The Band | Biography
I'm sure you're wondering where the name Harem Scarem came from. It's really not that big a mystery - everyone always assumes that there is a big story behind the naming of a band (especially when the name is as unique as Harem Scarem!) However, the real story is simply that Harem Scarem is the name of the first Bugs Bunny cartoon. At the time the guys needed a name for the band, they were fans of Bugs Bunny and thought it would make a good name for the band!
Harem Scarem was formed out of the remains of two virtually unkown bands in Canada in the late 1980's. Harry Hess had been the lead vocalist with the metal band Blind Vengeance and Pete Lesperance had been the guitarist for Minotaur. They formed to become the primary songwriting force behind Harem Scarem and are responsible for creating a large part of the Harem Scarem sound. Along with drummer (and excellent vocalist in his own right!) Darren Smith and bassist Mike Gionet, they went on to form the original line-up of Harem Scarem.
The members of the band remained unchanged until shortly after the recording of Voice of Reason when Mike Gionet left the band for personal reasons. Barry Donaghy (formerly of Blu Bones) stepped in and more than filled the void left by Mike's departure.
The band exploded onto the music scene in 1991 with their self-titled debut album, Harem Scarem. The first album spawned several singles and videos which proceeded to take Canada by storm. Songs like "Slowly Slipping Away", "Honestly" and "Hard To Love" were pure gold on the radio and started to create an international following for this new band. While the world was just starting to find out about Harem Scarem, lucky listeners in their native Canada had already become familiar with their distinctive sound through countless performances in local bars and clubs. However, before that the band had recorded a demo tape that was instrumental in their signing with Warner Music Canada. The self-produced and recorded demo was almost unprecedented for an unkown band -- they even managed to get the demo pressed on CD for potential labels. (These days it's commonplace for even local bar bands to make and distribute their own CDs, but at the time, it was still a very expensive risk for the guys to take.) Copies of that original demo CD are now treasured collectibles among HS fans, and even pop up on eBay every once in a while. The band wrote the songs and recorded the demo before ever playing in front of a live audience, knowing that people wanted to hear original songs that weren't just put together in an hour. They took their time and got the right mix of ballads and rockers together in order to attract faithful listeners. In the end, I think it's safe to say that their plan worked out well, since they are now known worldwide.
The release of their second album, Mood Swings, brought even more acclaim from fans and critics alike. With this album, the band also became very popular in Japan. Mood Swings was the first of Harem Scarem's album to be released in Japan, and they developed an instant following there. (The first album was quickly issued in Japan, along with 3 bonus acoustic tracks.) The difference between Harem Scarem and Mood Swings is noticable from the first notes of "Saviors Never Cry". Pete turned up the volume on the guitars and the songs took on a much harder edge. Many people consider the first album to be an AOR classic, but definitely not a hard rock album. Mood Swings provided the extra oomph that the debut album did not, and truly is a "hard rock" album. Harry and Pete really grew as songwriters with this release and showed that they were more than a fluke on the debut album. The "bigger" sound atrracted new fans, but also retained all the qualities that people loved about the first album -- fantastic melodies, seamless harmony vocals, and the unbelievable fretwork of Pete Lesperance. This is the album that fans who had seen the band live really expected from them. It was also an album that the band was much happier with. Because, while the debut album opened the door for them, it wasn't a good example of the songwriting talent possessed by both Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance. It may have put them on the map, but quickly had a dated sound. As the 80's had become the 90's, pop/rock had faded from popularity a bit and been replaced by a harder-edged grunge/alternative sound. While Mood Swings certainly isn't a grunge album by any stretch of the imagination, it had a harder edge that was more in tune with the times.
Many of the tracks from Mood Swings have become favorites to casual listeners and die-hard fans alike -- "No Justice" and "Had Enough" are among these classic songs that almost any fan of hard rock music loves.
During the course of the Mood Swings tour, the band released an EP for Japan only. Live & Acoustic (which was later released in Canada) featured a mix of live songs recorded in Toronto, acoustic versions of some of their biggest hits, and a few edited versions of songs. While the live performances are good, it's difficult to get the true "Harem Scarem experience" from just a few tracks. However, the band has released several live albums over the course of their career that better capture the experience of seeing the band perform live and in person.
In 1995, the band returned with their riskiest album yet -- Voice Of Reason. VOR was initially dismissed as another album where a band had jumped on the "alternative" bandwagon. The album is indeed a bit "darker" than either Harem Scarem or Mood Swings but still possesses the classic Harem Scarem elements underneath. Unfotunately, this album didn't produce the big hits that the earlier albums did, only resulting in one minor hit -- "Blue". While it wasn't a huge commercial success, Voice of Reason was well-received by many critics. Most of them felt that the band was really progressing forward and not limiting themselves to a particular style of music. Unfortunately, many fans didn't agree and didn't give the album a chance. On a first listen that it sounds a lot different than their previous material, but after the shock wears off, it's really quite a good album. Pete explored a whole new realm of guitar sounds, mostly with the wah effect. The songs themselves showed depth in the lyrics and an expansion in the music, building almost to a "wall of sound" on some tracks.
1996 saw the release of the band's first concert CD. Live In Japan,true to it's title, presents a concert performance recorded in Japan during the Voice Of Reason tour. It also included two new tracks -- the instrumental "Pardon My Zinger" and the ballad "More Than You'll Ever Know". While the band had been very popular in Japan since the release of Mood Swings, this was their first major tour of the island nation.
Not a band to take extended breaks between albums, the next album Believe was released on May 25, 1997 in Japan. The album was released in Canada several months later as Karma Cleansing with 2 additional tracks that were previously only available on the Die Off Hard single. The band then released the compilation album Live Ones to help support their 2nd tour of Japan. This album was essentially a re-packaging of Live & Acoustic and Live In Japan with the bonus track, "Change Comes Around" (Acoustic). A Special Edition of the album Believe was released October in Japan. This new edition included several remixes (by producer Kevin Elson) as well as the "Full Band" (essentially "electric") version of "Rain" from the Rain single, and also a cover of the Cheap Trick song, "Surrender".
After a successful return tour of Japan, the band returned to Canada to perform several concerts. One of these shows was recorded for the live album, Live at The Siren. Also on the album were 2 bonus studio cuts, including the fantastic rocker, "New Religion".
While the band obviously focused on their own albums, they had quietly been working with other artists over the years. They formed their own recording studio and (for a time) record label and helped out younger acts in Canada. 1998 saw the band work on a couple of higher profile albums for MTM Music with vocalist Jon Fiore. While Jon handled the lead vocals on both Today 'Til Tomorrow and Body Electric, they were Harem Scarem albums in almost all other aspects. The band was involved in the songwriting, production and even served as the backup band for most of the tracks. In fact, most of the songs originated as demos from the Mood Swings era of Harem Scarem. While the albums themselves are very good, those original demos are some of the best material that the band ever worked on, and it's a shame that they remain unreleased.
The band returned with another new studio album, Big Bang Theory in June, 1998. This album took the band in a little more modern direction, while still maintaining the classic Harem Scarem sound. Once again, the album was released in two different versions - one for Japan and one for Canada. The majority of the tracks are similar, but there are a few "bonus tracks" on either version. Personally, I prefer the Canadian version, but I still highly recommend both incarnations of the album.
After 5 studio albums, it was finally time to release a best-of collection. The not-so-creatively titled Best Of... was released in the fall of 1998 in Japan. This is simply a compilation of many of the biggest hits over the band's first 7 years. Also included was the bonus track, "What I Do" - which was also featured on the Canadian release of Big Bang Theory. All of the band's music videos to this point were also released on a video Best Of... The video also included a couple of live performances from earlier in the band's career.
The Best Of compilation was the end of Harem Scarem (at least for a while) and was a good point in time for the band to re-invent themselves a bit. Fans who had followed the group from the start realized that there had been a significant shift in the style of music they were writing/recording. The band realized this as well, and took the unprecedented step of re-naming themselves Rubber.
The self-titled Rubber album was released in the summer of 1999. In Japan, it was still released under the name Harem Scarem, but the Canadian release officially introduced the new name. Fans and critics alike were mixed in their reaction to the change in style. Some fans accused the band of "selling out" to a more modern sound, while some embraced the musical direction in which they were moving. The single, "Sunshine", was a moderate success in their native Canada, but initially most people considered the Rubber experiment a bit of a disappointment. In addition to the new name, the Rubber album featured a few more changes. Pete Lesperance took the mic for the lead vocals for the first time on the song "Trip" - one of the best examples of the new style of the band's sound. The disc also was Darren Smith's last recording with Harem Scarem as a full-fledged member of the band. Darren left the group to focus on his own band Juice, as well as pursue other musical interests. However, the guys remain friends and he's continued to participate in a more limited role on the band's latest releases.
While the band moved on as Rubber, there wasn't a shortage of material under the Harem Scarem name. Between the end of 1999 and early 2001, Warner Music released two compilations - Ballads and Rocks which respecitvely highlighted the band's lighter material and their heavier material. Both discs contained two new recordings, including the killer ballad "Remember". There was also another Japanese-only live disc titled Last Live. The setlist almost exclusively consisted of material from the Rubber album. Two studio tracks rounded out the disc - "Lauralie" (again featuring Pete Lesperance on lead vocals) and "Another Nail For My Heart" - a cover of the Squeeze song from the 1970s. Last Live also was the first release with new drummer Creighton Doane.
The second Rubber disc, Ultra Feel, was released late in 2000 in Japan. (It was released in early 2001 in Canada with a slightly different tracklisting) This time, the album was released worldwide under the Rubber name. This disc continued the more modern feel that the band started with the first Rubber disc. It also included 3 tracks featuring Pete Lesperance on lead vocals.
After a little more than a decade with Warner Records Canada/Japan, Harem Scarem was at a crossroads. The Rubber albums had been moderately successful in Canada, but fans still wanted the band to return to a sound more like their early albums. For a while, the band considered packing it in and moving on to other interests. To the delight of many of their fans, they thought twice about that decision and signed a new record deal with Now & Then Records.
Weight Of The World, released in the spring of 2002, was the first album on the new label and was instantly hailed as a classic. The disc was a perfect mix of the melodic rock of the first Harem Scarem albums and the modern rock that they adopted as Rubber. They followed up the release with an appearance at The Gods rock festival in Bradford, UK in June, 2002. The show was recorded for the Live At The Gods 2002 CD/DVD that was released in December, 2002.
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The beginning of 2003 saw the release of the first solo disc from Harry Hess. Just Another Day came out in March and focused more on the power pop and modern influences that made up the two Rubber discs. The rest of the group participated on most of the tracks, making it almost like a 3rd Rubber album.
Around this time, The band had been made aware that some copies of their original demo CD were being sold on eBay for an exorbitant sum (one disc went for almost $1000.00). In light of this, they decided to finally authorize a legitimate release of those early demo recordings. Thus was born The Early Years. This disc collected those original demos along with a few bonus tracks from the Mood Swings sessions.
Despite a flurry of releases, the band didn't take much of a break. August, 2003 saw the release of Higher in Japan. This album was a natural follow-up to Weight Of The World - a solid mix of modern and melodic rock, that fans have come to expect from the band. The Japanese release included the bonus track "Wishing" which may very well be the best track on the disc. Worth hunting down for Harry's vocal performance alone.
2004 was a busy year for the individual members of Harem Scarem. Down In It, the first solo disc from Pete Lesperance was released exclusively in Japan in April, 2004. When it was first revealed that Pete was putting out a solo album, a lot of people assumed it would be an instrumental guitar record. Instead, Down In It saw Pete take the mic for lead vocals on the entire disc. Similar in style to much of the material on the Rubber discs, it was widely regarded as one of the best modern rock discs of the year.
Pete clearly proved that he had the vocal talent to match his guitar chops and could very easily front a band himself. After the warm reception of Down In It, Pete did just that. He pulled together some friends (including Mike Turner of Our Lady Peace) who had helped with the quick recording process of that disc and decided to form a new band as an outlet for the music, and Fair Ground was born. The current plan is to re-record the tracks from Down In It and get it released in North America under the new band name.
While Pete was busy with Down In It and Fair Ground, Creighton was busy with his own solo project. Learning More & More About Less & Less was released in October, 2004 on Bullseye Records in Canada. Just as Pete's record surprised some, Creighton's was just as impressive. While the band might have gone back to a more classic sound on the Harem Scarem releases, they continued to experiment with their varied solo releases. Creighton's disc is no exception, and is much more of a power-pop/modern rock album than any of the Scarem releases.
In addition to their own projects, Harry, Pete and Creighton helped out on Billy Klippert's debut disc. (Billy was one of the runner-ups on "Canadian Idol".) The disc borrowed tracks from both Harem Scarem ("Waited") and Harry and Pete's solo discs ("Just Another Day" and "Scars"). It's always interesting to hear another take on familiar material, and Billy Klippert sounds like he could be a star in the making.
2005 continues the trend of new releases from members of the band. Black Star was released in January, 2005 in Japan. This was the first solo release from former Harem Scarem drummer Darren Smith, but features production by Harry Hess on most of the tracks. Darren's vocals are a bit similar to Harry Hess (Darren handled lead vocals on "Sentimental Blvd." from Mood Swings and "Staying Away" from Believe while with Harem Scarem) and the sound of the disc is a lot like Weight Of The World - a mix of melodic rock and modern rock.
May, 2005 saw the release of the tenth studio album, Overload. This disc saw the band attempt a bit darker, moodier sound with tracks like "Dagger", "Rise & Fall" and "Forgive & Forget". However, it wasn't all doom and gloom and there were plenty of upbeat tracks such as the modern-tinged "Afterglow" and "All You're Getting". While the album was generally viewed as a success by most longtime Harem Scarem fans, there was a bit of debate over the overall tone of the album. It also generated quite a bit of discussion on the Harem Scarem Forum (but more on the forums later...) Critically, the band remained as well reviewed as ever - receiving a score of 99% at melodicrock.com.
In November, 2005 after a warm-up gig at The Big Sexy in Oshawa, the band made a trip back to the U.K. for Firefest II. It was quite a treat for European fans, as the band hadn't played there since the very successful Gods show in 2002. By all accounts, Harem Scarem stole the show and was the clear favorite of all the bands that performed that night.
While not a lot of worldwide fans got a chance to actually see the band perform at those November, 2005 shows, a lot more got to hear it. Thanks to the band and www.haremscarem.net, both shows were made available for download to any member of the Harem Scarem Forum absolutely free! Needless to say, for most fans that would be incentive enough to sign up for the forums, but in addition all forum members also received access to special members-only areas and newsletters. For die-hard fans, there's also a Gold level membership that includes additional exclusive downloads and bonuses. All the details for sign-ups are available on www.haremscarem.net.
During 2006, the band has remained busy. Pete and Mike Turner spent the beginning of the year completing the re-recording of the Fair Ground album. During the summer months, they ran the Tracking The Single blog to document the process of getting their first single out to radio. They even allowed fans to vote on the album cover art and help select the track that would eventually make it's way to the airwaves.
Meanwhile, Harry and Pete have also been busy producing several acts. They've continued their association with Canadian Idol by working with some of the latest season's contestants - Aaron Walpole and Suzi Rawn. In addition to production work, the band is also licensing some of its music for use in upcoming films and television shows, such as the reality series "30 Days Until I'm Famous" and the Kate Beckinsale movie "Snow Angels".
While it seems like the band always is working on multiple projects, they always return to their roots. Human Nature, the eleventh full-length studio album from Harem Scarem was released in December, 2006 in Japan and early in 2007 in the rest of the world. While longtime fans of this band know that they never move backwards, Human Nature saw a blend of their classic melodic sound along with some more modern touches. Tracks such as "Next Time Around" and "Tomorrow May Be Gone" feature the amazing vocal harmonies and arrangements that are unmistakably Harem Scarem. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive and the band had another big hit on their hands. In typical fashion, the Japanese release included a bonus track - an acoustic version of "Higher".
The first half of 2007 was a relatively quiet period for the band. The band did some limited promotion for the album during the beginning of the year, but really didn't create much news until the summertime. When they did, however, the news was BIG. In mid-July, 2007 came the announcement that the tour for Human Nature would be their last and that they would record one final Harem Scarem album. While the band had periods of inactivity (and even name changes!) during the years, they had always had a change of heart before announcing anything that indicated that Harem Scarem was through. This was a more definitive statement from the band - and one that (for the moment) appears to be lasting and permanent. The fans will certainly miss new music from the band as a whole, but the inidividual members of the group still intend to remain busy in the music industry, so there will still be new material - just in a different format then we're all used to hearing.
It was also announced that Harem Scarem would be playing at the MelodicRock.com 10th Anniversary show in South Bend, Indiana (to occur in October, 2007). This would be a real treat for U.S. fans, as the band had previously only performed once within the U.S. (and that was during the early days of the Mood Swings tour). The band did a number of warm-up shows around their native Ontario to get ready for the gig, but in the end it just wasn't meant to be. Due to the difficulties of international travel into the U.S. in these security-conscious times, it was impossible to get all the necessary visas/permits to allow the guys to play the show. A lot of fans were upset, but there's only so much that could be done to accomodate all the requirements for playing the show. Despite their absence, the MelodicRock.com show was a huge success and hopefully will be repeated sometime in the next couple of years.
Even though the MelodicRock.com show never happened for Harem Scarem fans, the band was also booked for another big rock festival - Firefest IV in England. As it turns out, the show was going to end up being the last ever live show by the band. Given the circumstances, the event was highly documented and recorded for both a DVD and CD release. In spring, 2008, Harem Scarem - Raw & Rare was released as a limited collecter's edition. The set included a DVD with the full Firefest performance, a rare show from the Mood Swings tour, and a few behind-the-scenes interviews with the band. Also included was a CD of the Firefest performance. There was some dissent among die-hard fans about the setlist that the guys chose for this final show. Basically a lot of people felt that the show was too short and that not enough of the "classic" tracks were represented. In many respects, there wasn't really any way for the band to please everyone, but the set represented 7 of the 11 albums released at that point, so it was somewhat of a good mix of their entire career. Even if the band had played for the entire duration of the festival, there would probably still be some tracks that would have been overlooked. If nothing else, it was a nice treat to have a permanent record of the final Harem Scarem show ever.
In the spring of 2008, the MelodicRock EP was released. This was a set of 5 new acoustic recordings available only from melodicrock.com. It was intended for the fans as a "make-up" for having missed the MelodicRock festival the previous fall. The tracklisting included a couple of songs from Human Nature ("Caught Up In Your World" and "Human Nature"), as well as some more classic HS tunes ("If There Was A Time" and a re-arranged "Honestly"). Originally only available as a digital download, it has since been pressed on physical CDs and is still available from melodicrock.com.
The 12th full-length Harem Scarem album, Hope, was released in July, 2008. Short of upcoming best-of releases prepared by various record labels, it also will be the final Harem Scarem album. The album was a bit reminiscent of Overload with an overall darker and heavier sound. The title track, "Calm Before The Storm"; and "Dark Times" all would have been at home on that album. However, there were also a number of tracks that featured a bit of experimentation: "Never Too Late" featured a little touch of synth/electronica; "Time Bomb" has some unique beats (for HS) and an impressive vocal performance from Harry during the chorus. But the sound that everyone typically associates with Harem Scarem was still there in force. As always there were some great ballad/mid-tempo numbers (such as "Shooting Star" and "Nothing Without You"). The Japan pressing of the album also included another acoustic track (presumably recorded during the sessions for the MelodicRock EP), "Stranger Than Love" - which (given the heavy production of the original version) works surprisingly well in a stripped-down version.
While the band may not be together anymore, that hasn't stopped the release of the latest (and last?) Harem Scarem compilation. The Japanese-only disc, Harem Scarem: This Ain't Over - The Best Of The Avalon Years was released in March, 2009. This is simply a collection of some of the tracks from the Weight Of The World album onward. The only "bonus tracks" were a couple of previously released acoustic tracks from the MelodicRock EP.
So, nearly 20 years after those original recordings that got them signed to their first record deal with Warner Canada, Harem Scarem is officially no more. Both Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance continue to work on new music (both together and individually) but, as it stands now, Harem Scarem as a band is finished. Harry is currently focusing more on producing other artists. Pete has been working on some new solo material and has been posting a number of demo tracks and videos on his website as well as his MySpace and Facebook pages. There are tenative plans to release another solo album (or maybe even two!) in the next year. The band as a whole may be gone, but the legacy of the music they've recorded over the years lives on. Here's hoping that we'll get to hear much more from the individual members of the band in the years to come!
Bryan Toth, April 2009