Interview by Miriam C.
Everytime that Salt Lake City‘s progressive doom metal releases a new album is an event, at least in this musical genre. Interviewing Rebecca Vernon is a dream coming true because I consider her one of the few interesting artist with which is possible to speak openly about any matter and I was chasing her since “More Constant than the Gods” back in 2013. The new album, released in August 2016 via Profound Lore Records, “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages” is inspired by the dystopian novel of Yevgeny Zamyatin, “We”. Utah‘s Salt Lake City plays an important role in both music and lyrical vision for SubRosa, if we consider that it’s the headquarter of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and about their latest single “Troubled Cells”, the vocalist speak up candidly about the recent LGBT directives that the Mormon Church has issued, anyway there’s no end to the cruelty…
Hi Rebecca, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine. How are you?
I’m good, I just came back from walking around the park at 11 p.m. and then cat-sitting for my friend while she’s gone for a week.
Albeit SubRosa marks its inception back in 2005 (and consequently, you’ve officially debuted with the demo “The Worm Has Turned” in the following year), do you mind to recall for us how the band got together?
I wanted to form a heavy band for three years before actually starting SubRosa with Sarah. We had only one amp between us, and we were barely learning our instruments, yet we had this inner urge to make music. Somehow we scraped together our first demos on an analog four-track recorder, which I bought from Musician’s Friend for $99. Such antiquated technology now. I wish I had those first recordings. We practiced in my haunted basement apartment. Several inexplicable, seemingly supernatural things happened and later we found out that a man had shot himself in our living room a couple years before we moved in. He was a security guard suffering from depression and the rumor is that they didn’t clean up the living room very thoroughly afterwards.
Back on August, you have released via Profound Lore Records your fourth album “For This We Have Fought the Battle of Ages”. Can you take us through its writing and recording process?
Yes, we started writing near the end of 2014/beginning of 2015, and writing stretched over about a year. There was a ton of editing and rewriting, just like there was in “More Constant….”. We wrote about an hour and 50 minutes of material and 40 minutes of it got scratched and five minutes of it was the song “Key of the Eidolon”, which ended up on the Decibel flexidisc series. Three songs and some other bits and pieces didn’t get on this album, so we have some leftover material for splits and our next album.
I remember that your previous album “More Constant Than God” was released in 2013 and many many media outlets sparkled their interest in SubRosa with positive reviews and year-end considerations. After such success, did you feel any pressure?
With a follow-up album to a well-received album, the vast majority of the pressure we feel is within ourselves, to feel we evolved and pushed ourselves to do something different, to challenge ourselves, and to reach our musical vision or objective. We have to make ourselves happy first and foremost. If we know we cut corners and only gave a half-hearted effort, critical acclaim means nothing and would make me feel nothing.
Digging around the net, I’ve read that “For This We Have Fought the Battle of Ages” is inspired and based on Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s “We”. I’ve just discovered that “We” has in some ways influenced George Orwell’s “1984” which I love it very much and I’ll be sure to add this book in my wanted list! Back to us, could you tell us what prompted you in tackle this particular matter and for the ones who isn’t very familiar with this book, would like to introduce it?
Yes, you should read it! We can be seen as a criticism of Russian communism specifically, but generally, as an indictment of all forms of overbearing, paternalistic government. It did influence “1984”, and I love “1984”, too. There are zillions of dystopian novels, movies and comic books nowadays, but “We” was one of the first. I think it was very ahead of its time. The book explores themes of free will versus government control; individuality versus the collective. The book is told from the point of view of D-503, the brainwashed, enthusiastic, but increasingly conflicted citizen of OneState, a dystopian city run by The Benefactor. Elections are always unanimous, the citizens live in glass apartments where their every move is watched, and sex and childbearing are all controlled by the state. The book reflected so well and profoundly a lot of philosophies about free will I’ve held my whole life; this is why I clicked with it so quickly and wanted to write an album based on it.
As mentioned before “More Constant Than God” is your previous album but I was wondering to learn in which way “For This We Have Fought the Battle of Ages” musically and lyrically speaking, keeps up with the momentum? I mean, can be there a sort of leitmotiv between the two full-lengths (personally speaking, in a distant way is what I’ve perceived…)?
Well, I think that “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages” does continue a lot of themes that “More Constant Than the Gods” started, as you put it. Not lyrically or in subject matter, really, but musically. “The Usher” was the song that resonated most with me from MCTTG, and I wanted to write more songs that had multiple movements within it, like an opera or a symphony. “Despair Is a Siren” follows this idea most closely; the movements in the song represent plot points and scenes from “We” in chronological order.
Being an Italian native, I was positively impressed by “Il cappio”. Although, it’s really short song that lasts only 1 minute and 37 seconds, I was bewitched by its pocket-sized and poetic lyric. I was wondering to learn why did you have chosen this specific language and for you, which meaning possesses this song?
We have members of UFOMammut to thank for helping us translate the lyrics of “Il cappio” from English into Italian. “Il cappio” is actually supposed to be a prelude to the song “Killing Rapture”; the Italian lyrics continue in the fast part of “Killing Rapture”. “Il cappio” is a lament for love and “Killing Rapture” is OneState’s answer to that lament – to remove the nuisance of love from sex and let OneState control procreation. The album title was taken from the Italian lyrics in “Killing Rapture”. We used Italian because every time I sing about love I don’t want it to be in English, I’m not sure why.
For the average metal fan, it’s not everyday business to listen in a metal album classical elements such as violins and chamber music. Maybe the open-minded fans will have no issues to deal with that but for a beginner (or who will approach your music for the first time) can be caught a little off guard (in a good way). Let’s take a step back in time and let’s talk about your musical background, how and when everything started?
Well, the violins came into the band on accident. I originally had a vision of SubRosa being very heavy, the riffs like awkward blunt objects with odd time signatures that would just pummel you to death. Violins did not fit into that vision at all. However, Sarah was learning violin at the time and wanted to be in SubRosa. I really had reservations about it, but it turned out to be the best accident that ever befell us, of course. Two of Sarah’s many and varied influences are Brian Eno and Devil Doll (from Slovenia, not the American band). Kim was classically trained and has played in all kinds of bands, including Loom, a melodic math-rock-indie-leaning band that almost got signed to Equal Vision and toured the US three months out of the year in a big black school bus that ran on vegetable oil.
I would like to start on general basis by asking which is your view about the use of the crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Pledgemusic and then, I’d like to continue by delving into the video of “Troubled Cells”, would you like to share some insights about its shooting?
Well, I have always hated Kickstarter and Pledgemusic and I’ve always been down on bands that used it. But once we got into the “Troubled Cells” video and realized we were facing expenses we didn’t foresee, and many involved had already given thousands and thousands of dollars on top of the 100% volunteer labor from the film crew – in short, after we had finally exhausted every bit of our own resources, we finally had to ask for some help on the final $5,000. We really appreciate those who helped us. It was a humbling experience and I hope I will never have to do that again.
Almost 1 year ago, in Utah The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued some new directives against the LGBTQI members of its Church and the children coming from the same-sex couples. Personally, I was quite shocked to learn this and indirectly I should thank you for speak up about this matter in your Noisey interview and firstly with your song “Troubled Cells”. Probably the following question can sound a little predictable but what induced to write about this matter?
Thank you… well, this policy being released felt wrong on many levels to people inside and outside the church. The day it was released, I was in a state of shock. I knew it was wrong and damaging, and I felt strongly that it would lead to many suicides. There is no official count, but I remember in one week alone last summer, there were five suicides among gay Mormon youth, ages 20 and under. Suicides among LGBTQ Mormon youth have been an ongoing issue for years and this policy made it worse.
It’s not the place nor my position to make personal assumptions (although those who know me closely can totally affirm that I’m quite passionate about the LGBT cause), I know that was really hard for you to speak up about this event because you has totally upset you but after 1 year from this tragic policy what is changed and how the community has reacted towards the song, the video and more importantly, towards your public support for LGBTQI rights? In retrospect, how much is changed your approach towards the faith?
The video did not explode and sweep across Utah and melt everyone’s brains into viscous puddles of blood like I had hoped, but I think it is spreading, little by little. And honestly, I think it is better that way. It has reached individual people who are close to the issue, including my LGBTQ friends who grew up in the Mormon church. A lot of them liked and connected with the video, which means the most to me. Some showed it to their families, where I think it helped open some hearts. A therapist from Idaho thanked SubRosa for making the video at our show in Boise two months ago. Idaho deals with a lot of the same issues Utah does and the therapist has seen firsthand the distress the policy has caused among his LGBTQ clients, especially youth.
I’ve realized that both your demo “The Worm Has Turned”, your debut “Strega” and the self-released EP “Swans Trapped in Ice” are sold out and they are getting hard to find. Did you envisage any reprint?
We are planning a reprint for “Strega” and maybe for “The Worm Has Turned” but we are probably never going to release “Swans Trapped in Ice” again, which was originally intended to be a demo. It’s not even on our Bandcamp, haha. I even like our first four-track demos from 2005 better than “Swans Trapped in Ice”. It just was very thin and flat and not very good.
What are SubRosa’s next plans? Where can your fans catch you in the next days? Do you have any plans for a second EU tour (maybe in the summer)?
We would like to come back to Europe! We have played Roadburn in April and we’ll be back for the Hellfest and Graspop in June. There are no tours around the fests, but hopefully we will come back to Europe later in the year. We’ll see. In the US, we’ve played St. Vitus in Brooklyn on March 4 and Maryland Death Fest in May.
So, Rebecca, it’s time for your parting words – I really thank you for your time – please greet freely our readers and your fans. Thanks again!
Grazie for the interview and we really hope to make it back to Italy soon. We had a great time playing Milan and Bologna last September and the Italian Alps are mind-blowing. What a beautiful country you have!