Converge have been treating fans to a lot recently. Boston’s iconic hardcore act released their remastered You Fail Me Redux album in 2016. They dropped a professionally recorded live album of Jane Doe two months ago. Later this year, they will tour with Neurosis, a double bill that has fans struggling to comprehend it as reality. Yet perhaps the most surprising treat Converge has blessed fans with of late is a set at Boston Calling this weekend—a set few people, especially Boston fans, expected.
In February, emo poppers Modern Baseball dropped off the music festival’s lineup due to mental health issues. In their place, Converge joined the bill. The hardcore heroes play festivals on the regular, but replacing a small-to-mid-tier venue act such as Modern Baseball with a legacy name such as Converge wasn’t just an upgrade, but a shock. Boston Calling rarely gives punk acts, nevertheless hardcore or metal bands, a spotlight. So this Sunday, the unexpected becomes reality: Converge take the stage at 3:10 pm at Boston’s biggest music festival, blasting hardcore through the streets of Lower Allston and over the Charles River into Harvard dormitories.
“They reached out at one point but we couldn’t do it for some reason. We put it on the backburner. When the cancellation happened, we said, ‘Sure, why not?’” says frontman Jake Bannon. “We know that neighborhood well. I lived a mile from it for years. It’s basically playing in our former backyard.”
This comes as a welcome growth spurt for Boston Calling. Festivals are varying themselves with regularity now, playing catch-up to European festivals that have been mixing genres for years, aware of festivalgoers’ diverse musical taste. Though tonally aggressive acts seem like outliers, they have their place at festivals if bookers finally allow them to play. Over the years, Bannon says the band has received emails from people saying they saw the band a long time ago at a festival, didn’t understand the music then, but love the music now—and they thank them for toughing it out.
“We’ve been fortunate as a band to play festivals where we’re the ‘extreme band’ playing next to Sigur Ros and Prince or Black Mountain. Jay-Z will be headlining and we’re playing the opposite stage in a tent to 5,000 people, but we’re still there. So it’s exciting that this is finally happening locally,” says Bannon. “It’s sort of like when the CMJ Music Festival died and SXSW started to kick off, you see promoters getting more experimental and thinking outside the box, cross-pollinating genres. We know we’re loud and abrasive. A lot of the audience probably won’t understand what we are, but that’s okay. We like to challenge that.”
Converge merge the gap that many non-metal or non-hardcore fans stray away from. There’s enough jaggedness to their guitars to lure punk fans in. There’s enough undecipherable bellowing to rope drone fanatics in. There’s enough instrumental diversity to grab post-rock fans by the collar. Converge creates music everyone can come around to because it’s varied in its details. Just ask any of the hundred fans who claim to have been turned off originally, but come around after dissecting their lyrics, their melodies, or their intensity in a live setting. Perhaps New Englanders have learned this best of all. While the New York versus Boston hardcore debate rages on, most listeners can recognize how those music worlds can’t justly be compared, if only because they continue to grow each week.
“It’s nice to still be able to look at the New England world as a punk and hardcore root of music and still see a huge scene. It may be fragmented or dysfunctional at times, but there’s so much stuff going on,” says Bannon, who still finds himself putting on records by the likes of Siege, Wrecking Crew, Slapshot, or Kingpin. “I love that there’s everything from house shows, Cambridge Elks-style shows, to club shows. It’s all there. Then you have larger, metal-oriented shows playing House of Blues. It reminds me of the excited time… when I was a kid in the golden era with clubs like The Channel and you had house shows in Worcester or Merrimack Valley. Every now and again, [those bands] would make it to the ‘big city.’ We’re starting to get into the modern era of that now.”
The more he talks about it, the clearer it becomes that Bannon views Boston’s punk and hardcore scene as one that includes all of Massachusetts, primarily because each neighborhood takes pride in the others’ success.
“A lot of the flag-bearers of specific styles came from here, really, at least if we’re looking at contemporary styles. It’s had a huge effect on things. You look at labels like Hydra Head which blended that hardcore and metal thing effortlessly. It’s interesting to see things evolve and influence the music world outside of New England. Here, everybody knows each other. There is a social fabric that exists, especially within younger bands, but even as you get older and life responsibilities pile on, you still run into people and when you do it feels familiar, like when you were a teenager,” he says. “I remember being in France last year and running into Mike D’Antonio in Killswitch Engage, who I’ve known since I was a teenager, and we were talking like we would in 1995 at a show at the Middle East Downstairs. Then the Dropkicks are there and we know all those guys and their crew because they’re all punk rock and hardcore rooted. They’re absolutely huge, but that’s their roots. Boston roots last a long time.”
Converge lead by example. Throughout the band’s career, they’ve stayed true to the Commonwealth. Both Bannon and guitarist Kurt Ballou have blended hardcore, punk, and metal since 1990 while living here, drawing upon other local acts and shining a light on them throughout. Boston proudly reminds other cities that Converge comes from these streets, primarily because the band represents a genuine whole-heartedness and individuality that’s often lacking in fellow bands, at least to the extent to which they’ve continually upheld it.
It’s clear as day in Bannon. A self-described nerd who would bring records home as a lifestyle instead of a hobby, he would obsess over the artwork, dissecting every aspect of it he could. The next week, he would save up money, go to the store, and do it all over again. “People, now, don’t understand the importance of what Newbury Comics did for the music community,” he says. “They were employers of a lot of musicians, a portal to get music out there, and I know I picked up some of my first Misfits records as a kid from there. When they started expanding beyond Newbury Street, I would spend so much time in the Garage location in the late ‘80s. They’re an institution. I might not feel like it to a punk rock kid who goes in there when they’re in a post-Hot Topic world, but that place changed lives for a lot of people. I remember kids giving me flyers for random shows. I was looking at flyers on the wall byAllston Beat, and a kid was like, ‘Hey, are you going to the show today?’ and I say, ‘Sure? I don’t know?’ because I was 12. I knew local shows at the Red Barn, but I didn’t go to many Boston shows. Being able to go to a club on a whim because a kid invites you to a show? That was pretty awesome.”
But his loyalty to Boston and Boston’s loyalty to Converge is great than that. They aren’t just an iconic band in Boston’s music fabric. They’re an iconic act in hardcore’s fabric at large. Four years ago, the band was fortunate enough to see Bruce Springsteen at TD Garden and was invited to watch the soundcheck. “We got to meet Bruce which was thrilling for us. Nate and I, our bass player, were sitting there going, ‘We’re so fucking lucky, that we have these opportunities.’ It blows our minds sometimes that punk and hardcore have led us to these places. People see our individuality and see our dedication to craft as something that’s unique and should be respected, even if it’s not necessarily their thing,” says Bannon. “It was cool to be in that environment and realize all those hundreds of thousands of miles we spent in a van, sleeping on floors, playing every club we were offered led us to something like this. When you’re an 11-year-old kid looking at Born in the USA, you never think you’ll meet that person. It’s not in the cards for you, yet on a day like that, the Dropkicks were coming out and doing stuff with Bruce. Here are people I’ve known since the early-’90s, with bands like the Bruisers, now onstage at the Garden honing their craft. Matt Kelly is running around and kicking years ago, but now he’s the drummer for the Dropkicks. Seeing familiar faces doing positive, impactful things in music is such an incredible feeling.”
Bannon and the rest of the band are no doubt part of that inspiring longevity. Over 25 years into their career and the members of Converge are hustling just as hard as they were at the start. Right now, they’re in the middle of a follow-up to 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind, “quite literally,” with 18 songs already written. This summer, the recording process is coming to an end, hopefully with the record out sometime later this fall. “It’s a Converge record, just like every other record—which I say because people usually ask if there’s some type of creative slurb, which like, no. We’ve been a band for a million years. What we do is what we do,” says Bannon. “Right now, I’m just excited because I find what we wrote to be very powerful because—I really believe this, and I don’t know if other artists look at it this way—I just want to do things that are creatively fulfilling. As long as it’s a progression of something we did previously, then we’re doing something good.” In 2012, there were zero kids. In 2017, there’s six kids between them, which adds an emotional complexity to the recording process, both in terms of mindset and schedule. Yet it still sounds like them. It feels like a Boston record. Some songs are a minute long, others are nine minutes. It pushes the band because it has to.
“It’s up to me to do creative things that keep people engaged,” he explains. “The second you think you hit a creative limit or you need to move to LA or Brooklyn? Those places are well and fine, but they’re all transient cities. People are going to come and go. Eventually they will get economically pushed out. Then it’s up to you to stick around and continue to hone your craft, doing something rooted in that world, or you leave it behind. I’ve never had a bitterness towards people that have left it behind or felt the need to distance myself from punk or hardcore. You can evolve within it in a multitude of ways. There’s something about the lack of perspective that comes into play when people have been kicking around in the same city for six years. When people blame their struggles on geography or a city, that’s bullshit. Jaded looks the same in every country. It’s about what you add to the table while you’re there.”
CONVERGE. SUN 5.28. HARVARD ATHLETIC COMPLEX, ALLSTON. 3:10PM/ALL AGES/$126. BOSTONCALLING.COM