Subrosa – Interview with Rebecca Vernon
Rebecca Vernon, founder, guitarist and vocalist for the Salt Lake City band SubRosa graciously took some time to talk about the band, their new album and what its like being a practicing Mormon while playing heavy metal. Anyone who has followed my little blog here knows that “No Help for the Mighty Ones” is one of my favorite albums, so I’m pretty geeked about this. (An edited version of this interview can also be found in the latest issue of Obscene Magazine.)
Tells us a little about yourselves, the current lineup, how the band came together, how long you’ve been together, etc.
Subrosa started in 2005. I had been having a feeling that I should start a band for about three years, but kept ignoring that feeling. That summer was one of the worst times of my life, and I finally decided, “It’s now or never.” Sarah and I started the band with no songs, no songwriting experience, and no members. We had one amp to share between us, so I would plug in and play and then she would plug in and play her part … back and forth.
The lineup that made this album is Kim Pack on electric violin (she used to play in the Salt Lake band Loom and is starting her own band, Cicadas), Zach Hatsis on drums (from SLC band Dwellers and Laughter); Dave Jones on bass (also in Dwellers, and Old Timer) and Sarah Pendleton, who has been in the band since the beginning.
Subrosa has been together for six years, and this current lineup has been together about two and a half years.
When you formed Subrosa, how did including two violins come about? Was that intentional? Was there a specific sound you were going for or did it just come together?
There was only one violin at first. I never pictured violins during those three years I was envisioning starting a band, but Sarah was starting to learn violin the summer of 2005 and wanted to be in the band. It has really been the most happy accident, because the violins in Subrosa are very, very special—they really set the emotional tone of the songs. They are extremely powerful.
Kim Pack joined as second violinist at the beginning of 2008. Sarah went toEuropefor awhile and Kim was just going to fill in for several months while she was gone. But when Sarah came back, it was evident that having two violins playing parts together was even better.
PJ Harvey, Kyuss and Coven are often mentioned influences on your band, what other artists have influenced you?
We’ve been influenced by a lot of different genres, but stoner rock is definitely what the guitar riffs are influenced by. Some of my favorite stoner rock bands are Electric Wizard and Acid King. Big fat riffs, yes!! Dave is into all that as well … his other band, Old Timer, is all about the big fuzzy riffs, too. Sarah’s a metalhead, among other things, and Kim appreciates many different kinds of music, from Depeche Mode to indie math rock. Zach is into the heavier side of the music spectrum, too.
Was there one specific artist that made you want to be a musician?
Yes. The biggest influence on me musically is a band called Red Bennies, fromProvo,Utah. They were making angry sludge metal in the vein of EyeHateGod meets Jimmy Hendrix, in 1994, long before doom and sludge was a popular genre. They were ahead of their time. I first saw them in 1996 and they definitely inspired me to want to play and write music. They inspired many, many Salt Lake musicians.
Rebecca, as a former drummer, why did you decide to pick up the guitar and move to the forefront?
Well, that’s a good question. Like I said, I had a nagging feeling for three years to start a band, and because drummers usually don’t sing or write the music of a band (unless you’re Phil Collins), I knew I had to learn rudimentary guitar and sing in order to bring about my musical vision. When I started Subrosa, I didn’t know how to play guitar … not really, and I had never sung in front of anyone. So it was a big step for me.
Salt Lake City isn’t the first city people think of when you mention metal; however, I’ve noticed that many independent musicians, from metal to hip-hop, always seem to tour there, so there must be a demand for it. What is the music scene like in Salt Lake?
The music scene is actually very thriving … there are a ton of bands here—literally hundreds along the Wasatch Front—who work very hard and tour, and there is a large swathe of young people here who are enthusiastic about music and going to shows. Loom is a standout band as far as hard-working Utah bands who tour outside the State go. Gaza(Black Market), who tours with Converge, and Eagle Twin (Southern Lord) are a couple more. There is a sense of community in the local music scene, for the most part, and it feels like its own underground world, completely separated from the world that most people see when they visitUtah, or live here. It feels like a safe, nurturing cocoon. We love it.
How do you think living in Utah has influenced your music and songwriting?
It has influenced almost everything we are, from the desert landscapes and scenery—the bleak winters, the Great Salt Lake, the mountains—to the dominant conservative culture, which has created a thriving music scene, to the people we’ve met and the other musicians in town who have inspired me in the past, like Purr Bats, Puri-Do, Red Bennies, Fumamos, Tarn, and Violet Run (a band I played drums in for 8 years).
Rebecca, you are Mormon and attended BYU. What has been the response from that community? As someone who grew up in a Mormon family and based on my experiences, I would imagine people have been, for the most part, less than accepting of your desire to play metal.
I’m still Mormon; Kim and Zach grew up Mormon but aren’t anymore, Sarah grew up Catholic but isn’t anymore, and Dave isn’t Mormon, but I don’t know how he grew up.
You’re right, most Mormons don’t know how to take my music taste, starting with my own family, although they accept it more now. Ha. It’s hard for me to explain to people that don’t like the same music, that I don’t see a conflict between heavy, rebellious, profound, inspiring music and the life of the soul and spirit; with spirituality.
Your music is often labeled as stoner rock. Personally, I think the “stoner” tag doesn’t do your music complete justice, there is so much more to it. How would you describe your music?
We often describe Subrosa’s music as very melodic sludge metal with electric violins, with a touch of experimental. We definitely have more of a doom bent with this latest album too. We’ve been exposed to a lot of doom over the last two years from being on I Hate Records and rubbing shoulders with other doom musicians, like our friends in Beneath the Frozen Soil.
Tell us about the new album, “No Help for the Mighty One,” what does the title refer to? Is there an underlying theme throughout the record?
The mighty ones are those who are in power on this earth, who abuse their power. There’s no help for them because you can’t hide from yourself forever, no matter how the power structures of this earth are set up. The artwork (by Glyn Smyth of Scrawled Design) is based on the story of Tere Jo Dupperault, which carries that theme. If you Google her name, you can read more about it.
There was no intentional underlying theme on the album, but I sing a lot about social and political oppression, so it all ties together.
You’ve mentioned that the song “Inheritance” is about animal genocide and “Beneath the Crown” is about the eugenics movement in America and its relation to Nazi Germany. Is it important to you that your music has a message? Do you think artists have a duty to address social political matters?
Well, I’m not intentionally trying to spread a particular message. I see Subrosa as a way to express myself about all the things that cause me grief and pain. It’s a way to let out everything that’s inside me, and it is for the other band members, too. If other people hear my lyrics and connect to them, then that’s an indirect plus. I in return tend to connect to music that carries conviction with it, because I think when people make music with conviction, it shows. Agalloch is a great example of this kind of music.
“House Carpenter” is a unique song for a metal record, its kind of a folk spiritual. Is that an original piece?
No, we can’t claim authorship to this beautiful song. It is an old Celtic/English folk song sometimes called “The Daemon Lover” or “James Harris,” that we saw performed by other musicians and fell in love with. It has several different versions. It’s the only cover we’ve done since Subrosa began, which shows how much we like it.
How do you write your music? Is there one primary songwriter or do all contribute?
I write the main guitar riffs, usually, and then everyone writes their parts. Often the parts the other members write will completely change the feeling of a song, or be really unexpected and even surprising, especially the violin parts. So everyone’s contributions to the songs are really significant. We usually all pitch in on helping with forming the structure of a song.
Between bands such as yours, as well as Greyceon, Ludicra, Blood Ceremony and Christian Mistress, there have been quite a few female fronted bands making noise these days. Do you think the metal community has fully accepted women artists?
I think there is definitely a certain level of respect for women in metal who are sincere and who perform and sing heavy music because they love it. On the other hand, though, I think some women in metal fall into the trap of being eye candy. I think these female metal musicians are desired, but not necessarily accepted as full musicians in the metal community. Human sexuality is beautiful and amazing, but I think our ideas of it get warped when it’s used to sell “product”—like music as a product—which it is, all the time.
I know it is ironic that I should do an interview with Obscene Magazine, feeling that way, but the audience of Obscene Magazine is just the kind of audience that might benefit from hearing another point of view.
Based on their roster and their recent releases, your deal with Profound Lore seems a perfect fit, how did it come about? Are you happy there?
Thanks. I have been loosely in touch with Chris since Strega came out on I Hate Records three years ago. When Ola Blomkvist, ex-co-owner of I Hate Records, left the label, I approached Chris about releasing our new album and he said yes, which was very fortunate for us! Profound Lore is a great label.
Will Profound Lore release “No Help for the Mighty One” on vinyl?
Yes, actually, we are just beginning to get that squared away. Glyn Smyth (from Scrawled Design, and who did the artwork for the album) is going to do some special artwork for the vinyl. Vinyl will probably be available within 2-3 months, but don’t quote me on that.
Will you tour Southern California soon?
There are some tour plans to along the West Coast in the near-distant future … stay tuned, and I will be better about updating our MySpace page.
Any last words?
Thank you a ton for the interview and I look forward to coming back to sunny San Jose for work sometime soon (I work for a healthcare software company whose headquarters are located there).