Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Exclusive Interview - Rebecca Vernon (SubRosa)

This past weekend, comrade Durf and I were lucky enough to catch Salt Lake City's own SubRosa as they were playing the very last show of their tour opening for Wovenhand. The band has garnered plenty of notoriety over the past few years. 2013's More Constant Than the Gods and last year's For This We Fought the Battle of Ages have paved new paths for creating a different kind of heaviness within the doom metal genre; giving their compositions more emotional weight than just audible weight. We sat down with guitarist/singer Rebecca Vernon and just by chance drummer Andy Patterson to talk shop about the band's beginnings, their development over the years, and the tight-knit Salt Lake City music community.

Read the full interview after the break!

Mick: I first discovered you guys with More Constant Than the Gods. For anyone else who is new to the band, can you give us insight into the band's beginnings? Since you guys have such a unique sound, I feel like an origin story would be really interesting.

Rebecca : The band started in 2005. For a few years before it started, I had a vision of starting the heaviest band in Salt Lake City; something just super brutal. I never imagined any violins or any such instruments like that in the band. I pictured a guitar, a bass...maybe two basses, drums, and just being really heavy. Sarah was learning violin at the time and we wanted to do the band together. I was like "I don't know how this is going to work. Violins are really beautiful and pretty." But of course it was the best accident that ever befell us. But we were definitely not trying to be My Dying Bride or emulate any bands that have used violins in the past. It just all happened by accident.

Mick : What you wanted to do initially with the band. Would it be what your guys' sound is now minus the violins? Or was it something completely different like a death metal band?

Rebecca: No. I had always envisioned the big fat riffs. I had also always envisioned the folk/blues overtones. The punk delivery of the vocals being aggressive and about social/sometimes political issues; I always imagined that. But, one thing aside from the violins that's different is that it's just so much more melodic than I ever imagined. The riffs are big and fat and heavy but they're also very melodic. All the soft parts with the melodies and the harmonies; I never envisioned it going like that. So that all has just developed organically over time.

Durf : That's a good clarification because when you mentioned creating the heaviest most brutal band I just envision Ulcerate with a violin, which was fun for me. There's no actual question there.

Rebecca : (laughs)

Mick : Speaking of Salt Lake City, what is the music scene like there? Especially the metal scene. I would have never picked that out as a hot-bed for metal bands.

Rebecca : There are hundreds of bands in Salt Lake City and the surrounding area. We have a huge thriving counter-culture in Utah. It's crazy. In the heavy scene, particularly, I'd say there are probably 30-40 active bands that play a lot. Several are signed to labels and tour diligently. There's Visigoth on Metal Blade. There's Eagle Twin on Southern Lord. There's Cult Leader on Deathwish.

Mick : I felt like there would be a few I knew of, but just never knew they were from there.

Rebecca : Exactly. People don't ever automatically group them together like, "oh, those are Salt Lake bands." But honestly, the Salt Lake scene has a huge influence on the bands that come out of it. Our biggest influence was a band from American Fork, Utah called the Red Bennies. They were influenced by Sleep in the 90s. I heard them in 1996 and thought it was the best music to have ever existed. All the bands have a huge on each other in Utah. Also, the bassist we have filling in for us on this tour....

Durf : Oh this was going to be my next question! (laughs)

Rebecca : The bassist filling in is from a Salt Lake band called The Ditch and the Delta and they just got signed to Prosthetic. There's some things in the works that I can't mention but there will be some awesome things going on with them.

Mick : Do you play as much back home as you guys do big tours now?

Rebecca : No. We maybe play like two or three shows a year in Salt Lake and it's better that way. We used to play every two weeks like every other local band. But we learned over time that it's better to play less so it makes your show more of an event.

Mick : In that same vein as Salt Lake City, Denver has also recently been a hot-bed for bands like Khemmis, Dreadnought, and Primitive Man. In your opinion, do you think people just haven't realized it about these cities until recently or do you think it was a specific moment that kind of triggered things off?

Rebecca : That's a good question. I feel like the whole doom scene has been growing everywhere as a genre in the last eight or nine years. I do think, though, that more isolated cities like Denver and Salt Lake are really special places for creativity. This is just my own philosophy but I've heard it reflected through other people in the Salt Lake music scene and this was probably more pertinent 20 years ago but....

(drummer Andy Patterson walks by)

Rebecca : Hi Andy! You want to join this conversation about the Salt Lake music scene?

Andy : No......yes.

All : (laughs)

Rebecca : I was talking about how my philosophy and that I've heard reflected for other people too is that because of the geography of the mountains, we're eight hours from Denver and six hours from Vegas. Those are the next biggest cities. And there's nothing else really to do in Salt Lake, especially 20 years ago. So everyone formed bands and everyone was an influence on each other, especially back then when it was harder to get a hold of music and listen to new music. Now, obviously, it's a lot easier. I just felt like the music scenes developed in this strange and unique ways. Yeah, what you say Andy?

Andy : I don't know how to follow that. (laughs) Think you about summed it up.

Rebecca : I think a lot of people from Salt Lake feel the same way because we see it happen. I mean, like the Ether's of the world. Ether was a noise band from the 90s that was signed to Extreme Records in Australia which also put out stuff by Merzbow. Ether is so good. They are still one of the best bands that ever existed in Salt Lake City. And then all those guys in those bands did off-shoots into other crazy projects.

Andy : Riley, the singer guitar player of Ether, now owns like a company that has those crazy red cameras that they use for big hollwood movies. He did the last two Hangover movies. He did one of Dave Grohl's recent things too. Not Sonic Highways, but that one about the mixing board. But yeah, that's Riley from Ether.

Mick : I hate to ask the "what were the bands that influenced you question," but because of your guys' unique sound, I feel like it would be super interesting to know those bands that made you want to be the heaviest band around.

Rebecca :  The Red Bennies, that I mentioned already. They were my first doorway into sludge metal. I had never heard anything like it before. I had listened to hair metal, AC/DC, and the Melvins. But the Red Bennies was really the heaviest band I had ever heard and I think they're still the angriest band I've ever heard. The first time I saw them was like an atom bomb going off. But it was many years after seeing them that I discovered bands like Isis, Neurosis, and Cult of Luna and realized other bands were making music in that same vein. The Red Bennies definitely started it, though. Oh, Andy drummed in the Red Bennies.

Andy : And Ether (laughs).

Rebecca : I know Brian Eno is a big influence on Sarah. And Devil Doll. There's two Devil Dolls, but she loves the more obscure one that's from Transylvania or something like that (laughs). With Kim, she's been in zillions of bands and toured with a band from Salt Lake called Loom for many years. Her influences are vast and many; everything from classical music to Depeche Mode to Botch to Pig Destroyer. So a huge mix of stuff.

Mick : Do you think the inclusion of the violins has made the band heavier than what you originally imagined for the band?

Rebecca : Yes, absolutely. It's just that I didn't realize that was going to happen. But now that they're in the band, they make the sound and the emotions heavier because they scoop out the hidden emotions in the riff and bring all this crazy powerful stuff to the band that wouldn't be there otherwise.

Andy : There was an interesting thing earlier this year. We played Roadburn. Rebecca was on a panel that was Walter, that runs Roadburn, Tomas from At the Gates and forgot who else. Anyways, the premise of the conversation was "what is heavy." There's all sorts of different versions of heavy. The violins add something heavy, but like she said, on an emotional level, not necessarily like a wall of sound. But they hit these counterpoint melodies that just tear into your heart and makes it heavier, but not in a traditional sense.

Rebecca : I don't think I fully appreciated it until a couple years had gone by, I'm ashamed to admit. It was then, though, that I realized how lucky we were to have it in the band. Kim joined about three years after the band and had started. Then having two violins in the band were creating harmonies that were just even more incredible. What those girls do is pure genius. They're totally pushing the boundaries of what you can do with electric violin.

Mick : With this being the last night of this tour, what's in the immediate future for you guys? Anything you can share?

Rebecca : Well, we're going out with Boris about three weeks after we get back. Then we go on a bit of break next year because Kim is having a baby. That's why she wasn't able to come on this tour. But we will determine what is in the future post-baby (laughs).

Durf : First off, I'd like to say that these interviews usually go a lot more back and forth but Mick was really on his game today with the questions he had...

All : (laughs)

Durf : So before we wrap up, you mentioned Eagle Twin earlier. I was under the impression that Eagel Twin was done.

Andy : No! They are very much alive. I just recorded their new record. It's done and mastered. I don't know how record label cycles work but it's done so it'll probably be out at the end of the year. If not, early next year. And they've recorded two records worth of material. We've mixed and mastered the first half and then we'll come out later with the second half. Gentry is also in an old 90s hardcore band called Iceburn. We just started tracking a new record for them which is the first record they've done in about 20 years.

Rebecca : And they're legendary.

Andy : Yeah they were outside the box kind of stuff back then. But this new album has the jazzy cool interesting weird timing shit that Iceburn had back in the day but with the heaviness of Eagle Twin because Gentry has sorted out his rig over the years.

Rebecca : Cache Tolman from Iceburn has been in Rival Schools and what else?

Andy : Yeah, Rival Schools. Also a band called Fearless Vampire Killers which was a fake version of the Cro-Mags.

Rebecca : Didn't Cache also tour as a studio musician for other big bands?

Andy : He played on the second Everlast record.

Durf : The Everlast from House of Pain?

Andy : Yeah, when he went emo-rap. Then he was in a band called Institute with Gavin Rossdale from Bush.

Durf : (laughs) Get out of town!

Rebecca : He's like a walking musical encyclopedia.

Andy : I'm also in a band with him. We have a two-piece drum and bass duo called Done which is like the punk version of Eagle Twin. It's like all Bad Brains and Rage Against the Machine riffs.

Mick : Do you guys get on stage on introduce yourselves like "Hey, we're Done?"

All : (laughs)

Andy : Low hanging fruit man...

Durf : God dammit, Mick.

Mick : I know. I'm sorry. I had to grab it, though.

Andy : He actually did do that our very first show. We played the last song and went "Ok, now we're Done."

Durf : Well I'm sorry one of my few questions had nothing to do with SubRosa.

Andy : It does though. We're all intertwined. I mean, the cab that Sarah's using was built by Hex cabs which is Eagle Twin. Gentry is like the scientist that designs the things and Tyler is the guy who builds them. In the studio when we record, we use stuff that was made by Eagle Twin guys. Rebecca has cabs that were made by Dave Jones, a former bass player for the band. It's all intertwined. We all play on each other's records and stuff.

Durf : That's really cool. With bringing Corey from Ditch on tour and talking about the Salt Lake community, it's great to see that everybody works together.

Andy : We have a really cool friendly scene where everyone's supportive of each other.

Rebecca : That's why the scene's thriving.

Andy : Kim and Sarah played on the Cult Leader 7" that came out a little while ago. They've played on Visigoth. Gentry played on The Ditch and the Delta record. Everyone just contributes to everything.

Mick : Well to end things up on fun question, is there a band that SubRosa has not played with yet that would be a dream for you guys to play with?

Rebecca : Corrupted. How about you?

Andy : I don't know. We've played with pretty much everyone we've ever want to play with. I don't know if would be appropriate, but we almost played with Ministry two days in a row. They played both Hellfest and Grasspop and so did we but our schedules didn't line up. I don't know otherwise, though.

Rebecca : Tool would be like a dreaming big band.

Andy : Yeah, Tool would be cool to play with. I think their crowd would be open minded enough to dig us.

Durf : Although, Tool fans booed Meshuggah.

Andy : But YOB went out with them and they did great. My bucket list is pretty much checked off though. It would've been Neurosis and YOB until recently.

Mick : Well saying your bucket list is checked off is probably the best answer to that question. Thanks so much for your time, guys.

Check out SubRosa's most recent album, For This We Fought the Battle of Ages, and the rest of their material here on Bandcamp.

- Mick and Durf

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