Whether you’re a longtime veteran or newcomer like myself who stumbled upon their glorious tour-de-force that was More Constant than the Gods, the return of Salt Lake Citys’ violin-wielding doom quintet will in no doubt ramp up a great deal of expectations. However, as one should also expect from a band bearing as forward-thinking as Subrosa, news of a new full-length release would not be before having birthed a worthy successor in their discography, as their latest effort so eagerly demonstrates after no more than a couple of minutes into the first majestic track Despair is a Siren. With its 6 tracks averaging around 10 minutes, For this we Fought the Battle of Ages is an epic listen, moody and crushing, governed by a brooding sense of melancholy. I was lucky enough to get a hold of Subrosa’s guitarist and vocalist Rebecca Vernon for a quick interview regarding her input on the band’s latest record.
For this we Fought the Battle of Ages marks your 5th full-length record release. Was there a particular goal or idea in mind when you first set out to make this record?
Rebecca: There was. This is the first album that I had a concept in mind before putting pen to paper, so I wrote everything, the music and the lyrics, based on that theme (the book We – see answer to #3). Also, I wanted this album to go even more in the direction of songs that had multiple movements like an opera or symphony, that represented different themes or even specific scenes from We. I think I have kind of fully explored this and maybe exhausted it a bit now, haha. Maybe the next album will be just a series of three-minute pop songs.
The exposure brought along with the release of your latest record, More Constant than the Gods led to one of the most heavy touring schedules in your career. Did this affect the writing process for this current record?
Rebecca: Yes, it did. When we have shows or tours hanging over our heads, we can’t really clear our minds to write. That’s why we tend to write everything after the show and tour cycle has died down, all at once, over the course over a few months, and not play any shows during that time. We took an eight-month break from playing any shows, from November 2015 to June 2016, in order to write, record and completely finish this album.
Could you tell us about the subject matter you tackle on this current record?
Rebecca: This record is inspired by and based, directly and indirectly, on the book We, by Yevgeny Zamayatin. We was first published in 1921 and influenced Orwell’s writing of 1984, but I like We better. It’s not as sophisticated, and it even has silly or laughable moments, but in the end, it’s more heartbreaking and more human than 1984. It hits at the root of the philosophies which dystopian governments, dictators and even local community book-banning committees of “concerned parents” use to justify themselves.
The album focuses on exploring the comfort of slavery and the misery of freedom … the main narrator of We, D-503, raises questions about this, and this album is us expounding on those questions. The album is almost like a conversation we are having with Yevgeny or D-503; a conversation that does not necessarily have an outcome, just like the conversations you have with your friends don’t have an end goal or outcome.
One track that stands out in particular is that of Il Cappio, which is sung in Italian. What is the story behind this enchanting piece on the album?
Rebecca: Thank you. ☺
Sarah sings this song on the album. She also wrote the lyre part and plays it. I came up with the lyrics, which Urlo from UFOMammut was kind enough to translate into Italian for us. Sarah speaks Italian well, so I thought it was appropriate for her to sing it. And she has a beautiful voice, as you can hear.
The song is meant to be a prelude to “Killing Rapture.” The song laments the pains of love, and “Killing Rapture” is OneState’s ready answer to this pain (OneState is the dystopian government in We).
I’ve noticed that the last three records have feature a dark-haired woman on the album art. Is it the same character?
Rebecca: That is a great question, but no, they are not the same girl, although there are visual similarities that support the idea that they are, and that these three albums are almost like a series. The girl on No Help is a representation of Terry Jo Dupperault, whose family was murdered on a ship called The Bluebell in the Caribbean when she was 11 years old. Amazing story. The girl on the cover of More Constant is a benevolent representation of death. The girl on the cover of this album is kind of a representation of the lead character of We, I-330, but more generally, as a representation of “the natural world” as opposed to the artificial “state” of OneState.
A little aside is that Glyn drew the lyre on the cover to represent the actual lyre Sarah played on the album – we sent him a picture of her playing it so he could draw it.
To get to a broader topic; Subrosa has rightfully earned considerable praise for having a distinct sonic identity within the metal genre, a trait that seems to be increasingly scarce nowadays. What would you like to see more of in today’s metal scene?
Rebecca: Thank you. ☺ Well, there’s already so much I love about the metal scene that I think it’s better to ask, “What do I want to see more of that’s already going on?” I want to continue to see certain areas of the underground metal contingent pushing boundaries, creating challenging music and putting their hearts and souls and everything on the line to create true, meaningful art, without thoughts of personal ambition or reward. There are so many bands doing that right now, who are generous enough to share their work with the world. It’s very inspiring.
To finish off with one of my trademark questions I ask at the end of each of my interviews: could you (each) name one of your favorite albums, movies and books?
Sarah: It’s so difficult to narrow things down in the area of music, literature and film – three prominent obsessions for me. One of my favorite albums is The Girl Who Was… Death by Devil Doll. One of my favorite books is The Terror by Dan Simmons, and one of my favorite films is Only Lovers Left Alive, directed by Jim Jarmusch.
Album: Somewhere Along The Highway by Cult Of Luna
Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I’m a sucker for all sci-fi.
Book: I normally only read non-fiction, but I used to read a lot of Michael Crichton in high school with Timeline, Sphere, and Prey being my favorites of his.
Favorite movies: Army of Shadows by Jean-Pierre Melville; Ida by Pawel Pawlikowski
Favorite book: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and Shantaram by David Roberts
Favorite albums: The Drift by Scott Walker and Disintegration by the Cure
My favorite movie is probably a tie between The Big Lebowski and The Shining
My favorite book is Blood Meridian (ooooh, Kim!)
My favorite album is a tie between Pink Floyd-The Wall and Slint-Spiderland
One of my favorite movies: Take Shelter
One of my favorite albums: Tommy by The Who
One of my favorite books: Let’s just make this a triple whammy with Blood Meridian.
Interview by Robin Ono
A big thank you goes out to the Staff at Him Media for making this interview possible, to Rebecca and to the band for collecting their answers for this article.