Insurgent Country

"Jay Semko’s new, self-titled album is a lively and occasionally moody mix of rock and country, the whole set rounded out by one hairy, electric gospel number. Jay Semko's back and he's knocking down mountains." Rating: 5 out of 5 - Bill Robertson, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix


"Jay Semko, chief singer-songwriter of Canadian pop icons The Northern Pikes, feels like a kid again. More accurately, a kid making a comeback." - Marshall Ward, Waterloo Chronicle



New Brunswick Telegraph

The Northern Pike continues his quiet solo career, away from the boisterous pop of the band. Best known as the singer and writer of thoughtful fist-pumpers Teenland and Things I Do For Money, Semko's more comfortable here, laid-back and a little alt-countryish. Many of the tracks feature pedal steel to great effect, and the down-home feel keeps going with guest harmonies from Serena Ryder and Theresa Sokyrka, who's not the only homey from Saskatchewan: Pikemate Bryan Potvin guest-guitars for several tunes, as well.

The disc's best songs are prairie home companions, including the title track and the heart-tugging Saskatoon Smile. Always a keen observer, Semko now has a more sentimental and reflective style than his Teenland reporting days.




 "Jay Semko also shows a real knack for creating some off-beat tunes - songs like Before You Leave Canada, Mountain Song, and Love You For A Million Miles all carry interesting and different messages. Girl Who Can Whistle, featuring Alana Levandoski, brings yet another musical sidetrip in what Jay Semko offers us...and he presents even more diversity with his country/folk/gospel flavoured Drop You In The Water, this one featuring New Brunswick bluesman Matt Andersen on guitar and vocals." - Larry Delaney, Country Music News -










Jay Semko - "Sending Love with new album on Valentine’s Day"

Saskatchewan’s Jay Semko is best known as the frontman for the iconic pop band the Northern Pikes, but he’s also one of the country’s most significant songwriters. Semko has written Canadian classics like “Things I Do For Money” and “Girl With a Problem.” He also worked for many years as a film and television composer, and was twice Gemini-nominated for his original scores for Due South.

In recent years, Semko has turned his creative imagination to solo projects. And today, Feb. 14, he’s releasing his ninth solo album, appropriately titled Sending Love. When Semko talks about the impetus for the record he says, “In a nutshell, the four-letter-word ‘love’ is what really inspired the whole album.”

Semko sees the title track for the record as “a combination of spiritual and relationship. I don’t know where the line crosses there. I don’t know if there is a line. And often deep love, and there are so many different forms of love, can be a combination of physical, personal, spiritual. And I left that topic really open.”

Semko’s life journey hasn’t always been easy, and he’s worked through his fair share of personal challenges. The last five years have brought some positive changes in his life, though. The extremely personal nature of Sending Love is due, in part, to new perspectives he’s gained in that time:

Despite the universal nature of love songs, Semko says making Sending Love was “very much a journey, because I really didn’t know what kind of a record I was going to make. I knew I wasn’t going to make as country-sounding a record as I had with the self-titled Jay Semko from 2010. I knew it was going to be a little different from that.”

In the end, Semko found himself at Calgary’s MCC Recording Studio playing everything from electric guitar, to acoustic guitars, all the keyboards and all the percussion. He even sang some of his own backing vocals. Some other great players joined Semko for the recording, but he says he “just totally went with instinct. That’s something I’ve really learned over the last two or three years, is to trust my instincts when it comes to musical ideas. Being a somewhat analytical person sometimes I tend to take a second look, take a third look, take a fourth look, and then really become so over-obsessed with things. And this time I consciously said ‘No, just go with it. Go with those musical ideas. If that loop sounds good just use it. If that mix sounds good, even though you only spent two hours on it, why mess with it? Let’s make it happen here.’”

Semko explains further: “I did consciously set out to make an album of love songs, and that’s really what it was, and once I got into it I realized things aren’t exactly going to be perfect all the time, but you can at least aspire to that. That’s what really ends up happening on this record, lyrically and musically. It’s aspiring to perfection in a relationship, aspiring to remaining optimistic in the face of sometimes difficult situations. The song “Nothing Left But Love” is sort of, when you strip it all away – that’s it, really. Whether that be a one-on-one relationship or any kind of relationships.” - Shauna Power - - Feb. 14, 2012




May 2, 2012

By: Lindsay Seewalt, Cochrane Eagle  

Jay SemFrom the steel-studded glare of a bustling Toronto to the open prairie skies of Saskatoon, the Northern Pikes’ singer/songwriter and bassist, Jay Semko is as Canadian as they come.

With a hearty career in the bank and a long history with Canadian rock band, the Northern Pikes, Semko smiles at being able to pack up his acoustic guitar — normally a Gibson J-45 or a Martin D-28 — and put on a solo show, filled with stories of his life as a musician and songs that contain a rich and eclectic mix of country, folk, roots, rock and pop.

On May 12, Semko will be joining the ranks of Tim Williams, Will Hamm, Doug McLean and Terry Kruger who will be hosting various workshops on instruments, as part of the 2012 Cochrane Guitar Show at Frank Wills Memorial Hall from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Following the day’s festivities, Semko will perform, along with local musician, Angus Wilson and special guests at 8 p.m.

“I have more fun playing live now than I ever have before,” said Semko. “I just don’t take myself too seriously.”

“I just feel like I’m so lucky to get up and play every day,” said the songwriter, armed with his ninth and most recent, release on Busted Flat Records, Sending Love (2011).

“I kept calling this ‘the romance album’ as I worked on it,” said the song man of his newest release, which he is currently toting cross-country. “All the songs are sewn together in a subconscious stew of love and raw emotion…I just laid everything on the line, straight from the heart both lyrically and musically. . . ”While he’s rocked stages from coast to coast, and continues to do so whenever he plays a show with his fellow Northern Pikers, Semko is in a groove where he enjoys taking a song back to its basics.

“It gets a whole new life blood to it when you strip it down to the bare bones,” said Semko, who these days, seems to be having a good time donning a cowboy hat — with considerations for his newly-found relationship with country music radio stations.

“Even though I’ve been around for a while, I’m relatively new to country music,” he said. “I think people have been very friendly and receptive to what I’m doing.”

The Northern Pikes, who were a four-piece unit from their 1984 inception until their 1993 break-up, reuniting in 1999-present as a trio, wasn’t the only musical mindset for Semko.

In 1993, as The Northern Pikes went on hiatus, television producer Paul Haggis approached Semko about writing the musical score for what would become the Canadian hit TV series, Due South.

“I kind of got lucky in some ways,” reflected Semko. “I never had aspirations to write music for television, but basically the producer for Due South was a fan of the band and approached me when the band was breaking up in 1993.”

One thing led to another, and since his success with writing musical scores in the early nineties, Semko has enjoyed a healthy career of composing various scores for television and film, including orchestral and even vocal compositions.

“It expanded me musically,” said Semko of writing music in so many genres. “Before that, I was always a pop-rock songwriter.”

Semko was recently nominated at the international 2012 Independent Music Awards for Best Gospel Song for the song “Drop You In The Water”. These days Semko finds himself spending a great deal of his time in Nashville, co-writing songs with other artists. Whether writing solo or with a partner, however, Semko said that it’s a craft he will never cease to work on.

“I learned songwriting a lot by osmosis,” he said. “By looking at really good songwriters and seeing what they did.”

 “Songwriting is still the most fun thing I do — it’s challenging. Some parts happen quickly and other parts I’ve had to struggle with.”

 Learn more about the Canadiana troubadour at

 For tickets to the Cochrane Guitar Show, contact Legacy Guitar House at 403-981-1808.


by Bill Robertson, for the Starphoenix April 19, 2012


Saskatoon's Jay Semko is a man in love and on his latest disc, Sending Love, he is doing just that. From out of his heart, from under the covers, from the personal to the universal, this guy's in love.

Playing many of the instruments on all self-written songs, Semko gets things going with the medium slow, acoustic strums of the title track, a careful but firm declaration of his intentions. Sending Love is followed by the wild and woolly, retro rocker Come Get a Little Love, and the sweet vocals and melody of the gentle love song, Undeniably Love. Attentive readers will notice a theme emerging in these titles.

Harmony is a gentle tribute to a smitten couple, with Semko singing in a high voice. In We Shine he layers on those high voices to create a rich harmony. In Sweet Sweet Love, Semko uses a big, big bass to let listeners know that the whole universe is in love with this girl. It's a hypnotizing beat.

In The Moon, the Stars and You the happy couple waltzes in heaven with a bit of mandolin for accompaniment, and there's more mandolin on the slow waltz of For Certain. Sizzlin', on the other hand, sounds like an old Jack Scott tune, with its big stride, low voice and raw harmonica fills. It sizzles.

There's more tender time under the covers in Nothing Left But Love, then Semko goes for an eight and a half minute reprise of the title track to close out this album of wholehearted love and gratitude. Semko's got the love and he wants us all to feel it.

Jay Semko – Jay Semko (Busted Flat) :: Wherein Jay uses his emotive voice to ably express these eleven country cautionary tales of life’s up and downs. Bonus points for writing the greatest cross-border breakup song ever, the humorously hurtin’ “Before You Leave Canada.” 

 - Jefferey Morgan's Media Blackout #237


Jay Semko: Self-titled

Review by: Calvin Daniels 

Yorkton This Week - August 2010 


It is interesting how time evolves the music of some musicians.

Saskatchewan’s Jay Semko is certainly one such artist.

Most readers over the age of 40 will remember Semko as one of the driving forces behind the rock band The Northern Pikes, who still do gigs as many of the bands of that era, Streetheart, Trooper, The Stampeders still do filling a thirst for the old rockers out there to recapture a bit of the past.

Aside from the Pikes Semko has had a solo career, while not having him fill stadiums, has meant a series of really fine CDs.

The best of them might still have been Mouse, a CD which really showed the modern poetic side Semko. It was softer than the Pikes, but still pop/rock/alternative in nature.

With follow-up CDs such as Redberry and International Superstar, Semko began slipping toward the country side of things, a journey now pretty much complete with his recent self-titled effort.

I am not sure what the transformation will mean for some fans. This is not the music of the Pikes, and I’d love him to do Mouse II, but you know, in the end, Semko can do two things; he writes good lyrics, and he can sing.

When you are able to do both with the level of skills, and the input of heart Semko does, the music ultimately wins out.

On this one Semko is helped out on several songs. Kelly Brock chimes in on Nobody’s Watching and Let’s Wake Up the Moon, the latter song being a very nice one. I mention Brock because she is memorable among the hundreds of CDs I have reviewed. I didn’t like her disk, and she was quite upset with the low rating, vowing not to send me her future disks. You know I can’t say I’ve lost sleep over that, but I do remember it.

Then there is Canadian veteran Patricia Conroy helping out on That Kind of Blue. She is a musician always up to accommodate the media.

The same can be said of Semko. We email on occasion on Facebook, and follow each other’s artistic effort.

In this case Semko is solidly country, and not the Nashville tripe either. There is some element of ‘real’ here that works.

The first single release to radio is Comeback Kid, a rockier piece that has a good beat.

For sure one worth having. Check it out at


Country Roads Beckon Semko

By Cam Fuller, Sept. 16, 2010

The StarPhoenix

For a fish out of water, he sure is happy.

Jay Semko, a practitioner of rock and pop for most of his career as a member of the Northern Pikes, is now a country singer-songwriter.

“This is very much a new beginning for me. I feel like a new guy in many ways.” Semko said this week.

His new album, self-titled to herald the new start, features 11 original songs played mostly live off the floor by a band with serious country roots. Counter-intuitively, the first single and video are for the album’s rockiest song, Comeback Kid. Lo and behold, it’s charting on country radio. Semko is going through all the steps, such as visiting each station and introducing himself. The reception has been warm, he reports.

“It’s pretty grass roots. It’s nice to meet people.”

Semko’s solo career has been heading in this direction for awhile. Even in the early days of the Pikes, there was no ban on pedal steel or mandolin, he says. Frequent songwriting trips to Nashville have solidified a sound which ranges from John Mellencampian on the lead-off track Mountain Song to Ian Tyson-esque on That Kind of Blue (with Patricia Conroy) to gospel-blues on the song Drop You in the Water (in the Tom Waits-ish vein of Way Down in the Hole).

It’s a switch which may not have been possible even a few years ago; the music industry ain’t pretty, it just looks that way. And the country music industry used to have very strict purity laws. But if a soul singer like Johnny Reid can win trophies at the Canadian Country Music Awards and if Corb Lund’s shadowy past as a punk rocker can be forgiven and forgotten, anything is possible. For his part, Semko says he feels welcome in his new milieu, although the new direction might puzzle his old fans.

“Every time you try to change things artistically or musically, it’s going to be different for people,” Semko says.

“At the end of the day, I just try to write the best songs that I can.”

Variety is nothing new in Semko’s career. He’s released six solo albums outside of Pikes stuff. That band continues, incidentally, with retro gigs alongside the Stampeders and Loverboy that are a hoot.

“We have more fun playing now than we ever did,” Semko says.

Over the years, he built a successful career writing music for film and TV, including 66 episodes of Due South. He still lives in Saskatoon, but he’s got friends all over the country, in all kinds of music industry positions. But a couple of the closest relationships are right here with Saskatoon singer-songwriter Kim Fontaine and Regina-area producer David J. Taylor. Semko produced Fontaine’s new album Blue Sky Girl. Together they’re the group Semko Fontaine Taylor. Their debut just out, recorded last summer in Semko’s living room, is Heartaches and Numb3rs.

“More than anything, we all just have a lot of fun together,” he says.

There was always a distance between the artist and fan. Now, Semko is having a blast doing house concerts and small shows; one of his favourite gigs was in a Regina Beach art gallery. The Refinery provides another intimate venue that, unlike a bar, promotes listening.

“It’s kind of up to you as an artist what you want to do and how you want to do things. The door is kind of wide open. You’re only limited by your imagination.”


Jay Semko: Self-titled

By Jason Schneider - August 2010

Since the release of 2008’s International Superstar, Jay Semko has made great strides in distancing himself from what he’s best known for: leading Canadian ‘80s legends the Northern Pikes. On that previous solo effort, Semko boldly displayed his transformation into a contemporary roots rock artist and Jay Semko is the next natural step in that evolution. The album’s 11 tracks all bear the stamp of a true songwriting veteran, tailor-made for radio, although without the overbearing qualities that make so much contemporary country hits unlistenable. If anything, Semko today often sounds closer to Jackson Browne or John Prine, especially on the instantly memorable “Nobody’s Watching” and “Girl Who Can Whistle.” If there’s anything about Jay Semko to criticize, it’s that it’s perhaps too well made. But for a consummate pro like Semko, that’s a nice problem to have. He has matured into one of Canada’s premiere roots music artists and it’s about time he gets recognition for it. (Busted Flat)



Exclaim - David McPherson - July 2008

On his third studio record and sixth solo release, Semko steers away from the white line of straight-ahead, radio-friendly pop he was known for with the Northern Pikes, heading instead down the gravel country roads. The result is a soulful, sweet offering that shares similarities with Buck Owens. Recorded in Saskatoon, with several of the songs co-in Nashville, Semko uses these rural locales as further inspiration. As the bassist/vocalist for the Pikes, Semko may not have been an international superstar but he certainly experienced the dark side of life as a rock'n'roller. The title cut is a semi-autobiographical song of hubris and sympathy, where the songwriter makes light of his own troubles using self-mockery as a cathartic experience, painting a picture of where a life of excess can lead. With the weeping of a pedal steel and a playful banjo, he sings of a guy at the end of the bar who is "drunk as a skunk/trying to light a cigar." Semko recently beat his battle with the bottle and as a sober songwriter, his head is much clearer and at peace. That's evident in the disc's dozen tracks, which are some of the catchiest of his career.


Robert Reid- The Record

Jay Semko first enjoyed success as the songwriter-singer-bassist for the Northern Pikes. When the Pikes initiated a six-year hiatus in 1993, Semko turned to writing music for film and TV, including the popular Canadian-made show "Due South".

Despite career success, Semko wrestled with tough personal demons before he decided to head to Nashville and subsequently connected with some local songwriters. The experience provided the basis for a creative rebirth which resulted in International Superstar, released on Kitchener's Busted Flat Records.

Co-produced by Semko and Ross Nykiforuk, the album sounds like a cross between Gram Parsons and Ian Tyson. Semko's approach to country music is hip, informed as it is with an affectionate irony and a big grin.

International Superstar is for country music lovers who have grown weary of the inane fluff that passes for bicep and belly-button country pop.



Kitchener Nightlife - Colin Hunter

It's like something out of a country music ditty: the band split up and so did the marriage, the dog is dying and now the singer is too, one bottle of booze at a time.

Jay Semko's real life so closely resembled a typical country song, he did the only logical thing — he wrote a country song about it.

He was an international superstar,

Standing alone at the end of the bar,

He just pawned off his favourite guitar...

Drunk as a skunk, he just dumped his wife and the bank

took his car..

"Yeah," Semko says on the phone from his Saskatoon home, "that one's semi-autobiographical."

Truth be told, it's mostly autobiographical.

Though it's probably stretching the truth to say Semko was once an "international superstar," he was definitely a national superstar, which is a tall height from which to tumble.

Semko was a founding member and chief songwriter of The Northern Pikes, who during their early 1990s heyday were the most popular band in Canada.

The band was signed to a major record label, had four gold records to their credit and legions of fans singing along with hits like She Ain't Pretty at sold-out concerts across the country.

"And eventually" Semko says, "it got to a point where we kind of imploded."

That implosion led Semko into a dark decade of self-doubt, personal crises and an ever-worsening dependence on prescription drugs and alcohol.

He would emerge from the darkness periodically with in-trospective solo albums, nostalgic reunion gigs with The Northern Pikes and jobs writing music for TV shows and commercials, but every small victory seemed to be followed by a larger defeat. And yeah, his dog. Jet, got really sick.

Finally, after one too many throbbing hangovers, Semko looked in the mirror and had a chat with his reflection.

"I said to myself, 'Look, you've got a choice: you can either get your s*** together or you can resign yourself to the fact that you're probably not going to last much longer and might as well check yourself into the local fleabag and drink yourself to death.' "

And he answered himself: "Wake up, man, wake up."

That was a year and a half ago, just before Semko checked himself into rehab facility and sobered up — for good, he hopes.

"1'vc been clean for well over a year and I feel great. My head is really clear, I'm in pretty good physical shape and I don't wake up with horrible headaches anymore."

It was during his time in rehab that Semko wrote the seeds for what would become his new solo album, due out soon on Kitchener-based Busted Flat Records.

But those seeds flowered into radically different finished songs, since Semko's disposition improved so much during ' the writing process.

"I was starting to feel really good, so I figured I should write some happy songs," he says. "I don't want to go back into the dark again."

The result, International Superstar, is a 12-track collection of country-tinged pop songs that, despite some hard-luck storytelling (like that in the title song), convey a theme of hope, happiness and new beginnings.

When Semko and his two-piece backing band roll into the Circus Room on May 15, Semko will be finally free of the self-doubt and addictions that plagued him even when The Northern Pikes were at their peak of popularity

"I just feel so lucky about where I'm at in my life — lucky that I can still go out and play music," he says.

"I'm like a cat who's in his ninth life, and I'm really making the most of that ninth life."



Fredericton Telegraph Journal - Robert Merserau


For his third solo disc, the Prairie Prince of the Northern Pikes goes on a completely different tangent, putting out a fun country-rock album, roots music akin to what Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds used to do in their infamous New Wave group Rockpile. Checking in from Saskatoon before heading here for Maritime dates, Semko said it came from a chance visit with some other musicians and writers.

"I went down to Nashville, where I have a bunch of friends. I did a bunch of fun, relaxed writing with those friends, and met some new ones, too. And they were all fun, good feeling, which is where I was at," said Semko. "The guys that I wrote with, they know I'm not from a traditional country background, and they felt we didn't have to be genre-specific. We were able to expand, throw ideas around. So the tunes have an angle that way."

The new songs show Semko throwing out a barrage of hooks, plus loads of witty, even laugh-out-loud lines. While never crossing into pure country, they all have a loose, happy vibe, and a twangy edge. Semko introduces a lower, story-telling vocal register for some, leaping back into the higher notes when the catchy chorus comes in. Best of all is the twangy, uptempo You Do That To Me, and the close-to-home title cut. In International Superstar, he mocks the once-climbing music star now reduced to spending nights in a crummy bar, pretending to be someone. Semko's been through some well-documented problems.

"Last time I talked to you, I was just getting out of rehab, and things got better, and then things got worse, but I came out of it. I had to think, do you want to feel good, or do you want to die a drunk? Well, I've been sober for a good long time now, and I feel great."

That explains just how fun this turned out. Catch Semko and his band ripping through these little pieces of heaven, plus some of your favourite Pikes cuts tonight at 8 p.m. at The Blue Olive in Saint John, May 22 at the Capital in Fredericton, and May 23 at Studio 700 in Moncton.





Metro Halifax - Dean Lisk

They were never meant to be an album, but the songs Jay Semko was writing turned into one.

“Basically, about a year and a half ago, I cleaned myself up,” said Semko. “I had some substance abuse issues.”

A member of the Canadian group The Northern Pikes, Semko recently released his third solo studio album, International Superstar, and is appearing in Halifax this weekend as part of a tour supporting the CD.

“It’s been great,” said Semko who is crossing Eastern Canada as part of a three piece band — a set up he’s musically enjoying. “It’s tough, you are singing and playing and it all counts.

“Playing brand new songs is the funnest thing for me.”

It didn’t start off fun. The new album began to develop while Semko was in a rehab clinic, mainly for alcohol abuse. He was allowed to take a guitar with him.

“I was in the early recovery stages and they were all about the dark side, and what it was like to be there,” he said. “A lot of them were really good songs, but what happened is that I started feeling better, feeling happier and more positive.

“I didn’t know if it was correct for me to put out an album of this stuff right now.”

With his new outlook on life, Semko took the advice of his friends and went to Nashville. He’d been there before, but never for an extended period of time.

“I didn’t feel bummed out, and life was getting even better,” Semko said. “I took a trip down, set up some writing sessions — just a couple — but it ended up being a domino effect.”

He began collaborating with more writers, and soon International Superstar — with its playful melodies and tongue-in-cheek lyrics — began taking shape.

“I think the guys I wrote with got a kick out of working with me,” said Semko. “I came back with a platoon of songs and I realized, ‘Hey, this is an album.’”



JAY SEMKO – “Sending Love” (Busted Flat Records)

Like The Odds’ Craig Northey, Jay Semko has been toiling endlessly for two decades behind the scenes keeping the fabric of Canadian media glued together with his ethereal, positive Canadiana both as a Gemini Award nominated soundtrack music composer for movies and TV shows like ‘Due South’ but also doing voice-over work for documentaries, radio and television. Of course, pop fans know him as a member of 1980s pop act The Northern Pikes. Semko has been following his muse as a music songwriter in Nashville and producer of note. On ‘Sending Love’, the eighth solo release to bear his name, Semko lays out an uplifting showcase for his acoustic singer-songwriter motifs which sits him comfortably alongside artists like Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, Ron Sexsmith, Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo) and other mixed-genre troubadours. The production and instrumentation is minimal giving the songs a feeling of deep woods dreaminess like on “Undeniably Love”, “The Moon Stars And You”, “For Certain”, “Harmony” and the title track (Parts 1 and 2). A listener could imagine sipping coffee alongside a faithful dog during an early morning sunrise from the back-porch of a Northern Ontario cottage (which is a neat trick from a Saskatchewanian). Beefier tracks include a Tom Wilson-like grit on “Come Get A Little Love”, “We Shine”, and “Sizzlin’” where Semko’s voice becomes less sweet and more guttural without necessarily breaking a sweat…or the microphone. He even hints a traditional sounding Northern Pikes tune with “Nothing Left But Love” featuring guest vocalist Greg Godovitz (Fludd, Goddo). Semko has managed a smooth, easy listening album that clips along at the speed of summer. Highly recommended for de-stressing!  - Jaimie Vernon from "Segarini: Don't Believe a Word I Say" Blog (May 30, 2012)




















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