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Converge interview

By Devin Braden
Tue, July 1, 2008 2:00 PM PT19,930 views

There are no two ways about it: in the world of aggressive music, Converge are an iconic band. Instantly identifiable and often imitated, their 18-year run has produced an impeccable back catalog, including multiple bona fide genre classics. When viewed in its entirety, their recorded output forms a wildly vitriolic total vision -- one free of compromise, and teeming with creativity. And while they have weathered their fair share of detractors over the years, the band has pressed on, slowly but surely developing one of the largest and most rabid cult followings in the underground music community.

Jacob Bannon -- easily the most recognizable figure in the band -- has made a name for himself with his unpredictable onstage antics and his unique (and frequently unintelligible) vocal delivery. And while his onstage persona might suggest a certain level of misanthropic introversion, my chat with Jake after an exhausting and astounding show one April evening in Denver, Colorado revealed him to be an inviting, soft-spoken, and intelligent individual with a great deal to say about the world of music. Over the course of a half-hour, he made it absolutely clear that his passion and intensity go far beyond the stage, permeating every aspect of his career from his band to his visual art to his rapidly expanding label and underground brand, Deathwish, Inc. As Jake will tell you, though, he'd rather not be seen as an icon. In his eyes, he's just a hardcore kid lucky enough to be living out his dream of driving from city to city in a beat-up van, making friends and sharing his music along the way.


So, how long are you going to be out on the road for this tour?

It's about five and a half or six weeks, and we only have two days off. Tomorrow is our first day off.

This is definitely a good place to have a break -- we seem to be about eight hours from everywhere.

Yeah, we have about an eight-hour drive. And, just like any band, we need to go get a brake job and an oil change. It'll get done. And, honestly, it'll be nice to have a day off. We try to not have days off as much as possible -- we try to make the most of our time out.

And it's been going well so far?

Yeah. Yeah, it has. It started at home, and we usually don't start tours at home. We rarely play home, actually -- mainly because of a lack of venues.

I've heard that about Boston.

A friend of ours works really hard to keep a good relationship with a bunch of venues, and he does a great job, but it's always an uphill battle for him. Our last show that we played with him was a benefit for the East Boston Skate Park, which is a non-profit skate park, and we only got to play four songs because the owner came up to me in the middle of our set and told us to cut the show.

I've noticed that you seem to go out on tour with friends pretty frequently, and you sometimes take out the same bands on multiple tours.

I don't know that that's true.

Well, specifically, I'm referring to the Red Chord on this tour.

Okay, yeah -- I guess that we've been out with them twice.

And you guys toured with Cave In a couple of times, too, right?

We toured with Cave In twice in their lifetime as a band. They're still kind of a band, actually, but they're tied up with their other projects. They never actually stopped. And Ben, our drummer, is still playing with them. He played on the Perfect Pitch Black tour, and he actually recorded with them for that cassette single that was floating around for awhile.

Do you view the ability to tour with friends as a luxury or a necessity?

Well, we've been a band for a long time -- I'd say, realistically, since 1991. Some would say 1990. At this point, we want to do things that are entertaining for us; to us, this isn't a job. A lot of bands go out and do giant package tours, or they do giant festivals that are soulless and horrible -- that's exactly what we don't want to do. Now, don't get me wrong -- we've dabbled in that, we've tried them out because we've had to.

Well, I think your introduction on the New England Metalfest DVD ("Hello, Metalfest -- we're Converge, fuck you!") pretty accurately sums up your disdain for big festivals.

Yeah, we had a horrible experience at Metalfest. For years, actually. The first Metalfest -- we were actually banned from the Palladium after that. We got just a few songs in and we had a run-in with security. They got into it with some kids, and they got into it with Tre [McCarthy], who owns Deathwish with me, and one of them smashed him with a full size Mag-Lite. He had to get, like, 10 or 12 stitches. And Ian from Reach the Sky unfortunately had to get involved -- it was a mess, and we were banned from there for awhile. But time passed and we patched things up, and [the show on the DVD] was our first time back at that venue. It's difficult when you're not used to that kind of atmosphere. Festivals are a bit of a double-edged sword -- they bring a lot of interesting people and a lot of interesting bands together for one unique weekend or one unique night, but more often than not, they're also quite corrupt. There's a whole political side of it, a pay-to-play side of it. And, honestly -- we're a hardcore band. We're a punk rock band. People can say whatever they want about what they think we are and classify us in some random subgenre, but ethically and morally, we subscribe to something that is not that world. We've tried to put ourselves out there as an alternative to that world and show bands and show promoters that you don't have to treat people like garbage. It doesn't always work that way, though -- the big boys tend to win.

And that's something that seems to be true of the entire industry -- or was, at least, for a long while. As a label owner, what would you say has changed in the five years that Deathwish has been around?

Oh, everything's changed, but we knew that [it would] going into it. We weren't stupid. We weren't just a bunch of dudes that said, "hey, we should start a record label and put out CDs." We officially got into the record world as Deathwish right as Napster was exploding. Prior to that, Tre had some experience releasing 7"s for bands like Inkwell and Converge on his own label in the mid-90s and late-90s. I released the first Converge 7" in 1991 when I was a kid. I released the Halo in a Haystack 12" LP when I was a kid -- I saved money [for it] working at a nursing home. We knew how to do things ourselves, and the reason we did things ourselves was because there weren't any other options. We knew that [in order] to do things correctly -- to do things as pure to our vision as possible -- we'd have to do them ourselves. And that's evolved over time into Deathwish, into [guitarist Kurt Ballou's] God City [studios], into me designing records.

Since you mention Napster, what are your thoughts on album leaks and file sharing?

It's youthful fanaticism. This entire genre of music, this entire subculture, is based on fanaticism -- everybody wants everything before everybody else. That will never change. What we try to do is empower the listeners, the buyers, and supporters of music -- whether it's Deathwish or Converge -- as best we can without giving away everything. We have to survive in some way, but we try to work within today's limitations to make it happen: stream records for weeks at a time, free downloads with vinyl. We're trying to give people what we would want as fans of music -- I mean, I don't want to buy a record twice. The irony is that people talk about how record sales have plummeted in the past 10 or 15 years, and they have to a certain extent, but you know why? It's because the medium was expendable back then. Say you owned some album on cassette, and that cassette wore out and fell apart -- you'd just go out and buy the cassette again. Even if it was used for two bucks, you would still put money into the music industry multiple times. And you would buy multiple copies of multiple albums -- especially with tapes. They weren't selling 30 million records to 30 million people; they were selling 30 million records to 10 million people. That's really what it comes down to.

Well, if you ask people how many copies of their favorite albums they've bought over the years, everyone is going to say "several." That was even true with CDs early on because there was no practical way to save the music on them.

Right. As a collector of music and a fan of music, my mission plan has changed -- now, I really depend on my iPod and my iTunes more so than anything else. I've also spent a lot of time collecting vinyl from bands that I really cherish and appreciate. I still do that because I like the larger medium -- it's just my thing, it's something I dig.

[At this point, a passer-by shouted a question in our general direction regarding a supposed collaboration between Kurt Ballou and William Elliott Whitmore]

I don't know that they're working on anything together, actually. Willie is a friend of ours, we toured with Willie.

He's great. He's been through here twice: once with Ten Grand, and once a few years later with Clutch.

Yeah, he's done a lot of interesting tours. He actually toured Europe with us. [Directed at Kurt] Hey, are you doing something with Willie?

Kurt: Not that I know of, no.

Okay, so I guess that's our answer?

There it is. There's the official answer. But, yeah, we toured Europe with Willie. A friend of ours used to run a label called Aurora Borealis -- they did the KTL records, the Grails record, a Crebain picture disk, a bunch of random stuff. Anyway, this friend of ours -- Tony -- [that] used to help us out with press in the UK is a partner in that label and is friends with Willie. He used to also work at Shellshock distribution, and he actually works on Southern [Records'] distribution now. He put us in touch with Willie and Willie was gracious enough to tour with us in Europe. It was awesome.

Let's talk a little bit about upcoming Converge releases. I know you guys are working on your second DVD right now.

Yeah, we're supposed to pick up footage in a week.

It is going to be fan-filmed again, or will this one have professional footage?

It's fan-filmed and professionally filmed. It focuses mainly on Japanese tours that we've done. We've amassed a significant amount of footage from those tours. It's been a long time coming. A friend of mine, Ryan Zunkley, who shot our last video -- he's basically video-dumping it to a hard drive. It's something like 20-some hours of footage, and that takes a long time. It's moved slower than we want it to, but whatever -- shit happens. We wanted to get it out maybe six months ago, but it just didn't happen.

Do you have a new target release date?

Well, we hope to go through all the footage between this tour and the European tour. We'll see what happens.

How about the vinyl re-press of Jane Doe?

Torture [laughs]. EVR were gracious enough to give us the rights to do that. It is really important to all of us for that to finally happen. I don't have a copy.

Really?

Yeah. I don't have a lot of Converge releases, actually.

I found a copy on eBay in 2002, so I thankfully didn't pay too much for it. I've seen it go for hundreds of dollars on eBay in recent years.

That's ridiculous. You know, we want to do some special manufacturing things for [the re-press] and we have a couple of manufacturers that we're just waiting on quotes from. And, yeah -- it's horrible. We're at the whim of the manufacturers right now.

That sounds about right when it comes to vinyl.

Yes. I mean, we have great relationships with the people we deal with, but they're still doing a gazillion records, you know?

Right. I think a lot of people don't realize how few pressing plants there are in the United States.

There are great pressing plants in the UK and the Czech Republic, and there are a couple of them still in the states -- there's Musicol, there's United -- but it's a long process. And, also, it's an expensive process. You have to pay for vinyl up front.

For the lacquers and the plates and so on.

Right, all of it's paid for up front. With a CD, you don't have all of that. The cost of pressing an LP is monstrous sometimes. We got the Blacklisted bill right before we left -- while we were assembling all of those like crazy to get them out -- and it makes you take a breath.

How many did you press?

I believe we did 2000, and I think we pre-sold 1200 or 1500. And then the band has their own copies on their own color.

They're actually playing here tomorrow night.

Yeah, our tours are following each other.

And I think Trash Talk is playing the night after Blacklisted, actually.

Yeah. Andy, who works at Deathwish -- he's also in Meltdown and used to be in Sinking Ships -- he's the booking agent. He books Trash Talk and Blacklisted. When we were booking this tour, Matt [Pike] and Merrick, who run [the] Kenmore [Agency] and rent the front offices from us, and Andy had to keep talking to make sure their tours didn't cross each other. And it worked out -- it's cool.

Are there any bands you haven't had a chance to play with that you'd like to setup on a Converge show or tour with in the future?

I've never played with Obituary. I'd love to play with them -- they're one of my favorite bands of all time.

[Another person in the lobby yells out "Ringworm"]

Ringworm? Yeah, we did some shows with Ringworm. We did about a week with them on the Red Chord/Darkest Hour tour. Human Furnace is a really good friend of mine, and they're also one of my favorite bands of all time.

I talked to him once after a show and he introduced himself as "James." It was a little strange hearing him use his real name.

I call him Fernie [laughs].

Now, you guys still play some older songs in the set.

Yeah, we do. We try to mix it up.

It seems that your lyrics underwent a pretty significant shift between You Fail Me and No Heroes. Would you agree?

Well, as a person, I grew. And, as a person, my life changed. I write about my life, and all of my lyrics about the things I go through. Hopefully they're not repetitive -- I don't want to sound like a broken record. Between which two were you saying there was a shift?

You Fail Me and No Heroes.

Okay, yeah. We started writing the songs for You Fail Me pretty close to the release of Jane [Doe]. We played [the song] "You Fail Me" live for two years.

I think I saw you play a very different version of it in L.A. in 2002, actually. It had almost a sludgy feel to it.

Yeah, it was a lot looser -- more jam-oriented. We just knew we had these two riffs, but we didn't really know how we wanted to resolve it. I had the lyrical content, but for the most part, [the song] was more like weird, later-era Black Flag: grim, dark, and not really predictable in any way. And we actually wrote the end of that song when we were writing The Poacher Diaries. Sometimes, you have songs that you kick around for a good long time. By the time that album was ready to be recorded, some of those songs were, frankly, old to us. The reason why there was such a long pause between Jane Doe and You Fail Me was more business-oriented -- that was a difficult, difficult time for us.

I assume that's what led to the label change, then?

Yeah, we had a really turbulent relationship with Equal Vision [Records] at the time. And they're good people -- they're still good people -- and I respect them a lot, but we just had a difference in opinion as to what our agreement was, so we had to work that out before anything happened. It got real ugly for about seven or eight months, but then finally worked itself out. Now we're all on good terms and, frankly, we think it was for the best. As a band, we never really fit that well in their world. We appreciate their work and what they did for us, but the label just wasn't that diverse -- it wasn't diverse like Epitaph/Anti is, where you can be label mates with Tom Waits, The Locust, Bad Religion…

Sage Francis.

Right -- Atmosphere, et cetera. Their whole thing there is just the level of quality. They want to put out interesting records. It's a bit of a different vibe there than at EVR, and it was just more fitting for us at the time -- it made more sense. We're a very self-reliant band -- we don't need anybody's help, and we don't really ask for anybody's help. We ask for minor things from the record labels we work with, but we're not a band that asks for tour support -- no one's buying us anything. They're just paying for our records, getting our records out there, getting them into stores, doing their job, and we love them for that. Everything else we can do ourselves, and we don't really need anybody else's help, so the Epitaph relationship is a really healthy one.

And you have complete artistic freedom?

Yeah.

Have you ever felt like you're under any pressure to produce albums for them in a certain timeframe?

No, we just do whatever. We have crazy ideas that we throw at them, and they go, "yeah, that's cool." They've never told us that something's a horrible idea. We messed with them a bunch when they asked about No Heroes because I don't think they believed that No Heroes was written and about to be recorded. We were like, "we're down in the studio -- we're ready, the record's done," and they were really funny about it -- they asked if we had a title for the record. We said, "yeah, it's called The Rapist." We got a serious e-mail back from one of the guys there that we get along with very well and is one of our main contacts, and he was like, "I'm not really sure about that -- we're going to have to run it by Marketing. I'm a little concerned as to how we're going to get retail placement." [Laughs] Converge - The Rapist.

So, out of curiosity, are they going to release your next record?

Yeah -- our agreement is to do four records with them, and it'll be our third. They gave us the freedom to do the DVD ourselves.

Right, I've noticed that you've been able to release vinyl and other items through Deathwish.

Well, we ask them -- we want them to be happy and to be comfortable with the role that Deathwish is playing, or the role that other labels are playing, and they're supportive of all of that.

Have you started writing the new record yet?

Um, kind of [laughs]. We started writing in Europe last year. We had a couple of song ideas we started messing around with because we had atypically long sound-checks in Europe, so we started working on some ideas. We want to try to pursue that this fall and see what happens. If we can get a record done this winter that we truly enjoy and want to show to other people, we'll be excited.

So, the goal would be to record this winter?

Maybe. It's tough to predict, and here's why: we're not one of those bands that wants to craft the perfect record; we just want to create a record that is meaningful to us, that challenges us, that is something real to us. That can happen in two months, or that can happen in four years.

You know, there are some fans out there who might attest to the perfection of certain Converge albums -- Jane Doe, for instance, seems to be a fan favorite.

Led Zeppelin wrote perfect albums; we don't write perfect albums [laughs]. You know, I listened to Jane a couple months ago, and I think it has some parts that I really appreciate, and some moments where I think we could've done better. It's a really emotional record for me. It's a really dark record for me. And all of our records have a certain amount of meaning to me -- Jane is one of them, You Fail Me is one of them, No Heroes is one of them. They all have a part of me in them, so I can't measure them against each other. We knew immediately when we put out You Fail Me that everyone was going to dislike [it] because, first of all, the visual aesthetic wasn't the same as Jane Doe, and we knew that any follow-up to a record that a lot of people are emotionally attached to is going to be looked at in a negative light. It's the history of music, it's the way it works.

I suppose that's true to an extent, but I've actually heard a few people say it's their favorite Converge album. I think Converge is unique in that sense -- you've experimented with the band's sound over the years, but it's never really led to a point where the fans turn on you.

You know why? It's because we don't turn on ourselves. You see bands, and I won't name names because I'm political like that…

I think people can fill in the names on their own.

They can fill in their own names, right [laughs]. But you see bands of this genre that leave themselves for any number of reasons: they leave themselves for money, they leave themselves for some bizarre quest for fame and ego. I'll tell you something -- we've driven the same van since 2001. It got 230,000 miles on it. [We have had] the same trailer since 2003. We're a fucking punk rock hardcore band -- we aren't trying to be anything else. We just want to write honest music, and if you consider doing that, people will hopefully be receptive to what you're doing. The day that we decide the things we're writing are no longer relevant to us and aren't really challenging us anymore and don't have anything relevant to say, we'll stop. We're not one of those bands looking for old glory; we're not looking for a 'Greatest Hits' record. We just want to leave a positive mark in this world -- that's it. There need to be more bands like that.

I completely agree.

We're really appreciative of where we're at and where people hold us in that respect, but I want to see more bands trying to do that instead of trying to make the radio song or the kick-ass video. It's just tired, it's insincere -- I don't want any part of it.

Well, I think that just about sums it up right there. Thank you very much for your time and your insight -- it has really been a pleasure. I have to confess: a Converge interview has been pretty high on my interview wish list for awhile now.

Oh yeah? That's awesome. Thank you. You know, I actually got to do an interview like that back when I wrote for a fanzine. I interviewed Harley Flanagan from the Cro-Mags, and during the interview, I watched him open a bottle of beer with his eye socket. It changed my life forever.




25 comments

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sifl_ 7/1/2008 2:11:38 PM

first post


chubacca_ 7/1/2008 2:14:40 PM

crap so close


swell_ 7/1/2008 2:36:22 PM

boring, long, arrogant


tomgilk_ 7/1/2008 2:44:12 PM

awesome.


anonymous 7/1/2008 3:53:58 PM

Surprisingly not a bad read.


anonymous 7/1/2008 4:05:11 PM

BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK


shutuptalkintome_ 7/1/2008 5:06:31 PM

great interview


Ccentipede_ 7/1/2008 5:16:33 PM

Jake is the man. Converge are the shit. f*ck Off


meanmuggin_ 7/1/2008 5:29:04 PM

Best Band Ever. End of story.


tragic_visions_ 7/1/2008 5:33:09 PM

interviewer is a good damn gay


Devin_ 7/1/2008 5:37:15 PM

tragic_visions - u mad bro?


YouAreSceneAsFuck_ 7/1/2008 6:07:26 PM

I saw the interviewer open a bottle with his asscrack and it changed my life forever.


shit_spasm_ 7/1/2008 6:52:01 PM

holy shit the last line of this is amazing


new_york_lesbians_ 7/1/2008 7:05:20 PM

nice


hall_of_wax_ 7/1/2008 7:51:18 PM

HEY JAKE YOU WANT A BOWL OF BROWN M&M'S WITH YOUR VEGAN DELI TRAY BRO?


_mapexdrummer__ 7/1/2008 8:35:20 PM

god, i honestly can't stand to listen to this guy talk for more than 30 seconds. he bothers the shit out of me.


threexs_ 7/1/2008 11:31:25 PM

great interview


anonymous 7/2/2008 4:00:44 AM

who gives a shit


gluck_is_a_faggot_ 7/2/2008 8:49:53 AM

why is it a great interview? cause it's jake bannon? who gives a shit? it was long and boring. converge has sucked for years already too.


Rickdawg_ 7/2/2008 2:24:58 PM

Good interview.


zero_x_potential_ 7/3/2008 9:35:49 AM

Perfect ending


Bob_ 7/3/2008 9:41:01 AM

Dumb questions.....I see you go on the road with a lot of friends....you know Red Chord...Cave in...stupid f*cking questions in this whole interview. I feel Jakes time was wasted here.


Bob subconscious_ 7/3/2008 12:40:42 PM

Translation: I read the first two questions of the interview, then let my ADD get the best of me and went to yank one off to nonexistant fincher n00dz while listening to No Heroes and pretending to know Jake personally.


squirt ballou_ 7/3/2008 7:53:07 PM

HUFF JENK


yeahdude_ 7/6/2008 1:27:22 AM

"he's just a hardcore kid lucky enough to be living out his dream of driving from city to city in a beat-up van" really? if converge are driving around in a beat-up van it's probably a personal choice rather than something out of necessity.