DARREN JAMES SMITH (HAREM SCAREM) INTERVIEW:
April 29, 2015
In March of this year it was announced that Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel was parting ways with vocalist Darren James Smith, who was being replaced by a new singer. Just a month prior, Smith’s previous band Harem Scarem announced a new gig and interestingly enough promoted it with a poster of the group including Smith. Sleaze Roxx caught up with the multi-talented musician Darren James Smith to discuss his time with, and departure from, Red Dragon Cartel and his future plans with Harem Scarem.
Sleaze Roxx: The first question I have for you is an obvious one — why are you not in Red Dragon Cartel anymore?
Darren James Smith: Well, I got to be careful of the words I choose — I’m not here to badmouth anything or anyone. I just think it wasn’t working enough for me and when the tour was cancelled and stuff, I just couldn’t count on making a living. I’ve always made a living so for me going away, maybe possibly touring and not (laughs), I couldn’t rely on it any longer. It’s Jake’s band — he’s the boss. He calls the shots and it was just odd for me to be in that situation. There are no bad feelings — it’s just my work ethics are a little bit more intense I guess, and I prefer to work and to know that I’m working.
Sleaze Roxx: How long was it brewing that you were thinking of leaving the band?
Darren James Smith: Well, I guess maybe eight months or something. Don’t get me wrong, this was the most exciting rock and roll project I’ve ever been a part of. That was the part of it that was making it difficult to leave, because I really loved singing those songs and I really loved playing in that band — but I’ve always had somewhat of a say in what happened. I knew signing up that that’s the way it was going to be — that was not the issue. You know, I had four months booked for a tour and then a few days before, it’s not happening… and then I’m out of work for months. Contrary to what some people might believe, nobody in rock and roll is guaranteed money (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: I thought that your split from Red Dragon Cartel was handled quite well from a media perspective. You left, they announced a new singer, and all of a sudden you were with Harem Scarem again as their drummer. Do you agree that your split from Red Dragon Cartel was handled well?
Darren James Smith: Well, yeah — I mean everybody wants to know the dirt and there really isn’t any. I didn’t leave to join Harem Scarem — as a matter of fact, I never really ever left Scarem. I’ve always sang on every one of their records or played drums on them. They’re my brothers… these are guys I’ve been playing with since I was a teenager. Harry [Hess] and I were in a band when he was 15 and I was 18 called Blind Vengeance. We’ve been playing together for well over thirty years and if I was available I’d do it. I had to get my drum chops back and I feel like they have come back — it took a little while. We went out to play in Milan for the Frontiers Festival, as well as a gig in Madrid — four days, two shows, two countries, six planes, and seven airports!
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) That’s a lot! When was it decided that you’d be rejoining Harem Scarem as their drummer?
Darren James Smith: Even though I was going to join the Red Dragon Cartel group in Miami, they [Harem Scarem] had a long tour, much longer than the four days we went on, but I couldn’t do it. So instead of getting another drummer they just said, “Okay, well we’ll only do this week, that one week” and then I was going to fly from Madrid to Miami to continue with Red Dragon Cartel. But there was just a bit of a discrepancy in what was going on and it just sort of came to an end. You know, I was really bummed about it — I didn’t want to leave that band but I’m a father first. I’m a provider, so I had to do what I thought was right. Believe me, it wasn’t something I was happy about. I’m going to miss so much playing those songs, but thank God YouTube has got it all covered for me.
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) How does it feel to play drums again with the Harem Scarem guys?
Darren James Smith: Well, I’ll tell you — I always enjoy it. It’s a lot harder than I remember (laughs) but I do a lot of singing with the Scarem troupe. But yeah, I had a great night in Madrid — I could have played two more hours. I was having the greatest time — not to mention I hadn’t slept in three days. And that was weird too because our guitar player [Pete Lesperance] broke his arm so we had to get a sub, so Michale Vassos had to sit in. He had three days to learn it and three gig rehearsals and we’re supposed to be a professional band! So it was like [Interviewer’s note: Darren in a dark voice], “What is going to happen?”
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) But it all turned out well?
Darren James Smith: He did a great job! He’s a professional and that’s the reason why we hired him. He’s a great friend of mine so it all worked out. You know, I play music for a living and I have to keep playing music.
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough. So, you toured with Red Dragon Cartel for about a year. Did you get a chance to write some new material with Jake, and if so, will it ever see the light of day?
Darren James Smith: That was another thing put on the back burner and kept repeatedly. I don’t know what’s happening, whether they’re going to do another record or not. I mean, nobody tells me anything anymore (laughs). As far as I knew, when I was in the band, that wasn’t a priority. Yeah, like I said, I was torn about it and the only person I spoke to about it was my fiance and she kept talking me out of it but I had to do what I had to do and it really sucked. It sucked really bad but…
Sleaze Roxx: What were the highlights for you in terms of your time with Red Dragon Cartel?
Darren James Smith: Well, I’ve said this before, but playing in Red Dragon Cartel was as close as I’d ever be to being in a Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple. It was just so much freedom musically on stage. There were no samples… there were no click… there was none of that. It was just… the songs were different every night. There were just certain cues that Jake would play that would pull us all back in but the freedom I had in that band was wonderful — I really got off on it. We’d try to reinvent the song every time we played it. So yeah, some of the shows we did were great. M3 [Rock Festival, in Columbia, Maryland, on April 26th, 2014] was so much fun. I really enjoyed looking out and seeing all those people with giant trees growing out of them.
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) I was there and you put on a great show! Now, what about your low points in Red Dragon Cartel? Do you have any?
Darren James Smith: Low points… there are a few I’d rather not get into but there was one staff guy that I couldn’t deal with and he kind of sucked the fun out of the room every time he was in it. And that was another deciding factor, but low points… no. I think every minute, other than the minutes that were on stage, were just, “Oh my God!” (laughs). Playing the shows was the highlight of my life — I loved it. It doesn’t matter how big or how small. The Monsters of Rock Cruise was a riot and there were a lot of high points — there were very few lows. Jake is a wonderful man, a great guy, but he’s Jake and he’s going to do what he’s going to do because he’s been in my position before and he didn’t like it. So he’s just taking control, you know — he’s going to go and do what he’s going to and for as long as he’s going to do it.
Sleaze Roxx: Less than ten days after your departure from Red Dragon Cartel, the band announced that bassist Greg Chaisson was being replaced by Anthony Esposito. Was that change brewing while you were still in the band?
Darren James Smith: I don’t want to respond to that because that’s Greg’s business. Yeah, I’m just going to leave it at that. That’s Greg… I love Greg and it was a pleasure playing with him and we’re still very good friends so we talk from time to time. He’s a father as well and you’ve got to put your family first, right? If you don’t, you’re a douche.
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) I recently learned while listening a podcast, I think it was One On One with Mitch Lafon podcast which you co-hosted, that you had a record called ‘Keep The Spirit Alive’ under the name the Darren Smith Band.
Darren James Smith: Well, the band was supposed to be called Black Star but those rascally Germans decided to put my name on the cover. It’s not like I got the coolest rock and roll name in the world but it was initially called Black Star and the label wanted me to do a solo record. I did it when 9-11 happened — I was at the cottage without any TV and I didn’t even know anything had happened until three days after when I called home to my first wife to say, “Hey, how are the kids?” I was up there with all my instruments and recorded and demoed everything by myself. Yeah… I did that. I don’t know how many years ago. It was quite a while ago.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand you’ll be touring with Harem Scarem throughout the summer. Do you have any other plans in the future aside from doing that?
Darren James Smith: I’m going to write with all the people I want to write with. I’ve been hooking up with some people and I’m going to probably do another… I don’t want to say “solo record”, but I’m going to instigate it. So, I’m going to put a band together and I’m just going to do what I do — write music, play music and be the master of my domain.
Sleaze Roxx: Does that mean that we’re going to be seeing you again as a frontman and vocalist of a band in the near future?
Darren James Smith: Oh, I’m sure. I’m a jack of all, master of none, and I prefer to be that — it stops me from getting bored. You know, the Harem Scarem guys don’t tour all that much but we have a Japanese tour and now that I’m able to do it, we have the feelers out to maybe go back to the UK and Europe and do another tour through the summer. I’ve got no shortage of work here. As a matter of fact, I’m in the studio right now. I’ve been hired by Mental Health Canada here to write a campaign song and that’s what I’m doing right now.