I don't think I need to tell anyone who Converge is. Suffice to say they are an incredible band who has come a long way in the many years they've been together. Stylistically, musically and lyrically, they have consistently been one of the most influential forces in american hardcore, and around the world. Nex month, they will unveil their new album, "You Fail Me" on an unsuspecting public and show everyone what heavy music is supposed to sound like. I talked to Converge vocalist/lyricist Jake Bannon about the new album, the new label, his work as a visual artist, and what it's like to be the busiest man in hardcore. (Graham)
ATN: The move to Epitaph records definitely came as a shock to many people. What influenced your choice to go with them as opposed to other labels where Converge might have fit in better (ie: relapse)?
JAKE: We viewed our label selection process as a simple one. We wanted to find a permanent worldwide home that we viewed as supportive of their individual artist. As importantly, we needed this home to be independent as possible and ethically sound.
There were some labels mentioned by all of us but in the end we chose to work with Epitaph. For us it was the most supportive environment for that we could exist in. They are an artist founded label that is as diverse as they come as far as labels go. Their roster is awe inspiring at times: The Locust, Black Keys, Nick Cave, Turbonegro, Atmosphere, etc. This quality and diversity is very important to us. Keeping that kind of artistic company is truly an honor for us as a band.
You mentioned Relapse. Relapse is a label more rooted in extreme metal. Although we appreciate and respect a great many bands in that world, we are not one of those bands. We were also looking for a worldwide label home. Ie: One label to work with, no licensing, etc. This also eliminated many labels from our decision making.
ATN: Due to the fact that Converge's sound isn't as outright marketable as other bands on the label, are you concerned at all that Epitaph might have a tough time figuring out what to do with this record?
JAKE: That's certainly a challenge for any label that attempt to distribute non-commercial music and art. Epitaph understand us as a creative entity, and that understanding goes a long way. We don't view success as attainable marketability, but just by making honest music and art. That's success, not sound scans.
ATN: You Fail Me is now completed. What was the recording process for this album like?
JAKE: It was a fairly smooth process for us. We gave ourselves about 6 weeks to complete the recording process. Godcity, where we did much of the tracking for the album is just blocks away from Nate and myself (Kurt lives there at t he studio), so it was very convenient for us to get there. This helped cut down on the stress level that can come with recording. No long commutes, no outside influences. This allowed us to stay focused like we've never really been able to before while recording.
Most loud music recordings are bland and devoid of the actual character that defines a band. For us, that style of recording is the enemy. Our goal was to record an album that was as raw and abrasive as our live performance. Although we attempted that with "Jane..." there are elements on that album that felt artificial to us. This recording was a much more successful attempt.
ATN: You once described the theme of Jane Doe as an album about being a victim of circumstance. How would you describe You Fail Me, thematically?
JAKE: After "Jane..." was recorded and released, I thought I was going to feel the emotional burden I was carrying lift from my shoulders. I mean, it all made sense, or at least I thought. I had all the puzzle pieces there in front of me. Outlets bring closure, or at least that's what I thought. With that I put myself out on the line looking for an emotional resolve with "Jane..." and it never came. When the album was released I didn't feel any better, nothing was changed. My depression kept collapsing on itself.
At that point I stopped hoping and searching and I took a long hard look at my life and at my heart. I did a huge amount of soul searching and found so much failure within myself. That discovery was a massive realization. As I started to see clear again, I also saw the failure in friends and loved ones around me. How we fail each other, and how we fail ourselves. These are songs of failure. And ultimately, surviving self destruction and tragedy we all face in our lives.
ATN: How was the process of writing lyrics for this record in comparison to past efforts?
JAKE: I write quite a bit, so the process wasn't all too different. If anything lyrically the album is much darker, much more angry than previous albums.
ATN: Converge had the chance to play at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in the UK recently, which is kind of a big deal because it's alongside bands that you wouldn't normally get the chance to share the stage with (Mogwai, Tortoise, etc). How did you guys end up on the bill, and how was the experience of playing the festival?
JAKE: We were invited by Mogwai to play ATP. Mogwai have been supporters of Converge for quite awhile. When they were tapped to create the lineup for ATP, they wanted to include us and got in touch with. It was (and still is) an honor for us to be included in a lineup with Lungfish, Turbonegro, Cat Power, Mogwai, etc. Playing, it was a different kind of energy than we are used to, but it was really great to a part of it.
ATN: Converge built part of its reputation on the band's intensity live, and this kind of cathartic, emotional give and take with the audience. Now that the band is getting more and more successful, and you're having to play larger and larger venues, do you ever find that some of that gets lost?
JAKE: We generally try not to play large venues. Every time we have, we feel a bit out of our element. Likely will play fewer and fewer larger shows because of this. We would rather play two nights in a city in a small venue, than one in a large venue.
ATN: Deathwish Inc. has quickly grown into one of the most respected labels in hardcore at the present moment, and it doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. You've even slightly delved into publishing recently. Is publishing something you would ever want to expand into fully, either through Deathwish or with another company?
JAKE: Deathwish as a company was founded to be able to be an umbrella for a variety of different kinds of projects. Releasing music being the main focus of that for us. Books have been something we've been wanting to do since we started. I am currently working with Wes Eisold on his first book. The book is entitled "Death Beds" and is a collection of all his writings, lyrics and prose, during his time in American Nightmare. His impact and influence on independent music was and still is massive. This book will be a celebration of that.
ATN: You're currently working on a website for your visual work. Tell us about this, and when can we expect it to be finished?
JAKE: I've been a visual artist since 1995. I've been so busy with projects that I have never been able to create an online portfolio of my work. Recently I've been making efforts to finish one. Hopefully it will launch by the end of August.
ATN: With so much on your plate, a friend of mine recently described you as "hardcore's P. Diddy". Would you say that's an accurate statement right now?
JAKE: Life is forward movement for me. A friend of mine said that like a shark and I need to keep moving. I see some of that kind of behavior in me.
ATN: Top five bands that everyone should check out
1 Blacklisted - A fantastic HC band
2 Leviathan - Powerful SF area black metal
3 Growing - Epic and building music
4 Battles - Technical yet listen-able post everything
5 The classics: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Slayer
ATN: What's the most important thing you've learned from being in Converge, and being involved in hardcore?
JAKE: Leave your mark.