Harem Scarem / Rubber
The band was formed out of the remains of two virtually unknown bands in Canada in the late 1980's. Harry Hess had been the lead vocalist with the metal band "Blind Vengeance" and Pete Lesperance had been the guitarist for "Minotaur." They formed to become the primary songwriting force behind Harem Scarem and are responsible for creating a large part of the Harem Scarem sound. Along with drummer (and excellent vocalist in his own right!) Darren Smith and bassist Mike Gionet, they went on to form the original line-up of Harem Scarem. The members of the band remained unchanged until shortly after the recording of Voice of Reason when Mike Gionet left the band for personal reasons. Barry Donaghy (formerly of Blu Bones) stepped in and more than filled the void left by Mike's departure.
The band exploded onto the music scene in 1991 with their self-titled debut album, Harem Scarem. The first album spawned several singles and videos which proceeded to take Canada by storm. Songs like "Slowly Slipping Away," "Honestly," and "Hard To Love" were pure gold on the radio and started to create an international following for this new band. However, while the world was just starting to find out about Harem Scarem, lucky listeners in their native Canada had already become familiar with their distinctive sound through countless performances in local bars and clubs. However, before that the band recorded a demo tape that was instrumental in their signing with Warner Music Canada. The self-produced and recorded demo was almost unprecedented for an unknown band -- they even managed to get the demo pressed on CD for potential labels. (Copies of that original demo are now treasured collectibles among HS fans!) The band wrote the songs and recorded the demo before ever playing in front of a live audience, knowing that people wanted to hear original songs that weren't just put together in an hour. They took their time and got the right mix of ballads and rockers together in order to attract faithful listeners. In the end, I think it's safe to say that their plan worked out well, since they are now known worldwide.
The release of their second album, Mood Swings, brought even more acclaim from fans and critics alike. With this album, the band also became very popular in Japan. Mood Swings was the first of Harem Scarem's album to be released in Japan, and they developed an instant following there. (The first album was quickly issued in Japan, along with 3 bonus acoustic tracks.) The difference between Harem Scarem and Mood Swings is noticeable from the first notes of "Saviors Never Cry." Pete turned up the volume on the guitars and the songs took on a much harder edge. Many people consider the first album to be an AOR classic, but definitely not a hard rock album. Mood Swings provided the extra oomph that the debut album did not, and truly is a "hard rock" album. Harry and Pete really grew as songwriters with this release and showed that they were more than a fluke on the debut album. The "bigger" sound attracted new fans, but also retained all the qualities that people loved about the first album -- fantastic melodies, seamless harmony vocals, and the unbelievable fretwork of Pete Lesperance. This is the album that fans who had seen the band live really expected from them. It was also more of an album that the band wanted to make. Because, while it provided the opportunity to break big, the band themselves are not very fond of their first album. They think that is far too much a "hair band" album and that it doesn't really represent the type of music that they want to write. (As a critic, I can see where they're coming from with that opinion, but as a fan, I still think that Harem Scarem is one of the best debut albums ever!) The only song from that album that they still play in live concerts is "Slowly Slipping Away".
Many of the tracks from Mood Swings have become favorites to casual listeners and die-hard fans alike -- "No Justice" and "Had Enough" are among these classic songs that almost any fan of hard rock music loves.
During the course of the Mood Swings tour, the band released an EP for Japan only. Live & Acoustic (which was later released in Canada) featured a mix of live songs recorded in Toronto, acoustic versions of some of their biggest hits, and a few edited versions of songs. While the live performances are good, it's difficult to get the true "Harem Scarem experience" from just a few tracks. Fortunately, a few years later the band released Live In Japan, which included an (almost!) complete concert as well as 2 new tracks.
In 1995, the band returned with their riskiest album yet -- Voice Of Reason. VOR was initially dismissed as another album where a band had jumped on the "alternative" bandwagon. The album is indeed a bit "darker" than either Harem Scarem or Mood Swings but still possesses the classic HS elements underneath. Unfortunately, this album didn't produce the big hits that the earlier albums did, only resulting in one minor hit -- "Blue." While it wasn't a huge commercial success, "Voice of Reason" was well-received by many critics. Most of them felt that the band was really progressing forward and not limiting themselves to a particular style of music. Unfortunately, many fans didn't agree and didn't give the album a chance. I admit that on a first listen that it sounds a lot different than their previous material, but after the shock wears off, it's really quite a good album. Pete explored a whole new realm of guitar sounds, mostly with the wah effect. The songs themselves showed depth in the lyrics and an expansion in the music, building almost to a "wall of sound" on some tracks.
The Live In Japan album, true to it's title, presents a concert performance recorded in Japan during the "Voice Of Reason" tour. It also included two new tracks -- the instrumental "Pardon My Zinger" and the "semi-ballad" "More Than You'll Ever Know."
In addition to working on their own music, Harry and Pete have become well-known in the recording and producing world, leading to the formation of their own independent record label - Vespa Music Group. Harry and Pete have both been involved in writing songs for and producing many of the artists on their own label as well as other acts, including: Dr. Rock and The Wild Bunch, Mystery, Lame, Ritual, Xntrik, and their latest project, Fiore.
The next album, Believe, was released on May 25, 1997 in Japan. The album was released in Canada as Karma Cleansing with 2 additional tracks that were previously only available on the "Die Off Hard" single. The band then released the compilation album Live Ones to help support their 2nd tour of Japan. This album was essentially a re-packaging of Live & Acoustic and Live In Japan with the bonus track, "Change Comes Around" (Acoustic). A Special Edition of the album Believe was released in October, 1997 in Japan. This new edition included several remixes (by producer Kevin Elson) as well as the "Full Band" (essentially "electric") version of "Rain" from the "Rain" single, and also a cover of the Cheap Trick song, "Surrender."
After a successful return tour of Japan, the band returned to Canada to perform several concerts. One of these shows was recorded for the live album, Live at The Siren. Also on the album were 2 bonus studio cuts, including the fantastic rocker, "New Religion."
The band returned with their next studio album, Big Bang Theory in June, 1998. This album took the band in a little more modern direction, while still maintaining the classic Harem Scarem sound. Once again, the album was released in two different versions - one for Japan and one for Canada. The majority of the tracks are similar, but there are a few "bonus tracks" on either version. Personally, I prefer the Canadian version, but I still highly recommend both incarnations of the album.
The band followed up Big Bang Theory with a Japanese-only Best Of album. This is simply a compilation of many of the biggest hits over the past 7 years. Also included is the bonus track, "What I Do" - which is also featured on the Canadian release of Big Bang Theory.
The band continues to be very prolific, with several releases within the last year. The B-Sides Collection was released in late November, 1998 and the new studio album, Rubber was released in September, 1999 in Japan. The band will be releasing a Ballads collection in December, 1999 to coincide with a Japanese tour. As you might expect, this album will be a compilation of some of the band's best ballads, plus the addition of two new tracks.
The Rubber album will be released in Canada in February or March of 2000. This will be the first official release under the new band name of Rubber. For the time being, the band will continue to exist as a "split personality" with the Harem Scarem name in Japan and the Rubber name in the rest of the world.
There are lots of strange stories about where the name Harem Scarem originally came from (believe me, I've heard them all!) It's really not that big a mystery -- everyone always assumes that there is a big story behind the naming of a band (especially when the name is as unique as Harem Scarem!) However, the real story is simply that "Harem Scarem" is the name of the first Bugs Bunny cartoon. At the time the guys needed a name for the band, they were fans of Bugs Bunny and thought it would make a good name for the band!