One of the scene’s hardest working and most unifying figures, Jim Semonik speaks with ReGen about his latest creative output.
An InterView with Jim Semonik of Distortion Productions and Red Lokust
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Jim Semonik can truly be considered one of the patron saints of the modern industrial and harsh electro scene. With his Electronic Saviors compilation series, he helped to mobilize an unprecedented number of artists – from established pioneers to up-and-coming luminaries – to join in the fight to “kick cancer’s ass!” As this year marks the release of the sixth and final installment in the series, Semonik is showing no signs of slowing down as he embarks on new ventures for the betterment of both the scene and his fellow human beings – he’s expanding the Electronic Saviors brand with his love for Transformers in the Respect the Prime offshoot, has participated in Jeremy Frazier’s Synthcore Dreams project, and here he even hints at a new soundtrack tribute. One would think such a calling would be enough, but he has also done this while running his own independent imprint, Distortion Productions, as well as creating music with Aslan Faction’s Lee Lauer in Red Lokust, with this year marking the release of the band’s second album, Whom the Gods Wish to Ruin, They First Drive Mad. Put simply, Jim Semonik is busier than ever, so ReGen Magazine is privileged to have had the opportunity to speak with him about his many pursuits and how he is maintaining such a prolific pace amid the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic.
You’ve released the sixth and final volume of Electronic Saviors, celebrating 10 years since the first entry. Of all that ES has achieved, what would you say are those successes that have surprised you the most?
No pun intended, but reflecting on ES and the last decade, what would you say to your younger self – when you were undergoing treatments and first came up with the idea for ES – if given the opportunity?
Semonik: I would tell myself to not to be afraid to take the steps that were needed. I was intimidated by approaching people for tracks. In some ways, I still am because people have lives and are generally busy. I’m essentially asking for their time to devote to something new. I respect all my artists and know that free time doesn’t come easy, but you might be surprised by who will be willing to help. Though, I never got the attention of Skinny Puppy or FLA… I mean, they knew of the project because of conversations I’ve had with them, so it wasn’t for lack of trying. (Laughter)
For the offshoots, you’ve now released two entries in the Respect the Prime series (not counting the multiple versions of the first one), and the Synthcore Dreams soundtrack to the comic book.
First of all, would you tell us about the development of these two spinoffs, how they came to be and in what ways you feel they relate to the goals and spirit of Electronic Saviors?
What are your ultimate hopes for each of the spinoffs? How much farther do you think they can or do you intend to take them?
Semonik: I’m not sure for Synthcore. I mean, if Jeremy wants to keep doing them and there is demand, we will still do them. For Prime… well… as long as there are comics, there are endless original songs that can be written. I mean, I’m really proud of the Constructed Cold tune that I did with Panic Lift – quite possibly the catchiest song I ever wrote and James is a goddamn genius. These things sell like hotcakes at the TFcons, even to people who don’t know this kind of music. That should tell you something. We are being as accessible as an underground label can be while just being one guy with a full-time day job. So, I’ll keep doing them if people keep digging what we do. These are the ways Electronic Saviors will live on. So, I encourage people that just buy the boxsets, to check these out. I’ve not gotten a bad review from anyone for Respect the Prime in four years.
You’re also releasing new music, having unveiled the second album from Red Lokust, Whom the Gods Wish to Ruin, They First Drive Mad.
First of all, would you tell us about what sorts of changes/developments you and Lee Lauer sought to implement with Red Lokust since the first album?
What sorts of lessons did you learn that you feel are reflected on the new album?
How would you define your individual roles in the band? Is it as simple as one is musician, the other is vocalist? What is the working dynamic like between the two of you?
How would you say your respective roles evolved from how they were when Red Lokust was first formed?
Semonik: Lee does all of the music; I only help arrange certain things. If I feel a certain sequence needs extending or repeating, I just suggest it. I do all of the lyric writing and singing. It’s pretty easy as I’ve said the chemistry is strong, but the distance can hurt sometimes. There are instances when I want to reach through the screen and be like, ‘no, change this.’ But generally, it’s great. He sends me tunes and I write to them. It hasn’t changed much.
The title is very Lovecraftian, and you say the album is inspired by themes of insanity, paranoia, and anxiety. There is the quote that ‘in an insane world, the sane must appear insane in order to stay sane,’ which is also rather Shakespearean as it relates to Hamlet (and Alien3).
Anyway, forgive the digression. What inspired you to explore these themes in particular on this album?
What are your thoughts on the perception of insanity in today’s world – socially, spiritually, medically, etc. What constitutes insanity in your world view?
Semonik: Short answer – I have a psychology degree.
Long answer – These themes have always been of interest to me as I am an avid fan of comics, science fiction, and generally darker things. We are living in one of the most insane times in our lives. I have never seen things so out of control in this world. On one hand, we have a leader that thrives in chaos
and is a pathological liar, and on the other hand, we have a virus that is killing thousands. The world as it is right now is pretty insane in my view. Every day, I think it might not get crazier than this. Then I go on social media and I turn around like Abe Simpson and head on out. I’m not sure if that answers the question or not.
By the way, I’ve always been a fan of long album titles. I feel like an album should tell a story, so that’s what I do. I have some good ones lined up for what’s next.
You knew this question would come up. What’s the status of Rein[Forced]?
Semonik: How did I know you were going to ask that? Well, here’s what I can tell you. We still owe WTII one more album, but I haven’t really talked to Turner. I think the long time in between albums killed that project along with some other things I won’t get into. However, if you picked up Electronic Saviors 6, you’ll notice that the second track on the first disc is a new track by us. Eric and Jon from Interface jumped onboard to write a new tune with me. We are sort of waiting to see if that pans out. So, if you guys like that track, ‘No Desire,’ we will do an album as is my understanding. I personally love that song.
With live music in a great deal of turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic – numerous tour cancellations, clubs and venues being forced to close indefinitely and perhaps permanently, etc. – what possibilities do you foresee for live music to survive or evolve in the wake of the current situation?
On the other hand, a livestream obviously doesn’t hold the same power as a live show, but as it’s become part of the status quo, what sort of possibilities do you see for bands to use new and online technologies to keep music alive and maintain the excitement of audiences?
Are there any plans or hopes for a Red Lokust live performance in the foreseeable future?
Semonik: Oh man, we are in trouble, aren’t we? It’s bad, though I see folks doing the livestreaming thing in quite ingenious ways. Anyone catch that Null Device set? I don’t think you’ll see Red Lokust doing that. Our show is very interactive, and also, the distance between Lee and I sort of complicates that. I’m not really set up for that type of thing and my heart wouldn’t be in it. I need to be in front of people. Red Lokust put out a new album at the worst possible time, didn’t we? But I guess I can tell you that we were supposed to play the ColdWaves Pre-Party show with some great bands who have been on Saviors comps. It’s a giant bummer, but I think if we can still hang onto that for next year, we’ll have something really special lined up. I’m dying to play these new songs live. We’ll see if Dark Side of the Con happens because we are on that.
I don’t know, man. It’s a terrifying time to be an artist or anyone in the entertainment business basically because we feel like we have no future.
On top of all of that, you’ve been running Distortion Productions. Besides the financial aspects, what have you found to be the major challenges in running a label in the digital age?
What sorts of changes – both in the industry and in audiences – have you seen take place, and how do you feel you’ve responded to them in the way you run Distortion Productions?
Semonik: Yes indeed. I love the label business, though with the label essentially just being me, it presents a ton of challenges. Staying on top of all of the daily tasks that need finishing – i.e. sending out orders, getting digital releases set up, Bandcamp, my day job, social media, doing one sheets, website updating, etc. – is the most challenging because I have to eat, sleep, and find time to enjoy life and my relationship. Physical sales are the biggest change I’ve seen. I still get a fair share of them, but digital
is far greater. We try to give incentives. We did those two Deathline International physical singles, the four latter discs in ES6 are physical exclusives, and we give free gifts with orders too, so I’m always looking for ways to make my customers happy.
You were recently featured in Deathline International’s second cover of ‘Troops of Tomorrow.’ Tell us about that, how you came to be part of it and your thoughts on the song, what it means to you?
Semonik: I can’t begin to comprehend it. When Christian asked me to contribute, obviously I didn’t hesitate. I love him like a brother, and I’ve loved DLI since my college days, and COP was the first label I ever repped for. We live in difficult times. To be able to be a part of something so monumental is nothing short of amazing. The Black Lives Matter movement is very important, so any contribution to help was a no-brainer. The funds going to the ACLU is a wonderful thing. You only live once, so a meaningful contribution like this with so many awesome people that I’ve idolized over the years is an honor.
What’s next for you?
Photography provided courtesy of Jim Semonik