On a Monday in one of my classes a friend asked me "So how was that concert on the weekend? What was the band like?" I was a little unsure of how to answer. How am I supposed to describe Converge to someone who has no previous experience or understanding of what Converge is? I don't think I answered her question very well because I wasn't sure how to give her an accurate description or answer in a few words. Maybe that is what makes Converge what they are; feelings personified rather than just another band.
This interview with Jake and the pictures are from Saturday, October 16th.
Steve: I'm wondering about the move to Epitaph. I read in an interview that getting to be a bigger band isn't really a goal for Converge so why go with that label? Why not be on Deathwish or any other label? I think that a lot of people would consider you guys to be a band that doesn't need a huge label in the sense that you have such a strong fan base that it's going to follow you wherever you go.
Jake: Yeah some people would definitely think that and would feel that Deathwish could handle a Converge record. In some ways we could, but our schedules are so tight with obligations to the artists with the label already that it would be a conflict of interest if we worked with Deathwish at this point. Deathwish simply does not have the ability and people power to handle that right now with us (Jake and Tre) traveling and touring and stuff like that. Right now there are seven people at Deathwish, two of which are myself and Tre who is here right now, and Thomas over there (selling merch). Tre and I still work pro bono and we don't get paid and we don't have any desire to; we just work our asses off 40-50 hours a week at Deathwish just to champion the bands and the music they are doing. I just don't think it would work. There were certainly other labels that we talked to but, but with us being a band right now and being a band for so long, one of our main goals and issues was to be on a worldwide label. Usually labels will have a European office, but it might only be just one person who is making phone calls and stuff like that. So we were looking for somebody who could be there for us responsibly and ethically and still get records out there. With that in mind, it was so fitting. Epitaph is one of the only independent labels in North America that is still independently distributed in North America and in Europe and stuff. They are still doing it by their own rulebook that they wrote themselves and they have had a great amount of success with that. Also, in the past number of years they have become a very diverse label and their quality of releases has grown considerably. I think the fact that we can be on the same label as Sage Francis, The Locust, Nick Cave, The Black Keys, Bad Religion, Hot Water Music, and The Dropkicks is cool because we are all pulling from the same sort of emotional well. Those people are all still doing it for the right reasons, having fun doing it, and hopefully touching people while they do it. So our main issue was to find an ethically sound label that could get our records out there worldwide, so Epitaph became the obvious choice for us. When Dillinger did that EP with them; that really tested the waters for us. We are really close with DEP so we talked to them and any inklings, fears, or misconceptions we had were already broken down before we ever became friends with the people over at the label. For us trying to stay with any of the mid-level independent labels would have meant that we would have tried to become larger or marketed in a specific way that we don't want to be. We want to a band that plays our music and that's it: No agenda, no nonsense, just play music and get it out there to people. We don't want to do giant festival tours or have any aspirations to be 'rock stars' or 'punk rock stars' or 'cultural icons' in some way. We don't want to be wealthy, we just want to go out there and play our music to people and that's it. That's why there is very little difference between myself, you, the band members, and our audience. I think we are one of the few bands who still hold onto those traits and commendable values.
Steve: Can you see Converge expanding its fan base more? There are people who totally love you guys, but I think that there are a lot of people who just turned off by your music because of how abrasive it is.
Jake: Yeah we are an abrasive band and we certainly make no apologies for that. We come from an aggressive Hardcore/Punk/metal background and that's what we enjoy playing. Our direct inspiration comes from bands like Black Flag, The Accused, and Starkweather, Exhumed, and stuff like that. None of those bands are at all forgiving in what they do and a lot of them are in fact are what is considered the antithesis of metallic Hardcore. They are abrasive, unpolished, pure, and unbridled; I love and cherish that. I would say that some people could be scared off by that, so below the first level of trashy noise that our music is at times -- although be it technical or poetic in our eyes -- it may not come off that way to other people. But if they take the time to see the depth in our art -- as well as other band's art, music, and lyrical writing -- they can get past that and see it for the raw emotion that it is. It's a learning process and I don't expect someone who is new to the community to immediately accept us if they are a fan of traditional Hardcore or Punk or metallic Hardcore or something that is more commercially acceptable. But I think that in time when people start searching for more music and art and creativity with substance then there are a wealth of bands that can be approached and listened to.
Steve: I notice how diverse the crowd is that comes out and I wonder what do you think causes that?
Jake: I think that it's because there are so many people out there who are searching for musical substance. Especially in the Punk rock community today, you have so much music that is being created for the sole purpose of financial gain or promotion of success under the guise of Punk Rock and Hardcore that is the least form of pure. You have some of the most insincere bullshit that is being created now and it's being considered the contemporary of a lot of other bands and, to me, I find that insulting. I think that as listeners mature -- and I'm not saying age -- after a year or two of being into music, you start searching for something with substance. You think "Wow, I had this gateway into the community and I'm not really digging those bands now. There has got to be something else out there that emotionally moves me." This community is about understanding and evolution I think that everyone here is on a quest for that both as listeners and as supporters of bands.
Steve: You said earlier that that there are bands in this community that are here to make money or whatever. Does that scare you for the future of Hardcore?
Jake: It doesn't actually scare me because I know that Hardcore and Punk Rock in it's truest form -- the form that I love, the form that we (Converge) are, and the form that I've always existed in -- is the antithesis to that and is the good fight against the bad fight. It is the raw music and the unpolished presentation of this community that, in my opinion, it should be and that is always going to exist. This community is so reactionary that it will always exist because it doesn't matter if you have 300 bands that start melding melodic singing with mosh parts under the guise of some commercial hit. There is always going to be an ugly, yet beautiful Punk rock monster that is going to be emotionally bare and that emotion is going to come out.
Steve: Earlier you said how you didn't want to be a 'punk rock star' or whatever you want to call it. Do you find it strange that some people consider you an icon or something like that within Hardcore because of what you've done with the band or your artwork or Deathwish or whatever reason? Do you find that strange at all or do you feel comfortable with it?
Jake: I think that it starts becoming an icon situation if you run from it or if you shelter yourself from it or stop communicating with the people that are the foundation for everything that this community is. I cherish the fact that they let our music and our experiences to infiltrate and be a positive in their lives. Music is all of our best friends in this community and as cliché as it is. In the movie Almost Famous they talk about how music is their best friend, and that it lives in your car, and that it's there at your lowest point, when you're falling out of love, or dealing with personal tragedies it is always going to be there. We are a band and even though we write the music that's self expressive and rooted around our personal lives, we have a responsibility to be able to communicate with the people that support us and allow us to be in their lives. So it's flattering that people would consider myself, or our band, to be that in some way, but we're just like anybody else. When I'm out spending time after a show with people who have come out to support our band then I am there with likeminded individuals and talking to them about their experiences and thanking them for their time. I think that it starts becoming an icon or rock star thing when you start putting yourself on a different level and create and upper echelon and a 'just the people' mentality because we are all just the same.
Steve: I see that you always say you want to keep the band 'relevant.' What does relevant mean to the band?
Jake: I always say that we'll be a band that writes and releases music that is relevant to us. By that I mean writing stuff that is musically challenging and exciting and emotionally fulfilling: that's what I mean by relevant. Without that you are just playing a role or character and you see that in so many bands that are aging or bands that just come out of the gate with no substance to begin with and are just walking a line, playing a role, and method acting. There is no emotion in that and no heart in that. But that is also a reason why we don't tour every two months like a lot of bands do. One of our main goals is to live our lives as people and to have life experiences because our music is rooted in that. This music is an outlet for that and without it, our music has no substance; so then we would have no reason to write. Living our lives is what generates the songs so without that there is nothing to say... (Interrupted by a friend of Jake's leaving) So without things like that friendship, we have nothing to write about.
Steve: I've seen in a couple interviews that you said when writing Jane Doe you were hoping to get closure and that didn't happen with the release of that record. With You Fail Me, would you consider that to be a continuing goal and would you even consider closure to be something that is attainable? It could be something that some people might look at in the same way as perfection.
Jake: I think that closure is completely attainable and I think I reached closure when I started writing material for this record. Not straight through that, but also through a lot of soul searching and a great deal of conversation with family and friends and also spending time alone. We started writing Jane when I was at a really turbulent time in my life and when we just entered the studio my life was just sort of imploding and exploding on me. All of a sudden the foundation of all that I had for five years was completely gone. At an age between twenty and twenty-five, it's a pretty important age and I had a lot of life experience that was just thrown in the garbage, and not by me. It was out of my control and there was no way I could resolve that. So I was really lost when we started touring and then through that I did a lot of searching and growing. Writing Jane Doe was about the hope and desperation that I was trying to search for I thought would help but it didn't. I thought I'd feel better and go "Hey, yeah that's just another chapter in my life." It was emotionally fulfilling in the sense that I did it, but I did feel any better. I was still just as angry, self destructive, and fell into a very depressed state to the point that I wouldn't function. If I wasn't on tour then I was locked in my house and that is what I did for two and a half years. My friends were Tre and my dogs, and that's it. I would go to band practice and then I'd go home and that would be it. So when I started this record I was really angry because I wanted that closure but I didn't have it and I wanted to figure out why. So on the Jane Doe tour I did so much soul searching and so much writing; I also lived so much and closed so much as well. I realized that I could not longer carry that anger and that it was only killing me because I was prolonging a pain that I didn't need in my life and I chose to live everyday instead of die every day. So I decided to write something that was positive and uplifting for me and I drew a line in the sand, if you will, and said "Alright, no more. Nothing is crossing this line anymore." At that point I looked around in my life and there was some really crazy stuff going on. It made me think about the family and friends that were in my life and going through tough times and how I was letting them down by being in this depressed state and just being lost in myself and not being able to help them by being what a friend or a family member should be. To me, I was failing them completely and entirely so I needed to step up and be responsible because even though I didn't see it, they were there for me and I needed to recognize that and give back to them. So I was writing this record at a point when I was seeing all these faults and failures that I was seeing around me and in myself, my friends, my family, and my loved ones and all the experiences that were really effecting me. I was in a cocoon and I needed to get out of it. So when I got out of it I was so angry and I saw all my friends and loved ones were so weak and I wanted to do something for them; whether that was physically help them or emotionally motivate them, I have to do something. So I did as much as I could and these songs are songs about their failure and my failure and learning how to empower ones self. I would say that this record has a very positive message in that.
Steve: Because of the design elements of the Converge releases being such an important part of the whole package, does it bother you -- other than loss of record sales - that people will download your records and not get the entire package, but only have a burnt CD?
Jake: Albums are meant to be experienced as albums. Just because you download a record doesn't mean that you have a whole record, the experience, or the full emotional picture of what you are supposed to experience with an album. Whether it's minimal art or something that is extravagant, it needs to be there and has a purpose. At least in a successful album it has a purpose when thought is put into all those elements and we as a band have always championed that. Music, or a rock band for better terminology, is the best and most successful form of art in my opinion. You have the power of music, and that in it's self is a very empowering and thing. You have the power of prose and writing and lyrical power. You have the power of visuals and the power of art. If you want to get even more minimal about it, you have the power of recording as well and how it is recorded and how it's going to sound. Those four elements are massive and all by themselves they are massive as well. In a Punk or rock band situation, they are all there. So how can you experience an album without that? How can you know what an album is without that? I think that our audience understands that. I think that if someone is new to experiencing our community and us as a band then they quickly learn that it is a very big deal to be there and experience all of those elements.
Steve: If you had to choose between doing Converge, Deathwish, or doing your art, what would be your pick?
Jake: I don't think I would chose. I've spent over half my life in this community in some way; either in this band or going to shows and participating in that when I was a kid. By just being an active person in the community it would be really hard to pick one because they are all related in some way because they are all labors of love in some way. The band is a very emotional thing for me and it's very fulfilling for me in that respect because it's a very personal thing for me. Deathwish is personal but it's more of a political fight or ethical fight within the community and serves a very different purpose than a label. Although it's a labor of love, it's a very different thing than writing or playing live. Creating art for the band and for my own personal work is very different than what I do for client work for certain other bands or things like that. Although I enjoy my clients and love them dearly and put everything I have into them, it's not a personal thing for me; it's just what I do for them. The only band so far that has been personal for me other than Converge has been American Nightmare. Working for AN was a very powerful thing for me because I'm very close to those guys and they were one of the most important Hardcore bands of the past 15 years and one of the most emotionally powerful bands. To be part of that from it's inception to its last days was a very beautiful and rewarding thing for me. So those three things are all separate, but related entities for me. I think that if I had to choose regular life and do what everyone else does in the world or non-regular life which is this, I would choose to always be involved in this community in some way. I couldn't not be involved in this because it is one of those pure and beautiful things are out there. If I had to choose something, I would chose something and stay involved in at least some way. I know that everything has a limited lifespan and I'm definitely not a romantic and picture myself at 65 years old and playing Converge music in a live setting. That just won't be there. The goal is to leave your mark and be as a productive and positive influence as you can.
By Stephen Fallis