The consistency of the recorded output of hardcore giants Converge is unparalleled ― there isn't another band in aggressive music functioning today that manage to push out into new sonic directions with each album they release without making some painful miscalculations. For over a decade, Converge have remained the flag bearers for a whole scene, reinventing their face-melting mix of metal and hardcore in subtle ways with every new record. Axe to Fall sees the band experimenting further with the progressive tendencies hinted at with No Heroes standout "Grim Heart/Black Rose," as well as inviting a stacked list of guests to contribute to what the band are referring to as their "collaborative piece." Writing with members of Neurosis, Entombed, Himsa and more, songs like "Wretched World," featuring contributions from every member of Genghis Tron and drummers from both the Red Chord and Cave In, succeed in forging an unforgettably epic sonic landscape without becoming overwrought or unmanageable. Converge remain at the core of every song here, driving the proceedings and controlling the momentum, but their tasteful inclusion of outside influences elevates Axe to Fall to whole new levels of heavy, heady creativity.
Given that this record is what you've been referring to as a "collaborative piece," I'm, curious how the writing process worked. Were you bringing people in to write brand-new parts or were you offering ideas and letting them write from there?
Vocalist Jacob Bannon: It's still very much a Converge record; it's totally coming from us. But the collaborative element was a true collaborative element. The songs all began with us and began as ideas that we had, and they evolved and moved forward with other players involved. Since the intention was to have certain songs be a collaboration with other artists, we left those a little open-ended to work with those people, rather than giving them a rigid song structure to adhere to, and we could hear some of their ideas come in, and they could be more comfortable contributing. A lot of guests on albums tend to come in, play a part and leave ― there isn't real interaction. We wanted to avoid that. We wanted people to be a true part of the songwriting and a true part of the finished project. An example is Genghis Tron, who were sending us demos back and forth of their contributions. The Cave In material, they were working with us for years on that, so it was pretty natural as well.
Was there a point in trying to construct the songs that way where you were concerned about it not working?
No. We've been a band for a long time. We're not egotistical but we're confident. We're confident in our ability to perform and play and write; we are up for the challenge. We knew something interesting would come out of it. We'd never release something that we weren't wholly excited about and this record is no different. If something was sub-par, we wouldn't have pushed forward and finished it. We just want to create the best possible album we can and share that with people.
Were there any concerns that you would have trouble recreating it live?
No. There are songs on every album that we play live and don't play live. A lot of that has to do with instrumentation, but a lot of it has to do with how the pacing of an album and the pacing of a live set are completely different. Live sets tend to be much more kinetic and energetic, where albums deal more with listenability and pacing and trying to create a different kind of environment. We still play some songs that are kind of reserved that might not be traditional in a hardcore or metal set but they tend to work with us.
What about the process of recording with Kurt [Ballou, Converge guitarist and owner of God City Studios]? Has that evolved or is it a process that's locked in every time you make a record?
It is and it isn't. We've gotten better at it, and we're learning with every record. Every record Kurt records, he becomes a better engineer. We just evolve and move forward in our experiences with every record and hopefully it shows.
In terms of your relationship with Epitaph, does your operation of Deathwish Inc. affect the way you approach working with other record labels with Converge material?
Yes and no. We have a great relationship with them and I think that, as a band, we have a great understanding of how labels work and how labels should work. Much of that comes from the fact that we've worked with countless labels. We've worked with our label, Deathwish, and Hydra Head, Relapse, Equal Vision. We've worked with a wide variety of labels and we know how we like them to work and how we would like to see them work, as a band, for a band. We want certain things to happen and certain things not to happen. There are things that labels do that are frivolous and things that labels do that are really positive and wonderful. With that, our understanding of the label experience is pretty dead on. They know what we expect from them and vice versa; we have a good understanding. The relationship we have with Epitaph is probably the healthiest relationship I've ever known of a band and a record label. As a band, we're pretty self-sufficient, we don't ask for much from our labels that we're affiliated with. We've always felt that that's the way to be: a band are an island. You should be able to live on your own without asking for much help along the way. That's the way we've always been. So we simply ask Epitaph to release our CDs and handle coordinating our press and things like that. They do a fantastic job. We don't take advances, we don't beg for money, we don't do anything like that. We know what we are; we're a hardcore band with hardcore ethics. They're coming from that same sort of world, with Brett starting the label as an artist. He has an understanding of what we are, and that's amazing.
You guys are fortunate to have that.
There are a lot of parallels between Deathwish and Epitaph because of that. We have a lot of the same general ideas as to how things should work and how things should be between a band and a label. He's dead on with all of his ideas and they're fantastic. They leave us alone when we want to be left alone. They let us do our thing on our own terms. They don't exert any traditional label pressures that many labels are known for.
Getting back to Axe to Fall, I haven't been able to get a hold of a lyrics sheet so I'm curious if, thematically, these songs are linked the way they were on No Heroes.
No, they're not linked like that. That's mainly because I didn't want to present them like that. I could have if I felt the need to but I liked all these songs enough that I wanted them to be standalone songs. I liked the musical content and the lyrical content, and I didn't feel the need to unify them as one piece. Thematically, they're all somewhat tied together. I wrote all the lyrical content between the release of No Heroes and this album, so it's about my life experiences between the albums, stuff I went through and stuff my family and friends went through. So that said, it's a bit thematic.
And in terms of collaborations, what for you was the biggest coup? What aspect of the album excited you the most in the end?
Just the whole experience ― working with outside artists, working with people I respect, whether they're close friends or distant friends; it's an interesting way to create music. You create with the same three or four guys and it's nice to try to work outside the box and outside your comfort zone and see what else you can create in that collaborative environment. Working with the Genghis Tron guys was fantastic because they're like-minded individuals. Working with Steve Von Till [Neurosis] was fantastic. Our friend George from Blacklisted was fantastic, so was Uffe from Entombed. Just everyone that contributed was just great.
Given that Converge have managed to push themselves as a band with every record, do you ever get concerned when it comes time to write a new record that things could get stagnant?
In short, no, because our approach is really simple. This is the key to everything in our collective opinion: you don't force anything. You write music in a natural way. You write sincere songs that are about your own life and your life experiences that are challenging and exciting to you, yourself and you don't think about outsiders' perspectives or other people's vision of what your band should or shouldn't be. You do it because you love it. You love creating honest, sincere music. Critics and other things don't matter. It's completely irrelevant. I appreciate accolades from people just like anyone else but it's not something that drives our band, and I try not to pay attention to criticism, positive or negative. It doesn't really matter. They're not creating it. It's not for them; it's for our collective expression. If they relate to it, great. If not, that's okay too. It's not a game to us. We're not trying to be the biggest band or the best band in the world. We're trying to be the best band we can be as the four individuals that we are. (Epitaph)