CONVERGE's latest record, All We Love We Leave Behind, was released last month to near universal acclaim (including props from me in the Phoenix). It’d be easy enough to go all Chris Farley Show about each track on the album, “Remember that part on ‘Coral Blue’... that was awesome,” but picking vocalist and artist JACOB BANNON's brain on running Deathwish, the demise of Hydrahead, corporate sponsorship of tours, Self Defense Family’s tumblr and his favorite Cro-Mags record was far more tempting. Here's the uncut Q&A from our chat a few weeks before All We Love dropped. [Related: Kvelertak put rock in a chokehold]
In contrast to Axe to Fall, which featured numerous guest artists, the new record is just you four. Was that a conscious decision?
A little bit of a conscious decision, bit reactionary from working with a variety of people. The previous record was something we’d wanted to do for a long time, but you never want to repeat yourself. We’re always reactionary in the direction of our band. It made us wants to go back and be just a straight band for this record. We’ve been a band for a significant amount of time you try to find ways to excite yourself about the creative process.
How important was going for an organic sound?
With our band it’s always there, it sort of harkens back to our reactionary, at times adversarial, collective attitude. We see a lot of not only aggressive music being edited to the point where there’s almost no organic sound. There’s no happy accident, there’s no soulful energy. And that’s something people feel as players and show goers in a live setting. I think that’s the energy and experience people have after going to a show. We’re always attempting to capture that. Like I’m sure you go to concerts, when you go to concerts you’re dealing with so many heightened senses in that environment. You’re dealing with the music at the show, the physical movement, how other people around you are reacting, the sound slapping off the walls in lots of different directions, things just sound alive. There’s no way to fully capture that but we know that one of the strengths of our band is playing live. Trying to capture that kind of energy or at the very least trying to capture some of the qualities in our recordings by really going back to the organic sounds. Doing things as simple as possible is the way to do that. Ironically, it isn't just setting up a mic and playing, because you'll overdrive everything. It takes a lot of work to get an album to sound proper.
How do you guys approach commercial branding such as Scion’s sponsorship of independent music?
We played the first Scion festival they did in Atlanta a few years ago and for the most part it was a very positive experience. Keep in mind it’s not a bunch of automakers making decisions; they hire the same person who does PR for Vice records and things like that. So it is people that are involved in the community in some way. You’re not dealing with people who are removed.
And we just did that show, there really is no interaction with these corporate entities, and they don’t want it. There whole goal is to make some sort of connection with youth culture, the 18-35 demographic is something that is branded in all forms of music, Toyota doesn’t just sponsor heavy music they do hip-hop, independent art. Unfortunately we see positives and negative in it, however it’s the reality of how the music world operates now. And it’s direct connection to the fact that people have been downloading records for so long and there’s no substantial revenue in albums. All of the downloading has allowed corporate sponsorship of music to really take a stranglehold. I mean pretty soon you’re going to have commercials interrupting an album or playing at the beginning and end of them. I mean you already see it on YouTube, that’s the world we exist in because the music world cannot sustain itself on the model that exists currently. It’s a grim reality, but it is what it is.
As a band we don’t want to interact with corporations, we don’t want to be concerned with a fucking drink sponsoring a tour or something like that. As a band one of the only collective rules we ever had is we never want to do anything we wouldn’t want to see our favorite bands doing. So we’re not going to have that ongoing relationship with sponsors, unfortunately that puts us in a boat that has a lot of holes in it. We’d rather keep our music as pure as possible and align ourselves with businesses we feel comfortable associating with.
As someone who runs an independent heavy music label what were your thoughts when news broke on Hydrahead going under?
Again it’s a tough place. We started releasing music six years after Hydrahead so we came up when Napster was at its peak. So we’ve only known that turbulent atmosphere, and we’ve learned to co-exist with it and work with it in many ways. I think it’s very important to be realistic; the model that record labels had years ago was a horrible pro-profit anti-artist model. Major labels from the '60s to '90s... labels like Hydrahead did something really special; they came around released music that was not remotely commercially accessible. Unfortunately the audience wasn’t exactly willing to support that. For example if a record cost $10 you would follow basic retail mark-up to make it sellable and sometimes people weren’t comfortable paying $15-20 for a release or $7 for an EP but the reality was it was costing him a lot of money to create these things. In a way, the audience failed to support the label. And I don’t know who fails who at that point. All (founder Aaron Turner) was trying to do was stay true to a vision; you can’t fault him for that.
I did read things people wrote online I found troubling, where they’re like “Oh the records were expensive.” Well they were expensive because they cost a lot to make. Again it’s a direct connection to people not wanting to support the arts. You can only run up hill for so long. He’s going to continue pressing their catalog; I don’t know any record label that’s always in the black. We’ve been a record label since 1999 we’ve put our heart and soul into releasing like 150 records and still we can barely afford to pay a salary that I would even feel okay with for people to work here. We’re talking about adults who are working for nothing or as little as $10 and hour part time because it’s the best we can do. But we really have tons of work to be done, we wish we could have people here all the time working but the infrastructure’s not there because people aren’t buying records. It’s a tough place for artists and people trying to sell art as well
In such a hostile marketplace do bands have to take to social media and offer a direct connection to fans to stand out, Self Defense Family’s tumblr being one great example.
For some bands they choose not to interact with fans as part of their character. And it works for them. Then you have other people like Pat who you just mentioned who love the social connection and likes discussing things with people and in a way has the ability to use character and comedic wit to connect with people. I mean there’s probably people out there who wouldn’t have given SDF a chance just because they weren’t interested in searching for new music, but his personality shines so much that they checked out the art that he was making. Personally I appreciate honesty and open dialog, I just try to communicate with people as much as I can. We really do live in a world that is a bit turbulent and I don’t think there’s one right answer. I think whatever works for one artist it works. I’ve been asked for advice and it’s play music you love, do it the way you’d want to see it with other bands you’d appreciate and that’s it. It should never be about only growing the audience; it should be about just finding fulfillment being a creative person.
Do you think that philosophy is why Converge’s been so resilient when other bands that formed years after you guys are on their second and third reunion shows?
Sure, we do things on our own schedule and we do them the way we want them to be done. A lot of bands, like you alluded to, play the game; they go on touring cycles or they release records when their label tells them to and they subscribe to some sort of weird mentality that’s supposed to make them successful and popular. And all this other bullshit. That’s their goal, that’s their goal, but I think there’s more that fail than succeed in that. For us, just writing a song that we’re proud of as just four guys who get together and play music, if that’s what we consider success then we’re successful. Everything else is secondary. I think there are a lot of people who put way too much emphasis on the business side of things or on a quest for popularity and acceptance. That’s not what art’s about, it’s about your process, evolving, growing as musicians and a person who can express them. I just think we’re a completely different animal.
It’s funny; we’ve played large festivals in Europe where we’re playing with electronic artist or on the bill with Prince and Jay-Z. The next day we’ll play with Gorguts and Samael or Satyricon. We see all these different kinds of people, and we see a lot of bands who are just playing music. But we also see a lot of bands who seem to be in it for the wrong reasons just burning out like you just described and what can you do that’s the game they chose to play.
I always thought that was one of the most interesting things about Converge, you’ll play anywhere whether it’s a huge fest or the Jackson-Mann School.
It’s interesting because Boston’s always been a difficult place to play shows, like some venues are afraid of aggressive music for some reason; whether it’s for insurance or security reasons they all get cold feet. So it’s always been difficult to have a venue that lasts more than a few years without them backing out. We’re used to that we grew up in that environment. We’ll play pretty much where people will have us; it’s funny because we get questions on social media like “Why don’t you play here?” Because nobody’s asked us.
Or you can’t ask us to play Belize because we’re not on tour, like what are we going to do, yeah let me put our gear in the back of my pickup truck and we’ll throw it on a cargo plane. It’s just funny; if people want to take the time to open their venue to us we’ll gladly play. One of the things with our band is that we don’t tour all the time, we’re a full time band in that we’re always working within our band but we’re not on the road constantly. And people sometimes don’t understand that. “When are you going to play here, when are you going to play there?” Well number one, ask us; and two ask us when we’re planning on going out on tour instead of yelling all the time.
Based off fan reaction which track do you think was the most surprising, I know with a new record you’ll always have a crew of purists complaining how it can’t match an old album.
Haha, they always do that, its par for the course. Everybody has a gateway record that’s always going to be their favorite. For example Cro-Mags Best Wishes is my favorite Cro-Mags record and that really bums out a lot of Cro-Mags purists. But I came up in the hardcore world when that record just came out and it was really important to me. It’s the record that I always go back to, and someone’ll say “Oh you’re crazy!” No I’m not crazy, it’s just my opinion. And there’s no fact when it comes to musical opinion, everyone’s going to have their favorite track or record for any artist.
For me I take this record just like any other record we’ve done as one big body of work. We work on it as a mass of songs; I mean to look at a whole record rather than a track. For this record I’m really proud of the performances, technically and emotionally, that we all captured. It’s tough being in a sterile recording environment even if it’s a studio run by your guitarist. It’s a different kind of environment, for us we’re used to playing in a live setting and just ripping through it, it’s different having to play a song 30 times in a row to get a part right.
But this record I’m really proud of what everyone brought to the table, I feel like we really pushed ourselves farther than we ever have in the studio, because it’s tough emotionally baring yourself out there. There’re so many things you’re thinking of, trying to play in time, trying to get this part right, but a lot of it just became muscle memory and about soul and performance rather than making sure everything was perfectly in time.
CONVERGE + KVELERTAK + TORCHE + WHIPS/CHAINS :: Royale, 279 Tremont St, Boston :: November 12 @ 7 pm :: 18+ :: $16 :: 617.338.7699 or boweryboston.com