Pete Lesperance | interview

This is an interview with Pete Lesperance that appeared in the December, 1997 issue of "Burrrn!"
(translation: Akiko Hagiwara)

How is your second tour in Japan?
It's awesome! We love Japan. We are having a great time here. Everything has been going pretty good. Actually this time is a lot better than last time. We've made some friends here and feel more comfortable.

As Harry said on stage, the audiences here become very quiet between songs...
Yeah, they're very polite...

How do you feel about that?
That's just the way they react. Very polite, but they get very loud when they're having fun. Once Harry starts talking they get real quiet. That's great! They're our favorite audience. Everybody who plays in Japan would say so.

Have you ever played other Asian countries?
Not yet. We've only played in Japan so far. Our albums have been released in other Asian countries such as South Korea and Indonesia, but we've never been there on tour.

This time you did 3 shows at Club Citta. Do you change the set list for each show?
Ummm.... when we play in the same place a lot, sometimes we change our set list. This time we've been playing well with the same group of songs, so we're thinking about keeping it. I like the flow of it.

Are you satisfied the reaction for new songs?
Very much. The new album is the most successful album we've had in Japan so far. The fans reactions have been awesome. It seems like Japanese fans don't like VOR. But Believe has become another one of their favorites, which makes us happy!

Some fans might feel that VOR is way too dark and they can't follow it.
Yeah... I've heard a lot of stories like that. But we still feel that's the album we had to make, and we were in the mood for making that kind of album at that point. If we try to satisfy a particular audience - for instance Japanese or Canadians... our albums won't be true to ourselves. So we decided to make an album which would satisfy us. At that point, we were influenced by that type of music, and thinking about going in that direction. I guess we had to spill those emotions out at that time. Actually, we're still proud of that album. That's one of our best albums.

In "Believe," you went back to pretty much the same musical direction as "MoodSwings."
In a way... I would say that the new album is an integration of our previous albums. Songs like "Die offhard" and "Believe" might fit on MS, but "Morning Grey" might fit on VOR. You may see the influence from more '90s style of music in "Karma Cleansing." I guess our various musical tastes are all packed in the new album.

Fans are always happy to listen to your old songs performed live. Especially, it's a nice surprise to hear the newly arranged version of "Honestly."
We've been playing that song for almost a decade... probably since '90 before we got a first record deal. We played it acoustic, and we have a recorded version of it. We wanted to play it a bit differently this time... not only to attract audience attention, but also to keep our own interest in it.

I'm glad I got to hear "Mandy."
Oh yeah? (blushing) I'm not into playing instrumentals. It's like just showing off the guitarist's ability. "Mandy" was written for my younger cousin, who was suffering from leukemia at that time. So I have strong feelings about the song and I'm proud of it. It's fun to play it live.

How about "Baby with a nail gun?"
I heard that the Japanese fans like it a lot so we decided to play it here.

This song features a lot of guitar sounds. You could've played it right inthe middle of the stage and blow the audience away.
Well... we are a song oriented band. What we do must be melodic and well organized as a song. We don't want to show off our talents. Maybe that's the best performance I could do during an instrumental. (laugh)

That song and "Pardon my zinger" reminds me of Steve Vai. Excellent songs.
I love Steve Vai too. He's one of my guitar heroes. I saw his performance with an orchestra in Rochester and that was amazing. That was the first time I ever saw him live. I couldn't believe I could see him in person with an orchestra. He must be an alien. (laugh)

You mean, the way he looks? (laugh)
Ha ha, I mean his performance.

Do you have any other guitar heroes?
I don't have a particular one. Well.... I like Nuno, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson. Everyone has something cool in the way they play, even if they're not technically great. Jerry Cantrel (Alice In Chains) is an example. I'm not saying he doesn't have technique. Rather than technique, I find he expresses feelings and aggression more in his play. My point is, everyone has something he can give. So I don't have any particular guitarist I listen to any more than any other.

Vai thinks that the best way to express his own songs is to sing them by himself, so he started singing.
I know. That might be a good idea for people who can sing.

That means, you're not interested?
If I made solo record, I might sing a couple of songs by myself, but I'm not sure if people could tolerate my bad voice. (laugh) It's good for backing vocals, not for lead vocals.

This time Darren took a lead vocal on "Staying Away".
Yes, this is his 2nd lead vocal. He sang "Sentimental Blvd" on the 2nd album. He's a great singer. Barry is also a great singer. He may sing on the next album.

You have a full band version of "Rain", but you played acoustic live...
Yeah, I thought we could give it a stronger impact acoustically. In addition, rather than keep on playing one and half hours without a break, it's a good idea to sit down and relax. We can have a nice break in this way. We feel the distance between us and the audience will be closer. Actually it was full band on the record at first, but suddenly we came up playing it acoustic and it turned out well. It's a good way to add intimacy and personality to a song. We can get a different feeling by adding something different than usual.

In your first tour in Japan, you didn't play acoustic because it's difficult to stabilize the sounds. Did you solve the problems this time?
Some of them. We still have some minor problems. It's impossible to get the same sound all the time. Also we didn't have any songs to play acoustic last time. A long ago in our first tour, Harry and I played several acoustic songs. Since then we haven't played anything acoustic. I enjoy it. We'll be playing Rain in the future as well, because this is one of my favorites.

You're successful in capturing the recorded sound in a live show. Are you very careful about that?
Not exactly. We have a lot of experience so we know how to create the sound at a show. From our records, it sounds like we've overdubbed so many times and we've divided each part into pieces. But it's still possible for us to create the same sound live. We're proud of being able to keep the same quality. I hope we're doing a good job.

Now let's talk about Believe "Special Edition". Why did Kevin Elson remix this album?
Our record company suggested him and we liked the albums he had made. Journey, Mr. Big... also we knew that he was a excellent producer who created the live sound for Aerosmith. We have produced ourselves except for the 1st album so this was a new experience. We thought it might be cool to see what was the ideal sound from another person's point of view. Then he remixed 5 songs and we added "Cages", "The Mirror" and a studio version of "Surrender" written by Cheap Trick.

You played "Surrender" this time.
Yeah, since we got the record deal, we haven't played cover songs. Once we thought about covering Queen, but there are just so many bands covering their songs. We decided not to follow the trend. There was a possibility to cover Led Zeppelin. In this case, we had to listen to all the albums again... finally we ended up choosing the Cheap Trick song. It really fits our style and is very close to us. It rocks, and is so much fun to play.

Probably people didn't expect you to play Cheap Trick.
We are totally different from them actually. We played their song just because we love the song. It's like "Oh, this is it!!" We loved it from the first listen. It was a big hit in Canada.

I thought someone in the band is a huge fan of Cheap Trick?
We all like them very much and we know they are great band, but it's the song we really liked... cool, fun to play. That's the most important thing. We were supposed to only play it for the live show, but we love it so much that we put on the record.

Going back to the record topic, were you in the studio when Kevin was working?
Yeah, we were there. But we let him do whatever he wanted because the album "Believe" was already finished and mixed as we wished. This time it was the remix and we trusted him. We know he had worked on a lot of our favorite albums as an excellent engineer, so basically he worked on his own. We were hanging around and sometimes went to lunch with him. (laugh) He almost did everything by himself for those 5 songs.

I got an impression that the vocals and choruses are emphasized, on the otherhand, theguitaris...
Yeah, a little withdrawn.

Do you have any complaints?
Not at all. The important thing is the songs , not the guitar. For me, the songs are everything. As long as songs sound good, I don't care.

As producers, have you and Harry learned anything from him?
Absolutely. Everybody has different ways to work so there's always something I can learn, even trivial things, especially when I work with somebody I respect. He's great. You can't not learn something form somebody like him. We have a very open attitude. We have a certain vision how to grow Harem Scarem, but if somebody else has a good idea, why not use it?

Are you thinking about using a producer outside the band for nextalbum?
No. Like I said, we know clearly what we want. The remixes are a totally different thing because there is already a base sound. If we could work together with somebody like him, we could make a great album but it would be quite difficult. Because we're recording in our own home studio while writing songs. It's difficult to pass the job in the middle of the process. Plus, at that stage, we don't want to change the songs. As a producer, I write songs so I don't want someone to disturb them. The chance to work with a producer outside the band is very slim. For cases like this, with the remixes, there are always possibilities that we'll ask somebody to work as an engineer, but on actual production, we'll stick to doing it ourselves. We're pretty satisfied with our own work. For us, that's the priority.

Do the ideal sounds come up during the process of writing?
Yeah. Songs are already made up on my mind. It always happens when you record while writing. We're not a band that gets together in a studio and writes songs. Before we record, the finished sound is ringing in my head.

What do you use mainly for writing? Acoustic guitars?
It depends. Sometimes I write riffs, verse and chorus together with guitar, record on a tape and give it to Harry. He listens to it and chooses songs which he can put lyrics and melodies on. After that he comes to my studio and we try some ideas. Sometimes Harry asks me "Do you have any ideas on this chorus?$" We use piano, acoustic guitars like "Rain"... it depends on the song.

You and Harry finish most songs and bring them to the other members?
Yeah, we always do it that way.

You also instruct them how to play?
No. Me and Harry hope all of us input ideas, but.... when we bring songs to them, there's almost no space for change. That doesn't mean that the other members aren't important regarding the sound making. We are a band because they are in it. know what I mean? (laugh)

Isn't Darren interested in producing? He studied it in the same school, didn't he?
Yeah, the same school as Harry. I went to a different school. Actually Darren is now doing some recording and started his own studio. I'm not sure if he has interests in producing though. I don't know for sure. Probably, he likes to play in a band more. He often jams with other local bands.

Are you producing any other bands or do you play with other bands?
Not with other bands. I only play for Harem Scarem. Lately, Harry and I finished producing an artist named John Fiore. Harry and I wrote the songs and I played guitar on it. We are looking for a record deal in Japan so it will be released eventually. It's like a Steve Holliday project with a band.

Speaking of Steve Holliday, His album made in '94 was released recently. I heard before that it would be the first release from Harry's label. What's going on with his label?
Right now it's not working. A Japanese company has shown some interest on Steve's record so they'll take care of him. It will give all of us a better result. His label still exists so the bands which we will produce will belong to it.

Are you also involved in Harry's label?
To some extent. Not in the business level, more like production or artwork, the area where Harry needs help.

Now I want you to introduce the characters of you bandmates. Let's startwithHarry.
Well...we have written songs and worked together for more than a decade. Our relationship is very tight as friends. Lately he moved to a place a little further away from me, so we don't see each other as often as when we were neighbors. He's got a baby so he must be extremely busy. He is....very hard working and knows the business. Isn't it strange? Normally artists don't have talent for the business, (laugh) but he can do anything. He's awesome as a songwriting partner, so everything goes very well. He IS hard working and nice.
I've been a friend of Darren for a long time. He's also an awesome guy. Full of energy. Typical Rock 'n Roll guy. (laugh) Fans love him too. He got married and will have a baby very soon. Only 3 years have passed since Barry joined the band. He's also a great guy. He takes care of others a lot. Everybody in this band are good friends. Especially on tour. We don't go on tour that often but when we go we get along very well. Anyways, they're all great musicians and good friends of mine. I'm so glad I can play with them. We have good chemistry and it worked out perfectly. There's no fights. Not even once. We are in an ideal situation. We're all happy family members.

With a lot of kids.
Yeah. Barry has a kid too.

You once said that your goal is Van Halen as a band. What do you think of the irrecent situation?
To be honest, I don't know what they are doing. It's great that they've kept on making music for a long time and still enjoy it. Now so few bands last a long time. I respect them for that. They've made their living from what they wanted to do. They must enjoy their job. Even I enjoy my job at my level. I wish we can continue to do the same.

Long lasting bands have a lot of friction, but it seems you don't have thosekind ofproblems,do you?
No. We changed our bassist, but it was due to his lifestyle, not the band. At that time we were hectic so he left the band coz he needed more time to spend with his family. We don't have problems maybe because we don't have egos. Nobody has a desire to become a huge star any bigger than the others. We are just a band. We know how much we're lucky to be able to make a living by doing what we want to do. We can live happily and travel around the world. Who can complain? So far we're doing very well. I hope this situation continues for a long time. Life is very precious and there are not many people who can do what they want to do. We don't have to go to the office after we wake up. (laugh) I would want to play music even without the money. As long as we have fans, we can do without the money. But we are able to do what we do love and make money. We're very lucky.

What's your plan after the Japan tour?
We are going back to our hometown and continue a tour for 2 months. Then we'll make a live album. It may be released in January. Next year we'll start making a new album. I want to release it around July and then come back to Japan again!

We are looking forward to it.
So am I!!

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