Welcome to our new beta design! Click here to go back to the old Newschoolers.
Is that Jack? It’s Kev from the Stool Pigeon in England. Are you OK to talk?
Yeah, you can talk.
What do you think each of you contributes to SALEM? What roles do you have?
As for making music or…
I think we’re all pretty much interested in different music ourselves and come from different places. I listen to a lot of rap music and John listens to a lot of classical stuff, so I think it’s nice that there are three people and we’re not all coming form the same place. We’re bringing together a bunch of different shit we’re all interested in.
Like you say rap and classical music would seem to be pretty different things, but can you see anything that links the two?
I think it’s the same feeling that we’re all trying to bring out, but we do it in different ways. Use different tools to express the same thing.
Can you put words to what that feeling is?
Nah… I think there’s a certain bleakness and uh… like disappointment and acceptance and sad… I dunno.
Just sort of accepting that sadness?
Like… accepting enough that we’re still alive so we’re gonna make music instead of just saying ‘Peace out’.
What is the alternative?
I don’t know, I mean… I guess there’s a lot of alternatives but not making music and not doing things would be the alternative. To not get up.
OK. You mentioned the bleakness… how do you go about conjuring that up? Is it through imagery and imagination or is it more kind of technical?
Like, how my head works is through visuals and imagination. I think John’s more based on direct feeling, just from things he sees. All the places we grew up… were pretty fucking bleak.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Chicago. John grew up in Michigan – I dunno, the Midwest in general is a pretty bleak, sad place.
Do you think there’s any particular reason for that, or do you just accept it and exist in it?
I don’t know, ha, I don’t know why… it just is what it is.
Is there any sort of environment you look to create around yourselves when you head into the space you use to write and record?
I feel like… I feel like all of us as far as like environment, if we’re not that… I’d say all of us are pretty disinterested in things as they are. Things just being totally straightforward. It’s like, creating interest in things for ourselves, do you know what I mean? Even if we’re aware of it, we’ll have to make things even more beautiful than they are to even want to participate at all.
All of our rooms are really aesthetic and beautiful (laughs) you know what I mean, like…
So do you think that goes the other way too, in that you want to heighten the beautiful aspects and you want to heighten the despair as well?
I think that… I don’t wanna… like it’s not… I don’t feel like obligated to be alive, so I really just hate when I don’t feel anything. That’s a horrible feeling to me. So I don’t want to feel like inspired or sad or happy, I really wanna be feeling like I’m experiencing and actually doing something and not just fucking numb.
So I definitely think that all of us in whatever we’re doing we want things how we want them rather than just… I dunno…
OK. So is there anything else you use to put yourself in the right mindset to sort of… if you imagine you’re just walking in off the street and things are pretty mundane and pretty normal, how do you get into the right frame of mind that you wanna do that, or do use that as something to push against?
Um… well I definitely wouldn’t say that things are normal in Chicago, it’s just… not (laughs). Like, I don’t know just when… I don’t have a routine or a ritual to get into the mood to make music, just all of us… on one wave it’s like us painting a picture of something we want to express and in another it’s like getting something out that’s bothering us.
Do you think that parts that are bothering you have to be in the music to make it valid, in a way?
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean every song is definitely like… a really good boost to me (laughs) and really meaningful and valid to us. But that’s to us, so whatever they are to anyone else that’s on them and from the feelings that we’re putting out there people take what they wanna take.
So are you looking to connect with an audience or is it more a statement and a ‘take it or leave it’?
More ‘take it or leave it’. I don’t think we’re putting out music that’s like ‘we want you to feel how we’re feeling’ it’s like, ‘this is how we felt, if you’ve felt similarly then you’re on the same wavelength’… you know what I mean?
Yeah, sure. I guess the people that can see what you’re doing and can empathise will be more likely to take it if it is ‘take it or leave it’ rather than looking for a connection.
Yeah exactly, we’re not singer-songwriters. We are writing good songs but it just doesn’t really matter that much… if it acts for us that’s enough.
Yeah, so there’s no concession to ideas about ‘pop music’ or anything like that?
No, I don’t think we even think about that stuff, one way or the other.
Do you meet many people that you think are in the same mental frame of mind as yourselves?
Um… hmm. (laughs) I think a lot of people would say that they were and upon further examination I’d question whether they really were. I think that… I think that me and John are both really sensitive people, both really sensitive so something that could happen to either of us we’d understand or feel more so than some other people.
And I think there are people who are probably more sensitive than us. I think that the people who would connect with our music have felt things that we have felt. I don’t know, I would hope so… I guess I don’t know.
So it’s all to do with degrees of sensitivity… I guess if you take it like that, if every single, tiny thing that happens to you, if everyone reacts in a different way then it’s gonna be quite hard to meet people who are on exactly the same level.
Yeah, exactly. It’s also, like, if someone tells you they love you, whatever that means to them doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to you. Or me saying ‘I’m sad’ doesn’t mean the same thing [to you]. Some people have said they’re really sad to me and I see them laughing and having way more fun than I could. I dunno…
So it’s more just realising that that has to be ambiguous… that you can’t put a three-letter label on something because the spectrum is too wide…
Well, just that it is a huge spectrum, people are taking what they’re taking… I don’t even know what I’m taking, I just know when I can see it in other people.
What sort of thing does get you down?
Um… I don’t like sleeping very much. I don’t like doing things that make me feel like I’m trying to survive and, like, giving in to my body.
OK. So like eating and stuff.
It must be quite hard to get around that.
No. (laughs) Eating doesn’t actually bother me as much as sleeping because eating is fuelling yourself and sleeping, you have to consciously decide to lay down and stop moving. John is like the opposite (laughs). John is asleep always.
How many hours a night do you get regularly?
Not a lot, I think, um… I dunno. I’ve been sleeping a little bit more since Christmas, just because like… I’ve been sleeping with people and it’s just easier to sleep. But before that I’d skip a night of sleep and then the next I’d sleep for four or five hours and keep doing that.
Do you think that lack of sleep warps the way you see the world? Or…
I know if I only sleep for a few hours everything looks slightly off…
It gives me energy. I get into that… do you know what I mean?
I kind of run off of whatever feeling that is. I’m not sure what it is though. I think it’s good to not be comfortable in a physical sense.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t know (laughs). It’s the same as being cold too, I like that. It keeps you more awake. I feel the same way with not sleeping and not eating. You’re, like, more on your toes.
Do you think that most people are too comfortable?
Yes. I definitely do. It makes me mad; really, really mad. What makes me sad is giving into the body, what makes me mad is when people pull themselves away from me to be more comfortable.
So if you look at what’s happening in the world, would you quite like to see people that bit poorer and forced to survive a bit more?
I don’t know. I don’t really think about people in the world like that, y’know? I just think of people that I’m seeing.
How did you all meet?
I don’t even really know, John was in school in Chicago and he was in college and I was in high school so I think I was 16 or something. And then we just met on the street or something…
Can you remember how? Or why?
Oh… (long pause) I saw John on the street and I came up and started talking to him and I was like, ‘Oh, we should be friends’. And I had seen him before, but we’d never talked and I’m like, ‘You can’t be friends with any of your other friends any more, just me (laughs) and he was like ‘OK’ and he stopped talking to his other friends and we were friends.
How did you meet Heather?
She’s been John’s friend for a while. They met in Michigan. Then she came to hang out with us in Chicago. So…
Did you get on with her straight way?
Yeah. I think we all get along real well.
In musical terms, Heather said you make the beats and stuff.
How do you go about doing that?
It really depends. I definitely don’t have a technique, it’s like… I just… (long pause)… make the beats (laughs). It’s just based on music I like. I dunno. I don’t know. It’s so hard, I guess, just… trying to make a beat that I’m drawn to and I keep working on it til I get to that point and them I’m like, ‘That’s good’.
Is the beat the first thing you usually have?
Most of the time I’ll make a beat and then I’ll send that to John. John will put some music over that and Heather will sing on it, or John will sing on it, whatever works. John will send it back to me and I have someone rap on it, or um, like… ah… Heather will sing on it and in the end John will mix it and send it back to me. Even though we’re not together, we can still make music. But when we are together the songs we make are different to the ones we make apart.
What’s the difference?
I don’t know. They just sound different. Cause we’re right next to each other, editing each other.
So there’s more of a conversation rather than a stunted process?
I like the songs maybe when we’re not together more, but there are people who’ve talked to me and said they really like the stuff we make when we’re together.
OK. You said earlier about the imagery in your music… are there any recurring images or themes that stand out in your memory that have gone into making a song?
Uh… let’s see. The song ‘piggyhog’ is about… me and John, when I was in Michigan, it was winter and we saw, I guess it was like a pig or a hog in the snow and we were in the woods and it just ran past us. It was just really strange and haunting and… I guess we just talked about it for a long time and imagined its past and future and the song is somewhat about that.
Are there any other abstract, recurring images? I’ve heard you mention mist and water before…
Water… I don’t know. I mean there is and there isn’t. I wouldn’t wanna say something and… maybe the most I can even say is ‘Water is’. You know what I mean? That’s something I can see and I can connect with that. I think that’s real. I don’t feel that way about many things.
Do you think that’s because it’s kind of potentially infinite?
And it’s just a complete entity. It’s not fragmented and stuff.
How about the name… presumably that’s a reference to the witch trials, but I haven’t seen you speak much about it. Is there any significance behind the name?
I don’t know… (laughs). John decided the name before he was making music. He was like, ‘What do you think of SALEM?’ He might just say he thought Salem, Massachusetts was really cool or there might be some meaning behind it. Whether he would say or not I don’t know.
How about the occultist images on your MySpace and in your artwork?
I feel like that was just… (long pause) what we were thinking about a lot at the time. We made that MySpace at a time before, when me and John first met we were more thinking about those things. I don’t know if I am any more, it’s just a reflection of something we were at the time.
It seemed like then it was almost a conscious effort to have some kind of mystery intact, is that still the case now?
It was never…
No. We’re not trying to do anything dishonestly and people put things on us a lot that’s really not there. We’re just trying to be really real (laughs).
Do you think people might see that lack of pretence and then project their own ideas about your music onto SALEM?
Yeah, I mean, this time with the lyrics to a song this girl came up to me and she was talking about this song and I didn’t even know her and she was saying how much it meant to her and how beautiful it was to her and I was like, ‘Wait, what are the words?’ And then she told me and they were not at all what the song was about, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what the song’s about’, do you know what I’m saying?
Yeah, it’s subjective.
Yeah, she was really cool and… she was pretty (laughs). So if she came up with something different I probably would’ve told her, but she said something that I thought was pretty and nice, too. It doesn’t have to be the exact same thing.
Do you still speak to her?
Have you told her yet the lyrics aren’t the same?
No way! (laughs) She’s not wrong you know what I mean. There are songs that John’s written that I don’t know the lyrics to, but I know the lyrics to me. I just don’t know the words.
I heard that you don’t want people to know what you look like. Is that just that you don’t like your photograph being taken, or…
That’s not even true. I just don’t care either way, y’know?
Ah, it’s all these fucking press people trying to make something out of nothing…
If someone wants to come into my room and wants to take my picture that’s fine. You know what I mean? I’m just not trying that hard to get my picture taken.
Had any of you played in bands before you met each other?
I would make beats for kids in Chicago sometimes, like rap kids. And Heather played with a band named Golden Carriage and John played under the name Horse and some other stuff. Those were all pretty much high school bands. We’re all still pretty young, so I don’t think we’ve had too many other…
How old are you now?
I’m 20 now.
How about Heather and John?
I don’t know (laughs). Older than me but not by much. I think John’s 22 and Heather’s a bit older than him. I guess I don’t really know though.
You talked about hip-hop – are you the guy who’s brought the chopp’d N screw’d influence to the music?
I feel like a lot of people write about us and they’ll say things that the beats are drawn from and it isn’t the case. Like, in the rap world people would say 2-step and all this other stuff. And I’ll be like, ‘That’s cool, but that’s not where I’m coming from at all’. Right now I’m into a lot of Atlanta mixtapes. Like Trap music? Some chopped N screwed is cool, but definitely mixtapes and rap I guess.
Are you up to much the rest of the day?
I think I’m gonna go swimming. This girl asked me if I wanted to go swimming in her pool. So I think I’ll do that, then I’m not sure what we’ll do.
Isn’t it a bit cold?
It’s like a inside pool. In an apartment building, downtown. So it’ll be warm. She has a hot tub too, so I’ll be OK.
Awesome. Have you got anything else coming out this year?
We’re going to make a video for a song called ‘Skullcrush’ and then… I dunno. It’s all in the works.
Who shot the last video?
It’s a pretty good effort. Have you made many videos?
No, it was the first one I made. I had an idea and went online and got two people there that night and just did it in my parents’ garage.
It turned out well.
Yeah, I’m really happy with it.
OK, I’m gonna head off now.
Good to talk to you.