Filipino fans have literally waited decades for this show to happen, and finally – Canadian melodic hard rock hit-makers HAREM SCAREM are giving Manila a performance it—honestly—won’t forget.

Photos: Rich McPherson

It was the year 1990. Even though local and international rock music was in full-swing, subgenres like glam and hair metal were about to be overtaken by the moody power and gloomy lyricism of the grunge phenomenon: which was the complete anti-thesis to what music fans had come to understand of rock music back then. If rock music was previously characterized by stadium-sized choruses and grandiose production, grunge went the opposite way and maintained a dark n’ gloomy vibe, in contrast to the standard fare which was pop music, power ballads and well, other trends back in the day.

But there was one band from Toronto, Ontario that firmly held-on to their roots and uncanny knack for coming up with ultra melodic songwriting, well-thought-out lyricism and driving rhythms, yet added an even higher level of sophistication to the sound during that time. You guessed it – Harem Scarem defied the odds, just as audiences around the world did for them.

And the rewards, needless to say, have been a timeless testament to the talents and hard work of vocalist Harry Hess, guitarist Pete Lesperance, drummer Darren Smith and former bassist Mike Gionet. Fueled by two radio singles “Something To Say” and “Honestly,” both tunes off the band’s self-titled debut exploded worldwide despite the fact that it was very challenging for a band from Canada to easily hit the proverbial bull’s eye. To this day, both songs are still being played on radio, and the band’s loyal Filipino fan-base have patiently waited throughout the years. The band’s follow-up release Mood Swings proved to win-over even more solid music fans, as the band once again, upped-the-ante and came out with almost a 100% hit rate amongst loyal fans, not to mention a strong following amongst musicians’ circles, particularly guitarists whose jaws dropped at both the technical proficiency and melodically inventive guitar lines, riffs and solos of Lesperance.

And despite the coming and going of music trends through the decades that followed, Harem Scarem consistently released even more studio albums throughout the late 90s into the millennium, always moving forward with both songwriting style and musical direction. Yet by 2008, many fans were saddened when singer Hess announced that the band would make one final album and call it a day. Though there was no love lost amongst its members, it just seemed like a good run already by that time.

Fortunately enough for all of us, five years later in 2013, the band decided to reunite and start touring all over again. Armed with new songs and undeniably fired-up by the enthusiasm longtime fans had for the band to start playing again with the release of the album Thirteen. And just last year in 2017, the band released what is arguably one of their strongest albums to date: United, whose carrier single “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” became of the most frequently played favorites on Jam 88.3’s very own glam rock/AOR show Adults Only Radio hosted by Joey D. and Bennii O.

And the rewards, needless to say, have been a timeless testament to the talents and hard work of vocalist Harry Hess, guitarist Pete Lesperance, drummer Darren Smith and former bassist Mike Gionet. Fueled by two radio singles “Something To Say” and “Honestly,” both tunes off the band’s self-titled debut exploded worldwide despite the fact that it was very challenging for a band from Canada to easily hit the proverbial bull’s eye. To this day, both songs are still being played on radio, and the band’s loyal Filipino fan-base have patiently waited throughout the years. The band’s follow-up release Mood Swings proved to win-over even more solid music fans, as the band once again, upped-the-ante and came out with almost a 100% hit rate amongst loyal fans, not to mention a strong following amongst musicians’ circles, particularly guitarists whose jaws dropped at both the technical proficiency and melodically inventive guitar lines, riffs and solos of Lesperance.

And despite the coming and going of music trends through the decades that followed, Harem Scarem consistently released even more studio albums throughout the late 90s into the millennium, always moving forward with both songwriting style and musical direction. Yet by 2008, many fans were saddened when singer Hess announced that the band would make one final album and call it a day. Though there was no love lost amongst its members, it just seemed like a good run already by that time.

Fortunately enough for all of us, five years later in 2013, the band decided to reunite and start touring all over again. Armed with new songs and undeniably fired-up by the enthusiasm longtime fans had for the band to start playing again with the release of the album Thirteen. And just last year in 2017, the band released what is arguably one of their strongest albums to date: United, whose carrier single “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” became of the most frequently played favorites on Jam 88.3’s very own glam rock/AOR show Adults Only Radio hosted by Joey D. and Bennii O.

And finally, through the efforts of Checkpoint Productions, Adults Only Radio and Jam 88.3, the band confirmed late last year that they were indeed, coming to Manila for their long-overdue visit. Performing at the newly opened Johnny B. Good in Makati for a one-night only showcase of their latest and best and vintage tunes on January 24th, the show is expected to be one of the most explosive events early-on in the year 2018.

The Vein was fortunate enough to secure an exclusive interview with the main man himself, Harry Hess.

Hello from Manila, Philippines. We are very stoked that Harem Scarem is finally making it here on our shores. I guess the first question would be: were you and the rest of the members of the band always aware that you had such a strong following in this part of the world?

HH: Our first gold record ever was in the Philippines! So yes, we were aware that our first release did well over there!

Looking back, HS released it’s first demo in 1990 and of course, the major label debut came out in 1991. Can you still remember what was going through your minds when you were creating that album? Did you somehow know you had an awesome amount of material on your hands? 

HH: We were pretty excited about making our first record and had high hopes for it. We were still pretty young and making a record was a dream come true.

Who would you say have been your timeless musical influences, and which artists do you think helped shape the way you constructed songs and develop your trademark excellence for putting-together finely crafted melodies and lyrics? Fans can definitely attest to the fact that even though HS did have a strong pop/melodic sensibility to it, you guys never put-out a bad song!

HH: Thanks, I’ve always loved pop music as well as heavy music, so for me the song has to have a great melody. As I got more into songwriting the lyrics started to matter to me more as well; when you get both right, you’ve usually got a great song.

Let’s talk about another vintage HS disc… Mood Swings. To be honest, even as a fan, I was floored at the level of sophistication and the obvious musical maturity and heaviness of that album. And it was pretty obvious amongst us fans that you guys were really able to top yourselves in every aspect. Was it really that magical a time and would you say that as a band you were peaking during that era?

HH: We worked really hard around that time to become better musicians and writers. Mood Swings was a real leap forward for us as well as a fan favorite. You have to remember that a lot of the songs that were written for the first CD was written when we were teenagers, so by the time Mood Swings was being written, we had a lot more songs and experience.

Personally, I thought it was such an amazing feat that HS was able to survive during a time when grunge was trying to kill-off a lot of melodic, technical music during those years… 

HH: True… it was due to the fact that we were selling records in Asia and Europe that made our North American label happy with us, and wanted us to keep making records.

…And even though the HS sound was reminiscent of everything great about traditional rock n’ roll, you were also very open to experimenting with different styles and never released the same album twice from then-on. What do you think kept your attitudes toward music healthy and that mature? Was it part of the plan or would you say you were just also wingin’ it during the time?

HH: We always tried to push our limits and do something that we found interesting and hoping that our fans would come along for the ride.

Fast forward to 2017. HS releases United and it sounds awesome! Can you tell us a bit about the creation process of the album? Was it easier this time around with the knowledge and experience you gained? What got the ball rolling for you guys to get back together and release another album?

HH: We spent a lot of time writing and recording that record because we wanted to top the last few – if not everything – we’ve ever done. Of course that is a hard thing to do – I’m not sure it it’s our best record, but I would say that we have never made an entire record with all the songs as strong as United

The single “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” (which is currently enjoying heavy rotation on Adults Only Radio on Jam 88.3) seems like such a perfect track that is – again – reminiscent of the vintage sound of the band, but obviously possesses such a strong melodic and lyrical hook and message even for these modern times. Did the songwriting/arranging styles differ this time around, or was it something that just sort of came naturally?

HH: That came very naturally… it was more of a process of finding the right ideas to work on. I started with a lot of chorus ideas, and we built the songs around them…

I’m sure you get this question a lot: do you still listen and enjoy and keep up-to-date with current music? What kind of stuff out there do you find yourself liking, as a songwriter/singer, and as a fan in general? Plus, do you see yourself doing other projects aside from HS, or collaborations?

HH: I don’t listen to as much outside music as I would like, because I spend all day working on music for myself, or other artists… but I still enjoy it.

Obviously, some of your biggest radio hits in Manila are power ballads from your debut record. Both “Honestly” and “Something To Say” are HUGE staples up to this day not just on radio, but almost etched permanently into Filipino culture, be it at music events or small parties and occasions. Can fans expect to hear both at the shows? There are some artists who seemingly avoid playing their hits when they play live, but HS seems to be at peace with both playing well-loved tunes and tunes die-hards would know…

HH: We have played “Honestly” since the early days and “Something to Say” off and on, but yes – we WILL do both in Manilla!

Are there any expectations, or what are you most-excited about for this particular trip to Manila? And what can fans expect from this upcoming HS show? 

HH: This is our first time ever coming over and will be the highlight of the year for us for sure!

Harem Scarem Live in Manila is brought to you by Checkpoint Productions, Adulst Only Radio and Jam 88.3. The event is also supported by Sole Slam, Rilla, Scentsmith, Angus and is a project of the Tourism Promotions Board.

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