Daniel Ostrander talks with John Pickering from Semi On
Why “Semi-On”? Wouldn’t “Full-On” better describe the feelings you arouse in your audience?
John: Originally, it was my idea due to the slightly vulgar nature of the term, but as it turned out, it had a Japanese interpretation too. Bryony was quick to roll with the Japanese interpretation of Semi for ‘cicada’ and On for ‘Ongaku.’ Since we practiced together for the first time in the summer in Shirakawa-koen, it felt natural.
How do you feel about the scene that has popped up from your monthly open mic and art event, Harmonium Parlour?
John: I’d be lying if I said we weren’t proud of it. That said, we’re not proud of it because it is ours, we are proud of it because so many people are stakeholders in it. All the artists that come to turn the space into theirs for a night really help to bring a unique cultural aspect to the event that we could never replicate without their involvement.
How do you feel about the music scene in Nagoya?
John: I’m torn personally. There are so many good and bad points to ramble on about. For example, there is a lack of free venues to play, so I have a feeling that it is a somewhat ‘stifled’ music scene. However, we have been lucky to get paid to play enough so that we are able to fund ourselves and control our destiny so to speak. That’s the best part.
Last year saw Semi-On taking the stage at many big events all over. How will you follow that up in 2012?
John: We were trying to plan a Canadian tour, but we will instead lay low a bit this summer and get ready for the autumn. There are always a lot of fun gigs to play in the summer, but Aichi in general is hot as hell…for Canadians anyways.
Should your fans expect any new material this year?
John: Yes. I promise although almost all of it was recorded last year. I would love to lie and say that mixing and mastering takes a lot of time, but we have just been a bit lazy really. We had the best intentions when we started and then just let ourselves get busy.
Many in the community see Semi-On as a prime example of how an international act can be successful in Nagoya. What advice would you give to any other artists who want to follow in your inspiring steps?
John: Well, I guess it is really dependent on how you define successful. I think we are really successful, but with a major caveat. We all love to play music and, in particular, play different styles of music. I have never felt bored in the almost 5 years that we have been together and I am 86% sure that Col, Les, Bry and Kaz haven’t either.
So along those lines I would suggest that if you find people that you like playing music with, and that challenge you musically, just hold on as tight as you can. There are personality clashes in every group, so I guess you never know how long something might last.
You all have been playing together for quite some time now. You must have some pretty interesting stories.
John: We have played some wildly random gigs. The Yokkaichi Gun Club with all of the attendees dressed as cowboys, with one Pocahontas running around has been etched into our minds. I am confident there will never be another gig like that.
How do you feel about being chosen to appear in the upcoming Bands of Japan digital edition?
John: We feel really honored. Japanzine and NAGMAG have been so supportive of us. There are a lot of crazy talented bands and musicians in and around Nagoya, and of course Japan. Really, Semi-On has done more than any of us ever would have expected. The recognition is humbling, but even more so is the ongoing support we get from people.
Semi-On’s sound seems to have no clear origins, drawing from so many sources, yet it maintains a cohesiveness that most bands can’t manage given twice the time that Semi-On has been together. How are you able to blend so many different styles together?
John: All of us being so different, growing up in completely different backgrounds and surroundings, but unabashedly bringing it all to the table, so to speak. Leslie studied Jazz at university for Christ sake! Coleen grew up in a musical family and played folk and more all her life. Kaz was a jazz drummer when we met him, but was ultra keen to tackle Rage Against the Machine covers. Bryony’s mom is a semi professional choir singer who loves opera and her dad loves all sorts of music. In the last ten years I have been devoted to funk guitar, but before that I guess my origins were in really crappy pop tunes and then blues and blues rock.
Somehow when all of those elements got together we sounded ‘gypsy-esque.’ From then on, we just rolled with whatever came out. We like to refer to our ‘style’ as gypsy-funk. We like the challenge of different genres and we also like combining totally different elements into something new.
And finally, the rumor mill is spinning that another little Semi-On will be joining you soon. Care to comment on the happy news?
John: Bryony and I are expecting another addition to the fam. This one should be born about a week after Tayvians’s third birthday in May, which explains why we may be a little less active in summer this year. We still don’t know if it will be a girl or a boy, but if you have any ideas on baby names, please shoot us a mail.