By Carl Begai
Toronto rockers Harem Scarem officially called it quits in 2008 after 20 years in the trenches. Co-founders Harry Hess (vocals) and Pete Lesperance (guitars) led the band through two decades of noteworthy hits and best forgotten misses, gaining considerable respect along the way as songwriters, musicians and producers, eventually bringing them to a point where the band didn’t hold enough promise for the future. Maritime-born drummer Creighton Doane – affectionately known as “Where’s Darren?” in reference Darren Smith, whom he replaced in 2000 – understood the decision to shut things down, but instead of seeking out a new band he opted to devote more time to production work of his own. Two years on he has resurfaced with a new one-man-band solo EP, Pilot Error, which showcases his talents as a musician, singer, and above all a songwriter. A far cry from Harem Scarem’s melodic rock sound, it’s an album that inevitably leaves people who dare to dive in wondering why Doane doesn’t release more music more often.
Harem Scarem’s split was “controversial” in the sense that there was no badmouthing or assorted mudslinging, nor was there any exceptional fanfare. It amounted to the band saying “Thank you, good night” and quietly exiting stage left.
“There were no falling outs or personality problems, it was more a matter of time,” Doane explains. “People were getting busy with other projects and I think it just became one of those things where lives go on and you want to do something else. I wasn’t one of the driving forces in Harem Scarem; I came in about half way through their career, but we certainly enjoyed and continue to enjoy working with each other. I was happy to be a part of the band even though I wasn’t really driving things creatively. It got to the point where Pete and Harry just decided that after 20 years, a lot of releases and records, were they really going to do something that hasn’t been done before? I guess they were asking if they had more to offer and if it was going to be rewarding in light of other things going on, and I think it felt like a respectful time to hang it up.”
“Go out while it’s not a complete mess and you’re still making good music,” he offers. “There’s a risk of becoming redundant and then becoming a parody of yourself. We did some of the European festivals and we saw some of those artists that have become a cartoon, people 10 or 15 years older than us. They still play great, but it’s like they’re living in a bubble. It’s an awesome escape and they’re getting away from the drudgery of every day life, but for us it was the kind of thing where, to do Harem Scarem every once in a while but not at the same level as we’d like to, it just seemed better to put things away. Maybe there’ll be a great opportunity for a reunion, who knows? Everyone in the band gets along famously, we work together all the time, so there’s a sense that it’s not completely over. But still, it was the best thing to do.”
The end result of the split, Pilot Error, is Doane’s third official solo album, but it comes as no surprise to him that people are still generally unaware of his work outside of Harem Scarem.
“My solo career has been very low key” Doane says. “The joke is my releases are in the Friends & Family section of the store (laughs). I’ve been a working side guy my entire adult life, working as a session musician in the studio and on tour. By the time I was 20 I was working in music full time in Toronto, working my way through corporate rock bands, and that evolved into me being more of a guy who’s still playing but doing a lot more production and writing. Through that process, whatever that musical journey is of doing more and wanting to do it better, I really fell for the production side of things.”
Pilot Error is the result of Doane taking time out from his full time job as a producer in the interest of writing and playing music. Although he doesn’t say so, recording and tweaking music in the mix for other people ad nauseum has to get tedious at some point.
“My first album (Gladly The Cross-Eyed Bear) was recorded back in the days when recording albums was a lot harder to do (1998). At that point I’d decided that my next step was to become a singer / songwriter. I wanted to step into that realm, that’s what I was going to do, and the record took me years to make. When I finally put it out there I got some perspective on the whole process, and even though I fell in love with crafting records and working with other people, I realized this is fucking hard work.”
The hard work has paid off, at least in terms of allowing Doane to show what he’s capable of. The EP is perhaps best described as a take on modern day Beatles with No Doubt and Cheap Trick tendencies. Too smart by half for the present day’s cotton candy commercial radio, it would do well with the right major label behind it.
“This is very much a vanity project and very much a personal thing,” says Doane, “and at the same time here I am back in the studio doing what I do. I’m not out promoting it, the internet is a great way to get the word out and connect with the fans, but as far as reaching out to people … that’s a hard job and I’ve already have a couple of those (laughs). So, first and foremost I did Pilot Error for my own enjoyment. The album gives me a chance to showcase my production and my writing, and creatively it was very healthy to go off and do it.”
No surprise, the diversity of Pilot Error’s songs is a direct result of his broad taste in music.
“I wake up in the morning and might listen to classical music, maybe listen to rock, pop and metal over the course of an average day. I’m like you in that I appreciate it all. I’m more at home doing that crazy buffet platter type of record than I am zoning in on one specific sound or genre, but I know that if you’re going to release a record this eclectic you’ve really got to get out there to get it heard.”
Sadly, the expected ready-made audience for his solo work as provided by Harem Scarem’s faithful followers isn’t likely to appear. Doane’s music is too far and away from the band’s trademark accessible rock sound.
“Yeah, in that camp there’s probably a large percentage of fans that isn’t interested at all based on what Harem Scarem went through,” says Doane, referring to the band’s highly unpopular move of changing their name to Rubber in 2000. “Harry has said ‘How do you derail your career? Change the name of the band and do a different style of music for a couple records.’ (laughs). We did that and pretty much alienated our entire audience, so it took a while to get back on track. And again, one of the reasons Harem Scarem disbanded is because everyone wanted to do different things. You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again if you’re a creative person.”
In Doane’s case said creativity leads him down some unexpected and potentially dangerous roads on Pilot Error, including a tongue-in-cheek Lennon / McCartney flavoured “tribute” to the diehard fans. The track in question, ‘F The F’n Fs’, is an instant classic waiting to be discovered.
“I’m sure it’s insulting to some people (laughs) but at the same time I’ve toured all over the world and I’ve seen every kind of good and bad fan behavior. Everyone can relate to the song, I’m sure. It’s an industry song so I may be burning some bridges by saying what’s really going on, but I guess that’s part of my thing; I’m a shit disturber for no reason (laughs). I wish I had more observations like that to write about.”