Interview: SubRosa-Dark Phoenix Rising

Posted by Morgan Y Evans - Walking Bombs on Friday, May 13, 2011 at 5:32 PM (PST)

Utah’s SUBROSA have stunned the doom laden corners of the metal world with their latest release NO HELP FOR THE MIGHTY ONES (Out now on Profound Lore). This is music with a gorgeous ache to it that can impact you like a bluesy avalanche.  Earthy and real yet also fantastically surreal, SubRosa have set the mark high for 2011 and are reaping well-deserved critical acclaim. I spoke with Rebecca Vernon about the elemental power and themes of this release, working again with Magnus Devo Andersson (Marduk) plus collaborating with my band Antidote 8 on a song of ours recently (a huge treat for such a big SubRosa fan as myself).

Click here to read the interview.

Morgan Y. Evans: Hi Rebecca! I can’t believe it is three years since the last time I interviewed you for the STREGA album! That was literally my favorite album of the year that it came out and it is so nice to see your amazing band getting more and more recognition. A few years ago I was starting to get really jaded about even underground music and now I think there is a resurgence of some great intelligent and heavy bands (and you are definitely at the forefront of the pack). I guess, I don’t know where to start! What would you like to say about the time between albums before we get into the new record? You’ve had some line up changes, of course…

Rebecca K Vernon: Thanks for your kind words, Morgan! It is weird to think three years has gone by. Hopefully not such a long time until the next album. I’m glad you liked Strega so much. For No Help for the Mighty Ones, Subrosa had a new drummer (Zach Hatsis), bassist (Dave Jones) and second violinist (Kim Pack). All had joined about two years ago.

MYE: The string arrangements on this record are so beautiful. I am particularly fond of “Dark Country” ever since I heard a rough on your Myspace ages ago. It reminds me of scorching things so they can grow over again after the fire with a fresh start. Do you feel like you are all getting better and better and more cohesive as a band through time and familiarity? Is there much discussion when writing nowadays on texture or vibe? How thought out is it at this point?

RKV: “Dark Country” is exactly like scorching something so it can grow over again … it’s about a dark time in my life when I was 20, that eventually caused me to have to “regrow” myself. A crossroads…like the kind in “Settle Down”!

It’s funny you bring up that analogy because I feel like I’m going through another period like that right now, and a couple of my friends have used the phoenix analogy.

I think the band did get more cohesive with this album. It was a perfect alchemy. We didn’t discuss the songwriting too much. The initial songwriting for a song is not very deliberate. The initial riff just comes straight from the gut.

MYE: Everyone is talking about how perfect the record art is for this album. It’s striking and classic looking, powerful and occult yet classy. How did the artwork come about?

RKV: I researched different artists for awhile, trying to find one with a style that I wanted to capture the story the artwork is based on. When I found Glyn Smyth, I knew he was just what I was looking for. Stark pen and ink-type drawings, high contrast, very detailed. Glyn worked with me and Zach in designing the artwork for the album. Zach is very knowledgeable about symbolism and so had a lot of input with that. The album artwork is based on the story of Tere Jo Dupperault. Her family was murdered on a sailing boat in the Caribbean by the captain of the ship, and Tere Jo barely escaped with her life. When the captain found out Tere Jo was alive and had been rescued by a passing ship, he killed himself. He knew Tere Jo knew the truth, and that she had the ability to reveal his crime.

MYE: That’s heavy. I love that there is such back-story to it but the art is so evocative on its’ own as well. Now…“Attack On Golden Mountain” has such an amazing vibe and then the bridge is like stumbling into this thrilling sort of ritual before the mountaintop 5 minute mark drops down on your head! That and other moments like the choruses of “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes” which really elevate things into the void! I remember I played that one for my engineer Jay Andersen when I was showing him your band and he was impressed with that such reverb drenched sludge cacophony could still be that oppressive AND uplifting at the same time.

RKV: Ha … thank you. I think that is a good way to describe Subrosa … oppressive and uplifting. Dark and light. I guess I try to capture in my songwriting, the darkness and evil in the world, the despair—because that’s what life is about. But I also try to convey strength—strength to overcome anything difficult or crushing in this world.

MYE: I was thinking yesterday that if I have a child someday I would name it Sabbath (whether it is a girl or boy…I love it as a girl’s name!). Do you think that is fucked up? I was watching the Heaven and Hell DVD from Radio City Music Hall where Dio is just killing it on “After All (The Dead)”, one of my favorite songs from DEHUMANIZER and I was thinking about how cool it is that Sabbath and Zeppelin proved so well you can tell dark stories that are both multi-faceted and engaging while rocking hard on a grand scale! I think your band is certainly a great torch carrier of that tradition, where there are no limits to the imagination.

RKV: I think Sabbath is a great name for a girl or boy. My friend Gavin, the drummer for INVDRS, has a black cat named Sabbath.

I think Subrosa does have some of that “grand, epic storytelling” lyrical style on this album, pretty accidentally, really, especially on “Attack on Golden Mountain.” I just really like stories as an art form; they have a depth and layering effect that goes beyond a one-dimensional tale or message. Folk music does this a lot, and I know it’s rubbed off on me. I have a degree in Fiction Writing from the University of Utah and I like to tell stories. What can I say? : )

MYE: (laughing) Profound Lore is such a good label with a true emphasis on art over artifice. How did you come to be part of the stable of bands? It’s great to see your band and Grayceon both put out records in close succession!

RKV: Profound Lore has been great to Subrosa and I think Chris Bruni recognized the efforts of what we were trying to convey with this album. I “met” Chris virtually after Strega was released on I Hate Records. He liked the album and asked me to consider releasing the next album on Profound Lore. Three years later, here we are.

MYE: Magnus Devo Andersson worked with you again on this record. How was your communication now after him being more familiar with the band since STREGA?

RKV: Before mixing No Help, I had always been intimidated by Devo because, well, he’s in Marduk. He worked through Ola with Strega, and I didn’t have much direct contact with him, but I worked directly with him on No Help for the Mighty Ones. All I can say is, Devo was incredibly kind, supportive and above all, patient with us, through the whole two-month mixing process. Subrosa is challenging to mix, because the bass and down tuned, sludgy guitar tend to step on each other, and there are hardly any mids. But Devo is a champion and did a great job with No Help, just like he did with Strega.

Also have to give a shout-out to Salt Lake recording legend Andy Patterson, who recorded No Help here in Salt Lake City at his studio at Counterpoint Recordings. He is also incredibly patience, professional, knowledgeable, mellow and fun to work with. It was his tailoring of a two-amp guitar setup that largely gave this album the heavy guitar tone it has.

MYE: What have been some of the more memorable live moments for you in the last few years. I recall you played with Altar Of Plagues, correct? Playing such emotional and dynamic music must make for some intense onstage chemistry between all of you. Do you ever go into trances up there?

RKV: We did play with Altar of Plagues here in Salt Lake City, at Salt Lake Recording Services. I think we all get into our own world when we play live; it’s strange, we are all keenly aware of each other when we play, but I hardly look at anyone.

MYE: I remember last record I was really blown away by “Crucible” (with the anti-war lyrics of sort of shipping the poor to the front lines over that killer doom riff!) and how you had the worldly awareness sort of combined with a folky, dark mysticism that didn’t seem put on at all like with some bands that try to hard. Your band really has an aura of mystique (harder to cultivate in the micro-blogging/twitter age!). That said, I also love your ability to thematically incorporate old spirituals and nods to the blues and stuff (like on your cameo on my band Antidote 8’s song “Settle Down” that is coming out, where I loved the lyrics you contributed mention of “the crossroads” into my song about a sort of tireless musician’s quest to keep playing forever no matter what). Then there is the “We’re in the shadow of a dying world” line from “The Inheritance”. You seem very aware of nature and spirits/energy and humanity’s interaction with them.

RKV: We probably have an aura of mystique because I hardly ever log into Myspace any more. : )

MYE: (laughing)

RKV: I do feel like a lot of what I sing about is a reference to the unseen world. I think the members of Subrosa who played on this album are very spiritual people, all in their own way. I love old spirituals and the blues; there’s something very powerful about “source” music that has not been passed through a filter of commercialism, hype, and superficiality. The original Delta blues really, truly meant something to the people that sang it and listened to it … it was a way to stay sane in the midst of oppression. A way to give voice to that oppression. I love music for that reason, its power to give strength through expression. I love music almost more than anything in the world, for so many reasons.

MYE: Do you mind getting into the inspiration for the album name at all? I could see it being either about politics or maybe even the Elder Gods from Lovecraft (laughing). Do you want it to be more interpretive?

RKV: It would be cool if “the mighty ones” referenced the Elder Gods, preferably Cthulu. But in reality, the “mighty ones” refers to the powerful ones of the Earth, those that are naïve enough to believe that they can get away with murder.

MYE: I guess lastly, what are you overall happiest with about this release and where are you hoping to go from here?

RKV: I am happiest that we were able to capture the emotion, sincerity and energy of the live songs in digital sound waves … sometimes that is hard to do. I am also very happy about the artwork and Chris Bruni releasing the album on Profound Lore.

I think the next album will be more brutal, maybe a little more raw, yet I’d also like to explore the practically suite-like nature of some of the songs. There’s so much room for exploration there. I’d like to experiment with different instruments as well. Tell more stories. I feel like I have four albums inside me right now.

MYE: Let them out! THANKS! You rule! : )

RKV: No, thank you. Thanks for always supporting Subrosa, Morgan. It means a lot.

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