Good luck, Jay!

Northern Pikes frontman rebounds from addiction
TORONTO – The last time Northern Pikes frontman Jay Semko tried to break out with a solo album, it all went horribly wrong.
He had pulled together a disc called “Redberry” by reworking a collection of old song ideas he had socked away, and just as the album came out two years ago, found himself spiralling into the depths of alcoholism.
Semko says he checked into a treatment facility in rural Quebec, and from there, conducted a media interview by payphone, hoping to disguise how far he had fallen but soon found himself revealing all his secrets. After just a month in rehab, Semko hit the road on tour, eventually finding himself alone in Halifax with a bottle of vodka and on the precipice of what would be a hard fall off the wagon.
“There’s about a three-month period there that was very blurry to me – where I had periods of being quite coherent and doing things and then I would lose it and take off on a bender for many days at a time,” Semko says by phone from his home in Saskatoon as he prepares to release a new disc, this time sober.
“I became very negative and I really didn’t (care) about anything. Towards the end, I just was this self-absorbed, negative individual.”
By this point, Semko had lost his wife of 16 years, incurred stomach and liver problems, pawned his guitar and even began losing interest in the music he loved.
He says it took his family four interventions to get him to start seeing straight, and with the help of a tight support group and newfound spirituality, says he’s been clean since March 26, 2007 and is ready for a new chapter in his life.
Semko’s third disc, “International Superstar,” is a country-tinged collection of bittersweet tunes outlining dark days and celebrating a healthier outlook on life. The catchy title track offers such evocative lyrics as: “Look at the international superstar, drunk as a skunk trying to smoke a cigar; He just dumped his wife and the bank took his car, he’s an international superstar”.
The album closes with the song “Jesus Is Gonna Help.”
Semko credits a couple of fruitful trips to Nashville with reinvigorating his creative spirit and finding collaborators who could push him in positive directions.
“I really got out of the mode of trusting my instincts and I think a lot of that was because I was pretty messed up,” says Semko, whose hits with the Pikes included “Things I Do For Money,” “She Ain’t Pretty,” “Girl With a Problem,” and “Teenland.”
“It got to the point where I don’t think I was dealing correctly with reality and not judging, not able to focus in on my instincts when it came to writing. Everything gets affected by that and sometimes in a positive way, and unfortunately most of the time in a negative way.”
Although the Northern Pikes didn’t quite reach the heights of international stardom, Semko points to the band’s heyday in the early ’90s as seeding a burgeoning addiction problem. He notes that their booking contracts often involved demands for large amounts of alcohol, and while his bandmates largely managed to keep things under control, he could not.
“Our (tour) rider was huge – a huge, huge rider of alcohol,” says Semko, who still tours occasionally with the Pikes.
“We’re talking, like, two large bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka and a bottle of schnapps and a bottle of scotch and 48 beer and anything else that you may want in there. And you know, if you’re really smart about it, then you can do things in moderation and have no problem with it, but I’m not like that”.
Despite his personal demons, Semko has maintained a steady work schedule since the Pikes temporarily broke up around 1993. Semko went on to score music for TV and film, including the Paul Gross vehicles “Due South” and “Men With Brooms.” He’ll be in Toronto next week (Aug. 15-17) for a “Due South” fan convention in which hundreds of devotees are expected to converge for panel discussions with the stars, play games and go tours of the series’ shooting locations.
The appearance will coincide with the release of Semko’s first solo single in more than 10 years, the wistful ballad, “She Won’t Be Lonely Long.”
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world right now because there’s a good chance that I would not be here and not able to do what I’m doing,” Semko says of his future.
“When I think of many of the situations that I put myself in through the years, it’s a miracle that I’m here, it really is. And as a result of that, I feel obligated to be good now. To do good things to try and make the most of what I have now.”