Harry Hess | interview

If you don't live in Japan, it's hard to be a RUBBER fan. Most of the albums by the band formerly known as HAREM SCAREM are only released in Nippon. For the fans over there, it must be paradise. They get bonus tracks, live albums, compilations etc... And the small but die-hard following in Europe is treated like pariahs. You have to own a huge purse to afford all these import releases. But I strongly reccomend you to get at least the studio albums, it's really worth it! No other band in the melodic rock genre has delivered such a varied discography throughout their career like the heroes from Canada. From the high quality poser rock of their early days over the melodic rock with almost progressive song structures ("Voice Of Reason" album) to the power pop of the last releases, Harem Scarem / Rubber always surprised their fans with new ideas. No album sounds like the other, but due to the distinctive voice of Harry Hess and the harmonic guitar playing of Pete Lesperance, the unique style of the band is always recognizeable. I asked Harry what we can expect from the new album and if I really should consider moving to Japan.

You are now releasing a new studio album called "Ultra Feel". What can you tell us about the songs?
The record is very melodic and in the pop rock vein.

Who produced the album? Tell us more about the recording process.
Pete and myself produced the record once again. This time we spent about three months off and on from the writing to the final mixes.

I saw a small preview of the album cover. Is there a condom on it?
It is indeed a condom package.

Rubber, Ultra Feel, condom... is there a concept behind it?
In North America the term "Rubber" means condom, so yes!

What kind of songwriting approach did you choose this time? Everbody working on his own ideas or more a jam session like on the last albums?
Pete and I got together and compiled some ideas that we had been working on individually and then together turned them into songs. A little less jamming on this one.

In Japan, "Ultra Feel" will be released in February. When will it come out inthe rest of the world?
It is coming out in Canada next week and in Europe sometime in April, as far as I have been told.

Will the style be similar to the one on the last album?
I think the songs are a little bit more straight ahead and less quirky.

Why did you change the band name from Harem Scarem to Rubber?
The style of the band has changed so much over the last few records that it was thought to be a better representation of the band in 2000.

Do you still call yourselves Harem Scarem in Japan?
No, we are now Rubber all over the world.

Many fans complained about the style change from melodic rock to a more pop rock approach. Your comment?
Only the rock fans that expect us to keep making "Mood Swings" over and over again have been disappointed. Most people realize that over the course of ten years of making records that every record cannot be your favorite. We are very different people than the one's that made our first record when we were twenty years old. It wouldn't be a challenge for us to keep doing the same kinds of songs with the same type of production on every record. What we have tried to maintain is good songwriting and we have pick up many new fans along the way who don't even like our old records. So who is to say which one is better. We always want people to know that we are very proud of our past and appreciate the fans that have stuck by us all these years. Our real fans know that when we make a record that they can never really be sure of what there gonna get but some good songs. (So we think.)

Can you understand it when fans want to hear stuff in the vein of your classics "Saviors Never Cry" and "Change Comes Around"?
We still play those songs at our shows. Right now, we're into a more stripped
down and simple production style, but who knows we could one day do that again. (Change may come around.)

On your Warner Records website, you are posing with short hair in suits like businessmen. Are the hard rock days over or do you just get older (and wiser, haha)?
I haven't had long hair since the end of the "Mood Swings" tour, which was our heaviest time musically. Those are the only pictures that we wear suits in. It was just one look on one particular photo session.

How did the "Rubber" album sell compared to your previous works?
In Canada the name change worked extremely well. Our first single "Sunshine" went top twenty in the country and the video was in heavy rotation for three months. The band is actually up for some awards at Canadian music week in March. We have been ignored in this country for about six years up until this and it's obviously because of the name change.

How are your albums selling outside of Japan?
We have never really sold a lot of records anywhere at one time. It has been an underground following since the beginning and will more than likely always be. Still we have managed to sell over a half a million records world wide.
(So we're happy.)

The bio on this website says: "Harry and Pete have been writing songs together for years, building a strong foundation for their sound. But, it wasn't until December 1998 that the songs that makeup their debut album began to take form. Thus, Rubber was born." Why do you deny the Harem Scarem years?
That was for Canada, and as I explained before we were being ignored because of our past in Canada. This was a way to prove to people that they were not giving us a fair chance because of who we where, so we decided not to tell anyone who Rubber was and radio started to play us right away. This proved to us that we were right. (Not that we agree with it.)

On the "Rubber" album, I really liked tracks like "It's Gotta Be", "Headache"and the fantastic ballad "Everybody Else". But tracks like "Sunshine", "Coming Down", "Pool Party" or the almost Brit-Pop track "Trip" are hard to get used to. To tell you the truth: I think it's a waste of songwriting talent!
Different people like different songs and it doesn't surprise me that some of our rock fans wouldn't like that kind of material. All the songs come from the same place, it's just how it's produced that gives it a different flavor.

You recently released a live album called "Last Live". It contained nine tracks from the "Rubber" album. Don't you play the older songs live anymore?
Yes, we play old songs. There are already enough releases with the old material on it. The whole purpose of putting on new material was to give the fans something to buy that they already do not have. I don't think anyone would want another version of " No Justice " live.

Some people thought the cover artwork for the "Rubber" album was funny,others said it's childish. What's your opinion?
It's a bit of both. It was intended to be funny.

Why did drummer Darren Smith leave the band?
Darren is trying to pursue a solo career with his band. We are still good friends and we wish him luck.

Tell us more about your new drummer Creighton Doane.
I've known Creighton for many years as a studio drummer that I've worked with on other records and thought of him as my first choice after Darren left. Creighton has also played with other Canadian rock bands like Honeymoon Suite and Kim Mitchell.

Your last studio albums had only ten songs on them and also the playing time was very short ("Big Bang Theory" 39 min and "Rubber" 38 min). Also "Ultra Feel" will only contain ten tracks. Why don't you include more songs? Here in Europe we have to pay 35 Euro for an import version! That's almost 1 Euro per minute!
The price of the CD is directly related to the fact that our label in Europe doesn't release them domestically. (This is out of our hands.) With regards to the short running times: Both those records are in the pop rock vein and lend better to shorter arrangements. (It's the type of song that calls for this.) We record so much material that it would be hard to keep the quality of more than ten songs to our standard on any given record. Most CDs that I hear with 14 or 15 songs on them usually contain 4 or 5 bad songs, so I don't really see the extra value for the fans when the extra songs aren't that good.

The "Big Bang Theory" album came out in three different versions. Don't you think this is unfair towards fans who want to own all of your songs and releases?
Yes I do, we have always asked the record company not to do that but they insist that because all the different markets around the world are so unique that the have to present the CD differently to make sense for particular territories, especially Japan.

Will "Ultra Feel" also come in different versions?
Of course the Canadian version is different from the Japanese version. Japan
always gets a bonus track because of parallel importing problems that they

Now a "Rock Best Of Harem Scarem" album will be released. After "Best Of" and "Ballads", it's already your third compilation. Why this release overkill?
We have no control on releases like that, Japan is very aggressive about releasing a lot of material and the fans in Japan like it.

A compilation that really made sense was the "B-Side Collection". Was it your idea or the one of the record label?
The label's.

Your lastest releases also contained bonus tracks. Will there be a second " B-SideCollection" soon?
Who knows, we're not actually with Warner anymore.

Your release strategy reminds me of the one of Mr. Big. After every studio album a live album, a compilation and maybe also a re-release with bonus tracks. Is there no chance to have a serious talk with your Japanese label?
They own the masters so they can do whatever they want and they're in the business to make money, so you can see why this happens.

Why did you never manage to get a decent distribution and promotion outside of Japan?
Warner around the world really hasn't taken a great interest in the band.

Are there plans to record a third Fiore album?
Not at this time, the rock market for that kind of a record is to small to afford to make the recording.

Do you and Pete plan to work with other artists (as songwriter or producer)?
We are both constantly working in the studio with many different artists.

You will play at a festival in Spain in April. Are there more plans for dates or even a tour in Europe?
That is the only European date that we have because we have to be in Japan that next week and we have some recording to do with an artist in Spain while we are there.

There is a fantastic website called www.Rubberzone.net. Is the band incontact with the webmaster?
No, but I will check it out.

Your Warner Records website contains almost no info. Why don't you have an official band page where your fans can get all the news straight from the horse's mouth?
Yes, I hear that the Warner website is very bad.

In many countries, you have a small but diehard following. A website would be perfect to stay in touch.
This is true, we have to find someone who is willing to put in the time and money to do such a thing. For the most part we are usually recording.

Although you are one of the best melodic rock bands, you are not more than an underground band in many regions of the world. Will Rubber have another promotion strategy than Harem Scarem had?
I hope we will have more luck with our next label. The music is very timely so
anything could happen.

What are your plans for the near future?
Just the tour in April and then to find a new label and start on a new record.

Thanks alot for the interview, Harry. All the best to you and the band.

Interview by rockreunion.com
Originally posted at rockreunion.com