehemently. Hale and Perdomo also came to blows so many times that Perdomo walked out one day for good he claimed after Hale taped one too many signs to the walls of the studio saying things like “Stop playing like BB KING!” or “NO SPRINGSTEEN ALLOWED!” Of course these were insults to Perdomo who prided himself on his originality. But Hale wasn’t just looking for originality. He was looking for the near impossible. He wanted everyone in the band to “create something you never have before!”
Roger got it. He laid down a Bee Gee’s inspired bouncy disco bass line over the Middle Eastern themed movie soundtrack-like song “Indian Princess” and it worked. On “Waiting for Godot” Roger also laid down one of the most melodic and intricate bass lines of the band’s entire catalog over Ricky’s, now back on drums again, reggae beat that somehow managed to “fit just enough” beneath Hale’s standard 4/4 rock rhythm. In Perdomo’s absence, the band called on long-time friend, singer/songwriter/producer/engineer Zach Ziskin to come lay down the still needed guitar riffs and licks the band was known for. From what Hale remembers, Zach laid down his parts on all 12 songs in less than a day. It was just that easy. Upon hearing this, Perdomo went ballistic that someone else was recording guitar on the new Transcendence album, so he returned to the studio as quickly as he had left and proceeded to carve out his own sonic space. If Zach owned the more traditional melodic guitar lines on the album, Perdomo owned the squelches and squeals from another planet. In order to make sense of the chaos that was beginning to emanate from the speakers, Hale instructed Fred Freeman to pan all of his own guitars dead center, Zach’s guitar far left, and Perdomo’s beautiful noise far right. Listen for it.
Hale asked DJ Kamran to import everything the band laid down into his computer and chop it up into little fragments and remix it into different songs entirely. Kamran did his work at night in Studio B, while the rest of the band either slept or pulled all nighters in Studio A. Every morning Hale and Freeman would return to the studio to hear what Kamran had created. They would then fly his chopped up speeded up bumped up bassed up little masterpieces into the songs the band was in the process of still recording and overdubbing onto. At one point, when Kamran played Hale a one minute piece comprised of parts taken from all the different songs the band had recorded — what is now the intro to the first song on the album entitled “All Your Heroes Become Villains Part I – The Main Theme” Hale began to cry. “It was at this moment that I knew that we were actually going to create something worthy of it’s name. It was drop dead genius and deserved a good tear or two.”
Then of course there was Allan Gabay, the wildcard in the band. Gabay was and still is a musical virtuoso, classically trained pianist, but about as mature in his person as a five year old. Knowing full well that Hale and band were holed up in the studio all day and night starting at 9AM, Gabay wouldn’t show up to record his parts until midnight or later most days. Leaving Hale little room for sleep. The good part of this aspect of the recording process was that Allan Gabay did not disappoint. All over the album you can hear why the band puts up with the rather unconventional working style of their keyboardist. On songs like “Here it Comes” Gabay’s piano flourishes add something rare and unique to rock bands of the day. Hale often sang Gabay parts he heard in his head and in seconds Gabay was not only playing them note for note perfectly, he was also augmenting them with harmonic inversions that made the songs that much more orchestral.
Another experiment that worked to the group’s advantage for the All Your Heroes Become Villains album was Hale’s idea to invite his childhood friend and former Broken Spectacles bandmate Matthew Sabatella into the studio to sing harmony vocals over his leads. “Eddie and Matt” as they were known in their teen years in the SoFlo music scene were well known for their vocals, sometimes singing in unison, sometimes harmony, sometimes in octaves, and often times switching right in the middle of songs. Sabatella was a master vocals arranger. And Hale had since spent years taking vocal lessons studying opera. But the two had not sang together in almost ten years. “The first time I heard and saw Matt behind that microphone singing harmony over my lead vocal, the song was “Solaris,” I got chills man… I couldn’t believe it was really happening. It was not only sounding good. It was also just very healing for us as people. Broken Spectacles didn’t really break up in a good way. Like a lot of bands, it just sort of petered out from boredom and bigger dreams. So that was big.”
The band also enlisted Karen “Trophy Wife” Feldner to sing background vocals on the album as she had on every single one of their previous albums. That too is an aspect of the album that makes it something it could never be without her on it… Like all of us I believe. In addition Dee Dee Wilde the famous R&B singer was called in to sing the Pink Floyd like gospel groans over the opening track. Which she accomplished in one take by the way. And while they were at it, the band also called in Latin superstar Jorge Moreno’s horn section to come in and add trumpet and trombone to the songs. Now that they had added everything but the kitchen sink to the 12 songs, they needed to be mixed. And that task was left up to Hale and Freeman. If the album took two years collectively to record, it took twenty years in effort and energy to mix it. Besides the fact that due to his desire to “create something no one’s ever heard before” Hale had recorded something close to sixty different tracks on each song, including usually two or three drum tracks per song overdubbed onto one another for example, he also wanted each song to outro into the next song’s intro. This involved bringing the guys back in to write and perform parts that helped shift the key of one song into the different key of the song that would follow in a manner that sounded musically appealing. It also entailed endless hours sitting in front of mastering software trying out different segues with different songs fading in and out of each other until they started to recognize what the “ideal track listing” would be.
Eventually they got it. And just in time. For Fred Freeman was days away from losing it bigtime and blowing up. Besides recording the All Your Heroes Become Villains album, the band had also recorded another full album during off hours called “The Great Mistake” which Dying Van Gogh Records will release in the Spring of 2012. They were also in the process of laying down the basic tracks to an Ed Hale solo album called L’intrigue de Femme which featured an additional 25 songs, each centered around a different girl’s name, an idea originally offered to Hale from Roger. “Roger probably didn’t realize that I would take the idea so seriously. But I just couldn’t resist. I had already written at least that many songs centered around girls name. It was a cool idea. So why not?”
Between the arduous mixing schedule, Hale’s refusal to accept anything less than perfection, the proliferate quantities of various drugs that filled the studio and certain player’s insides, and the fact that Freeman was pissed that the band had recorded way more songs and albums at his studio than was originally agreed on, all hell broke lose in the studio. Freeman held the band’s master tapes (and Hale’s personal belongings) hostage until they could cough up an additional $4,000. The band scrambled to sell equipment and borrow as much money as they could to purchase their albums back. (And Hale’s clothes). Hale escaped to Perdomo’s and crashed for a few days. “I had to call my brother in Texas. I was flat broke, yes, but I had managed to record two full length albums better than anything me and the guys had ever created before. So I was happy. My brother could tell by my voice that something was up. All he said was “what do you need dog?” And I said “I need to get the hell out of here dude.” He bought me a ticket right there while on the phone with me. Gabay drove me to the airport. I flew to my bro’s house and cleaned up for a while.”
Next up was the brutal process of facing the facts. And the facts were this. We had two great albums now recorded and no record label or distribution company to release them. This was a terrible situation to be in. Talk about a drag. But in the meantime we decided to record solo albums of our own in order to increase our over all fanbase and to stay creatively inspired. It was a weird strategy. But incredibly it worked. Fernando formed Dreaming In Stereo and recorded an incredible self-titled album. Roger formed Ex Norwegian and recorded Standby, which went on to make him a veritable indie-music critics darling. And I recorded Ballad On Third Avenue, deciding to go acoustic singer/songwriter. My longtime friend, now wife, Princess Little Tree, offered to help us if she could Executive Produce to make sure that we didn’t go overboard like we had on previous albums. It worked. All three albums were released on the newly formed Dying Van Gogh Record label. And after hundreds and hundreds of calls and meetings I was able to secure a new distribution deal for the band and the new label. We were now “back in the action.” Besides that, all three of our solo albums made the “Best Albums of the Year List” in New Times magazine and received great reviews.
The artist “Ed Hale” was now bigger and more well known than the artist “Transcendence” miraculously. And it was frustrating as hell to be constantly receiving emails and comments from new fans asking why I only had “three albums” for sale. The problem was that they were doing searches for “Ed Hale” and our band “Transcendence” wasn’t popping up. This is why we decided to change the name of the band back to Ed Hale and The Transcendence. Same band. Just ties it all together. And frankly, I like the way it kind of brings everything around full circle. Like a new beginning that closely resembles the original beginning.
When Fernando was mixing my solo album, Ballad… I was in a rehab truth be told, for what we in the business refer to as “exhaustion”. I’ll never forget hearing the final mix of the song “New Orleans Dreams” for the first time. I started balling my eyes out. Tears just streaming down my face. My mom, who happened to be there in that moment, asked me “Why are you crying honey?” And I replied “Because…. listen to this… it’s so beautiful… I think this is going to be the one mom. Listen to it…” I just had this feeling inside from listening to that song.
Turns out I was right. That album was the highest charting on the CMJ college radio chart of my career, debuting at #14 on their Most Added Chart and peaking in the Top 100. A little more than a year after I had recorded the album, radio promoters started calling. One wanted to take the song “New Orleans Dreams” to the Adult Contemporary format on commercial radio. THIS is PRECISELY why we recorded this album the way we did. Fernando and I had to use all of our collected strength and will power not to “over-do it” in our arrangement and production of that album. And we pulled it off. We kept it simple. As of this writing, “New Orleans Dreams” is #23 on the Adult Contemporary Chart (FMQB)(There are a LOT of charts in our business. That’s another story.) But it now officially holds the record for the highest charting song of my or “our” career — beating out “Superhero Girl” from our Sleep With You album, which peaked at #24 on the Alternative Rock Chart in 2003. Let us hope it continues to rise.
With all the new found glory and success of these solo albums that we recorded, we were finally able to afford to release the long awaited All Your Heroes Become Villains album that we all worked so hard on. This is something that I really believe that none of us ever thought was going to happen for a while there. I believe that there was a spell there where the only person who still held hope that this album was going to be released one day was yours truly. I NEVER give up. I never lose my hope. I never lose my faith. I never lose my optimism. I am, as my good friend The King likes to say, “the most RELENTLESS person I’ve ever known”. I KNEW this album was going to be released one day. I wouldn’t stop until it was.
And so here we are. Ricky who started the band with me over a decade ago calls me all the time saying he framed the CD when it arrived at his house. I think we all feel like that about this album. We’d never worked harder on anything. The reviews are coming in and they are good. Articles and interviews pouring in once again. PR Firms bigger than we’ve ever worked with are representing us. Radio Promoters bigger than we’ve ever worked with are promoting us. Product endorsements and free gear. And just like the last nine years, this new album is now spinning on over three-hundred and fifty college radio stations all over the country. Next up, commercial radio and live shows. More interviews and more tours.
How? Because we didn’t give up. Because we believed and we refused to stop believing. We also work 24 hours a day right now. Non-stop. All through the day and all through the night. But it’s paying off. And that’s good enough reason for me. If that’s what it takes to see your dreams turn into reality, then you’ve only got two choices: do what it takes, or quit when you’re down and tell your grandchildren about “how it almost happened for me when I was a younger man” stories till you die. For me that just isn’t a choice I’m willing to make.