Harry Hess | interview

This is the interview that appeared in the March issue of "Burrrn!", a Japanese Hard Rock mag. (translation: Akiko Hagiwara)

How was your first concert in Japan?
It was the best show we've ever had. Some Canadian fans are difficult to entertain, because they've seen a lot of big bands, but Japanese fans are very supportive - I'm impressed! I'm glad that we could finally make it to Asia for this tour.

How long have you known Von Groove, the band who opened the show for you inJapan?
I don't them very well personally. Darren is a friend of their lead vocalist. I heard that they played together before. They're very nice guys. In Canada, there's always an opening act. In most cases, the owner of a club gives local bands a chance to play. We've been in the supporting role before, opening for big bands like Whitesnake, Van Halen, Jeff Healy, and Alyanna Myles.

At yesterday's show, you played most of the songs from "Voice of Reason." Howhavepeoplereacted to"VOR" in Canada?
Everyone has said that "VOR" is our best album yet. The press always criticized us, but somehow we got themto change their mind about us for this album. We were shocked, because we've gotten so used to being criticized that we were coming up with ways to defend "VOR." (laugh) When we did a promotional tour inCanada, we got a great reaction everywhere we went. We didn't know how to respond to that!

The new album is full of great melodies, but my impression is that it's moredark and slow.Haveyou heard that same evaluation of the album before?
No. In Canada and the U.S., the press and some music fans have a "pop" image of Harem Scarem. They thinkthat we're an old-fashioned band. It seems that most fans like the heavy songs like "The Paint Thins." Ourfirst single from "VOR," "Blue," didn't get a good reaction because people didn't think it was "heavy"enough. They like songs like "Voice Of Reason." But in Japan, the fans seem to like totally opposite songs!(laugh) People like different songs in different places. I can understand that - every country has a different culture.

In Japan it seems that most fans like "Harem Scarem" and "Mood Swings" betterthan "VoiceOfReason."Have you thought about making a different set that fits better with Japanese fans' preferences?
Yea...In Canada, we play all of the songs from "VOR." In addition, we usually play "Slowly Slipping Away"and a couple of songs from "Mood Swings." We only played "Empty Promises" and "Honestly" for the Japanesefans. We heard that "Mood Swings" is very popular in Japan, but at the same time we want them to like thenew album. So we decided on the setlist that we played yesterday. We haven't played "Honestly" for 4 or 5years. I think it takes some time to get used to an album like "VOR." Fans might be surprised at first, butsongs like "Let It Go" and "Blue" are very similar to the direction we were going with "Mood Swings." So, Ithink that over time, Japanese fans will grow to like "VOR" more than they do now. "Mood Swings" was ourdebut album in Japan - that's probably the reason why the fans like it the best. When we initially released the 2nd album, we played almost every song from it live. It's a shame that we couldn't come to Japan then. But now we're touring for "VOR" - We can't only play songs from "Mood Swings." The time that we've got onstage is limited, so we want people to hear what we are now.

Speaking of "heavyness", "No Justice" also is a pretty heavy song. But itseems that songs from"VOR"are slower. I think that's why fans don't respond quite as enthusiastically to them in a live setting.
Actually, there are some pretty difficult songs to play live from "VOR." Pre-production of this album wasquite complicated. We thought a lot about how to arrange the songs for live performances - how to attract the audience. It's impossible to re-create the same exact sound that exists on the album. When we were producing the album, we never thought about playing the stuff live. We just tried to make the album as good as possible. We start worrying about the arrangements when we have to perform live! (laugh)

I'm very impressed with the high quality of your live performance.
I don't know about myself, but the other three guys are great performers. My guitar isn't very good or my keyboard either, you know...(laugh) Pete is an amazing player, so he never had trouble with live performances. He never has to re-arrange the music for a live show. Both Darren and Barry can sing very well, as well as they can play their instrument, which is a great advantage for the band. We spent almost six weeks just rehearsing the vocal parts. In the beginning, it wasn't quite as good as it is now, but I feel that we're getting better every night we perform.

Your voice was incredible, especially on "Honestly."
Thanks!! (laugh) It's not always as good as it was last night.

Your chorus harmonies reminded me of Queen. Did you try to go for that kindofsound?
Of course! I've always been influenced by Queen. It's most obvious on "VOR." It's tough to play "Blue" or"Breathing Sand" live if we think about the harmonies. We took a long time to record "Blue" in the studio.I think the best features of Harem Scarem are the vocal harmonies and the guitar, so I want to create something interesting using those abilities.

Does Darren sing the highest part in the harmonies?
It depends on the song. Barry sings the higher part on "Candle" and "Blue." His voice is really great! Petesings the lowest tones, then me, Darren, and Barry.

How long has Barry been in the band?
Just a few months. He joined the band in August. His singing is much better than (ex-bass player) Mike's. We decided to have Barry join because he is such a great singer.

I saw that he was jumping around a lot on stage. After looking at him perform,it lookslikehe's from an "alternative" band. What was he doing before he joined the band?
He WAS playing for an "alternative" band. (laugh) He said it's like being in a grunge band. The first timeI was on stage with him, I thought "What happened to Barry?" I've gotten used to his actions on stage. He'sa unique guy - it's hard to tell what he's going to do next. He likes to listen to acoustic folk albums, and then go listen to something completely different. He's got a variety of interests in music. Record companies (and fans) tend to worry about a band if they have a variety of backgrounds. In our case, we had completely different approaches to making the album. I think that we'll continue to change. Musicians get anxious if they don't change, because they feel that they've stopped growing musically. Lots of bands that have just repeated the same stuff over and over have disappeared. If fans like "Mood Swings" they canlisten to that. Our main focus - harmony and a guitar sound - will never disappear even if we change.

Do you think that your next album will have a different sound?
I don't know yet, but anything is possible now that we're producing our own material. We make the sound that fits the song. For a song like "Blue," we put in a lot of harmony, while on a song like "Untouched,"the production was much more rough and heavy. We want to make different styles of songs. Then we can have a variety of songs that are popular in different places.

Will the instrumental song you played at the show make it on the nextalbum?
We don't know yet. We are talking about adding a guitar instrumental song, but Pete will never put a song on an album unless he likes it 100%. On "Mood Swings," an accapella song was included, but I still wasn'tsatisfied with it. I try not to put songs on an album just for self-satisfaction. I know that Pete is incredibly talented, so I'm always convincing him to put a particular song on an album. He doesn't play for an album unless I've told him a million times "This song is great! You gotta play it!!" Everybody in theband wants to be a part of a band, so none of us wants to play just for our own satisfaction. But this song (Zinger) is a great song to play live. When we were talking about how we could make the show flow well, we thought that we should put a fast song in the set. So, we decided to play it.

When did you come up with this song?
Several months ago, before we actually started making "VOR." We thought that we should tell the Japanesecrew that this song hadn't been released yet, so we just wrote "new song" in our setlist. Then fans don'thave to waste time trying to find if there's an album that has this song on it. We have some ideas for the next album, but it's still too early to get together and collaborate on some songs.

BTW, you didn't play any acoustic numbers. I thought that playing acousticsongs was a partofyour live show?
In a live performance, it's difficult to keep the same quality of an acoustic guitar sound every night. It's really frustrating - sometimes the volume suddenly changes, and so many things can go wrong. In Canada, Pete plays "Slowly Slipping Away" with an acoustic guitar, but we decided not to do it in Japan. We didn'twant to worry about tuning and stuff. We want to play acoustically, but it's difficult technically. We played a lot of acoustic songs a couple of years ago in Canada, when we were touring radio stations. Darren can also play acoustic guitar pretty well, so we played often. At that time, we were almost an acoustic band. (laugh)

You should have toured radio stations and played acoustically in Japan,too!
Actually, we suggested doing that. But we were told that we didn't have the time to do it. (laugh)

I thought that you weren't playing acoustically so that the "heavier" aspectof HaremScaremwould beemphasized.
No...we didn't do it for that reason. We try not to define our music. I don't think a lot of bands can play acoustic at one minute and then play a heavier song like "The Paint Thins" the next. We want to berecognized as a band which has a variety of musical direction. People like to put bands in one category or another, but we want to play anything that we can play.

During the encore, you said "Everybody mosh!" to the audience. In Canada, isthat whattheaudiencesdo?
No...Canadian audiences are more quiet than Japanese audiences. When we played in Nagoya, kids started moshing even when I didn't say anything. So, I thought kids here liked moshing. The fans in Nagoya were really crazy!

You work as a producer for other bands besides Harem Scarem. Are you workingwith anybandsnow?
I'm always getting involved with other projects besides Harem Scarem. Making albums is a part of my life. I have my own studio so we can record our albums there. Sometimes I rent it to other bands. Also, we use a studio in Toronto - we recorded "VOR" there. It's a great studio - some big artists have recorded therebefore. I think I've produced about 35 albums. We're trying to work out the distribution of our own record label "Vespa Music Group" in Japan while we're here.

Is there any particular reason that draws you to produce a band?
Basically, I want to produce a variety of music. I can discover something special when I'm working with different bands. I can also take advantage of my producing experience with Harem Scarem. Maybe that's why our albums all have a different feeling to them. Well....if I like a certain band, I'll ask them to let me produce their record. I don't overproduce - I'm happy if I can help them create their own music. The way I produce is dependant on the band...if I think a vocal part isn't that good, I'll sing background vocals. I try to help bands from various aspects. Sometimes people say that the bands I produce sound like Harem Scarem, but people never realize that I'm the producer.

In a big country like Canada, there is a big variety of bands, Iguess....
Yea...I think everybody is playing a different style. There are a lot of talented musicians in Canada. I work with songwriters based in Canada and New York quite often, and I think that Canada has the same quality of music that America has. The Canadian music industry doesn't really support local bands - that's the one thing that I find frustrating in Canada. We've been having a tough time when it comes to the record company. We don't really get enough support from them. There are many bands that get supported outside of Canada, but they are heavily criticized within Canada. I have no idea why the Canadian music industry finally decided to start supporting us on "VOR." There are no rules in this industry. When AlanisMorrisette's album was released in Canada, nobody knew it, but in America she's sold more than 3 million copies because the American record company supported her. After that, Canadian record stations started playing her music. Music industry people in Canada think that anybody big in the U.S. is a good musician. If we were No. 1 in the states, then we'd be big in Canada too! (laugh) That's just the way it is. "VOR" issupposed to be released in the states in January (Ed: January's come and gone, and still no release of "Voice Of Reason" here in the U.S.), so I hope that it will be popular.

All of your albums have great melodies, so we hope that your next album willbe just asgood asyour previous efforts.
I'm sure it will!! We never take away the melodious part of Harem Scarem.

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