Jay Semko, a Saskatoon-raised singer and songwriter, formerly of the Northern Pikes, is in Regina for BreakOut West.
Semko was a founding member of the Northern Pikes and is currently promoting his newest solo effort, Flora Vista. The BreakOut West festival in Regina, which includes the Western Canadian Music Awards, runs through the weekend.
Semko has been performing on his own since 1995 and was inducted into the WCMA hall of fame in 2012.
"My life seems to go in phases," Semko said, talking about how different projects can dominate his life at times. He recently composed music for a History Television show.
"When you work on a TV series, that really takes over your life," he said of the 2011 series called Dust Up, which is about crop-dusting pilots in Saskatchewan.
"At the beginning of it all and the end of it all, I'm a songwriter," Semko said. "I love writing songs. And I love writing on my own and with other people."
Pen versus keyboard
He said that changes in technology have been challenging and recalled that through the time he worked on another TV series, Due South, the music didn't vary much — but how it was produced did.
"We started off with two 24-track analog, two-inch tapes," he remembered of the 1994-1999 show. "By the last season we were delivering on [digital-based] Pro-Tools, which is kind of the industry standard."
When it comes to composing, Semko said he prefers writing songs on paper.
"I still love to use my hands and feel the pen on the paper," he said, even though many artists — especially in Nashville — go to a computer screen. "Everybody seems to use a computer. And they just go, 'Bing, bing, bing.' And I understand the handiness of that but I really feel like sometimes it's good to slow it down."
He recalled that the writing process for his current album took place very quickly, during an unexpected extended stay in California.
"We ended up having to stay there for some time," he said. Even though he didn't have a guitar with him, a number of song ideas came into his head. "I just bought an inexpensive guitar and I started writing."
He added he considers himself lucky to have spent part of his youth on a farm, where he was often alone.
"It really forced me to use my imagination," he said.
Semko is set to perform two shows as part of the BreakOut West festival:
- Friday (Oct. 14) 11:15 p.m. - The Capitol.
- Saturday (Oct. 15) 9:15 p.m. - The Club.
In addition to promoting Flora Vista, Semko said he is currently in pre-production for a new gospel/spiritual album.
"It'll be a combination of songs ... covering a wide range," he said.
There are also plans to record new versions of songs, some acoustic, with his band mates from The Northern Pikes.