by Christopher James Vasseur
The Platinum selling classic Canadian album Snow in June came out in 1990. I remember watching the amazing video for “She Ain’t Pretty” with its brilliant clay animated bits, killer riffs and lyrics that made me laugh. It was in heavy rotation on Much Music (which is what my generation stared at for hours cause we didn’t have phones) and getting tons of radio play across the nation. The whole country was in love with a band from Saskatoon called the Northern Pikes.
And how could you not be with expertly crafted songs, astounding songwriting and a sound that would help ring in an era of great Canadian rock and roll. That was 1990. Let’s flash forward a bit to 2019. The Pikes are starting to record a kind of tribute project to their third and biggest record. It is the 30th anniversary after all!
They started recording in Nova Scotia with a plan to split up the recording into a few sessions over the next few months. By chance, Bryan Povin, (guitarist and vocalist) met a very notable producer who (John D. S. Adams) who not only only lived 20 minutes down the road but he was kinda known for acoustic and classical work. This was a perfect fit as the plan was to do acoustic arrangements of the Snow in June record. Both Bryan and Kevin (Kane) lived in NS as well so the stars were starting to align.
But, as we all know, 2020 was that dumpster year of toilet paper binging and isolation. So, things changed and the record inevitably did too. The Pikes put a pin in it until 2022.
Originally, the record was going to be an acoustic, folksy tribute with dashes of bluegrass thrown in. They recorded a few tunes before COVID and during the hiatus, the album morphed. Some of the songs from Snow in June weren’t transcribing great so instead, when they started recording again, they decided to include a few new songs as well.
I spoke with bassist, singer and amazing songwriter, Jay Semko and he was kind enough to send me a preview of the record. I’ve been listening to it all week and I’m enamoured with this record. It might even be better than the original. Might be. Today, June 9th, you can listen and decide for yourself as the album is out everywhere.
The record starts as does Snow in June, with the song “Dream Away”. In the 90’s the Pikes introduced the record with a nice guitar lick. On this one it’s fiddle and banjo. I've always been a huge fan of when bands revisit their biggest songs, so this album for me is a real treat. Another thing that is cool is collaboration and guest artists. In the 90’s they commissioned some pretty big names including The Band’s Garth Hudson and legendary harmonica player and member of the Lovin’ Spoonful, John Sebastian. This time around, it's no different. In fact, even the Pikes themselves have gone through some changes over the years. From the bands website:
“The band’s lineup includes vocalist and bassist Jay Semko, vocalist and lead guitarist Bryan Potvin, and drummer Don Schmid, who’ve been together as a working unit, on and off, since 1986. It also features vocalist and guitarist Kevin Kane, co-founder of the iconic Grapes of Wrath, who joined as a full-time member in 2017. In addition, the recording includes guest appearances from violinist Donald MacLennan and keyboardist Glenn Patscha.”
These reworkings are truly great. These days I'm primarily a fan of acoustic, bluegrass and folk so hearing some of my favourite tunes from my youth done this way is so cool. The Northern Pikes are truly a Canadian institution. A big part of their longevity is comradery, of course. These artists like to drop egos at the front door and do whatever is needed to “serve the song”, and you can tell. Jay Semko and Bryan Potvin make for nice contrasting lead vocals and are able to back each other up masterfully, the harmonies being a big part of the Pikes sound.
They stayed true to the original structure, mostly experimenting with new instruments to get the sound they needed for this tribute. As mentioned, the record morphed over Covid and three new songs were born of this time away from the world. Semko came up with a new song, “Only a Lover’s Dream”, that features some spoken word (He recently released a book of poems called The Poetry and Lyrics of Jay Semko) and started recording some parts for it here in Saskatoon with producer Randy Woods, another big local name. Potvin reflected on his Fathers recent passing on “The Things You Saw in Me ''. Kane contributed the album's closer, “Taken”, a song he had held onto for years until it found The Northern Pikes. All three songs honour the sound of the first record and fit right in on this new serving.
Also releasing today is the beautiful vinyl version of Time to Time for all us rekkerd junkies. Swirly copper and black goodness to bring this beautifully written, played and recorded album. Maybe this is the one that will get them that Juno they have deserved since 1990. Snow in June is also receiving a 33rd anniversary vinyl release later this year but you didn't hear it from me.
No plan so far to do an acoustic tour, with the band playing a handful of dates this summer, but “We’ll probably do something eventually”, Semko says. The band does things at their own pace these days and all the members keep quite busy. Semko plays a ton of singer/songwriter events in these parts and is heavily involved with tons of great charities including the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan and is a great voice for mental health in our community. Kevin Kane is touring with his first project, another great Canadian band; The Grapes of Wrath. Potvin and Semko both do the odd score for TV and film too.
Semko says of the recording process itself, “we've all been doing this so long it's kind of low stress these days …we get in, do our thing, get out…there's no red light pressure for us, we are able to do it pretty efficiently. We are pretty unified and have a pretty good picture of things.” He says the band still compliment and respect each other and they are still excited to evolve together. The band is going through a bit of a renaissance with this new record and hopefully that means we will be hearing a lot more from these Northern Pikes for the foreseeable future.
Time to Time honours the original release of Snow in June with such refined musicianship, beautiful and well thought out instrumentation, and amazing new versions of classic material that rival the original, at some points even surpass them. The new songs compliment the old and what we have is a beautiful record that will stand on its own for years to come.
Girl with a Problem is such a deeply beautiful song to begin with and it stands out for me again on this record. It was a true pleasure to chat with Mr. Semko and I can't wait for all of you to hear the record. The whole country is gonna be in love with a band from Saskatoon called the Northern Pikes.