If you want to improve on an unwavering incline, look to Converge for inspiration. The Boston metalcore act formed back in 1990 when it was just vocalist Jacob Bannon and guitarist Kurt Ballou, trying their hand in the hardcore punk and heavy metal genres until they unintentionally helped pioneer its hybrid genre, metalcore.
Converge has never taken a break since its formation. While there’s been a gap between records, the band has released nine studio albums in total, not including live records, EPs, or 7”s. Its latest, this year’s powerful The Dusk in Us, sees the band subtly reach new heights, both sonically and lyrically. But in Bannon’s eyes, it’s in line with what he’s been doing all along.
“The blueprint that I follow as an artist is the one I followed as a kid: The lyricists who appeal to me are the ones who write personal songs,” he says over the phone. “I didn’t engage with songs of a more social or political leaning bent. The personal stuff that connected with me as a listener was the path I went down. From being 13 years old writing about stuff to now, where I’m 41, where I haven’t changed. I’m a broken record in that regard. There’s never a lack of motivation to write or lack of subject matter. Life is a very gray thing that goes through ups and downs. As a band, we use our music and the contributions we bring to the table as a way to navigate those things. This record isn’t any different in that sense, because it aims to deal with difficulties in a positive, personal way.”
To dig deeper into Converge’s record before they headline Brighton Music Hall, we interviewed Jacob Bannon for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles. True to his onstage persona, Bannon was honest and open, choosing his words carefully without wasting breath.
1) “A Single Tear”
DIGBOSTON: Are there any holiday songs that make you a smidge emotional?
BANNON: No [laughs]. I don’t really listen to them. It’s not something that connects with me. We certainly didn’t listen to them as a family, so it’s not part of my upbringing the way it is for some people.
2) “Eye of the Quarrel”
DIGBOSTON: When having an argument with someone, what do you do to make sure it remains constructive?
BANNON: Well, I try not to have arguments at all [laughs]. Everyone will have some struggle and turmoil or strife in their life with heated moments, but I feel that as long as you communicate clearly and respect the person you’re speaking to, you can usually navigate it without it actually being an argument. It should be a conversation.
3) “Under Duress”
DIGBOSTON: Is there a reliable method for getting someone to admit they lied? Because you’re a parent, I assume you may have experience with this with your own kid.
BANNON: I suppose so. My kids aren’t at an age where they can fully realize a lesson like that. It’s more of an educational direction, acknowledging that this direction they’re trying to give you isn’t working and that it isn’t real. They move past it without it becoming a source of embarrassment instead of making it a point of learning.
4) “Arkhipov Calm”
DIGBOSTON: Who do you think is today’s equivalent of Vasili Arkhipov, the Soviet Navy officer whose vote prevented a nuclear strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
BANNON: The historical significance is so great that one individual couldn’t replace him. That would be so hard, even for a current version. People do that with artists all the time, you know? Like, “Who’s the new version of Black Flag? Who’s the new Metallica?” There is no new; it’s just music. I’m sure there’s historic figures that have had even larger stresses than Vasili, or people internationally dealing with that. I can imagine the amount of stress and pressure that social political figures have to feel as they navigate these really complex waters of brutal history and current events, and try to come out the other end a better person while serving the people they represent. That’s gotta be intense. So I’d say anyone who brings responsibility to other people whose lives are in their hands.
5) “I Can Tell You About Pain”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the most physically painful injury you’ve ever had?
BANNON: It’s two combined things on a tour. I’ve broken bones and whatever, those things happen, which is frustrating. Any human deals with that. But I broke my orbital bone on tour once and that was really uncomfortable because there was a lot of pressure on my head and around my eye. A few days prior to that, I actually got cut onstage on a microphone ball. If you ever look at one, they’re woven pieces of metal. Over time, they can break and become hooks. Most vocalists have had to deal with cuts from those before. I got cut from one a few days before I broke that bone—well, I didn’t break it, someone else did by kicking me accidentally—and the cut that I got from the microphone got infected with a form of staph infection. I had no insurance and no time, because I’m playing show to show, so I didn’t go to the ER until I came home. The infection was really intense, just brutally painful, and it spread. It became a mess on my face and in my mouth, plus I had this broken orbital bone where my eyeball turned black. It was a lot.
6) “The Dusk in Us”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the last memorable sunset you saw?
BANNON: That’s a good question. It had to have been on a weekend. The way my office is oriented, I have to pull the shades, otherwise I get blinded during the day, so I keep them down on week days. But I live on the coast, so I get to watch some pretty cool natural things like that.
DIGBOSTON: Can you name two nature-related facts that surprise you?
BANNON: The near-constant movement of sharks is something that’s always impressed me. And the second would be the overall distance of yearly bird migration. That’s incredible to think about. Quite literally every bird that migrates is actually impressive, but any of the arctic birds that go thousands and thousands of miles? They’re incredible. Maybe an Arctic tern? It looks like a small seagull mixed with a robin or something like that. It flies over 10,000 miles, one way, when it migrates. That’s just incredible.
8) “Murk & Marrow”
DIGBOSTON: How do you spend an overcast, dreary day?
BANNON: Probably working making art or music in some way. That’s pretty much all I do. My life is pretty regimented like that. I don’t have much free time. I don’t look out the window and change my plans according to that, but it’s a depressing obstacle.
DIGBOSTON: What’s one thing you think US citizens can do to help tighten gun control laws?
BANNON: That’s very difficult because there’s virtually no power for citizens. It’s up to government officials and its state versus federal laws. We’re in Massachusetts, so we have some of the tightest laws in the country, but there’s still holes in that. It’s very difficult to navigate technology that can be lethal without really talking honestly about a human behavior, and the social and cultural ramifications of taking those rights—as some people see it—and altering it in some way. I find it to be really frustrating that there’s really an honest conversation about that type of thing, it’s always dehumanized and politicized really quickly. At the end of the day, you’re talking about trying to save lives. It’s a difficult thing to deal with. I think we’re doing a pretty okay job in our state, though. Honestly, it’s something that’s a different conversation state to state. If I’m talking to somebody in Texas—I was just there for an art opening—their laws are drastically different than ours here, or in Maine. It needs to be a larger conversation than a state by state thing, and that’s one of the key problems.
10) “Broken by Light”
DIGBOSTON: What recent piece of news gave you a positive outlook, even if only for a moment?
BANNON: Any story which has a compassionate or empathetic element. A friend of mine in Connecticut is putting together an art show auction to bring awareness to the opioid crisis in the Connecticut area. I’ve known him forever and I’ve seen him at some dark places in life. Now I see him doing counseling and outreach work? It’s awesome to help him help other people. Stories like that, where someone tries to do good, are a good thing for me.
DIGBOSTON: Do you remember the first time you saw The Silence of the Lambs?
BANNON: I saw it in a movie theater when it came out. In 1991, I still lived in the Merrimack Valley, so I would’ve seen it at the Lawrence Showcase Cinema in Lawrence. Either there, or a theater I used to go to a lot when I was a kid that’s right off of 93. If someone is driving on 93 to Boston, south from the north, right before you get to Boston, there’s a Home Depot on the left and a building right before it that I think now is office buildings. For the longest time, that was also a movie theater.
12) “Thousands of Miles Between Us”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have any long-distance friendships? If so, how far away do they live and how did you meet?
BANNON: How I define the idea of friendship and how I define the idea of acquaintances is very different. Because of traveling for music, I know a lot of people and I have close friendships with people for very small amounts of time. For example, our European tour manager that travels with us and still does from time to time is from the Czech Republic. I only see him a couple times a year. But when I see him, everything we do is within 20 feet of one another for months at a time. And its been like that for like 18 years. There’s a lot of bands that you meet and you don’t see again, but you become friends with them in these really tight confines. There’s a ton of those, and it feels disrespectful to call them acquaintances, but I guess they are that in many ways. Because at home, I keep a tight leash on my life. All of my friends that I have are the ones I’ve had for well over 20 years. Most are from the music world. We all found one another through hardcore and punk, and a lot of us still connect through that. I would think it’s only a handful of friends that I have, and most live around here.
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever had a pet reptile or any sci-fi looking animal?
BANNON: I had a chameleon as a kid, and a turtle. But now? It’s funny, I don’t have too much daily interaction with them. I took my son around the neighborhood this summer and he got to go hunt with some of our neighbors for snakes. That was pretty exciting.
I like the concept of sci-fi usually more than I like sci-fi. When I was a kid, I liked that show V that came out. They were basically weird aliens. This was when miniseries were a big deal. They took over NBC for a week. There were lizard people that came to invade the planet, which was a big deal because that was pretty unheard of at the time, whereas now you can turn on the television and there’s heavy sci-fi ideas. Things were really soft or bland murder mysteries. When there was something a little heady that came out, it was a pretty big deal. I’m probably dating myself a bit because I think that was 1984 [laughs].
CONVERGE, PILE, GIVE. FRI 12.8. BRIGHTON MUSIC HALL, 158 BRIGHTON AVE., ALLSTON. 8PM/18+/$20. CROSSROADSPRESENTS.COM