Salem Hill Biography
"Is there still a place for music that is interesting, well-crafted and cerebral?" Salem Hill's leader, Carl Groves, asks. "God, I hope so." Salem Hill was formed in 1991 by Groves, bassist Pat Henry, and drummer Kevin Thomas. Michael Dearing, a childhood chum of Groves' joined a bit later. Their goal was simple: Make music of creative and artistic merit. Not an easy task in the blossoming Grunge era. Nevertheless, the band recorded and released their debut, "Salem Hill" in the spring of 1992. This album, along with its follow-up, "Different Worlds" in 1993 garnered promising, if limited reviews. "Our subject matter on the first two albums is esoteric, to say the least," Thomas explains. "We'd perform a song based upon Stephen King and Peter Straub's The Talisman ("Between the Two"), and follow it with a song about Judas ("Aceldama"). I think folks came away impressed, but confused."
The confusion was temporary. After a 3-year hiatus from performing and recording, the band reassembled to write and record their third album, 1997's "Catatonia." Groves explains, "'Catatonia' is a concept album depicting the internal journey of a man born without the ability to dream. To compensate, he is able to self-induce these catatonic states at will and transport himself back to his youth, as well as to fictional places where he can interact with characters from his favorite books and stories. The catch is that as he gets older-and bigger, it becomes more and more difficult to leave Catatonia. So he avoids it for the early part of his adulthood. After years of living a mundane and routine life, in bitterness he decides to enter Catatonia, knowing that he'll probably be stuck there permanently. As fate would have it, once there, he experiences his first dream!" Propelled by such powerful songs as "Peculiar People," "Awake," and the 11 minute tour-de-force, "The Judgment," Catatonia received critical acclaim and precipitated an invitation for the band to play 1997's international music festival, Progday, in Chapel Hill, NC.
The success of "Catatonia" enabled the band to pull out all the stops in recording their next album, 1998's "The Robbery of Murder." Another conceptual piece, The Robbery of Murder is an emotional roller coaster ride which follows the protagonist's quest to hunt down and kill the drunk driver responsible for killing his father. Christopher Thelen of The Daily Vault writes, "No single disc has caused me to be moved as The Robbery of Murder did. This is a powerful listen." Following international critical acclaim, European distributors, Cyclops Records, signed the band to their label. Thomas explains that one of the biggest benefits of this partnership is that it has enabled the band to remaster and re-release Salem Hill's entire back catalogue. 2000 saw the addition of keyboardist, Michael Ayers and the release of the band's fifth album, "Not Everybody's Gold." Although not conceptual in nature like the past two releases, Not Everybody's Gold is another offering that carries the listener on a musical journey. Capping off the album is the majestic 28-minute "Sweet Hope Suite." Groves explains, "'Sweet Hope Suite' is really a Jobian type dialogue between two friends. One friend is struggling to find his place in the world, and the other friend is trying to point out the obvious.
On the strength of "Not Everybody's Gold," Salem Hill again headlined the ProgDay festival in 2000, and played at DragonCon, the largest scifi-fantasy convention in North America. But changes were on the horizon. The recording sessions for "Not Everybody's Gold" had been grueling, and Groves was not willing to enter the studio again under those circumstances. Thomas moved to Florida. Unofficially, the band called it quits. In June of 2002, as a tribute to their fans, Salem Hill rented out a hall in their home area and invited anyone who wanted to attend to come enjoy an evening with them. As a lark, they also recorded the evening. To the other four's dismay, Michael Ayers did not participate in the event. Impressed by fans who had flown in from all over the country, and invigorated by Thomas's move back to southern Kentucky, the band began discussing a future. Sparked by the live tracks from their fan appreciation party and having a vault of older live recordings to work with, the band compiled "Puppet Show," released in March 2003. The album garnered immediate praise from fans and critics alike, propelled by almost two hours of fun and frivolity that many folks who'd never seen Salem Hill live were unaware the band possessed. As a bonus, the four original members recorded a new studio track, "Waiting for Wonderfulness." It was upon completing this tune that the band seriously discussed going forward.
In October 2003, Salem Hill released their seventh album, "Be." Like "Catatonia" and "The Robbery of Murder", the album was conceptual. Easily the most collaborative work they’d ever done, "Be" found Salem Hill at the peak of their form. "This is easily the best album we’ve ever done," Groves stated without hesitation. Indeed, from the reviews received, his opinion was joined by most critics. Sam Karnick of National Review Online named "Be" Album of the Year.
Not all critics welcomed the heaviness of "Be". As a band that had won their audience with an epic, melodic sound, the guitar-oriented starkness of "Be" was quite the departure from their normal fare. It was also an album without an epic. Blasphemy for a prog band.
Salem Hill followed the guitar-driven, 15 song "Be" album with "Mimi's Magic Moment" in 2005. The album boasted only 4 tracks, all of them epic. David Ragsdale and Neal Morse guested on this release. This album quickly vaulted past its two predecessors to stand along with "The Robbery of Murder" as the band's finest work. Also in 2005, the band organized their first "Hillionaire's Weekend", where fans from all over could come hang with the band and witness the filming of a live performance. The resulting DVD was "Mystery Loves Company". Although the band was counting on the mysteriousness of their relative anonymity to spark an interest, the DVD was not a brisk seller by any accounts. "We were completely shocked after hearing incessant cries to see Salem Hill for years and years and years, that when we finally released our first DVD giving folks an idea of what we were like live, nobody seemed interested."
Despite the poor sales of the "Mystery Loves Company" DVD, the band held their second Hillionaire's Weekend in 2007, again filming it for future release. This event was special in that the band celebrated the 10th year anniversary of "Catatonia" to perform it live, in its entirety, for the first time. To date, neither the audio or video of that show has been released. In 2010, the band released another studio album, "Pennies in the Karma Jar". Leaving the ambiguity about the spiritual nature of Salem Hill behind, the band boldly explored religious themes, many of them coming from very personal places. Reviews of this album were mostly positive, although many European reviewers were vocal in their disdain for the band's new boldness in discussing things they'd only hinted at in previous releases.
Swedish webzine, The Missing Piece, opines, "Salem Hill's music is sensitive and melodic mixed with rawness and good lyrics. Highly recommended."
The Dutch Progressive Rock Page writes, "This band defies comparison, which speaks to their originality."
Dylan Thomas described poetry as "craft or sullen art." Using the same approach, Salem Hill has combined musical craft and artistic sense. The result is a body of work that has propelled Salem Hill to the forefront of the current progressive rock scene.