At Portland’s The Branx on Friday, April 1st, on the last stop of their tour, QRO got a chance to see & interview SALEM. Jack Donoghue, John Holland, and Heather Mariatt talked about the tour, going to Europe in the future, their "mixed genre" sound (or not), working for free, working for $$$, working for trade, recording in a barn during a rainstorm, Steve O, and more…
To tell you the truth I didn’t have high expectations for this show. It’s not that I don’t like SALEM. I really like this band, but I had seen some really awful live shows on YouTube. The mix was bad, the vocals were unaffected and the band didn’t look like they wanted to be there. But who knows anyone can have a bad show and someone can pop it onto YouTube to live forever. So I signed up for writing an interview, shoot photos of the live show, and write this review. Two of my friends and I all went together. Their live show exceeded all of our expectations. Between the fog and the strobes and the crowd going nuts doing the Portland hipster ‘dance’ pit, it was tricky to pop off very many decent photos. But you aren’t into photography or care whether sunless Portlanders have a rhythmic bone in their body, you wanna know about the music.
It’s just what you would expect when you listen to their album, if not better. There’s just something about music with heavy bass in a live situation. When those subs shake the air creating a physical quality to the music. At that point you’re not just listening to SALEM, SALEM is making your clothes flap and shake. At that point the music engulfs you more than the swarm of ironically (?) glow-sticked hipsters that are stepping on your feet. So go find where the speakers are in the fog and get ready to be amazed with atmospheres and thunderous beats.
QRO: What was your favorite part of this tour? What was the worst part of this tour?
Heather Mariatt: My favorite part was going to the beach in San Diego, also seeing all my friends who live in cities. The worst part was I was sick for half of the tour.
John Holland: My favorite part of the tour was watching the sunset through the mountains on our drive to Portland from San Diego. The worst part was feeling lonely and tired most of the time.
QRO: What bands are you listening to currently?
Jack Donoghue: I’ve been listening to a lot of bagpipe music and Young Jeezy
JH: Samuel Barber’s "Adagio For Strings" (choral version), Gregorian chant, "Mayonnaise" by The Smashing Pumpkins (QRO live review), VOCALOID, Lord Infamous, Children of the Corn, DJ Elmo, the slow ballad by BIGGY about robbing stuff…
QRO: Will you be touring abroad soon?
JD: Dasha Zhukova has invited us to Moscow
HM: We are also going to Barcelona in May.
QRO: Now that you’ve made this much discussed mixed genre sound, where do you think it will go from here?
JH: We’ve never considered it "mixed genre" music – we don’t think about or work on our music in a way where we are consciously taking things from different kinds or genres of music.
I don’t think this is a point where we stop and think and change direction. We are working in the continuum we have been since the beginning, which isn’t going to change. The music takes us to new places much more then we take the music. We are never planning out our sound or are very conscious of our decision making most of the time. I’m not sure where it will go from here. We will keep working and expression ourselves and in time we’ll see what has happened.
HM: We didn’t set out to create a genre or a movement; I just want to keep making music with my friends.
QRO: I’m a gear geek and I’m not the only one. What equipment do you use to get your sound?
HM: We aren’t into gear. There aren’t any special instruments we use; we have guitars and keyboards and we record music wherever we are.
JH: We have a lot of instruments and we record sounds from the world around us too.
QRO: Who would you like to remix or work with next?
JD: Rotterdam Terror Corps.
JH: I would like to work with Twista, a children’s choir, a traditional koto player, and my parents, who play viola and harp…
QRO: I read you recorded some material in Africa. Where is the strangest place you’ve recorded?
JD: Either this little tin studio in Obuasi, or John’s old neighbor crying, when he lived in Chicago.
JH: In a barn during a rainstorm, which isn’t that strange – just different and was really nice.
QRO: I read you were trying to figure out how to improve your live show to enhance how people experienced your music. Have you found a way to shape it into what you want?
JD: The more time and energy we put into our live show the more it continues to improve.
QRO: Has anyone tried to use your music in films or commercials? Would you be into that?
JD: I would want the movie to fit with our music… We would really like to score a film. Probably no to a commercial unless they offered us crazy $$$, that would allow us to fund something else we wanted to do.
HM: Yeah, we all think doing a film or even a TV show would be amazing. I think it would be a lot of fun – we are all pretty into narratives.
QRO: I saw the fan-made video for "King Knight" (QRO mp3 review) by qlime and love it. Have you seen it? What do you think of the business of making music videos when fans make great music videos and upload them for free?
JD: I think it’s nice if our work inspires someone else to make something.
HM: I agree that it’s really cool when we inspire other people. At the same time, I firmly believe in people being paid for their work. We do a lot of trades with people, which is a good system as well.
Fan-made video of "King Knight" by qlime:
QRO: Do you expect to see a bunch of knock off bands to imitate your sound and homogenize it to make it more accessible to a more mainstream demographic?
JD: [laughs] Never thought about that…
JH: No, I don’t know…
HM: I am not sure how one would go about doing that since we appeal to a large demographic as it is. Sometimes sensationalists make it seem like only drug addicted-goth runaways are SALEM fans, but I have met a lot of older folks and white-collar people who are really into what we are doing. No one can replicate us.
QRO: If you weren’t making music what would you be doing?
JD: Decomposing… That’s why we have to compose…
HM: I don’t know; I always made music.
JH: I would hate to not make music.
QRO: What kind of jobs did you have before SALEM?
JH: I worked at a bait shop one summer when I was young, counting worms.
JD: I delivered flowers in downtown Chicago one summer.
HM: I still have a job…
QRO: Who would you like to tour with?>
HM: I am not sure… I like to be alone more so being on tour is hard as it is.
JH: All the guys from Jackass and Wild Boys, especially STEVE O!
QRO: Are you working on a new album right now?
JD: We are always making new music. We still really do make our music for each other/ourselves. There are a few songs that I think could go on the next album but we having started putting it together so… We don’t know.
QRO: What are your thoughts on dubstep wobble bass?
JD: No thoughts…
HM: [laughs] What?
JH: There are some dubstep songs I like. I don’t know what "wobble bass" is.
QRO: You’ve said in other interviews that you didn’t intend for your music to come off as dark. Do you think there will be a ‘bright and happy’ album coming later?
JD: It already is bright at times…
JH: I don’t consider it dark and don’t consider it bright and happy either. I hope our music can make people feel all different kinds of things.
HM: We try to aim higher in emotion than "happy or sad?"
QRO: Any advice for budding musicians?
JD: Sleep your way to the top.
JH: Fuck the internet.
HM: I would say rep yourself and stay true to yourself. There are a lot of people who get taken advantage of and that’s sad.
QRO: Are any of you planning on doing any solo projects in the future or any new side projects?
JD: I am very happy working to have people I care about and trust to work with.
QRO: If you were to snort anyone’s ashes, Keith Richards style, who would you pick?
JD: Why would I want to snort ashes?…
HM: [to Jack] If you could snort anyone’s ashes AND get water mouth who would it be?
JH: My grandpa’s that way I could get to know him better.