MANILA, Philippines?This band amazed yet touched all who heard its music. A slow, melodramatic tinge of sadness; its vocalist?s soulful yearning made the phenomenon even harder to ignore.
In an instant, Hale became the country?s top OPM band. Pundits view Hale?s sensational rise as a result of its sincerity in its music, how band members put their hearts on their sleeves in each telltale line of its songs.
?Hale?s songwriting process is so natural. It reflects what we?re feeling. Our albums are actually our diaries over the years,? Hale frontman Champ Lui-Pio reveals in a rare one-on-one interview with INQUIRER.net. Lui-Pio reveals that each song has its own story to tell, reflecting all the personal journeys they have gone through, in its triple-platinum award-winning self-titled debut album, ?Hale.?
?In ?The Day You Said Good Night,? all the songs there were written years before the album came out. If the songs talk about heartbreak, siguro yun ang state namin,? Lui-Pio says. ?When we came out with the album, I just came from a seven-year relationship. Si (guitarist) Roll (Martinez) naman from a six-year relationship, si (bassist) Sheldon (Gallada) naman from a three year relationship. Siguro at that point in time, sobrang sadness ang lumalabas.?
But this sadness clearly did not reflect on its new stature as the country?s breakthrough band. Aside from recognition for record sales, TV and radio listeners and even industry establishments cited Hale as their ?favorite band,? ?band of the year,? ?best new OPM artist,? or ?best pop rock band.? The haunting ballad that was supposed to express heartbreak and despair, ?The Day You Said Good Night? became the biggest hit in its time, eclipsing even the most popular foreign hits in sales and radio airplay.
?Broken Sonnet? and ?Kung Wala Ka? were other famous tracks that show how the band?s songwriting became the compelling factor for it to reach its prominent stature in the OPM scene. The song ?Blue Sky? is Lui-Pio?s favorite as it accurately reflected the ?dilemma? he was facing at that time.
Out of the limelight
But suddenly, Hale faded away from the limelight. Unlike in their banner year in 2005 that saw them appear in all major TV musical variety programs, perform in continuous gigs, and have heavy airplay on radio and music video channels, with a popular endorsement of a coffee brand to boot, the breakthrough act stood still.
According to Lui-Pio, the trouble started when they did their follow-up album ?Twilight.?
?During ?Twilight? kasi it was a very difficult time for everyone,? Lui-Pio said. ?Not because of anything within the band but outside the band. Everything was really affecting us that we could not deal with it properly kaya we decided to take a step back to take a breather lang.?
Exhausted and frustrated
Lui-Pio said the immense popularity they achieved after their first album took its toll on them, as they became physically exhausted and drained, apart from a growing artistic frustration.
?That time we were just physically and mentally tired from everything?from gigs, pressure from the label. Kasi you have to understand that as much as you want to keep it on an artistic perspective, it?s still business eh. There?s still a business side to music. The label, the recording companies?that?s their side. So we have to compromise once in a while.?
While ?Twilight? marked the next level in Hale?s existence as a band, it led to factors that ran contrary to their very nature as artists.
?In ?Twilight,? it really affected the songwriting, the performance. So we thought we were very unfair sa listeners, who would go out of their way to see us tapos pagod kami or we?re not giving our 100 percent. So we just felt it was right to just regroup and find that old flame,? Lui Pio said.
The conflicts, he said, even reached beyond the band.
?May mga personal [conflicts]. For example, it?s not even the four of us. For example, people related to us. Ex-girlfriends or whatever, mga ganoon. Ganoon yung malaking nakatulong sa pagod,? he reveals.
As a result, despite good reviews, ?Twilight? never achieved the success of Hale?s debut album.
?They always say the first album is always the best. Kahit anong banda daw. So, you shouldn?t have to outdo the first one or a certain album,? Lui-Pio said. ?When for example yung mga recording companies, sinasabi nila kailangan natin ng ganitong kanta, ganitong theme. Pero kami, iba kaming mag-isip eh. We?re not going to make another
?The Day You Said Good Night.? We want something new to offer. We don?t want to get stuck with the same pattern, sound, formula.?
Despite ?Twilight? falling short of expectations, which even threatened the existence of the band itself, Lui-Pio notes that Hale is experiencing a rebirth, a transition, especially with its latest album ?Above, Over and Beyond,? which was released last year.
?We reached the point na when you?re down, there?s no place to go but up,? Lui Pio says. ?With the right momentum, with the right motivation, we start to pick up the pieces. The third album was about a new found passion, new found drive.?
How have the difficulties affected the band?
?All in all, it?s really a learning experience. Constant adjustments kasi ang ginagawa namin every year. Like we constantly evolve?There has to be constant evolution for you to grow and mature. In a way from the first time we came out with the album, everyday we try to improve, we try to develop not only in songwriting but also in performance,? Lui-Pio adds.
According to him, ?Above, Over and Beyond? presents a radical shift in their songwriting.
?It?s not really melodramatic anymore. Masaya na siya. In love na kaming lahat,? Lui-Pio declares.
Hale now has a new drummer, Paolo Santiago, formerly of Join The Club. Hale?s original drummer, Omnie Saroca, left the band to focus on other priorities, Lui-Pio says. ?But we?re still okay. We?re still supporting him and he?s still supporting us.?
Hopefully with Santiago, Lui-Pio says, ?we?ll have a better 2009.?
He was referring to slow sales of ?Above, Over and Beyond? in 2008 due to troubles affecting their label, EMI. Parent EMI International had shut its Philippine division due to downsizing, Lui-Pio says, but all the EMI contract artists were now part of a new label, Polyeast.
?They are marketing the third album. Hindi na-push masyado. Walang guarantee talaga,? Lui-Pio says.
Hale, he stresses, is marketing and promoting ?Above, Over and Beyond? on their own.
?We?re trying to help ourselves kasi we?re not relying on the label now to push the album kasi they are concerned with their own problems. Hopefully by (this year), we?re going to make a strong push for the album,? he says.
He notes that they are looking at new avenues in selling and recording music, particularly on the Internet platform which is currently exploding.
?There are a lot of avenues to share your music. Hindi naman kailangan you?re under a label. You don?t need big recording companies anymore. You can innovate. You can actually find a lot of ways to access listeners, like online. You can upload and share music.?
?Above? is the third of a five-album deal with EMI.
Despite the setbacks and challenges, Hale remains as a solid unit that still sticks to the basics.
?I will keep on writing songs. Ako naman kasi it doesn?t matter if we?re signed or not eh. I?m still gonna write music. The four of us will still write music.?
But their biggest plan for 2009 is expand its ?Treehouse? gigs that donate all of the proceeds to charity.
In the 11 ?Treehouse? gigs since January last year that saw Hale perform with other stellar acts like Spongecola, Sugarfree, Mayonnaise, Parokya ni Edgar, Hilera, Rivermaya, and Rico Blanco in different venues around the Metro, a significant amount was raised for charitable institutions such as the Asociacion de Damas Filipinas orphanage, and programs including Project Brave Kids for children with cancer and One Gene: One Child, which addresses autism.
?We want to make Treehouse bigger. That can be the first legacy we can leave when we?re done with the band. I just want to make it as efficient as possible. Kasi I can see from our first year how productive we were. Ang dami kasi naming na-raise, ang daming tumugtog, ang daming nanood. So we want to make it bigger. We also want to get more sponsors so we can maximize the cause,? Lui Pio declares.
Indeed, Hale is far from saying ?good night.?