Blood Moon Rising: A conversation with Jacob Bannon of Converge
Nowadays, there are a lot of recognizable names in the hardcore and metal scene, but only a handful are as well-known and as versatile as Converge. Founded all the way back in 1990, when all of its then-members were still between middle and high school, and currently formed by incredibly gifted musicians, Converge have never been ones to back down from a challenge and have always strived to push the envelope when it comes to their own sound and visual presentation. And when an unique and exciting opportunity presented itself in 2016, the group took it upon themselves to deliver the best possible collaboration their audiences had ever seen. And so, Bloodmoon came to be. Soon, it became a fully fledged, seven-piece formation that served as an extension of Converge, a moniker that symbolized the expansive and extraordinary sound produced by both Converge and their very special guests Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisholm and Stephen Brodsky.
Collaborations are always an interesting endeavour and can oftentimes produce curious and exceptional results, and Bloodmoon: I is no different. With the impending release of the seven-piece’s first volume of work together, we spoke with Jacob Bannon, the charismatic frontman of Converge, about the history of the collaboration and the challenges that came with it, as well as his own history as a musician and visual artist, both solo and in Converge.
What was your first contact with music and what was about it that made you decide on pursuing a career in it?
That’s a very good question. I would say my first memories of music are probably just similar to most kids, just sort of seeing the records that were within their household. And back then, it was like a milk crate with a stack of records in it and there were records like Queen’s The Game, some David Bowie records, things like that. But music didn’t really connect with me in a way where I became interested in it until, I would say, the birth of 80’s heavy metal. I have an older brother and at that time, he was very much in the throes of listening to all of that right as it was all happening. He was five years older than me, so he was very much of that world. And so, I was definitely exposed to a lot of music at that time, both classic rock and early heavy metal and, you know, that sort of burgeoning time for that style of hard rock and whatnot. And I was really fortunate to be able to follow that trajectory and discover artists that I found to be exciting visually and musically from that time on; it just really connected with me. In hindsight, it’s probably just the hyper aggressive nature, the visual aesthetic, it just spoke to a lot of the feelings I had as a kid and still do to a degree today, and that interested me in that sort of abrasive sound.
“I was really fortunate to be able to follow that trajectory and discover artists that I found to be exciting visually and musically from that time on; it just really connected with me.”
Tell me a bit about the founding of Converge – how did you guys meet, where did the decision to form a band come from and what were some of the initial ideas and goals you guys had for the band?
I mean, we were just children, it’s really important to remember that. We started the band basically just coming out of middle school and going into high school, which is, any of the players at the time were in between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, seventeen years old. So, you know where you’re at psychologically at that point in your life; you’re a curious kid, you’re hungry for expression and you’re hungry for a voice. And we were all really obsessed with music at that time and the subcultures that went along with it. We were very much punk rock and hardcore kids and metal kids, and we were just really excited by the sound and wanted to participate in some way. I didn’t feel like I could do that probably until I found punk rock for myself. Punk rock made things much more approachable in the sense that the musicianship wasn’t polished, things were very immediate and there wasn’t that sort of like fantastic, grandiose approach to music that a lot of heavy metal had, so I found it to be more relatable. And when I found early hardcore, that was also really etched in me as well. Like, these people look like people I would know, they feel approachable and their topics are ones that relate to real life. And those things really shaped what I wanted to get out of music, I liked the idea of things being loud and abrasive. But I wanted it to also be free of a lot of the decoration that I saw in heavy metal, which was a little corny to me. And I recognized that at kind of an early age; there are some aspects of heavy metal that I really enjoy, but there are others where it’s just too much. That timeframe, that’s when I kind of started to think like, “hey, we can actually make music and have some fun here”.
And so, I was playing bass at the time and I approached one of our first drummers; I think we were in middle school together, we had a class together and he was one of the only drummers that were in school, I think one of two. He was a metal guy and we played covers together, wrote random songs and whatnot. Soon, other friends joined and that was like the primordial version of the band. Kurt [Ballou] joined soon after when we got into high school and then it kind of progressed since then. Also, our ideas were pretty simple, you know? We just wanted to have fun and express ourselves, and just make something that we would be fans of, something that had the qualities that we look for in art and music, even at that early age. That basic sort of outline has never really changed, that’s kind of what we do and how we have done things. You know, over time things have developed their own character, but there was never an overarching goal or a bar which we viewed has the place that we had to hit to succeed in any way. As long as we are making music and enjoying ourselves, that’s pretty much the only goal that we had.
Were you guys still in high school when you recorded your first record?
Oh yeah, I think it came out when we were in junior years, something like that?
Was it hard for you guys to record it back then?
Oh sure, I mean it’s terrifying to go into the studio the first time. You barely know how to play, never mind how to write a song and have confidence about your creativity. That’s super challenging, at any age really, especially back then. But it was also really exciting too. You know, this is the time where studios weren’t necessarily easy to get into, they were expensive to record in. It took a lot of effort and resources just to make those things happen for us. It was scary and it was exciting. Mind you, we were recording full albums in like a day. [laughs] Literally, you would do sounds and drums before your afternoon break, and then you’d be done and leave the thing for mixing by that evening. That’s kind of the way things worked backed then. Everything was super raw, super rough, you know, one or two takes on things, if that. Typically, just one playthrough and that was your song. So, it was a very different kind of experience, we were learning on the fly. And as we grew and became more confident musicians, became more proficient and just having an understanding of what we were doing and what we were trying to build, we were able to start doing a lot of those things ourselves, and that’s kind of where we are today.
Not long after the release of Converge’s third record, When Forever Comes Crashing, you founded Deathwish Inc. together with Tre McCarthy. Where did the decision to create a record label come from and how has the experience managing it been since then?
We both had record labels before that. Those first couple Converge records, we self-released and so, I was handling the distribution, the art and the manufacturing as a teenager, essentially. I had some experience; not the best experience that’s for sure, but I was learning as I went. And Tre did the same; he released some records as well and he was tour managing a variety of bands, and going out and touring with us as well. I had the idea of starting a label again in a more serious capacity around that time. I had just graduated from art school at that time and I was doing a lot of design work, sort of like branding and development for other record labels and artists, and I still do that today. And a lot of the projects, I was taking from basically being handed the lyrical content and a basic idea of the record visually and doing all those elements that were the non-music, right? So, I was doing all of the art, design and presentation for these bands and even taking the records from these smaller labels into manufacturing and see it all the way through to delivery. And I was like, if I’m already doing this much, it is really no different than if I start my own label, that could potentially be a home to our band if we need it, for projects, random releases and things like that. And we could also help out other bands that we feel are worth helping out. And so, we started that label. I’m a very left-brained person, I knew that I didn’t want to run a business from the accounting perspective; I’m just not wired for that, it’s not the way I work. So, I felt that it would be beneficial to partner with somebody and Tre was a perfect candidate for that. We went out to dinner one night after a Converge practice and we were talking about it, and I just like, “hey, I really want to try and do something, there is a lot of cool opportunities out there and I’m already doing it, let’s see what we can build together”. And so, we built Deathwish.
Despite that, you still co-release records with Epitaph. When you have your own record label, why still maintain that collaboration between labels?
It’s the best of both worlds, you know? Number one, Epitaph is the largest independent in the world and has a very deep and long relationship with the music community and the record distribution community. They are pretty much the most capable and responsible label there is. And when Deathwish was just getting off the ground – we were probably just a dozen releases in at the time -, that’s when we were introduced to Epitaph. They’ve always been really supportive of Deathwish developing and being a thing, and gave Converge free reign to do whatever we want to do as a band. So, that’s been a really cool partnership. And back then, depending on when a band starts working with a label, there is all different medias that you can release music on. Now, it’s primarily digital and vinyl, but back then, it was primarily CD, and digital was still just sort of getting off the ground and vinyl was not really something that a lot of the labels wanted to handle. And Deathwish has always had a soft spot for vinyl, it has always been a part of the things that we offer for our releases and so, Converge opted to release the vinyl of our records through Deathwish, which is nice because it’s a label home that we are obviously really close to, that I co-own, so there is full transparency there. And also, we can do things for the band that no other label really would because of that relationship. It’s just a beneficial relationship for all in that regard. So yeah, Deathwish essentially releases the vinyl for Converge records, and Deathwish has also grown into being a distributor over the last ten years. We actually have our own label called Converge Cult, which is records that we self-release entirely that just go through the Deathwish distribution system, where Deathwish isn’t necessarily releasing it, the band releases it, and so on and so forth.
Completing twenty years this year, Jane Doe is highly regarded as a seminal record in the hardcore and metal genres. Back when you were creating the record, did you ever envision it making such an important mark on the underground music scene?
No and I still don’t to a degree, only because back then, it was not well-received, at least not by popular music critics, for lack of better terminology. It just wasn’t something people were that supportive of and we were fine with that and still are fine with that, we know that we are not everybody’s cup of tea. A lot of the success of that record sort of came after its release, which is kind of interesting, where it’s not a commercially successful record but it’s held in high regards and we are super appreciative of that. But it kind of omits the fact that… Like, it’s an influential record but it’s not a Metallica record or something that has any sort of critical acclaim, at least at the time of release and through sales, you know? So, I always found it to be really interesting that it is held in high regard because for all the metrics that are out there in the world that are available to a record label or a band that aren’t just speaking to individuals, it is not, you know? [laughs] It’s kind of a weird one. And I think that is what defines a record as being a true underground record or a cult record, where many people might know it but they didn’t at the time. But that’s cool to us because as a band, we just always want to move forward and do things. We’ve never felt that that record was our strongest record or anything like that. We always think our most recent record will always be our most relevant and our most artistically well-rounded record. And that’s kind of the way things should be.
You know, every release is sort of a chapter in a band’s life as they progress, so I don’t really think about that record in a lot of the terms that other people think about it, but I’m really appreciative of the fact that people connect with it as they do with all of our records. I’ve said it before in interviews; once you let a record out into the world, it’s just kind of out there. You no longer control the narrative; you no longer control how people connect to it and how people relate to it within their own lives, you know? Never would I have thought a sort of chaotic and aggressive hardcore metal record would connect with people has it does on an emotional level, it’s a rare and beautiful thing.
That being said, would you have done anything differently if you had the chance to rerecord it?
No, I wouldn’t redo any record in that way. It’s funny, we get asked sometimes like, “would you rerelease this or that”, and unless we see something having like a sonic deficiency where it has an issue that can be improved upon, we usually don’t do that, especially with the later records. The last one that we did that for was You Fail Me and that was pretty important to do because we weren’t really sonically happy with how everything turned out initially because we were under a lot of pressure and a lot of time constraints at the time. And it just seemed like a good time to go back and address those things. But yeah, any later records after that, I think we never really touch.
“We always think our most recent record will always be our most relevant and our most artistically well-rounded record. And that’s kind of the way things should be.”
Like Jane Doe, Converge has had quite a few guest appearances in their records over the years. In a general sense, what ways would you say a certain song benefits or is enhanced by the inclusion of guest musicians?
Guests happen for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes you just want to play with your friends; sometimes it’s something deeper than that where you hear a specific musician and you want to hear their colour and voice within the context of a song. Every once in a while, those things will kind of align and you’ll be able to put it together and actually make it a thing. We did that a couple of times. One time that stands out for me, personally, was having Jonah Jenkins sing on a song called “Grim Heart/Black Rose”, on the No Heroes album, and that was really powerful and special for me because he is one of my favourite vocalists of all time, and I’m lucky enough to know him casually, as the rest of us are, and have been watching his talent on stage for years and years. So, being able to write a melody for him, write lyrics for him and then be in the studio and see how he took that and added his own elements to it as well and built upon that framework, that was really cool to do. I don’t sing like that, I don’t have that physical ability, so that was really special for me to do at that time. But yeah, that’s what you get. You get somebody else’s unique voice, adding more depth and dimension to what you’ve already collectively built.
Are there any musicians in particular that you’d love to have as guests in future Converge releases?
Not specifically, no. Right now, we are doing something really special with the Blood Moon: I release, where it’s essentially an extension of the band, where we’ve added three members. And just by doing that, it has really challenged and fulfilled me in ways that I think other collaborations would have if I didn’t have that. So right now, I’m not really thinking about any other collaborations, we’re doing the best one we can.
Speaking of Bloodmoon: I, which will be released in November 19th, can you give me a little history lesson on this new record, as in, how did this collaboration come to be, how was the creative and recording process like and what were some of the main things you wanted to achieve with it?
Around 2016, we got together and we did the first Converge Bloodmoon shows, and those were essentially an experiment to a degree, where we wanted to do a deeper collaboration; where we wanted, at the very least, to take existing Converge songs and sort of reimagine them and reconstruct them in ways which were sonically different, bigger and grander, and we would need more musicians to do those things. At the time, we just started talking to Ben [Chisholm] and Chelsea [Wolfe] about doing something together. I remember being like, “hey, maybe they want to collaborate with this and make this a thing”. And so, we demoed some material and presented it to them. They loved the idea and we brought our really good friend Stephen Brodsky, who has essentially been part of our family of musicians for twenty years – he is one of my favourite players in the world -, and with the seven of us together, we started working on that material for those shows, played those shows and had a really great experience. And at that time, we decided that we wanted to continue with it but it was more of a logistical challenge, like, how do we get everybody to be in the same place at the same time? How can we get these very busy schedules to line up and land in the same place? Because that was going to be quite hard to do with seven people with seven individual lives. It took a bit of work and time, and then you throw and pandemic in there as well. It was a lot of challenges but we finally got this first album done.
The cover of Bloodmoon: I was once again created by yourself. How deep into the writing of this record did you start working on it? How does your process usually go when creating an artwork?
It depends on the record; I can speak about this one specifically. I started working on some basic design systems of how I wanted this sort of art to work. I did some basic sketches during the writing process over the pandemic. I had some visual metaphors that I wanted to get in there for my own personal satisfaction; there were certain subjects and visuals that I wanted to get in there that I felt were sort of icons and things that could represent the whole of Bloodmoon, like, for example, the crescent moon. I was trying to work with a lot of the things that are alluded to in lyrics and bring them to light, like serpents and things like that, and metaphors relating to that. I also wanted to essentially create a multi-layered approach to this, where I wanted it to feel really saturated and rich in colour, almost like a hypercolour hallucinogenic event, and with all of this push and pull and movement. So, I just started playing and working on some ideas throughout that, and it took a few months of pushing and pulling to get something to the place where I felt it was solid enough for the first record.
And it was also setting kind of a blueprint for possible future records. I wanted to have like an information system there, especially for vinyl and things like that, where I wanted this big crescent moon die cut shape that had this outer portion of a cover that would also intermingle with additional imagery inside of the package. And I wanted that to be able to tell different visual stories from record to record if we were to continue Bloodmoon past one record, into two or three or four or five or whatever. So, I spent a lot of time on that, probably more time on that than making the visual. It was definitely a lot of planning and a lot of editing of those ideas over the course of a year. And in terms of actually making the art, it took a few months and a few brain cells in terms of spray paint and toxic things. In the end, I think I communicated what I wanted to communicate in that, you know?
Do you always seek to create a connection between the cover of a record and the music within it?
Certainly, unless I’m doing client work that specifically says to not do that. But yeah, typically, that’s what I’m trying to do. I have a certain aesthetic that I like to make but I’m also quite a flexible graphic designer, I work on a lot of records that you probably wouldn’t even know I work on. People know you from whatever introduction points they have into your art and music. But for me, I try to capture that energy, I try to capture all of those subtle little qualities that make a song so powerful and I try to translate that into the art itself.
You mentioned possible future Blood Moon releases, are there any ideas being thrown around?
Well, we worked really hard on this and in that process, we recorded a lot of material. There is a ton of stuff and Bloodmoon: I is what we collectively felt is the best assemblage of songs that represents the body of work that we have so far. There is definitely a lot of material out there and we hope to continue it. The vibe seems great, everybody is in great spirits and loved working together, so hopefully we’ll continue doing these records, along some more typical Converge records as well.
“The vibe seems great, everybody is in great spirits and loved working together, so hopefully we’ll continue doing these records, along some more typical Converge records as well.”
Next year, you will be performing at Hellfest with the Bloodmoon lineup. What can we expect from your performance at the festival?
That’s a great question, we’re probably not so sure. To a degree, we know what we want to do because we did it in 2016, and now that it’s more of a fully fleshed out idea and concept, I think we’ll do a solid performance of those songs and just really push where things are at. We’re just really excited to be able to have an album that we all crafted together as a true band and be able to present this in a way where people are now familiar with it. We were asking a lot from the audiences in 2016, who never heard this because it was entirely new. To us as well, we were just going out there and doing it for the first time. So now, people will know what to expect and that will hopefully be a positive thing.
Will this be a one-off for you guys or will you be doing a full-on European Summer tour under that moniker?
We’ve been trying to get things together but again, logistics are challenging, the pandemic made it really difficult in terms of planning, what we can do when. So, we’re trying to map things out, trying to do more but that’s all we have currently scheduled.
What other touring plans does Converge have for the near future?
We’re supposed to be touring the US with Meshuggah and Torche and that’s supposed to be in February of next year. Hopefully that happens. Just like everybody, we’re just sort of taking the world a day at a time right now, and hopefully, the world will be open enough for us to be able to do that and participate in that and have it be great for everybody. But yeah, we’re still also in that holding pattern that so many artists are in right now, where we’re just rescheduling shows and pushing things from this day to this day, just because that is what’s been happening, you know? So, we’re sort of riding that wave until things happen on a more regular basis again and just kind of take it a day at a time.
Before ending the interview, I’d like to do a fast round of small questions where you tell me a bit about some projects you have been involved with or are still involved with, what ideas and intentions you had behind their creation and what the future may hold for each of them. I’d like to start with Supermachiner and Irons.
Sure! So, Supermachiner was a short-lived project started by myself and my roommate at the time and a really close friend of mine still to this day, Ryan Parker, who is a great multi-instrumentalist. It was a sort of a post-everything kind of band. And it was very early, this was like, maybe 1998 or 1999, when I started demoing material that was not going to fit in the Converge world, it was just a different sort of sound. We had the opportunity to record it and we had an offer to release it, so we went into the studio and basically recorded all the material we had demoed and turned it into an album. We had plans to do a second record and we started demoing it. And it sort of fizzled out; we got busy with other things and other bands, including Converge. Things just got too busy so we just didn’t continue with it.
I did Irons with a good friend of mine, Dwid Hellion, from Integrity – he is a really wonderful artist and musician and does lots of cool stuff that I’m a fan of to this day -, and Stephen Kasner, who was an incredible visual artist and musician who passed away just a few years ago. We were able to do one batch of recordings together that were more electronic-based, more experimental. We were just passing material to one another and just trying to create something that was free of a lot of rules, but still had some melody and some aggressiveness to it. And that was fun for us, we really enjoyed that. After Stephen’s passing, Dwid and I talked about doing some sort of Irons recording somewhere down the line and that may happen as well.
Next up is Wear Your Wounds.
Out of Supermachiner, basically came a whole lot of demos and song ideas, which eventually morphed into Wear Your Wounds, which is essentially just myself solo writing sort of bigger instrumental rock songs. Over time, I started playing with friends in that band in a live capacity and then we turned into a full band at that point, a five-piece band. We released a number of records, our last one being Rust on the Gates of Heaven, and we’re still writing, I have wonderful partners in that band.
Last but not least, we have Umbra Vitae and Blood From The Soul.
Umbra Vitae is essentially an extension of Wear Your Wounds, where it’s Wear Your Wounds with a different drummer and a bass player, and I’ve become the front person, essentially. And I want to say it’s more like an aggressive… I don’t want to call it a death metal band because it’s not a death metal band, but it’s more of a technical metal band, a little discordant at times. And I try to address sort of bigger existential questions and topics in terms of lyrical content and things like that. That’s a full band, we were supposed to do tours but the pandemic wrecked that, so we’re just kind of waiting for those opportunities to come back as we write our second record.
Blood From The Soul is myself along with Shane Embury from Napalm Death, Dirk Verbeuren from Megadeth and Jesper Liveröd from Nasum. That’s more of an industrial-influenced metal band that Shane started in the early 90s and that he wanted to bring back to life. So, he assembled the rest of us around him to bring it back to life alongside of him. And I’m pretty proud of what we created together; we created an album that is a bit of a conceptual journey, a bit of a weird sci-fi, dystopian world, where machines take over the world – not quite The Terminator, but similar. Machines take over the world and they essentially want a human heart and want to have feelings, and when they finally attain those goals, they realize that it was flawed to begin with, so they give up. That’s essentially the story of that record and it was a really interesting one to work on. We are working on another one now, so hopefully we will have more material in the future.
“To a degree, we know what we want to do because we did it in 2016, and now that it’s more of a fully fleshed out idea and concept, I think we’ll do a solid performance of those songs and just really push where things are at.”
Interview by Filipe Silva
Photo by Emily Birds, courtesy of Converge