Converge This – Interview with Jacob Bannon of Converge

by Andy Schwegler / Schwegweb.com

Schwegweb: So how has the tour been going with hatebreed?
Jake Bannon: “Cool we’ve been out for about 4 ½ weeks. It’s been wonderful; we are out with our friends that we’ve been playing with for years, since before they were Hatebreed. We played with all their previous bands. We’ve been a band for 11 years now and they’ve been one for 7 so Jamie did some of our first out of state shows in ’91-’92 as promoter when we were all kids and just kind of grown up together. We appreciate what each other do and it’s a wonderful invitation to go out the day their record comes out and just go and have a great time.”

What has been the best date so far?
“I don’t really judge things in that way. There’s places that we play to a hundred kids and other places where there’s 2500 kids, depending on the town and the area. It’s just so diverse and different I’m just happy that we go out and can do that. I mean we’ll play Tallahassee, FL to a hundred kids and then San Antonio to over two thousand, it’s just different. There’s good hearts and ears involved with both of them.”

So do you prefer the smaller venues or let’s say something like this that’s sort of in between?

” This is a pretty large venue. Well… we are punk rooted so the smaller the better, the more intense the better. Then again, there’s something be to said to be able to play to larger crowds, sometimes it’s truly wonderful. We definitely enjoy the interaction more than having barriers but it’s a necessary evil of some of these shows. It’s not the way I would have it but I understand the venues perspective in certain cases but definitely not all cases, we’ve played rooms where there’s a barrier for two hundred kids and you’re just like why? What’s the whole point? But sometimes it’s a necessity.”

Like the Shelter in Detroit, I think that’s one of the best venues around this area. I just love how the interaction is great and the stage is this high (a foot off the ground) and there’s no barriers or anything, which is great.

So you’ve been touring for all these years, what would you say has been your favorite tour so far?
“It’s hard to say, they all have their pros and cons.”

Any bands that you’ve gone out with where it’s just been like “wow!” unbelievable?
” Hatebreed has been wonderful since we are out with our friends. Last tour we did with American Nightmare and the Hope Conspiracy was wonderful too because we were out with our friends. It’s just been great. Like I said it just very hard to narrow it down, so it all comes down to a time and a place where were are in our lives and what’s going on with us and how we interact. I would say our moral has probably been the best it’s ever been the past year or so, we get along very well and we know the inter-workings of ourselves a lot better than we used to.”

Like a Family.
“Yeah, sometimes you understand family, sometimes you don’t. I think that this point in our lives we are all at a place where we truly understand each other, and respect each other and really works out well. Touring has been very easy in that regard.”

So what would you say is your favorite album right now? Something that has been in heavy rotation.

” I listen to this band Sixteen-Horse Power a lot, this band Jucifer from Atlanta a bunch. I’d say we’ve been on a discovery kick as of late, listening to a lot of music that we haven’t previously been exposed to before. We discovered this band called Ours, some of Morrissey’s band played in. It’s totally unique, really passionate, sort of like Jeff Buckley meets…. Something, I don’t know… like Depeche Mode or something. It’s really dynamic and powerful; I’m such a fan.

So we’ve been kind of shopping, buying around. There are a lot of interesting things happening right now, with aggressive music, independent music, major label music, there’s some quality in a variety of different places. Like the new And You’ll Know Us by the Trail of the Dead record is a phenomenal rock record, one of the better rock records that have surfaced in years. So, there are really some interesting things happening on a smaller scale.”

I guess you could say indie rock is gaining a lot of recognition in bands like Trail of the Dead?
” The thing is the overhead got so high for these major labels, with their major label acts and their commercial circulation valued so much, they’re sending millions and millions of dollars to all these bands and now they have discovered inde… no rediscovered, they always go back to the same pool of independent music and they pull from it. And there’s a lot of major label backing on independent music, which isn’t a bad thing. For some bands it’s phenomenal, it’s giving some of these bands that have amazing records huge visibility. You know it’s pretty funny, we had just popped out the Trail of the Dead CD and the radio kicked in and it happened to be the same band. We all got a kick out of it you it’s really interesting.”

That’s great you know, these bands you’ve been listening to for all these years all of a sudden start popping up on the radio out of nowhere, it’s a pretty weird or …surreal feeling.
” And sometimes it’s really cool and sometimes it’s terrible. For the most part, the bands that we know and respect and enjoy personally are bands that are doing it on their own terms and are uncompromising and just going out and having a great time. You can’t commend them anymore for.”

Doing what you wanna do.
” Exactly”

How would you handle a jump from a indie label to a major or would you even do it at all?
” It really depends. Right now with all these independent labels getting major label backing or what’s considered “buy-in’s”. Like Victory just sold 25% to MCA or Island. There seems to be two features.”

So how would you describe the music that your band creates?
” We are an aggressive rock band. I don’t think there is any other way to describe it. We’re rooted in punk rock, hardcore, and metal. Which is all derrivitive to rock and classic rock. I think we are just a more extreme version. It’s pretty easy to see the evolutionary steps to what we do to what other bands have done, the aggressive stance of the harder bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

Were rooted in rock, you know rock is a very young thing. It’s been around since the late 40’s. And then you had the exploitation of the roots of black rock music by white rock producers and white label/pop producers; it has all these weird bastardized roots. Now at this point, hardcore punk rock has somehow come out of that.”

It’s amazing how it has evolved in such a short period of time. What’s going to happen I the next 50 years.
” Yeah exactly, you even look at a band like Hatebreed at this point who are revolutionizing the more commercial end of aggressive music. They’re no frills, straight up, perfectly engineered hard music. That’s what they write, that’s what they do and that’s what they’ve always done.”

And they are opening up the doors for a ton of other bands.
” Yeah, beyond opening up the doors. They have kicked in the doors to like an Ozzfest situation and just simply rule. They just knock all these bands that are soft, not sincere, gutless… and they are just a bunch of hard working kids from Connecticut and it shows.”

You can see that because I think a lot of the Ozzfest line up for the second stage is getting more towards that.
” Yeah, they’re co-headliners. Them and Down and they are also hard working dudes from Louisiana and Texas, so it’s the same creature. It all comes around to no frills, sincere passionate music.”

What are your thoughts on the current hardcore scene and how has it changed over the years since you’ve been involved in it?
“I’ve been in this band for eleven years since it started. It goes back and forth to being large and small.”

And then it goes back underground until something like Hatebreed comes around to bring it into focus.
” Yup, and even before then the big boom of the New York bands and even the post hardcore movement got really large, where Glassjaw is like a post-post hardcore band. They came from the Quicksands of the world and stuff like that. And that was a really interesting time that spawned the sort of the indie rock movement now which came as a bastard child of rock and emotional hardcore. We were just talking about it the other day, it’s so funny to see the path people take I mean… Hatebreed and us were downstairs talking about bands that we played with ages ago and they were like “yeah we played with xrestrainx” who actually became Coalesce and before they were straightedge dudes. It was young and extreme but it’s so funny to see what people come from and what they progress into. But as long as they are willing and active and important participants in the world of that music is really great. I see it still doing the same thing, the 13-14 year old kids that start a band now and ten years from now being a master of what they are crafting.

I remember when our pal Ben Wiehman was really trying to get his band dillinger all over the place, when they recorded a demo that eventually became the under the running board record and I got like 40 copies of that thing. Every other person that he was giving it to, would give it to someone like myself or a friend of mine and it’s really amazing to see someone at that time, who was a guitar vertuosuo and a yong one at that really turn into a carefully crafted songwriter playing progessive music writing that’s the forefront of metal and hardcore.”

It’s just a great level of maturity and great progression.
” Yeah, in such a short period of time. It’s just threee years, and like one year of them laying low writing an album, it was phenomenal who important their influence was in such a short amount of time. It’s just so great to see that. I think there a lot of kids now who will much of the same, who will do something groundbreaking whether it be technical, passionate, or what have you.”

What do you think of the increasing coverage of hardcore in media such as MTV, radio, etc?
” To a certain extent it’s positive and to a certain extent it’s not depending on how responsible is it and how it;’s handled, MTX and MTV-2 were like running our tour dates for a while. It was flattering, I don’t even have MTV, I don’t even have cable so it’s wonderful, whatever. It’s just another outlet, I think what a lot of people have ot understand is that there are a lot of areas, northwest, Midwest and even the south that don’t have mom and pop record stores and don’t have the available of independent music down like some other areas, some coastal cities. Back at home in New England, we have the Newberry Comics chain of 24 stores, which are managed by the drummer for Slapshot actually. You can find every single independent title, anything, from like Japanese import Murs-baw 4 inch whatever, one-sided record to Britney Spears. I mean you can find anything at one of his stores. But if you go to Texas, and the kids have to go into Best Buy, they don’t have anything else. They are going to go to their mall store. They don’t have any other options so what do you do? Do you simply not make your stuff available? It’s a lot easier nowadays for kids to get records than it was say 5-7 years ago through the internet and web stores. But a lot of kids don’t just mail-order, they want to go out and buy a record, it’s just the way people are. I met a lot of kids on this past tour, when we played Texas that came from Mexico. They will still drive over just to buy records at whatever chain store, like Coconuts, some ridiculous record store that will charge 20 dollars a cd but that’s what they have to do. It’s a sort of necessary evil, that kind of coverage sometimes. It’s flattering but we don’t really give a shit. We didn’t give a shit before so we aren’t going to now so it isn’t going to make a difference. It’s flattering that they will give us that sort of time, that sort of soapbox to stand on and respect our music and what we’re doing and other bands are doing. But I don’t think it plays into the survival of independent music.”

It’s at a pretty good state right now, the way it’s being dealt with right now. I just don’t want to see that over saturation with every single major label.
“Well Warped Tour has been going on for almost five years now? Four? Well, that’s the perfect example of independent music sort of being taken and exploited for it’s popularity. When it first started it was this dance company and the small sponsors, now it was purchased by some concert venue thing a couple years back. But it still operates under the guides of independent music, there’s still independent bands playing it. As far as fests go we are going to be playing the Hessfest this year, the Hessfest tour. It’s just a lot of us bands that want to keep it more independent and keep things… we want to make a statement in a way. Hey you know what.”

We don’t need Warped Tour.
“It’s not going to help us, we played stuff like that before. But we are not a polished metal band, we’re not a rock band, we’re not a pop punk band, we’re not a pretty band. We are just going out there and playing passionate music and a lot of other bands are too. So it’s just getting together in the name of art.”

Like the New England Metal and Hardcore fest.
“There’s a lot of those. We had problems with the first New England fest, we got in a fight and beat up bouncers, the cops came… They actually started fighting our friend, Ian, from Reach the Sky who was dancing for us and then we got involved but we don’t play them anymore, because it’s bullshit. A lot of those festivals take kid’s money, and charge like 50 dollars a head. No re-entry everyday, your kid has to be there like 11 o’clock and trapped in there until like 2 in the morning, starving.. you know.. loosing their mind. They want to go to sleep or they want to go get some food and they can’t leave or can’t do anything. A lot of that stuff is just not right. People are treated unfairly, so we choose not to play those types of festivals. We do our best to keep a low door ticket, sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t depending on whom we are playing with. Most of those festivals rob kids, we don’t like to do them. So we just like to stick with the responsible ones, that’s the way to do it.”

That’s great, always looking out for the fans, that’s cool.
“Always looking out… hell we are the fans. Hell, if all of a sudden we became not self-respecting and paying 50 dollars a show. Never, never in a million years. There’s no way I would.”

What is it like juggling your careers and music? I heard you were a design tutor?
“I was a design teacher for a while. For three years I was teaching pre-college design classes to college level classes and I enjoyed that. It was nice to do, I mean I graduated from college when I was 21 and they offered me a teaching position to do that and it was really flattering. I thought it was great, the kids were wonderful but there’s a bureaucracy involved with college teaching that I didn’t really find comfortable and the kids weren’t really treated with respect by the actual institution. They weren’t willing to make changes and I wasn’t willing to eat shit for a living so I didn’t want to do it anymore.”

So right now music is basically.

“Well I stopped a year ago and I’ll probably go back eventually but only part time, doing it on the weekends. It was really fulfilling on a variety of levels but it wasn’t exactly perfect so I choose to walk away from it. But I’m one of the fortunate people to be a career artist, for lack of better terminology.”

I think as long as you’re happy and can have food on the table doing what you love to do then it doesn’t matter the amount of money.
“It allows us the stability to tour and write music, which we’ve been writing as a much faster pace, a more productive pace than we have since the inception of the band. I still do design work for a variety of independent clients. I have a small design company which I had three people working under me that freelance stuff out but now it’s basically just me, feeling stuff out but we’ve been touring so all that has been on hold. And I’m trying to cut back on commercial clients, I want to work with people who I enjoy working with, I don’t want to compromise much so I want to on things that mean a lot to me that I can get a lot out of, so I sort of slowed down.”

It reflects your music career in a way.

“Yeah, you do what you want to do.”

How does the writing process go with the chaotic songs that you guys create?

“It really depends, we all bring a certain amount to the table. Our guitarist probably writes two thirds of stuff, he brings the foundation to rehearsal. We dissect songs and re-piece sounds together, we still have songs that we’ve been working on since the Poetry Diaries. We have one riff that we’ve been trying to get out of, that we can get into, but never get out of. We’ve been trying for like four years. Some songs will come in. There’s a song, Heaven in her Arms, that is on Jane Doe that I remember Nate wrote and called me up on a Sunday afternoon at home and said I just wrote this song, so he played it on guitar over the telephone and it was the exact song to a key for 3 and half minutes. It was exactly what it needed to be. But sometimes is it that sort of thing and other ideas that will gel better in the studio, that take more refining in the studio. But we don’t write in the studio, we practice in the studio. It’s real easy for us to demo material and work on things a lot. We are much more fortunate than other bands, we just set up four room mics and record to 2 inch tape and sit down and have something better than most records when it’s our practice tape. We are just working on our next album and the writing process has been really smooth so far, all of us bring a certain element. We all play but we don’t overplay.”

Since you all have a certain input, what would you say your influences are when you’re creating music?

“Again we all bring music to the table, we all write, and have written before. We all can play each other’s instruments, so it’s not really an issue. I bring all the lyrical and visual content to the table, and I give everyone a sort of approval. They all have input but they usually give me free reign since they trust my judgment if there’s something I want to do, what my vision is and what I’m going through during those times.”

So there’s a good trust within the band.
“We’ve been doing it so long, there should be.”

Well you’ve been playing for eleven years now, how are the old man knees holding up?
“Oh they’re terrible. They’re destroyed! One of them is swollen beyond belief but whatever you deal with it.”

So how do you keep it going for so long? Show after show there’s an amazing amount of intensity.
“You just don’t care. You get in a zone, you don’t really think about it honestly. Well you think about it, back there when we were loading the van me and Nate were sitting there saying, “yeah I need a knee replacment.” But I have one fake knee, so I only have one that’s a bother and I dislocated it last tour. And things happen, and you mess yourself up but it doesn’t matter. As long as I can still get up I don’t care. The point is you only live once, so you might as well do it right. So I don’t really care.”

Well I’ve been working on this photo project and I’ve been asking a lot of bands what the hardcore scene means to them.
“Ultimately it’s free expression; it’s an open forum. It’s more music than anything; a long time ago I realized the hardcore scene, for the most part, is full of shit. When you break it down, it’s just hardcore. But is hardcore? It has evolved just as rock music has evolved, hardcore at one point stood for a no frills approach to music but that can be said about a variety of rock bands or hip hop acts to electronic art. I don’t really think it’s evolving anymore in that terminology. I think what’s more important is sincere expression, art that is unadulterated, stuff that is pure and solid. That’s the most important part.”

I try to bring that to my artwork as well.
“It’s just that. If it’s pure, polished pop art. Great, if that’s exactly what you want to do. But personally, I’m not a fan of watering down content of anything for something to be tolerable and that’s when music and art starts to become safe. And music, art, and expression shouldn’t be safe, it should be.”

You’re taking a risk when you create art.

“Exactly, you’re putting yourself on the table so why should it be safe? I think that’s reflective in music as well. That;s why I don’t think of hardcore as hardcore really means much anymore. Hell, I saw Ringworm last night and they were amazing. I wouldn’t call Ringworm a hardcore band, they are hard as hell but jesus Christ, they look like Venom. No, it’s awesome. Leather pants and everything. I know when you see us now, we just don’t give a shit anymore. We’re just coming out looking stupid.”

And you got these guys that are putting so much into it, coming out in leather pants.
“But that was awesome, they were amazing. So are we hardcore? Was that hardcore? Is Saves the Day hardcore? I don’t know, it’s just all rock. Everyone has their own specific personality that they do and wouldn’t say it’s definable by anything except it’s heart. Ringworm were awesome and they have heart. I would like to think we do, Hatebreed has it, and I would like to think every band that is under the umbrella does.”

Yeah thank you so much, that was great.

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