Yes But We’re Big In Japan! – Harem Scarem

There’s a Canadian band that produced 12 studio albums, seven live albums, eight compilation albums and by the lead guitarist’s count has made at least 14 trips to Japan – but you have probably never heard of them!

The band in question is Toronto’s Harem Scarem who recently reunited after a five-year hiatus with a sold-out gig at Toronto’s Rockpile club in preparation for a forthcoming three-week tour of Europe that will kick off with two dates; October 5th and 6th at Club Citta in Tokyo Japan..

[quote]We’re all in our 40’s, we just want to get out and play and get our music out to our fans.[/quote]“I think even our diehard fans are surprised by how many recordings we’ve actually released,” noted guitarist Peter Lesperance who along with lead vocalist Harry Hess, drummer Darren Smith and original bassist Mike Gionet launched Harem Scarem in 1991. “People might remember `Slowly Slipping Away’ from our self-titled debut or `No Justice’ from Mood Swings but we’ve never had a real career in Canada past the first two albums, our biggest success has always been as an export.”

Yet even during their hiatus, Lesperance had been constantly bombarded by Facebook comments and tweets from the band’s fans wondering when the band will hit the stage again. “We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of our Mood Swings album (1993), this was our most successful album, the one that broke us in Europe and Japan so we were being hit by fans demanding to know what we were going to do to celebrate this occasion,” said Lesperance. “So we decided to re-record “Mood Swings” as “Mood Swings 11”, add three more songs, a `making of’ video made three of the tracks interactive and launch a Mood Swings 11 tour which will take us to Japan before appearing at the prestigious Firefest festival concert in Nottingham England (October 18th ) as part of a 14-date Euro tour.”

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Original drummer Darren Smith is back with Lesperance and Hess with new bassist Stan Miczek filling out the lineup. “As far as the band’s future,” stated Lesperance, . “We’re going to execute the European tour, do the dates in Japan, maybe do a few more dates in Canada and that will be it. “But, you never know what can happen.”

Lesperance is fully aware of the nostalgia wave that is evident in this country with bands and artists who dominated the charts 20 years ago, still active and pulling an audience, even if they are receiving no press and no airwave exposure for current releases. “We’re all in our 40’s, we just want to get out and play and get our music out to our fans. It’s amazing there are a lot of Harem Scarem fans all over the world who still care about our music. Through all the social media outlets, it’s great we can connect with these people.”

According to Lesperance, Harem Scarem launched in 1991 at the worst possible time, just as Nirvana was sparking the Grunge movement. “Our timing was horrible, had we been out five years earlier, who knows what might have happened.”

Their sound on their first `self-titled release” was that of an AOR rock band and although it produced a couple of radio-friendly singles; `Slowly Slipping Away’, `Honestly’ and `Hard To Love’ the CD was generally ignored. “The problem was that we were signed to Warner Music worldwide, which meant that if their affiliates passed on the record, we had no other option. Their U.S affiliate passed on the record which meant we never got any exposure in the States.”

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Lesperance and Hess were also constantly evolved the band’s sound which created a harder edge for their second album, Mood Swings (1993). It was a sound that made some impact in Canada, made an even stronger impression in Europe and received a major push in Japan. “Mike Peters, who worked in marketing for Warner Canada, hooked us up with Warner Japan and the guy there loved the record. We got a major publishing offer in the mail from Japan, we were invited to play over there and Mood Swings sold over 60,000 records.

Trouble was that the band’s sound kept evolving. “When we recorded our third album, “Voice Of Reason” we were going for an alternative, darker sound. Even our Japanese people were saying “What the hell is this”? Lesperace explained. Bassist Michael Gionet left to be replaced by Barry Donaghy as the band started pumping out a series of records, none of which did anything in North America yet continued to sell well in Europe and Japan.

The band became so frustrated that they briefly changed their name to Rubber, adapted a more contemporary pop sound and received recognition from their Warner label, MuchMusic and even some radio exposure. “It was great here but it was almost career suicide for the rest of the world,” reflected Lesperance. “They had no idea what we were doing. We were trying to evolve the band and pull our music in different directions but in the end we probably did more damage than good.” By this point, drummer Darren Smith left to join new band Juice to be replaced by new percussionist Creighton Doane.

Band members were also diversifying, recording solo projects, working with Canadian Idol runner-up Billy Klippert and in Lesperance’s case, recently executing a six-week tour performing in Country music star Michelle Wright’s band. “That was so far outside my comfort zone wheelhouse but it was a great challenge,” noted the guitarist. “She wanted a bit more of a rock edge to her band and every night she introduced me as `that guy from Harem Scarem’. She is a real class act and it proved to me I could take on different challenges.”

With Hess also working on new projects and drummer Darren Smith set to be lead vocalist in Jake E Lee’s new band; Red Dragon Cartel, the Harem Scarem personnel won’t be short of options should their latest reincarnation not pan out in the long term. “I am thankful that I’ve had such a great career. I’ve been in Harem Scarem, I’ve been in other bands, I’ve done session work, and I’ve written jingles. Whether Harem Scarem is considered successful or not, I and the rest of the guys in this group are continuing to enjoy working in this industry and ultimately, that’s all we can ask for.”

Photography by: Ted Van Boort

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