The New Mood: Salem

Salem makes black ooze music. It flows languorously and is impossible to shake. The sound, which borrows as much from Dirty South hip-hop as it does from ’80s goth, is born from a dark place that some have called demonic. “I’m fine with that,” says band member John Holland. “But I don’t feel all that demonic when we’re making it.” Heather Marlatt adds, “It’s not like we’re on suicide watch. I just think we’re realistic people.” The fount of their gloom, explains Jack Donoghue, is more about disappointment than despair. “The older we get,” he says, “the more we realize things didn’t pan out the way we thought they would.”

But it’s a little hard to feel sorry for the press-shy trio, who are currently recording the full-length follow-up to their debut EP, Yes, I Smoke Crack, a limited edition vinyl affair that was released in early 2009. “We’re making a bunch of songs, and we’re going to choose the 12 best,” says Holland, oblivious to their impending success. “Isn’t that how you make an album?”

What kind of influence do drugs have on your music? Jack: There’s not much influence of drugs on the music that we make. They are not the main component of our music.

How did you think your music makes people feel? Jack: I mean I don’t even know how people feel in general. Heather: I don’t understand anyone. John: One time I was trying to send out music to someone, and there was this lady who asked “Could you meditate to it?” Then my friend asked, “How do you meditate?” and she was like, “You want to go to a place you’ve never been to before.”

Where does the need to make music come from? Heather: I don’t know what else I would do. Jack: It wasn’t like we sat down and made some decision. It sort of just happened.

How do you feel when people use words like “nightmarish” and “demonic” to describe your sound? John: It’s cool if it takes them to darker place, or if it’s “demonic.” But I don’t really feel that way when I make the song and listen to it.

What’s your relationship with nature? John: I feel a really strong connection to nature and the elements. It definitely plays a really huge part in our music. Heather: I think we all do, but we all sort of interpret it a little bit differently.

How has being born and raised in the Midwest affected you? Heather: Where John and I grew up, there wasn’t really anything, so I think that really pushed us into thinking about creative things. John: Everybody hates where they are if they’re there long enough. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Midwest or anywhere. Jack: I think that people in the Midwest are more real in a way. They’re more themselves without really realizing it. John: Something I’ve noticed about Michigan—I don’t know about all of the Midwest—but a lot of people have delusional ideas about reality and themselves, so they disassociate themselves from what’s really happening and create their own reality.

What things disappoint you? John: I think that we all have a really strong connection to our childhood and how we felt then, and then the older we get things happen and change, and sometimes it gets to the point where it makes you feel like the way you felt like when you a kid. Jack: I think we’re all sensitive, and somewhat connected more to that mentality

What do you guys do when you’re not working or making music? John: We all do different things. We work apart. We draw and take photographs and make collages and make food and go exploring and I don’t know we do all kinds of things. Jack: I guess that’s more of what Heather and John do. I don’t know what I do.

Photography by Terence Koh.

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