Up until now, a series of near misses has characterized the career of Aussie singer-songwriter Aaron Hendra. A few years ago, he inked a development deal with Warner Bros. But that fell through. After that, he started to record an album for Hollywood Records. That got shelved. And then he recorded a tune for the 2011 biopic Machine Gun Preacher, which starred Gerard Butler as gang biker turned preacher Sam Childers. But the film's director chose a tune by Chris Cornell instead of his song.
"It just wasn't the right time there at Hollywood Records, and we got dropped," says Hendra one afternoon from Houlihan's in Tower City when asked about the short brush with major label fame.
Hendra and his band mates moved from L.A. to Cleveland late last year. They packed a rental truck with all their vintage gear and brought it to town. They're now in the process of buying a building that they can turn into a recording studio. They stopped downtown for a quick bite to eat before scouting out a few locations. It's a bit of rare downtime for a band that will undoubtedly lead a shiftless schedule for the next few months as "One Man's War," a song from the band's forthcoming album and the theme tune for the new documentary film Machine Gun Preacher — which shouldn't be confused with the 2011 flick — comes out this week.
It's a testament to his determination that Hendra has finally finished the album he started all those years ago. Undeterred by the Hollywood Records fiasco, he kept writing songs and kept trying to make connections within the music business even though he took a construction job to make ends meet.
Ironically enough, a chance meeting with financial investor Rick St. George enabled him to take some of the songs he originally intended for his major label debut and retool them for the forthcoming Octobersong. St. George helped Hendra build a recording studio in Los Angeles where the singer then cut the tracks to the album that'll come out on Hendra's own label, Give Records.
"He believed in me," says Hendra when asked about St. George's role. St. George has said he wants to make Hendra into "the biggest pop star in the world."
Hendra produced the album but Rob Hill (Korn, Cypress Hill) helped out. Tom Lord-Alge, a famous engineer who has worked on albums from U2 and Coldplay, mixed the tracks.
A tender ballad that puts Hendra's somber vocals up front in the mix, the single "One Man's War" comes off as a power ballad that's every bit as righteous as the '80s anthem "We Are the World." As the main theme song in the new Machine Gun Preacher film, it should get some heavy airplay.
Hendra says Childers, who has worked to save the children of Sudan, heard of Hendra through a friend in Australia. One day, he stopped by the studio in L.A. when Hendra was recording his album. Childers asked Hendra to write a song for his new film and promised that he would send the royalties to charitable organizations in Sudan.
"I woke up in the middle of the night dreaming the words to the song," says Hendra. "During the recording process, we thought it would be amazing to go to Sudan to record the children singing the songs. We packed up our vintage microphones and took them all the way to Sudan. One Friday night in a mud brick church, we got 300 African kids together. They couldn't even speak English. I got my guitar and it was an intense experience. The chief of the orphanage was interpreting and they started singing the song."
After living in L.A. for a decade, you'd think the transition to Northeast Ohio would be a difficult one. But Hendra says the adjustment to Cleveland hasn't been hard. The band has played a few local shows at the Time Warp in Westlake and at Mavis Winkle's in Independence but will likely spend most of the time on the road.
"Everything's coming together," says Hendra. "This is my first album. I've written for other artists but this is my life's work. It's been 10 years. It's like a greatest hits album. There are a couple of tracks that feature the L.A. Philharmonic. That cost $100,000 a day. They recorded at Ocean Way Studios and we kept that and re-recorded everything else. It's turned into an amazing thing. Everyone is trying to move to New York or L.A. to be famous. We finished what we wanted to do there. We made the album. We think it's amazing that we can take the music to the heartland of America. It's not hipster music. It's heartfelt songs."