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Converge - Interview

  by Paul Waller

published: 7 / 10 / 2012

Converge - Interview


The guitarist and producer with hardcore act Converge, Kurt Ballou speaks to Paul Waller about his group's history, and their just released latest album, ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’

With a brand new record, ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’ on Epitaph Records, in the shops and a UK tour lined up, American hardcore veterans Converge now prepare themselves for another tour cycle. Pennyblackmusic spoke to guitarist and producer Kurt Ballou about the group’s history, their creative inspiration and the current state of play within the band. PB: When bands start out, their home towns often root for them, but when success comes, a local scene can often turn its back on you? Did you ever suffer this fate? KB: We still do well in the Boston area. A lot of our families, friends, and the bands we grew up playing with and/or looking up to are rooted around here, so it still feels like home. But when we started out in the early 90's, there was a much greater regional identity to musical genres than there is today. Due to the proliferation of social media, these days, people tend to form a sense of community based more on shared tastes and ideologies than they do shared geography. Because of this, hometown pride isn't what it used to be. It's not good or bad - just different. PB: The music industry has vastly changed since you guys began. Your 2009 last album, ‘Axe to Fall’, album infamously leaked on the internet. What is your stance on illegal downloading today? KB: I accept that it is reality whether I agree with it or not. All I can do is hope that enough people buy our records and come to our shows that we can afford to keep doing it on this level. The unfortunate reality is that without selling a reasonable amount of albums, bands and record labels, particularly ones interested in creating music without a whole lot of commercial potential, will cease to exist. Hydra Head Records announcing their closure recently is a perfect example of this. Great bands will no longer be able to afford to make great albums and go on tour and future generations of creative people will have less and less exposure to interesting, creative music. If you love music, you're shooting your future self in the foot by stealing it. PB: Downloads (legal and otherwise) are becoming increasingly popular as each year passes. Yet with each new Converge release the packaging and artwork seems as important as the music within. Many bands buck the downloading trend as you do, but you seem to go above and beyond to make sure your fans have a piece of art in their hands when they buy a record. Why is it so important to you to have that complete package? KB: Because I love that feeling of excitement about getting a new album, and diving into it and learning it from front to back. Having a great package to go along with it just furthers that experience. Holding it in my hands and pouring over the lyrics, images, and liner notes while listening makes it feel all the more real. When I was a kid, I used to buy tapes through those BMG and Columbia house clubs because they were cheaper. But a lot of the time, they sent me special pressings of those tapes that had no packaging other than the front cover and I felt so ripped off. It felt so temporary - like MP3s feel now. I like having something real I can hold in my hands. PB: ‘Axe to Fall’ was an album so full of possibilities and left hand turns that no one could really guess what to expect from you next. Was that the point? To set up a platform which could lead you in any one of numerous directions? KB: The point was, and has always been, to follow whatever inspiration comes our way, and to take that inspiration to its fullest potential. The songs for the last album shaped up in a certain way because that was the best we could make those songs at that moment in time. The same holds true for this batch of songs and hopefully any other songs we write in the future. We don't ever sit down with a plan of what we want an album to be. We just make the best of what we have to work with, and as long as it feels honest and with a sense of urgency and potency, we'll be proud to call it a Converge record. PB: Years of success normally breed stagnation within a band. Being in a band is almost like being in a marriage. What do you think has been the key ingredient to not killing each other? Especially on the road? KB: For me, success is a journey and not a destination. The fact that we get to keep doing this is motivation enough to co-habitate with my brothers in rock. PB: How did your split EP with Napalm Death from earlier this year come about, and how hard was it to leave a fantastic song such as ‘No Light Escapes’ off your new album? KB: They asked us and we said we'd love to do it! We've been listening to them since we started the band, so it was a no-brainer. It was hard to leave any song off the album because, in my opinion, it doesn't have any filler. But with there being four versions of the album out there and only one of those four versions not having the song, we didn't think it was that big of a deal. PB: ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’ is quite the ambiguous title for an album. Can you shed a little light on what it means? KB: I'm not the lyricist, so I can't get too deep into it, but to me it's about love and loss. In a broad sense, there's the love that gets left behind when we die. But in a more immediate way, I think it's a thank you to the loved ones in our personal lives who have to live without us for long stretches as we go out on tour to pursue this passion of ours. PB: ‘Aimless Arrow’ is an interesting choice for the first song off the album to be released, with a new singing style at its forefront. It’s not the first time there has been less aggressive vocals on a Converge record but they are very precise and clean. It’s got me practically watering at the mouth to see what else you guys have packed into the new album, which I suppose was the point. Can you talk a little about ‘Aimless Arrow’ and where it fits in with ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’ as a whole? KB: I think there's quite a bit of precedence for this type of vocal. ‘Dark Horse’, the first song on our last album had it. Lots of older material had it as well – ‘Distance and Meaning’ from Jane Doe for example. Anyway, I think this song draws quite a bit from the 90's Dischord Records-type influence that has always been a crucial part of Converge's music. I think a lot of people don't realise what a huge impact the bands on Dischord, Gravity, Troubleman, Vermiform, Art Monk, etc. had on us. And as far as where it fits into the album goes, the decision to put it first pretty much consisted of "We like it.... Yeah, ok, put that one first." To me this album is more of a collection of self contained songs on equal footing than it is some grandiose flowing concept record. In that sense, it reminds me more of ‘You Fail Me’ than it does of ‘Axe to Fall’ or ‘Jane Doe’. PB: If I can I would like to pinpoint a track off of each of your albums since your 1995 first major album release‘ Caring and Killing’, and have you talk about how you feel about them now. KB: ‘CARING AND KILLING’ – ‘Zodiac’ Old friend and roadie, Ryan Parker's most requested song. I think at one point it sounds like Jake (Bannon, vocalist-Ed) sings, "This is the shit dangling...." ‘PETITIONING THE EMPTY SKY’ – ‘Dead’ That one was always wild live. I remember playing that song before anyone had ever heard it in what was probably the first encore we ever did at a coffee house in Columbia, SC in probably 1995. ‘WHEN FOREVER COMES CRASHING’ – In Harm’s Way’ That was an experiment with mediocre results... but at least we were trying to be creative! ‘JANE DOE’ – ‘Concubine’ That's a live staple. I like when our drummer Ben Koller changes the tempos to fuck with us. ‘YOU FAIL ME’ – ‘Drop Out’ That's the "old version" of ‘Aimless Arrow’. ‘NO HEROES’ – ‘Sacrifice’ A song that got better live than it was on the record but never got as good as it was in my head. ‘AXE TO FALL’ – ‘Losing Battle’ The songs Nate Newton (bass guitar-Ed)writes for Converge always have riffs that go "weedle deedle deedle." PB: Converge are perhaps the most successful hardcore/metalcore/whatevercore band ever. Two questions here a) I often read interviews with younger bands name checking you as innovators and a great influence. Who influences what you do right now, musically or otherwise? b) Does being an influence on so many cause a heavy pressure on you to live up to expectations? KB: At this point, I think we take more influence from regular life and what we've done together in the past than we do from contemporary metal and hardcore bands. We don't put any pressure on ourselves to live up to anyone's expectations of us. The only pressure we feel is the pressure we put upon ourselves to give 100% to every record we do. PB: Has the band ever come close to splitting? We had a brief break up in 1994 when our, then bassist, Jeff Feinburg, moved away. After our then drummer John DiGiorgio quit in 1999, but before we got Ben, for a little while I wanted to either break up the band or switch to keyboards and get a drum machine or something stupid like that. I'm glad someone talked me off of that ledge. PB: Finally you have some tours coming up but after that what is on the horizon? KB: After that we're going back to our normal home lives. I'll be back to work recording bands in my studio. Jake will be doing art working at his label. Nate will be back with Doomriders (I'm recording them early next year) and Ben will be back with APMD (I'm recording their next album as well.) PB: Thank you.

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Converge - Interview

Converge - Interview

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