A Roots/Americana/Alt Country festival of twang and jangle with pedal steel and attitude, lyrically travelling down the highways of love, joy, heartache, empty bottles and promises - ultimately redemption, with the Gospel classic "Jesus Is Gonna Help Me".
Reviews for International Superstar
JAY SEMKO INTERNATIONAL SUPERSTAR 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.
SEMKO DISC FOR THOSE TIRED OF INANE FLUFF- JAY SEMKO - INTERNATIONAL SUPERSTAR 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.
JAY SEMKO - SURVIVING A COUNTRY SONG LIFE
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."
JAY SEMKO - INTERNATIONAL SUPERSTAR Fredericton Telegraph Journal - Robert Merserau JAY SEMKO - INTERNATIONAL SUPERSTAR 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
.BROODING, DARK MUSIC LED ARTIST TO HIS OWN RECOVERY 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.’”