On September 11, 2008, I had the chance to chat with Harem Scarem guitarist Pete Lesperance. With Harem Scarem’s final record released, I was curious to find out what was in the works for this gifted musician. As it turns out, he is keeping himself quite busy.
What are your feelings looking back on the last 20 years with Harem Scarem?
It was great. It was a great run, it’s been like my whole gig, my whole life, pretty much, my whole adult life. It’s been really good. It’s been a good time, I’ve met tons of great people, I’ve seen a good share of the world, made a lot of records, made a lot of music with different people that I really enjoy working with. You know, other then the fact that we didn’t sell 10 million records I really don’t have much to complain about. It was all a good experience.
Was it a lot of hard work in the early days getting the band established?
Well, yeah, I mean it’s always a lot of hard work all the way along, anybody that does this, unless they’re a few of the incredibly fortunate ones, realizes that this is a ton of work. It was hard in the beginning, it’s a different animal now, but you know, obviously then we had label support and they did a lot for us and we took a much more do-it-yourself approach in the later years of the band.
So it’s funny, sometimes I look back and I think “no, it was easier in the beginning.” We just kind of played and people liked it, and the label came out, and we got a record deal and blah, blah, blah, you know? So that’s kind of how it went. It was pretty simple for us that way.
Tell us a little bit about the latest Harem Scarem release, Hope.
What do you want to know? I think it’s a good collection of tunes to go out on, it kind of reminds us of a lot of things we’ve done in the past, and it’s something I’m proud of as usual. We finish a record, I mean you kind of always feel that way or else you never put anything out. I think some fans… Well I mean, I don’t have to think, I know some fans have really taken to it and some think it’s too modern, or too whatever… But, it’s just the way it goes, man. Things are what they are.
Do you see yourself working with another band in the future?
It all depends. I’m open to anything. I mean at this point I’m working on a new solo record, I’m doing some production work… I’m doing a bunch of songwriting trying to get covers with different artists and that sort of thing so if something came along… If there was a band that happened to come along and was looking for a hired gun kind of a guitar player thing, I might do that for awhile to get out and do some playing. But mostly I’m more in the studio these days than anything.
Tell us a little bit about Fair Ground.
Fair Ground was a labor of love, unfortunately Fair Ground never flew and that’s partially our own fault because Mike [Turner, formally of Our Lady Peace] and myself we both have studios, and we’re both trying to do a million things at once, and it would really take us kind of getting out there and putting down some cash and going out and playing and losing money where we’re actually making money now, you know what I mean?
It’s too bad, because it was a record I really believed in and I think Mike’s addition to it was great… Unfortunately it just never materialized but again, it’s a record that I think we really did a good job on it and I hope some people do like it.
How has your musical style evolved over the years?
I guess it depends on who you ask. Obviously again we started out as a real AOR style band… Guitar playing was everything to me, that’s the kind of thing I focused on, and it just all totally changed over the years. Like you said, it’s been 20 years, so that’s a long time. I kind of stopped caring as much about the guitar thing at one point and then sort of got back into it and… It just changes all the time and quite frankly I listen to very little music now mostly because I’m kind of too busy making music.
But there’s not a whole lot out there – especially in the Rock world – there’s not a lot that I listen to. If I’m going to listen to Rock, I listen to maybe Foo Fighters or My Chemical Romance… stuff like that. But again, it’s not a big thing for me.
The Harem Scarem website lists your musical influences as Eddie Van Halen, Brian May, Nuno Bettencourt, and Steve Vai. Are there any other guitarists and artists that are influencing you now?
Well that’s kind of going back to the last question… All those guys, that was an influence when I was 20. Last 10 years, I couldn’t tell you what any of those guys are doing. It’s not that I don’t enjoy their playing, it’s just that I haven’t been following it that much.
When did you start playing guitar, and what other instruments do you play?
I play kind of everything enough to sort of write on… I write on piano, and play bass, do whatever I have to do, kind of a multi-instrumentalist I guess. And I started playing guitar when I was 8, actually. Long time ago. Long, long time ago. Feels like a long time ago.
Do you have any advice for guitarists?
Write songs, and actually sing if you can. And if you can’t, figure out how because that’s really where you express yourself. I mean you can obviously still express yourself as a guitarist but over the last few years I’ve kind of figured out that if you want to say something the best way to say it is actually say it.
I would recommend just being a well-rounded musician. Sing, play everything you can play, learn everything you can learn, and don’t think that the buck stops at the guitar because it doesn’t. That doesn’t mean that you still don’t have to practice 6 hours a day to get good at it, but the world doesn’t end there.
Would you put emphasis on good songwriting skills as well?
Absolutely. I mean for me… You know, there’s a lot of great, great singers that don’t write their own songs and a lot of great guitar players that play in bands that they don’t write the songs, they just write their guitar parts and whatever, but… For my money, yeah, songwriting’s kind of where it’s at.
It’s the most fun, too. It’s the most expressive thing you can do is create something and when you’re writing the whole thing and you’re singing it or writing the lyrics or whatever you’re really kind of putting it out there, that’s the whole point I think.
Are there any particular practice methods or routines that have really made a difference for you?
Yeah, probably, a long time ago… I mean, I think the thing is consistency and the way of timing. Always play with a click track when you’re rehearsing things and break it down into small parts. Whatever the thing is if you’re trying to do like that… I see a lot of these crazy shred guys and it’s great in some ways, I just can’t wrap my brain around the playing though because it’s not executed properly, you know what I mean? Or you can tell they’ve done just that one riff and if you asked them to do half of it they couldn’t. They couldn’t break it down, therefore you can’t apply that other part of the riff to something else. I would really recommend breaking things down into smaller bits and just breaking down whatever barriers stopping your hands from doing what’s in your head.
Would you say that tone is more in your hands or more in your gear?
I’d say it’s absolutely more in your hands. It’s not a big thing for me. I mean I play through Line 6 stuff because it sounds good. I’m sure there’s stuff that potentially sounds better… There’s probably a lot of great tube stuff out there that I don’t know or care about. Just cause you plug the POD in with a great tube preamp, and it sounds pretty good to me. I mean that’s what I’ve been using as the main chunk of my sound for the last probably… I don’t know, 8 years, since they first came out with the POD.
So, you know, I really do believe that it’s in your hands because people can tell it’s me playing or whoever playing, I’m sure. No matter what they’re playing through, if you know a player’s style, that’s what’s coming through, and it’s going to come through whether you’re playing through a Marshall or a POD or whatever, it doesn’t really matter to me as long as it sounds good. You get out of the starting gate with a good piece of gear and the rest is in your hands.
You’re often playing guitar on other people’s projects. What does it take to be a good studio musician?
I don’t know, I guess trying to have some flexibility. It’s hard to keep on top of it, because there’s a lot of stuff out there, and there’s a lot of guys that are more kind of noise-maker-y guys, and then there are guys that are more technical guys… I think it’s really kind of ideal to do a little bit of everything. Especially as far as being a studio player, you’re going to get called for a lot of things and it’s really good to have a little bit of everything. Be able to fake everything. As long as I can fake everything, I’m alright.
How do you connect with other musicians and bands?
It all depends. Generally they find me. I’ve got a MySpace page, I’ve got a Facebook page, I’ve got the petelesperance.com. If people want to find me, I’m not that hard, I’m the only Pete Lesperance in the book basically so… You Google me, you’ll find something about me.
I’ve just been approached by different people that way, sometimes work comes through other people because we’re all kind of doing the same thing, the whole circle. Everybody’s a producer, and everybody’s working on something or trying to get something going on so it makes for a lot of opportunities.
You did a video of a vocal/piano arrangement of “Boy Without A Clue”. Can we expect more vocal/piano arrangements in the future?
Oh yeah, tons. I just got the website back up, actually, so I’m just getting together some video stuff. I want to put together videos of the new record I’m working on, the solo record, and I want to make sure people can hear the tunes before they buy the record so I’m just going to put up me and an acoustic guitar, just playing the songs and see what people think. So there’s going to be tons of new video stuff coming.
I’m probably going to do some guitar stuff too, at some point, I’m just not sure what yet. But I’ve got a page up on my website called Guitar Shop where guitar players can write in and ask questions or whatever, comment on whatever. And I’ll post it, and post a return, you know, that kind of thing. So if there’s anything in there that ends up being ideas for videos then maybe I’ll do those.
Where do you see the music industry going, and where would you like to see it go?
Deeper into the toilet on both accounts [laughs]. No. It’s a bad time, it’s that simple. It’s a bad time out there and look for new opportunities. There are definitely still opportunities for people that want to make music, and especially for young bands. If you’re in a great band, and you’re ready to get in the van and go out across country and make friends and make fans everywhere you go, then life’s great.
The merch thing’s still happening, live performance is still happening, unfortunately record sales is… That’s pretty much over. Inside the business these days, it’s far more about finding new revenue streams than clamoring on to the old ones.
Do you have any advice for people that are trying to get established in the music industry?
Run. Just run [laughs]. No. If you can do anything else, do it. No, I don’t know, trying to get established? Multimedia. Do everything. Just have everything, just put as much out there as you can. Do videos, I mean every artist is doing that now, you’re watching people going to the mall. And this artists is “oh, look! I’m taking you to the mall” and it’s kind of fun and everything.
It’s really just hard to get heard, that’s the thing. You need to do something that will separate you from the other people, which is very difficult these days because a lot has been done, a lot is being done, and everyone’s trying to do it now. The dream is still alive, it’s just not paying anymore.
What are some important skills to have in the music industry?
Stick-to-it-iveness. Persistence. Persistence is everything, and if you give up the first time, unless you’re one of the very, very few, well you’re going to give up, so you kind of got to be prepared for the long haul for the most part, I think. And realize that once again, the days of getting the big record deal and seeing a ton of money right away and all that kind of stuff… I think those days are really, really over and people need to grasp that what actually is out there is a whole lot of work and a whole lot of love in music.
If you love music and you’re stuck with it, then that’s what you’re going to have to do, probably. But again, it’s a great life. It’s not to make it sound like it’s not good doing the work.
Is it hard to balance the business side and performance side of music?
Yeah, it kind of is because you’re sitting behind a computer working on a website or making a video, or doing whatever, which is great too, but really it has nothing to do with getting out there and connecting with people or… You know, the business side even like you said, it’s so much more than it used to be for the artists now.
They used to have a publicist, and had this, and had that, and well you don’t really have that anymore, no one does, hardly. If you’re trying to get out there, you still need that so you’ve got to be that, or you’ve got to hire a company that does that. There’s a lot of new companies out there that are pretty savvy in doing what they can do. Again, I keep going back to the same thing. It’s just a tougher burn these days but success is still available.
You have a new solo record on the way. What can we expect?
I don’t know. I’m not exactly sure yet. I’m working on it, the songs are pretty much done. Some lyrical things to finish, but I’m not exactly sure. I’m still thinking about directions as far as which way I want to go as far as the production and that sort of thing, because they’re all written either on piano or on acoustic guitar so they could be anything. They could be really sparse, or a lot of them could be done up as Rock tracks, I really don’t know yet.
I’m going to see what happens when I start recording it but it’s kind of like the Fair Ground record, it’s a record full of things that I think and hope are good songs and that will connect with people.
What else can we expect from you in the future?
We’ll see, I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going to be coming around the corner. Working on a lot of different things, working really focusing on the songwriting, trying to make a dent with that, and that’s kind of where it’s at right now. Who knows what is to come, but the Scarem thing I don’t see that happening. We’ve put that to rest I think.
And I’m hoping to get out and do some playing. I might even just go do some playing just around Toronto and some smaller clubs, and that sort of thing. Just doing acoustic sets of my own stuff. But it’s pretty up in the air right now. Mostly behind-the-scenes work I would think.
Thank you very much for your time.
No problem, David. Thank you.