Stop me if you’ve heard this one. An engineer, a college student and a teacher walk into a bar. They meet up with a scientist and a civil engineer… wait. This doesn’t sound like the joke you were expecting? That’s because it’s not a joke at all. It’s the lineup of Minneapolis-based rock and rollers, Semeron. While each member has full-time obligations during the day, it’s at night that their true talents really come out. Hitting the stage with powerful lyrics, a talented rhythm section, and a stage presence all their own, Semeron could be one of Minneapolis’s best-kept secrets.
Fresh from a 40-minute practice session, Adam Hanson, Jesse Farrell, J.R. Westberg, Jeff Gyllen and Nick Ford eagerly stroll into a backroom of the Grace Evangelical Church in Fridley, a practice space generously loaned to them each Monday night. Shortly before 11 p.m., and still very much awake despite a full day already behind them, they continue to banter back and forth with one another. Describing themselves as “lounge metal,” a term I’m pretty sure is an underused one in the music scene; the guys of Semeron delve right into how they got their start at an early age. Each grew up with a musical background, whether it was parents placing them in music classes, giving them instruments or independently being interested in it, music was in the blood of each member. Knowing each other in middle school, and neighbors later in high school, Hanson, lead vocals, and Westberg, guitar, got the ball rolling. “We used to always get together. I’d bring my crappy acoustic guitar and my crappy amp and we’d jam,” Westberg said. “Adam would stop by and we’d play for like eight hours.”
Shortly after, Hanson decided the pair needed to practice on a weekly basis if any hope of a band was to be realized. It was fall of 2007 and Semeron was beginning to take shape. Molding classic metal, progressive and grunge sounds, Hanson and Westberg knew they had to find the right elements to complete their ensemble. Searching for members was proving futile until a local drummer answered their Craigslist ad. Hearing some demos and early recordings Hanson and Westberg had, Farrell, drums, came calling. “I responded with ‘I like what you’re doing but you need a lot of work,” he said as the group laughed. “So I told them to get back to me in six months.” Eventually, Farrell did join the band and the hunt for a bassist continued. Following Farrell’s induction, Gyllen, bassist, came into the picture. Bringing the band to a new level, Westeberg said, Gyllen fit right in. “As a bassist, I have to take whatever love I can get,” he joked. Being both a vocalist and experience guitarist, Gyllen used his talents to step up the Semeron game plan. “I do try and create bridges and parts, as well as take lead on some songs. I try and use counter lines and sing along side Adam.”
In December of 2008, a minor switch in the lineup occurred when Ford, guitarist, took the place of Semeron’s former member, Tony Nelson, who had left to start a family. A Berklee educated guitarist, Ford added a metal touch to the “lounge” jammers. “Nick is definitely a lead,” Farrell said. “We have two lead guitars and I’ve never played with any better guitarist.” Being just as proud to play alongside his band mates, Ford said he couldn’t be happier. “It’s nice to play with other guitar players who know how to play,” he said. “It’s nice to have that texture and I’m learning just as much.”
The Name Behind the Music
After about an hour of the guys gushing over each other’s talents and playfully poking at one other, a topic change came about that was so natural but so very important as well. With each new thing I was learning about these five guys, I couldn’t help but wonder, where the hell did they find a name like Semeron? “It wasn’t taken on Google,” Westberg said as everyone laughed.
Studying Ancient Greek for some time, Hanson came across the word semeron. In Greek lexicon, the word semeron means ‘this [very] day’; ‘this day’; or ‘today’. “Ancient Greek was sort of a hobby of mine,” he said. “In the Lord’s Prayer there is the word semeron and it just evolved from there. I took the whole idea that we were not going to plan exponentially ahead and get starry eyed. We were playing for today. It’s cool to have a rock band but we have to remember we only have today. So, we play for today.”
The Writing Process
Deriving from equally passionate ideas, the lyrics and the basis of each song also have their own hidden meanings, meanings some members were even hesitant to explain. “We’re just trying to write songs that are story driven,” Hanson said. “We listen to a lot of what the music says and what it says about us and you try and figure it out.” Trying to keep things different is the spark the lead singer says keeps people interested. And, keeps them not only guessing as to what their music is saying to them but listening, as well.
“We like to write the music first and then Adam will put his lyrics up to the sound,” Westberg said.
“He seems to weave in deeper themes into the story,” Gyllen said. “If you knew the feeling behind the story, then we’ve really connected with you.”
Hanson claims doing the majority of the writing for Semeron forces him to write “off the wall crazy stuff” but if any of you reading this have listened to their music, you’ll find it fits perfectly with their sound. While each member actively participates in the creation of the song, each does have a specific role in its completion. “We’re still trying to figure out what’s appropriate and what isn’t appropriate for Semeron,” Ford said. “But, we’ve harmonized our guitars that were reserved for metal and we’d like to say we’re alternative with a dash of metal here and there.”
With a solid set of musicians ready to take their music to the masses, Semeron has forged forward to make a name for themselves in the Twin Cities. With high hopes for the New Year, Hanson, Farrell, Westberg, Gyllen and Ford are all looking at taking their “hobby” a bit further. “In the spring or summer we’ll get into a nicer studio and get some new stuff done,” Gyllen said. While still focusing on the present and not making fortune and fame a top priority, the guys are looking forward to continuing with their lives, but enjoying the time they have together as a band.
Coming from humble beginnings and a mere thought on the blip of a lofty idea, Semeron has realized some goals that, at the time, seemed impossible. “I never thought we’d consistently practice,” Westberg said. “I never thought we’d play a show. I never thought we’d get more than 30 people at a show.” And, with one of their biggest shows to date on the horizon, Semeron is getting ready to play on Friday, January 21, 2011 at The Fine Line in Minneapolis alongside nationally recognized locals, Throw The Fight. “You almost have to take a step back and objectively thinking, we’ve done some pretty cool stuff,” Westberg said. “And, I never thought we’d be playing with some of the best bands in the area.”