Written by Karolis Žukas
First time I saw their video and heard the sound of ‘Salem’, a strange sensation filled me, it was something very fresh and new, something I’ve never heard before, very beautiful, but also cold and freaky. This music is really not for everybody. This band is one of those that you will either love from the first time or think it’s some kind of nonsense and forget as soon as possible. I loved them immediately and stuck to their songs like a leech.
At first I thought that this project is created by some crack smoking older guy, but after researching I discovered that ‘Salem’ is actually a witchy trio from Chicago/Michigan, consisting of John Holland, Heather Marlatt and Jack Donoghue that are in their early twenties. They were first noticed four years ago, when two small releases called ‘Water’ and ‘Yes, I Smoke Crack’that were produced in really small numbers became so popular that were sold out in the pre-sale. It came out as a new wind that brought dark electrified cloud to the sky of the music industry. It was because of their scary album covers with sacral images, wooden crosses, candles, strange dark places, and because of the stories about drugs and prostitution told by Jogn Hollan, the group gained mystic status.
But lets start from the very beginning. John Holland grew up in a family of musical people: father taught him to play viola, mother introduced him to the harp, and John himself started learning piano at five. But once he hit the adolescence, heroin and cocaine became his best friends and later on he even started selling himself in the gas stations. It mostly probably was the time when the whole nihilistic attitude developed and John acquired the amniotic, drug misted view of the world. He was studying at the arts school at that time and there he met Heather Marlatt. They were both driven by the passion for gloomy, occult images and scenes that polished the aesthetic form of the ‘Salem’ after all. After first attempts of creating electronic music, John realised that the only really important thing for him is music and that this is pushing him to live. After enrolling into the art college in Chicago, which he never finished because of his addictions, he met Jack Donoghue who became his close partner in creating music. When Heather came to visit John for several months, the trio clicked so much that decided to form the band. The name ‘Salem’ was chosen because of the Salem colony in America, which is famous of their witch trials.
John played more club music, which is probably because of his love for amphetamine. But the other members of the band brought different shades to the music, everybody gave something of their own, which created a unique genre that they call ‘drag’, and the others name it as ‘witch house’. They always work together, but each of them has his/her own specific function in their pieces. John and Heather play synthesizer and guitar, also sing. John’s voice reminds of a spirit speaking through disturbing radio waves, Heather sounds like a fallen angel or a siren, which makes you drown in her voice, meanwhile Jack creates mechanical and cold rhythm and raps like a demon. They compiled what seemed to be incompatible — lo-fi, shoegaze sound of the guitar, burning synthesizers and hip hop rhythms, topping it all with gothic spices. It seems like the spirit of the one and only Edgar Alan Poe is trying to flow into the madness of the 21st century.
Salem music video
Salem is a modern shaman that finds power in drugs and madness, they charm with sounds and create the breath of the apocalypse. Their music is a walk through a brutally beautiful world, paranoiac American cities and suburbs, emptied by the depression, those that inspired Lynch to create ‘Eraserhead’. These guys illustrate their music with quite bad quality videos they make themselves that strangely remind of nightmares. Their works stimulate numbness and alter the regular perception into the complete apathy.
Members of this band live their lives exactly like this, they listen to all kinds of music, do not care about different races or orientations, sleep in their interviews, do not worry about what other people think about their music because they love it and like to listen to it. At first they refused to take photos of themselves and stated that concerts are out of the question. So, as you can see, Bukowski’s ‘don’t give a shit’ attitude was the way they lived, and meanwhile other similar bands and artists started to appear, so a whole witch house genre cult was formed, first by copying ‘Salem’, later creating new and fresh works, where broken rhythm, slow vocals and occult themes were dominating.
When ‘Salem’ recorded their first full album ‘King Night’ they got an offer to play in Rome, and because it was a great opportunity to travel, they decided to go. It was this exact concert when something clicked and they decided to continue playing for the audiences. Now John, Jack and Heather have about ten live concerts in their pocket and have already started their tour in the North America. It is sill difficult for them to play live, which isn’t that strange keeping in mind that they played in a house in the suburbs of Michigan for ten years before this. The important thing is to hope that these young witches will gain some experience and their concerts will become similarly strange and secretly charming as the atmosphere in their videos.