photo by Brandon Garcia
(We welcome the return of guest writer Alain Mower and the second in his series of interviews of women in metal. In this edition, he talks with three of the members of Utah-based SubRosa — Kim Pack, Sarah Pendleton, and Rebecca Vernon — whose 2013 album More Constant Than the Gods has been appearing on many year-end lists around the world, including this recent one on our own site, and whose answers to Alain’s questions are both eloquent and inspiring.)
This series is dedicated to creating discussion and awareness by expressing the observations, thoughts, and opinions of current prolific metal musicians who, in their spare time, also happen to be women. This is in direct response to the few stragglers in the community who think that there is still a place for sexism in metal.
If this results in you punching some loud-mouth, drunk sexist at the next show you go to or calling someone out when they question the attendance, attire, or musical capabilities of a woman at a show, then that’s all I could ever ask, and then some.
What first attracted you to metal music / the metal scene?
Sarah: My dad has a great vinyl collection, and growing up, I listened to Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, etc. That gave me a great foundation, and it just grew from there. I started building my own collection of music and going to shows when I could.
Kim: Some of my favorite bands to listen to were bands like Botch, Godspeed you Black Emperor, At the Drive In, Refused, Converge, Depeche Mode, etc. The bands in the metal scene seemed to embody aspects of such bands, taking from their influence in different ways. In metal, I noticed the technicality that made me want to punch walls was slowed to a hypnotic, thoughtful speed at times. Dark chords still invoked all things elusive and haunting while being fierce. Insistent riffs hinted at something just as fiery and pissed off as hardcore. I can’t deny either that I was lured in by the live shows…VOLUUUUUUME and down-tuned chords. Also, the metal musician’s addiction to gear and much-lusted-after tone sucked me in like a vortex. I enjoyed finding myself among fellow nerds I could feel comfortable “talking shop” with.
Rebecca: I’ve always liked heavy, dark music. The first band I was very into and followed closely was Guns N’ Roses when I was 12. I really started liking Red Bennies, a sludge metal band from Provo, in 1996. But I didn’t really start getting into underground metal until 2001, when I worked at The End Records for about eight months or so, when their offices were located in Salt Lake City. That’s where I first learned of Ulver, Agalloch, Isis, At the Gates, Carcass, Porcupine Tree, Green Carnation and many hundreds of other bands that are part of the metal underground … working at The End Records had a huge impact on my musical path.
What inspired/led you, as a musician, to delve into the relatively small (albeit dedicated) niche market of dark music?
Kim: Knowing that I could write anything dark, heavy, and “experimental” at full volume on a delicate violin and not be thrown from the stage. Nobody would force me to banish my four-stringed arm child and embrace a Flying V or threaten to cut off my arms. Also, there was something magical about the scene I had never before experienced…an overall acceptance regardless of every fan’s eclectic, cherished taste in music. Metal fans aren’t terrified of new things. The genre itself has embraced many things heavy, grown to fill the shoes of a bigger beast. Arrogance in the metal scene is nonexistent, appreciation for hard-working bands is readily expressed, there is no age discrimination, personal background seems irrelevant as the musical bond is most significant, and there is ALWAYS a willingness to share from the deep well of metal knowledge that springs up from the metal-lover’s gut like a virulent, acidic geyser threatening utter destruction. Nothing but love. At least, that’s what I typically see.
Rebecca: I’ve always liked dark, heavy music because it speaks to me the most. It seems the most real. Maybe everything seems a little more real when you are in your darkest moments.
As a female musician in the metal scene, have their been any hurdles that you have had to overcome?
Sarah: I would say not, because my only goals are to make the music that I love with the people that I also love, and that has, fortunately, fallen into place. If there are any hurdles up ahead, they will be duly conquered.
Kim: The only hurdle I have had to overcome in the metal scene is that of my own self-doubt. It is a monster that has a life of its own and I blame no other in the scene for its conception. Honestly, I have felt nothing but support as a female in the scene. If there is a harshness or non-acceptance lingering, it goes unnoticed by me or it is so overshadowed by all of the encouragement I receive.
Rebecca: I have run into hurdles in other scenes, but not in the metal scene. We have always been surrounded by people in the metal scene who make us feel like they genuinely respect what we’re trying to do.
I personally refuse to believe that metal bands can “get big” not based on their musical merits, but because they have women in their group, yet I’ve heard this sentiment expressed by metalheads both in regard to big acts and underground up-and-comers. What gives?
Sarah: Yeah, that is bemusing to me. I’m sure it would also be bemusing for Agnete Kirkevaag, Laura Pleasants, Alia O’Brien, Jex Thoth, Darcy Nutt, MLNY Parsonz, Christina from Agrimonia, Dana James, Hozoji Margullis, Karyn Crisis, Sigrid Sheie, Melynda Jackson, Haley Westeiner, Uta Plotkin, Jessica Way, Lorraine Rath, Brittany McConnell… I could go on and on.
Rebecca: I can’t say it any better than Sarah. Ha. I think it’s a dangerous road to go down, to start thinking females in a band are the reason for a band’s success. There is one very big band that I can think of, where I have made those kinds of assumptions. But they also work hard and write great music. So I think it’s a very difficult thing to judge
Maybe I’m naïve, but I believe that if SubRosa were made up of five males, I still think the people who are connecting to the music now would connect to it still. I don’t think there being three females in the group is why people listen to SubRosa.
Kim: Who-the-hell knows? I don’t see bands in the metal scene with women getting more attention than bands with only male musicians. I see women playing alongside men and sonically melting faces. I see audiences respecting the hell out of talent. The reactions of metal-lovers seem to be just as enthusiastic regardless of whether or not there is a woman onstage. I credit females in the metal scene for ridding the rooms of “show us your tits”-like comments and getting nothing but devil horns, invisible oranges, and whiplash-inducing nods of approval. Women in the scene have made it about music and as a result, I think it is just so.
What advice would you give women just getting into metal music and culture on what to possibly expect?
Kim: Expect whatever it is you want to get out of it and you’ll get it. Musically, expect brutal, hypnotizing, moving, heavier-than-life, chest-compressing walls of sound, shrillness, nails on chalkboard screeches banishing you to endless darkness with a glimmer of hope and release. In the social realms, expect more hugs, sincere smiles, and newfound friendships than you EVER received at family reunions, high school reunions, or the workplace. Also, expect expressions of equality and respect.
Rebecca: Respect yourself, just as you would anywhere, and you will be respected.
What advice do you have for female musicians trying to break into the industry?
Sarah: My advice is, as long as you are making the music that you love, and you are so passionate about it that you can’t imagine your life without it, then you are already on the right track. Insincerity will turn an audience into a pack of rabid dogs. They can smell it. Also, if you want to succeed in any way and be recognized for what you do, don’t be afraid to admit it, and be prepared for a lot of hard work, albeit hard work that you will enjoy.
Kim: Be fearless. It is fear and fear alone that can ever break you. The metal scene has broken me in and made me feel capable of exploring every path of self-discovery possible through music. Even if you do face resistance, it’s metal as fuck to do whatever it is you feel passionately about. So….win, win.
Rebecca: Be true to your artistic vision and to yourself. Don’t deviate from that, no matter the price. When people are screaming in your face, throwing your body off cliffs, grinding your bones to powder, crushing your throat in their bare hands, telling you how worthless you are, and offering you lots of money… do not give in, do not deviate.
Many have expressed a fair argument (in my opinion) that metalheads are often close-minded in their reluctance to embrace change. Is it fair to say that this applies to metalheads’ views toward women in the metal community on some level? If so, what do you think the community as a whole can do to continue to progress towards that all-accepting culture that we idealistically and foundationally wish it to be?
Sarah: In my experience, metalheads have been overwhelmingly supportive and accepting. That said, I know there is progress to be made. When the issue at hand is acceptance of female musicians in the metal scene, the burden falls partly upon the audience and listener to be able to really listen, without lenses or filters of gender. Another part of the burden falls upon the media, to focus on the quality and relevance of the music. We as female metal musicians must also prove ourselves, in longevity, dedication, innovation, and sincerity. We shouldn’t have to use our bodies to market our music. At the same time, I don’t like to see slut shaming. There is beauty there and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Kim: As I mentioned above, I have found the metal scene to be MOST accepting. I feel extremely comfortable in the company of metalheads and do not notice a reluctance from them to change. If this and an overall close-mindedness exists, it is in forums and social groups that I do not routinely rub elbows with. I’d say those people probably just like to keep things simple and compartmentalized. Understood. To each his/her own, and for those who want to branch out, to each and everyone.
Rebecca: I agree with Kim. I feel like our corner of the scene is very progressive and accepting of change and gender equality. I’m sure there are other pockets of the metal scene that aren’t as accepting and I just avoid those pockets.
Salt Lake City based SubRosa is a Doom Metal quintet of which Guitarist/Vocalist Rebecca Vernon, Violinist/Vocalist Sarah Pendleton, and Violinist/Vocalist Kim Pack head in a Greek mythically-Chimera-esque way – each having proven herself capable of writing captivating melodies, creating larger-than-life soundscapes, and collaborating in transcendent harmonies (whether or not they can breathe fire is still up to debate).
Their 2013 release, More Constant Than The Gods, is one of the rare albums that has managed to balance both beauty and power and has already graced the spires of many end-of-the-year lists with (spoiler) more yet to come.
Outspoken heralds of the Salt Lake City music scene, and more involved than I can keep up with, SubRosa’s members have a slew of releases coming up in the next year, some of which – along with other SubRosa-chosen Salt Lake City metal band standouts – can be discovered here & here.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To read Alain Mower’s introduction to this series and the first interview, which was with Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Math Horseman, Black Mare), go here.