Interview with Jacob Bannon of Converge: Unfelled, Unchanged

Converge’s place in aggressive music may have been solidified with their widely praised Jane Doe in 2001, but that has done little to sate the drive of the influential hardcore act. Still touring in a van and playing rooms of all sizes 20 years into their career, the Massachusetts four-piece have moved themselves forward yet again with Axe To Fall, their latest release through Epitaph Records.

Something of a collaborative release, featuring contributions from members of Cave In, Neurosis, Genghis Tron, The Red Chord, Himsa and Disfear, almost half of Axe To Fall has guest appearances, but their inclusion has done nothing to distract from Converge’s trademark sandpaper-on-a-wound sound.

In addition, they’ll be supporting the mighty Mastodon, Dethklok and High On Fire tour that’s pulling into Hammerstein Ballroom next week. Singer Jacob Bannon took some time to talk (while working at his label, Deathwish), about what’s new and also, what isn’t.

Tell me about going into Axe To Fall. It feels like there was a predetermination to be—I don’t want to use the word progressive—but maybe more technical?

It’s funny, I’ve heard that and I don’t necessarily agree with it. But I’m not in a position to judge our band. It’s not my job to do that. For me—and I think I speak for all of us—we just want to write music that’s interesting, exciting, that motivates us, that challenges us, that we want to be excited to play every night. That’s essentially it. Things that just move us and fulfill us in some way.

If we weren’t raising the bar with each record, musically, lyrically, thematically, however you see fit, it would be boring. And with that comes progression, and if you define that as a progressive sort of vibe—we’re competent musicians in the world of aggressive music and we don’t want to dumb anything down, but we’re also not over-players either. We just want to craft powerful songs, and that’s pretty much it. I think sometimes you want to be a little more technically precise and sharp and other times you really just want to sledge through a song. It really just depends on the character and mentality of the song and this album has a little bit of both.

Some of the guitar arpeggio work, ‘Dark Horse’ and a couple other tracks, I listen to and I say ‘Holy shit.’

Kurt [Ballou]’s a great guitarist. And as much as he shows it and displays it at times, he’s a self-taught guitarist, he’s not a dude who hangs out at Guitar Center and rips through scales and solos, far from it. That’s actually the opposite of the kind of guitarist he is. He likes really crafting a song, and I think a lot of the interesting chord progressions and overall weirdness, that’s just Kurt’s personality, just challenging himself, coming up with new discordant chords and playing with stuff that way.

He’s also technically a really proficient guitarist and he can do some really interesting things in ways that aren’t heard very often and he likes to put that out there sometimes. I think with this record and with No Heroes, he’s definitely been a little more comfortable in that role. I think that speaks to experience more than anything else, feeling a little more comfort in being a band for a long time. But there’s older records that had a technical vibe a lot more so, The Poacher Diaries, for example, had a lot of tech guitar stuff, because at the time that’s what he was really into. When we did the Jane album a couple years after that, we decided we didn’t want to go that way as a band and we enjoyed just writing powerful songs. If a song called for it, great, if it doesn’t, then we simply didn’t add a bunch of decoration to it.