The name Harry Hess is one that appears regularly when I’m checking out melodic rock albums that have been sent into the station – either for his involvement in mixing or producing the record or for contributing vocals. He is of course also the frontman of Canadian band Harem Scarem. The band released their latest album “United” through Frontiers Music on 12th May and I arranged to record an interview with Harry via Skype on 4th May to talk about the album and his other work. You can hear that interview on the Friday NI Rocks Show that was originally uploaded for 19th May and which is now available on our MixCloud site. We also play 4 tracks from the new Harem Scarem album.

https://www.mixcloud.com/NIRocks/interview-with-harry-hess-on-the-friday-ni-rocks-show-19th-may-2017/

 

 


 

The interview has been transcribed and posted below.

 

Playlist

SAMSON – Hammerhead (Live)

GASOLINE OUTLAWS – Breathe Again

SCREAMING EAGLES – Streets of Gold

WARRANT – Louder Harder Faster

HAREM SCAREM – United

Interview with HARRY HESS from Harem Scarem Part 1 (8.5min)

HAREM SCAREM – Sinking Ship

Interview with HARRY HESS Part 2 (8 min)

HAREM SCAREM – One of Life’s Mysteries

Interview with HARRY HESS Part 3 (8.5min)

HAREM SCAREM – Here Today Gone Tomorrow

FIRST SIGNAL – One Step Over The Line

SNAKECHARMER – Sounds Like a Plan

UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – The Matriarch

MAMMOTH MAMMOTH – Sleepwalker

MIKE TRAMP – Hymn to Ronnie

DIO – Don’t Talk to Strangers

RAINBOW - Stargazer

 

 

 

NI ROCKS - Hi Harry, thanks for taking some time to talk to Rock Radio NI. I wanted to talk first of all about the new Harem Scarem album “United” which is released by Frontiers on 12th May. I’m presuming that you produced it at your Vespa Music studios? Did the band all get together to record it or did the guys send in their parts?

HARRY – We all live pretty close to each other so we’ve never done a record, I don’t think, in recent memory as Harem Scarem, where we weren’t working together closely. Now, I will say, Pete will go home a do guitar solos and guitar overdubs and things like that. We used to sit in a room together when we were doing everything, and I mean he would sit there while I’m doing vocals and I would sit there while he is doing the guitar solos. But over the years we’ve kinda shied away from that. I’ve lost interest in watching him play the same guitar solo over and over again and I’m sure it’s the same for him with me figuring out harmonies and doing backing vocals and things like that. So, the meat and potatoes, we’re in a room together and we’re deciding parts and arrangements and things like that; but then there are over-dubs that we just kinda go on our own and do, bring it together and talk about it. And then if there are any problems, we make changes from there. Basically we’re still a band that goes into a recording studio and sees each other while we’re recording and playing.


NI ROCKS - Were all the tracks written by you and Pete Lesperance and is there a pattern that you’ll follow when writing a track or does each one come together differently.

HARRY – I think after all these years we’ve definitely fallen into a groove, as far as our song-writing goes and the way in which we work together. It’s very comfortable obviously and we can be honest with each other. Like anything, you’re just trying to develop what you think are the best ideas. For us, he might send me a guitar riff or musical ideas, or I’ll put down a chorus idea or lyric and I’ll send it to him. That’s basically how we work. Technology does allow you to send files easily, so I’ll put ideas down even on my iPhone while I’m working around or sitting in the studio. That’s basically how we communicate in the beginning. Then we get in a room together and kinda hash it out so that we’re both happy.


NI ROCKS - From what I’ve heard of the new album so far it seems to have a slightly heavier edge to it than the previous album “Thirteen”. How would you compare the two?

HARRY – I think there is a common thread to kinda everything that we’ve done for the past, maybe ten years. We took quite a long break, I think it was seven years, but if you go back all the way to when we started working with Frontiers Records on “Weight of the World”; I think it was at that point that we decided if we were going to make a Harem Scarem record there’s going to be big guitar riffs, big backing vocals and that’s always been what we’ve tried to do. I think the differences from record to record are just our age and maturity, what we’re writing about lyrically and hopefully getting better at it; figuring out the ways to make records and write songs, that we’re doing a little bit better than we did the last time. Of course it doesn’t work all the time, but that is our goal at least, to separate the record from whatever technical advantages we have or what we’ve learnt. Song writing is a craft, so hopefully you get better at it. I think the new record is a testament to our best work; as far as being skilled song writers go, I think this is some of the best work we’ve done.


NI ROCKS - When the band came back together in 2013 to record “Mood Swings II” you added three new studio tracks and then “Thirteen” was released the following year. At that time had you a reserve of Harem Scarem type tracks ready to go, or did you work on the new songs at that point?

HARRY – No, we started with nothing, even when we did that re-record for “Mood Swings” because we were always putting out lots of product. We were always being asked, especially in Japan and pockets of Asia, for bonus tracks, if we had anything extra, so we were always putting out extra things and we literally had nothing; no ideas. So when we did the re-record for “Mood Swings”, those were new songs and when we started on “Thirteen” we literally had nothing. It’s the same with this album “United” – we started with absolutely nothing once again and that’s a daunting task; to literally stare at a blank page over and over again. We’ve done -  I think we’ve written over 200 songs and recorded at least 160 or 170 of them as Harem Scarem alone, let alone with other projects, so that’s getting harder and harder all the time. Not to repeat yourself and fall into the trap of doing the same things over and over again. That’s our biggest challenge these days, is writing riffs and songs that don’t sound like something you’ve already done 100 times.


NI ROCKS - You’re scheduled to play the Rockingham Festival in Nottingham in October. What other plans do you have to tour to promote the new album?

HARRY – There’s a couple of other things that we’ve got planned at the moment, but we’re still in the process of figuring out gigs around that time. There’s Rockingham and then I think we’re going to do two gigs in Spain the week after; and we’re talking about Portugal as well. It’s a little bit early for us; as the album release date came a little earlier than we thought it would have. We thought the record would have been out in July so we started looking at putting gigs together around September, October and November, and now there’s a bit of a gap between the release of the record and us playing live. But we’re working on more dates so people can check in on HaremScarem.net or Facebook or whatever to find more dates.


NI ROCKS - The drummer on the album is Creighton Doane who has been with the band since 1999, but I read somewhere that Darren Smith, the original drumme provides backing vocals on the new album and will be the drummer on tour. Is that correct?

HARRY – Yeah, it’s a strange situation. Darren has been playing in other bands for 17 or 18 years now but was one of the original members of the band. We always bring him back in when we’re making records to sing backing vocals because he’s a great singer and he and I have a great blend together and it’s part of the Harem Scarem sound. It’s been a strange tradition to bring in one of your ex-members in to sing on a record. The thing with Creighton is that we’re great friends and have a great relationship and he’s the main guy that I bring in when we’re working on records to record drums. He’s an amazing studio musician and great drummer. When we were doing the Harem Scarem thing, it was rather fitting having Darren back for the “Mood Swings” reunion; which was more like a reunion having him on drums. Then once we got back into live shows, playing with Darren, it kinda stuck. So there’s a live band which is the original band and when we’re in the studio, we’re just kinda doing what we’ve done in the studio for the past 20 years now. It is a bit of a weird situation, but that’s how we do it.


NI ROCKS – We’ll play a track from the new album now. Would you like to pick one and tell us something about it?

HARRY – Let’s play “Sinking Ship” which was one of the first songs written on the record. It’s one of the more up-tempo tracks. I think this one is kinda about what the whole record is supposed to be about. Big guitar riff, big backing vocals and chorus – that’s kind of our plan. As I said we’re trying to write songs that make a record and I think this one turned out pretty good.

 

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NI ROCKS – Your name is one that regularly comes up when I’m doing interviews or writing about albums. Either as a producer or mixer or as a contributor on vocals or keyboards or as both. Bands that spring to mind over the past few years would be Vega, Blood Red Saints, In Faith and Rage of Angels. Who else have you been working with recently and in what capacity?

HARRY – I master a lot of records, so that’s kind of mainly my gig I do during the day. So, a lot of Canadian bands; maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe you haven’t. Some of the rock projects that I’ve done in Canada are Arkells, Monster Truck who I think are on tour in Europe right now, Big Wreck and Billy Talent. So it’s a daily thing and literally hundreds of artists. As far as the connection to the melodic rock world, there are a couple of producers that will send me their work to master and there are also friends that I’ve met along the way, like the guys from Vega. They were just fans of some of the work that I’d done in the past and we met up at a bunch of festivals; the last time I saw them was in Italy at the Frontiers Rock Festival and they asked if I would be interested in working with them on a record and it was funny because we’d just become friends over the years. So I went down to Wales to the Monnow Valley Studios, which is kind of a legendary studio where Zeppelin and Queen recorded and Black Sabbath. We had a great time. I have a lot of friends in the UK and love to work over there. Of course we’ve been coming and doing festivals over there for well over ten years now, close to 15 years. Part of my live is being involved in making records, either Harem Scarem records or other people’s records. I’ve been doing that since day one when we started out; I was off working with other bands, writing songs and just being involved in the studio in the record making process.

NI ROCKS – I interviewed the guys from Vega last year and they were saying you were on their humour wavelength.

HARRY – That’s right, on many levels unfortunately!


NI ROCKS – Last year you released the second album from First Signal, after a gap of about six years. The band had started at the request of Frontiers president Serafino Perugino in 2010 – was that a project that you had always wanted to return to?

HARRY – Yeah, you know it was really easy and just singing on a record was kinda cool, not something that I typically do. I think that’s the only project that I’ve done in maybe 20 years where I’ve just been involved as a singer. There was literally zero responsibility. I can’t say anything negative about it, other than sometimes it is a bit embarrassing that I’m not more involved and don’t know more about it. People ask me questions like how is it touring with so and so or whatever, but there is an example of a project where we’re not in the room together. I don’t even know who played guitar on the tracks or solos or anything, because the whole point for me is not to be too deeply involved. If I get too deeply involved I’ve too much influence and am putting my thumb print on it too much. What is cool about First Signal is that I can just be a member of something and part of something, just doing what I do and relying on other people who also know what they’re doing to do their job. If I was involved in song-writing, producing, recording, mixing or whatever it would not be the same project. I enjoy just popping on there and being in charge of delivering vocals and that’s it.


NI ROCKS – What are the chances of a third album from First Signal?

HARRY – Yeah, I’d do it. I’d be up for it. Whenever people come together that have a like-minded view and everybody is striving just to make a good record. Pick great songs, make a great record – I don’t really see the downside to it.


NI ROCKS – We’ll play a track from the “One Step Over The Line” album later in the Show. Do you want to pick a track from that album to play?

HARRY – Let’s do “One Step Over The Line”.


NI ROCKS – Frontiers of course have a long history of bringing artists together on musical collaborations – is that something you’d be keen to do more of and is there anyone in particular that you’d like to work with?

HARRY – I always think everything like that is an opportunity to be a great learning experience. For the most part, I think the bands that they have on their roster are high quality musicians and song writers. The people that are still doing that in 2017 are doing it, I think, for the right reasons. Nobody is going to get rich putting out rock records in 2017. The people who are doing it are the people doing it for the love of the music and because they really love this genre and they want to make these records. I put myself in that category as well and would be open to working with anybody that is still passionate about doing it. We had Jeff Scott Soto sing backing vocals on our new record and again, same thing, always seeing Jeff at festivals we’d become friends. We’re part of the same club, if you will, we’re all striving to try to do the same thing, we have the same goals and it becomes a community; even fans you run into over and over again at festivals. Everybody comes together because they love this – the musicians, the fans and everybody – the record companies, anybody involved in this music. Again, what you’re doing today. You’re not being paid millions of dollars to do it; you’re doing it because you want to and you love to. And the musicians aren’t that different you know. We have to make a living making records, but at the same time, there are easier ways to make a living (laughs) than this! It’s a bit of a weird thing. I’ve been fortunate enough to do music my whole live and side-step a day job, but it’s because I love it and I’ve worked really hard to get some level of success while doing it. So I’ve been lucky, but I work really hard at it too. The whole Frontiers and melodic rock scene is based on people in 2017 being in it for the right reasons.


NI ROCKS – Getting back to the new Harem Scarem album again. We’ll play another track now. Do you want to pick a track and tell us something about it?

HARRY – Let’s do “One of Life’s Mysteries” which is kind of the ballad on the record. We really didn’t have anything that was too slow this time. We’ve dabbled on a couple of records where we had a couple mid tempos and ballads as well, but I think for the most part this is a pretty up-tempo record. Even for a ballad this moves along let’s say. This one is what we’ve been doing for 25 – 30 years, it’s a good version of a Harem Scarem ballad to me.


 

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NI ROCKS – Sort of going back to  a question you answered earlier. the music industry has obviously changed immensely since you first started making records. Success isn’t really judged on album sales anymore, so how do you personally measure success now as a performer or producer?

HARRY – I really don’t know to tell you the truth. It’s a bit of a strange situation where, I know this is true for a lot of bands, you make a record and it’s sometimes six months from start to finish; and you put it out, there’s a bit of a splash for a week or two and then it kind of goes away. Then, if it’s a good record it keeps coming up and people keep mentioning it years later. Like we did “Mood Swings” I guess 20 something years ago now, it really didn’t do anything extraordinary when it first came out, but over the years people kept talking about it. I think that is the perfect example of our career. (Laughs). We never felt that we did anything right, or anything great or big in the moment. But I think over time a few things that we’ve done have stood the test of time and been symbolic of who we are as Harem Scarem, and that trend continues. I think this record, from the feeling that I’m getting, is going to be one of those as well. “Weight of the World” turned into one of those as well I thought because it was a bit of a return to “Harem Scarem” sound after a few years of more poppy and melodic that a lot of the hard core rock fans didn’t like. But now when we go out and play and see people, that’s when we really realised that, even though it’s an underground following and underground genre these days, there are a lot of rock fans around the world when you add them up.  There are small pockets around the world and we are lucky enough to get to travel around the world to see those people. I guess my version of success today is just to be able to keep doing this – there is no giant upside or  no ‘we’re gonna make it’ kinda vibe. I’m 48 years old and I’ve been doing this for forever and there are no delusions with regard to things changing, but I’m happy with that I really am. If anything, I feel fortunate that I’m still able to do it and I’m still able to write and record songs and make it part of my life.


NI ROCKS – When you first got into the music scene what artists were inspiring the sound you wanted to produce and is there anyone that still inspires or influences you?

HARRY – In the beginning I grew up listening to British metal really! I loved Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Probably because of my age and what was at the forefront of music at that time. Then L.A. kinda glam rock took over and was on the Top 40 on radio. I remember metal, or pop-metal, like Def Leppard being in the Top 10 in the 1980’s. Whitesnake are a perfect example of commercial rock radio that was all over – Bon Jovi, Aerosmith. So they were heavily influential in what we were trying to achieve because it was right in front of our face and they were selling 20 – 30 million records. So that was just more of a timing issue than anything, but I grew up loving Queen, Boston and bands that had big harmonies that were vocally a little bit more challenging than what ended up being at the forefront of American radio in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Then of course Grunge came out and squashed that whole thing. We were influenced later on. I like heavy music, so I didn’t mind Metallica “The Black Album”, I didn’t mind Alice In Chains, I liked a lot of the darker, heavier stuff personally and we started to incorporate that into stuff we did. But I also really love pop music – I love The Beatles. So when you look at our third record “Voice of Reason”, I always said it’s like Queen meets Metallica and that’s our version of it. All of those things have been major influences. And you have to consider that you can’t keep making the same record over and over again. You try and do different things and you’re pulling on all of your influences over the years, but those are some of them – from Queen to Metallica to The Beatles.


NI ROCKS – And in a similar vein, a question that I always like to ask, can you remember the first album that you bought and the first gig that you went to?

HARRY – Yes, I think it was Kiss “Destroyer”. I had albums bought for me or given to me, but I think the first album that I ever went out to buy was Kiss “Destroyer”. And the first concert was a Canadian band called Max Webster. April Wine would be another of the first concerts that I saw – another Canadian rock band.


NI ROCKS – And looking forward, obviously you’ll be focusing on promoting the new album for the near future, but what else have you got in the pipeline and what would you hope to have achieved within the next 12 months?

HARRY – I’m just working on other peoples records right now and the mastering thing is a full time job for me; running the recording studio as well. It all revolves around music and making records. I’m going to continue to do that and I’m sure we’ll start doing some rehearsals and live shows at the end of the summer for Harem Scarem. That’ll continue basically until the end of the year.


NI ROCKS – Do you get many young bands approaching you for assistance or advice and what advice do you give to those that ask?

HARRY – Yeah, because of the studio situation, we always have bands in there. We’ve all wanted to know that at some time or other in our career – how do you this, what do you do? And there really is no answer. Everybody’s path to success has been completely different and there has been no rules, that’s why nobody can copy it. Really the key is to write great songs first and foremost and work at your craft, because I think too many people want the success but they’re not willing to do the work. And we were insane at the beginning, we really learnt how to play our instruments, write songs and record. That was our passion and we just worked at it and worked at it until we thought we got it right, or the best version that we thought we could do. I just see a lot of bands, and I won’t even say young bands, just people in general that think that there is a fast-track from A to B and there just isn’t. You can’t put in 10,000 hours of work and not be great at something in the end, but nobody wants to put in the time. The ones that do are typically the ones that go on and do well, regardless of what style of music you’re playing or even what it is you’re trying to achieve in general. So that the advice that I give to people – don’t be afraid to do the work and don’t think it’s going to happen until you have done the work. Then you’ve got to get lucky as well. You gotta be good, you have to work hard and you have to get lucky.

 

NI ROCKS – That’s all the questions that I have for you, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to Rock Radio NI and best of luck with the new album. We’ll finish off by playing another track from the new album “United” and then that First Signal track. Which track would you like to play and tell us something about it?

HARRY – Well “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” is the song that I think they just released on Monday and it is getting a great response. Again, a prototypical Harem Scarem song – big backing vocals, cool guitar riff and a sing-a-long chorus.


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Last Updated (Tuesday, 18 July 2017 23:56)