Converge doesn't really need an introduction. Most anyone who is even slightly familiar with the world of aggressive music is familiar with their name and bleak and neck-breakingly heavy sound. It's doubtful that the "you either love it or hate it" tag better applies to another band, and most who have encountered Converge's ever-evolving but always furious technical din are as fixed to their verdict as they are to their position on abortion. Although Converge's cult-like following (their official Website is actually www.convergecult.com) and many critics insist they are one of the most influential extant bands in hardcore, most of the band's abrasive constructions are far beyond the reach of the average mosh-metal outfit. Simply put, not many people can pull this shit off. This is especially true concerning 2001's cathartic masterpiece JANE DOE, where the violence of "Concubine" and "Heaven in Her Arms" explodes with frantic energy, propelling the darkest and most personal aspects of vocalist Jacob Bannon's life to the forefront by the shovelful. Converge is certainly unique in it's ability to bring Bannon's emotional wreckage to life with such vivid sincerity and conviction. Bannon wears his battered heart and soul on his sleeve throughout Converge's catalogue, often projecting his poetry through his notorious shredding and panther-like growl. He's not a vocalist who writes lyrics because the standard conception of a rock band requires him to: he does so because he has a burning message to communicate. There's a distinct difference between whining about your girlfriend's haircut and the profound veracity of a line like "I'll take my love to the grave" ("The Broken Vow"). That same unbridled intensity and flawless execution is channeled into YOU FAIL ME, Converge's fourth true full-length (which is their first release for the legendary Epitaph imprint, following their split from Equal Vision earlier this year). And while YOU FAIL ME isn't a total departure from the roaring whirlwind of JANE DOE (fast and fiery tracks such as "Black Cloud" and "Eagles Become Vultures" seem like B-sides from that album), YOU FAIL ME sees Converge trying new and impressive things, such as the record's lone and hauntingly quiet guitar intro, "First Light", and the subdued acoustic strumming of "In Her Shadow".
SKRATCH recently sent a list of questions to the always busy Bannon (who is also an in-demand graphic designer and cornerstone of the Deathwish Inc. label) via e-mail.
SKRATCH: How has life been treating you recently?
JACOB: I've been doing alright. I keep myself fairly busy by habit with creative projects, as well as helping run the Deathwish label.
SKRATCH: I know you made the move from Equal Vision to Epitaph not long ago. What prompted this decision? Why not Deathwish?
JACOB: After JANE DOE was released, our obligations to Equal Vision, in our opinion, 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 that we were no longer comfortable with Equal Vision and that a new label home was needed. After months of talking amongst ourselves, we decided that there were only a few labels that we would feel comfortable with being a part of. Epitaph was actually our first choice [...] 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. Although it would have been great to release future albums with Deathwish, we felt that it would be difficult to balance the label and band worlds responsibly. It made more sense to find a supportive outside party.
SKRATCH: I imagine you're quite busy with Converge, as well as with your design career. What made you decide to start your own record label?
JACOB: The label was founded out of emotional and ethical necessity. At the time when we started the label, there no longer was an ethically sound label releasing diverse aggressive music. Labels either immersed themselves in the DIY ethic and had no forward movement or they simply left it behind when major-label influence and accessibility reared its ugly head. Our goal was (and still is) to exist as an ethically sound independent label, yet still to create the highest quality releases possible. We are growing and succeeding. When we started the label, emotionally I needed a place to immerse myself, to lose myself but be productive with my efforts. The label gave me that sense of fulfillment and still does today.
SKRATCH: Try to summarize YOU FAIL ME both musically and thematically. How does this record relate to JANE DOE?
JACOB: When we released JANE DOE, I felt that I would have a sense of closure. After all, the album was a massive purging for me. In the end, I didn't feel any better---there was no clarity in it for me. At that point, I continued to write and continued to do a great deal of soul searching. In that I found so much failure in myself, friends, and loved ones. These are our songs of failure---how we fail each other and how we fail ourselves. It's about standing up and taking responsibility. It's about facing that demon. It's about putting the practice of living in front of the act of dying every day. It's about surviving.
SKRATCH: Is Jane Doe a real person, a metaphor, or both?
JACOB: Both. You can read past interviews for a more in-depth answer.
SKRATCH: Your songs are deeply personal and many times (to point out the obvious) angry. Would you describe yourself as an angry person?
JACOB: Music and art is my outlet. With that you see a depth and an anger. I don't see myself as an angry person.
SKRATCH: Do you have an opinion regarding violence at shows, such as moshing, etc.? Do you think hardcore bands such as Hatebreed encourage violence?
JACOB: If our friends in Hatebreed encourage violence, then we do, as well. I feel both of us draw from a similar well of emotion. However, I disagree with your assumption that any of us encourage violence. If anything, we both encourage triumph in the face of adversity, as well as respect for those who warrant it.
SKRATCH: What is the status of the band's plan to re-record and re-release PETITIONING THE EMPTY SKY and WHEN FOREVER COMES CRASHING?
JACOB: Just remixing, remastering, and repackaging. We are in the process of completing that project.
SKRATCH: What technique do you use for your screaming voice? Have your vocal chords ever been damaged?
JACOB: There's no technique, really. You learn your limits, and you coexist with them.
SKRATCH: What instruments can you play? What role do you typically play in shaping Converge's music?
JACOB: I can play guitar, bass, and drums pretty well. At this point in the band, we all bring something to the table musically.
SKRATCH: Your video for "Concubine/Fault and Fracture" is stunning. Are you planning on filming any new videos for the new record?
JACOB: We have plans for video for this album. We will be shooting this fall with Zach Merck.
SKRATCH: Tell me a little bit about your new project, Dear Lover.
JACOB: Dear Lover is primarily recordings I've been making at home for the past two years. There is a large mass of material now. At this point I am just working toward refining the material and shaping it into cohesive releases. The music is fairly dark and minimal.
SKRATCH: What do you enjoy doing most when you're not working on art or music?
JACOB: Spending time with my dogs.
SKRATCH: How long have you been actively creating visual art and doing design work?
JACOB: I've been creating visual art since I was a kid. I've been doing design work since 1995.
SKRATCH: How often do you write (i.e., the written word)?
JACOB: Every day.
SKRATCH: What was your first tattoo? At what age did you get it?
JACOB: My first tattoo has since been covered. I first was tattooed when I was 15 years old.
SKRATCH: Do you have a steady artist who works on you?
JACOB: There have been a variety of people who have worked on me: Mike Lussier, Don Lussier, Grez, Jef Whitehead, King Ron, Adam Barton, Darren Brass, Thomas Hooper, and more.
SKRATCH: What are you planning on having done next?
JACOB: There are many ongoing projects.
SKRATCH: What do you feel makes life worth living?
JACOB: Love. Friendship. Family.
SKRATCH: What's next for Converge, and how much of the Converge story remains to be written?
JACOB: We'll continue as long as we feel we have something relevant to create and to express.
Thank you for your time. Converge will be knocking over clubs nationwide this fall when they hit the long road to support YOU FAIL ME with Cave In and Between the Buried and Me.
By Dave Kargol