John Holland’s voice trembles a bit when he talks and you notice he’s incredible affectionate when you hear him stuttering, “thank you, thank you, oh, that’s great, thank you,” when you tell him Salem’s debut album “King Night” is amazing. He answers with very short sentences from his hotel room in London. It’s the first time he’s visited London, he says. It’s about to start snowing, something he later confides is one of the most beautiful things in the world. When Jack Donoghue and John Holland got to know each other a couple of years ago, Jack demanded absolute dedication: “From now on you have to disconnect from everyone you know. And you can no longer meet other men. And if you want to speak to somebody, you’ll write it down in a notebook. We will then see together whether you can speak to them or not.” John accepted Jack’s terms. In part, he says, because he knew it was a joke. In part, because he knew it was Jack’s way of saying he wanted to be his best friend. In part, because Jack was the hottest guy he had ever seen in his life. John already knew Heather Marlatt (the third part of Salem) from art school. Their friendship came about in a less dictatorial way: he saw her and told her he wanted to be her friend. And so they were. John Holland has said in various interviews that he used to be a drug addict and that he has exchanged sex for drugs, that he didn’t attend any classes at his very exclusive art school because he was drinking and doing drugs, and that he has a depressive personality. He has a great Flickr page where condenses the essence of Salem in photos: beautiful, hyper real, disturbing, terribly hypnotic. We’re talking with John Holland, who shares his name with a North American reputable medium and spiritualist, about forests, isolation, enchanted houses. Things that matter. You said once that the forest could be considered your place of birth. I don’t know what the forests of Michigan are like, but when I think of them I mentally depict them as the ones from “Twin Peaks”; except those were where evil lived. Is your forest a place to fear or a place of safety?
Twin Peaks? That’s a beautiful image. Very dark, too. The woods where I grew up are absolute beauty to me. Nothing evil, to the contrary.
Did you use to play in the woods?
Yes, I used to go there with my friends to play. Well, I didn’t have a lot of friends. But I did go there to play, walk, lose myself, think. To spend time, basically.
You say you didn’t have a lot of friends back then. How do you think your friends from university remember you?
My university friends are my best friends now. I knew Heather when I was a freshman; she was a couple of years above me at art school. I saw her and I simply asked her if we could be friends. Jack is younger than I am, but I also knew him back then. He was 18 years old. Our friendship has been intense and special from the start. I can’t say how they remember me because they are my present.
You once said you find the following absolutely inspiring: “a large burning fire in the middle of the forest, smoke and fog, large waves and expansive bodies of water.” Could we say then that the ideal place to listen to Salem is in the midst of nature?
Absolutely. Everything lives in nature. I love to see the water move. And the trees. The cities and the people that live in them are also inspiring. There are some incredible buildings, if you look well enough.
For those about to listen to Salem for the first time, what would you say is the best place and atmosphere to do so?
The desert. I’m fascinated by it. Or driving. I love to drive listening to music.
Do you think volume is an important element in the complete Salem experience?
Totally. It has to be loud. Very loud.
Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode used to say that when he was an adolescent, he used to play punk and rock ridiculously loud in his room, to piss off his mother. Can you imagine youngsters doing that these days, but with “King Night”?
[Laughs]. You now what I would like? That the kids and their families would listen to Salem together. I don’t want to piss anyone off. What’s the most terrifying place you’ve ever been?
It’s not about places that scare me; it’s more about how I feel at that moment. So any place can be terrifying or marvellous. It’s all inside me and how I feel that day.
I believe you once recorded your neighbour shouting in the middle of the night. Have you got more weird recordings?
Yes, it’s true. I heard my neighbour weep and sob one night, and I recorded it. We’re always alert and prepared to record stuff like that, there was a time we were obsessed with it. But sadly, I have no other stories like it to tell you.
Would you be interested in recording a psychophony?
Wow, would I ever. That would be amazing. But wouldn’t it be scary to be in a house where paranormal phenomena could occur?
No. I would love to be able to stay in a haunted house. It’s like I said before: if I’m feeling fine, there’s no reason for me to be scared. Even though there are ghosts.
Some time ago you said that Salem is more about isolation than about mystery. Is that still the case?
There are no words to describe the music we make. Others can try to find them and use them to talk about it, but I won’t. It wouldn’t make sense. So if I tell you other people used adjectives like “horrific” and “cruel”, you wouldn’t be able to tell me if you see your music reflected in those words?
I really wouldn’t. But I don’t like to think of the music as something cruel , that I do know. Although it’s true that there is very cruel beauty, but... No, I can’t.
Are you religious?
I would say we’re spiritual people, but not religious. We don’t follow any cult, but we do have very spiritual and strong beliefs.
You said: “We see a violent world, so that’s what we write about.” Have you written a love song lately?
Of course. Is there any Salem song you like especially?
My favourite is “Sick”.
That can be a love song, if you want. Would you say you have a slightly twisted sense of humour?
[laughs]. I don’t know if it’s twisted, but I would say it’s peculiar. There are a lot of people out there who think I laugh about stupid stuff.
Some time ago you said that you don’t like to show your faces because you don’t particularly like them. And that doing concerts is boring. That has changed completely. There are beautiful photos of you and you’re on tour.
Yeah. Now we don’t have a problem with showing ourselves. It’s okay. The gig thing gets better all the time. I think we’re improving live.
Can I ask you how your relation with death is?
Of course. When I was younger I didn’t care if I was alive or dead. I didn’t think any of the two was important. In time, I’ve discovered a powerful force that comes from something or someone at the time of their death. I couldn’t explain it better. It’s a nice thought but at the same time it scares me a bit.
What’s the most beautiful thing in the world?
That’s a lovely answer.
I just love them. Seeing how they lights up the sky. I also love snow. To see it fall.