10 Questions with ... Aaron Hendra
November 19, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Watch the live version of this interview along with The Aaron Hendra Project's recent performance at All Access.
Aaron Hendra, Gigi Gonoway, and Irwin Thomas of The Aaron Hendra Project perform songs off of their upcoming album, Octobersong, at The All Access Music Group - video production/editing by Sean Gannon
1) What was it that got you interested in music? How did you go from an aspiring songwriter to writing songs for Australian superstar John Farnham and being part of the reality show "The Last Ride?"
My aunt gave me a guitar when I was ten years-old and I took it everywhere I went. Mark Knopfler and Joe Satriani were my hero's as a kid and I think that helped me to develop a strong love of melody. John Farnham is a household name in Australia and one of that country's all time biggest selling artists. He would sell out arenas ten nights in a row!
Back in my very formative years as I writer, I dropped of a piano/vocal demo of a song at his record company office. I just had a very strong feeling that song would be perfect for John. I just gave it to the receptionist in blind hope that somehow it would get to John and he would hear it. The longest of all long shots! I was working as delivery driver at the time, and about six weeks later (to my astonishment) John called my cell phone and praised me for the song. He said they listened to it five times in a row! They loved it and wanted to record it. It was featured on his multi-platinum album "Romeo's Heart" later that year.
"The Last Ride" is a reality show created by Sam Childers the Machine Gun Preacher. Gigi Gonaway (AHP Drummer) and I had just got back from our trip to record the children in Sudan and were invited by Sam to be part of the ride. The concept was to put nine guys from different walks of life on Harley Davidsons, ride 2700 miles around the country (Survivor style) and see what happens. It was an amazing experience and we all developed a very close bond and friendship. It's going to be a lot of fun and I'm excited for people to see the adventures we had on this amazing journey!
2) What was the inspiration for your new single "Alive?" and other tracks on your new album "Octobersong?"
I actually wrote the song "Alive" during filming of "The Last Ride" and performed it for the first time around the campfire on the night of the finale. It's about the power of a woman to inspire us men to be more than we could ever be on our own. I wrote this album over about 12 years while living in LA. It covers the many aspects of love, relationships, the love I have for my craft of songwriting and also the spiritual aspects of love. It's really my life's work and in a humble way I think of it as a greatest hits album that no-one has ever heard.
3) Please tell us about how you launched your own record label Give Records?
I started Give Records with my friend Rick St George. He just really believed in me and my songs, and he thought I deserved a second chance. We met when I was still working full-time in construction. As the vision developed, we went from having a tiny project studio in my apartment to purchasing a Vintage Neve console and building a world class recording facility. It took two-years and much trial and error to finish my album and now we are continuing to build our music community around the Give Studio.
Billy Ray Cyrus was in a few months ago to track a song for his new album and Limp Bizkit just booked the room for a few weeks, so we're really proud of how its growing. Marketing and promotion for an indie label is such an incredible challenge. It's something were working hard to develop now. It's about slowly but surely building relationships with industry pros that can really get things done, not just talk about it.
4) How does radio in Australia compare with radio in the US?
Sad to say I've kind of lost touch with Aussie radio as I've been hunkered down in the US for over a decade now. One thing that drew me to the US initially was the feeling that audiences over here are more partial to emotional music, songs that pull the heart strings and hopefully US radio will respond to "Alive" and other tracks on my album because of this.
5) What is your approach to songwriting? How do you capture the inspiration when it comes, and how do you tailor your music to fit in with contemporary artists that are now getting played at radio?
99% of the time I write solo. I wrote all the songs on "Octobersong" myself and I think there's a special continuity to the album because of that. Usually, a strong chord progression or melody will arrive first and then I look for the key melodies and lyrical concept. I woke up dreaming the chorus of "One Man's War" and rushed out to record it in the middle of the night before it disappeared. Songwriting is really a mysterious thing, just as soon as you think you understand it then it changes. Pursuing songwriting is really a life-long journey and the most important and exciting aspects of music to me.
Regarding radio. I don't try to follow or copy current artists so my songs and my sound is very different to the hipster bands and Alternative music of today. I'm really a Pop songwriter but it is important for songs to sound fresh and powerful. A hit is really just an amazing song and a killer performance. After you've got these ingredients, a great mix is also extremely important for radio. We got to work with Grammy award winning mixer Tom Lord-Alge. He actually mixed the whole album and he really took the tracks to a new level.
6) How have social networks and sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube changed the way you promote your music and interact with your fans?
Social media has created the ability to have a personal and instant connection with anyone in the world. It's taken the power and control out of the hands of major labels and given it back to artists and indie music folks. There are still major challenges in figuring out how to monetize music through social media. At the end of the day, if you are pursuing a full time music career you have to be able to make a living. The technology has changed but it still comes down to talent, hard work and persistence.
7) How are you using new music technologies to record music and in your personal life?
My philosophy is always to mix the best of the old and best of new technologies to create an edge with whatever I'm doing. There is soul in vintage gear and methods that is missing in today's technology. On the flip side, incredible new software and applications arrive almost daily that inspire creativity and help artists to capture ideas and inspiration faster than ever before. Artists like Skrillex blow me away as they are able to create massive hits with just a Macbook Pro. It's a little different for me as I'm a guitarist and I still need mics and a room to record, but the future is exciting for music however you look at it!
8) Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and many others have recently introduced music in "The Cloud." What effect have these new music services had on musicians?
Again, it's taking power out of the hands of major labels and making music distribution accessible to more indie artists. It pushes the price point of music down and the ongoing challenge for artists is to find other ways to make money and make a living from music. It's a double edged sword in many ways but music will survive, the world needs it!
9) Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
U2, Peter Gabriel and Lionel Richie are some of my favorite artists. We talked about John Farnham earlier and he was a huge influence on me during my formative years. I'm actually fortunate enough to be working with an incredible singer/guitarist and fellow countryman Irwin Thomas (a.k.a. Jack Jones). He's had Top 10 hits and multiplatinum albums in Australia as the lead singer of Southern Sons. We have a tour starting January 2013 opening arena dates for comedian and Oscar winning actress Mo'Nique and Irwin has come on board to help out playing guitar with us for the tour. We're currently playing warm up shows around LA and to look over and see Irwin Thomas playing guitar in my songs is really an amazing feeling. Also my drummer, Gigi Gonaway has been an huge influence and mentor over the past decade. He toured playing drums with Mariah Carey for 15 years on her biggest world tours.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant in your career?
Never Give Up! If you keep going and keep the faith then doors will open.
If you had the opportunity to work with any act/artist from the past, present or future, who would it be?
Again, I'm fortunate to already be working with some of my musical hero's. I'd love to write a song with Bono. That would be amazing!
How have music file sharing services affected the way you market your music?
It's the same challenge facing all artists and music companies. Music sharing has devalued music recordings to the point where it makes sense to give away tracks for free sometimes. We have done this and it's important in breaking new artists. Hopefully the end result is people who become true fans of our music will value it enough to purchase singles and albums and come along to the shows.
What are some of the artists we might find on your MP3 player?
My iTunes collection is very broad. I have everything from Radiohead to Bluegrass. One of my favorite current bands is Mumford & Sons.... I really love their songs and sound!
What are your plans for the coming year as you release your new album "Octobersong?"
Give Records has partnered with a new company in a concept to combine Comedy and music on the same stage. In 2013, the Aaron Hendra Project will be the opening act on a US tour for comedian Mo'Nique. We are planning our radio campaign for "Alive" and releasing the album in early 2013 to coincide with the tour.
Tell us about your charity mission and One Man's War?
We are called the Aaron Hendra Project because we want people to know we are about more than just music. I want to use our songs and what we do to help those who can't help themselves. Three years ago, Sam Childers (a.k.a. "The Machine Gun" preacher asked me to write a song to help the children in Sudan. I wrote "One Man's War" and we ended up traveling to Sudan to his orphanage and recorded 300 of the rescued Children singing the end of the song. We're giving 100% of every digital download of the song in perpetuity to help his organization Angels of East Africa. Those 300 amazing little kids and many more like them have a better life. We're really serious about it and our goal is to get one-million people from all over the planet to download "One Man's War" and help the cause.