Possibly the only band to name themselves after a Bugs Bunny episode, the story of Harem Scarem began in 1988 when Oshawa, Ont natives Harry Hess and Darren Smith left their previous band Blind Vengeance and moved to Toronto. Hair metal was the rage, and with Hess on vocals and Smith on drums, they teamed up with guitarist Pete Lesperance, (ex-Minotaur), and Mike Gionet on bass, also a former Oshawa resident.
Hess and Lesperance became the main writing core, and after a full year of rehearsals and writing together without ever playing a show, they put together an 11-song demo in Hess’s makeshift studio. By 1990 they continued their rounds on the circuit while peddling the demos at their shows, which had now been reworked into an independently produced cassette – their self-titled official debut album. They entered a Homegrown Contest put on by Q107 Radio and placed second overall with “Slowly Slipping Away.”
By that summer they were being courted by Warner Music, who reworked the demos with producer Kevin Doyle the following year once the band was signed and re-released the album. Their blend of heavy licks and slick, but stripped down production was heavy yet melodic, starting with the lead off “Hard To Love.” Execs were confident enough in the band that videos supporting the singles “Slowly Slippin’ Away,” the tender piano-driven “Honestly,” “Something To Say” and “Love Reaction” were released. The obligatory power ballads “Distant Memory” and “With A Little Love” showed the band’s versatility, and they worked their way across eastern Canada playing the A Circuit club scene. Along with a few stops out west, their following continued to grow. The record was soon released in parts of Europe, and it eventually sold 30,000 copies in Canada alone. The self-explanatory five-track ep THE ACOUSTIC SESSIONS was released in early ’92.
Their follow-up MOOD SWINGS in ’93 for the most part continued much on the same path. The lead-off “Saviours Never Cry” and “Had Enough” were indicative of the band’s approach – clever hooks and searing vocals, but the instrumental “Mandy” and a cappella “Just Like I Planned” also gave evidence of a maturity in writing. Smith also handled the lead vocals for the first time with “Sentimental Blvd.” The singles “No Justice” and “Change Comes Around” were geared with more of an accessible and palatable texture, and they landed an opening slot with April Wine on a North American tour that fall.
They released the 5 song ep IF THERE WAS A TIME in the spring of ’94, followed by the 7 song LIVE AND ACOUSTIC. By that fall their first record was released in Japan to enough fanfare that Warner released their next project, VOICE OF REASON in the Orient as well. Put out in ’95, Barry Donaghy stepped in as the new bassist after Gionet left following the recording. The ominous thunder of the lead-off title track, and other heavy hitters like “Breathing Sand” and “Paint Thins” offset the melodic power of “Warming A Frozen Rose” and “Let It Go”. Only “Blue” was released as a single, but Japan was quickly becoming one of their biggest markets and the band was met with sold out crowds.
The resulting LIVE IN JAPAN came out in 1996, which the actual Japanese release contained three additional tracks, making it a double cd. Of those, “Pardon My Zinger” and the ballad “More Than You’ll Ever Know” were new songs. Warner’s tactic of the multiple releases, switching them up for imports with additional tracks kept the train going, and gave the members a chance to recharge their batteries.
Though they’d gained ground at home and were a hit in Japan, due at least partially to their willingness to endure constant touring, they weren’t receiving the airplay they’d hoped for in the US. This directly translated to poor record sales and a tougher time getting gigs there. So the label brass issued their next album, BELIEVE in Japan in ’97 twice, the second time around with a few bonuses. A few months later it was released in Canada as KARMA CLEANSING. Two 3-song EPs, DIE OFF YOUNG and RAIN were also released by year’s end.
After working on a pair of MTV Music projects in ’98 with Jon Fiore, who handled the lead vocals on both tracks “Today ‘Til Tomorrow” and “Body Electric.” BIG BANG THEORY hit the shelves late that summer, and the tender piano ballad “In My State of Mind,” put the band’s depth on a pedestal, while the single “New Religion” and “Turn Around” kept their feet planted in melodic metal soil.
Now here’s where history gets tricky… By the end of the ’90s the days of corporate rock were fading, and sensing a change would be in order, and their days with Warner were numbered as well, the band got label blessing to rename itself Rubber. Their reinvented self-titled debut was in the stores that summer. But they kept the Harem Scarem monikor overseas when it was released there shortly after. The lead-off “It’s Gotta Be,” Pool Party,” and “Who-Buddy” had a catchy Elvis Costello or Pretenders feel to them that in ways got the band back to its roots, and at the same time expanded their horizons, getting them away from the metal stereotype.
The change was doing them good. But ironically, the single “Sunshine” became the band’s first Top 20 hit, but wasn’t enough to keep Warner on board. Lesperance took the mic for the lead vocals for the first time on “Trip” – one of the best examples of the new style of the band’s sound. After “Stuck With You” came and quickly left, execs informed the band they were being dropped after one last contractual album, so the upcoming tour was drastically cut. After a series of dates in North America and Japan, original drummer Darren Smith left the group to pursue his side project Juice full-time.
Meanwhile, a barrage of live and studio compilations were unleashed on the world – The Japan-only release THE B-SIDES COLLECTION was released in ’98, complete with 2 CDs of outtakes and live recordings. Shortly after BEST OF HAREM SCAREM, with different tracklistings in Japan than elsewhere, came out. Following were the Japan-only LIVE AT THE SIREN (which included two new studio tracks), and the VHS compilation VIDEO HITS & MORE.
With new drummer Creighton Doane , they released ULTRA FEEL in 2000 – under the Rubber name worldwide. The band had cut arguably their most diverse offering ever, with the straight ahead, stripped down rock with the single “Dragging Me Down,” and tracks like “Forgive,” “Spinning Around,” and “Hopeless.” Lesperance was now contributing more vocals-wise, and sang lead on three of the tracks.
But now without a label, they mostly stayed off the road, concentrating on taking advantage of the break to write at home. Meanwhile Warner released more compilations over the next couple of years, LAST LIVE (which featured two studio tracks – “Lauralie,” again featuring Lesperance on lead vocals, and “Another Nail For My Heart” – a cover of the 1970s Squeeze hit), ROCKS, and VERY BEST OF HAREM SCAREM (including new track “Freedom”) for Japanese fans only.
In 2002 they signed with Marquee Records for WEIGHT OF THE WORLD. Later that year a revised edition of the Japanese version was let loose on Canada courtesy of Bullseye Canada. They followed up the release with an appearance at The Gods Rock Festival in Bradford, UK that summer, and the resulting LIVE AT THE GODS was in people’s stockings by Christmas.
2003’s HIGHER was another Japanese only release mixing melodic metal and modern rock, and featured “Give It To You” and “Run and Hide.” The band was playing less frequently these days, concentrating on their personal lives and outside projects, including lead singer Harry Hess’s first solo album – JUST ANOTHER DAY. Oddly, the record could almost have been considered the third Rubber album, as all the members participated in its production in one way or another.
Touring collectively much less, everyone ventured off to do their own things. By the fall of 2004 Creighton and Lesperance had released their first solo albums – Creighton’s LEARNING MORE & MORE ABOUT LESS & LESS on Bullseye, and Lesperance’s Japan-only DOWN IN IT, which featured a plethora of guest artists, including Mike Turner of Our Lady Peace. Lesperance then got bored and formed Fair Ground as a side project, and re-recorded and re-released his album domestically in 2006.
After Bullseye re-released the video version of LIVE AT THE GODS on DVD, the Japanese exclusive OVERLOAD through Marquee and Avalon was next for the band in 2005. Always experimenting, the album had a darker, moodier sound with tracks like “Dagger”, “Rise & Fall” and “Forgive & Forget”. This however offset the more upbeat “Afterglow” and “All You’re Getting.”
The same year the original demo recording started popping up on Ebay as a really expensive bootleg, so the band officially re-issued the recordings under Bullseye THE EARLY YEARS, which also included a few bonus out-takes from the MOOD SWINGS sessions. Warner released a compilation in their ESSENTIALS series that year.
December, 2006 saw the release of HUMAN NATURE. As was almost always the case, it first hit the Japanese market with a bonus track, with the rest of the world coming the following spring. Backed by tracks like “Next Time Around” and the strong vocal harmonies of “Tomorrow May Be Gone” made the record one of the critics’ favourites of the year.
But with increasing outside interests, the band announced it was going to go their seperate ways following the subsequent tour and one final record. Sporadic dates at home spanned the next few months getting ready for their first show Stateside in over 20 years in October, ’07 at a festival in Ohio. But unable to obtain all of the visas/permits, their date was cancelled. They did however make it Firefest IV in England a few weeks later. In ’08, the show was filmed and in spring of ’08, RAW AND RARE, featuring the complete Firest show, as well as vintage performances and interviews. That same year, a special 5-track acoustic recording was made available only from melodicrock.com, sort of as a “make-up” for having missed the MelodicRock festival the previous fall.
2008 also saw the band release their 12th, and supposedly final full studio album. Released in July, HOPE featured the hard pounding title track, “Watch Your Back,” “Dark Times,” and Calm Before The Storm,” as well as the experimental sythesizers in “Never Too Late,” as well as a renewed vigor in “Time Bomb,” the title track and “Dark Times,” as well as the traditional track listing and bonus tracks between the domestic and Japanese releases.
After again announcing their demiseand the band subsequently released THIS AIN’T OVER – THE BEST OF THE AVALON YEARS Hess, Lesperance and Creighton all lent a hand to “Canadian Idol” runners-up Billy Klippert’s debut album, which featured tracks from Harem Scarem, as well as Hess and Lesperance’s solo albums. Other Idol contestants over the years, such as Aaron Walpole and Suzi Rawn, have also benefited from their combined talents and experience. Hess also owns Vespa Studio outside Toronto and keeps busy producing other acts – such as former Harem Scarem drummer Darren Smith’s 2005 BLACK STAR album, The Kings, John Boswell (of Doug & The Slugs), Maureen Leeson, and Creighton Doane.
Several Harem Scarem tracks also continue to show up now and then on TV and movie soundtracks, including the reality series “30 Days Until I’m Famous” and “Snow Angels,” featuring Kate Beckinsale.