Salem is Scary Nice


Michigan and Chicago-based trio Salem take more than a few tips from Houston’s “chopped and screwed” rap scene, slowing their 808s to a funereal pace before hazing the songs with some of Sun-O)))’s smoked-out, stoner metal gloom. Out this week, King Night, the band’s first full-length, is as laid back and menacing as a matte-black ’95 Monte Carlo on oversized dubs. Somehow, we managed to make it through an entire phone conversation with Heather Marlatt, John Holland and Jack Donoghue without using any vocal effects.

KEN MILLER: How do you make songs while living in different places?

HEATHER MARLATT: Jack makes the beats, so he can send them to us. Then we’ll make the rest of the song and send it back. But when we first started working together, we were all living in Chicago.

MILLER: Do you think your music is spooky?

JOHN HOLLAND: I think of it as really emotional, but not spooky. I don’t really think of it in any way. It is what it is. I just think music slowed down has really different and important things going on… A lot of times music gets a lot of power and strength by being really fast. [Playing fast] has power to it because it gets your heartbeat going and gets your adrenaline going. But fast and slow are sort of the same thing, because they carry the same weight.

MILLER: How do you decide who’s going to do the vocals on each song?

HOLLAND: We think of the vocals the same as any instrument we use. Heather’s voice has one sound, my voice has another sound and Jack rapping is a different sound. But we don’t think of the vocals separately from the other instruments. We really think of everything equally–so for a lot of people, the bass might be the bottom and then they’re layering things on it. But we try to really think of everything all at once, so we might start with the beat or we might start with the vocals.

MILLER: Do you take more influence from electronic or rock music?

HOLLAND: I don’t really know what ‘rock music’ means anymore… I listened to a lot of rap growing up, but I also really like certain stuff with guitars, like some Smashing Pumpkins or Marilyn Manson. I get really influenced by that searing guitar sound.

MARLATT: Yeah, and also just the way you play a guitar. You’re not just standing onstage in front of a keyboard. John is going to be playing guitar on the new tour, and we try to keep the other equipment in the back of the stage. We don’t want all of these boxes and laptops glowing at you. It just looks so bad. We’re not technical people, so we don’t really care about it.