SubRosa interview (05/2013)
|With:||Rebecca Vernon, Sarah Pendleton, Kim Pack, Christian Creek|
|Conducted by:||Susan (in person)|
Back in April, Subrosa did a short tour of a few US cities while in the middle of recording their newest album. I had the privilege of meeting the band for a long interview and chat where we discussed their recording of and what to expect from the upcoming album, their incredible sources of lyrical inspiration, and much more. We started with what ended up being quite an in-depth retrospective on the band's history. I wanted to hear their story as well as learn about the Salt Lake City metal scene, of which I knew very little about. This chat is with the whole band minus their drummer Andy, who had run back to the van to grab some supplies.
An in-depth history of Subrosa and how they grew from the Salt Lake City music scene:
Rebecca: The Salt Lake music scene is a huge influence on all of us. The biggest influence on Subrosa's music is a local band called The Red Bennies and they are from American Fork, Utah. I first saw them in 1996 and I'd never seen anything like that before. I'd never see the Melvins, I'd never seen anything like it. The only thing I'd probably heard that was close was Black Sabbath. They made a huge impression on me, they were just low and sludgy, and really heavy, and very angry. And about 10 years later, or so, I learned that their main influence was Sleep, and this was back in 1996, so they were influenced by Sleep and the Virgin Prunes, and Black Pearl, this weird garage band from the 60s. But Sleep was one of their biggest influences. I didn't find that out till later, so I guess indirectly we're influenced by Sleep. And now there's a huge doom and stoner sludge revival so, it's kind of interesting.
Susan: So, how did you guys find each other?
Kim: These two started together (gestures to Sarah and Rebecca).
Sarah: Yeah, Rebecca and I started the band in 2005. We had known each other for a long time beforehand, we worked together and were roommates. Then we just decided that we were going to start this band. We wanted to try and find other people to play with us, which was really difficult because we were two females starting a band and no one had heard any of the tracks and no one knew what we were capable of. So, it was guitar and violin and we were just recording these really, really, super, just greasy, homemade tracks trying to get other people to join and it was really tough at first. And it ended up that we were an all girl line-up to begin with, which was a total accident. We didn't mean for that to happen.
Rebecca: Yeah, all the guy friends we asked were like "oh… I'm busy"
Sarah: "Gotta go file my finger nails"
(they all laugh)
Sarah: So, we had 2 bassists... actually, no there was a male bassist in the beginning.
Rebecca: There was; there was Zoe.
Sarah: We had two bassists, guitar, violin… we had a timpani player.
Sarah: Yeah. That did NOT work out.
Susan: Oh, that'd be a bitch on the road, wouldn't it? (Since timpani are huge!)
Rebecca: Yeah. And it was just too busy. She wanted to... just... yeah.
Sarah: Well, we wanted minimalism and that just wasn't her style. We changed bassists, let's see… Christian you are our 8th bassist? No..
(They all try listing their past bassists and counting, determining he's the 7th.)
Kim: But it doesn't make you any less important
Sarah: We're so pleased with the current line-up.
Susan: It's been in the current state for a while now. What's the secret?
Kim: We love each other so much.
Rebecca: Honestly, our personalities just really click.
Sarah: I actually left for about a year and that's when Kim joined the band. When I came back, I'd been out of the country, when I came back we kind of didn't have a plan. We didn't know what we were going to do since she was filling in for me and I was very territorial. I'll admit it! I was threatened. And I came back and we all met for the very first time at a photo shoot.
Kim: There's the "other lover."
Sarah: And then we made the strange, fortunate, weird decision to have TWO violinists in the band and it has made everything explode and blossom in the most wonderful way and I love writing music with her SO MUCH. So, it was this thing we never planned on and it's amazing!
Rebecca: Yeah, both of them are great violin players by themselves but together it's like a double whammy. Not sure if that's the right term.
(they all laugh)
Kim: (to Christian) Tell us how you joined.
Christian: Yeah, I was living in Boise at the time and going through some unfortunate events, so I was weighing options. One of my good friends was like "move out here, it's not bad." So, I was at work, before I got laid off, and I jumped on Google, I think I just searched like "Salt Lake City doom." I found a post on this forum called Doom Forever Forever Doomed and someone was talking about this band from Salt Lake with female vocals and violins. So, I got hold of the album, listened to it, was like, OK, if that exists I'll move there. It was really inspiring, it helped me get over all the crap I was going thru. But then I was just out at my job in Salt Lake and [a mutual friend ours] was like "I hear Subrosa's looking for a bass player." I was like, well! He was like "I can't do it but I'll give them your name." I was like "uuuuh" (makes a nervous noise, everyone laughs). I think Rebecca and I talked over Facebook once and met at a show or something.
Rebecca: Once. But we didn't really know each other.
Christian: She wrote me and was like hey, would you be interested? Like, I know you're into this kind of music. So, it was pretty much a dream come true!
Rebecca: I knew lots of bassists, too. I've been in the music scene for 10 years or something and I have lots of friends who play bass and who play heavy bass and stuff. But for some reason Christian was the only one who occurred to me. I barely knew him but it was just this perfect fit.
Susan: When did you join?
Christian: Last year around this time.
Sarah: Happy anniversary!!
Rebecca: Let's have an anniversary dinner. (they laugh and jokingly congratulate him)
Susan: What are you favorite songs from the last album?
Christian: "Dark Country" and "Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes." And "Beneath The Crown."
Susan: Basically the whole album?
Christian: Yeah, pretty much.
About the band's writing process:
Susan: So, what IS the writing process like? I read somewhere that you (Rebecca) had said that they mostly write their own parts and you're fine with that since you don't have to write all the harmonies.
Rebecca: I guess when Subrosa first started, I did write bass parts and drums, and I did play drums on the first album. But, I didn't necessarily like to do that and we just had kind of beginning musicians in the band who needed more cues and stuff like that. But now I'll just present an idea, just a skeletal idea for a song and everyone writes their own parts and has input into the structure and everyone works together to form the songs. And everyone's parts in the songwriting adds SO MUCH to the songs. I don't know if I could write parts to our songs now; they'd probably suck.
Susan: Well, you guys certainly don't sound like anyone else so it's probably a benefit to have 5 people writing 5 parts. (to Sarah and Kim) Now, do you two get together to coordinate your parts or do you both show up and say "I wrote a part! Let's see if they fit!"
Kim: No, actually on the last album we worked side-by-side almost the whole time. On this one (the upcoming More Constant Than The Gods), we tried a different approach and we split up the songs half and half. So Sarah would work on half the songs, you know, "I really wanted to have this kind of vibe," and she'd bring it to me and vice versa. And at that point we'd start collaborating. It was a really interesting way of doing it and it worked out.
(everyone nods in agreement)
Rebecca: Which way did you like better?
Sarah: You know what, I actually don't have a preference. I think it's kind of cool to change it up. I liked both ways and I think this helped us to accomplish finishing the album a little sooner.
Rebecca: Yeah, our schedules were all really different for writing this album.
Sarah: But without sacrificing any of the complexity or the blood and sweat that goes into writing. We're still doing it simultaneously just on different songs so that we had more of a body to come together with when we met.
Recording the new album, More Constant Than The Gods:
Susan: Where are you guys at in the recording process?
Kim: Christian's done!
(they all laugh)
Kim: Christian nailed it! He nailed it so fast.
Rebecca: In 3 and a half hours he laid down his parts and was like "done!"
Christian: Ok, I'll go home now!
Kim: Andy's done.
Rebecca: We're about 85% done but we have to finish some auxiliary parts and, we have some guest people coming in to do some instruments. And we have to fix a couple things, some transitional things that are a little out of tune. We gotta fix things, put in the vocal harmonies, put in the vocal harmonies for Kim and Sarah. We're almost there. We've got 4 more evenings scheduled and we're hoping to just knock it out in those 4 evenings.
Susan: What's it like taking a break in the middle of a recording to do a short tour?
Kim: It's so… well now that we're here…
Sarah: Well, now that we're here it's awesome.
Rebecca: But definitely I was like, "oh my god we're almost done and now we have to practice for tour." And I thought we'd be long done with it by the time we left on tour; I thought we'd be done in March. Well, sometimes things take longer than you think they will.
Susan: Do you think it'll give you a new perspective when you get back to the studio?
Kim: It's a good recharge.
Rebecca: Yeah, and it gives us a chance to reflect on the songs. We have the roughs in our car, we haven't had a chance to listen yet but we're going to listen to them all together as we're driving and listen for things we want to fix and reflect on, like: is this really the best it can be? Can we put something else here? You know, it gives us a chance to analyze it.
Susan: So, what can we expect musically from this next one?
Christian: More violins.
Kim: A little more pedal work with the violins.
Sarah: More noise.
Rebecca: I think it's heavier.
Sarah: It is heavier.
Rebecca: I hate to hype it, I hate to say too much because what if we're like "yeah!" and then people are like, uhh.
Kim: Longer songs!
Rebecca: There are only 6 songs on this album. And we're going to be playing 3 of those songs tonight. One of them we played at Fall Into Darkness but the other two, the first time we ever played them live was last night in Portland.
Susan: How'd it go?
Sarah: It went well.
Christian: It was great, it was amazing.
Kim: Portland treated us so well. Can I say something about the new album?
Rebecca: Yes, yes.
Kim: Oh my god. So, I was listening to it and, I mean, I'm trying to listen from an outside perspective but I listened to it… I'm Rebecca's roommate and we live together, too, and I just think about all the hours. I mean she would stay up till 2, 3 o'clock in the morning. Upstairs. I'd be trying to sleep and I hear her cute little guitar turned down low, the little strumming, the little voice. (everyone laughs and says "aww!") She always has her phone and she's recording vocal ideas constantly. Like, we'd be on a hike and she's like "I gotta run into that Porta Potty over there and record a vocal idea! (everyone laughs). And I just think about all the emotion and endless hours she's put in just to do the skeleton. I mean, everyone else worked their asses off but her to get down the basic skeleton like, how hard she worked. And when I listen to it, like I know how much emotion she put behind it.
Sarah: It's who she is.
Kim: That's another reason that I'm so excited. I know that it's where she wanted to get it. She worked her ass off.
Rebecca: Thank you. We all worked really hard but I definitely didn't just, I wasn't just satisfied like "oh, that'll be fine." I've done that in the past with Subrosa, "that worked good enough, whatever," but this time I was definitely like, "was that REALLY good enough?" I re-wrote one of the songs like probably 3 times, from beginning to end. I re-write the chorus, then I'd re-write the chorus again, then I'd re-write the verse, then I'd re-write the bridge, then I'd take the bridge out. Like there's lots and lots of that. Then we'd practice it, I'd show it to the band then be like, "guys, I'm sorry I have to re-write it again."
Susan: Are there any songs or ideas that didn't make the last album that you're re-working for the new album?
Everyone: All new stuff.
Looking back at No Help For The Mighty Ones:
Susan: So, speaking of reflecting: two years and several tour later, what are your thoughts looking back on No Help For The Mighty Ones? It's always hard to look at your own art after time has passed.
Rebecca: I feel like we were really, really happy when it came out and we captured what we meant to capture and we feel good about what we did. And the fact that other people outside of Utah felt the same way, that means so much to us. It was really amazing. And for this album, too, we feel like it's turning out the way we want it to turn out. We feel excited about it, we feel like it's different, and we're equally excited about this one. It's kind of like a journey. Yeah.
Kim: I kind of look back and don't know how it happened. Was it a long writing process? It just seems like….
Rebecca: No, it wasn't like this one because we'd already written like two or three of the songs.
Sarah: "Dark Country" was already done before I left for Europe.
Rebecca: Yeah, a lot of the songs we'd already been playing for a year at least. And like "House Carpenter" was a cover, and it just felt like the writing process beforehand was less intense. And we were just polishing up and finishing up a couple of violin parts. I remember violin meetings and sessions.
Kim: Yeah, yeah there was a lot of that. It was a lot of work but I love it. I mean, I think we all have a special place in our hearts for it. We played those songs for what…
Rebecca: Four years?
Kim: So I think that's a reason for our, kind of, "I'm so excited to put out this new album!!" Because we played it a lot. I mean I love playing those songs live for sure but it's time.
Susan: New energy.
Sarah: Yeah, exactly.
Rebecca: New energy for sure.
Susan: So, was "House Carpenter" recorded all in one take together or did you record separately?
Sarah: Oh, no, we did it together.
Susan: It sounds… like I can hear you guys smiling and looking at each other.
(they laugh and say "uh-oh")
Susan: No I love that, though. It's so organic!
Rebecca: Sarah, weren't you and I together?
Sarah: No, we were all together.
Christian: I feel like, the first time I heard that song, I didn't know them, but now that I hear it I can pick out their voices.
Sarah: Yeah, we love doing that song.
Susan: Did Kim sing the high part, Rebecca sing the middle, and Sarah sing the low part?
Sarah: I sing the middle part on that one, right?
Rebecca: Sarah and I kind of swap between the middle and low. And Kim always takes the high.
Kim: They always force me into it.
Sarah: You're the only one that can do it!!
Rebecca: Kim has the pretty soprano voice, so she's the one
Susan: I just love looking at people and guessing their voice part.
Rebecca: When I sing soprano I sound falsetto.
Lyrics and their sources of inspiration:
Susan: So, the last album had some really interesting lyric writing. Rebecca, do you do all the lyric writing?
Rebecca: Most. Sarah has done some on the last one.
Sarah: Lyrics are so important to me.
Susan: Can you tell us a little bit about some of the source material that you've used for the new lyrics? A couple of hints?
Rebecca: I'm excited because I do put a lot of thought into the lyrics and a lot of time thinking about it. Sometimes, I'll just be living my life and I'll hear a story and something will really hit me. One of the songs that… well, I'm really happy with how this new album is turning out and each of the lyrics have a really strong theme and one of them, I can tell you about, that we're going to be singing tonight, is called "Affliction." The reason I feel even more connection with it this week is because of what happened in Boston. It's about this woman who was a victim of the Trolley Square shootings.
(I give a confused look)
Rebecca: Oh, there's a mall in Salt Lake City called Trolley Square and there was gunman who went in there in 2005 and shot people and injured people and was stopped by an off-duty police officer.
Susan: Oh, I think I do remember that.
Rebecca: Yeah, it's the story of this woman whose daughter was killed right in front of her, then the gunman shot her in the back and it was a shotgun so her body is full of like over 100 pellets of lead. So, now she's slowly dying of lead poisoning. And when you hear stories like that it's just like, the suffering of that woman surpasses all understanding.
Sarah: And how much did you say her medication was per month?
Rebecca: Over $2,000 and she doesn't have health insurance. She did this radio show where she was talking about the importance of pain medication and things like that. But anyway, in the song I don't even have an answer, all I do is sing about how much she suffered. And kind of honor what she went through, I guess. And it also kind of explores, I mean, I always wonder what makes people do the things they do.
Susan: Does it talk about kind of both perspectives? Hers and the shooters?
Rebecca: It's from her perspective and then there's a little bit of narrative. What's it called in old English books? The omniscient narrator part? But it's all from her point of view, like I feel this, I feel that.
Susan: What kind of stuff do you read? Or, what did you read when you were a kid?
Kim: She was an English major. So, she's read a ton.
Rebecca: I love reading, I think we all love reading. I guess one of my favorite authors is Cormac McCarthy and that kind of appeared on the last album with "Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes." And, this is before the movie came out and made him kind of huge (everyone laughs). After that it was like, oh boy, we're so mainstream now. (more laughter)
Susan: You're so hip.
Rebecca: Yeah. I don't know, I love reading sci-fi, I love reading classic America novels like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. I love those books, the old classic novels. I love non-fiction, I love political books and social commentary books. I love Nick Cave. There's actually another song on this album that's influenced by a book, it's And The Ass Saw The Angel by Nick Cave. And it's about one of the main characters, Cosey Mo. We're actually singing that tonight, too. It's called "Cosey Mo." So, that's probably one of my top 5 favorite books of all time. It's the best book. So, yeah.
Susan: Can you talk about the lyrics on "Whippoorwill"?
Rebecca: I guess it's just about when you're in a relationship and someone makes a big mistake and there's no going back. It's been me sometimes, it's been the guys sometimes, and it's just dealing with that regret that you can never go back and you can never undo it. And ever sometimes when you want to forgive someone, or someone's wanted to forgive me, when you do certain things you can expect someone to give up their self-respect for you. So, it's about that, but in a broader way it's about loss, betrayal, regret. It's not about one specific person in my life, just in general.
Susan: It's probably my favorite song on the album.
Rebecca: Thank you. Oh, and it's from the perspective of the person who did the betraying.
Susan: Thank you guys for an awesome interview and thank you for being positive female role models in metal! ...And Christian, thanks for being a positive male role model
Posted on 15.05.2013 by
Susan appreciates quality metal regardless of sub-genre. Metal Storm Staff since 2006.
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