South of Salem Aim For The Moon!

Bournemouth-based horror-rockers South Of Salem sit down with John Porter to discuss the past, present, future, and just what that name’s all about…

South of Salem have an almost palpable sense of momentum about them of late.  Fresh off a headline UK tour, with new singles coming out almost weekly, and a huge album launch for their latest effort, Death Of The Party, under their belt, it’s no surprise to find the band bullish and in good spirits upon my meeting with lead singer Joey Draper and guitarist Kodi Kasper.

Veterans of their music scene for many years, their world-weariness at having seen it all before and lack of worry of conforming to a stereotype makes them an engaging, humorous listen throughout the interview.  They clearly feel that they’ve found their home, as Kasper explains, opening with a fantastic line when asked to tell all about how the band came into existence, “Essentially, we were the last of the Mohicans,” he says. “We were the last ones in our local area who wanted to make music work and thought they could.  We didn’t even know what it was going to sound like, until we got in the studio and started playing.”  He ends with a modest, “Thankfully, it’s going good.” This is something of an understatement.

Given the feeling of last-chance saloon around the formation, their successes over the last year can have only built confidence that they may in fact be able to pull this off after all.  While they were hugely supported and tipped in the emerging rock scene following their debut, The Sinner Takes It All, in 2020, their newest album, the aforementioned Death Of The Party, generated such anticipation that they had sold 75% of tickets for the album’s launch show which took place at the O2 Academy in their native area of Bournemouth, which incidentally, is the main influence behind that unusual-sounding name.  When questioned as to what a South Coast town has to do with the location of infamous witch-trials, they respond with humour “Well, it’s South of Salem!, they remark, before admitting that “It’s largely nonsense.  It just sounds really cool, and you don’t need to be clever – just fun and memorable.”

Memorability is in the eye of the beholder, but the amount of laughs and cheeky humour in the interview leaves no doubt that there’s a genuine sense of fun around the South of Salem boys.  They seem to be having the time of their lives shooting for the moon, and perhaps their devil-may-care, try-anything-once attitude comes from their open affection for being a ‘DIY’ band, being as they are, reliant on their own labour.  It certainly seems as though they find it creatively freeing, permeating the two main things anyone will immediately notice.  Firstly, their music – the anthemic, singalong, heavy rock, reputed by the band to be influenced by ’80s arena and stadium rock, but at the same time twisted by their other major unique freedom -their on-stage aesthetic.  This is a fun and campy modern take on the likes of KISS and The Misfits of old – twisting an otherwise well-worn formula deep into the macabre, full of gothic face paint, histrionics and eerie horror-infused fun. Draper says that the origins of this were initially a commitment to a look that stemmed from his love of horror movies, but that it developed into something more detailed and by choice when the band caught on and got more involved. “It did start with me, because try to inject horror and gothic stuff into everything I do, so I definitely had an influence, but ultimately it happened organically – fortunately, we’re just very spooky people!” he remarks, smiling.

As previously mentioned, interviewing them is a breeze due to the easy conversation and their open honesty, and it’s this affability that has no doubt helped them gain the following they have.  You get the sense of real commitment and joy from the band members, most of which is poured into their well-established social media output, which has built a strong base of support from the emerging rock scene they value so much.  They’re both consistently active and astoundingly popular on those platforms, driven largely by their use of it as a communications channel in more difficult, less personal times, and its grounded earthiness, rather than glossy PR-driven output, seems to have served them well.  Questioned about this, Draper credits his bandmate, “It’s Kodi.  Kodi’s the social media king!”, he says, laughing.  Modestly, Kasper replies: “It was partly due to not being able to play just after the band formed,” he explains. “We couldn’t play, or do anything, so we just wanted to reach out to people. It’s just continued from there. I’ll think of something, ask Joey to make a graphic, and then it’s posted the next day.  I like it. I like engaging with people, replying to comments, making jokes … it’s one of the benefits, again, of being a DIY band.”

Before long, talk turns to the new album, and the tone changes to one of determination.  Hot on the heels of lead singles Left For Dead, Static and Vultures, all released over the preceding few months, Death Of The Party finally got its full release on January 20th, and the wait hadn’t dimmed the band’s excitement for what they’ve put down on record.  The band confide to me their huge ambition – to make the album chart.  Without industry support, this can only come from their own work, a fact Kasper remarks on. As he says, “Lots of bands can get in the chart, but not a lot of smaller bands have no label hookup or support. So, were we to do this, it wouldn’t just be a statement for us, but for independent rock!”  They’ve certainly given themselves a great chance, as it feels as though all that momentum, good feeling and built-up support is building to its apex just in time for the new release.


Of course, none of this would mean anything if the music itself didn’t hold up, but as long-time veterans of the music scene, this isn’t something that seems to be a concern. Draper remarks bullishly of the album, “If you liked our first album, you’re not going to be disappointed by this one.  Everything’s better in my opinion.”  Both attribute this to their invigoration at not just their own growth, but the recent changes in the band, too. As Draper contends: “We’ve grown as writers, and changed the lineup a little bit, and that’s really injected a new energy into the band.”  Both also reference being anxious to play these songs live, citing the feeling of getting real feedback on the road from their fans, a major contrast, via circumstances, from their last album release. “We were able to sit and listen to people’s comments last time, as we weren’t able to play live.  Whereas now, it’s nice to know that we’re going to go out on the road and start playing these songs right away,” Draper comments.

They certainly won’t find themselves short of opportunities to do so. The band will begin by backing off the album with a large UK tour, taking in many major cities, while the summer will see the band embark on a tour of several well-known festivals like Bloodstock and Maid Of Stone.  Not content with that though, they’ve also booked themselves in to support Kris Barras’ band on his UK tour.  For most, that would be enough, but South of Salem seem to have no intention of resting on their laurels.  “What’s been announced is the tip of the iceberg,” smiles Kasper, clearly itching to take to the stage.  Even with that qualifier, as it stands at the time of writing, if anyone wants to talk to South Of Salem for the next year, one would be advised to do it as soon as possible, as the calendar looks pretty full.  Not bad for a band largely reliant on its own hard work and efforts to drum up buzz!

Even with the grind of day jobs to worry about, nothing seems to dent South of Salem’s optimism.  After all, this is a band that openly laughs about having to drive back from Inverness, facing work the next day. That said, it’s not surprising that through the course of our conversation, they openly admit to wanting to take the band full time, and leave the jobs behind.  It wouldn’t be a huge shock if they get to do that, for while there’s confidence around most bands, talking to Sons of Salem has a real life-affirming effect.

Of all the bands I’ve ever spoken to, this feels like the horse to back to smash the glass ceiling to smithereens.  This is a confident, mature band, with defined musical, and aesthetic choices, and a solid grassroots fanbase. With the success of the album’s release, it’s clear they know that this could be their moment.  This is exemplified by Kasper’s final words in the interview, as he jokingly laments, almost to the world at large, “I wish we’d started this years ago…I’d probably have a swimming pool by now!”  While this was intended as humour, if everything goes as it has been for South Of Salem, it might be time to start drawing up the plans.



Band Members

Joey Draper – Vocals
Kodi Kasper – Guitar
Denis Sheriff – Guitar
Dee Vower – Bass
James Clarke – Drums

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