Harry Hess | interview

There are singers out there that when you first hear them they instantaneously leave an indelible mark not only in the minds of countless music fans but have furthermore pushed the envelope and help set the standard in the music business. When it comes to the rock genre Harry Hess is no outsider as many in the industry have labeled him as one of the most influential vocalists/musicians to grace the melodic rock scene.

For nearly 15 years now Harem Scarem have garnered the reputation as one of the most extensive rock acts in the world, giving fans everything from heartfelt love songs to driving modern melodic rock anthems and still to this very day they have supplied something different with every album they release. For studio album number number ten the guys validate that they are still discovering new aspects to their sound while at the same time drawing on some familiar characteristics from the band's past musical styles.

Of all the musicians interviewed here at Shipwreck Island Studios its been past and present members of this band who hold the record for most interviews but for us there has been one key member that we haven't interviewed... Until now The Island finally sits down with Harry Hess himself to find out what he has been up to and get his thoughts on the latest Harem Scarem album: Overload.

Overload really brings a lot to the plate; it is definitely one of Harem Scarem's heavier albums, unquestionably the heaviest disc released in recent years. Weight Of The World and Higher saw mixing old with new elements that you created with Rubber. Now with Overload the pop/Rubber sound seems to put on the back burner as you guys have delivered a record that is a bit darker and has an attitude surrounding it. So that leads into my first question – What is the general response you feel when listening to the finished album? Is there any one characteristic about that gets you every time you listen to the disc? I know that every time I listen to the CD there is always something I find with every listen that I didn't catch the first time around.
Harry: I think because it's rather intense and bordering on dark at times that it really puts you in that frame of mind quickly. There are a lot of layers to this record and I think that it would take most listeners about five to ten complete listens to really get it all and be able to enjoy it.

The reaction to Overload so far seems to be somewhat varied, some people have loved what they've heard from the first listen where as others have stated they can't get into it. This reminds me of the reaction right when Voice Of Reason came out in '95 but once you sit down and really listen to that album you can get a better frame of mind and even though it's a lot darker then Scarem's debut and Mood Swings it still remains the band's finest hour. Many artists will have certain albums more then others or are certain qualities on each album that artists will like. In your opinion where does this new album fit into the group's discography?
Harry: It does fall into the "Voice Of Reason" category because it is not immediate. I personally think if people give this record a chance they will be able to listen to it much longer than let's say Higher;. All in all I feel the record stands alone and that may be the problem for some people (not enough of what they expected).

A couple months ago you guys gave your fans a nice little video that gave everyone a little insight into the making of Overload and showed everyone the inner workings of the band. I've seen many making of documentaries where a band is in the studio recording a record and for the most part it's just the band talking about the album and rambling on about what they've done. I have to say it was nice for a change to see a group of musicians who love making music but at the same time there is no tension at all and you guys were just cracking jokes and laughing. Does this help with the process of recording an album, just having a more relaxed feel around the studio? Many artists out there take things a little too seriously and sometimes it takes one take after another after another until it comes together.
Harry: We really have a great time making these records and it borders on stupidity at times. It's funny because we're very serious about what we're doing but we're also having a great time doing it. It wasn't always like that, in the early days we were very intense and even hard to be around when we worked but we're so comfortable in the studio and now just have fun with it.

We caught up with Darren Smith a while back to talk with him about his debut album: Keep The Spirit Alive. It's about time Darren got around to releasing an album as he is one of those musicians that really excels at his craft. He mentioned that when he first knew you, you were a drummer and not a good one at that (HaHa). Harry Hess can also play bass, piano/keyboards, and guitar and truthfully I don't think we will find many vocalists out there that can do all that. One question that has been on my mind for a while is: When did you decide that a career in music was your calling? Obviously Blind Vengeance was the stepping stone and you were only 15 years old when you recorded an album so it must have been an incredible feeling to have an album under your belt at that age, I mean most guys at that point in life are thinking about girls or going through the hardships of being a teenager.
Harry: Yeah, I've know Darren for a long time. I really don't play any instrument particularly well but enough to write and record the odd track. At 13 or so I thought this would be a good job.

Overload is studio album number ten for Harem Scarem and looking back it has been nearly 15 years since the release of the band's debut. With every album that you guys have put out it seems that the band has got heavier and released albums that explored different territories in the rock spectrum. What are your thoughts on being around for as long as you've been and having ten albums in your discography?
Harry: I'm very proud of what we've done and also that we're still doing it. I think that we made a great record for our tenth studio release and kept it fresh and exciting after all this time.

Harem Scarem has never been a band to record the same album twice as comparisons have stated that the band is a real chameleon with your sound and Overload is no exception to the rule either. This time around the newest elements added are Pete's use of baritone guitars and yourself singing a lot of the new material at the top of your vocal range and this really shows on tracks like Rise & Fall, Forgive & Forget, and the AC/DC cover You Shook Me All Night Long really gives your vocal chords a workout. Looking back to WOTW and Higher your vocals were a bit more laid back but on this new album it seems you're not holding anything back giving one of your best performances to date. For many singers it's hard to maintain their voice over the years but you're one of the few singers out there that seems to get better with every album. Are there any certain methods that you use to keep your voice in shape?
Harry: I eat a lot of shitty food and don't take care of myself in that respect but when I recorded the vocals for Overload I was running 5k every other day and I know that really helped. I think I'm getting better as a singer because I understand how my voice works more and more as time goes on.

Ok I'm going to name off some Scarem tracks from the early days up to Overload and if you could share some insight on them or a little known fact about them and what you like about them... Here goes...
Slowly Slipping Away – Written in New York on a writing trip.
If There Was A Time – I had a horrible cold when I sang it.
Warming A Frozen Rose – One of my fav's on that record.
I Won't Be There – I lost the vocal after getting it perfect and had to re-record it. (I never got it that good again) thanks for reminding me!!!
Wasted Time – I recorded that vocal in a bedroom in my house.
Coming Down – Always sounded like a country song to me but it's one of my fav's for sure.
Weight Of The World – It felt like the return of Harem Scarem and that was the comeback song.
Lucky Ones – Old school melodic rock.
Don't Come Easy – Classic Harem Scarem on the not so classic "Overload".

The Frontiers era for the band sees you coming around full circle where Weight Of The World falls back to the days of Mood Swings... Higher feels like the debut album's little brother with a power-pop hook... Overload is heavier and the darker tone of the album shows the band's maturity. As a band throughout your career you've been able to maintain your independence releasing the albums you wanted... Frontiers is one of the biggest rock labels out there and Harem Scarem in my view is one of the top bands to be signed to that label. This is a difficult question to ask but what where do you see the band going in the coming years? I've enjoyed every album released on Frontiers and truly think this era is the best one from the band.
Harry: I think the Frontiers era for us is definitely more focused and rooted in melodic rock than the last few Warner records. It's all been important and necessary to lead us to where we are today.

Alright Harry time to have some fun we're going to make you think about these questions I'll give you a couple options and you can only pick one and only one... Feel free to share your thoughts on your picks...
Weight Of The World or Overload?Overload because what else would I say right after finishing the record!!!! Overload still sounds fresh to me, anything else sounds dated and not what I would do today. I'm sure if you ask me next year it will be something different.
Harold Hess or Harry Hess? - Harry Hess because that's what most people have called me since the band started. In school I was more or less called Harold. I thought it was more official to use Harold on the early records and later Harry because that's what everyone called me.
Honestly or This Ain't Over? - Honestly because it's become a staple of a Harem Scarem show. I wrote it when I was 18 or 19 and we've been playing it ever since.
Ribs or Diet Coke? – Ribs because I would just eat them with another drink
Hess the entertainer or Hess the musician? – Definitely the musician, I never really wanted the entertainer part (maybe as a comedian).
If you could finish the following sentence with your words of wisdom: "Every lead singer must..." - believe in themselves and their music and never give up!

You carry the reputation of being one of the best producers in Canada. In fact I'll borrow a quote from Darren "Harry has become what Canada considers one of the best at what he does." One can assume that it hardly gets boring around Vespa Studios. Now of days you still remain one of the most powerful rock vocalists in the business however running a successful recording studio expands on your already notable career. A popular outlook on life is: If you have one thing that keeps you content in life then that is all that matters... What is the one thing that keeps Harry Hess happy now of days?
Harry: As far as work goes: I'm trying to just work with people that I like and that are extremely talented. Personally: I'm having a great time watching my two kids grow up and spending as much time wit them as possible.

Well that just about does it for our questions... Thanks Harry, for taking the time to sit down and answer our questions. It has been an honor and privilege to finally catch up with you. Any final thoughts or words you'd like to share with all the Harem Scarem fans out there and the visitors of www.shipwreckislandstudios.com?
Harry: Thank you and thanks to the fans for sticking with us through all the twists and turns.

Interview by Jere
Originally posted at Shipwreck Island Studios