Raunchy's Mike Semesky
By Jay Oakley
With the new album Vices. Virtues. Visions, how was the recording?
It was great, I had an excellent time recording this album with these guys. It was such an interesting process. I've got quite a bit of studio experience now but non quite like this because we have two vocalists, myself and Jeppe Christensen and on occasion we would run in to these obstacles where we would be pronouncing vowel sounds differently. It was really bizarre.
All the songs are in English, we're not speaking in Danish but just the way they pronounce certain vowels in American English are just a hair different and when you hear that on top of one another and when they vowel sounds are not being pronounced the same in harmony it creates this weird little tension and it kind of sticks out. That's when you can tell that one guy was born an ocean apart from the other guy but it was a real eye-opening experience recording with a foreign band with a slight language barrier but besides that obstacle everything was great. We ended up operating under the old "when in doubt" round your vowel sounds approach but to answer your question it was a really fun experience recording over there in Copenhagen.
With the album being released and to anyone listening you can definitely hear two different vocalists in it but to anyone who's not familiar to you sing with more of the grit and the roaring or do you do more of the choruses and straight singing?
Yeah so there's two vocalists and the last vocalist who I replaced Kasper (Thomsen) only did the screams but when he left they were looking for someone who could do both screams and clean vocals and they had never really explored that with Kasper because I hate to say he was only a screaming vocalist simply because he was a phenomenal screaming vocalist and very dynamic but it opens new doors for us dynamically having two melodic vocalists as well as aggressive vocals. But I'm the guy that's doing all the screams and all the gritty, chest hair clean vocals but but we have a lot of duet and back and forth parts, Jeppe and I so we'll both be on all the choruses and basically trading back and forth. As far as who has which lines that just depends on each song and Jeppe has a higher and a bit more poppy vocal tone.
Overall where you happy with the final product?
Absolutely, we went with Jacob Hansen who produced the last three Raunchy albums before Vises. Virtues. Visions and I'll tell you what he's very much become a part of the band because Raunchy's kind of a hybrid of like pop, metal and electronic and Jacob really gets that. I think he's really in tune with that hybrid nature sound and he's able to highlight our strengths. So I'mhappy with how it came out. I think it's very different then any other Raunchy album not only because there's a different vocal sound but stylistically it's a bit of a departure from the previous others.
A couple of the tracks I wanted to highlight from the record, one was "Digital Dreamer" which I thought was a standout track on the record. How did the writing go and how did that on piece itself together?
Honestly, that's probably my favorite one. Mainly because of Jeppe, his voice is just fucking awesome and it's such a fun live song. We just did the Headbangers Ball tour in Europe and that was the first time we played any of our new songs live because our album just came out in November so it was nice getting to play the new stuff live. So with that song, I wrote all of the lyrics for this album and the concept behind everything and that's actually been the writing formula. The last vocalist Kasper, I believe he wrote all the lyrics and Jeppe just has this incredible knack for writing vocal melodies that are infectious and can take like any two lyrics and make the most infectious hook and he wrote the hooks for "Digital Dreamer" in one session just based off, at the time, this little poem that I wrote. He created this epic chorus and I absolutely adore that hook and it's always stuck in my head.
When I listened to it I thought to myself we have to talk about this song and the other song I wanted to highlight on because it still has that same kind of thrashy-ness to the guitar riffs and that same style that fits for you guys was "I, Avarice." It had a melody driven chorus that really stood out and I don't want to necessarily call it slower but it shows the other vocal styling very clearly.
"I, Avarice" was just me on it actually. Yeah, so I do all the screams and cleans in that one. Here's the funny thing about that song. Jeppe doesn't really listen to metal, he likes some metal, he likes Raunchy for the most part but the funny thing is when our writing process starts it tends to start with the guitar riffs and it grows from there. Everyone has their own little recording studios and they're working on their parts and Jesper sent out a pre-production demo of that song and Jeppe contacted me after he got it because we would divide up parts, which sections should I take, which sections should you take, where should we meet and we'd go back and forth and stuff.
Maybe I shouldn't be telling you this [Laughs] but it probably doesn't matter but Jeppe says, "I couldn't even make it to the end of that song. I hate that song." It's so funny, that's how he is. He always calls himself a grumpy old man and it's so funny because he really is sometimes but we all love him to death. He was just like, "How much do I have to pay you just to do that entire song?" I was like, "Dude, I'll take it."
With the record as a whole, what are your goals for it? What do you hope to achieve?
I wanted to challenge listeners and I wanted to make people think. It's a concept album and I based it around the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues.
Just to sum it up, I tried to create this dichotomy between the extremes of vises and the extremes of virtues and make each song illustrate the balancing act that we go through as humans between the two. We're not necessarily one hundred percent envious or one hundred percent prideful or one hundred percent lustful all the time. We usually fall somewhere on the spectrum between that and its opposing virtue so that's basically what seven of the songs are about so I kind of came up with these little narratives to illustrate those concepts.
The four remaining songs from Visions are kind of where I see humanity going in the event that our behavior continues to weigh more and more on the side of vices and we don't find virtue and we don't find direction in our moral compass because that's just so crucial to our existence in the future and our children and our children's children. So I wanted to challenge listeners and I wanted it to be a thought piece. I wanted people to read the lyrics and take from it what they will and see if they relate to any of it or find it eye-opening. That's pretty much the main goal or at least my goal.
The next direction I wanted to take this is for fans and readers that don't know, this is Raunchy's sixth record but it's the first with you. So how did you come into the picture?
It's really interesting. So right after I had announced that I was leaving The HAARP Machine I got a message on Facebook from one of the Raunchy guys. So I get this message from one of the Jespers, there's two Jespers, I mean naturally it's a Danish band, so Jesper hits me up and says our vocalist Kasper left a few months back and we haven't made any announcements about it but we see that you just left HAARP and we like your work and we think that your style could be really fitting and asked if I'd like to audition.
At that time, Raunchy had never really tapped the States before. They'd never been to the States but they'd been to fucking Russia and China, all over Europe and everything but just never had the representation in the States. But I had discovered them in the Myspace days so way back and I'd been a fan of them since their album Death Pop Romance. So when I got that message I screamed like a little girl and then calmly responded, "Yes."
They sent me a demo of what's now called "Luxuria," it's track seven on the album. It was a pre-production demo and asked me to write to it and record it. I wrote between forty-five seconds to a minute worth of material to it just about a verse or a chorus or something like that and sent it to them and I guess they were really stoked on it because the next thing I know I was in the band. It happened really fast.
Overall, how do you feel your relationship and your chemistry is with the band? Don't get me wrong there's a certain amount of obviousness to the question because you're there and recorded the album so on and so forth so you can't be fighting with each other all the time but just in general how does it feel?
They are some of the friendliest people. Everyone has a personality and just really welcoming and funny and accommodating but two things. One, Denmark ranked the number one happiest country in the world so it's kind of hard not to get along with people from there and it also explains why not to many Danes come over here. They're pretty happy where they are. I don't know what went into getting those statistics but just going over there and just being a part of that culture and immersing yourself in that culture you get the sense that people are happy over there.
Secondly, all these guys grew up in this small town in Denmark. They grew up together, they were childhood friends, they started playing music together in1990. So it was very much a brotherhood to begin with, so coming into it there was already this type of family, laid back vibe and they just kind of welcomed me with open arms and at the same time towered over me. I'm five foot ten and everyone over there is a fucking viking, like six foot three, but seriously right from the get go, instant chemistry. And for some reason they think I'm hilarious which is crazy because I tell exclusively horrible jokes so maybe their laughing at me because I'm the retarded American in a Danish band but I can't say enough about those guys.
How is 2015 shaping up for you? What do you have coming up if there is anything you can announce?
So the first part of 2015 was our Headbangers Ball tour which was fucking sick I loved playing the new material with the guys. Next up we have a European tour next month I can't remember the exact dates but it's a headlining tour and I'm stoked because that just means we get to play more songs which I love doing and I love getting to explore the back catalog and getting to play these new songs live. We have a few festivals confirmed but one one has been announced. We're doing the Copenhell Festival which is the biggest metal festival in Denmark and it's like ten thousand people, it's fucking massive. They're major show goers in Europe like they want to see their shows, they want to see their metal. So that's going to be ridiculous it's like Rise Against, Gojira, Asking Alexandria, and a lot of really good names.
What do you like to do on your down time? I can't imagine you're hopping planes to Denmark on a super consistent basis.
I really don't have down time. When I'm not on tour I teach voice lessons over Skype. It's really fun. I promote it a bit over social networking but it's great because I get to work with fans and I get to have that face time with fans who are really passionate about learning how to sing, how to sing properly and set a nice foundation for their voices and it's so much fun because I'm teaching so many kids from around the world which posses a difficulty when I'm trying to schedule a lesson with someone from Australia where it's like sixteen hours into tomorrow. That takes up my time but I also do session vocals for various artists and I've got some other projects as well. Studio bands and I've been working on solo material for a little while now so time is pretty filled up but one thing I've been doing as of late is I've gotten into reading the Game Of Thrones books. They're phenomenal.
Mike, thanks so much for your time and I hope you enjoyed the interview.
Yes, very much so.