Iconic Canadian rock band The Northern Pikes have been quietly working on a new studio album since October 2019 & are now in the final mixing stages after several covid interruptions. The new album is being recorded by John Adams at Stonehouse Sound in Mahone Bay, NS & is slated for release sometime in 2022. The last album Forest of Love from 2019 was the group’s first new release since 2003 & the first to feature new group member Kevin Kane (The Grapes Of Wrath). He joins founding members Jay Semko, Bryan Potvin and Don Schmid, the gang responsible for the classic hits She Ain’t Pretty, Teenland, Things I Do For Money, Wait For Me, Hopes Go Astray, Girl With A Problem, Kiss Me You Fool, Believe & more.
Forest of Love rings true with the beloved Pikes sound, plus a new guitar edge with Kane’s addition. You get that great variety the band always brings, with rockers, smart ballads, bright hooks & harmonies, thanks to the luxury of having three top-flight singer/songwriters on board. Leading the way is the edgy first single “King In His Castle,” where nasty guitar verses meet a gorgeous, catchy chorus. In other words, the hits are back, the Pikes are back.
Well, they’ve never really been away of course, their music & videos constantly heard as Canadian classics, & the band have been keeping their fans happy with short tours & festival gigs through the 2000’s. Things started heating up again in 2017 when Universal Music reissued the group’s classic debut, 1987’s Big Blue Sky album in a special 30th Anniversary (Super-Sized) edition.
The Pikes responded with their biggest tour in a couple of decades, a sprawling 29-date jaunt across the country, with rapturous fans getting to relive their love of Saskatchewan’s finest.
It also marked the addition of Kane to the band, although at first he was a hired gun to bring them up to full compliment on stage. Original fourth member Merl Bryck had amicably left the group in 2005 & the others had missed having that second guitar & third voice in the band since. That big tour proved they’d found the right player & right friend for the job.
“That was a pretty comprehensive run, that was 29 shows across the country,” says guitar player Bryan Potvin.” We really got a sense of how Kevin was fitting in to all this. The Pikes ultimately are a 2-guitar, bass & drums band with three singer-songwriters & with Kevin that’s been restored & it just felt natural at this stage to go in & make new music again.”
For Kane, the offer to join the band permanently came as a surprise, but a very welcome one. “It’s just been a blast, even the way it came about,” he says. “They were clear right from the get-go, this was just for the Big Blue Sky tour, after that they said, how would you feel about becoming a member, and also, how would you feel about doing an album? That all happened really quickly after the tour.”
The other guys in the band had no doubt Kane was the missing ingredient. “Having a fourth person after having played as a trio for awhile was pow, it was great,” says bass player Jay Semko. “Kevin’s goooood, he can sing, we couldn’t have asked for a fourth person who was better, really. I’m a huge fan, a Grapes of Wrath fan, a fan of Kevin’s writing & singing, he’s a super-talented guy who fits right in.”
So, it’s the same band, but a brand-new one too. “That’s what it is, it’s Pikes 2020,” says drummer Don Schmid. “We’re all different than we were 36 years ago, it’s a new version, we were hungry to go into the studio.”
That opportunity happened after one of the Big Blue Sky gigs, at Canada’s new National Music Centre in Calgary. The Centre approached the band, offering its impressive studio space if the Pikes felt like recording an album. “They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, they were very accommodating,” says Potvin.
The Centre, which houses Canada’s Music Hall Of Fame in the fabulous Studio Bell complex, has beautiful recording studio space, along with some famous & classic recording equipment & instruments. “It’s an amazing facility, we’ve recorded in some pretty outstanding studios across North America in our 30 years & this one is right up there with them,” says Potvin. “It has some amazing gear, well-designed rooms, it’s just over the top.”
The band got to record on a classic 1975 British-made Trident recording console, the fifth of only 13 ever built. And for a little Canadian history and luck, Potvin & Kane used a vintage amp donated to the Centre by Neil Young. But the best feature was the spacious Studio A itself, designed as a throwback to the great studios of rock ‘n’ roll’s past. “The room is really well set up so you can all play at once, you can physically cut the song live, off the floor,” says Semko. “I love that.”
They set up each day & all played together, recorded full takes all at once, just like bands used to do. “That’s how people think records are made, but that isn’t how they’re made normally today,” says Kane. “It’s kind of exciting for us at this point in our careers to go, oh, we can make a record like that!”
That vintage technique helped define Forest of Love. “When we got in the studio, there was a sound that was coming out of the tracks right away that we latched on to,” says Potvin. “Tonally, it was an old sound, it sounded like an old rock record & that was exciting to us. We ran with that.”
They recorded 10 brand-new originals over two sessions & 11 days, basically a song a day & these truly were new songs, never shared with the other group members before. Each day brought a new surprise. “When we went into the studio, I hadn’t heard a single thing, not a stitch,” says Schmid. “We started every morning with acoustics & a vocal, whoever wrote the initial song & we’d craft it into a Pikes tune & at the end of the day, you had a song.”
At the first session for the reinvigorated Northern Pikes, the honour went to the new guy. “The very first day, they decided to go with one of my songs,” says Kane. “The symbolism wasn’t lost on me. I think it was really cool of them.”
In the end, Forest of Love featured a classic mix of Pikes tunes, three by each of the songwriters but that left them a song short of a full album. So it was all hands on deck, including drummer Schmid, to compose the last tune for the last day of recording. Don’t You Give Up was written the night before in Bryan & Kevin’s hotel room,” says Kane. “The next morning, Don wrote some lyric ideas from which we got the last line of the song.”
The excitement of the studio sessions meant that some of the songs that started out calm & acoustic got a boost of energy once the whole band got involved. King In His Castle was one that started out moodier,” says writer Semko. “Then Bryan said, ‘I hear kind of a rock riff in there.’ So we messed around with it, just very natural, the most organic of all the records we’ve ever done.”
Then there’s the epic title track, Forest of Love with a mysterious opening vibe that turns into the hardest, catchiest rocker the group has laid down arguably since Teenland back in ’87. A heritage band, living on the past? Forget that. “We are a new band,” confirms Semko. Adds Potvin, “It feels good to have a record we’re proud of, that’s coming out. It’s been a long time for us.”
Of course, when they hit the road, they still have a whole lifetime of beloved hits for fans young & old. “People want to hear songs that they know & love from earlier in our career & we’re happy to play them,” says Semko. “Nothing’s more fun than having a whole crowd sing along to one of your songs. It feels pretty good!”
The Northern Pikes are better than ever with Forest of Love, thank you very much. “The feeling right now with us is we’re getting along better than we ever have, we’ve got a more mature and deeper appreciation for how far we’ve come, how long we’ve been at this & still actually all alive & still able to make music & sound pretty good I think,” says Potvin. “So let’s just take this as far as we can.” Forest of Love arrives as follow up to 2017’s Big Blue Sky (Super-Sized) 30th Anniversary reissue and 29-city Canadian tour in celebration of the beloved album. The triple coloured vinyl anniversary edition was expanded to include a second album of all-new music from the group’s archive & a third album featuring a live recording from the legendary Horseshoe Tavern on their first national tour in 1986.
The new album, along with the 29 city Canadian tour in the fall of 2017 has fired the group with new energy.
As the crowds at their recent festival shows can attest, there’s a real fire on stage. “The band in many ways sounds better than it ever has,” says bass player Jay Semko. “I just feel there’s a solidity in the songs that we’re playing, I feel like there’s new life to some of the ones we have played forever, it’s the old-fashioned work ethic, dig in, work at it, rehearse, and when you play, come prepared.” Lately, all the members have agreed that not only can they do more, they want to do more. “I was getting a little tired of just going out & I mean this in the sweetest, kindest way, but just aimlessly touring, just going & playing a show, not supporting anything,” says Bryan.
That was solved when Don, the self-appointed band archivist, mentioned he had saved all those demos the band had done in the ’80’s. “The fact that we can entice people with brand new songs is pretty amazing. Photographs, demo recordings, video footage, everything, he’s got it all really well laid out & organized, I thank him dearly.”
“There’s a hard-core group of people that are big fans of Big Blue Sky, that grew up with the music” says Jay. “It’s amazing to me, I’ve just noticed this recently, how many people are huge fans of that particular album, as it wasn’t the biggest-selling of our records.” “It is exciting to be going out with a show on the BBS30th Anniversary tour” says Bryan. “We haven’t done that in a long time, with a really prepared show & we’ve never had video screens & a visual component to our show, so that’s all brand new. The fact that we’re doing all this stuff makes it really exciting. The Pikes, to me, feel like we have unfinished business, we had a rather abrupt ending in 1993 & we had this long, six-year period where we didn’t do anything, and the restart was good, but I don’t know, it just feels more focused now frankly.”
It looks like The Northern Pikes haven’t peaked yet.
In Toronto on June 18, 2018 The Northern Pikes received a SOCAN Classic Award to commemorate 100,000 radio performances for their classic hit single, “She Ain’t Pretty” in Canada. “It’s amazing how some things in life come full circle” says Schmid, “hopefully we can continue to record new music & play live gigs for many years to come.” Guitarist Bryan Potvin adds, “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and I’m increasingly proud of the fact that we’re still eager. There’s a youthful earnestness about what we’re doing right now. ”
Pikes Back Story:
The Northern Pikes are from Canada & were formed in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in January 1984. The original lineup was spawned from the ashes of three local groups, The Idols, Doris Daye & 17 Envelope. The founding members were Jay Semko (Vocals, Guitar), Merl Bryck (Vocals, Guitar), Bryan Potvin (Guitars) and Glen Hollingshead (Bass). In 1985 Glen left the band & while numerous drummers came & went until June of 1986, when Don Schmid (The Idols) joined to make it a permanent quartet.
Being a band from Saskatchewan had its challenges in the pre-internet era. To get attention outside the province, the group came up with a strategy of making lots of demos and recorded & released their first two independent LP’s The Northern Pikes 1984 & Scene In North America 1985. The albums were co-produced, recorded & mixed with pal Mitch Barnett at Studio West located near Pike Lake, SK.
“It was a good challenge finding a list of stations that would play independent music in Canada & the USA” remembers Jay. “I wrote to the Library of Congress & got the listing of college radio stations. We sent them out & we got played, they charted really well. It was a pleasant surprise to us & that really opened the door for people to notice us.”
With the help of friend & local booking agent Robert Hodgins, the band cut its teeth for 2 years on the prairie bar circuit.
The combination of exciting live performances, well-received indie albums & the continuous stream of demos finally caught the ear of Doug Chappell, President of Virgin Records Canada & with the help of managers Fraser Hill & Ed Smeall, The Pikes signed to the label on December 18, 1986 at The Copa nightclub in Toronto. “We did a demo in the summer of ’86 that had Things I Do For Money on it,” says Don. “Doug Chappell knew about Teenland, he knew about You Sold The Farm & Jackie T, he knew all those songs, but when he heard Things I Do For Money, that was apparently the song that made him go yeah, I want to sign this band.”
In January of 1987 the band began sessions at Metal Works in Toronto with producers Rick Hutt & Fraser Hill & finished mixing at McClear Place for what would become their 3rd LP & first Virgin release entitled Big Blue Sky. The album hit the streets in June of ‘87 & featured the hit singles Teenland, Things I Do For Money & Dancing In A Danceclub, introducing the band to a wider audience & expanding the touring range to all parts of Canada & the USA.
Their 4th LP Secrets of the Alibi in the spring of 1988 saw The Pikes recording at Bearsville Studio in Woodstock, NY, and later mixing at Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec. The album had a more “live off the floor” feel & the heavy airplay of the singles Wait For Me, Hopes Go Astray & Let’s Pretend kept the band on the road virtually non-stop across the continent until the summer of ‘89. The Pikes 5th LP Snow In June saw the blossoming of Bryan as a singer & writer, most notably for the wildly popular hit single She Ain’t Pretty. In addition the album featured other smash hits Girl With A Problem, Kiss Me You Fool, Dream Away, and featured a star-studded cast of additional musicians – Garth Hudson, Crystal Taliefero, John Sebastian & Stan Szelest, as well as mixes by acclaimed engineers Bob Clearmountain & Hugh Padgham. Recording again in Bearsville & mixing at A&M Studios in Los Angeles, The Pikes spent almost six months working on the album & it became their biggest selling album to date.
After almost two years of touring to support Snow In June, the band began work on their 6th LP Neptune in July of ‘92 at A&M Studios in LA with Rob Jaczko as co-producer. Subsequent sessions continued at Metal Works in Toronto & Blue Jay Studio in Boston. From start to finish the album took exactly two months to record, mix & master, the fastest turnaround since their indie days. Released in November ’92, Neptune featured the keyboard work of Ross Nykiforuk, also a native of Saskatoon & an onstage addition for the Snow In June tour. Also featured were two duets with Margo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, one of which, Worlds Away, made its way onto an episode of the TV series Due South. The album featured the singles Twister, Believe & Everything.
The spring of 1993 saw the last tour of the decade for the Pikes & their LP gig. Recorded live during concerts in Montreal & Toronto, it featured 13 songs & showcased the raw energy the band always exhibited onstage.
After 10 years of intense road life & non stop travelling, 8 Juno award nominations, 4 gold records & 1 double platinum record, the band elected to go on an indefinite hiatus. The Pikes played their final concert on July 2, 1993 in Fort Frances, Ontario.
In October ’93 the final recording was made when Jay, Bryan & Ross got together at Don’s home studio in Saskatoon to record the theme song for the TV series “Due South”.
Six long years later……
All original members Jay Semko, Bryan Potvin, Merl Bryck & Don Schmid reunited in December 1999 to assemble a greatest hits package for Virgin Records. That meeting saw the release of the Virgin LP Hits and Assorted Secrets, a collection of old favourites & buried treasures.
The greatest hits package also led to a hugely successful Canadian tour in early 2000, some of which was recorded & resulted in the bands LP Live 2000. This was the first independent release since 1985 recorded at various shows in Ontario and Quebec.
This successful reformation led to the decision to record The Pikes 7th LP in Toronto during the fall of 2000.
Truest Inspiration was released in 2001, The Pikes first studio album in 8 years, recorded & mixed by James Paul at The Rogue Music Lab in Toronto & produced by David Baxter. The song Beautiful Music from that album became a hit in Japan & The Pikes embarked on a short but intensive tour in the land of the rising sun in late June 2003, including a Canada Day concert at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.
In February 2003 the band began work on their 8th LP It’s A Good Life in their hometown of Saskatoon, recorded, mixed & co-produced by Ross Nykiforuk at Cosmic Pad Studios.
In the new era of social media & self promotion The Pikes ventured to film 3 music videos for Blame The Song, Underwater & It’s A Good Life with Saskatoon filmographer George Hupka in March of ’03, it had been 10 years since their last music video Everything from the Neptune album. It’s A Good Life was a hit with Pikes fans everywhere & the band continued touring into the second decade of the new millennium, with all of the members pursuing various recording & film projects in addition to their work with the Pikes.
Along the way, Merl Bryck made the decision to curtail his touring schedule in 2005 & long-time sideman and musician extraordinaire Ross Nykiforuk played with the band on stage from 2006-2011.
On September 30, 2012 The Northern Pikes were inducted into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame in Regina, Saskatchewan as the highlight of the 2012 Western Canadian Music Awards. Longtime friend & fellow Hall of Fame member John Donnelly from The Queen City Kids introduced Jay Semko, Bryan Potvin, Merl Bryck & Don Schmid. The Pikes performed 3 songs at the induction ceremony, much to the delight of the audience.
A statement from the band about their induction into the Hall of Fame:
“This is a great honour & we have our fans to thank for this. We want to extend the deepest gratitude to each & every one of you who ever bought a Pikes record or a concert ticket & supported us on this amazing journey over the years. This is very much your award as well.”
In 2016 Universal Music released ICON from the album series of the same name.
In 2017 Universal Music created a 30th Anniversary (Super-Sized) reissue of 1987’s Big Blue Sky & the band embarked on a 29 city Canadian tour in celebration of the beloved album. The triple coloured vinyl edition was expanded to include a second album of all-new music from the group’s archive & a third album featuring a live recording from the legendary Horseshoe Tavern on their first national tour in 1986.
In Toronto on June 18, 2018 The Pikes received a Socan Classic Award to commemorate 100,000 radio performances in Canada for She Ain’t Pretty. All 4 members Jay, Bryan, Merl & Don attended & got a chance to see an old friend Fraser Hill, the bands first manager. “It’s amazing how some things in life come full circle” says Don, “hopefully we can keep on rockin’ & continue to record new music for many years to come.”
In 2018 The Pikes were anxious to record their 9th LP at the National Music Centre in Calgary after they approached the band offering their impressive studio space if the Pikes felt like recording an album. “They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, they were very accommodating,” says Potvin.
The Centre, which houses Canada’s Music Hall Of Fame in the Studio Bell complex has a beautiful recording studio space along with some famous and classic recording equipment & instruments. “It’s an amazing facility, we’ve recorded in some pretty outstanding studios across North America in our 30 years & this one is right up there with them,” says Potvin. “It has some amazing gear, well-designed rooms, it’s just over the top.” The new album Forest of Love was released by Universal Music on June 7, 2019 & the band debuted the new music with 2 concerts that were filmed at the Blue Frog Studio in White Rock, BC.
Currently, The Pikes have been quietly working on a new studio album since October 2019. The new album is being recorded by John Adams at Stonehouse Sound in Mahone Bay, NS & is slated for release sometime in 2022. Stay tuned…