Hailing from Salt Lake, Utah, Doom band SUBROSA are currently embarked on their European tour to celebrate the release of their fourth album, For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton and violinist/vocalist Kim Pack on their Birmingham date (read our review of the show here) to see how things were going.
How are you?
Rebecca: We’re good!
How was the first night of the tour?
Rebecca: It was good but we were just talking…
Kim: We were just talking about how she’s getting a little bit of a scratchy throat.
Rebecca: It was amazing, I don’t know what we expected in the UK. Most of our shows have been like fifty to a hundred people which is awesome, that’s great but I think we were expecting about that amount in the UK and London was just insane! It was really crowed and there was this great energy there. And a lot of friends and people from the media were there so it felt really cool to be part of.
When on tour, you have been known to stay at fans’ houses rather than a hotel or on the tour bus, why is that?
Rebecca: In the US it’s actually pretty common for bands on tour to stay at people’s houses and we just wanted to save money were we could. But also it’s a cool experience, staying at Jonathon’s house last night was…
Sarah: It was a joy
Kim: It was this old Victorian, tri-level house with a balcony and I think the bathroom was like a hundred-and-fifty years old or something it was just gorgeous and there was so much space. But we have been doing hotels a lot more on this tour because it’s hard to find somewhere to park so this tour we’ve stayed in more hotels, apart from last night which was amazing. I think I actually felt more relaxed last night at Jonathon’s than in a hotel.
Sarah: It’s true, we had great conversations, we had tea and cake when we got back to the house, we just had good quality conversation and he was such a gracious host. It’s amazing when people open up their homes to us, it’s hard to do that, you know, it’s not an easy thing to do and we really appreciate it.
Rebecca: Yeah, you see the best sides of people, the best sides of human nature.
Where is your favourite place in the UK to play?
Rebecca: London because it’s our first show.
Kim: Last night was our first show in the UK.
Rebecca: We’ve been trying to get to the UK for years, and finally it’s just happened.
Kim: We’re really excited to discover more.
You’re currently working on a video called Sizzle to address rising suicide rates of the young in Utah in response to The Latter Day Saints directive last year, can you tell me about what we’re going to see in it?
Rebecca: Well, I don’t wanna spoil it, it’s the video for Troubled Cells, it’s called Sizzle because it’s the promo for it, the actual video is called Troubled Cells. There’s a storyline in it, and there’s symbolism, it’s kinda almost like a fable or something.
How has the response to the directive changed, from the first months to now? Has there been any improvement?
Rebecca: I think it hasn’t changed. People’s reaction has stayed pretty steady.
Kim: It’s hard to gauge because there have been so many different reactions to it, all those that are strong reactions are just as strong, if not stronger.
Rebecca: I don’t think it has softened any.
To fund the video you set up a Kickstarter campaign, what made you decide to use that funding method?
Rebecca: We always like to be as self-sufficient as possible and not rely on other people, and I’ve always had pride in that with SUBROSA but this time we just reached our absolute limit of what we could pay for ourselves so we had that last little be we needed help with, and it helped a lot! We’re totally grateful to everyone that donated and I don’t think we could have done it without them, without selling plasma or something. The cast and crew donated their time, they worked for free to make it happen but there are things that can’t come without cost, like renting the filming equipment and we had to have a park ranger on staff to supervise everything and he needed his salary so
Sarah: And insurance costs.
Kim: There were some unforeseen things as well, everybody did as much as they could with either their own time or their own finances and resources and everything else was like oh, these are the last little loose ends that we didn’t anticipate.
Rebecca: Yeah, for example they were going to shoot in one location that they had scoped out that I think was going to be free, but then the forest fires in Southern California was inundating the landscape so they had to choose another location that needed paying for, so there are things like that.
These issues are also mentioned in your latest album, specifically in Troubled Cells, a step away from the sci-fi themes you often write about, yet links with this albums theme of oppression, is that what made you want to include it?
Rebecca: Well, we did think about it. I did think about doing it separately or even as a solo thing or something but for me that song is like the practical application of all the philosophies shared in the album, like the individual happiness is more important that the so called greater good. You measure a group’s happiness by how individuals in that group feel and if everyone in that society is miserable, no matter how society is running on the outside it doesn’t matter. What’s the point? The way happiness is reflected is in the individual.
Kim: It definitely is the practical application of the story which influenced the whole album. It did fit in really well with that.
Rebecca: We are the prism of feelings, it’s not reflected in buildings, it’s not reflected in laws, it’s not reflected in culture or anything like that, it’s reflected in us. Also, the lyrics are based on a short story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula Le Guin, it’s like a fantasy/sci-fi story too so that fits in nicely.
So there are more links than might be obvious.
Rebecca: Yes, exactly.
The rest of the album is inspired by the novel We, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin, why did you choose this book in particular? How has it inspired the album?
Rebecca: When I first read the book, it just had so many philosophies in it that I’ve had my whole life that I’ve articulated to myself, but I’ve never seen articulated so well in another book or piece of art so as soon as I read it, it really resonated with me and I thought, that’s it! We have to write the next album based on that book. I was so excited.
Kim: I think we knew because we took that book to Hopscotch Festival and passed it through all of us and I read it in that one weekend because it’s a quick read and it just grabs onto you. We all read it and were like, yes, this is something that should be written about.
Was there anything you’d have liked to be different with this album?
Rebecca: That’s a really good question. Can you guys think of anything?
Sarah: Luckily no!
Kim: I don’t think I have any regrets. Do you feel like anything’s been left undone?
Rebecca: We really, really worked so hard and were very thorough, just getting the tempos right took like two days. We do an entire riff on a tempo, then rip the entire thing apart and start over trying to get everything precisely right. We just really took our time. There’s one riff that I feel like is too fast, one little part in Black Majesty, this picking part in about the first third of the song that I feel is too fast, and then the next part starts a little too fast and that’s one part if I could go back I’d change it. But it was too much trouble, I was like it’s not worth it.
If that’s all, that’s pretty good!
Kim: There is one note that I sing that grates on me every time. It’s just a little bit sharp and it kills me every time.
Sarah: Oh? Which one?
Kim: It’s on whalebones [Despair Is A Siren].
Sarah: Oh, I love that part.
Kim: It’s the minor things that actually make it human. We face this every time, we have those tough decisions where it’s like is it worth going back and doing it? Because it’s at the mastering point and sometimes we let things like that go because we want it to feel more genuine.
Rebecca: There’s other thing that bothers me a little, in Troubled Cells when I say ‘every waking dream and every passing hour’ I don’t pronounce hour enough. You can’t even tell that I’m saying hour really, it sounds so pretentious and I hate that.
Sarah: Wow, I never would have guessed that either of those things were bothering you! I made some mistakes in Il Cappio but we decided to leave them in, it was with my voice. There’s some slight tonal…
Rebecca: Pronunciation or whatever.
Sarah: Yeah, the Italian pronunciation but we decided to leave it the way it was because it was more organic.
For you, how does this album compare to your previous works?
Rebecca: Every album we seem to push ourselves more and more and every album we seem to challenge ourselves more and more and I think this album is a little more complex or dense as a result. People have said when they first listen to it, it is taking them a little while to get into, it’s not a bad thing but it’s not as instantly accessible as More Constant Than the Gods.
Sarah: Yeah, I would agree.
Kim: I agree.
Rebecca: Doom songs take some patience, it’s true.
What was the writing and recording process for this album?
Rebecca: I come up with the initial idea, a basic skeleton, and then everyone writes their parts, and sometimes we break off into sections and sometimes I work with the bassist and then everyone gives feedback on like structure and transitions. So when we come together as a band and play it full volume, we’ll realise some things aren’t working and taripske parts out, rearrange, and they’ll also tell me if a riff I wrote sucks or something. They’re honest.
Kim: Not like that!
Rebecca: They’re nice about it.
Kim: I think all of us, if we think there’s more to be done we’ll challenge each other. So it’s not like that riff sucks, it’s we know there’s more emotion that you wanna convey in that.
Rebecca: It’s so hard when you think a song is nearly done and you hear there’s something wrong with it but I deep down I think I knew. It requires hard work to rewrite songs but it’s worth it, like with Affliction, Kim challenged me with that one and she was like, this topic is so intense and so dark and I feel like this riff just isn’t conveying the full emotion. But I did rewrite the basic riffs and it was way better.
Recording in a studio is obviously very different to performing live, what’s most different for you?
Rebecca: Actually, I think recording the songs on this album are way harder than playing them live because live we organically can feel the tempo changes and feel how to go into things and transitions whereas recording we’re trying to get the click tracks correct to go into other things because there are so many dynamics and so many tempo changes it was insane. I kept thinking so many times during the recording sessions, I wish we could just play this all together and record it that way which you can’t really do with us because there’s too many layers.
Sarah: I would agree with that. The writing we did on this album for these songs is definitely more challenging for us, there was this one time when Kim and I made a pot of coffee and we started writing and we were hyper on the caffeine and writing all these crazy parts.
Kim: They were so fast.
Sarah: And we were like how are we gonna play these? But then you just do it, and I actually agree with Rebecca, it’s a little easier live because you’re moving together in the moment. And every time you play a song live it’s going to be a little different, there’s never going to be a repeat. It’s like it’s own little entity for that moment.
Kim: Every show is different.
Sarah: But the recording has to be for prosperity.
Kim: I think recording is harder because you have to have restraint. You can’t exert all that energy so it’s like all this restraint holding you back to try to approach near perfection. But when you’re all charged up on stage it’s just a driving force that can’t be stopped and if it sucks, it sucks. At least it was fun and I’m sweating!
Sarah: You’re just like go child, go.
Kim: [to Sarah] Did you feel like recording this one was harder?
Sarah: I think that in my mind it was harder, before we started recording, especially for Killing Rapture, I think we built it up in our minds but then it ended up being easier than I thought it would be, and going more smoothly than I thought it would.
Rebecca: It’s a lot harder to get emotion in my voice on a recording too, I pretend there’s an audience in front of me because it’s really hard to muster that emotion.
The complete opposite of stage fright!
Rebecca: Yeah! It’s like apathy or something. I have to imagine I’m communicating with someone.
What are you most looking forward to tonight?
Rebecca: Everything, and it’s a real pleasure to play with DARKHER, I liked seeing them play last night. It was so amazing. I had no idea what to expect from their live performance, I’ve seen the videos and listened to recordings but wow, I’m so excited to see them again. And the opening acts too, we love seeing bands that promoters choose for the show.
Sarah: It’s always interesting to see what kind of recipe they put together, what they think will be appropriate. I can’t remember a time when I felt this doesn’t fit, even though they’re vastly different from one another.
Kim: It’s fun to come to a venue hours early and have no idea what to expect, and then get on stage and enjoy whatever it is. I’m just looking forward to playing here for the first time.
Rebecca: It’s so awesome to be playing the UK finally, and so many bands we love are from England. There’s such an influential music scene and it’s really cool to be here.
For This We Fought The Battle of Ages is out now via Profound Lore Records.
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