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INTERVIEW: HARRY HESS – June 2016

| 17 June 2016 | Reply

I recently was given some time to speak with Harry Hess.  Name not ringing a bell for you?  Well, most recently his voice is featured on the latest installment from First Signal.  He is also the co-founder and lead singer for melodic rockers Harem Scarem… he even has a killer solo disc that was released back in 2012.  Trust me, the name may not hit you, but if you dig melodic rock, you know the voice… trust me!

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Toddstar: Harry, thank you so much for taking time out for us today. We really appreciate it.

Harry: No problem. Anytime.

Toddstar: Let’s talk about what’s going on in the world of Harry Hess right now. It’s the launch of the new First Signal album.

Harry: Yeah. I did my parts around August or September last year. Then it was mixed and mastered. I guess it’s been done since around November, December. Now it just came out a few weeks ago, so it’s been a while since it’s been finished. It’s one of those things. You just do it and then forget about it. Then all of a sudden everybody’s talking about it again, so it’s kind of cool.

Toddstar: With that in mind, what’s it like for you to go back now? Like you said, you finished your parts quite a while ago. What’s it like to go back and listen to it now? Are you getting a fresh listen to it, or is it still just coming back and saying, “Yep. Okay, that was that”?

Harry: Yeah, I like when some time goes by, and I have some perspective on it, because typically when you’re working on something, you’re going full force every day to get it done. You really lose perspective. For me, I’m doing parts at a time. It’s tough to get a big picture perspective on it when you’re in the nitty-gritty, and you’re just doing what you need to get done. I would spend typically a day a song and then move on. In this particular case it was very unique and not typically what I do because usually I’m involved in the writing and the production and stuff. In this case I was just singing, so I got the tracks given to me. Like I said, I just went a song a day. I would spend about three or four hours doing the singing, and later on I’d do some editing. Then I’d send it off to the producer and the mixer, and he was pretty happy with what he got. I don’t even recall if I did any changes. I added backing voices with Darren Smith. I think they did a few out in Sweden as well. Really that was it. It was pretty quick and painless and a good process.

Toddstar: Awesome. You’re one of those guys, Harry, you’ve always been just a part of something whether it was Harem Scarem, you did some other stuff with other bands, but you’re that guy that has that voice that everybody says, “I know the voice,” but they don’t know the face or they don’t know the name. What’s that like for you to have that notoriety where your voice is instantaneously known, yet it’s not that instant recognition?

Harry: I think it had a lot to do with the timing of when Harem Scarem first came out and just the whole shift in what was going on at radio, and video was super important back then. We kind of came a little bit late to the party that was hard rock or AOR, or whatever you want to call it, but it was a very distinct style and sound that was tied to an era that ended in 1990-91. That happened to be when we put out our first record. From a commercial standpoint, it was very difficult to get any traction and get any going on when they were dropping bands left, right and center that sounded and looked like us. So we were very fortunate to, I guess, do well enough in specific territories that we get to continue to make records and have a career even though it was very underground. I think that kind of ties into it. We’ve never thought of ourselves as a “popular band.” We’ve been doing our thing for so long now and our fans know who we are, but I think if you ask anybody outside of the melodic rock circle who Harem Scarem is or who I am, I don’t think they would know. Yeah, it just built up over the years and turned into what it is today, but I’ve always kept working and kept involved in the Harem Scarem projects and then many, many other records from writing, production, or mixing or mastering, whatever, a few facets of the music industry that I’ve always been interested in doing alongside. I’ve had kind of a weird career like that but in retrospect a good one. I mean I feel good about where I’m at with it all. I guess if I would have just focused on being a singer in a band, I wouldn’t have developed the other skills that I’m doing now. I’m kind of grateful now at 47 years old that I have more to offer and other things to do other than just be a singer. When it comes down to who I am and what people know me for, I guess it’s my voice and being in Harem Scarem.

Toddstar: You mentioned different projects. One of my favorites that you’ve ever been involved in, I loved the original Harem Scarem. I love when you guys came out and redid Mood Swings and Thirteen, but your solo disc Living in Yesterday is an album that four years later, almost four years since it was released, that I still turn to regularly.

Bad Habit - CD Booklet

Harry: Oh, cool.

Toddstar: It’s just one of those albums. It’s tight from top to bottom. The love songs are just enough melodic rock and love song to get you by but the rock songs have great tempo and cadence. I actually run to quite a few of the songs. Is there another Harry Hess album sitting out there just waiting for the fans?

Harry: I’m writing those styles of songs naturally. When I decided to make my first solo record but even more so on the last one, the Living in Yesterday disc, that’s naturally what I do. When I’m working with Pete, the guitar player from Harem Scarem, that’s closer to the Harem Scarem sound because those songs are based on guitar riffs and they’re kind of built with a musical aesthetic in mind. Where my songwriting is just natural basic chord changes and melodies and lyrics and that’s it. It’s not based on anything musically brilliant, because I don’t play guitar well enough or keyboards well enough or anything like that to write guitar parts or just parts musically, so I rely on just basic chord changes. What that does do, it kind of sharpens your melodic skills where you have rely on melody and lyrics and just crafting a song that, just in its basic essence of what it is, chords and melodies, that it can stand on its own. That’s kind of the direction that I’ve gone in personally over the years is just relying on that skill of being able to do that. If that’s something that you like, then I think you’d like what I do, but for a lot of Harem Scarem fans, they would comment that there isn’t enough guitar work on it, or there aren’t enough ripping guitar solos. I reserve that element of what I’m involved with for Harem Scarem or there really honestly wouldn’t be much of a difference. I look at the solo records as an opportunity just to get out the essence of the song and just stay true to what I do as a songwriter.

Toddstar: Jumping back again to First Signal, because that is the newest piece that everybody can listen to your vocals on, going back through the songs and listening to them again after taking a step back for yourself for a little while, are there any songs that you listen to now and you think, “Yep, I nailed it. That’s the good one.”

Harry: Honestly I never think that. If anything, it’s the opposite. All I hear are the things that could have been improved and the flaws. That’s why literally I don’t listen to them when they’re done because, to me, there’s no point. I just like to move on and keep working. Then sometimes I’ll just hear something, or I’ll even just see it on YouTube or whatever like that, and I’ll click on it and I’ll go, “Oh yeah, that.” I mean honestly there’s been moments where Pete and I, we joke, we don’t know what part’s coming next in songs that we wrote. We’re like, “I don’t remember that,” like zero recollection of writing it, recording it, anything like that. There are lots and lots of songs. It’s because we never go back and listen to it again. Because if you’re constantly moving forward and you’re working… when you called I’m working on songs for a new Harem Scarem record, so why would I be sitting here listening to an old or anything like that? I mean there’s nothing wrong with it. That’s my personal perspective on it. There’s no real time or energy to be sitting around listening to stuff that I’ve done. But when I do, I don’t love it because it’s one of those things, you’re always trying to get better. I think if you’re the kind of person that does evolve and get better at what you do, then you’re constantly going to be listening to stuff that you did even six months ago let alone six years ago and you’re going to be pretty disappointed or hard on it or just have a lot of things about it that you don’t like and would like to change because you think you could do them better.

Toddstar: That’s a great insight. I appreciate you sharing that. You gave me a great segue, new Harem Scarem. You’re putting together stuff?

Harry: Yeah. We’ve been working hard on it, not consistently because both Pete and I have been involved with a lot of different projects this year, so our time has been a little bit of a problem. Again, the challenge every time we sit down and do something like this is that, just with Harem Scarem alone, we’ve recorded maybe 150 or 160 songs. Well, that’s what ended up on records let alone what we recorded that didn’t end up on a record, or we did with other projects and whatever. So they’re literally in the hundreds. Now for us to sit down and do something that we find interesting or fresh or something that really inspires us, to sit down and work on this is very difficult to do and then keep it within the confines of what fans expect or will like. That’s our biggest challenge these days, but we’re motoring along here, and we’re very excited about what we’re doing. It’s just going to take us a little bit longer than we normally would. If I’m being honest it’s probably because we’re just not spending all day every day on it like we used to do. Now we’re finding the moments when we can work on it alone and together, and we’re getting there. We hope to have it done by the end of the year.

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Toddstar: Oh cool. It’s been a while since you guys have been able to do tours and things like that especially here. I’m in Detroit. Do you have any idea when you’re going to be able to take this back on the road on a grander scale than you do. I know Europe loves you guys, but North America would sure love to get their hands on Harem Scarem again.

Harry: Probably the most realistic thing would just be for us to hop on some festivals. A couple of years ago we went out and we did a European tour and it was probably… well, it was, it was our biggest European tour that we’d ever done. We did 13 countries in 18 days. We went back to Japan as well. We always get calls to go and do the Philippines where we had our first Gold Record and Australia as well. We’ve spend our careers basically going over to Europe and Asia, and, I don’t know, I guess going to where we’ve already had success because that’s typically where the promoters and the agents and the people that would want to hire you as a band or have you on their festival or even come and do shows. That’s why they know about you because you’ve done well enough. The problem in North America and even in Canada, our homeland, has been really just few and far between that we’ve spent any time here trying to build on anything that we’ve ever done because you’re just starting from nothing, and you’re starting from scratch. I think to answer your question; the most likely way that you’ll see us is that if we’re invited to be part of a festival. We did one in Chicago a few years ago, and that’s the last time we were in the States. We just haven’t been a ton over our entire career. We’ve only been a handful of times. We get that question a lot. I mean that’s really it because who would book us knowing that we would sell maybe one ticket or two tickets or hundreds. We just don’t know, right? Nobody is ever really willing to go first or take the chance to find out. Like I said, the most realistic thing is that we’re invited to do a genre specific festival and people see us there, and that’s what we’ve done in the past.

Toddstar: Looking at your career, Harry, who inspired you at one point, or what was the inspiration for you to think, “This is what I want to do; this is what I’ve got to do with my life”?

Harry: I don’t know if there was ever really a definitive moment. Probably somewhere around the ages of 12, 13, 14, 15, around there, I really got into playing in a band. Obviously I’ve always loved music and tinkered around. I took drum lessons. I took guitar lessons. I’ve learned piano a bit and taught myself. I’ve always been interested in it, and I’ve also been interested in recording. I always knew that I would be involved in making records even if I wasn’t really sure whether I was going to be a singer in a band or whatever. I always knew that I wanted to make records for whatever reason. Yeah, I guess that happened probably around the 13, 14, 15 kind of age, because when I was 15 I was already in a band and we started making our first record. I turned 16 while were finishing it up and that was a band called Blind Vengeance. I was in that band even back then with Darren, the original Harem Scarem drummer. Then when I was 19 I started Harem Scarem and have been doing that ever since. Yeah, I guess around 13, 14.

Toddstar: The music industry has changed. You even eluded to the early ’90s when it shifted gears so quickly. The music industry now is nowhere near what it was then. That being said, what still inspires you to get out and do this? Nobody’s selling a million records anymore. It’s just not there. So what’s still making you take this life path?

Harry: You know what? I think it’s just the personal satisfaction of starting something creatively and finishing it. It’s always been the way that it’s been for all of us. It’s great to make a living doing this. I’ve never had a real job. I’ve always done this. Again, if I’m being honest, I’ve subsidized that by being involved in other people’s records. I had a lot of great years where I was doing records for Sony. I was doing Idol Records, doing X Factor, The Voice. I just mean producing and writing for bands and those projects paid well. I own a recording studio that I’ve built up over the years where lots of bands coming and record. It’s all part and parcel of being involved in the music industry, business, whatever, and being able to make a living doing this. It also, then, allows me to make a Harem Scarem record and not really worry too much about the industry side of it because I’m not 100% reliant on the Harem Scarem record basically paying for my life or lifestyle. I mean you won’t find a lot of bands that started when we did that still do this for a living unless they’ve sold 10 to 20 million records unless you’re Whitesnake, Bon Jovi or Journey, and they started 10, 20 years earlier than we did. We just happened to come out at a time… We were very young to have a record deal, and so when we came out, it was kind of over before it began. For whatever reason we were able to have this underground career, like I said. In the beginning we just made a living off of doing Harem Scarem stuff, but I was also interested in recording, so I kept doing that as well on the side. I’m thankful that I did because a lot of my peers just haven’t been able to sustain a lifestyle by continuing down that one road because, like you said, it just doesn’t exist in the same way as it did 20 years ago. Yeah, it all just fell into place the way that it is today for me, but I’ve been conscious of it. I mean I always saw the writing on the wall. I always laugh when I say people ask me that question. I never thought that we would do well enough to do this for a living so I never lived like… I didn’t go buy myself a Porsche when we got our first deal. You know what I mean? I just didn’t know. I mean I thought, “Okay, maybe we’ll make a record.” Then we got to make another one and then another one. There was never a moment where we thought, “Well, we did so well that we don’t have to worry about this ever again.” We always thought we had to worry about whether we’d be allowed to make another record again or not. Now it’s come to the point where we would just do them anyway because we like doing them. It’s not about the money. It’s back to full circle of why you started doing it. It’s an interesting question and an interesting time in our lives because there isn’t enough of any kind of monetary incentive for us to do this, but we do it anyway, so it is kind of weird.

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Toddstar: Listen, I know you’re a busy man, Harry, so I’ve one more for you before we cut you loose. Looking back at your career, and it doesn’t sound like you look back on anything negatively, but if you had to go back and think about maybe one misstep you’d like to fix or change or just correct the end result, are there any? If there are, what would it be?

Harry: Well, just having some sort of business knowledge at the time when we signed a record deal. Like I said, Pete and I were 19 years old. The other guys weren’t much older, and we had a young manager. That’s the only thing, just any kind of guidance at all. We just did so many things and didn’t do so many things that we should have done because we just didn’t know, and so everything we did was reactionary to what was happening to us. There was no plan. There was nobody that knew what was going on and what do to next. That’s my only regret. Even then, you learn a lot because you’re forced to. I know a lot of other musicians that had their hand held through the whole process. Maybe they did a little bit better for a certain period of time, but I think the longevity today is because we had to figure it all out for ourselves. It’s hard to really say. No, I don’t look back at any of it negatively. Of course, you’d always like to do better, sell more records and just have a better time of it from a sales perspective, but really, from a life journey perspective, not at all. I’m quite happy with the whole thing.

Toddstar: Awesome. Harry, thank you so much for taking time out for us. Anybody that needs to get their fix until the next Harem Scarem album or hopefully another Harry Hess solo CD some time, some day, in the meantime, First Signal, “One Step Over the Line” is available. Again, we wish you well. We can’t wait for the new album. Again, I personally cannot wait for the next solo record.

Harry: Awesome, man. I appreciate that. I’m sure we’ll chat again when the next one comes out.

Toddstar: Sounds good to me, Harry. We’ll talk to you soon.

Harry: All right. Bye-bye.

 

HARRY HESS / HAREM SCAREM LINKS:

OFFICIAL SITE

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

FIRST SIGNAL: ONE STEP OVER THE LINE – ITUNES

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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