“Our world doesn’t sleep so we’re going to continue doing what we do.”
The collaborative album between Salem hardcore punks Converge and Sacramento goth-rock artist Chelsea Wolfe, Bloodmoon: I was heralded as one of the best albums of 2021 after it came out last fall. It’s the most genre-defying release of each act’s career, weaving in post-rock, symphonic, doom, and psychedelic elements from start to finish. And it’s one of those albums that’s more of an experience rather than an array of tracks.
To bring this experience to a live audience, Converge and Wolfe will take the stage at Roadrunner on April 9. The entire bill for the evening is going to be stacked, with Beverly post-rock icons Caspian and Walter Schreifels from New York City post-hardcore legends Quicksand opening.
Converge frontman Jacob Bannon and I spoke ahead of the show about a certain European music festival’s role in the inspiration behind the album, adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recording process, his artistic talents, and other projects he’s been working on.
Bloodmoon: I was five years in the making, with it originally being conceived as ambient and post-rock interpretations of Converge songs during a run of four shows in Europe. How did this creative partnership come together and how did it evolve from that tour to making a full-fledged album?
The idea of expanding what Converge is and what we could do creatively has been kicking around for a really long time. Going back to even like pre-2000, Kurt Ballou and I used to talk about just bringing in different kinds of instrumentation and trying to do different kinds of things that really weren’t being done, at least not in that music world. We wanted to broaden what we were doing, we already had a lot of dynamics in our sound and we’re predominantly known for being heavy and aggressive as a punk, hardcore and metal rooted band. There’s always been dynamics in our music, so even back then we were kind of talking about doing different kinds of things. Fast forward to 2009 or so, we did an album called Axe To Fall and prior to that album we were actually working on some collaborative material with Cave In.
At the time, we were toying with this idea of creating a big band where we would basically fuse both bands together into one sort of large band with two drummers, multiple guitarists, and all that jazz. Some of those songs ended up being reworked and finished to be included in Axe To Fall, that album had a lot of guest contributions. Not so much collaborations, more like folks coming in to play a part that we basically constructed for them, but it was sort of an extension of that idea and we were bringing in different kinds of voices at that time. Fast forward from there, we still held on to the idea of doing something bigger and more collaborative and around 2009 or 2010 we met Chelsea and Ben Chisholm.
First, we were just fans of her second album Apokalypsis and then we became peers and friends at that time. We kind of stayed in touch with them and thought about collaborating in some form or another down the line. We were asked to do some stuff for the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands and one of the earmarks of the festival, which was pretty unique to them at the time, was that they would basically ask artists to either do exclusive sets or write whole new musical pieces to be performed. We thought that this idea was interesting, challenging, and unique; it kind of fit with this idea of us trying to expand what our band could do so at that point we really took the idea of creating a big band version of Converge seriously. Instead of immediately writing new material, we wanted to do reinterpretations of existing material that could benefit from multiple guitarists and multiple musicians that would otherwise be there.
So Ben, Chelsea and Stephen Brodsky from Cave In at that point joined up with us and we put together some material and we did three or four shows in Europe just to test the waters and see if it was an experimentation that we liked and wanted to move forward with. We had a really positive experience and at that point we just wanted to continue and do more stuff. Obviously since then there has been multiple challenges, before it was just logistical stuff because you have a lot of creative people doing a lot of creative things and trying to get everybody in the same room was challenging. Then COVID-19 happened and that made things even more challenging but we continued to write, to communicate with one another and build some interesting music, so that’s where we’re at now.
With the pandemic interrupting the process of making the album halfway through and you had to do the rest remotely to finish it, what was that experience like going from everyone being in the same room to doing everything through Zoom chats and exchanging files via email? Did it take any major adjusting and looking back did it go smoother than you initially thought it would go?
It definitely changed the scope of everything in the sense that we actually didn’t even get into a room together. We were working on all of this material independently, but it’s very different now than it was five years ago in terms of how technology works, how fast you can work and how cohesive you can make things as a group. It’s still challenging for sure, but it’s less challenging than it was when we first started talking about the idea of having this large version of our band that’s deep rooted in a bunch of different places geographically. When we started recording we were basically about to head into the studio, then lockdown happened so we never actually got there. We had a lot of preliminary tracking kind of done already because of the way we were building the material and building the songs.
I wouldn’t call it demo recording, but essentially it was along with sort of building off of those ideas and those structures. There was already a skeleton of a lot of the material already kind of coming together so we just had to shift gears and realize that if we were going to do this we were going to have to do it in a different way. We waited for a bit too, we weren’t really sure if we should wait it out because nobody knew. We didn’t know if it was going to be one month, two months, three months, we had no idea. We just sort of stayed busy and Kurt had a lot of time open up in his schedule as an engineer because a lot of his in person sessions were canceled, so he was still quite busy with mixing but he had some free time so he was able to dedicate a lot of time and energy to the recording at that point.
We just shifted gears and had to make the best record that we could given the circumstances and I think we did a pretty solid job. Would the record be different if we were all in the same room? Maybe. I don’t know if it would be better or worse, in some ways I think we were hyper focused on it in our own way that we perhaps would not have been if we were under the typical time crunch of just being in the studio for a little bit of time and calling it a day with a recording. This gave us some more time to tinker, change things and sort of refine things, even at the 11th hour. For example, when we got together for mixing during the summer of last year as restrictions were lifting, everyone flew out and we were all in the same place for a bit and we were going over the material. It was funny because we were shooting video stuff and Stephen and Kurt mentioned that we forgot to track this one little guitar thing so they went back to the studio immediately to do it because we were sending everything off to mastering. There was a lot of stuff like that, we probably wouldn’t have had those luxuries otherwise if the pandemic didn’t change or alter our overall approach to things.
You did the art for the album and you’ve done the cover art for a ton of others including ones for Bane, Every Time I Die, and Wovenhand to name a few. Outside of Converge you’re also a professional artist and you’ve also done lectures on the craft. When it comes to taking on this kind of project, do you try to convey what the music is making you feel and put it onto canvas or does the artistic vision simply depend on the specific album at hand?
A little bit of both. If a client is hiring me, I’m trying to do the best version of what the client wants and needs. That might be different if it was just left up to me entirely to do something because at the end of the day it’s a job so I want to create the most successful version of something that somebody is commissioning for me. When I’m working on something I’m a part of, I have those parameters there too, but there’s also a personal emotional element to things. More often than not I’m just trying to capture the energy and the feeling that I get from the music from the record I happen to be working on, so that’s my goal.
With that said, sometimes a band may have an existing visual character and I have to play with that and work it into things or keep it in that same wheelhouse. Every project is sort of different like that, you can have a full departure for sure but more often than not you want to build upon something that was already there. With Converge, for example, even though we may be known for certain styles of art and whatnot we actually have a wide array of different styles of illustration, fine art, and photography that we’ve worked with over the years just because I like to keep things interesting and inspiring to me. I come at visual art from a graphic design perspective where to me there are no rules. I think you just have to make the best version of what you’re trying to create with what you got so I don’t really adhere to whether this needs to be a photograph or this needs to be a traditional illustration.
I just smash things together that I feel work well and take it from there. I’ve always done that with our band in more of an art director sort of role.
A few weeks ago, on March 18, Converge released a redux version of their tracks from The Poacher Diaries which is originally a split you guys did with Agoraphobic Nosebleed back in 1999. What can people expect from the record when they give it a listen?
We acquired the rights back to that material a couple years ago from our friends at Relapse Records, which was super cool of them to do for us. It was out of print for a long time and they did a couple represses and reissues but they lost some of the original art so the quality was sort of going down. I did some legwork, got all the pieces together from previous versions of that stuff, and we got all the audio back. One of the things with that era of music is number one, we were competent musicians for the time but Kurt is a perfectionist in a lot of ways and if he feels that there’s room for improvement in something then he’ll want to sonically improve it. That material was stuff that we felt could use a nice remix since the tracks were available to us, so he did that, remastered it and brought it up to where it should be.
The stuff from that era also had a lot of samples and samples are a tricky thing because even though they add an interesting part of the creative narrative to your music, there’s a lot of rights issues there too and we wanted to remove those so we removed a couple of those things. We then put it all back together again in a way that we felt excited about and wanted to present it in a new way, so we did. A lot of that material has always been pretty important to us and pretty special to us but it kind of got lost over time because of it being a split release versus its own standalone thing. Treating it as a proper Converge record as opposed to a split just felt right so we just went for it.
After this Bloodmoon show at Roadrunner, what are Converge’s plans and your plans for the coming months?
The pandemic has been a challenging time to make any sort of future plans. We’ve basically been saying yes to things and scheduling things for two years internationally, everywhere. With that said, our tour with Meshuggah got postponed on us a few months back. We may do some of it now, but we’re not really sure. We’re really excited to be doing these Bloodmoon shows in the United States, it was a really electric and exciting time when we did it over there in Europe in 2016 so doing it here as more of a fully fleshed out thing is really exciting for us and we’re really happy about that. We have other festival things going on, we have other tours and we might be able to get that Meshuggah tour worked out where we can be a part of it.
We recently confirmed some Bloodmoon tours in Europe starting in July and there’s a ton of other stuff. Converge is always creatively busy, we are still writing material with both the proper lineup and with the Bloodmoon lineup. We all have different bands, side projects and things. One of my other bands, Umbra Vitae, is working on a second album and I just started working on a second Blood From The Soul release with those guys. I have some Wear Your Wounds material that I’m hopefully going to start working on with the guys soon, so we have a lot of things going on. Our world doesn’t sleep so we’re going to continue doing what we do.