With his spiky, dishwater-blond hair and jade-green eyes, you'd never suspect thatBeto Hale
is Mexican. But he is. The grandson of a Polish Jew who emigrated to Mexico in 1921, Hale is Mexican by birth, with Polish, French, Welsh, Irish and Scottish ancestry in his blood. He grew up in Mexico City, coming of age in an upper-middle-class neighborhood with friends of all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds -- which invariably influenced his music as well as his overall outlook on life.
"I consider myself to be eclectic musically," Hale muses, with only the slightest hint of an accent. "And as a person, I'm very open to different influences and different points of view. If anything, growing up in a city like that will definitely sharpen your mind and your ability to accept different things, because there's extreme poverty down there. You see two-year-old kids begging for money all over the city, and you'll also see the richest people you'll ever see -- there are billionaires down there. The contrast is huge."
If Mexico City shaped his worldview, Hale has Mexican radio to thank for the many musical inclinations he displays on American Mythology, his sophomore effort, which will be released this Friday, April 7, at the Walnut Room. "For me, there's no difference between a really good Billy Joel song or a good Rush song or a good Beatles song," he says. "I mean, it's just music. That's how you grow up down there. The radio is really diverse. When you listen to the radio, you'll hear a rock band from Mexico play, and then the very next song will be an '80s pop hit, and then after that the latest from the Foo Fighters. It's way less segregated than radio here. I think I wouldn't have necessarily come up with the variety of influences I have if I hadn't grown up there."
When Hale was eight, his parents -- who'd met at a hotel bar in Mexico City in 1968, when his mother, a Yale graduate, was on vacation -- got divorced. About that time, Hale and his mother went to Philadelphia to visit her family, and she bought him his first toy drum kit. But while music soon became a means of escape, Hale was already a burgeoning musician. "I think I was already a drummer before I owned it," he says of that first kit. "I had a little tambourine and a little toy drum, and I used to literally play with pencils to Beatles records or whatever was in the house."
After several years of playing along with the Fab Four, Hale graduated to a real drum set and joined an original band with two other kids whose parents were American diplomats. The young three-piece, which performed under the moniker Search, consisted of keyboards, drums and vocals, and played assorted gigs around town -- the most notable of which was at the American ambassador's house. Later, after Hale entered high school, he played drums in various outfits that primarily covered such classic-rock staples as "Stairway to Heaven" and "Hotel California." He also took classical guitar instruction, but soon lost interest; like school, he says, it was a bit too structured. Instead, he taught himself how to play six-string by studying the Guitarra F´cil charts sold at newsstands across Mexico City; he also picked up piano and began writing his own songs.
After graduating from high school at seventeen, he joined Timbiriche, a platinum-selling teen act, as a keyboardist for a three-month tour. But then his father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, the progressive neuromuscular malady that would claim his life three years later. "I'm an only child, and we were really tight," Hale says. "Him passing away really hit hard and actually inspired a few of the songs and a lot of the passion I put into things I've done. He always supported me. He was at every recital I ever did, every show; he took photos and videos. I had to grow up a lot faster than maybe a typical twenty-year-old has to. When you're twenty, you're still a kid. It takes you all of your twenties to more or less figure out what you want to do. But when he died, I thought about how he was fine until he got this thing, and then in three years he was gone. And I thought how that could happen to any of us, so let's just go for it. I'll do what I want to do and do my best. I'm not going to be half-assed about it."
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Hale promptly applied to the Berklee College of Music, the far-from-half-assed school in Boston he'd visited years earlier with his mother, and received a full drum scholarship. In 1996, shortly after graduating, he landed an internship at KMA studios in Manhattan, where he met the musicians who became his bandmates in the Cogs, a New York pop-punk outfit. But two years later, he was heading west: A former schoolmate who'd gotten a job at Msico Pro, an internationally renowned Spanish-language publication based in Boulder, had given Hale a chance to freelance, then offered him a spot as the magazine's assistant editor. That fall, despite minimal journalism experience, he became the editor-in-chief, a spot he held until 2004. That's when he and his wife launched Let's Mexam Music Inc., a translation company, and Hale decided to focus the rest of his energies on becoming a full-time musician.
When he'd put out his first disc, Sube, in 2000, the response had been underwhelming. "Locally, almost nobody reacted," he remembers. "I would do gigs at the Soiled Dove and nobody would show up. I got discouraged. I also didn't know how to even start promoting shows, because I didn't know anybody." Although he's still flying beneath the radar, he's hopeful that this disc will do better.
And Hale has reason to be optimistic: Mythology is an absolutely gorgeous album, an enchanting nineteen-song collection that will take your breath away. Sung half in English and half in Spanish, the sublime effort features Hale on every instrument except bass and highlights his effervescent tenor vocals, which are punctuated by his percussive playing style. "I can do four different rhythms at the same time," he notes, "one with each limb, and sing. Playing the piano only requires two hands. The coordination is easier for a pianist than a drummer if you're doing complex stuff. I play piano and guitar in a way that I wouldn't if I didn't play drums."
Just like his lineage, Hale's music knows no boundaries.