Alter The Press!


Interview: Converge

Whilst in the UK, in support of their eighth studio release, 'Axe To Fall', Alter The Press managed to sit down with one of the biggest names in hardcore today, Jacob Bannon, before taking the stage at the Brighton Concorde II.

The Converge front man spoke to ATP about: the new album, being together as a band for over twenty years, the story behind the long-awaited vinyl repressing of 'Jane Doe' and more.

Alter The Press: How is it being back in Europe?
Jacob Bannon (vocals): It's nice to be here, but I enjoy playing anywhere. We've been on tour since September, pretty much, on and off. We did two US tours, toured Japan, Australia, New Zealand and now we're back here.

ATP: How was the first run of US shows, since the release of 'Axe To Fall'?
Jacob: They were interesting. We started playing shows a few months before the album came out; and then we were playing a large package tour over there, playing to a particular audience, who hadn't really heard of us, so it was unique. It was a challenge, but it was fun. We get lost in songs when we’re playing, so it's not like we're necessarily looking for a specific audience reaction, or anything like that. If something is going to be really welcoming, warm, inviting, and safe for us, then great; but if something is going to be standoffish, and there’s only ten people there, we'll just put our heads down and play as hard as we can. We’re not affected by how the audience perceives us.

ATP: Converge has now been together for over twenty years. What, would you say, has kept the band so strong?
Jacob: We just enjoy playing, and writing, music; sharing the music with people on a variety of levels, whether it be releasing records or performing live, our hearts are always in it. We still have something that is relevant to create and make; the day we feel like we no longer want to do that, or have that drive in us, we simply won't be a band. It's not a career minded thing; it's not an egotistical thing, we are all committed to doing this. We all owe that to each other. The day one of us doesn't feel that same motivation, it will stop. No big hoopla, or anything like that.

ATP: 'Axe To Fall' has been out for nearly 10 months. How has the response been?
Jacob: It seems like it's been positive. I don't pay much attention to what people say about our records, how they are criticized or how people praise us, mainly because it doesn't effect what we do. I think, if you start paying attention to outside entities that aren't your band, and you start listening to their opinions on how the band should be, you start to be influenced by that opinion. You start writing music that is influenced by that opinion, and you are no longer writing wholly, honest, music. You are now writing music with the critics, and your audience, in mind; and for us, it's not about that. It's a very selfish thing for us, by challenging ourselves creatively and artistically, creating songs that are emotionally fulfilling for us, and not, necessarily, for anybody else. Everything else is secondary when it comes to our band, including critics.

With that said, I don't pay that much attention to it. I see it, I’ll talk to press; I don't hide from it, but I don't search it out. I know there are bands that are really hyper about what people think and write in magazines, but it doesn't effect me.

ATP: Saying that, the album got into the top 100 on the Billboard Chart. I can tell that sort of stuff doesn't effect you at all.
Jacob: No. What does it mean, what are charts? They are different every month and year. If someone writes and releases an album, that's a success, a band being able to focus, whether they've been together for ten months or twenty years. How is it artistically? If they are fulfilled from it, then that's a positive thing. If an audience likes it, that's great. It's secondary, but it's great.

ATP: What is your take on hardcore branching into the mainstream world?
Jacob: I don't see it branching out to it. Obviously, with social networking sites and all these television stations immersed in youth culture, there’s always going to be the effort to find the next, new, youth culture; and heavy music is something that is intrinsic to youth. They are just trying to find something to hold an audience for a marketing dollar. That's all they are trying to do. Television stations don't care about the music they are covering, they care about the ad revenue they are pulling in, to pay their bills and to make their station have more clout. Magazines are the same, they are not trying to cover the most relevant artists, they are covering the artists who will have most eyes on their publication, so they can have a larger readership, to create larger revenue.

ATP: Have you already started work on the follow-up to 'Axe To Fall'?
Jacob: We've just released a 7-inch. I don't want to say we did it secretly, but we did it and paid for it ourselves. We paid for the recording, manufacturing, and I did the artwork myself. It's a self-contained song that we like, but felt that it didn't need to be part of an album. Releasing a 7-inch seemed like a fun thing to do, so we did it. As far as other songs, we're always writing and tossing around ideas. Sometimes, things move really fast for us, creatively, and we can create a record really quickly, or sometimes, it could take years. It depends on where we are at psychologically, and how motivated we are. We never want to force a record, we write when we feel inclined, and motivated, to do so. There are some ideas floating around, but there is no schedule, no plan or anything like that.

ATP: You've now announced the vinyl re-pressing of 'Jane Doe'.
Jacob: It's taken us like two years to do it! We're a small label, (Deathwish Inc) and it's really expensive. Manufacturing 5,000, double LPs, is the equivalent to manufacturing 10,000 regular LPs, all with a full size, 28-page booklet, in a gatefold package. It's a lot of money, and we don't have the money to do that. You know, we're not a wealthy label; we are two hardcore kids, which are no different from two hardcore kids who come to a show. None of us are independently wealthy or anything. Deathwish releases a lot of music, but it doesn't turn much revenue. It's hardcore. It's punk-rock. Anything we usually make, goes straight back into the label.

It was an expensive endeavor, and it's taken a long time to do it. For example, we manufactured the cover first, two years ago, because we had some free money, so we decided to do all the covers then. We next had the booklets done, but the printer folded with the project and never delivered them. We never got them. Luckily, we never paid for them, but we were waiting for them forever, and then they went under. Then, we sent off the master audio and it miraculously disappeared so we had to contact the original mastering guy, who is a friend of ours. We had to reach out to him to get the audio, and it took us months to get it as Equal Vision didn't have it anymore. He finally found it. It was then sent to a vinyl mastering facility, to have the lacquers cut by a special guy, to have the best audio quality we possibly could. When he sent the lacquers back for approval, by the mastering guy, before it even gets to manufacturing, the mastering guy's appendix burst, and was sick for 4-5 weeks. Then he just disappeared, and no one could get a hold of him. His family knew what was going on with him, and we kind of knew something was going on health wise, but we were pretty much screwed and had no information.

Finally, now, it's all coming together. It's almost done. The last thing I heard, before we left, everything was 100%. It was actually being pressed at the facility, finally sitting there. Even the manufacturing facility won't give us daily updates; they'll just tell us the day they think it will press, and they day it will be shipped.

These stories are not uncommon with records. Sometimes things go incredibly smooth, sometimes things are a disaster. It's a wild ride and I enjoy it. The thing with vinyl manufacturing is, that it's not immediate. Some manufacturers, you can get stuff from them in a few weeks, but they cost three times as much as the other ones, and we can't pass that cost onto our customer. Let's say, for example, you bought an LP through mail order for $12. Would you want to pay $20 if you were guaranteed things would get done faster, probably not. People are always complaining about the price of something, and it's getting more expensive every day to manufacture things. If we had to double everything in price, we could get things done faster, but it's not fair to our audience and our supporters. It's part of punk-rock pricing. You get what you pay for; unfortunately, that includes manufacturing.

ATP: What's planned for the rest of the year?
Jacob: No plans. We've been touring off and on since September, and we all have plenty of things we need to take care of at home. It doesn't mean we'll necessarily tour again or anything, but we don't have any immediate plans. Right now, we feel motivated to tour and we are happy; but, after that, we probably would want to go home for a while, and get entangled with our lives there. We all have a variety of responsibilities outside the band, and being on the road makes it hard to commit to those things.

ATP: Thanks for taking the time out to speak to us. Anything you would like to add?
Jacob: ‘Jane’ records will be shipping soon, thankfully! I hope really soon. Thanks for all the support. We are happy to meet people who are interested in our music, and appreciate what we do.

'Axe To Fall' is out now on Epitaph Records.

Alter The Press!