Collage by Salem
Interview I did with the band Salem back in August (just before their album release) along with some exclusive artwork they made to go along with the piece.
Your debut album is due to be released in the UK imminently. It’s been three years since your first release… how does it feel? Does it seem like a long time coming or has it all been quite a natural curve?
HEATHER: Sort of like a natural progression and also, a lot of the songs, when we made them we weren’t even planning on releasing them so I’m really happy to be doing a full length album.
JOHN: We wanted to make an album with the feeling of what we had been doing up until now. There’s some old songs that we had to re-do because I lost the original files, and some we just wanted to redo so they would be a bit more cohesive with the newer material. I dunno, I guess we weren’t working up to making an album but in a way we were…
JACK: It definitely feels natural. We didn’t really start out with any specific goals, except for making music. The album is a really good spectrum of what we’ve been doing and where we’ve been coming from for the last three years. We don’t really have milestones in terms of releasing stuff; we do for the music that we’re actually making ourselves.
So really you’re more into the thrill of having made a new tune at home than putting the album out as a product - that’s all kind of secondary?
JACK: Yeah, yeah. That’s what we’re motivated by. And since we’re not always together it’s like a back and forth process of sending each other parts of songs for everything to come together, but that’s what really motivated us more than the actual physical thing.
What I’ve heard of the album so far sounds a lot more dense than the older stuff - did you get some new equipment with the advance money or access to a new studio or whatever?
HEATHER: No not really, we didn’t get any new equipment we just wrote at our house as before. The newer songs that we make are a lot more full sounding than some of the older ones though, some of the material that had been around for longer eventually had to be rerecorded so it wouldn’t be as sparse.
How did you all meet in the first place then? Did you start out as a band, or more as a ‘project’ sort of thing?
JOHN: Each of us was working separately on solo stuff originally. I was living in Chicago, which was where I met Jack, and then Heather came and lived with me for a summer… the three of us got together, and started putting stuff on MySpace. It just sort of formed like that.
HEATHER: We never thought ‘why don’t we make a band?’ We were all working on music individually anyway and me and John never really left our apartment. Then Jack would start coming over and we’d start working on stuff. It was a really natural thing.
So are any of you still actually working on the solo stuff?
JOHN: Occasionally, but normally we will then bring that idea in and share it with each other and then all start to work on it. Salem’s a really equal, collaborative thing.
It’s weird; one thing people always go on about is your music being ‘slowed down’. What do you say to that, presumably it’s at the pace it was always intended right?
JACK: It’s not slowed-down, for the most part. I think it’s just a lower tempo than the pop music people are used to, so to them it just seems like it’s slower.
JOHN: Sometimes we slow part of a song down, like the beat in ‘Release Da Boar’, and other times we might slow a whole song down. I’ve never thought about it… I guess I’m never naturally inclined to work on something that’s a really fast tempo.
Over here Dubstep has gone pretty huge which kind of operates at a half speed tempo. I’ve already seen people draw parallels between that and what you do. Are you cool with that? It seems a little lazy…
JACK: What I’ve heard of Dubstep is pretty limited, I guess because it’s just not as big in New York. Recently people have talked about it and shown me stuff and I’m into some of it, but I don’t feel like I’m influenced by it. It’s not really something that I’m interested to play. Our sound might remind people of something else but it’s not a conscious thing.
JOHN: I’m cool with any kind of comparison, I mean I don’t really think about our music sounding like a certain distinct thing, I don’t care if anybody compares it to anything.
I’m guessing the whole Juke sound which is still a lot bigger in America than here is more of a ready reference for you guys?
JACK: There a lot of places in America that aren’t actually into Juke, but Chicago is super into it and I’m definitely interested in the drum work and the samples they use. When I was younger before I met John I would just fuck with juke tracks and chop them up and do different things to them or make my own or whatever.
Since you guys started there are other artists and bands that have sprung up who it could be said have taken a (big) influence from your sound. Do you ever feel like they’re ripping you off or do you see yourselves as being part of this wider scene?
JOHN: I like some of those bands. I don’t think of them any differently from any other bands out there. If there’s a song that I like, then I like it, if there’s a song I don’t like, then I don’t like it, I dunno… I’ve met the girl who’s in White Ring - she’s nice. I emailed the guy who’s in oOoOO, I just told him that I liked his music and he sent me a CD of songs and stuff - I really like his music a lot. We didn’t make up the word ‘drag’, it’s just another word - it’s really a Hip Hop term. I guess we do a lot of screw and drag remixes of songs that we like. I dunno if people just picked up on the word because of that and then applied it to us, because it actually already existed as term before all of this.
JACK: I like oOoOO, he’s really good. I’m not seeing it in the way like we’re ‘the Witch House band Salem’, but I’m not telling anyone else to avoid seeing it that way either. If that’s what it ends up being called, that’s what it is, but I don’t think I’ll ever see it in that way. Does that make any sense? Maybe I’m too close to it to see what people are saying…
So it’s not like it’s a big collective scene or something like that, for you guys anyway?
JOHN: I guess if I met them I would form some kind of kinship with one of those bands but I would have to meet the musicians.
HEATHER: We’re based in Traverse City [Michigan], which is a little isolated, so we’re not really part of any scene…
JACK: I’m not friends with very many musicians, apart from the people I’ve known for a long time. People are starting to talk to our manager though, asking about doing remixes with us and stuff. I’d love to collaborate with rap groups, or do video work, or do scores for movies… it could be the set up for the Salem Corporation.
Would you say that that sense of isolation has been a significant influence on your music?
HEATHER: Yeah, I think that our environment has definitely had a lot to do with the music we make. It’s easier to think in the kind of place that we live, so it’s easier to work. Individually, we all feel a step away from other people generally, but when we’re together, working on something, it’s like we’re all related - psychically connected.
Although they’re not considered ‘Witch House’ band or whatever Telepathe always seemed to have a similar ethos to you guys. Especially with the Hip Hop influence and textured / rhythmic sound etc, are you aware of them?
HEATHER: Yeah, we know of Telepathe and John is actually friends with them.
And going back to the whole rap thing, obviously you’ve remixed Gucci Mane several times, would you ever want to work with someone like that as producers, like on his album project or whatever?
JACK: I would love it if we found some really like amazing high school kid to put on and just promote and make a sick ass track for. I would love to have a legacy of like, high school rappers from the South or Chicago, and help people get out.
JOHN: Oh yeah, I think that’d be really great, I’d really, really like to do that. I’ve thought about doing that since I was young - I’ve always wanted to be a producer for rappers.
So has any dialogue ever taken place to that end, with Gucci himself or whoever?
JOHN: It’s really more our manager talking to other managers, stuff like that. I would really like to talk to the rappers we’ve created remixes for, we’re not doing Gucci Mane yet but DJ Nate is doing a remix of one of our songs.
And what do you think about performing live? Are you guys ready for all that?
JACK: Our energy is not the same as a lot of people you see live. I’d like it if we could create some different experience that people won’t necessarily be used to or comfortable with - I’d be totally into that.
HEATHER: There’s stuff I’d rather do… I don’t even like going to see other bands play – is that weird, to be in a band and not even be that interested in watching people standing on a stage playing?
JOHN: It’s a big step, but we’re all new to it. We’re still figuring out exactly what we want our show to be like, and there’s still a lot more we want to do with visuals. I’d love to have pitbulls and strippers on stage and stuff.
So how did you find playing at the SXSW festival earlier this year, and how did you feel about the reaction to it all from some parts of the music press?
JOHN: I didn’t enjoy SXSW at all… The whole event was just so…I thought the shows were fine, we played, and that was it. I don’t really know about all the scrutiny really because I don’t really read blogs or anything - I’ve only read like two things on it and that was about it. At the same time though I don’t know anybody who likes to read somebody talking shit about them.
JACK: I felt like we got invited to play somewhere that had a totally different expectation of what we were going to do, and clearly it’s an issue of communication. I was surprised people were so emotional about it, and to me it just didn’t seem like such an emotional thing. We put as much energy into that show as we would playing at our friend’s house, in that we weren’t super-psyched for it – and it didn’t matter if people did or didn’t like it. None of us have ever even been to a music festival like that before and I had no idea what to expect, and I assumed no one would really try to put us in that position - I didn’t even know that was a position you could be in! I’d rather play a smaller venue, maybe in the woods or something. Somewhere where people are out of their element enough to get out of that mindset where it’s like ‘I got drunk it and rocked back and forth to some band’. It’s just not what we’re offering; we don’t cater to the people that want to be in that frame of mind frame to listen to our music.
You guys have always had is a strong visual element to your online presence. All the occult references and triangles etc, is that for real, are you generally drawn towards darker stuff?
HEATHER: When we were kids, we were really interested in that kind of thing, especially because of where we live. Being surrounded by woods and stuff, we have a really strong connection to it all… I could never live in the city.
JACK: Anything we put out is something that we are feeling or moved by in some way; it’s all genuine. We’re a huge spectrum of emotions; there’s a lot of release in our music, like the senses are just overwhelmed. I think we’re offering people a really beautiful spectrum…
And finally… what do you think about the concept that music and art is going further together to create an atmosphere or experience at the moment? Do you think that people want something more holistic than just a band and some music?
JOHN: It’s fine to play songs on stage, but it seems more exciting to me to have a performance that is more like an event. We’re into all kinds of things, like arts, music, video and visual art… and we want to incorporate everything into our live show!
Video: Salem 'King Night'