Interview by Alessandra CognettaEmily Kopplin is the lead singer and organist for Mount Salem, a psychedelic doom metal band from Chicago, USA. Mount Salem have released their newest full-length album, “Endless”, in April through Metal Blade Records and, as we reviewed some time ago, it’s really good stuff. The band is now touring the US and will be in Europe soon after, while also planning to go back into the studio in winter. We took the chance to ask Emily about Mount Salem, their music, playing a Korg organ, the joys of a 12×12 vinyl canvas and much more. Hi, Emily! Welcome to Femme Metal and thanks for giving us the chance to know more about you and Mount Salem. Your latest album, “Endless”, has launched not too long ago. What has been the feedback so far?
The feedback so far has been pretty incredible! We didn’t have a lot of expectations for the band when we first started because we were just good friends who wanted to play some music together. Everything we’ve been able to achieve has been positive so there’s nothing to complain about.I’d like to start off by talking about lyrics and music of the album. The songs paint a very atmospheric landscape, barren but far from void. It’s a very interesting mood to accompany your energetic vocals and I think it plays out really well. How does the band work to achieve that?
We write the songs when we’re all together so everyone can have their input and its a real group effort. It happens very organically and I like to jot down ideas for lyrics as the music itself is coming together. When it comes to the lyrical content, I like to tell a story so the listener can create an atmosphere like you said. The vibe of the music is creepy and dark so most of the lyrics deal with occult themes. I’m fascinated by the history of the subject because so many parts of the world have some sort of history or culture with witchcraft and the dark arts.“Endless” is made of old and new material, specifically the two additional tracks you recorded for the vinyl re-release: “The Tower” and “Mescaline II”. How did you choose what you were going to add? Do you have other songs you wish you could have included?
We originally released “Endless” ourselves as a 6 song EP right after we got together with the first 6 songs we had written. When Metal Blade wanted to re-release “Endless” we were excited to record two additional songs because it felt like it had been so long since we put out the first ones. We had been writing new material so we chose “The Tower” because we felt like that one would be a good fit. The second addition, “Mescaline II” is an expansion of the instrumental track, “Mescaline”, on the original release. We had always wanted to make that one into a full length song and that was the perfect opportunity to do so. There are other songs we considered including but you might find some of those on our next album…Is there anything from the previously recorded tracks that you thought you could have tweaked a bit?
Oh, definitely. I’m sure this happens with most bands after hearing their recordings because so much time passes between recording the songs and releasing the record. We recorded “Endless” after only being together a few months and not playing any live shows yet, so once we started playing the songs live, they naturally evolved and changed a bit. The guys had also picked up new instruments for this band (Mark and Kyle were both drummers, now bass and guitar, and Cody now plays drums but used to play guitar). Over the past 2 years we’ve grown so much as musicians and gotten much tighter as a band. Regardless though, we’re happy with the way those recordings turned out, just very excited to show everyone what else we’ve been cooking up!Mount Salem recently signed with Metal Blade Records, which opened up the possibility to release “Endless” as an extended version, with vinyl, of your original EP. How did this opportunity wind up and what do you think (or hope) can be built in the future?
The Metal Blade signing kind of came out of nowhere. We were working our asses off playing shows, making contacts, and putting together press kits that we sent to a few labels. We didn’t hear anything back for a few months and sort of gave up on it, so we were pretty shocked when we got an e-mail from Metal Blade, especially since we didn’t even send them one of the press kits. Apparently someone at one of the UK labels we sent it to passed it along to someone in Metal Blade‘s UK office and they liked what they heard. It’s been a very positive relationship and we’re stoked to have them backing us. A lot of doors have opened up for us recently so we can’t wait to see what the future has in store.Speaking of vinyls, this format has been on the rise, lately. Many people describe this as the “Digital Era”, with physical copies seemingly losing their appeal. But vinyls are still strong, especially in metal. They’re always available on release and easily sell out, despite being more expensive than other options. Why do you think this happens?
I really love that about this scene. There’s just something about going to a record store and physically looking through the music and the excitement that happens when you find a new record. I think it’s very appealing to make a whole experience out of listening to music. It’s easy to click a player on your computer and just have background noise that you’re not paying attention to, but sometimes you just want to grab a record, look at the artwork blown up on a 12×12 canvas, and put your vinyl on the turntable. It really makes you feel more connected to the music and appreciate what the artist has created, to feel, see, and hear it at the same time.The cover artwork was created by tattoo artist Mat Moreno and it’s a really interesting piece, in my opinion. Did you give him any directions? Is there a message we can infer from paper to music or viceversa?
Yes, the artwork is done by our friend Mat Moreno, who is a phenomenal artist. When we finished the record we gave him a copy and didn’t give him any direction for it. We wanted him to be able to hear the songs and interpret them for himself. We knew he would do a great job but we were pretty blown away when he showed us the product. a lot of the subject matter on “Endless” has to deal with internal struggle between good and evil, and I think the artwork represents that. The reaper figure is shown holding a lifeless woman and a crystalline talisman, which can be interpreted as being used to protect and ward off evil. He is also shown with beams above his head which I think of as thoughts escaping his mind.You provide both great vocals and a stunning performance on organ on the album. Can you tell us a bit about your musical background and how you developed your current style?
I’ve been in a few bands prior to Mount Salem, but this is the first time I’ve played this style of music. The other bands I’ve been in have been more melodic and focused on vocals. What I like about this band is that it’s about the music as a whole as opposed to so much emphasis on vocals. I took piano lessons as a kid so picking up the Korg organ wasn’t too much different. I love being able to play the organ and really get lost in the music when we play live. It’s a very cool atmosphere to be a part of. I definitely feel at home with this band.Though Mount Salem delivers music with its very own personality, we can’t dismiss the fact that the doom/psychedelic rock scene is currently a bit overcrowded, which sadly doesn’t always turn into original proposals such as “Endless”. How does one keep going in a genre where it’s easy to be discarded as “sounds just like X” or “it’s like listening to Y but with this and that difference”?
Not everyone is going to like our music, and it’s hard not to listen to people when they say negative things about it, but there will always be critics. We do what we do because we love hanging out together and playing loud heavy music. Honestly, we’re not setting out to do anything revolutionary, we just want to create something that we’d enjoy listening to and we hope other people will enjoy as well. I think it’s cool that this style of music is coming back around and gaining popularity again, and there are some great bands coming out of it. It’s pretty easy to tell if someone’s just jumping on the bandwagon or if they’re playing music that they’re truly passionate about. We love what we do, and we try to only surround ourselves with positive people.You’ll be touring Europe in fall 2014 and you’re currently playing in the US. Any place you’re particularly excited to visit?
The European tour is going to be a huge goal reached for all of us. It will be my first time traveling outside the U.S. so I’m really looking forward to experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. We just got back from touring the West Coast last month and I particularly love the beauty of the American Southwest, the landscapes are so incredibly beautiful.That was our last question! Thank you again for being with us, Emily. We wish Mount Salem all the best and leave this space for you to write any message you want to give to fans and readers.
Thanks for having me! We’ll be heading back out on the road this month July 18th through the 28th on the East Coast so keep an eye out for those dates on our Facebook Page. We’ll be heading in the studio this Winter and we can’t wait to share the new music with you all. Thanks for reading… HAIL SALEM