Jacob Bannon – Artist, Entrepreneur, Vocalist of Converge
Once I create something, it’s no longer internalized and only mine to experience. Others experience all of it through their own eyes, ears, and emotional filters. At that point, the music is part of the fabric that makes them, that helps them through their own trials and tribulations. – Jacob Bannon
One night during my first semester of college I ended up getting involved in a labyrinthine conversation about music that ended up feeling like one of those formalized mating dances that birds of paradise engage in; adversarial and flirtatious at the same time. Bands and records were reduced to chips in a poker game, with each player bluffing about their hipster cred. The girl in whose dorm room I was sitting had pink hair, a lip ring, and an encyclopedic knowledge of gender-bending feminist spazz rock. Our ritualistic exchange ended up centering on hardcore though, and at the end of the night she gave me a copy of Converge’s Jane Doe. It was a record that would change my life as a lover of music.
That album seared itself into my car stereo and my memory, changing the way I related to every other heavy band. The men of Converge seemed to be playing at the bleeding edge of their technical abilities, blazing through songs at speeds that felt positively centrifugal, as if the entire operation was just about to break loose of that one rusty screw holding it together and go cartwheeling off into the void. Vocalist Jacob Bannon’s distorted howling was largely unintelligible, but his lyrics were poignant, and, when I finally got a chance to see the band live years later, his presence incendiary.
During the course of the ensuing decade I’ve followed Converge’s trajectory, and Bannon’s specifically. He co-founded Deathwish Records in 2000 and is a prolific visual artist. Jake has always struck me as an interesting figure; a lover of aesthetics with a fine eye for detail; a prolific writer whose emotions seem to spill onto the page; a charismatic frontman at the forefront of a genre that touts tolerance and unity while simultaneously being predisposed toward violence, or hijacked by it, depending on one’s perspective. We corresponded via e-mail this spring.
RB: You started Deathwish in 2000. Could you talk about your initial vision and hopes for the label, and whether there has been anything about its growth and success that has surprised you?
JB: Before a Converge practice in 1999, Tre and I went to dinner and talked about working on a label together. At the time, I was already moving forward with the idea and he was the person I felt had the best skill set to manage the label I envisioned. After all, I am not a person that enjoys dealing with the managerial end of things, and prefer to exist on the creative side of the label. Soon after he stopped touring and concentrated on Deathwish exclusively. Together, our initial vision was simply to release and promote music that we believed in and that’s still what we do. Not much has changed aside from the amount of square footage we need to run Deathwish. As for growth aside from that, I’m not sure as I don’t really reflect on things. I am just concerned with moving forward. I carry that same mentality in anything I am a part of. I’ll reflect when I am done making things.
RB: You’ve talked in various interviews about enjoying the busyness and variety of doing many things at once, and yet in other interviews mentioned feeling overworked, without enough time to finish all of your projects. Is finding a balance between being energized and motivated vs. being drained and overcommitted something that’s been historically difficult for you? If so, how do you approach trying to find that balance these days?
JB: It’s a careful balance for sure. As of late I’ve been making a bit more time to pursue creative projects that I find to be fulfilling. Even though music and art are a dream lifestyle for me, they can still be as draining as anything out there. Specifically they can be emotionally exhausting. In the end, it’s worth it. We are part of something passionate and pure, and that is a rare thing in this world.
RB: Death, betrayal and disappointment are recurrent themes in your lyrics. A thread of vengeance and/or justice also seems to run through a lot of your work, although I’ve also seen you quoted as having said that the name “The Blood of Thine Enemies,” which you were contemplating as a name for what ended up being christened your “Dear Lover” project was “too vengeful.” Does dealing with difficult themes take a toll on you, either in the writing and/or performing process? Is there a sense of constantly having to revisit old wounds and old grievances every time you play a show?
JB: I don’t view performing music as a revisitation. Once I create something I have purged it in a positive way. It stings less, while other things sting more that are in front of me. Related, once I create something, it’s no longer internalized and only mine to experience. Others (listeners, viewers, etc), experience all of it through their own eyes, ears, and emotional filters. At that point, the music is part of the fabric that makes them, that helps them through their own trials and tribulations.
RB: The line between people finding catharsis in extreme music and a few people finding an excuse to beat up on each other when that music is performed live can sometimes seem pretty fine. How have you dealt over the course of your career with the violent aspects of the hardcore scene? Do you feel any kind of responsibility toward your audience, and have their ever been moments when you looked back on a show where someone got hurt with regret?
JB: I am only responsible for my own actions.
RB: I’ve spoken with a number of artists recently about the growing demand for them to be accessible and stay connected in today’s internet-fueled world. You’ve been quoted as saying, “I don’t feel that great bands need to be big bands. In many ways, great artists aren’t meant to be understood and consumed by the masses. I don’t see obscurity as being a curse for anyone. If anything it insulates and isolates great bands from popular culture.”
You’ve certainly never seemed concerned with whether your art is viewed as being “accessible,” yet you’ve also had a consistent web presence and seem pretty devoted to your fans. What’s your take on the public’s hunger for connection with the bands and artists they love, and the expectations on artists these days to be available? Have you perceived those realities as changing, for better or worse, over the last twenty years of your career?
JB: I don’t see people as fans but as peers. Personally I prefer to give back to the people who are interested in what I creatively offer as much as I can. I think the voyeuristic aspect of it in contemporary culture has more in common with reality television culture than artistic admiration. Personally, I don’t have a hunger for that personal relationship with the artists and musicians that I admire. What they give me in song and in visuals is immeasurable, and all I could ever ask for.
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Jacob Bannon headshot by Brook Pifer