Published Jan 26, 2009Appearing out of thin air enigmatically like an ominous cloud of black smoke, Chicago/NYC/Michigan-based SALEM have bewildered bloggers and tastemakers with a sound unlike any other. Through smashing together such distinct styles as "black metal, Southern rap, early goth, screw, and juke," the trio have found a sound that is both frightening and sublime, distressful and puckish. Whether its the unsettlingly down-tuned bass that rumbles through your soul or the demonic murmurs that whisper curses, John Holland, Jack Donoghue and Heather Marlatt make music that evokes an intense reaction from the listener - be it awe, excitement, fear or bowel disruption (see the "Dirt" video and find out which one you are - http://vimeo.com/1700724?pg=embed&sec=1700724). With two stunning EPs under their belt - Yes, I Smoke Crack (Acephale) and Water (Merok) - it's just a matter of time before their forthcoming full-length hits... like a sack of bricks to the face and a handful of Quaaludes, I presume.
Seeing as there isn't a lot of info about you online, can you tell me a little bit about how you came together and started making music?
Heather: John met Jack when he was living in Chicago. John and I met in high school. I went to live with John in Chicago for awhile and that's when we started to make music as SALEM.
Jack: John and Heather met in a boarding school when they were younger. I met John in Chicago during the summer.
You guys are "shrouded in mystery" (to quote Trash Menagerie). Do you find maintaining some sort of anonymity is the best way to represent your music?
Heather: We don't try to maintain anonymity.
Jack: Making our music and doing other things is more important than who we are as individuals so we dont put very much energy towards that. But if people want to write about us or take a picture cause they like what we are doing that's alright.
In a previous set of questions I sent you guys last year, you told me how shoegazing played a big part in shaping the band's sound. But there seems to be a lot of other influences at work, which you've admitted are "black metal, Southern rap, early goth, screw, and juke." How did the sound come together?
Heather: We all listen to the same music, maybe some of us are influenced by one form more than another, but we share the same tastes. There was no conscious decision to merge different sources, we just began recording and the songs have evolved from there.
Jack: I like footwork, juke, rap, high hats snarefills...
On the Big Stereo blog, someone wrote the following in reference to you guys:
What do you make of the goth references? They seem to dominate the way the press and blogs portray you...
Heather: We are not so much influenced by gothic things. It doesn't bother us though.
Jack: Goth is cool. We aren't goth though. I think what we are doing doesn't have a sub category that it clearly fits into so people say words that describe something else. We like mall goths, and would like if they liked us.
SALEM's music really exudes some strong emotions. A song like "Dirt" makes me feel disoriented and a little uneasy - a bit like what I imagine crack cocaine to feel like. Are those the types of reactions you hope to get from your listeners?
Jack: We honestly are not doing things for reactions, our music is the product of three people putting what they are thinking about and want to hear together. We like when people take something for our music though. (Crack feels different)
This unsettling vibe to SALEM, be it the manipulated vocals (which some site described as "the most menacing, destructive goblin-in-the-night-to-rape-your-children voice possible"), the "screwed + chopped" treatment to the beats, press shots and definitely the videos. Is that kind of ominous presence something that just comes out of you? Or is it something you strive to create with your art?
Heather: We definitely think a lot about the work we make at the same time it emerges naturally.
Jack: It just comes out, if you met us you would belive that we are not trying to do anything. There is an aesthetic that is SALEM but it's what we naturally gravitate towards and produce.
So far you've only released a few limited edition vinyl runs. Are you considering more traditional methods of releasing material in the future?
Heather: Right now we are working on releasing a CD with Merok Records.
On that note, what do you have planned this year? Album, tours, mixed media extravaganza, etc?
Heather: We hope to start working on the album and tour. Jack is starting our new video at the moment.
Jack: I am making another video, we are making songs, taLking to people, thinking about playing shows...
I haven't seen SALEM perform. What is your live set-up like?
Heather: We have yet to perform as of now, that is something we are working on.
Finally, did you know there are at least 10 bands that share the name SALEM, according to Last.fm? Does that threaten how you guys function?
Heather: No. We don't care. They know who we are.
Jack: No because there is only one good band named SALEM, in our opinion anyway.