What sets Hale apart

(The Philippine Star) - May 15, 2008 - 12:00am

It’s nice to be popular. But it’s better to be happy. That’s what Hale believes and lives by.

The quartet, composed of frontman Champ Lui-Pio, guitarist Roll Martinez, drummer Omnie Saroca and bassist Sheldon Gellada vanished from the scene for 10 months at the height of the band craze. Others would have grabbed the chance to cash in on the trend. But not Hale.

“We felt numb,” explains Champ. “There were no more emotions whenever we sang. For a musician, emotions are important.”

Something big suffered along the way: The relationship among the members. Things became routine; the burned-out feeling weighed down on them like some big, damp cloth dumped on their heads. It wasn’t working anymore. Worse, their friendship was about to fall apart.

So they stepped back and said, “Hey, that’s not fair for us, for our audience.” Hale beat a hasty retreat and decided to weigh things. They agreed that they had to protect their music. And they can’t do so if they feel like robots, shuttling from one gig to another for a total of four gigs a night.

Off they went to Roll’s house in Las Piñas where they literally and figuratively built a recording studio. Each pounding of the hammers, Omnie recalls, brought out a corresponding pounding of music in their hearts. It brought them closer and closer to their new album. Until finally, the band came up with its new album, the 13-track Above, Over and Beyond.

The album’s multi-colored cover reflects the band’s happy feelings at this point. So catchy and varied are at when the going gets tough.

“Our first two albums mirrored extreme emotions,” says Champ. “Now, as our third album shows, we’ve become more mature, more level-headed.”

That 10-month break gave the band the energy it needed to sing again, feel again. It also made them stop and think long enough to come up with causes to stand up for.

After all, there’s more to this band than pretty boy looks and the ability to make girls scream their lungs out.

“At this point, we just don’t want to make records and play endless gigs,” Champ points out. “We want to inspire and touch people. This may sound trite, but we actually want to help people through music.”

These guys care enough to spearhead fund-raising concerts with Parokya ni Edgar, Spongecola and Rivermaya. The shows are under the band’s Las Piñas-based Treehouse Productions.

Tomorrow, May 16, Hale performs at Eastwood City to dramatize its anti-smoking campaign with other bands.

“Do you know that the nicotine level in cigarettes sold in the Philippines is twice higher than that in other parts of the world?” relates Champ. This makes the vice twice deadlier for Filipinos.

Thus, Hale is supporting an NGO trying to pass a bill that champions anti-smoking. The band itself is for requiring cigarette companies to put a photo of a smoker’s cancer-infested neck on the lid of every cigarette box it sells.

There’s more. Treehouse Productions has toured bars and invited other bands to perform in shows whose proceeds have gone to a center for autistic kids, an orphanage, cancer-stricken children, etc. Hale is now choosing between a public school and a group of streetchildren as its next beneficiaries.

Helping the members along is new manager Arnold Vegafria, who is not really new to band management, having handled Alamid when he was still in school. Arnold, it turns out is the first choice of Nonoy Tan, Champ’s father, to manage the band. But the band signed up with EMI Philippines (which is said to be up for a merger) before Arnold could come in.

“I feel Arnold could help us grow more, reach out more with our music and go to the next level,” says Champ. Besides, Hale is the first band in his present roster of talents.

Arnold understands Hale’s need to give back, especially to the young audience that buys its albums and watches its gigs.

And while it’s great to be known as hitmakers, Hale knows it’s better to leave a legacy of hope.

As Champ says, “It would be great not just to be remembered as rock stars, but as responsible citizens with a noble purpose.”

It could mean having your cake and eating it, too. But what the heck. If all cakes are as nourishing as this, he would have the gall to complain?

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