Interview: Jacob Bannon of Converge


Axe to Fall has just been getting rave reviews. You guys have certainly cemented yourselves into that hardcore band, surviving about two decades now. What do you have to say about that?

I guess you can say that. I don’t really know. It’s flattering when people say that. It doesn’t effect us as a band. It doesn’t drive us as a band. It doesn’t change the way we perceive our music, and how we write music. We just think of ourselves as four guys from Massachusetts who play music we enjoy…If it’s influential and people appreciate it, that’s cool. If it’s not, that’s okay too. We just want to play stuff that’s truly meaningful to us. That moves us. Songs about our lives and our experiences that challenge us. Anything outside of that is not that important.

What about what Pitchfork had to say about calling your band the “Black Flag” of our generation? Is that humbling, stressful?

We don’t pay attention to what reviewers or writers say about our band – not even listeners to a degree. We appreciate the attention, and we appreciate that people connect to our music in some way. We appreciate that writers and reviewers and critics have high opinions of certain things, but it’s not something we pay attention to really comment on. Sure, there’s plenty of opinions that are the exact opposite of theirs out there as well. It’s not something we claim. It’s not something that we strive for. The only thing we strive to be or to have is our independence from all of that. Do our own thing. People are always going to develop their own impressions and big analogies and metaphors to place us and sort of describe our band, but really, at the end of the day we are just Converge. That’s who we are.

It’s interesting you say you strive to do your own thing. A lot of musicians – just for example, an interview I had with Andy Williams of Every Time I Die. He was very adamant about the respect he had for your band and your D.I.Y. attitude. Having the longevity you’ve had as a band, what do you think about the D.I.Y. scene now with technology such as the Internet either ruining it, or in fact helping people do things that were much harder to do back in the day.

The world of independent music doesn’t exist of the level that it did, say, 15 years ago. 20 years ago – 15 years ago. Things are just dramatically different. Things are no longer truly underground. Underground culture, counterculture music, has been co-opted and packaged and sold as safe rebellion to a lot of kids. A lot of independent music doesn’t have the bite and power that it used to have. It doesn’t have a message – whether it be a personal message or political message, an environmental message, anything. A lot of that fight is gone. A lot of that will is gone. It’s not to say that there aren’t these bands that are embodying those key things and speaking up for something, whether it be artistic or social relevance. It’s few and far between. There’s more bands playing the fantastic level. They’re role playing. They want to be in a large band. They want to play heavy music, but there’s no message. It’s decoration. It doesn’t really go past the sound. There’s no sort of personality or character behind it. That’s a sad thing to me. Personally I wouldn’t want to go out there and play music and share ideas with people if I had nothing to say. That’s kind of how we’ve always been as a band. The day we aren’t relevant anymore to ourselves, that we no longer have something collectively to put out there that we want to share with people, that will be the day we stop making music. I find that to be an interesting thing. Now there are bands that come out there and they get management and booking and they run around and merchandise themselves to hell – there’s not really a message to what they really do. That’s sad to me. I hope that they find their voice with those bands that are missing that. That’s definitely the difference in punk rock or D.I.Y. mentality now. D.I.Y. mentality now is setting up a MySpace music player and adding friends. It’s not going out on tour and booking their own shows. It’s playing to 10 people at a VFW Hall. It’s learning to find your own voice and find what you love in music. There really isn’t much of that anymore. [People care more about] their fame and notoriety rather than their substances. That’s sad. At least to me it is.

Going into the first decade of music, how is Deathwish Inc. going, and what do you foresee in the future?

Just like our band, I take everything one day at a time. Our intention was to create a label home for ourselves and our friends needed a label to help them. A lot of us had bad label experience. We wanted to try and create a label that was ethically sound. We still face a lot of the same hardships that any of the other label does. Labels are always financially strained, but you do your best with what you have. In the last ten years, we’ve been able to employ some great people, and release some fantastic music that I find to be extremely important and extremely relevant. I’m honored to work for those bands. That’s really all there is to it. I don’t really look at growth. I don’t have some grand plan, besides that I just wanted to release some powerful music that moves me, that hopefully moves other people that are involved in the hardcore/punk rock community. It’s a bit of diverse, and there’s a lot of strength in that diversity. I’d just like to be able to share that with people. It doesn’t really go any further than that for me and the rest of the guys that help run the label. We just want to create a really great environment.

You did the artwork for No Heroes and Axe to Fall and artwork for many other bands.

The art development for releases, especially our own. I do a lot of design as well. Art directions. Things like that. Kind of Deathwish affiliated but I do other labels’ [work]. That’s essentially what my day job is, creating artwork for bands and record labels and things. That’s how I pay my bills.

If you didn’t have Converge, or the music scene, would art be the solace that you would find yourself in?

I have a BA in art and design. I taught art and design at a college level for a bit. That’s a world I’m sort of gravitated towards in some way. So yeah, I’d probably be involved with that just as much as I am now.

Does both the role as an artist musically and in design feed off of each other?

They’re all creative expressions in some way. They come from different places though. When you are creating something for yourself, it’s your own artwork and it’s meant to complement your own sonic efforts and musical efforts and stuff like that. When you’re doing something for a client, you are trying to capture their voice. Things they want to see in their project, not necessarily what you want you see in a project. Some artists are different though. Some are like, “You take over the individual aspect of this project and we’ll get what we get.” Others will simply art direct the entire time, and you’re just a cog in their wheel. That’s fine too. Everyone has their own level they are involved in.

Do you think there is a substance of album art that has been lost over the years? People trying to be ironic or cheesy or whatever?

My only criticism of the independent music world as a whole might be that nobody waits anymore. Nobody takes their time to develop something. There’s always this mad dash. Some sort of finish line to create some sort of piece of art to get a release out to do this or to do that, before a band really finds that voice, finds what they really want to be. They crack under the stress of that, and aren’t really happy with what they put out there. I just wish people would take a little more time in developing their ideas. That’s just for me, as an outsider, as a fan of music, purchasing records, experiencing them.

What do you think about vinyl making a resurgence with the catalog Converge has?

It’s not much of a resurgence for me. We’ve been doing vinyl since we started this band. I released our first 7″ in 1991. I released our first 12″ in 1994. We finally got it out in mid-’94. It’s not a resurgence to me, because we’ve been doing it this whole time. To people who are outside that vinyl world and haven’t been taken that much interest into it until now, you’d have to ask them that. We’ve always felt that it is an interesting media. It’s been a media that’s always called to punk rock, called to hardcore, just independent music in general. Number one, it’s crude, it’s physical. It’s archaic in some ways, but it’s also very beautiful. All those qualities relate to punk rock in some way.

Do you feel it’s exclusionary? Do you look at the resurgence as a backlash to the digital age?

There’s definitely an audience for vinyl now that looks at it that way and perceives it as being that. In a way, it has kind of taken on that role. Media is always changing. I don’t think we should ever be really locked into a dominant format. It’s about the music. It’s not necessarily about how it is presented to. As long as it is presented in a way that complements the music in a way of how it has meant to be presented.

I know we hit on this earlier in the interview, but if there’s one thing that all these bands are walking away with from Converge, and what you’ve been doing, what is the one thing, musically or a state of mind, or the way you’ve run this band, what is this Smithsonian thing people should look at in your history?

It wouldn’t be any sort of moral, or ethical or political statement. It would be a really simple thing – just leave your own mark in this world. That’s it. Let it be a positive one. It’s really, truly as simple as that. If you stick to that, and you stay focused on that as an individual and the positive aspects of life and positive music…just positive anything. There’s so much negativity in this world, I just don’t want us to help spread that. I want us to take negative experiences as people and help turn that into positive music and positive art. I want to be able to help people. That’s been my way of being able to leave what I would say is a positive mark in this world. I’ve been in this band since I was 13 years old. I’m 33 now. That’s a long time. I’ve spent more than half my life in this community giving everything I have to it. It’s not for some weird ass fame or ego or anything else like that. I don’t have that. I don’t care about that. I’m not rich. I’m not trying to get rich. If it was about money, I wouldn’t be in this community, because there is none. I wouldn’t run an independent record label because there’s no financial gain in that. Things pay for themselves, and you get by. It’s about doing something positive. Being able to sleep at night with a good conscience, like I’m being able to do something fulfilling to me, and hopefully meaningful to other people. That’s really it. If I can leave that mark and be a positive, than I have done something right. There are a lot of people that are either dormant or doing something negative in this world. They can either take that and use it in their band philosophies, or they can take that and use it in their lives. That’s really that. It should be that way. It should be that simple.

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