For a long time, Ed Hale's sense of geography depended on rock and roll. "I knew about England, of course, because of the Beatles and the Stones, and I knew about Ireland because of Sinead O'Connor and U2," Hale says matter-of-factly. "That was the way I related to the rest of the world."
So it makes sense that it was FM radio, not CNN, that turned Hale on to the globe. More specifically, it was the sad state of music spewing out of the mid-Nineties. Grunge had just blown its brains out, and headless, flannel-wearing chickens rode the momentum over the airwaves, waiting for an inevitable death. Hale's interest in music almost died with it. Then he opened up to new sounds from other countries, plunging into everything from Brazilian to West African to Italian songwriters and artists. "It started to inspire me," he says. "You can hear in their music the joy and the passion that they have for making the music, as opposed to here in America. [Here] it's like they're making music just to be famous."
In Dungeon Studios in North Miami, Ed Hale and the Transcendence (drummer Ricardo Mazzi, keyboardist Jon Rose, and newest members Roger Houdaille on bass and guitarist Fernando Perdomo, who's known for playing in seemingly every South Florida band) are making music too. When high-fives fly around the room after Perdomo lays down a guitar track -- a squealing, feedback-driven intro to one of the band's newer songs -- it's obvious that the members of the group see music notes instead of dollar signs.
One more reason for the band to celebrate is its Rise and Shine debut, which thrives on a mélange of musical influences without paying homage to any one in particular. The opening "Better Luck Next Time" draws from early Bowie elements, with Hale's English enunciations sprinkled over classic-rock-honed guitars and frolicking pianos, which keep their momentum on tracks like "Do You Know Who You Are?" and "Mother," where a dreamy haze of guitars gives way to a rising chorus. A rumbling funk bass line starts "The Journey (A Call to Arms)," while a more international flavor makes its mark on songs like the franglais (French/English) "Ma Petit Naomi," where mariachi horns serenade as electric guitars toast to Americana and beer-and-chicken-wing rock. The upbeat, tribal backbone of "Trés Cool" sees Hale spit out a list of pop culture references and figures.
Considering his rhymes, Hale wonders out loud, "I love rap, but I don't know if I can rap."
"He raps like a white boy," Mazzi jokes.
A military brat, Hale moved from city to city while growing up. While in Atlanta he met Murray Silver, a music critic who co-wrote Great Balls of Fire: The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis and taught a music class at an arts college that Hale pursued in lieu of high school. The professor took the young Hale under his wing and signed him to his small label, releasing Eddie in 1987. (The album has since been re-released by Hale's current Miami-based TMG Records label.) Hale landed opening spots for area acts including the Georgia Satellites and the Alarm, but the musician lifestyle demanded too much of the teen. On his parents' advice, Hale returned to South Florida, where he once lived in West Palm Beach. "I think I was too young to take care of myself very well," he remembers. He enrolled at FAU and started taking courses in philosophy.
One day while listening to the radio, Hale heard a woman win a contest who had the same last name as an old friend of Hale's from junior high: Sabatella. Hale got in touch with her brother, musician Matthew Sabatella, and the two formed Broken Spectacles, a band that made a name for itself in South Florida during the early Nineties. Despite modest success, the relationship among the musicians grew tense. "The only time we would talk was during rehearsal, and when rehearsal was over, we would all go our separate ways," he remembers. Finally the Spectacles called it quits in 1994. "Years later I get a call from Matt, and we asked, 'Why did we stop speaking?' And we both couldn't figure it out." Today the two are friends once again.
Broken off from the Broken Spectacles, Hale picked up his guitar and traveled the East Coast as a solo artist for about a year, landing in New York City and releasing the appropriately titled Acoustic in New York. "I was very excited about the music I was making, and the things I had discovered that I couldn't do in a band," he says.
Unfortunately he also encountered financial hardship. "I was sleeping on couches and I was really, really broke, and it was becoming unbearable," Hale says. "I remember standing in front of this McDonald's on Broadway hoping that I'd get a dollar or two for playing just so I could go in there and get a cheeseburger. As an artist, every day you just wait for that phone call." Finally around Christmas of 1996, Hale headed to Miami.
The post-NYC period was tough. "I was associating so much negativity with music-making," he explains. "When I picked up a guitar to write a song, I would feel bad instead of good." He put away his guitar for about a year and traveled the world for two, immersing himself in every type of music he could find. For a while Hale was hooked on country. "I'd set the nightstand radio to a country station and I really started falling in love with it," he says. "I liked the way they can fit a thirty-year story in two-and-a-half minutes. And the musicianship is great.
"Who knows, maybe in ten years we'll be doing country," Hale quips.
Perdomo counters: "I'd like to try gangsta country: drive-by-on-a-horse kind of thing. Yo yo yo with a cowpoke."
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While Hale was shedding his bad associations, the Bolivian-born Mazzi was looking for a project. "I just wanted to play music," Mazzi says. "It didn't matter what it was." Mazzi, who also was going through a period of musical experimentation, teamed up with Hale in 1998. "His songs are infections," Mazzi says. "At first you hear them and you think, 'Why is he doing that?' and then you go home driving and you realize he has some catchy stuff."
It was catchy enough for the folks at MTV, which signed a licensing agreement with the band to allow the network use of six of its songs on Road Rules and The Real World. The single "Better Luck Next Time" has been getting airplay in such far-flung burgs as Fairfax, Virginia and Indianapolis, Indiana.
"We all wanted to do something completely different than what we had done in the past with other bands," Hale says. "We purposely tried not to be a modern-day rock band."