If after, oh, 35 years, this whole music thing doesn’t work out for Jay Semko, there’s a career in politics waiting for him.
He can walk the line like the best of the flesh-pressers and vote-getters.
He’s on the phone from his home in Saskatoon prior to heading to Calgary with his band The Northern Pikes to perform Thursday, July 18 at McMahon Stadium during halftime between the Stampeders and the Toronto Argonauts as part of the CFL’s Thursday Night Football concert series.
And kicking things off with a gotcha question, he’s more than ready for it.
Where do his sporting allegiances lie: ’Rider pride or horse power?
“At the end of the day, I’m from Saskatchewan, so it’s a requirement that you be a Roughriders fan,” he says before weaving, or perhaps punting, to please his audience.
He notes that although the Pikes have played many events where there are balls and bats and pucks, and that he watches a lot of sports on TV, he can’t actually claim to be a hardcore fan and follower of any particular team or league.
“So Calgary sounds good,” Semko says and laughs.
Consider that baby kissed and local fans placated.
As they’re certain to be come halftime when the quartet performs a sampler set that will feature a trio of songs — two of them to be of the many hits from The Northern Pikes catalogue, which contains such Canpop gems as Teenland, She Ain’t Pretty, Hopes Go Astray and Things I Do For Money, and one of them to be from the recently released Forest of Love.
It’s the first new album from the quartet in 16 years, and the first to include their current lineup, which features original members Semko, Bryan Potvin and Don Schmid, along with new addition Kevin Kane, originally from The Grapes Of Wrath.
And interestingly it, too, has a lot of Cowtown love connected with it.
Forest of Love was recorded at the National Music Centre’s Studio Bell over a period of 10 days early last year. While well aware of Calgary’s thriving scene and infrastructure through producer friends in the business, including Josh Rob Gwilliam and Troy Kokol, and having even made a solo album at MCC Studios in the city, Semko and the rest of the Pikes were convinced it was the place to relaunch their recording career after a tour of the East Village music hub.
“The thing that really knocked us out was Studio A, which is the big studio there, the space and the vibe, it just felt good,” he says.
“You never know, you just go in and just kind of feel it out, and you go with your instincts and all of us instinctively felt really good there.”
Each of the members brought in either skeletal beginnings of songs or slightly more fleshed-out demos — the album closer, Don’t You Give Up, was actually written in their hotel room in town the night before — with the idea of recording at least one a day, live off-the-floor. Semko says the process was a comfortable and somewhat relaxed one, with, for the first time in the band’s history, just the four musicians taking those tunes into the studio, jamming on them, working them out.
“Some songs retained the original vision of whoever planted the seed of the song,” he says. “The reality is that we credit everybody for songwriting because whoever brings in a song idea it becomes — when everybody adds their own flavour to it, suggestions and musical vibe to it — it becomes a Northern Pikes song.”
He calls it “democratic socialism in action. Once you get in there it’s all for one and one for all, we just wanted to make the best version of the best song that we possibly could.”
That they did, with Forest of Love hearkening back to that classic Pikes sound — hooky prairie pop that’s warm, familiar and comforting — while also freshening it up and pushing it forward.
And while those at the Stamps game on Thursday, or watching at home on TSN, will only get a brief taste of it, they’ll be back in town at the end of August for the Party In the Park concert at WinSport Arena, which also features Styx, Vince Neil, Trooper and 54-40.
Semko says at least six tracks from the new album are making it into most of their sets, which allows them also to deliver those hits they’ve been playing for the past three-and-a-half decades.
“You know what, we’re just really grateful and blessed to be playing music,” he says. “You play live and it’s like you’re somewhere else for a couple of hours.
“You get to be 20 years old again.”
He chuckles. “When you’re with people you really instinctively trust musically and personally, there’s nothing that beats that. It’s pretty cool.”
The Northern Pikes perform the halftime show Thursday, July 18 at McMahon Stadium, and at the Party In the Park festival, which takes place Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 at WinSport Arena.