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Jess Harnell


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Jess Harnell, best known as singer in Loud And Clear, Rock Sugar and the voice of Cartman in the Southpark video game. He also provided the voices of Wakko Warner from Animaniacs, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon from Spyro: A Hero's Tail, Scary Terry from Rick & Morty, Ki-Adi Mundi and Darth Maul from Star Wars video games, Captain Hero from Drawn Together, Ironhide from Transformers and many more. He expands on his singing career and what the future holds with regard to new music and live gigs.


Who were your influences in the early days and have you always wanted to be a singer in a band?


At first I thought I was going to be an actor as I had a history of doing some kinda Broadway shows and stuff when I was a little kid and I even had my own little local tv show that was like a child’s version of American Idol in Philadelphia where I grew up. When I as about thirteen or fourteen I had been aware of Rock music for a while and then I heard Steve Perry sing and I wanted to sing like that! Every day after school I would take out my brother’s album of “Infinity” and I would sing a long until I knew all the riffs and all the ways he was doing stuff. It’s kinda funny because I think that’s the same thing he did with Sam Cooke at that age. So that’s what started it and I thought, this acting thing is cool but being in a band is cooler!


Have you ever auditioned for the vocal spot in any other notable bands?


Yeah, there were conversations over the years with several notable bands. I don’t know what I’m legally allowed or not allowed to talk about. I can tell you that in the late eighties when Steve Perry left Journey I got a phone call from Jonathan Cain and I thought it was someone prank-calling me so I hung up on him! He called me right back and proved it was him and he flew me out there and I got to sing with him in his home studio and work on some songs. They weren’t sure what they were going to do and eventually decided to disband and do Bad English instead. That was a great experience and there have been conversations over the years including one for a band that you would know but the deal was unbelievably bad! 


You have appeared on a number of albums over the years. Do you have a favourite and why?


My favourite albums I think, even though I’ve been blessed to sing on a lot of albums, both as a lead singer and a studio singer, which is where I made my living for several years and I still do a little bit of it now and then. I think my favourite albums would be the Rock Sugar albums, even though we wrote all the material on the Loud And Clear albums and I love those songs, I think had some of them come out several years earlier had the potential to have been very big songs in the Melodic Rock genre but we were a little bit late for that. The Rock Sugar albums gave us an opportunity to reinvent songs that we loved. Our only rule was when we were choosing which Pop and Rock songs to mash up together was, were these great songs. I also go to exorcise my day job by imitating a lot of my favourite singers because a large part of my day is spent doing impressions of other people. On the Rock Sugar records I got to pay tribute to the many singers who’ve been important to me over the years. It was really a lot of fun and I enjoyed it very much.


Do you have any plans to release another solo album?


You know that’s funny. I’ve been kicking around in the back of my head because we have an amazing engineer who worked on the Rock Sugar records. His name is Yossi Shakked and he lives in California. If ever a band wanted a big production, like Mutt Lange proportions, but on a more affordable budget, then he’s your man. I can’t recommend this guy highly enough. I’ve had some thoughts on pulling some tracks together and going in and singing them and maybe doing that. It’s not off the table and it’s not on the table because the table’s pretty crowded! It’s something I’m not going to say never to as I enjoy it and I love making music and singing great songs.


Some vocalists are on strict dietary regimes or gargle with special liquids. How have you kept your voice in tip top shape all these years?


As far as a strict dietary regime there’s none of that going on! I try and not let things get out of control with food. Many of you may know or may not, I have never had a drink of alcohol or smoked a cigarette or joint or taken a drug. That’s not coming from any sort of judgemental place or holier-than-though attitude. It’s more to do with thinking if I tried it I would probably like it and then that would become a problem, and I like to avoid problems rather than walk into them. As far as keeping my voice in tip top shape, the important thing, well there’s a few things. The first one is to realise it’s a muscle and if you don’t work it out your gonna lose it and then you’re going to have to work it harder to bring it back around. Fortunately my job puts vocal demands on me all the time so I generally get a work out most of the time I’m at work. The other thing is, when my voice gets tired, particularly when Rock Sugar was doing a lot of live shows. I would be working all week on doing voices for cartoons then hit the road at the weekend and scream my head off and then come back and do the cartoon thing again. Once in a while my voice would decide to take a vacation without inviting me! So the most important thing at those times I can recommend to a singer is shut up! It’s not whispering as whispering is harder than talking. You can’t laugh, if you do laugh you’ve got to hiss through your teeth as that’s protects your chords. So basically the best thing you can do if your voice starts to go is be as quiet as you can for as long as you can.


Do you still get the same buzz out of singing live as you did in the past?


Sure I do. Especially with the Rock Sugar thing as we’re blessed that people love it as much as they do. I don’t know if that’s as much to do with us or the fact that we’re doing great songs. I also love to look to my sides and see my oldest pal Chuck Duran on guitar, his musical genius and he’s such a great guy, and Mykal Caputo on bass who’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known and on the drums we’ve got ‘The Thunder’, Kevin Kapler. So whenever I’m on stage and I look in front of me people having a blast and looking around me I see people I love dearly it’s a fortunate place to be. If I’m really lucky I can see my wife side stage or out front and that’s a bonus!


Are there any musicians that you have not worked with, but would like to in the future?


Sure there are. The list is endless! Paul McCartney would certainly be an honour to work with. If I had to pick 3 or 4, McCartney would be top of the list because I’m such a huge Beatles fan. Steve Perry, I love David Coverdale, Don Henley, Robert Plant, there’s all these people that influenced me when I was just getting started. That’s without even tapping into the guitar players and songwriters that I have great respect for.


You seem to be involved in a lot of different forms of media throughout your career. Acting, theatre, tv work, voiceovers and obviously live music. Do you enjoy all aspects of your work and would you consider yourself an actor who can sing or a singer who can act?


It’s no wonder you’re a journalist Stuart, these are great, unusual and inciteful questions! So thank you for asking them. I have been inordinately blessed because since I was eighteen/nineteen I have only earned a living with my voice and there’s a lot of really talented people who don’t get a shot. Your question sort of answers in itself as I discovered I could cover a lot of ground with my voice. I could sing in Rock bands and knew how to front a band, I could sing in commercials and change the sound of my voice to suit what they wanted, I could do soundalikes which was singing impressions of other singers when they didn’t have to budget to pay whoever to sing. I could announce tv shows, do voice matches for celebrities when they were not available. All of these things are vocally related and that is what has given me a long and wonderful career. Am I an actor who sings or a singer who acts? That’s a good question! I gotta go with both! It started with an actor who sang, then it became a singer who acted.


Have you or would you consider producing other bands?


I’ve never been asked that. I have great respect for great producers, and I have not as much respect for bad producers, and I have worked with both! One guy who inspires me is Harry Hess. Every time I see his name on a record he’s produced I want to buy it because I know how good it’ll be! The same with Erik Martensson, that guy is so multi-talented. I have directed animation and voiceover and vocal sessions but not for albums. I think it would be a fun thing to do if schedules permitted and the idea seemed cool in all fronts because I think I could get good performances out of people.


Is there a possibility of another Loud And Clear album, it’s been a while?


Yes it’s been a while. All those songs were written a long time ago when things were different but you never say never. Chuck Duran, my songwriting partner, has a very busy life producing voiceover demos and we haven’t written a new song in years but I like to believe if we tried we could.


You appear to have been incredibly busy throughout your career. What do you enjoy on your downtime?


These things have changed over the years and a few years ago I met my now wife Cara and ever since she came into my life I want to maximise my time with her. I look back over my life and I’ve been blessed to do so much stuff and it was never a priority of mine to stay home and relax, but it is now. Just chilling at home watching tv and movies with the wife.


With the live circuit back up and running, is there a possibility of seeing you perform in the UK again?


Absolutely, I’d like to think that there is. We did the Download Festival twice, we were so proud to do that and have people to like it. Of course Loud And Clear did Firefest which was a fantastic gig. We would love to have that opportunity again. So if any of you promoters out there are reading this and you want to have the world’s craziest Rock/Pop mash up band come and confuse people then let us know because it would be great to get back over there. In fact that would be at the top of my list of places I’d most like to play, followed only by Tokyo because we never made it over to Japan.


Do you have anything else in the pipeline at the moment that you can share?


There’s always stuff in the pipeline. I’m going to a job I didn’t know about 48 hours ago where I do the voice of Marlin, Nemo’s father, for Lego short. So you never know what’s coming. I’m working on a new kid’s cartoon called ‘Batwheels’, another one called ‘Firebuds’. Another called ‘Robogobo’ where I play a monkey who’s like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. It’s not that far a stretch as Steven’s got a lot of energy and swings from a lot of stuff too! [laughs] There’s always something going on but even sitting holding hands with my girl, that’s been a good day.


 




 

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