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Apocalyptic Blues

CVLT Nation Interviews

Subrosa’s More Constant Than The Gods is out now on Profound Lore Records

My favorite moment on More Constant than the Gods, SubRosa’s newest, comes at its very end.  After over ten minutes of spare piano, flute, violin and distorted guitar, a looping hammered dulcimer solo passes into view and drones on and on, until it’s the only noticeable thing.  In a sense, it’s very un-metal, but it might just be the heaviest thing on the record, a piece of powerful instrumentation that transcends whatever context the band had worked in before.  It’s fantastic.

Naturally, I wanted to find out more about it, so I talked over email with Rebecca Vernon, the group’s frontwoman, guitarist and songwriter.  We discussed the changing nature of the band, why metal musicians don’t break it big anymore, and why Vernon is compelled to see “what is behind the curtains.”


I noticed that the SubRosa lineup has changed in the past.  What has it been like writing for or with changing groups of musicians?  How did that impact how you approached More Constant than the Gods?

Rebecca: Well, we never want the lineup to change, but sometimes life priorities have taken former SubRosa members in new directions. When members leave, it can be hard to retrain new people, but we also try to look at the silver lining and see it as an opportunity to try something new or add some different elements that weren’t there before.

We started writing a song or two from More Constant than the Gods before asking Andy and Christian to join in spring of 2012, so there was kind of already a direction happening with the new album. But it was serendipitous that they seemed to be the exact right musicians for the new songs as they continued to unfold. Andy’s “chunk drumming” (as I coined it once) and Christian’s minimal, heavy bass and obsession with low-end tone fit perfectly with the heavier, more stripped-down riffs on this album.

Had you ever written without a rhythm section before?  And do you tend to write songs alone, or as a group?

The formula with SubRosa is usually that I will write the guitar riffs by myself, almost always at home, and then show everyone at practice what I have written and they will add their parts and we’ll refine the structure together. There are some exceptions, though; with No Help for the Mighty Ones, I would sometimes write riffs spontaneously in practice and everyone would start jamming and sometimes have input into the riff I had just written. And Zach (No Help drummer) wrote the riffs for the middle parts of “Beneath the Crown.”

More Constant than the Gods followed the previous approach. I wrote the riffs, vocal melodies and lyrics, and then Kim and Sarah and Christian and I would meet together so they could write their own parts with feedback from me only occasionally (because they’re pretty much perfect songwriters, in my opinion). Then we’d show the song to Andy and he’d come up with drum parts. The reason Andy comes last is because I’ve been a drummer in bands since 1996 and I know there’s nothing more annoying than sitting around keeping time while band members are spending hours working on writing parts. It doesn’t take long to write drum parts; if you’ve drummed a lot, they come almost automatically. Also, Kim wrote the slide riff in the pre-chorus of “Fat of the Ram.”


Do the lyrics come as the riffs do, generally?

Sometimes they emerge simultaneously, but I’d say most of the time, I write the riff first and then the lyrics are added later, sometimes much later. I have a file box of lyric topics in my mind, and after hearing a riff, I’ll think, “That’s the song where I want to sing about that topic I put in my file box a year ago …”

How do you choose the topics?  Do you generally try to have them fit together as a theme for each record?

I’ll hear something that will strike me in a really visceral way – a political or social subject, or a story, like in “Affliction.” That’s where many of my lyrics come from.

It actually goes the opposite way: I’ll write all the lyrics for an album, and then look at them as a whole to glean the theme of the album. I’ll look at the unifying ideas that seem to thread through each song. With MCTTG, it didn’t take long to notice that all the songs were about death, in one way or another.

I noticed that, as well as a lot of very vast or celestial images: Gods, stars, oceans, annihilation via burning, things like that. How do you see those themes or images connecting?  Is there anything you’re trying to say by that combination?

Well, I guess one big theme of Subrosa is that we’re always trying to look behind the curtains at the puppet show; we’re interested in the strings pulling everything, the “real” reasons for things being the way they are, the corruption behind closed doors. We’re into the idea of unseen forces, the unseen world. We’ve always had big questions about the way things work and a natural suspicion of artifice, and so that probably comes out in our use of sometimes over-the-top cosmic imagery.

The reason death is probably a natural theme for us is because it is the opposite of artifice.  It’s one of the only things you can point to in this life as being real, much too real, sometimes.


Photo by Diana Lee Zadlo – Photography

Where do you think the pull to that comes from?

I think I’ve just always had a strong repulsion for fakeness, lies, artificiality, in whatever form it comes. Whether it’s the popularity game in school settings, or lies politicians tell us, or the empty, glittering disaster of modern US media culture, I really hate it all. So I guess that’s why I’ve become obsessed with its opposite, which is, “What is behind the curtains?” If there was nothing behind the curtains, that would be a cruel letdown. But I believe there is something there.

In a religious sense, or in some other way?

I have strong spiritual beliefs, but it is in a way that transcends all religions, just like death. The album title ties into that idea. Religions have warring ideas of what truth is, but some things really are true, and true in a way we don’t always like, such as death. But I’d rather have that kind of truth than lies.

Could you elaborate on what you mean?  Do you mean belief in an overarching metaphysical sense, as opposed to any specific ideology?  And a follow-up question: metal in general tends to be very hostile to religion and spirituality, at least I would say so, but in many cases there’s also this contradictory pull, often from many of the same acts, toward what might be called ‘paganism,’ or at least its images and symbols  Why do you think that is?

Yes, that’s what I mean, a belief in an overarching metaphysical sense as opposed to any specific ideology. When I said, “I have strong spiritual beliefs, but it is in a way that transcends all religions,” I didn’t mean my spiritual beliefs transcend all religions, haha. I meant, I think there is something behind the curtains that transcends all religions.

I believe that on the surface, metal is very hostile to organized religion and traditional spirituality. But I believe that many metal musicians are actually very spiritual. I think many metal musicians have a natural intuition about the concept of “there is an invisible world with its own workings, much of which is a mystery to us.” I admire many metal musicians because they will not just accept what they are told, they struggle to find things out on their own and discover their own mind and their own heart.

I do see the irony of people knocking religion but then adopting other steadfast belief systems. I myself, see the oppressiveness of many religions and I also see truth in them, too, which human fallibility so often twists into something terrible. So that sets me apart from many people in the metal scene.


Do you think that difference manifests itself in your music or lyrics at all?

Not very often. I try to sing from a point of view that’s not always personal, but that I think could be “true for everyone,” if there is such a thing. I mean, I do believe what I sing applies to me, and I believe in what I sing, but I also try to think about how it applies to the rest of humanity in a larger sense.

To kind of shift the conversation, do you think that the influences on your sound or the mindset surrounding More Constant changed at all from No Help, whether in audible or inaudible ways?

Sure, I think the album is more personal overall lyrically, and darker. We went through a hard time after No Help came out and I think this came out in the album. Kim and Sarah have also really been pushing the boundaries of their instruments over the last two years, buying and experimenting with multiple pedals and tones and techniques, and I think that experimentalism comes out on the album. Kim also has a project, Cicadas, where she plays through 10 pedals, a loop pedal, 2-3 huge cabs and 2 guitar heads, that is unbelievably heavy and noise-oriented. I think some of what she’s been doing with Cicadas bleeds into MCTTG.

Kim at Southwest Terror Fest. Photo by Andrew Weiss.

Are there any musical influences for you that maybe hadn’t been there before?

I have a friend in Bombay with impeccable music taste that has introduced me to heaps of bands from the underground ambient black metal/drone/doom/neo-folk/thrash scene in the last two years. I think this has to have had an impact on our sound, even if it hasn’t been in a conscious way.

Do you think the roles of Kim and Sarah have changed over time in the group?  Both in terms of their input and maybe how they approach their instrumental roles?

Kim and Sarah are a hugely integral part of SubRosa. For the most part, Sarah, since 2005, and Kim since 2008, have always written and retained autonomy over their own parts. I rarely give them any suggestions to change anything they write because, well, they’re geniuses at what they do. With this album, they did approach the violin writing differently than they ever had. With previous albums, they wrote almost all the parts together in the same room. But everyone’s schedules were incredibly opposite during the writing of this album. The only time we had together was between 8:30-10 p.m. some nights of the week. Therefore, they both each “headed” three songs on the album, writing the parts on their own, and then showing them to the other violinist when we were all able to get together. So that was an interesting approach and I think gave them more feeling of creative power or ownership over those songs.

In the last few years, and this one especially, it seems like metal is really ‘crossing over’ into publications it wouldn’t have been in before, indie websites like Pitchfork and Stereogum and other places like that.  Why do you think that is?  What might have changed?

And on the other side of the coin: why do you think metal bands don’t really get huge anymore like they did for a long time, even into the 1990s? 

I’ve noticed that, too, and wondered. Why are the only heavy bands in the mainstream bands like Linkin Park? Is it because the general public doesn’t crave dark or heavy bands anymore? The thought of SubRosa crossing into the mainstream is something I never thought of as a possibility and was never motivated by. It is just something that doesn’t happen to heavy, dark bands nowadays. I’m not sure why the cultural climate is different. Is it a sign of the general population wanting to hide their heads in the sand? Is it because we’re overwhelmed by the sadness and despair of the world and now we want Rihanna? I’m not sure.

I have also noticed that indie publications are picking up on the underground metal scene more in the last few years. I think it’s because the metal scene is going through a renaissance right now. There are so many artists producing incredible albums and pushing musical boundaries like never before. There is a huge sense of excitement around that, and I think other media outlets are picking up on that. I think I speak for all of Subrosa when I say that we feel inspired by it, too, and feel lucky to be part of this scene right now.


And even then a lot of the most popular ones (you mentioned Linkin Park, I guess I’d also just throw in someone like Korn or Slipknot), are kind of leftovers from that late-90s/early-2000s nu-metal boom.  I wonder if it’s because so many of the younger, exciting bands take a lot of their influence from extreme music like black metal and sludge, whereas older ones like Metallica/Slayer/etc at least had more stadium-sized ambitions. 

Yeah, Korn, Slipknot, Linkin Park, Staind … I can’t think of any heavy or dark bands that have come out recently. At least, not ones that I like or have staying power.  I definitely feel like the metal scene today doesn’t have stadium-sized ambitions and maybe that’s why there’s no mainstream crossover … maybe you only get as big as you imagine? There’s definitely not an ounce of danger in the mainstream today. Some of the musicians are very good, there is some good pop music being written, but there’s no danger.

What is it like being a band from a more out of the way city like Salt Lake, as opposed to a big place like New York or Chicago or LA?  Do you feel that you’re more in it for the long haul, as opposed to trying to get noticed among a lot of other bands?

I think coming from Salt Lake City gave us more opportunities to develop, to play live shows, and to grow as a band. If we had formed in NYC or Chicago or LA, there’s just a lot more competition that drowns out bands that are not frenzied with hysterical self-promotion. At the same time, there are more connections in cities like that. At the same time, the Internet has knocked down a lot of boundaries and opened up avenues for bands in more out-of-the-way places; just look at Uzala and Wolvserpent from Boise, Idaho.

We definitely feel like Subrosa’s in it for the long haul. We’re interested in methodically and slowly setting down roots, and progressing artistically, and using Subrosa as a vessel for self-expression and hopefully connecting with likeminded musicians and listeners.

I have no intention of Subrosa ending until I die, and even then, maybe Kim, Sarah, Christian and Andy will continue without me.


Announcing the SubRosa + Samothrace Tour Dates:

11/03 – Reno, NV @ Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor
11/04 – Oakland, CA @ Oakland Metro
11/05 – Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst Atrium
11/06 – San Luis Obispo, CA @ Frankie Tear Drops
11/07 – Fullerton, CA @ Slidebar
11/08 – Glendale, CA @ The Complex

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