HAREM SCAREM Reissues Mood Swings – “Fortunately In Europe And Asia Specifically, We Had A Lot Of Luck And We Sold A Lot Of Records”
April 20, 2023, a month ago
With grunge being all the rage in 1993, some hair metal bands opted to stop spraying their hair, ditch spandex for flannel, and adjust their musical approach accordingly. Harem Scarem were one of the few bold enough to stick to their stylistic guns with their sophomore album, Mood Swings. If issued a few years earlier, the album would have certainly fit in better with the then MTV-approved melodic metal chart toppers, but in 1993, it proved to be detrimental. However, Mood Swings sold well in other parts of the world - resulting in the album recently getting the box set treatment. Harem Scarem singer Harry Hess recently spoke with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato about the box set, the story behind Mood Swings, and how his band survived the early ‘90s.
BraveWords: How did the Mood Swings reissue come about?
Harry Hess: “I’ve been a mastering engineer for about 14/15 years now, as well as being a musician. So, when I first heard about Sing, it was through Raine Maida from Our Lady Peace. We had a discussion about…I guess it was during COVID actually, where he was kind of digging in deep with all this tech stuff and figuring out lots of things in that space where they were starting off trying to mint NFT’s - like music NFT's. So, fast forward to last year at the end of the year, we kind of rekindled the conversation, and because of all the mastering stuff that I was doing, I would be getting a lot of clients that would ask me, ‘How do I get vinyl?’ or ‘How do I get my stuff up on Spotify or Apple Music?’ So, I've always been heavily involved in conversations regarding final masters and audio preparation of that, and then the technology that goes behind it - to kind of get it out to the world. All these conversations kind of led me to coming back to Sing and talking to them, their CEO and their whole team about marrying the two worlds together of all the physical stuff that's out there.
“So, CD's, vinyl most importantly over the last few years, and then merging it together with digital technology. So, in a nutshell, Sing is now a platform where you can buy physical stuff and digital stuff all bundled together, and then that gets thrown out there to the world for the fans to buy. And in the case of Harem Scarem, we thought, ‘OK, this is a really cool idea. Let's see if we can put together a project like a pilot project, to test out that everything's working properly and what we think we're doing is actually going to happen.’ So, I brought Andy Curran in on this idea, he loved it, and we thought, ‘Let's start with a 30 year anniversary of the Mood Swings record for Harem Scarem and his 30 year anniversary release [Whiskey & the Devil].’ We did that about four weeks ago now, and pleasantly surprised that it's working out really good, and we're getting the message out to our fan base and letting them know that we've done these reissues. So, they're limited edition vinyl reissues. In my case, we have a CD with five bonus tracks on it and then a bunch of digital content as well, and we bundled them up together and we're selling them on Sing Market – so, singmarket.com.
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the Mood Swings album a bit.
Harry Hess: “We came with our first record in 1991, and Mood Swings came out in 1993. Oddly for us, our first record we had like Canada, Spain, and Portugal. But by the end of the Mood Swings release, we had over 50 countries that had released Mood Swings. So, that was really the record for us that broke us internationally and we really built our fan base on that. And then a lot of fans went back and rediscovered the first record. That was I guess a defining moment for the band internationally. So, when we were looking at doing something to celebrate this anniversary, it was kind of a no brainer that we would want to make a big deal out of 30 years of Mood Swings. And doing the bonus tracks in 2023 was something just to kind of add some new inspiration or value, or the fan base to kind of go, ‘Hey, remember this song? Remember this record?’ But we just kind of reimagined some acoustic versions of key songs that were on the record that we'd never did any acoustic versions of in the past. So, we just want to kind of create some new content and awareness surrounding the release. But yeah, Mood Swings was the kind of our biggest record for us.”
BraveWords: What are some of your favorite tracks from Mood Swings?
Harry Hess: “‘No Justice’ is a standout track. It was released as a first single here in Canada, and that was the only song that we made a proper video for. So, that was kind of like the song that we went out to the world with on that record. Another single was ‘If There Was a Time,’ that did very well for us in Europe. And one of the favorites for me was ‘Saviors Never Cry,’ and ‘Change Comes Around’ was another song that it's been in our live show since day one, and we still play to this day - both those tracks.”
BraveWords: When the Mood Swings album first came out, do you think the rise of grunge and alt-rock prevented it from reaching a wider audience?
Harry Hess: “Yeah, definitely. And even the first one, as well. Based on the way the band looked and sounded at that time, we were definitely lumped into hair metal. I would say in 1991 when Nevermind came out by Nirvana, that really was a turning point for any band that looked and sounded like we did. That was the year we released our first record, so the beginning of our career was kind of the end of that era, and then we had to go through some really, really heavy growing pains - or even to stay alive and afloat, putting out records looking and sounding the way that we did, to be quite honest. But fortunately, like I said with Mood Swings, we just started to get that record out to a really wide audience around the world. And fortunately in Europe and Asia specifically, we had a lot of luck and we sold a lot of records. So, if it hadn't been for that, we would have been dropped by our record company and probably never would have gotten past making two records.
“But our career would have been probably over before it even really began - if it wasn't for the international success of Mood Swings. But you're absolutely right, that whole grunge thing came along, and oddly enough, I liked a lot of it - I grew up listening to heavier music. But when we wrote songs and what we were doing, it was a lot lighter. Just what we did organically and the way that I sang and we wrote songs and our production aesthetic was closer to Def Leppard than it was to Dio. So, there were definitely some years where we were really up against it. But I think at the advent of the Internet and people seeing who we were globally, we just started to get a little fan base around the world that supported what we were doing. So, we were able to continue to make records, kind of live a little bit in a bubble for many, many years, and then it just kept going from there. We just kept making records and growing our fan base, and even though we were definitely not the flavor of the month, we weren't on the radio, we weren't really getting any kind of support outside of just building a fan base - that went on for 30 plus years. So, it's been a very bizarre career in that sense.”
BraveWords: Is it true that the band’s name came from a Bugs Bunny cartoon?
Harry Hess: “Yeah. It seemed like a funny/good idea at the time 30 years ago when we were teenagers - not so funny anymore. But we made our bed at that time. A lot of people think it's actually based on an Elvis movie - I guess he had a there was an Elvis movie called Harum Scarum that was spelled differently - but we didn't even know that at the time. This was pre-Internet, pre-Googling everything - so we just we just kind of thought that was some funny little name. And a lot of people thought, ‘Well, there's a look about the band’ - I guess the two worlds kind of collided together, and there's a look and a sound that was indicative of the name and it all seemed to make sense. And honestly at the time, we really didn't care that much or think that much about a band name - we were just more interested in making records, getting out there, and playing. So, the band name was an afterthought and were very, very low on the list of priorities. But little do you realize that these names stick with you forever once you start putting out records and building a fan base - so we we've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the band name. But for better for worse, we've soldiered on with it.”
Harry Hess: “We're actually booking some shows for the end of the year. Heading off to Europe - we've signed on to do a festival in Belgium on December 9th, I think we're doing Portugal on December 2nd, we're booking shows in Switzerland, Italy, a couple shows in Spain. We'll be heading out to Europe around like November/December, and probably playing in Canada before that happens. Typically that's our move - we do some warm up shows in Canada, then we head on over to Europe, and then we'll see about Asia after that.”