Inquiring Minds: Converge's Jacob Bannon on the Metalcore Pioneers' Signature Sound

Out of the four bands playing tonight's big "Adult Swim Presents" tour, Converge sticks out like a shard of bloody glass embedded in your foot. Opening doomers High On Fire and co-headliner Mastodon are both devastating bands who orchestrate monolithic walls of precise metal sludge, akin to the kind that cartoon headliner Dethklok both spoofs and executes so succinctly. Where Converge fits in is a happy mystery, but Rocks Off is just happy that they are in the mix converting impressionable kids into pit-dwelling psychotics in ripped jeans with Botch records under their arm. Formed nearly 20 years ago by teens Jacob Bannon and Kurt Ballou, Converge and Cleveland's Integrity churned out eviscerating stabs of thrash and hardcore, pioneering the sound that would become metalcore and eventually spawn bands such as Hatebreed and Shai Halud. Picking up where their 1998 release Petitioning An Empty Sky left off, Converge released Jane Doe in 2001 to a sea of accolades and praise. It revolutionized their signature sound, while also birthing a whole new generation of bands who would see Jane Doe as their own personal Pet Sounds. In 2004, the band moved to Epitaph Records, which had always traditionally been a punk label, which stirred many purists into a tizzy of hand-wringing and message-board bashing. The band has released three albums of their best work on Epitaph while also shoving stuff out on their own custom indie shingle Deathwish Inc., starting with You Fail Me. Last month the band released Axe To Fall, which is a worthy continuation of the new direction the band took with You Fail Me. 2006's No Heroes was relentlessly loud and destructive, with Bannon sounded ever more possessed, and the title track was as close as the album got to any semblance of order. Axe To Fall showcases the guitar work of Ballou and bassist Nate Newton, especially on tracks like the leadoff "Dark Horse" and "Wishing Well." We talked to Bannon briefly while the band was in Norfolk, Va. During the interview, Bannon had to keep walking with his phone to escape the sound of Mastodon's brutal sound check, which we could hear in the background perfectly. Rocks Off: After listening to you guys for ten years, we have come to realize that Converge doesn't just create metalcore. In a sense you guys actually make "Converge" music now. Jacob Bannon: When a band exists for certain amount of time, they begin to shed their influences and start to become their own introverted animal. You start writing stuff that sounds like you. Your musical character is refined and defined at that point all through the process of playing music together for 20 years or so. We're not traditional musicians; we are playing extreme and abrasive music. We learned to play music in the band evolving. In the beginning we were crude and unique when no one is telling you to play traditional scales or timing. You are just doing things that are interesting to you. RO: Everything before and after You Fail Me has a distinct sound and tempo. The things that have followed have been ridiculously menacing. JB: Every record evolves, and sounds change a little bit. What we want to accomplish musically changes collectively. The four of us are always looking to challenge ourselves in some way. Some records are more technical than others, and some albums are more concerned with creating powerful music that isn't so technical or precise. We look at it as a progression and evolution. It's not like we are sharpening our approach, we are always going and expanding on the ideas of the band. RO: For a lot of kids, Jane Doe was the end all be all of everything you guys will do. We see it as the beginning of something instead. JB: I like to say that music is about a time and place where you hear and experience it. Those records make an impact on your life because of the things that are going on in your life. The Jane album came out at a time for many that was important, and they romanticize it and put it on pedestal. That's not always a bad thing. For us an album is album, we accomplish what do creatively and then we move on to the next project. We you create something your mind set all together different than the listeners. RO: Our favorite two songs on Axe To Fall are the last two, "Cruel Bloom" and "Wretched World" because both are ridicously cinematic. JB: We have those certain elements in each record, some dynamic or departure that we take. We never create an album that is all Jane Doe all the time. We let the songs breath, but let them still be heavy, dramatic and powerful. This albums pacing is different, in previous albums those songs would have been bridges to parts A and B of a record which put another focus on them. With this album we chose those both to end the album. It's an extension of what we do in the band. RO: How are the set lists on this tour for Converge? JB: We only have 40 minutes to play every night, so we have been trying to mix it up. Most live situations are dictated by tuning limitations. If we aren't playing an hour or an hour and a half set, your switching of instruments is limited because you wanna play as much as possible. There are songs from the new album, No Heroes, You Fail Me and the Jane record. That's pretty much as far back as we go on this tour. Also on this tour, we have the challenges of being in an abrasive band that is really not tailored for first-level music listeners. Mastodon and Dethklok are awesome, and at this point in their careers they are pulling in a broad and interesting audience in, specifically older and younger. [Audiences] aren't necessarily familiar with ourselves or High On Fire, but we look forward to that challenge of having a few hundred kids in sea of a few thousand who actually know who we are. It's either been something they love or truly hate. With High on Fire, Mastodon and Dethklok, 6:30 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas (Bayou Place), 713-230-1600 or www.livenation.com.

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