Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine (www.chordmagazine.com)

Album: No Heroes (Epitaph Records)

Random thoughts: One of my all-time favorite stories, it was perfect to catch Jacob Bannon in the middle of his home renovations. The setting of power tools and blaring saws was the perfect backdrop to a chat with a dude in one of the noisiest bands around.

The heroics of the everyman

By Jason Schreurs

Not surprisingly, Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon is spending the afternoon making some noise. But the day before the release of his band’s latest, No Heroes, Bannon’s not screaming his head off to viciously uncompromising punk/hardcore/metal with bandmates Kurt Ballou (guitars), Nate Newton (bass), and Ben Koller (drums).
Instead, he’s working on a porch for his recently purchased and gutted 1,100 square foot home, a former crack house in Beverly, MA he’s been fixing up with a carpenter friend. Living in a construction zone since August, Bannon is looking forward to settling in with his girlfriend and two dogs but, first, much more hammering, sawing, and smashing.
“When I bought the place last year we were still finding crack pipes in the walls and needles in the yard…” says Bannon, an air compressor drowning him out (“Don’t worry,” he yells, “it just needs to get up to 120 pounds of pressure then it’ll turn off”). Having also spent the past few months creating the thrashing loudness that is No Heroes, a monumental fifth album for Converge, the air compressor doesn’t even phase him.
Bannon’s composure while everything around him pounds and throttles in a flurry of chaos is exactly how Converge, now 15 years ripe, has handled their place in extreme music. Aimed at a singular vision of substance over style, the Boston four-piece’s focus is admirable and, well, more than just a little frightening.
No Heroes (their second for Epitaph) is a monster, every bit as pummeling as its most recent predecessors, 2004’s You Fail Me and 2001’s Jane Doe, but somehow, someway, a tad more fucking brutal. Accessibility just isn’t something these guys care about, and it’s endearing as hell.
“Well, there’s two ways to look at it,” explains Bannon. “Kurt and I were talking about this the other day. Our kind of volume and approach gets an immediate emotional reaction. It’s a reaction from us, as well as the listener and audience. It’s both a positive and a negative.”
Immediate emotional reaction is right. While You Fail Me began with a melodic primer before tearing faces off, No Heroes offers no leeway. Instead, the first four tracks go for the jugular. By the time the minute-and-a-half instrumental breather, “Weight of the World,” lets us regain composure and, let’s face it, balance and sanity (and, um, consciousness?), the horrible and fascinating title track spends the next four minutes brutalizing us back into the ground.
Whether it’s “face-rippers” (Bannon throws that term around, and it’s oh so fitting) like “Versus” and “Bare My Teeth,” or slower, darker, and more monumental dirges like “Grim Heart/Black Rose” (all 9:34 of it), it’s clear Converge has a duality that can please a wide range of musically masochistic maniacs.
“Some people who listen to our slower songs get bored because they want the ‘face-rippers.’ But there’s other listeners who enjoy that mellower stuff more than they enjoy the stuff that goes full speed.”
These “face-rippers” are hard to get a handle on. They require repeated listeners to comprehend what’s happening at maximum overdrive (and perhaps to head-shake while wondering if Converge really pulled off what we think they just did), but the intricate tangle of emotions is also difficult to gauge. Like, are these mad songs? Sad songs? And what’s with that optimism peeking ever so slightly around the frayed edges?
“There should always be a positive aura to even the most negative music,” confirms Bannon. “I’m not a fan of music that just perpetuates negativity. With us, even our angriest songs hopefully have some sort of positive light at the end. At least someone can take something away from them that is much more than pure anger.”
A skill saw screams behind Bannon and his dogs start barking, but now he’s locked in, prepared to explain the concept of No Heroes, a record that incorporates a more universal message. This time, Bannon uses “we” and “us” a lot more than “I,” detailing the ethical and moral struggles everyone goes through.
“’No Heroes,’ the song, talks about overall political and ethical awareness, and whatever you do as a person will be a ripple effect and be felt emotionally for your entire life,” explains Bannon. “It’s a song about the idea of the everyman; the fact that I’m sitting here today working on a decimated house with a friend who is a carpenter, who I have more in common with than most hardcore kids. He literally has no ties to that underground movement and he’s gone through a great deal of ups and downs and life struggles. To me, that kind of person would be a hero; what they do and what they accomplish in their lives with the cards they are dealt.”
Another meaning to No Heroes has to do with Bannon and the band’s growing discomfort with being role models for those who dig their band. Instead of being looked up to, they’d prefer to be at the same level as their listeners, something that’s served them well since their DIY beginnings in the hardcore scene.
“People can dig our band but it doesn’t change who I am when I wake up in the morning,” says Bannon. “We don’t believe in being separate from our audience. That’s something that’s fairly new to punk rock and hardcore, and it shouldn’t be like that… I just turned 30 years old. If I was doing this to serve some egotistical purpose, I’d be sad to find out that was the person I was. I’m trying to give back to this music community that gave me a place in life when I was 13 or 14 years old. I’ve spent half of my life in this band.”
After a decade and a half of creating untainted art and brilliant noise, Converge are in a somewhat solitary place where bands like them are a dying breed. Converge-wannabes can peer at their Soundscan numbers through awkwardly cropped bangs, but four Boston guys continue working on the framework for a house they’ve built themselves.
“We come from a very different world. I don’t really see ourselves as being true peers of the bands that we’re friends with, like the Killswitch Engage/Shadows Fall bands of the world,” explains Bannon. “We have more of a lineage to Starkweather and Rorschach, bands like Merel and Iconoclast; those are bands that we still listen to. People now have never heard of bands like Honeywell or Groundwork; so they don’t really understand where we’re coming from and our world doesn’t really exist anymore.”
As the construction noises behind him go momentarily quiet, he adds, “We’re sort of this lone animal, at this point, which is totally fine by us.”

A Heroes' pallet

No Converge record would be complete without the artwork of vocalist Jacob Bannon, noted graphic designer and owner of Deathwish Inc., a punk/hardcore record label featuring his packaging, art, and design. The booklet and cover for No Heroes revolves around a silhouetted dove, known as a symbol of peace in popular culture but, as Bannon explains, originally the visual metaphor for a higher purpose.

On the dove imagery:
“We’re simply saying, ‘Hey, this is a selfless approach to music.’ These songs are about a personal progression and evolution and we wanted something that represented that. So the dove is being born out of the mouths of two ominous figures beside it in the booklet.”

On those ominous figures:
“When you open up the booklet there’s another ominous figure with the Converge symbol oozing from its mouth, and it’s holding two shards of glass. It’s a visual metaphor for words not being said the softest; not having the softest approach to what we do. Essentially, the truth hurts. It shows a wound, but it also shows a life and energy.”

On creating artwork for Converge versus designing for other bands:
“It’s a very different process. It’s tough to do stuff for other people because you get pigeonholed. The Converge stuff is very different. It’s a much more personal thing. I tend to use stencils and silhouettes when I’m doing my own stuff. I’ll very rarely do that style for someone else.”

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