Anchorage Free Press: Nature Jams: Salem and the Risan Project

APRIL 14, 2016 – 10:25 AM


Next Thursday, the Risan Project is back in Anchorage on their annual tour of Alaska, bringing with them Colorado- based band Salem. The Risan Project’s mission is to raise awareness of climate change through entertainment and action-based engagement, with their Alaskan tour focusing on snow sports like skiing and snowboarding. Combining film, music and activism, Risan’s Alaska Tour offers audiences the chance to learn more about how to protect and enjoy nature while jamming to some incredible music.

The relationship between music and the outdoors is something electronic band Salem has been tuned into for a long time. Founded in 2005 by Todd Anders Johnson, the group got its start touring ski resorts across Utah, Alaska and Colorado. He was joined by Thomas Haupt and Mike Facey, both of whom are avid snowboarders and skiers. Their interest in outdoor sports in some of the nation’s top destinations created a perfect opportunity to partner with groups like the Risan Project to help raise environmental awareness. It was through Risan Media that Johnson got heavily involved with Alaska’s study of glaciers, a focus area for the Risan Project.

“I started filming interviews with glaciologists throughout Alaska with Risan Media to document climate change impacts on glaciers,” Johnson shared. “I took a field methodology course at UAF so that I could better understand the data collection methods and we spent some days out on the Gulkana Glacier. In the fall of 2013, I was able to join Dr. Matt Nolan from the University of Alaska Fairbanks on his annual fall mass balance expedition to the McCall Glacier in the Brooks Range of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

Salem has become a staple on the Alaskan tour circuit, both through the Risan Project and in their own right. Their sound is totally unique—blending several genres with an electronic edge that sets them apart.

“We blend rock, jazz, hip-hop, world/reggae and neo-soul into our own thing,” Johnson says. Salem has most recently been experimenting with acoustic shows, creating a new play on their usual sound. “It’s kind of like Gypsy Kings or Ozomatli meets Michael Franti meets Al DiMeola.”

With Flamenco guitars and live loops, the band’s live shows are an experience unlike any other. Despite not having a drumset, the band manages to keep the music high energy and fun, something that’s not always easy in a traditional acoustic set.

“The cajon sounds really full when amplified,” Johnson says, referring to the box-shaped hand drum he plays. They also have another secret trick up their sleeves to keep everyone on their toes: Spontaneity. “Thomas is really fluid with his playing and looping so that we can develop improvisational sections in songs quickly and collaboratively.”

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