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SubRosa: An Acquaintance With Darkness

6 March 2017

“I’m empathetic to a fault,” confessed SubRosa singer & guitarist Rebecca Vernon.

SubRosa earned positive media attention with the release of For This We Fought The Battle of Ages thanks to their outspoken advocacy for LGBTQ rights. Hailing from Salt Lake City, the self-described experimental doom metal band found their convictions at odds with the dominant religious doctrine.
Vernon’s empathy allowed the group to broaden its lyrical scope and ultimately create its most diverse record to date.

SubRosa’s track Trouble Cells specifically addressed a recent church decree barring membership to any individual based on sexual preference and gender orientation. A media firestorm ensued prompting heated debates and ultimately, a culture clash. Utah has sadly seen a spike in reported youth suicide and Vernon stated the tragedies could warrant further review by officials, perhaps leading to a health crisis declaration.

“Everyone is free to disagree but this decree has impacted gay members of the church. I know the church has recently spoken using angry rhetoric about gay lifestyles. I know since 2015 there has been a spike in suicides but there has not been enough hard data to really validate all that has been going on and it’s frustrating,” lamented Vernon.

SubRosa has never shied from its creative exploration of subject matter that may give a listener pause. For Vernon, her relentless study and advocacy for her passions leaves the impression that she almost never takes personal time to distance herself from anything political or challenging.

“You’re absolutely right,” she laughed.

“I like to think our music always has darkness but with small rays of hope. The world is a dark place but we do have positive messages without making light of it. If our music makes someone feel less alone then I know what I’m doing is still worth it,” affirmed Vernon.

She tags SubRosa with the doom metal moniker but their personnel consisting of dual violinists courtesy of Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack undeniably deviates from their peers. With tracks easily stretching to 5 minutes SubRosa successfully integrates layers of nuance melodies without sacrificing the heaviness they strive to convey.

“We try to make sure all the instruments are clear and not buried but it’s always a challenge. Most people would say we’re not metal because we put a different spin on it with softer and prettier nuances. It’s good to push boundaries,” said Vernon.

SubRosa’s recent appearance on the Hellfest circuit offered them much-welcomed exposure and according to Vernon, the opportunity allowed for introspection.

“That tour was really fun! It was interesting to peer into the crowd and see all the different reactions. Most people don’t head bang or whatever to us but it seemed they really took it all in and were engaged. I know people need to categorize and that can be needed to an extent but we just end up writing how we feel and not for a specific genre or audience.”

As mainstream media continues to highlight LGBTQ issues for wider audiences this may prove to be the most opportune time for SubRosa to build upon their message of positive advocacy. Their video for Troubled Cells has earned honorable mentions on NPR and within The Advocate, a national gay lifestyle publication that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. SubRosa even earned critical praise back in 2013 from distinguished publications such as Spin and Rolling Stone, further proof that their recognition is not limited to niche media outlets.

“The reactions have been very positive. My friends that grew up in the church said it captured a lot of the emotions people were feeling. You have to be very careful when addressing topics like suicide because you don’t want to encourage or glorify it,” clarified Vernon.

For SubRosa, their positive messages remain very much aligned with their intended audience as well as with the recent groundswell of positive media presentations of LGBQT struggles. However, Vernon stated it has been an uphill struggle to reach new channels and audiences, individuals that would most likely benefit the most.

“It’s a complex balance between speaking out and forcing an individual to bend to your point of view. Lyrically, we have some direct messages but I always honor it if someone takes a different meaning to our songs. I write not believing that it will drastically change U.S. policy but just being honest and making yourself heard is the most important part,” said Vernon.