Some days it seems like absolutely everyone knows Jim Semonik. Even across the country in California, every single industrial fan I talked to had heard of him—and his brainchild, the cancer benefit compilation Electronic Saviors. Jim got the idea for Electronic Saviors after being diagnosed with stage IIB colorectal cancer in 2008 and, the day after finishing his first regiment of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, he bounced the concept off 16volt frontman Eric Powell. Before he’d even finished explaining the idea, Powell’d agreed that this needed to happen. With the support of Powell—a musician Jim claims as an idol—Jim went on to contact other musicians that he knew, whose shows he’d put on through his company Distortion Productions. To say the idea was well-received is an understatement: what he’d initially envisioned as a two-CD jewel-case compilation morphed into a Metropolis Records-backed four-CD package set, with a fifth CD’s worth of additional tracks up for download. In total, this project raised more than twenty thousand dollars for the Foundation for Cancer Research and Wellness last year. The success of that first volume was enough that a second one is in the works, with a submission deadline of August 15th and estimated release of spring of 2012.
When I caught up with Jim to pick his brain over the effects and future of Electronic Saviors, I found he remains grounded yet overwhelmingly enthusiastic and hopeful for the future of the series—even if he’s still coming to terms with how it’s all rendered him the Jim Semonik.
In regards to the success of Electronic Saviors, and how random people across the country know you . . . Did you ever expect it to reach this kind of level?
No. Way. No way. I never in a million years would’ve expected to be, I don’t know, sort of a minor celebrity in terms of the industrial scene. I’m not your Andy from Combichrist or Al Jourgensen from Ministry . . . but if I’m gonna be known to people, I want it to be for positive stuff. I realize that it’s probably not gonna be my band (Rein[Forced]) that makes me famous, but if I can be remembered for something positive like Electronic Saviors then I definitely want to keep doing it, and help as many people as I can.
What kind of feedback from volume 1 have you experienced?
I got some amazing emails from total strangers. Whenever I wrote my essay for the physical edition’s booklet, I put my email address in there and said, “Hey, get in touch. I don’t care who you are. If this is a case that’s near and dear to you, or you know someone, or have been affected by it personally, I want to hear from you.” I got wonderful emails from people, some unbelievably touching stuff, telling me their stories and how the compilation has helped them. In fact, I was talking to a guy the other night, my friend Chris Saunders, who’s going to be going through chemotherapy; he has liver and lung cancer and he was telling me about how the comp helped him get through some really rough times. And to hear that, coming from someone who’s basically a total stranger . . . I mean, I know this guy from Facebook.
It’s hard to talk to someone who’s in that position, I know; it’s one where you find out who your real friends are. If someone I know is struggling with cancer, I don’t want them to ever think they’re alone in the world. And yeah, it’s something you do think about. Sometimes it helps to talk to a survivor, someone who’s been through it—and if it helps, that’s the best thing I can do.
You feel that Electronic Saviors has been a direct help, then? Not just in the donation deal, but in the human impact as well?
Oh, for sure. I definitely think so. There’s no way of knowing that unless I’ve heard from people, and that’s exactly the kind of feedback that I got—just, incredibly positive. Not just from people who bought it but from the artists who participated in it—eighty-three of them, and the next one’s even more. Right now I’m hovering somewhere at around a hundred tracks. The fact that it’s gone to helping people, this kind of music? We’re usually the black sheep of genres; we get blamed for tragedies, school shootings, there’s that kind of negative stigma attached to this scene, and there’s no reason we can’t do something positive. That’s exactly what the goal is, though it goes over some people’s heads—that the true goal isn’t to raise money but to help people. Yes, money helps people, but there’s more to it.
What’s it mean to you, on a personal level—the response, and the snowballing of it all?
I’m honored, really. I never in a million years would’ve thought it would’ve amounted to this. Personally, I couldn’t be more satisfied with how it came out, and the response too, and we’ll see if we can keep that going. I can’t wait to see if the second one does the same thing. (…) I feel like what we’re crafting with the second one is everything the first one was, but more. We’re still going to go with the same packaging design, we’re still going to have a lot of reading material on the inside like we had in the first one, and there’s more bands involved this time. Instead of blue and purple packaging this one’s gonna be gold with the same cyborg character being held by a female character (…) Jeff (Confer) and Sam (Johnson) are going to be working on it again, and their stuff is just mind-blowing.
How many & what artists/bands are adding in this time? Any surprises?
Lots! There’s a lot of really—would it be a surprise if I told you? I just got a Project Pitchfork track which is a brand new song from their upcoming record, but it’s a remix so you won’t be able to get it on that record. The Gothsicles sent over their track—I’m not gonna tell you what it’s called but you guys are gonna love it. There is a collaboration between Eric from 16volt and Brittany from I:Scintilla that’s happening; there’s a collaboration between Dan Clark (The Dark Clan) and Wreckreation; there’s an exclusive Covenant remix. (…) I know I’m getting a new Chemlab track—it’s something I’m involved with but I don’t even know what it’s gonna sound like, because I already sent in my part. But Wade Alin and myself had this idea . . . It was supposed to be a Christ Analogue track that I was going to sing with him on, and it turned into a supergroup overnight, literally. We ended up getting Martin Atkins from Pigface and Killing Joke and whatever other thousand bands Martin’s been in, and Charles Levi from My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult . . . Martin laid down drums, Charles laid down bass, I sung a little bit but there’s gonna be more, I just have to wait for the track. We’re supposed to get Matt from Caustic, Brian from Gothsicles, and maybe Ned from Stromkern to sing on it too. And it’s supposed to be a supergroup so he said, “What if we called it Cancerface?” And I was like, “I think it’s awesome—let’s do it.” So I’m waiting on that one too, and collaborating with Jimmy from I:Scintilla on an Ayria remix of the song Blue Alice. I always perform that song with them whenever they come to town and people are always on me, “Why don’t you guys record that?” And I’m like, “It’s Jen’s song!”—but she came to me and said, “Hey, why don’t I send you the kit and you can maybe do a remix, including your vocals?”
I did a collaboration with the band Uberbyte, from the UK; Dan Clark and Andrew from Iris did a collab under the name The Mighty Chouffe, and that song at this point is probably the most heartfelt and touching song on the compilation. It’s beautiful, and I told Dan after I heard it, “That’s gonna be the heart and soul of it.” We have Syrian from Italy; we have Nachtmar from Austria; Project Pitchfork from Germany . . . We should have God Module out of Portland, Terrorfakt from NY, Caustic from Madison, Sensuous Enemy from Chicago—it’s gonna span everywhere. There’s a good amount of unsigned acts that’ll end up on the digital download, and some will be on the actual physical copy. These musicians are brilliant, brilliant people, and way underrated for what they do. I definitely want to give exposure to artists that I feel are very talented, artists who are using this opportunity to not only help people, but to really further their music.
Something’s happening every day. We’re a month out from deadline at this point, and I can tell that after deadline it’s gonna be a nightmare—a fun nightmare. These things are great to put together but it’s just an incredible amount of work.
Do you have a receiving charity in mind for this time around?
I have one particular charity in mind, but ultimately it’s going to be a democratic choice by any band that wants to be involved in making the choice; I want the bands to be able to think about it. The foundation I chose for the first was the Foundation for Cancer Research and Wellness, because when I was going through treatment they helped me out and I wanted to give back to them. American Cancer Society . . . As much good stuff as they do, I don’t think we would even make a dent, that our donation would really even be noticed. I’d rather it go to someone small, independent, who’s doing stuff on a ground level where we can see the results. And someplace that doesn’t support animal testing—that was one of the only stipulations, no animal testing. It kind of makes things difficult—when you’re looking for a place that does biological research, most likely they’re going to test on animals.
So what are your plans for the future of Saviors, from here on out?
After the deadline Chase and I will be sitting in front of a computer screen and a stereo probably from August until November, at which point we’ll get the master in to Da5id Din from Informatik (who did the mastering on the first one). During that time Jeff and Sam will be working on the artwork, and I’ll be working on the credits and hype and trying to figure out where everything’s going to go. If I get the masters to Metropolis in December, we’re looking at a March or April 2012 release. Last time we released it in February and couldn’t do a lot of touring to support it because of the weather, but if it comes out during the warmer months I definitely want to get out there and next summer just do a string of showcases with Saviors bands. After the box set comes out and is out for a few months I’ll probably take some time off . . . Let everyone absorb the second one and enjoy it, and we’ll see where we’re at in a year . . . And then I’ll start on three. (…) I think I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity to get to release on Metropolis. If they want me to do a fourth one, and the fans want me to do a fourth one I will gladly do it, but honestly, doing this is in an incredible amount of work. After three, I really don’t know how much more I can say. It’s up to you guys, really. But if it can help other people . . . One person. One person is all I need for it to help, one, and I’ll feel like my goal is complete.