From Doom Metal to Gothic Folk: An Interview with The Keening
Evoking darkness, moody weather and the winds of change, gothic folk is the perfect genre to set the tone for autumn. The Keening—the solo project of Rebecca Vernon, former vocalist for now-defunct local band SubRosa—released their debut album Little Bird on Oct. 6, full of murder ballads and folksy tones. Though metal-adjacent, this record is much different from Vernon’s early music with SubRosa, one of the many musical ventures in which she built her roots as an artist.
Formed in 2005 and touring with big names such as Sleep, Boris and Cult of Luna, SubRosa pioneered the doom-metal genre in the Salt Lake City music scene. After touring nationwide and building a name for themselves outside of the local scene, SubRosa disbanded in 2019. Being a musician already comes with its own obstacles, and Vernon learned that being a woman in the music industry can come with a whole new set of challenges.
“I wanted to fight those gender norms and what was expected of me.”
“I’ve definitely encountered sexism in many other areas like workplaces, in relationships—you name it,” Vernon says. “With SubRosa it wasn’t so bad, but the music industry in general—the way women are treated, the way women are viewed, the way women are expected to be noticed—I really resented all those rules.” Those rules made Vernon feel defeated, numb and depressed. “With SubRosa,” she says, “I wanted to fight those gender norms and what was expected of me.”
After the disbanding of SubRosa, Vernon found more time to indulge in herself and her music, hence the birth of Little Bird. The album is Vernon in her truest form yet, expressing herself in ways she was never able to before and breaking her own walls that have been put up for many years. Little Bird is a safe space for people who are in their most vulnerable state of being; it’s an album that gives you hope and lets you escape from any challenges.
“[There was] so much self doubt and so many voices telling me that I couldn’t do it. It was the most overwhelming, dark feeling.”
On creating and naming a solo project, Vernon says she went through hundreds of ideas before landing on the right name. “When we were coming back from the very last SubRosa tour, we were driving back to Utah,” Vernon says, “and all of the sudden the word just came into my head. ‘The Keening.’ It came out of nowhere; it just felt right.” She explains that the word “keening” refers to the action of wailing for the dead in the Gaelic Celtic tradition. “Other countries have professional people who wail for the dead, called ‘keeners.’ It can also mean any sorrowful sounds. People refer to the wind as ‘the keening wind.’ It’s an element for the dead,” Vernon says.
With many great ideas and inspirations for her new album, Vernon’s biggest challenge yet was to actually write new songs. Vernon was also fighting an unexpected obstacle: herself. “[There was] so much self doubt and so many voices telling me that I couldn’t do it,” Vernon says. “It was the most overwhelming, dark feeling, so I avoided [music] for a long time. Once I got started and sat down [thinking,]‘I’m gonna do this,’ the ideas just came to me; they flowed.”
Vernon goes in depth about her writing process for the album, which she says was similar to her process in SubRosa. “I sat down with a guitar or piano and heard a riff in my head, and then recorded it or came up with it when I was jamming,” she says. From there, she came up with parts of a song and strung them together. “I would hear what it sounded like, do edits, change it, and finally come up with a basic skeleton,” she says.
“Other countries have professional people who wail for the dead, called ‘keeners.’ It can also mean any sorrowful sounds.”
While recording Little Bird, Vernon had to come up with all of the instruments and vocals by herself. She brought a snowball mic with her everywhere she went and recorded all the riffs or beats whenever they came to her. As she recorded her instrumentals, she used GarageBand and started layering those parts in the sequence that she wanted. Recording the drums and learning GarageBand were challenging; Vernon used to play percussion, but hadn’t practiced since the beginning of SubRosa. Drums ended up as the last instrument to be recorded, and with much practice, she was able to overcome this obstacle and rediscovered her love for percussion.
The title track “Little Bird” is an analogy for breaking out of a cage. Vernon feels that many people can understand this feeling of being trapped and wanting to escape, and one of her biggest goals for her solo career is to tour and connect to people with her music.
“Hopefully helping people feel something, helping them feel like they’re not alone, helping them feel something real, is what I want to do,” Vernon says. Make sure to follow The Keening on Instagram @thekeeningmusic to keep up up to date with Vernon’s musical journey.
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