Published Sep 25, 2012Let's get this straight: All We Love We Leave Behind is not Jane Doe. It's not You Fail Me, nor No Heroes. It's not even Converge's last album, Axe to Fall. And this is specifically because they don't want it to be. While the group could choose to emulate their past, to rest on their laurels would mean certain death for this act of 23 years. Granted, their newest masterpiece certainly touches upon all their previous work ― the fastest moments of Axe to Fall are played against the sludgier, stranger moments of You Fail Me, while the sheer unrelenting metallic ferocity of No Heroes is never far off. All of this is tied together by a memorability the band haven't touched since Jane Doe and despite matured songwriting preventing appearances of the unhinged chaos of the band's pre-'00s material, equally poignant, though more controlled, forays into sonic pandemonium explode throughout. Converge have managed to once again best their only competition: themselves.
Given that Jane Doe, You Fail Me and No Heroes are sometimes considered a set by some, and Axe to Fall was an interesting project with all the guest musicians, where would you put All We Love We Leave Behind in Converge's career?
Well, I don't see it in the way that other people would, just being one of the people that worked to create these records, but that sort of narrative is something that others sort of instil on records. That may be the opinion of a listener, or critic, but that's not necessarily the intention for ourselves as a band. For example, the way we see Jane Doe? It's just another Converge record. The way we see Petitioning the Empty Sky? Just another Converge record, in a different point in our writing, in our line-up and things like that. With You Fail Me, No Heroes, Axe to Fall, they're all just Converge records. We don't really see things as a set of records; we don't see things as being any more or less important than the record before or after it. They're just part of the mass of material that we've written together as a group. Even Axe to Fall, we had a lot of guest musicians, but that's something we orchestrated, so that was something that we were in control of the entire time ― that was something that was intentional. We didn't have other writers, per se, just other musicians. It was our editing; it was our shaping of the music, the direction and content that was that record. This really isn't any different, this is just a collection of personal songs, songs that we're excited about, songs that are emotionally valid, just like they should be. Your latest record should always be your most important record to you.
I read in a press release, Kurt mentioned that this album has "no artificial distortion, triggers or Auto-Tune." How does that differ from previous albums?
It actually doesn't. I think that was more or less Jonah [PR person], who wrote that bio and sort of the direction that he kind of spun things, which is completely fine. That's his job to do that sort of thing ― that's why he's hired. But it's not a reflection of it being any different than other Converge records; it's more a reflection and example of us being different than other aggressive bands, where that kind of approach is commonplace now. Bands take a huge amount of time editing the hell out of music. We try to do as much of our editing as possible in the songwriting, not necessarily in recording. There's obviously a ton of editing that's involved, of course, but not to the level of some of the more commercially influenced, sort of metallic music that's out there today that probably people consider our peers. But we don't really consider them peers.
And why do you make the effort to do that? What holds Converge to that level of integrity?
It's not necessarily a level of integrity, it's just a level of sound. There's just an approach that we like or a sound that we like. There's a rawness to our band that is unlike a lot of other bands out there, so we can't really record in that way. We wouldn't be the same band if somebody edited our takes to death and assembled the perfect drum sound, or the perfect, consistent, smooth guitar sound or something like that. Our music has bite and power, and that's something that's just part of our character, so it's not something that we'd ever want to lose or jeopardize in some way. We go to great lengths to ensure that it's alive in our recordings.
We talked about how Converge, from an engineering point of view, don't really touch up songs...
Right. Well, we do a lot of editing and a lot of things, but we're conscious of not over-editing things. We try to get the best possible performance out of what we are as a band. I know that sounds a bit ironic, being a fairly noisy band and it probably sounds like white noise to many people, but there are a lot of subtleties to what we do and recording aggressive music isn't exactly the easiest thing. It's always challenging to keep things as uncompressed as possible, as interesting sounding as possible without just crushing things digitally and that's pretty much what happens to a lot of contemporary records that are our there today.
When you guys write, what's your approach? Obviously you're not like these commercial bands and you have a different methodology. What was your aim for the new record?
Our aim is that we never really have an aim. You know, we just sort of do what we do; we don't do things on a schedule. A lot of bands adhere to sort of a music industry album cycle kind of thing that we just don't give a shit about at all; we never have. It's not the kind of world we exist in. We just write music when we're motivated to write, so we never really force anything. At some point we go, "Hey, let's come back to write a record, I've got some ideas, got some things floating around." And then we get together and start bouncing ideas off each other and editing a lot of our ideas and riffs, and start assembling things. We don't really put a timeline on things until they're pretty much ready to go and that's when we say, "Okay, we're going to head into the studio and write our a record." It's just more casual and natural that way, and I think you get a more soulful record. You don't get forced aggression; you don't get forced abrasion; you don't get a pressure cooker of stuff that delivers a mediocre record or something like that. We like doing things on our terms and Epitaph has always been really good to us about that. This is our fourth record with them and they've always kind of understood that we're our weird animal and they don't pressure us to be anything different than what we are, which we appreciate a lot.
Converge are very much a self-contained unit. You do a lot of the art, Kurt does your recording, Deathwish handles some of your releases and vinyl. It's to the point where I read that Kurt said he doesn't even listen to much music outside of what you guys have recorded.
Yes, I think, for the most part. You've got to remember too, we're surrounded by music all the time. When I go home, I listen to music, but I turn to things that I've always listened to. So it takes a lot for me to get really excited about something new or something contemporary in some way, because we kind of exist in a bit of a vacuum, but we're okay with that. We're not looking for outside influences; we're not looking for outside inspiration at this point in our lives.
You guys have had the same line-up since right after Jane Doe. How do you manage to keep things fresh and interesting with the band?
It's really easy; we like being a band. We don't burn ourselves out; we do things on our own schedule, on our own terms. We don't really balance any other pressures. I think we also respect what we all bring to the table, so you don't really get egos in the way of anything. We all really appreciate the one-quarter that we bring to our world ― the four of us. Prior to that, the only real tension we ever had, and that wasn't even really tension, it was just a shortcoming, was when our second guitarist, Aaron [Dalbec], was in the band. He just simply didn't have time to dedicate to our band. We were growing as individuals and as musicians and such and he just wasn't growing in the same way. He had other priorities and he wanted to concentrate on those. When you see somebody struggling and they can't make a decision for themselves because they love everything they do, sometimes you have to sort of be the catalyst. You have to sort of say, "okay, we feel that you should choose this." That actually alleviated a lot of the internal pressure that we had as a band. At that point, we were pretty much content being the four-piece that we are and it's been great ever since. We have a sibling relationship too, just being in a band since we were like 13, 14, 15, 16 years old and stuff like that. At least, you know, a few of us have, and when you grow up together like that, you have a different bond and friendship. You don't hang out all the time. Are you a single child, lone child or do you have brothers and sisters?
I have one brother and one sister. My brother's my best friend in the world and my sister, we're not as close, but like we don't see each other for a while, then we hangout and it's awesome.
Right, so it's really similar to that where we're almost like a family. We live all down the street from each other and we know that we can all depend on one another at any time. Some of us are actually probably closer than others at various times in our lives, but we all respect each other and care about each other a ton. So that's kind of what our relationship's like and I think having that kind of healthy approach to things and that sort of self-awareness makes us less apt to the dysfunction that destroys other bands. Other bands can be pulled apart by really petty things. We might get frustrated ― one of the guys might get frustrated that I accidentally leave a sweaty show shirt on the back of a van seat ― but it's not going to lead to the breakup of my band. We're pretty realistic when it comes to that type of thing.
So, your relationship with the other guys, well, all of your relationships together, kind of help shape the music, to a point?
Oh, definitely, because that's chemistry ― that's how you interact, that's how you talk to each other. I mean, if we didn't have that respect for one another, we couldn't go into a room and tear apart a song that somebody loves and appreciates and has worked for weeks on or something like that without breaking somebody's heart and making them go and cry. But we do that, we break things down and rebuild them all the time, and that editing process is pretty much what you hear as our band. You hear the four of us basically taking all of our ideas and improving upon them. You have to kind of be selfless in that respect. You have to be able to bring something to the table and say, "okay, guys, do something with this. This is my idea, let's take it in the direction that's going to make it the best possible creature that it can be." That's not an easy task. A lot of bands can't deal with that sort of thing. A lot of bands can't have somebody pull apart a riff. I know a band that there are guys that will freak out if they can't sing backing vocals in a song and storm out of a practice or something like that. We don't care; we just want what's best for the song, what's best for our band and the collective character that we build together. Sometimes that means sort of bowing out and making sure that it's the best possible direction you're taking the song. It's not necessarily the one that you envisioned at first, but it usually works out in the end.
I've read that you said that the title, All We Love We Leave Behind, is an apology letter to what you had to leave behind to pursue your art and music, which you've obviously put a great deal into. What have you sacrificed and why did you make that decision?
We sacrificed, collectively, normalcy. As teenagers, we chose to get into a van and tour and live a bit of a nomadic life for a very long time. In some ways it puts your life on hold, on pause; it means that a lot of the normalcy that peers around you and family around you have in your lives, you don't necessarily have until later in your life. And that's okay because we have a drive to be creative individuals and a creative collective, and that's just part of it. I think anybody that has a profession or a love that they pursue with everything that they have, to choose to pursue something you have to allow other things in your life to just simply float away, or you really have less control of those things, and pursue these things. And, myself, personally, traveling, you know, I give a lot to music; I give a lot to art because it's something I appreciate, something I care about immensely, and it's part of me. But there are also other things in my life and people I care about, things at home I care about ― friends, family ― that developed in a different way because of me giving so much I have to the vision that I have.
Why the sudden urge to title an album this and apologize this far into your career. You've obviously abandoned the normalcy years ago.
I personally enjoy descriptive titles and we had very descriptive titles for a while. In the mid-'90s, I had a lot of them and I enjoyed painting a picture through prose, lyrically and through setting the tone for a record through a title. But back then, after we did it for a while, it sort of became something that happened often. All of a sudden it felt like every band that was coming out with a record had a 12-word descriptive title and they were getting more mediocre by the day and were just non-inspired. It was clear that it was just sort of a phase that was occurring and we tend to zig when everyone else zags in our world. We've always had a sort of adversarial relationship with all of our peers and I think that's because we really cherish our independence from others ― from being defined. We like to be judged as just what we are, or not just judged at all ― just listen to it. But we don't feel like we really fit into anything or do anything. Starting with the Jane record, we started really shortening titles and things like that, and just sort of going a different way visually, to start painting a picture of a band and our sort of visual aesthetic and things like that. And I felt like it was time to go back to that original idea that I had when we started the band and we started releasing records. I always liked that. I know that's something that bands that I tend to enjoy did and those kind of things stuck with me. You always want to emulate the positive aspects of other things that you see and turn them into your own. I don't know; it just works for us.
You said you started painting a visual aspect with Jane Doe, but the artwork for All We Love We Leave Behind is a bit different; it's a bit simpler. Was that a conscious decision to mark a change or what made you decide to do that?
I don't like repeating myself; I never would. I think every record has its sort of own visual character. The Jane record had a specific story to create visuals with, to sort of amplify that. You Fail Me was very dark and sort of a stoic record, and I wanted to create visuals that complemented that; it was very different than the Jane album. Then the No Heroes album was something that felt a little bit more triumphant, a little bit more explosive, so I pushed that direction. I think the only thing that related any of those records was a limited colour palette. I always wanted to do colour palettes because it's something I enjoy, you know? And then the Axe to Fall record, I wanted to create a piece of art for every song more on their own so they were kind of their own little floating islands. I unified them through a colour palette and through a basic approach, although aesthetically they are a bit different, just sort of using explorations in repetitive imagery and things like that. And it fit the record pretty well and I think the concepts and idea of the record pretty well. This record is a very dark record; it's a very emotional record. It creates a sort of juxtaposition. There's the metaphor, which is "All We Love We Leave Behind," and the moon phases and then have a really explosive, colourful, sort of limitless juxtaposition with all the other artwork. All the other artwork is just free of rules and just virtually every colour that I happen to make by accident, using gouache and things like that. I don't know, it was an interesting visual experiment and I think it worked pretty successfully. At least, I feel it did because psychologically I felt okay enough with it to release it.
You said that on Axe to Fall, you wanted each song to be a different island, and then on this one, somebody said that it was a record full of singles...
Yeah, Kurt [Ballou guitar] kind of said that. I guess we're saying the same thing with different intentions. With the Axe record, what I mean by the songs being their own islands, like having different guest musicians, they all have unique voices. For example, a song with the Genghis Tron guys sounds like us and Genghis Tron, but a song with Steve Von Till sounds like us and Steve Von Till from Neurosis. They have their unique voices and that kind of unified all these things through the visuals. Whereas this record, sonically, all the songs are really packaged quite nicely. They don't really need to be bookended by other songs to make sense. For example, sometimes when you're listening to a record, you need to hear the songs before and after for a song to make sense in context. Whereas we just wanted to really create powerful, potent songs that didn't need that ― didn't need to have to be listened to in context. You can listen to one song on this record and feel that it has closure and that was something that was interesting to us and something that just kind of came with maturing as song writers.
But the album still has a good flow through it.
Oh, yeah, the flow, we torture ourselves over stuff like that. I think we spent eight weeks on the order and it's not just coming up with a sonic flow ― there are different tunings on every record that we have, from song to song. You can't really have a song that starts in C land up next to a song that starts in D; it just doesn't really flow well. It's almost grating in a way. People do it all the time ― they don't care ― but we kind of have our little specifics about that. When we assemble records, it's a really careful puzzle piece. Each of us, for this record, came up with maybe three or four orders that we enjoyed, that we thought worked well. And we all submitted them to each other and then cut them apart and dissected them and re-edited them ourselves. Like, "Hey, Jake, I like this idea, but let's try to move in this here" or "hey, Ben [Koller, drums], I like that idea, but let's try moving this here instead." Eventually what you end up getting is a version of the play order that we feel is the best possible solution for all of the sonic problems that the record presented to us.
The goal for this album, you had the individual songs, but you still wanted it to flow as a full piece of art then?
Yes, definitely, because it is presented that way. If it was presented as 17 separate cassettes, that would be totally different. You could do whatever; you could do a whole lot of different things with it, but you still need to give it a cohesive flow. I know a lot of bands that will know how they want to start a record and how they want to end, but everything else in the middle is irrelevant to them. They may enjoy the record, they may enjoy their songs, but they don't really spend a great deal of time on amassing the girth of the record. They're not trying to really make anything consistent out of the rest of it. This album has a lot of flow and we were really aware of that when we were assembling it. Honestly, that's something our band kind of have had since the Jane record; I remember Kurt and myself exhausting ourselves in mastering the sequences. We did an in-house session at West West Side with Alan Douches and we were there for like, I don't know, maybe like a half a day, 12 hours, 14 hours, and tried countless things with that record. And ever since then we've been really aware of how we want our records to flow. Prior to that, we were young; we were much younger and we really didn't know exactly what we wanted. I think we just kind of were enamoured by the fact that we had the ability to record a record. It took a little while for all the specifics to come into play, where we could go, "okay, now we actually have to really think about crafting this," rather than just recording it and saying, "Oh my god, I can't believe we actually finished a record; it's amazing."
You've got your style down, been cited as an influence by numerous acts and established your legacy. What do you think allowed you to accomplish it? What made Converge the band that would release Decibel's number one album [of the '00s], with Jane Doe?
You'd have to ask other people, honestly, because I know for myself and the rest of our guys, we're the same dudes that we've always been. We met Ben when he was 19 years old and he would go to Converge shows. And we weren't really that much older than him when he joined our band and he's still the same exact kid that I met even though now he's married and has a baby and has played drums in our band forever. I feel like the same person that I was when I was 13, 14 years old, you know? My angst is different; I'm a more complex individual than I was when I was 15, 16 years old, kind of trying to process a lot of the issues that I had at the time, but I still am using art and music as a way out of those things. Kurt's the same way. He plays guitar as a form of expression ― something that's interesting and fulfilling to him. We've never set goals; we've never been like, "oh, hey, we want to go tour place A or B, and that's going to be 'success' for our band." We're just excited that we have the opportunity to do what we're doing, so I don't really reflect on anything; I don't really look back on a legacy. The other guys may in some way, but for me, when you start doing that sort of thing, you start setting yourself up for a death rattle, in a way. When you start looking at your past and reflecting on it, that means to me that you're done making waves. And I'm not done with that. I still feel that we have relevant music and relevant things to say and that we have relevant emotions to express. I still think we're relevant musicians and I think we're doing something that's altogether a lot different than what else is out there. The newest record is always the most fulfilling and the most exciting, for us. The day that we would go in to record a record and we don't walk out with that feeling at the end of the process is the day that we're not going to be a band anymore because we're not going to ever be a career band that put out mediocre things for the sake of being that. We always want to push ourselves further and further. Music is subjective, so a lot of people will probably disagree with that and they'll probably say that the first record that they heard from us ― when they were at their most impressionable ― is their favourite, that the one that is the most meaningful, to them, is the best. But that's not really the way music works, at least from the creation end of it. For the creators of music, as long as you're creating something that's moving you and that's exciting to you and fulfilling you, then you're still in the flow of it ― you're still in it. Once that music leaves you, people can interpret it anyway they see fit, but the actual process is what it's all about. It's a totally selfish thing and it's up for interpretation. There are a million kids out there that feel that the records that we recorded in the mid- to late '90s were easily the greatest records we ever did. Then there are people in the early '00s that say the Jane Doe and You Fail Me were the best records we ever did ― nothing can touch those. But the irony of that is, here at Deathwish, I have a giant binder that was given to me by the company that promoted the Jane record, and I would have to say 95 percent, or maybe 90 percent, of the press that was given to that record was hugely negative. People didn't understand it, but they weren't meant to. We're not an easy band to get into. We'd be exposed to people who were basically fans of contemporary commercial metallic music at the time and we don't fit that; we speak an entirely different language. To them, we're just this fucking chaotic noise that makes no sense, which has no sort of merit or validity. But then to somebody else who has the correct influences and sort of has listened to enough music that they're looking for something more, they might get our band and understand our band. I don't know. For me, I don't look at legacies. I guess that's for people who are out there listening. I appreciate the audience and I really appreciate the fact that people sort of emotionally invest themselves in our music, in our art and give it that chance, but I try not to acknowledge it. Also, when you start acknowledging it, you start writing music for people, rather than writing music for yourself, and that's a really dangerous thing. That's when bands just try to write hits and that's when bands are just completely out of touch, when they've just unplugged and they're no longer in touch with anger or in touch with the aggressiveness that is their music. You see that all the time. You see it now sort of surfacing in older thrash bands and things like that. We actually saw it in the mid-'90s when a lot of thrash bands had continued and they were kind of lost after the grunge world exploded and was the biggest thing. And it destroyed metal. You had all these metal guys, who were grasping at straws, trying to write a record that sounded a little bit loose, a little bit grungy, a little bit Seattle-influenced. And they all became sort of mid-paced and got rid of their speed and their double bass and stuff like that. You had a lot of metal bands in the early '90s, predating the grunge thing, where every record had to have a ballad. Like, a real ballad, like a ballad that would end up on an easy listening record at this point. You had Testament playing ballads, having ballads on records where there are videos of them being introspective in a pool hall, sitting on stools, rather than being a thrash band. You had a lot of interesting, weird things that were occurring that were more for the sake of pulling in an audience than just writing an emotional song that meant something to them. Our band just doesn't do that; we just don't do that. We just don't play any games; we don't really care what's going on in the community, as far as what's popular, or what is the flavour of the month or day or year. We just do what we do. We just don't really reflect all that much.
Do you look forward at all?
No, honestly I don't; I look at now because I want to immerse myself in the songs that we're writing. I don't want to future plan. Future planning, to me, is looking for an escape route. You're going, like, "okay, I'm going to do this, this and this and then I want to write a record that's like this." I just put so much time, effort and heart into 17 songs that I don't have anything left to future plan right now because it's not dress-up for us, you know? It's pretty legitimate and very real to our lives. It's not roleplaying.
Anything else that you'd like to add?
No, I appreciate the time. I know, again, we're a complex band to understand and to get into, but I appreciate people giving our music just the opportunity to sort of relate to it.