I recently had the distinct pleasure of interviewing one of the most important bands of the last 10 years...the unstoppable monolith that is Converge. Jacob Bannon, vocalist/lyricist/graphic artist/Deathwish Records co-head honcho and I sat down to talk about their new record and label, DVD's/videos, set lists, running a label, split records, the greyhound dog racing industry, and the battle of the better vegan chefs.
AMP: You've had a lot of line up changes over the years. Has that hindered the writing process at all and how is it playing as a four piece now?
Jacob Bannon: In the contrary we have had very few lineup changes, especially for as long as we have been an active band. Our most recent change was asking Aaron to step down as second guitarist in 2001. It was a necessity for a variety of reasons, however it was not a mean spirited thing in any way. We were simply growing away from one another. He was moving in his direction, and we were moving in ours. It was simply time. This did not effect writing in a negative way at all. Aaron, though an active member, wasn't a member who wrote for the band on a regular basis. Kurt brought most ideas to the table at that time, and we collectively shaped them as a band from there. 3 years later I can safely say that not only are we comfortable
as a four piece, we wouldn't have it any other way. The chemistry between the four of us works very well for us.
AMP: How do you compose a set list every night? I'm sure there are many songs kids want to hear. Is there a specific way you balance it out, and has being a foursome changed your ability to play any particular
JB: Since a majority of our songs have been written by a single guitar player in mind, the lineup change of 3 years ago didn't really effect what songs we could and could not play live. It's difficult to play everything that every person wants to hear in a live setting, but we do our best to cover a wide variety of releases. On this tour for example, we played 14-16 songs a night from varying releases.
AMP: You guys just put out a new record, "You Fail Me." How do you feel it compares to previous work, and were the results what you had originally intended?
JB: We don't compare releases. We are all about forward movement. Writing music and creating art that moves us and challenges us. We are certainly collectively happy with what we have created with "You Fail
Me". It's a very raw album. Most loud music recordings are devoid of the character that defines a band. We obviously didn't want that. Our goal was to record an album that was as raw and abrasive as our live
performance. Although we attempted that with "Jane Doe" there are elements on that album that felt artificial to us. This recording was a much more successful attempt at capturing who we are.
AMP: This is your first record on Epitaph. What happened with EVR (Equal Vision Records) and what made you decide on a label better known for their history in the punk rock/ska scene, rather than the
JB: After "Jane Doe" was released our obligations to Equal Vision entered a grey area. We felt that our contractual obligations were fulfilled at that point. After some talking amongst ourselves we came to the
collective conclusion a new label home was needed. Epitaph was actually our first choice for that home. Soon after, we met some people over at Epitaph who were very supportive of our efforts, and that was
that. We are very happy with that decision. In the past 5 years, Epitaph have really grown as a label and started working with such an interesting group of artists. We are now label mates with Sage Francis,
The Locust, Death By Stereo, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, etc. It's a welcoming and diverse environment for us.
AMP: Converge has grown increasingly popular over the years, but it could be said that "Jane Doe" really helped you break on through. Did you expect the huge reaction that came with it?
JB: Not at all. I recall all of us feeling that it was our most abrasive recording to date at that time. And in many ways it was the most non-accessible release for us as a band. It is certainly flattering for
us that many hold that album close to their hearts. It's a very powerful album for us.
AMP: Over the years, you've toured with extremely diverse bands, and yet, everyone seems to enjoy you, even though you don't have the most accessible sound. Do you think it's just incredibly fun live show or
JB: I feel people are searching for music and art with substance and heart. Both the mainstream and independent music communities are lacking in that. Our approach is the antithesis to that world of emptiness and our supporters are also searching for something more. That ideology crosses
genres and has the potential to unify. That is a rare and beautiful thing.
AMP: Converge fans are definitely a dedicated group. Do you have a lot of interaction with them?
JB: Though I am a very private person I do my best to spend time with the people who let our music and art into their lives.
AMP: Along the same lines, I've seen more than a few Converge inspired tattoos. Not on par with the amount of Misfits or Minor Threat ink out there, but quite a bit. When you started this band did you ever think kids would be getting your lyrics and artwork permanently etched into their skin?
JB: I never really thought about any of those sort of things. I just wanted to be a part of a community that I found to be a very inviting thing. I was just inspired by so many involved. It's such a flattering thing though to see so many touched by what we do.
AMP: Did you enjoy putting the DVD together, rewatching all the moments? Was it hard to leave stuff out?
JB: There was so much material. We had stacks and stacks of stuff that we had sent our pal Zach who put it together boxes of tapes. We were just trying to find something that would reflect our history, as well as be interesting. It took a long time to collect all the footage, and editing it all up to create a timeline that was both interesting to us and educational in some ways as well for other people.
AMP: I know you just did a video for "Eagles Become Vultures." Are you hoping to do more videos from "You Fail Me?"
JB: Our pal Zach who's done videos for us before, has just done so much great work. It's been a really great experience working with him, and so yeah, it's definitely a possibility. Videos are kind of hard though because you have to take your musical vision and give it to someone else, having that person give their version of your work. We've been fortunate enough to have kept it within our family of friends.
AMP: Kurt has been recording bands for some time now, including your own. Has his schedule ever hindered your time practicing and/or in the studio or are you all too equally business to notice?
JB: We all certainly have our own responsibilities and his recording studio is one of those things. It's his day job and it takes a lot of his time. Yet, when we do this, we all compromise. I've had art and design projects that I've been committed to and haven't been able to share my time, but we all do our best to keep the band in focus. It's hard but we make it work.
AMP: When are you planning on releasing the "new and improved versions" of "Forever Comes Crashing" and "Petitioning The Empty Sky?"
JB: We resolved a lot of our issues with Equal Vision and they've resolved a lot of their issues with us so the project is back on schedule. We finished the audio portion of it and now we are working on the enhanced video and design portions. I was hoping to have it done before we left for this tour, but there was too many other things going on. We are shooting for an early 2005 release. Kurt finished the audio, and from what I've heard, I'm pretty pleased with it.
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