Aaron Hendra believes in second chances. And third. And fourth. He should. The Australian-born, Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist has been given enough of them over the last ten years. Back when he was young aspiring songwriter, he left a demo with a receptionist at Aussie superstar John Farnham’s label, which was initially ignored. Hendra received a call six weeks later from Farnham himself saying he wanted to record Hendra’s song “Don’t Let It End”. Years later, when a development deal with Warner Bros. Records collapsed and a unfinished album for Hollywood Records was shelved, a chance meeting with entrepreneur Rick St. George led to the financial means for Hendra to give up his construction job, build a state-of-the-art studio in Beverly Hills, launch the independent label Give Records, and record the Aaron Hendra Project’s upcoming debut album Octobersong.
“Those second chances are what kept me going,” Hendra says. “Just when having a career playing music seemed impossible, another door would open. That inspired me to keep going to the point where it almost seemed crazy. But from an early age, I truly believed I could write hit songs and I was stubbornly determined not to give up.”
Fortunately, he didn’t. The Aaron Hendra Project’s first shot across the bow is his new single “Alive” — an uplifting love song that serves as a fitting introduction to the band’s muscular, melody-minded and thoroughly radio-ready rock sound and Hendra’s impassioned vocal delivery. He shows another side of his songwriting with the acoustic guitar-driven ballad, “One Man’s War”, which Hendra originally wrote to be the end title song to a film starring Gerard Butler about the life story of former biker/drug dealer-turned-preacher and Sudanese orphanage founder Sam Childers, AKA the “Machine Gun Preacher”, who asked Hendra to compose something to close out the biopic. Hendra traveled to southern Sudan and stayed for several weeks at Childers’ orphanage where he recorded 300 children, the ones actually rescued by Childers, sing the song’s end chorus. Though “One Man’s War” wasn’t ultimately used in Machine Gun Preacher, it can be heard, along with several other tracks from Octobersong, in a documentary about the film that will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. (Another second chance.)
Hendra got to know Childers even better when the preacher invited Hendra to be part of a reality show – The Last Ride, in which nine strangers (including Hendra and his drummer/AHP founding member Greg “Gigi” Gonaway) traveled 2,700 miles across seven states over 12 days on Harley-Davidsons and formed what the producers call “an uneasy brotherhood.” “I wrote ‘Alive’ during that trip,” Hendra says. “I was missing my wife and came up with the whole song in my head while on my bike and sang it for everyone at the campfire one night,” Hendra says. “It’s an emotional song. Some artists are scared to write that way because they think it’s sappy, but there’s a fine line between sappy and heartfelt, which is what I think ‘Alive’ is.”
Hendra — who began playing guitar at age 10 after his aunt gave him one and he “couldn’t put it down” — has always envisioned himself as the kind of artist who could command a large stage and entertain an arena-sized crowd, and you need big, anthemic songs to do it. “I’m not just a coffeehouse singer-songwriter,” he says. “I can do that and reach people, but my real vision is a big arena. I’m excited to go on the road with Gigi and a full electric band. It’s going to surprise people, because they’re not expecting it. They’ve just seen me with an acoustic guitar for so many years.”
Octobersong is Hendra’s ticket to what he has always known was his destiny. The title track was inspired by the second chance he was given through meeting financier Rick St. George. “Not only was I able to finally finish this album, I got to make it in a space so unique and extraordinary it would have made the likes of Sting and Led Zeppelin proud”, says Hendra. St George scoured LA and eventually found the secluded compound located in Beverly Hills just off the Sunset Strip. A mansion built in the ’70s by the late Richard Colburn (founder of L.A.’s Colburn School of Music) to entertain local socialites, the house featured a huge ballroom designed for chamber orchestras (Classical violinists such as Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, and Isaac Stern were regular guests of Colburn back the day). Hendra, St. George, Gonaway, and sound engineer Dave Ahlert transformed the library into a control room, installed a vintage Neve8068 console and production on Octobersong began. Hendra produced the album with aid from Rob Hill (Korn, Cypress Hill), then traveled to Miami to have the songs mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Tom Lord-Alge (U2, Coldplay). “Tom took what we’d done to a whole new level,” Hendra says. “He put his heart into it and made it sound like a finished record.”
Hendra is now gearing up for the July 10th release of “Alive”, followed by the release of Octobersong later this year. Hendra says, “It took me longer than most to find my voice, but I always knew it was in there somewhere and that when I finally found it, it would be worth hearing. I spent the last decade trying to write songs that make people cry. I’m going to spend the next decade trying to make them move.”