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The Northern Pikes are one of a handful of acts that have a permanent footprint on the psyche of generations of Canadian rock and pop fans. Since first forming in Saskatoon in 1984, the group has had one platinum album with 1990’s Snow in June, four gold LPs, and eight hit singles that remain mainstays across the country.
Its latest album, TIME to TIME, released June 9, 2023 across all digital platforms, and on LP and CD, finds the band taking a step back to reflect on and revisit the best-loved tracks from Snow in June. The Pikes have stripped the songs down to their essentials and created fresh acoustic arrangements of “Dream Away,” “Love These Hands,” “Kiss Me You Fool,” “She Ain't Pretty,” “Green Fields,” “Girl With a Problem,” and the title track. They’ve also included three new songs that seamlessly fit into flow with “Only a Lover's Dream,” “The Things You Saw in Me,” and “Taken.” All of the tunes feature The Pikes’ core trademarks, including gorgeous vocal harmonies, pulsing basslines, lush and piercing guitar, and kinetic, creative drumming.
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.
The original intention was to have TIME to TIME released to correspond with the 30th anniversary of Snow in June in 2020. The band began sessions in October 2019 and planned to continue in spring 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic left it unable to reconvene face-to-face until September 2021. At that point, The Pikes were finally able to spend several further weeks recording and mixing the album, together with co-producer John D.S. Adams, at Stonehouse Sound in Mahone Bay, NS.
“The original thought was to make a sort of ‘everybody around the campfire’ album,” said Semko. “But once we began working out ideas and arrangements, we began to expand our scope on the songs and what we wanted to try with them, all while keeping in mind the acoustic roots intent. The cool thing about The Pikes is our ability to listen to each other. Once recording began, there was a sense of adventure in terms of the potential for each song. When you trust the musical ideas and concepts of your bandmates, a sense of confidence emerges through the group conscience.”
“So many of Snow in June’s songs were composed on acoustic guitar, so it felt natural to reinterpret them acoustically,” said Potvin. “The process was about recolouring the songs, which included addressing tempos, keys, and instrument selections, including using dobro, mandolin, and banjo in some places.”
“When it became apparent our Snow in June 30th anniversary plans weren’t going to come together in 2020, we made the decision to expand the record’s scope to include the three new songs,” said Schmid. “The goal was to create a project that further developed Snow in June’s original material, while ensuring everything was cohesive and fit together seamlessly. It also captures our raw, intuitive thoughts on where to take the material in a natural way, without too much analysis.”
“I think every member of The Pikes comes from an era when ‘serve the song,’ was the motto,” said Kane. “TIME to TIME reflects that ethos in how we took the songs apart and turned them inside out in a search for the most suitable new approaches. There was a definite collaborative vibe on the album, with everybody present and incorporating their ideas to move things along, while providing room to everyone else to follow their vision, as well.”
The album’s first single “Dream Away” was inspired by a reworking Potvin previously explored with Kane as a duo.
“Kevin and I had been performing ‘Dream Away’ in our Kane & Potvin shows for many years,” said “Potvin. “So, the model for this version was established by the two of us a while ago, and further augmented by the rest of The Pikes. I feel the new take more closely mirrors our original intention for it when we first wrote it all those years ago.”
The top-20 “Kiss Me You Fool” is presented in a lilting arrangement with many subtle new accents, featuring Kane on vocals.
“It was pretty cool to have the band ask me to sing the lead vocal on the reimagining of this track,” said Kane. “They put me to work on using all of the new acoustic instrumentation and encouraged me to wing it creatively. We didn’t go into this album with a set-in-stone vision. So, you’ll find this new version of the song, as well as the others, pretty loose and open in a positive way.”
“Love These Hands” and “Green Fields” find the band leaning deep into their roots influences, with arrangements exploring elements including country, bluegrass, and Americana.
“Both of those songs went pretty ‘rural’ in a good sense,” said Semko. “’Green Fields’ always had that feel to an extent, and once we noodled around for a while with ‘Love These Hands,’ it seemed that a similar treatment would work. Donald MacLennan on violin and Glenn Patscha on keyboards brought their magic to those songs and added new dimensions to them.”
The band’s biggest hit, the top-10 “She Ain't Pretty, retains the song’s original template, including its driving rhythms and signature piano parts, combined with a touch of twang.
“That was the easiest track to record for TIME to TIME,” said Potvin. “For decades, the band would visit radio stations for interviews, and often we would play it acoustically. So, it was somewhat pre-arranged prior to making the new album. It’s very true to the original version, only now with acoustic guitars.”
“I remember the first time I saw the video for ‘She Ain’t Pretty,’” said Kane. “I was watching it with Vince Jones, the keyboardist from Grapes of Wrath after a gig. When it ended, we didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then we looked at each other and said ‘They did it. Out of all the Canadian bands, they’ve written the song. It’s a pleasure to perform on the new version.”
“Girl With a Problem,” which was No. 1 on MuchMusic and top-10 at radio and retail, is a deeply personal piece for Semko. It explores the complexities of being immersed in addiction and the helplessness those around addicts often feel. The TIME to TIME version offers an intimate take on the contemplative song, infused with flickering atmospheres and a plaintive vocal from Semko.
“The song has had a long life,” said Semko. “It was written in 1988, and we did three demo versions before the version we created for Snow in June. The new recording is an expanded version on how I typically perform it solo. In 1988, I was becoming pretty aware of my drinking problem, and I can see I was writing about myself. It's not that hard to disguise yourself in your songs once you get the knack. Life is much better for me now as a person in recovery. I’ve also had numerous people over the years tell me the song affected them positively. Sometimes just being open and honest with lyrics and music can be a positive thing for someone dealing with that situation, or at least give them comfort knowing one is not alone in feeling that way.”
Snow in June’s title track is the most mercurial and complex piece in the band’s oeuvre. The TIME to TIME revisitation builds on the original, serving as the most produced track on the record. The Pikes snuck some electric guitar and electronics into it, as well.
“This is my favourite outcome from TIME to TIME,” said Potvin. Again, we didn’t mess with the structure of the song, but the choice of instruments gave it a different overall feeling, particularly in the third section. Glen, John, and the band discussed how we were going to resolve the song. That brought up a wider discussion of how much production should be on this album. We chose to go beyond the acoustic focus on this one and let Glen and John spin their magic. In some ways, I now prefer this version to the original.”
“Only a Lover’s Dream,” the first of three new songs on the album, alternates between a spoken word approach and soaring vocal harmonies, reflecting an introspective journey.
“It's an intense autumn poem with an eerie vibe that literally captures a dream I had,” said Semko. “I went into the studio with recording engineer Randy Woods in Saskatoon during the height of COVID-19 and created the basis for the song. I felt the groove was something that would work on TIME to TIME. I added tremolo and acoustic guitar, and some percussion. Then the rest of the guys added parts as they saw fit. It’s a different recording approach from the rest of the album. I’m very happy with how it turned out.”
“The Things You Saw in Me,” an emotional folk-rock track, originated with Potvin and looks back at his relationship with his father.
“I had the chord structure and melodies for this song for years, just sitting on the shelf, waiting for a lyrical theme to present itself,” said Potvin. “My dad died a few years ago and I hadn’t really dealt with how it affected me in any artistically-cathartic way. This song is my attempt at dealing with those emotions.”
The album’s meditative closing track, “Taken,” began with Kane, who explores the journey of a couple questioning the trajectory of their intertwined lives.
“It’s something I had in my pocket for more than 10 years, originally written for another project, but it seemed to fit with the rest of the songs we were recording for TIME to TIME,” said Kane. “I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted it structured, and The Pikes worked to make it cohesive and in keeping with the rest of the album.”
Creating TIME to TIME was a positive experience for The Pikes that enables it to fondly re-explore a career highlight, while simultaneously looking towards its future that shows no sign of slowing down.
“Snow in June changed everything for The Pikes and significantly elevated our stature,” said Schmid. “It’s really fantastic to be able to revisit this material and give our longtime fans a new take on it. I would have never thought we would still be recording music 39 years after forming, but on the other hand, it seems perfectly normal and really exciting to keep the ball rolling. The Pikes are never the same twice, which always makes our next song its own musical journey.”
“It was gratifying to be a part of Snow in June, and it stands up very well to this day,” said Semko. “It was our most commercially successful album, with three hit singles, each featuring a different vocalist, as well as incredible guests such as Garth Hudson, Stan Szelest, John Sebastian, and Crystal Taliefero. Everyone put 100% and more into making it happen. I think TIME to TIME showcases a renewed sense of appreciation for that era, as well as how fortunate we all are to continue making music together. It’s going to be a lot of fun presenting TIME to TIME in a live setting. New challenges keep things fresh, and as a band, I feel we're undergoing a bit of a renaissance regarding what we are and where we're going. It feels so good to have a new Pikes album out in the world.”