Harry Hess | interview

This is an interview with Harry Hess that appeared in the June, 1997 issue of Burrrn! magazine in Japan.
(translation: Akiko Hagiwara)

When you came to Japan last time, you told us that "VOR" would be released inthe US inearly'96.How's the reaction?
It wasn't released after all. "Warner Music" has political problems between US and Canada. Warner USdecided not to release it.

Did you tour after the Japan tour?
Yeah, Canada and Europe. we finished the tour last May.

When did you start writing and recording?
We started writing after we came back from Europe. We made a total 1 3 songs I guess. Then we started recording soon, but it took a long time after all. We wanted to do it perfectly so we took time for both songwriting and recording.

Barry joined the band after you finished the previous album so this was thefirststudiorecording with him, right?
Yeah, now he's perfectly a part of this band. Everything went very well.

Has something changed in recording? Such as the recording process, atmosphereetc?
No, nothing especially. We knew what we wanted more clearly than before. After touring the world we knew the reaction for "VOR" was almost the same everywhere. People liked that album but it wasn't theirfavorite. They wanted something not quite as heavy. I think the new album was made with those opinions in mind. We wanted to make an album that people wanted and we made that actually.

As far as "VOR" goes, I thought there were good songs in it, however the albumlacks impactIguess.Like you said, the new album has more of the same musical direction as the 1st and 2nd albums, which Japanese fans like. Did you guys talk about the direction of new album beforehand?
Right after "VOR" was finished, a bunch of people started saying the tempo was too slow, the songs were toodark etc. We made the album because we wanted to make something to satisfy us, but not all of the reaction from other people were affirmative. "VOR" is still our favorite record. It has no relation to the sales...we like it from the artistic point of view. This time we were in the mood for making up-tempo songs, that's why we made these kind of songs for the new album. Major chords are better suited for up-tempo melodic hard rock . We decided to make the new album not so dark, and eventually most of the songs turned out to be up-tempo , happy songs.

I think the main songwriters are you and Pete. How do Barry and Darrencontributetosongwriting? They listen to our idea first, then they give us their ideaabout the arrangement of their instruments. Sometimes only me and Pete write songs completely but sometimes we asked their opinions, then they played in their own styles in the studio.

Did you collaborate with anybody outside the band?
Not this time. I wrote "Necessary Evil" with Christopher Ward last time though. When we made the 1st albumI was collaborating with songwriters in NY and LA quite often. I like it because I could learn a lot from them. But as the years go by, I've found there's a good chemistry between me and Pete. Writing songs with him is fun so it came to a conclusion that we should write the songs the way we like for our own. We hardly ever write songs with somebody outside the band.

The title track "Believe" starts up-tempo then slows down in the middle. Ithink thistempochangeand the chorus are typical Harem Scarem style. In your opinion, what makes "Harem Scarem" stand out fromother bands?
Things like what you just mentioned. "Believe" has a lot of aspects which people relate us. The guitar solois very important, the chorus is thick... I tried to give each song these elements. These are the band's features that people liked from the first listen. The melody and the structure of the new songs are made the way people want. This is our style. While we have made several albums, these features have become the essential parts of our songwriting and recording, then everybody has started recognizing that this is our style. I think this is good for us as well. Every time we try to make music that sounds like us, these aspects always come first.

What is this song about?
Believe is a positive song. This song says that as long as you be lieve in yourself and stick to what you want, things will turn out well.

Die Off Hard reminds me of the 2nd album. This is the 1st single, isn't it?Did the bandchosethis song for it?
I think this is everybody's decision. We thought this was the right song for the 1st single cut. This is a typical Harem Scarem song. The people on the Japanese side also liked this song very much. We just write songs and do what we should do. Choosing the singles needs to be done from a business point of view so we trust the marketing people. They gave us good advice and Die off hard was chosen as the result. We like all the songs in the album. We don't care which song is the first single.

What is this song about?
There is an old saying "Old habits die hard". This is about old habits, such as the same old relationshipwith somebody... like an addiction to somebody in love.

The introduction of "Hail Hail" is impressive. The retro-style keyboard soundfits yoursoulfulvoicevery well. It reminds me of a little bit of Styx.
Does it? Yeah, it is a little retrospective. Like Queen, the Beatles... sounds like them. I'm satisfied with the way this song turned out.

What inspired you?
I was sitting in front of a piano and the sound inspired me a lot. The electric piano sound with a little bit of distortion.

What is this song about?
Sometimes I feel like I'm in prison. When I feel my life is boring, or I'm repeating the same things, it's like spending the time in prison... I wish I could do everything the way I want.

Did you make the string sound used in "Hail Hail" and "Rain" with akeyboard?
Yes, they are samplings of real string sounds, which I made with a keyboard.

We can hear strings in the 1st album as well. This time it sounds more elegantand calm,different from the 1st album's flashy sound. I was making the sound fit the song so I thought stringsshould be used in that way. If I have 10 different kinds of strings sound, I would choose the sound which fits best with the song. This time I didn't use flashy keyboards. I used it as a background. I pushed the guitar and vocals forward.

Darren took the lead vocal on "Staying Away"?

His voice is rougher than yours and it fits well to this sort of straightheavy song. Howcomehe took the lead vocal for it?
This song was written quite a long time ago. As you said, this is a straight, heavy rock song. Darren has a great voice for heavy rock so it was a natural choice for him to sing this song. There are several songs that fit his voice, and this is one of these songs. He has sang this song for a long time so it's just a natural result.

What are the lyrics about?
This is a love song but in a bad case.(laugh)

"Baby with a Nailgun" is a guitar instrumental number which sounds likesomething SteveVaimightwrite. Melodic, speedy... did Pete write this song alone?
Yes, he did. He was a big fan of Steve Vai for a long time.

Recently some guitarists have started singing in addition to writing andplaying guitar.Doesn'tPete want to sing?
I asked Pete about that but he says he doesn't want to sing. (laugh)

You may be in trouble if everybody started singing...(laugh)
Oh yeah! I'm gonna lose my job. Well that may be their intention. They must be trying to kick me out.(laugh)

"Morning Grey" may be a pop song but the entire atmosphere of it is close to"VOR". Isthisanouttake of the previous album?
No. But your comparison is correct. This song is similar to the previous album. This is one of the songs we wrote first so it might drag something in that we wanted to express in the previous album. However this is poppy and lighter than any song in "VOR". Also we used major chords. 90% of "VOR" was dark, but this timeyou'll hear Beatles, Jelly-fish influences.

What is this song about?
This is also a love song. A little complicated so it's not an obvious love song....

Your voice is very powerful especially on "Victim Of Fate". On "I Won't BeThere",yourratherrefrained low range is used effectively. This album has a lot of vocal variety.
I'm glad to hear that. It's like a chameleon...isn't it?

What was your goal as a vocalist this time?
Well I didn't set any special goal. I sang the way songs needed, and my vocals turned out that way. In the case of "I won't be there", Pete came up the guitar riff and I sang the melody according to it. To behonest, I'm more comfortable with the low range. There are songs too high to sing well. I'm not a high tone singer to begin with. However I think I can create good contrast by using high tone and low tone.

What are these 2 songs about?
"I Won't Be There" is about being controlled by the system. For example, the government forces people to dosomething. We can't stand any more. "Victim of fate" means that you control your own life. This song issaying that I'm not gonna be a victim of fate. If you don't control your own life, you don't know where you're going.

Speaking of Harem Scarem, people think harmony vocals is your trade mark. Thecase of"Rain",whichhas no harmony vocals is rare I suppose.
Many people think a ballad means big backing vocals. but I thought the lead vocal alone sounded more direct. I guess the lead vocal alone can send all sorts of emotion. This is a basic love song. The song's about falling in love.

"Karma Cleansing" is a interesting song with a complicated sound as we canhear in theguitarintro.I know you and Pete are working as producers. Darren used to be studying that sort of engineering, didn't he?
Darren was going to recording engineering school as well, but it seems he isn't interested in these things now. Rather than worrying about the technical parts, he seems to just want to make sure his drum sound is finished the way he wants.

Having a lot of production knowledge, you and Pete might want to try toomanythings.
Yes. I always wish I would have more time to try various things. However it's nice we have the release date. Otherwise we might keep on doing that forever and end up hearing nothing. (laugh) We are always like that, so we always have to tackle thinking about the arrangement and production. Well I may have to take it for granted.

What is "Karma Cleansing" about?
This is an interesting song. This song is about the punishment for what you have done in the past. I was inspired by a TV program about the end of the world. Human kind has been killing the Earth for the last several years so the Earth rebels for that. This is about how hard it is to make up for the sins you have committed. This is not a love song.(laugh) First we wanted this to be the album title, but a lot of people thought it was a strange song, so we skipped the idea.

Interview by Burrrn!
Originally posted at BURRRN! magazine, translation: Akiko Hagiwara