Salem Hill interview, Summer 2003
1. How many years have the members of Salem Hill actually played music together?
MD -Carl got his first guitar the same Christmas I got my first bass (back in the mists of the seventies) and we’ve been playing together off and on ever since. I met Kevin at Belmont (back in the mists of the eighties) and played in a cover band and a few recitals with him. Pat I met a little bit later, but never worked with him until I joined the band in around 1991, although I did run sound for them a few times before I started playing with them.
CG -Mike and I have been musical buds since I was 12. Kevin, Pat and I hooked up around 1985, I think. We’ve been playing together as Salem Hill since around 1991.
KT -I'm really bad at dates, but somewhere around 1990 we came up with the name. The band actually goes back further than that under another name, AND with female lead singers.
PH -When I heard that there was someone else (Carl) other than myself who liked what I do, I said “Hey, I gotta be in a band with that guy!” So I suppose it was around 1986 or so. Kevin and Michael showed up soon thereafter, and thus, the games began.
2. I'd like to hear about your influences as songwriters and composers, especially in regards to Be. Did the songs come from a personal experience or are they just some creativity that you all think up and put music to?
PH -Wowee. Influences. Uh, I’ve got a few, but in no particular order. From way earlier on, my influences were probably Holdsworth & other jazz/fusion stuff, Rush, Zeppelin, and Kansas. Then, Soundgarden/Chris Cornell, Yes, Genesis, Tool, various ambient music, etc.
MD -The usual suspects – Beatles, King Crimson, Marillion, Kansas, Yes, etc.
CG -My influences in writing. Sheesh. Tons. From a song standpoint, the simplicity of John, Paul and George; from a prog standpoint, the brilliance of Livgren; from an emotional standpoint, the poignancy of Mahler; and from a lyrical standpoint, the depth of Roger Waters. As far as the songs for “Be,” I’ll field that one. Before there were lyrics and tunes, there was a loose story to “Be.” My brother-in-law, Kevin Hancock, had taken an infrared picture of an empty chair on the beach while we were vacationing a couple years back. He showed me the actual picture some months later and it evoked a surprisingly strong aesthetic response. I had been flirting with the idea of my sophomore solo album being conceptual. This photo of an empty chair was intriguing to me, and I wrote a loose outline backwards, i.e., what happened previously that left an empty chair on the beach. I floated it by the other Hillions and the story just got refined and revised. I had loose lyric outlines which Pat and Mike took and ran with. “Be” isn’t based on a true story, and let’s all be glad about that.
3. Any interesting people who the members of Salem Hill might have made music with in the past?
CG -Interesting? No. Famous? Yeah.
KT -Trisha Yearwood...uh, I think that's it.
MD -Tons. The last two club gigs I’ve had have both been at places where a lot of musicians come and hang out—in fact, Dusty Hill of ZZ Top was just in last night. As far as I know I’m the only bass player who’s had both Rocco Prestia (Tower of Power) and John Entwistle (The Who) sit in for him. A short list of highlights would include James Brown, Stephen Stills, Patrick Moraz, Jewel, Tanya Tucker, Zakk Wylde (Ozzy), Rufus Thomas, Little Milton, Joe Sample, and a host of others.
CG -What a pretentious, pompous display, name-dropping all these folks. I’ve never met a one of them! And, just so we’re clear on all this, it all revolves around me.
PH -I once taught Wynona [Judd] how to strum the Guild she’s so fond of.
CG -Now I’ve met her. Pat brought her out to one of our early gigs. She looked confused.
MD -She comes out the club occasionally, too, but I keep forgetting to tell her that I know Pat.
CG -Does she still look confused?
4. And which ones that you’ve worked with in the past would you like to work with again?
CG -Certainly, Ragsdale would be at the top of my list. But the bastard moved a couple thousand miles just as I was mustering up the courage to approach him.
PH -Mmmmm, that’s a tough one. I’d like to have Rags back.
MD -Trisha, maybe – that would be interesting.
5. Any chance David Ragsdale might do another musical cameo on a future SH disc?
CG -I wouldn’t rule it out, but it’s not
likely. He’s in Vegas and has his plate full with his Bellagio gig.
KT -I have no idea. Is he still talking to us?
CG -Not to me.
MD -If we feel the need to have some fiddlin’ I can’t think of anyone better – we’ll see if that need arises.
PH -Rags would be great, but imagine, Cameo on a SH record. Gentlemen, grab your codpieces!
6. Other than Rags, what special guest would Salem Hill like to invite on an album?
CG -Room temperature: Lennon, tho he’d be put out by the fact that we play “too many notes”; Kevin Gilbert, whom I like to think would’ve really grooved on us; Jimi, just for his energy. Those still drawing breath: Joe Jackson, a composer who can rock. That’s my kind of musician. Chris Cornell. Keith Emerson. Any of the members of Klaatu, just ‘cause I believe that they were geniuses, and I’d like to have their greatness rub off on me. Roger Waters, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Livgren—sheesh, I could go on forever.
PH -Room Temperature: DeBussy, Jeff Buckley, Kevin Gilbert too, and Randy Rhodes.
Alive and Kicking: ColdPlay, Todd Rundgren, Peter Gabriel (circa 1971), and William Ackerman. Ooh, yea. Tori would be nice. Phish, perhaps.
CG -“Tori would be nice,” he says. I think the question meant in a musical context, you perv.
MD -Warren Haynes, Trey Anastasio, Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Paul McCartney, Ringo, Chris Cornell, Steve Hogarth, Fish, Neal Morse…the list is practically endless.
7. If you could resurrect only one dead musician, who would it be?
CG -Kevin Gilbert.
PH -musician - Jeff Buckley, composer – Stravinsky.
MD -John Bonham or Duane Allman.
8. Is there a reason the band (other than NEG) tends to see a need to express issues of a "darker nature" in your CDs?
CG -I just think that stuff of a darker nature is more interesting to explore.
KH -Where there's conflict (especially between good and evil, right and wrong, yin and yang) there's interest. One of the things that, in some respects, doesn't appeal to me about contemporary Christian music is that it's almost too happy. That's why King’s X is still one of my favorite bands...many of their songs deal with the struggles of humanity. Anyone with an ounce of spiritual depth knows of what I speak in the battle to overcome their own demons, to stay focused on why they are here, where they want to go, and feels comforted to know that they are not alone. I would venture to say that most people who like Salem Hill's music, do so because of it's deeper, often darker, lyrical content. And when the words stand on their own (i.e., "The Wall" - Kansas), the music seems to magically rise to compliment the complexity of the thoughts expressed.
CG -Sheesh. Give the boy a publishing advance for an answer like that!
MD -Says it for me, too.
PH -I can’t seem to write in pastel keys.
CG -Agreed. The keys I play are almost always black and white.
9. How many children total do the band members of SH actually have? Not counting of course “those you are unaware of.”
CG -There are nine total. I have 5, Kevin has
two, and Pat and Mike both have one…but not with each other.
KH -I forgot how many Carl has, but I have only two.
CG -Smart ass.
MD -Carl is starting to remind me of the opening of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life…
PH -Wow, nine. We could field a baseball team!
CG -(To Mike) Smart ass. (to Pat) Smart ass.
PH -OK, number two on the way!!!
CG -Awesome, bro! New news about real life while we’re in the middle of an album.
10. Will you encourage your children to pursue music?
CG -Speaking of kids, huh? Depending on what you mean by “pursue.” I certainly feel obligated as a human being to pass on my appreciation of the arts to my kids. But I wouldn’t wish club owners, record labels, and the absolute futility and waste of life of trying to make it as a professional musician on people I love. If they learn to play or warble or whatever, I hope they enjoy doing it for fun at family get-togethers.
11. What are the band members’ favorite colors? Favorite "junk food"? Favorite comfort food?
CG - Purple. Little Debbie Nutty Bars. What the hell is comfort food?
KT -Favorite color: For women's clothes - lime green, for top-of-the-line Roland drumkits - purple. Favorite junk food: pretzels and beer. Favorite comfort food: pretzels and beer.
CG -Kev, are you stating that you wear women’s clothes?
MD -I don’t really have any favorites except maybe Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip.
PH -Colour-red. Junk food-M&M’s, but not necessarily red M&M’s. Favorite comfort food-Coffee and a good C S Lewis book.
CG -First Kevin lets us know he’s fond of wearing women’s clothing, and then Pat discloses that he eats books. I’m suddenly learning a lot about these blokes I’ve known for the past 15+ years.
12. Have any members of SH ever worn chains and leather and played in a metal band?
CG -I usually wear a studded belt on stage.
My guitars have the scratches to prove it. Never been in a metal band. Most
have been pink and fleshy.
KT -Nope...well, I don't know about Pat.
PH -Yes, but not all at once.
MD -Guilty if you count spandex and leather (I’ll pause while you poke out your collective mind’s eye).
13. Why do drummers ALWAYS have baby dolls for wives? (this is not to imply that the other SH wives are not beautiful but have you seen Kevin's wife?
CG -Because if they didn’t have wives, they’d
be homeless? And Felicia actually is a doll. Inflatable. Kevin was
complaining that she was getting too cheeky, and the three of us had to coax
him to let some air out of her.
KT -I'm very blessed in this area of my life, because her outward beauty is no match compared to her inward beauty. She has it all (in the eyes of this beholder).
CG -Sheesh! Did she make you write that? I’ll bet a C-note she was looking over your shoulder when you wrote it!
PH -Drummers also tend to hide behind their cymbals, so just imagine what all they miss. Seriously, Felicia is a doll, and my man Kev should be proud.
14. With the Christians in Salem Hill, is there a chance SH will do a full on Christian CD?
CG -Not if I can help it. I’ll do one. The
others can each do one. But, as a band, I don’t want SH pigeon-holed.
KT -That depends...can there be darkness, wars (or rumors), pestilence, famine, death, etc., in it, or does it have to be happy? Actually, I think Carl already has something in mind for a solo project along these lines. Can I drum on it?
CG -I don’t know, can you?
MD -If I come up with enough songs that don’t fit what the band is doing, why not? Although by definition music made by a band full of Christians is going to be Christian music to some extent.
15. So how uncomfortable are you with the C-word when it comes to SH?
PH -None whatsoever. Sure, a lot of what’s out there is mediocre and there is the stigma, but I don’t mind putting new wine into new wineskins. It didn’t seem to hurt Sixpence None the Richer, and they started out as a C-band. Don’t know if they are still or not, though…
CG -Very. Mainly due to my fear of being lumped into the “Christian” music category which, in my admittedly narrow opinion, is rife with mediocrity and yesterday’s radio garbage recycled.
MD -To quote a friend of mine, “It is what it is”. As I/we’ve stated before, we’re not a “Christian band”, but we are a band of Christians, so call it whatever you want. I agree with Carl’s assessment of the genre, but I would apply that description to most current popular music.
16. Do any members of SH have any tattoo's or had any tattoo's removed?
CG -I think Kevin has a tattoo of Mighty
Mouse on his Wee Willie Wonka. At least that’s what Felicia’s told me. “Here I
come to save the day!”
KT -I think Ayers did. Strangely enough, that answer should be "no".
MD -My aforementioned metal band went to an “image consultant” who suggested we get tattoos (as well as flannels and Doc Martens – it was 1991), but we laughed it off as the idiocy it obviously was.
PH -Nope-virgin skin here.
CG -Virgin skin, he says. Oh the choked retorts!
PH -Besides, there’s more hair on my chest than in old Burt Reynolds movies. You wouldn’t see ‘em anyway!
17. Let’s talk about the new album, “Be.” Which came first: music or lyrics?
CG -For my stuff, lyrics first. Keep in mind that Mike and Pat each contribute several tunes, so I’m not sure about them. I will say that after the lyrics were put to music, there was frantic and frequent revision. In fact, I even doubt that the text that appears in the CD insert (already sent for print) will be the same as the lyrics actually yet to be recorded.
PH -In this case, the reverse happened to me. The storyline was already there, and the songs kind of grew from there. Music always comes first from my perspective, but not this time!
MD -I usually come up with both together, but this time I had a couple of songs in the making and some of the words fit some music I already had and some of them I made up/changed up to fit the story.
18. As you're making this CD, do you find yourself realizing, "Hey, this song sounds like so-and-so!"?
MD -Only if it’s too much like “so-and-so”! I wrote the opening piece of the album, only to have Carl inform me that I’d re-written the opening to “In the Spirit of Things” (which I haven’t heard in years), so he took the idea and completely re-wrote it.
CG -Sure. I hear some Tool stuff in a couple of the songs, some Supertramp. Some King’s X. But it’s all relative. For example, the stuff I thought sounded like Tool, Kevin thought sounded like King Crimson, and stuff I thought sounded like Supertramp, Pat thought sounded like the Beatles.
PH -Well, so much for an Ambrosia tribute album.
19. Did you write any of the new songs specifically to sound like another band?
CG -Not necessarily to sound ‘like’ another band, no. But at certain moments in one’s life, one is influenced more by one thing than the other, and in art that will show through in the final product. For example, while beginning work on the musical part of ‘Be’ I was listening a lot to Tool’s “Lateralus” and Kevin Gilbert’s “Shaming of the True.” So, some of that flavor can still show through even after the members of Salem Hill add their respective flavors into the mix.
PH -Well, I wanted to bring in a tune that could be on Pink’s next record, but I was quickly escorted out of the studio. Naw, but seriously, I agree with Carl. Sometimes our influences will invariably show up, and I don’t see anything wrong with that as long as it is ONLY a stylistic parallel.
MD -No. There is one song where I wrote the riff many years ago trying to come up with something like a particular Yes song, but none of the others could hear it, so I guess I’m safe.
20. As you are making Be, do you find yourself thinking about how Michael Ayers would fit into the mix?
CG -No, and I don’t mean that in a curt or negative way. Other than keeping in mind vocal range and timbre, I never wonder about how “so and so” will fit into the mix when writing or recording. In fact, that gets us into trouble at times as there are parts I’ll demo on computer that aren’t easily translated to flesh, finger and brain. Also, if he were around, I doubt that Ayers would really be into “Be.” It’s not an album that lends itself to a lot of soloing or instrumental featuring.
PH -Yea, I don’t see Ayers digging this record.
MD -Me, either.
21. As Be approaches completion, how does the final product differ from your original concept?
CG -For me? Not much. It’s better in many ways—the SH members collectively bring their own improvements to the individual’s song—as it should be. But so far I haven’t been surprised by any radical departures from the original concept.
PH -Man, these projects take on a life of their own. The direction follows the concept, but I can honestly say that I’m as excited about this record as I have of anything I’ve ever done.
MD -It’s a lot better. I know every artist says this, but this record is shaping up to be the best thing we’ve done yet.
22. Pat, have you ever considered playing a Chapman Stick and if so why?
CG -Yeah, Pat! What’s the freakin’ delay?
Actually, I think Mikey’s actually planning on getting one.
MD -I’m saving for one now. I’ve got one of my basses tuned in fifths to sort of ease the transition, which leads to a lot of interesting note choices.
KT -Pat, buy a Chapman stick!
PH -Gee, whaddya want next, all my basses to have 3 strings and play with drumsticks on my fingers? Actually, I’ll wait ‘til Mike gets one, then I’ll steal it. And lets face it, unless you hear a Chapman stick on the next country record released in Nashville, it’s about damn near impossible to get one in here.
MD -I did get to play around with one at the recent NAMM show here – unfortunately there may be a question as to whether they’ll make one left-handed (a not-uncommon occurrence in the music industry), so we’ll see…
23. What would be your feelings if, the day after it was released, you found that all of "Be" had been uploaded to Kazaa or some other song-swapping web site?
MD -Anger and disgust – all this noise about music piracy is good, since there’s a whole generation of kids out there who either don’t know or don’t care that downloading is theft.
CG -I fiercely disagree with the prevalent notion that pirating music is not theft, or, just as inexcusably, is somehow a lesser form of thievery than breaking into someone’s house and stealing from them. And, quite honestly, if there is a genre more susceptible to piracy than progressive rock, I don’t know about it. Someone jokingly sent us a submission to include on the “you might be a proghole if…” section of our website that said, (and I paraphrase) “you might be a proghole if you will drive ungodly distances to see your favorite prog band, but only get their music by swapping.” And that is so painfully true. So, my long answer to your short question is I’d be pissed and disappointed…but not necessarily surprised.
PH -Considering my previous background as an industry exec, I’d have their heads.
24. Has the availability of pirated music online affected your own personal CD buying habits?
CG -Nope. I don’t download. Now, having five children has affected my personal CD buying habits substantially.
PH -No. Although having snippets available on their website has.
MD -No – I still spend WAY too much on CDs.
25. Carl, you going to finally get a vasectomy?
CG -Why do you ask?
MD -All the children sing, “every sperm is sacred…”
CG -I thought it was “Hey, Bungalow Bill…”???
PH -Sorry, but my soldiers will continue to march until there ain’t no battle
26. Kevin, now that your 40, do you dye your hair?
KT -No, but when we get on the Disney channel for our first hit song, and I get my first check, I'm getting a hair transplant.
27. Which SH member likes the most bizarre music?
CG -Dearing. He’s a freakin’ nutjob when it comes to taste.
KT -I love jazz (anything that does not sound like Kenny G), the more outside and dissonant, the better. I also love Indian music, esp. with sitar and tabla.
MD -That would probably be me. Every time we get together I can see the others cringe when I bring in my latest batch of CDs to check out.
PH -I dunno, I like to warp the guys at my favorite record store by buying an April Wine CD with an ambient flavor of the month.
CG -so let’s tally the answers—two Dearings, a Thomas and a Henry. So what, you wankers think I have pedestrian taste in music? Huh, do ya?! Pompous bastards.
PH -OK Carl, I haven’t seen your entire
record collection from A-Z. But, I’ve never heard you discuss Japanese noise
28. To piggy back on question "12" above, any SH members ever do the "punk" thing playing crap music with spiked hair and weird body piercing?
CG -Not me.
KT -Pat?...I play on weekends in a cover band, but we are more of a classic rock, 50's thru 80's, with a healthy dose of C&W when called for. Sorry to admit it, but my talents can be bought for a price (these days, just about any price!).
PH -No punk, but I did do some industrial gigs on keyboard.
29. Mike, so do you play in a blues band or (heaven forbid) a C & W band?
MD -It’s a blues band, although in actuality it leans a lot more towards seventies R&B. I have played tons of country, though. To paraphrase Duke Ellington, there’s only two types of music, good and bad…and I’ve played my share of both!
30. Who is your favorite "James Bond" actor?
PH -Pierce Brosnan. Just joking – Connery all the way!
MD -Miss Moneypenny.