Here’s the mostly-raw transcript from my interview with Jacob Bannon, of the out-of-control great band Converge. I edited inaudible parts that didn’t change the context of sentences, and my own stupid questions, because I can do that.
That up there is a picture of Jacob singing, courtesy of XAHHX.
M: Where are you guys right now?
J: Right now I’m in my home at my basement studio just kinda working on some art. I have a painting for a friend that I did and unfortunately I have to do a little bit more work to so I’m just finishing that right now for him.
M: What’s the painting for, if I may ask?
J: This is his personal Jane Doe, I made a series of Jane Doe paintings a while back, and did some for some friends, and a friend wants his now. I just have to make sure it’s one hundred percent, just getting it ready to ship to him now.
M: When do you leave for tour?
J: We leave next week, next Friday, I think? I don’t even know, to be honest, it’s been a little busy—it always tends to be. I tend to wait to the last minute to think about tours and whatnot, just kind of preparing for them and stuff like that. I have some notes in my head but I haven’t really thought much about the travel bit or anything like that.
M: What kind of preparation goes into you guys heading out?
J: Number one, getting our van ready to go. Stuff like that, going out making sure everything’s mechanically sound. You’re putting a lot of mileage on a vehicle really quick, and we don’t really have time for any mechanical problems that occur. It’s a positive and a negative—we like to work, to be out there touring, playing shows to people, but in order to do that we have to drive a lot. We don’t take any days off, we’re traveling. If we have a day off, more often than not, a day off is a travel day. We don’t really have time to just hang out, anything like that. So, we’re doing that and physically making sure we’re pretty much ready to go. I’m a pretty in shape guy, I like to stay active, I train Western boxing and Muay Thai a lot, five days a week, my cardio’s in good shape, but I start running and stuff like that before tour, if possible. I’ve been doing that—I’ve been trying to do about five miles a day right now, that’s my goal, if I can do that then I can probably play a show for an hour and scream at the top of my lungs.
M: Is there a lot of physical preparation just keep in shape for the show every night?
J: Well yeah, the older you get the more aware you kind of have to be, you know? We’re not 18 years old anymore, we want to make sure that we’re in the best possible shape we can be in order to play. It’s funny, on one tour a couple of years ago I put in one—I had one of those little contraptions that you can put on your, or in your shoe or wear on your wrist that tells you how for you’re traveling—I put one in my shoe before we played, and I ran about three miles on stage, in an hour. And it’s like a 25 foot space, if you run back and forth that much, if you’re performing … it’s a challenge for sure.
M: It’s way more physical than you even thought
J: We’re used to it now, but I would say for other bands, for some people who don’t realize how physical it is, how intense it can be, from that kind of standpoint. It’s a lot of work.
M: How has your relationship with Converge as a band changed over the years?
J: I don’t see it change much, to be honest. We’re still the same band we’ve always been, still the same guys, for better or worse, we’re still [glad we get to play music?] It really hasn’t changed, that feeling I got when I was 14 or 15 years old, is the same, the same kind of vibe. That never really changes, you know? And we’re not a career-oriented band, you know.
With that said we always, I think our vision of the band, what we are is a very pure thing. So yeah, I don’t know, for me, honestly, it’s a pretty bad answer, I guess, but it doesn’t really change. We’re writing music that I like, that means something to me, that’s challenging on a variety of levels.
M: So you’re relationship with the band has stayed the same with band over the years?
J: Yeah, exactly, it hasn’t changed it all.
M: Why release with Epitaph still, and not on your own label, Deathwish?
J: Epitaph treats us very well, they do a great job for us. Deathwish is the label where I started and it’s a home to a wide variety of bands, not just my own. We release music from my band, for sure, but we never wanted just to be the Converge label or something like that. With that said, I get a lot of bands that depend on us to do stuff, and I would never want to put my band before them. We talked about it, and all of us were wishing we’d stay.
So yeah, we have a good relationship, we work together with them on the vinyl, the Converge merch, and the touring thing as a band, and I really can’t complain. The kind of adversarial relationship a lot of bands have with their record label, we don’t have. Mainly it’s because our expectations are pretty realistic. We work hard just like a lot of bands do, we just know that our job is to create music and to create songs and release music from time to time, and we generally do it our way as far as promoting things. We’re very specific, but I don’t think we’re that—as I said before, I think we’re realistic.
It’s kind of been a cool thing to be anti-label, over the last five or six years, and I ask the bands that we’re friends with that have that stance, why, what’s your damage, why do you feel that way? And most of them don’t have a straight answer. Most of them want to be vehemently independent, and that’s great, our band is as well, we do most things ourselves aside from actually distributing and manufacturing our records, and some of those we do ourselves, but the other bands that we talk to are making corporate sponsorships, getting money from things that are outside of music, and things to me are becoming clouded at that point, you know? At that point you’re still—like, I don’t want soft drink companies repping my band, you know? They don’t understand my band, they don’t care about my band, they don’t care about my art or what we’re trying to communicate or the legacy that we’re trying to build, so, I don’t know, when somebody like Brett [Ed. note: Brett?} whose an artist himself, he’s been in bands, longer than we’ve been a band, he wants us to be who we are, and I think that’s a pretty rare thing. We stay loyal when it comes to that sort of thing.
M: How have you seen the distribution of albums changing over the years? You guys just posted your entire album on Youtube, for example.
J: We’ve never been a band that’s been marketable, you know, and for conservative—we’re a band that doesn’t sell a lot of records, people think we’re a giant band because we’ve been around for a long time, but we’re not. We’re just a fuckin’ band, you know? We’ve never been a band that’s been popular in record stores, I guess. We’ve never been a band that’s had that kind of relationship with retail, so with retail dying—for the most part—it doesn’t really affect us.
M: So why not just put it online?
J: Well, we put it online, you know Deathwish has an e-store that we run and my best friend is my partner in Deathwish and my wife does mail-order. We’re a small business. We still process a few hundred orders a day, and do things that way, and to me that’s an important connection, and that’s the who we’ve been kind of drawn towards, even Epitaph, they run Q through it, that’s their E-Store sort of spinoff and that’s ran by a friend of ours who was in a band called Martyr for a long time, and Disembodied, and a friend of ours from Hope Con works there, [inaud] from Strike Anywhere works there, its all bands working for bands. People tend to forget that sort of thing, so they get adversarial about, get catty about things, “why should order from this label, why should I,” but it’s artists working for artists, it’s a community, that’s what it’s about. Well, without that and like a minimal stream of capital, we couldn’t pay for music. It exists and every day costs money, to live and breathe costs money, never mind trying to create something. It all has a minimal expense to it. So, to answer your question, I don’t know, we like where we’re at with the record label, we like where we’re at with our relationship to all these things, no reason to change it.
They have a different relationship with music than we do, you know? Something that’s really important is that we create from our perspective, the songs are from our perspective, so the way we create music is coming from the thirteen year old, the fourteen year old us. We didn’t have the ability to sample a few hundred or a few thousand records in a day. That just didn’t exist for us.
We want our music to be experienced on a level that’s a little more engaging. I think downloading is fine, I think people should be able to listen to music and experience it on their own terms, but again, it’s just something, there’s a key thing that’s missing there. I find it to be kind of perplexing and a little troubling that being an artist and a musician—it’s the only livelihood that you have to constantly defend to be lower-middle class. I find that to be a strange thing, because yeah, sure, I would love to be able to create things for free and be able to give them out for free. That would be easy, there would be no expense, but it costs money to have these things. Everything from an internet connection, to get them out, the server space—even if you record things on your own, that costs money, instruments cost money. There needs to be some sort of economic string that supports any sort of community. We just don’t live in a utopian society that affords us the ability to live freely. How old are you, for example?
M: I’m 22.
J: Alright, you’re 22, how long has it been since you moved out of your parent’s house?
M: It’s been about four years.
J: Okay, so you’ve been on your own four years. I moved out of my parents house when I was 16 years old, and I’ve been on my own since, and I paid my way through school, I paid my way through college, I paid my apartments, I paid for my house, I paid to live, you know? I think a lot of the mentality that comes from these things is that people don’t have the kind of responsibility, they don’t have the immediate answer, you know, I think someone in your condition who’s a young adult, going through some shit, learning to exist and balance a regular job, I’m sure, or school, and things that you appreciate, and you realize what it’s like to have to sacrifice things. It’s tough and thankless to be a musician and an artist, but I love it and that’s my calling in life, so I kind of don’t care, I don’t complain about it, I put my head down and do it, but when I’m asked about it—it’s tough, I want people to have our music for free, I wish I could release ten records tomorrow for free, but I can’t, I still gotta pay to make them.
M: How have the visuals for the band changed with AWLWLB?
J: I always have a limited color pallette, that’s kind of me as an artist, or rather that’s me as a designer. I had an idea and design in my head for a while, and I approach a lot of things with my kind of perspective. I like limiting something to work within the confines of something. WIth this record I wanted to do that a little bit, with the cover I wanted to create something that was stark and simple, and I couldn’t think of anything more simple than two shapes. Square and circle, I’m breaking it down to some really simplistic forms and seeing how to orient it and how I’m displaying them. And if doing that makes them provocative and interesting calls to me as an individual then I hope it calls to other people.
But with the rest of the record I want to be free and wild, so I didn’t set up any rules, when I came to the rest of it, when I came to the end track versus the record—I wanted to make something and wild, that made it vibrant and wild .I don’t know if that was a reactionary thing to how I worked in the past, but I just like pushing myself, it’s fun to push yourself to do different things.
M: How did the recording of this album differ from the last?
J: Well, you know, we did the whole last record. If we wanted to, we could sit and make everybody’s favorite records, for whatever record is a favorite of theirs, in our catalog, over and over again, but that wouldn’t be fun for us. So, after we did a collaborative record, something we had wanted to do, we said “okay, let’s do something different. Let’s do a record with nobody. Nobody but us.” And we didn’t really think about it past that. We’re really reactionary, probably in a way that’s a bit immature, when it comes down to it. We just do what we want, so if of us says that and we say “hey that’s a cool idea, okay let’s just stick with it,” we don’t have to analyze, we just have to go “okay we’re a band, we’re four guys and we want to capture it live and we want to capture the essence of what we feel our band is, so let’s just do that.” So that’s what we did.
M: Did the audience’s expectations for this album affect your process in any way?
J: Well, you know, it’s nice to hear that people are [aware] for our music, or dig it in some way, but it’s not the goal. The goal is just to make a record that does that for us. So, every record that we’ve ever done does that for us, because we wouldn’t release a record that was half-assed, we wouldn’t release a record that we didn’t think was our best work up to that point in time. So, it’s a progression, no doubt. So, I think it would be weird if we didn’t continue that direction forward, as a band, it just wouldn’t be—if we didn’t feel that way about our music, we wouldn’t release it. We’re realistic, we’re not, you see some German guys who are like “this is our best record, you have to agree, we just put it out there, let people decide what it is for themselves, and if we continue doing that and doing it responsibly and continue progressing as we feel we should, people react to it, and that’s a great thing—but that’s never the goal. Yeah, it’s great to see these media outlets care about what these four weird guys from Massachusetts make, but it’s secondary. The moment that we write a song or record a record ourselves and aren’t moved by it when we listen back to it or when we play the songs for the first time together, that’s it. That’s all that matters, in the same way—I think people try to romanticize further than that, but it’s nothing more than that, and I think that’s why it maintains.
M: What if you start becoming dissatisfied with your work?
J: You won’t hear from us anymore. That’s it. The day that we’re no longer motivated to do this, we’re going to stop. It’s that easy, I think that’s a thing, too. Bands get really wrapped up in other aspects of the [music]. I mean don’t go “hey, we don’t really like each other, we’re not really writing songs together anymore that we want to or, you know, we don’t enjoy this process” and they just keep going for some reason, or [inad] like really violently, everyone hates each other. That’s just not our style, that’s—I think we’re a little more psychologically balanced than that and we respect each other to the point that we wouldn’t act like that, you know?
I think that from being together for so long and knowing each other for so long, even Ben, the newest member of our band has been in our band for 13 years. So, Nate, who came along prior to that, did I think 2 or 3 US tours with his other band opening for us before he joined our band, and that was back in 1997, you know, so we’re, we really are like family. I’ve known Kurt since I was a teenager, so we don’t hang out all the time, we don’t socially burn out on each other all the time, I think we respect each other’s boundaries in a lot of ways, I think that’s an important thing.
M: How do you feel about the intense appreciation for your records?
J: I’m just, I’m really appreciative of the fact that people are digging our record, digging what we’re still doing, as interested in it as ever.