SALEM: witchy trio from America

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.

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