Interview conducted by Mark Keraly. Published on 1/21/2002.
Alright, if you could just say your name and what you do for Converge?
Yeah, I'm Jake and I sing for Converge.
I know it's been a while since Nate Newton has joined the band, but what new dimensions or song writing aspects does he bring to Converge?
Well, Nate joined the band four years ago. And at that point he didn't really have that much of an active role because he also had his main creative outlet, which was Jesuit. He was really, really involved with Jesuit, and working with Jesuit, and writing songs for Jesuit, etc, etc. From time dissipating, from things going away, and Jesuit obviously breaking up in time, we were fortunate enough to get Nate on a full time basis. At that point, he moved up to our area, as well as Brian Benoit (who) ended up going to Dillinger Escape Plan from Jesuit, so now he's in Dillinger. And, at that point, Nate started playing a more creative role in the band and kind of stepped it up considerably. Now on his first record with us that he played on was "the Poacher Diaries." He had a little bit to do with the writing and refinement of songs on that record. On "Jane Doe," since it was more collective record with all of is doing a little bit more of the writing or more oversight in control of it. He played a substantial role in that too.
Yeah, I had read in the past that he had a hand in several songs on "The Poacher Diaries" split w/ ANB. In many interviews, you mentioned that the songwriting process was somewhat of an outlet, or has helped you through some difficult times in your life, especially on the topic of relationships.
Have you ever imagined a point in your life where everything would be "normal" and how it would affect the songwriting and lyrics of converge?
That's funny, in between periods of records, at times it is normal. It has been normal.
Do you see that as something to be grateful for?
Certainly. I think everyone would want to have that degree of normalcy, like be happy in that certain ultimate non-threatening way. For me, I haven't had the opportunity in a long time. I wish I could. I would much rather have that than a whole lot of baggage. A whole lot of issues to work through on a daily basis and just dealing with the relationships I have had previously.
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. You've got a lot going between Converge, touring, Supermachiner, Atomic-id... the design label, and your new record label, Deathwish Inc.
How do you find time to juggle all these commitments?
Well, I don't have a life really.
Has all this just become your life?
Well, it always has been. A long time ago, Tre, who is my best friend, who does our tour management and also runs Deathwish with myself, basically came to the conclusion quite a while ago that we're sort of life punk rock kids where it's not going away, it's not really a phase. I started this band when I was twelve years old and I have been in this band since then. He's been around with me about ten years of that, and Kurt's been in the band for eleven and a half of those years. We're not really going away. Our roots are in the independent punk rock community. When you accept that, when you get to that point where you're like "OK, that's what we do." Then you start to look at things on a sort of broader level. Where you know, I went to college for four years. I got my BA in design. When I got out of school, I worked in all the pretty large designing 'zines in the city. I easily could have had a really amazing career doing that. I was making a substantial amount of money doing that. I was making about a thousand dollars a week just hanging out, not really doing much at all. It was completely soulless. I didn't find any enjoyment from it, and I would much rather struggle with it and start a small company and run it when I am home, and close shop when I am not there. Employ some of my friends who need to be employed. Just do independent business and labels and stuff.
That's pretty admirable that you would give up money for doing something that you love.
It's a sort of shitty stereotype or at least metaphorical. That you think locally act locally crap. Like that ridiculous nonsense of that fucking part. For me though, locally is my life. I think about my life and how I want to live my life and what I can do to live it to it's fullest, to its sheer extent and you know, functioning on that level. Helping out good people and working with independent people... everything, bands, music, people. It's the way to go. The label is essentially an extension of that. We're not trying to be the super heroes of the community. We love records, we love putting out records. It's sort of a natural progression to do that. Now Tre and myself have the ability to do records on a larger scale. It's a good deal.
Yeah, definitely. If given the opportunity, would Converge ever become a five-piece again?
Well the opportunity is certainly there, there's a lot of people that would want us to be. We have gotten like a load of people asking, but we don't need it. Our issue before we asked Aaron to leave was a morale issue more than anything. It was a morale or performance issue. He still is a very close friend of mine, and that will never change. He is a close friend of ours in fact, I talked to him like three times while we've been on this tour and while Bane has been playing and doing all their stuff. At the time that we asked him to step down, we all sat down and we all had a meeting. Including the outside parties involved with the band who don't play in the band, our friends who are always around, who are always there making things happens, making sure we get to our shows, making sure our merch happens, making sure our tour's routed perfectly. All these people who have been part of our unit for years sat down and we all decided that it was in all of our best interest for us to split at that point. With that in mind, it wasn't an angry thing. Once he was gone, on the playing side of things, we all felt... we weren't really sure what we were going to feel. In the end we ended up feeling like we felt like a weight was lifted off our shoulders in a way. Aaron was at a point where he was so overstretched with his commitment with everything in his life. He has his own label (Life Recording Company), he has his own life, he has, you know, his relationships in life. He has is other band and all these other responsibilities in life. We just weren't meeting anymore. When you acknowledge that, and when you just say hey, this is going to be a painful, shitty thing, but we have to do it. Once you acknowledge it, things just get better. And things ultimately got better real fast. We would practice maybe eight or twelve times while he was out doing something else, had other things going on or things with Bane or what have you. In turn, there was no presence. Once that presence showed up, he would have to relearn songs. That's the minimal regular first level crap. There's a big thing, there's so much bonding that goes on in that time when people aren't around that's completely irreversible. You can't just say now we can back pedal and pretend the past three rehearsals and the past hanging out periods didn't exist. You know, come on back in... here's everything you missed while you were gone. Unfortunately you cant do that as much as you wish you wanted to, it's really sad. It sort of brought us all closer together in a weird way. Now, sonically live and what not, it has had no affect. If anything I think it's a better situation now.
If you were to be looking for a fifth member, what kind of things would you be looking for? Or is that just something that's not even a consideration?
It's not even a consideration. Aaron never really played a creative role in the band.
He was just kind of there filling a gap?
Yeah, essentially. It developed into that. It wasn't like that at first, but when you have other things grow, if you don't have time to do it.
Has having to deal with that caused you guys to grow closer together?
To an extent.
As far as musically?
Yeah, well musically Kurt's always been the main songwriter. Then we all have our equal say after that point. But Aaron hasn't really had that there. He never really had that presence in the band. But if we were looking for someone else I wouldn't know what to say since we're not. But if we were I'm sure we'd just be looking for someone who is a really talented amazing person. Personality is the key. When you're dealing with a band that has been together for over ten years, you can't have some Joe Schmoe walk into the band and fill our role. That's not fair to Aaron and that's not fair to us. But since we're not looking, it's hard to tell.
I see. Well, from what I can tell, it looks as if Deathwish great success since its inception. Great bands, CD layouts, and a very impressive reaction from kids. How do you feel Deathwish has done? Are you happy with it?
I think its still in its infant stages as far as what I wanted to do with it. And that's not a bad thing. We have been a label for eight months and have released six records in that time which is pretty strong. Most labels don't do releasing that soon period. So we have done a substantial amount of work in that time frame. And with doing that much work in such a small amount of time I haven't really had the opportunity address everything I want to address and give everything the proper time and proper input that I really want to. That's starting to change now. Right after we got to the point with the Damage record, now we're starting to do the stuff that I really want to start doing and its all starting to come into play. We're doing a Jesuseater album they're in the studio right now. The Dedication, Knives Out from Philly, and a bunch of random bands. There's just so much great stuff going on right now. All these things are aspiring to be successful. We want to give them the appropriate sort of planning to sort of come together and promotional work. Where the other ones were basically me going, ok, I have these three records that were just handed to me now. I have to get these out, now! There wasn't much in terms of planning. The label took like a year of planning, and since then the amount of growth it has just been intense.
I bet. So are there any other upcoming projects from Converge that should be noted aside from the DVD on Iodine and the re-release of "Unloved and Weekend Out?"
Well we have the DVD, we're still working on that. They should be done with that some time in January. So hopefully that will see the light of day. The "Unloved and Weeded Out," we just need some time to go, well actually we decided we're going to rerecord and try and re-master (it) and do it that way, just because I had bronchitis when we recorded.
That could be somewhat of a hindrance to a lead singer. (laughing)
(laughing) Yeah that was a hindrance, but I know I could do it much better. Our line up now is just really solid, I just want to hear Ben play the songs, frankly. So we're going to record that when we have some time. I think we have eight weeks in between this tour. Then we go off for Hatebreed, then after that we go off to Europe. Aside from that we're slowly working on a new album, that's the goal. We only wrote one song that we kind of nailed down a little bit. I'm sure half of us have forgotten most of it already and we'll have to go back and readdress it. We just did a cover of "Annihilate This Week," a Black Flag song. That should be out some time in the spring I am assuming.
Speaking of covers, way back on the old Converge website, you mentioned that you guys were interested in covering Metallica's "Dyer's Ever." Will that ever happen?
We were asked to do a Metallica tribute thing, since then the project has sort of slowed considerably. It just is in a sort of disarray. We don't really give much thought to it anymore.
More important things going on right now?
Well yeah, it's just a cover. We'd much rather do our own stuff. Our own material. If we were to do one of their songs, that's one of their fantastic songs.
I believe it was an interview with Kerrang! Magazine where you mentioned that Converge wouldn't move to a more major label, or play in extremely large venues with "big bands," just because it doesn't work for the band.
That's a real general way of putting it. A major label, by the regular label modeling the way it works. No, that wouldn't work for us. We're not a career band, we're a band with lives. That's how you stay fresh in my opinion. Now bigger venues, I think they steal the soul of much of what punk rock has to do. Although it can be an awe-inspiring experience, it isn't the same thing as a venue like this. (Chain Reaction, Anaheim, California.) It just isn't the same creature.
Yeah, it does have a more personal atmosphere. As far as a label, once you fulfill your obligations with Equal Vision, would you ever consider moving to a bigger label, not necessarily a major, but say Relapse, or would you stick with a smaller more indie label like Equal Vision?
Yeah, there's always talk amongst ourselves, I think we know what direction we want to go after our contract is up. EVR is a pretty substantial label at this point in this game of labels. Relapse is a pretty serious label, but they also have a certain niche about handling bands that isn't necessarily what I would like to see done for us on a full time basis. I have known the guys who have run that label forever and treat us with tons of respect and help us out quite a bit. There's always opportunities, there's been talk. Wait six months.
This kind of ties into the last question, but can a band like Converge get any bigger playing such extreme music? Or is that even a goal?
It's really not a goal. It's kind of funny, our new record apparently... I don't really keep tabs, I just get told. It's not really of huge importance to me. I know this record shipped in its first five days, 32,000 copies which is considerable for us, considering we do that in a year for other records.
That's really an amazing accomplishment.
Yeah, and its amazing. And considering its such a not accessible, angry, extreme record, it might me the most extreme record we've done. It's certainly the most non-accessible record we've done as well, as well as the most extreme. I certainly did not see it having the ability to have that sort of aura, or presence right away. That was just a really beautiful thing. I don't really think it has much to do with sort of softening your approach and producing it and streamlining it and sculpting it to fit in a little niche next to nü-metal band A and pop-punk band B. We're just continuing to do our thing and people are buying our records. It's truly great. I could see us selling more records, but it's not really a goal. We had a low budget on the record, so its not like we're going out to spend and remake money for our label. A lot of bands get totally in debt and then have to pay it off in years and years. We paid off our album in those first five days five times over. It was easy. It's just a matter of approach. We come from an amazingly punk rock school of though. We're not about excess.
Does it bother you, or do you even acknowledge like some sort of a glass ceiling in terms of the band's popularity?
We play music simply for ourselves. That's the main difference between ourselves and why we maintain the longevity of our band and why other bands can't. We play music as a soul expression, as a creative outlet for ourselves. Period. Not for any single kid who pays however much to come in here. We support it, we love it, we really are really excited that people appreciate what we are doing as a band and comprehend what we're doing as a band. I couldn't have ever fathomed that when we started the band. We played shows in front of five people; we played shows in front of 5,000 people. I would have to say, and mind you in the past six months we've done that. On the tour, we played a house show in front of fifteen kids, and the next night we played a rather large show in front of 600-700 kids. If it was a tour of playing in front of five kids every night, so be it. We'll still play our hearts out.
That's amazing. Well you guys have been at this for about ten years. If you had looked into a crystal ball ten years ago and gotten a glimpse of the way things are now, would you have been pleased?
Yeah, I would say so. I would still see the level of refinement of what we do as a band, like what we do as a band. Like it would be really amazing. I don't give much thought to saving things. Putting a huge amount of though of what I do. I do a lot of thinking, I'm a thinking person. I don't sit and have a big master plan. I just kind of just do it, just for the sake of doing things in a positive light.
Returning to the whole crystal ball theme, where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I don't know. I really have no idea. Playing aggressive music? Maybe. If we still have relevant music to make. Because the only time we'll stop is when we stop having relative music to make. So whether we're touring all the time, or just releasing records, or a little bit of both, we'll have an active presence until the day comes where we can look at ourselves and go, I'm just not angry anymore. But frankly I am, so I don't see anything changing anytime soon.
"Jane Doe" has been a huge success, what do you guys plan to do to top it? Or do you plan on trying to?
Everyone always says we have to top the next record over the next record.
Is that something you disagree with?
I just think we write albums that are relevant. We never try and go through like a bigger emotional trauma or anything like that. You just kind of go, ok, it's time to go and write a new album. We'll always continue to write music that challenges ourselves. Musically, that's what we're about. We're about going up there, challenging ourselves to the fullest extent that we can. Playing music that moves us. Music that gets you in the gut. That's our measuring stick. As long as it does that, and it's doing that well, you couldn't ask for anything more.
Awesome. Is there anything else you would like to share?
No, I mean you covered pretty much a whole slew of stuff. Probably more than most people do, and thank you for doing a solid, great interview.
Thank you very much, Jake.