Though this interview is from a few months back, the show still resounds. It's hard to give Converge an intro because they are considered to be some of the most influential artists of all time in their style of music. At the time, Converge was on tour with Whips//Chains, Kvelertak and Torche and I've literally never seen a louder, crazier show. Converge's lead man, Jacob Bannon, is one hell of a busy man.
Catching up with him on a rainy, cold night at The End in Nashville, Tenn., we went from interviewing in the venue itself until Whips//Chains started sound check to finishing the series of questions in their gear trailer. From being a co-owner at Deathwish, a visual artist and musician, Bannon had a lot of detailed, yet simplistic, positive responses to share with us about their latest record, All We Love We Leave Behind, how Converge functions and everything in between as the interviewed unfolded.
First off, what aspects of your daily lives allow you to keep innovating the way you do musically?
Well, our songs from my perspective, from someone who is writing lyrics, and I write about aspects of my life and things that are going on in my life in some way; I use aggressive music as an outlet for that." So, I guess just daily life is something that's a motivational factor. But, all the stresses that come from it also. All of the positives and the negatives…the older you become the more life experience you gather and things become complex. I mean, on this tour for example, it's been wild and we have gone through a whole lot. Life was already complicated before we left and it got even more complicated while we were out. And, that's essentially where I find inspiration or at least where I find motivation to be apart of this band.
It's been said, "every Converge album is a milestone in the heavy music community." Do you feel like All We Love We Leave Behind is the most integral record of your releases so far?
I think that the newest record should always be the most relevant to you because it's the most relevant to you emotionally. It's the closest to what's going on in your life. So, for example, if I wrote a song when I was 18 it was relevant to me when I was 18. Some of the aspects of it are relevant to me now, but it's not talking about the things that are immediate in my life. So, yeah, I would agree with that to an extent. But, as far as the "milestone" stuff goes, I leave that up to other people to decide. We're probably some of the most selfless people and most non-egotistical people when it comes to music. Like, we just want to go up there and play. If people dig it, cool. If not, that's ok! We know we're a weird band.
Ballou has said that, "this record really allowed all 3 members to develop their own personality." When you guys started writing, did you have any personal goals for this release, and also did the band have any as a whole?
It's usually the same, you know. It's usually just, "Hey, let's make a record." Let's make something that is meaningful to us that makes us feel a bit fulfilled after the process, I guess. Because you put a lot into the record, you put a lot of heart, effort, energy and you want to be able to look at that when you're done and say, "Wow, I'm really proud of what created."
In this day and age, pretty much every band has a "team" behind them with at least one if not multiple managers. What do you think about that approach and why isn't that something you practice as a band?
You guys have Epitaph to help with press and such..
I've never really believed in managers or those sort of business formalities. If you have good people that work with you and that you trust, that's all you need. I mean, my label takes care of the vinyl aspect of everything and Epitaph takes care of nearly everything else. But, I mean it's always been a small group of people. For instance, we've had the same sound guy that's toured with us for 11 years. We've had the same few merch people that have traveled with us for years. Epitaph has been an amazing label family for us for a long time, we've done 4 records with them now and they have treated us very well. We're not high maintenance, we don't ask for a lot and honestly, we just do not operate that way. I feel a band should be aware. They should be educated, intelligent, able to understand basic math, the drives on tour, dealing with a promoter, just understand the concept of basic economics. It's simple. If you have a good moral and ethical compass, it's relatively easy to do those things. Self-sufficient; I think that's the best way to put it. At the beginning, you know it was a necessity. No one was helping us; we put out our own record because no one would put out our record. We recorded our own record because we felt like that was the best way to do it. I made the art because we couldn't afford to have anyone do it. Just the way it should be. We have a good team around us and I think that they appreciate our independent spirit also.
Do you feel like Jane Doe marked a special break in Converge's style? Meaning, in many articles I've read writers suggest a change in pace from you guys. Do you feel like your sound graduated or evolved after that release?
It didn't actually. If you listen back to other records, it's still the same sort of chaotic, abrasive music. Stylistically, nothing has really changed. If anything, we just became more technically proficient as we aged. Because we started our band when we were super young! Our first records we're from when we're 13, 16 & 17 years old. We were babies and had no idea how to play our instruments or even the kind of band we really wanted to be. We just knew we really wanted to play and we felt the drive to play and be creative people. So, we've grown within this band and when people tend to overanalyze stylistic changes people project those types of things.
Is it an important record? To other people? It's an important record to us just because it's a Converge record. And it's no difference to us than any other Converge album but we appreciate people holding it in high regard and how people embrace it as they have. It's ironic though, because when we did release the record, people hated it. I have like a press packet that the company that helped us do the publicity for the album for the Jane album, it was like 90% negative reviews. And that's fine! We were never looking for reviews period. It's just funny to see how the record has been popularized and I think that's just the way music is. People embrace it at a time they are ready for it.
You've said, "there are a lot of subtle nuances on this record that are really special to you guys as a band." Can you explain those on an individual standpoint and as a group?
Well, as a band we've refined what we do with every record and we've become more technically proficient. Artistically, we are a little more refined. So, for example we've become better musicians, artists and communicate as musicians and visual artists a little more clearly and coherently than we could when we were 18-20 years old. Ideas are being formulated in a different way. I think we are putting songs together in ways that are more interesting. We're allowing the songs to breathe and adding those subtle nuances. Things aren't so dense. Sometimes we pull back and have songs that are a little more mid-paced and downdraught in comparison to the faster, abrasive music that stereotypically generalizes what our music is. So, this album has a lot of those moments. Lots of technical playing that's soulful, it's hard to describe but if people hear it and they have like a good foundation for listening to heavy music they might understand it I guess is what I am saying.
Could you discuss Converge's special releases that are exclusive to Deathwish? I.E. the Napalm Death and Dropdead splits. Why did you chose to release those yourself?
Well, we chose to release those records because we can. The same reason why we chose to release the records we did in 1994. We had the ability to do it and they were small projects that we could handle ourselves. My business, Deathwish, has grown to the point where distribution has grown also and we feel pretty confident about handling releases like that. If Converge says, "Hey we want to pay for our record ourselves" and Deathwish says, "Great, we'll distribute it." Everything is still all in the family, everyone is sort of working together but it's just shifting the gears a little bit. Usually when bands choose to self-release records there's some sort of schism with labels or something like that. With us, it's not it was just easy to do it. When we did those records we weren't under a contract with Epitaph, we didn't have an agreement at the time so we could do whatever we wanted. As far as doing vinyl with Deathwish, that's just something that we ended up doing. It's a business that is ran by myself and one of our former tour manager's, Trey. He's one of my best friends and a really good friend to everyone in the band. So it just kind of makes sense to work together because we treat each other fairly, it's just a positive experience.
As a visual artist, label owner and musician how do you balance your responsibilities at Deathwish and as an artist?
I have very little free time and that's OK! I like that, I enjoy being busy. I truly get a sense of fulfillment out of having other bands I believe in be heard by other people and be experienced by people. You have a Blacklisted shirt on for example. I love Blacklisted. I sit next to Dave [Blacklisted] all day long. He runs his Six Feet Under Label out of Deathwish. George is an artist I respect immensely so I want those bands to be heard. I want to champion those things. Same thing goes for anything like Loma, Trap Them, just bands that I believe in. Bands that I feel like have musical depth. I just enjoy it and get a fulfillment out of it. Takes a lot of time and a lot of effort but I feel that it is something noble.
Aside from Kurt Ballou playing guitar in Converge he produces, engineers and owns God City Studio. He's worked with everyone from Gospel to Jesuit and everything Converge related. Has God City ever hindered his role in Converge?
Not necessarily. I feel that all of the entrepreneurial endeavors that we have are all music and art-related in some way. They allow us to sharpen tools and progress as people. So he might not be writing a song but being surrounded by music is helpful in a way. He may be recording a band that might not be his cup of tea but that helps him refine what he likes and what he wants to do. I think it's a positive thing.
Did you see John Baizley's black (comedy) ice joke about your wreck on the way to Seattle? Thoughts? Hopefully that's the last close encounter with a wreck you have!
No, I didn't but I am sure it was hilarious. Shit, we actually just raised money for John by selling a conversation with my band on Ebay. So, now we'll hold it back from him… No, but he's a great friend and I talk to him at least a few times a week. It's always all in good fun and we have an immense amount of respect for each other. Our humor is way sicker than anyone can ever imagine.
How has this tour been so far in terms of the way fans are reacting to AWLWLB live?
I don't really pay much attention to the way people react to what we are doing; I just sort of get lost in the song and enjoy the experience of playing live. People come out and support our band and support the bands on the tour so I assume it's going well!
As you wrap up the year, what do we have to look forward to from Deathwish and Converge?
Oh, wow… on the Deathwish front, well the Code Orange Kids record came in as I was leaving for tour. They're a wonderful band and I'm really happy to be working with them. We're working on a new release for Touché Amoré, we are working on distributing one of my first solo recordings with this guy Ben who's a really talented guitarist that plays with Chelsea Wolfe. He plays under the name Revelator and we did a split together and that will hopefully be out in a few weeks. Loma [Prieta] is always working on things, as well as Punch. That whole world of people really is working constantly on great things. I have great things that I heard about that I can't talk about yet that hopefully happen.
We also have an American Nightmare documentary coming out that is based off of the first two reunion shows of that "temporary reunion" they had and I think we will be releasing some music from Wes of Cold Cave. Converge has tours upon tours coming up then we come home on Christmas Eve. Then we're going back out to Japan with Old Man Gloom. Nate will have to do double duty every night because he plays in Old Man Gloom as well. Ben had his first child so we want to make sure he's able to be home for that and Nate is also expecting his first child. Family is really important to us and our sort of small social fabric is really important to us. Everyone is sort of cared for, loved and respected and it's not that we won't tour anymore it's just that we're trying to be more selective with what we do. When people ask us why we don't play certain places it's because we have limited time, other jobs, families and responsibilites.