"I can tell you that if any of this was going on six months before, I don't even know if I would be here right now," says Converge front-man/design terrorist Jacob Bannon, on the events behind the most anticipated record in metallic hardcore this year, Jane Doe.
"I was going through a huge amount of turmoil in my life when we were writing and recording," Jake reveals about Jane Doe's inspiration. "I had lost a relationship I was in for five years, which I'm still dealing with. I've been diagnosed as a severe manic-depressive and there's not much I can do aside from cope and deal with the consequences. Much of the album revolves around that and losing yourself, searching for some sort of identity when you become nameless and faceless due to the circumstances in your own life."
Boston-based Converge's ten-year existence has been fraught by the kind of lofty expectations and challenging concepts that suffuse Jane Doe, Converge's fourth full-length and third for Equal Vision Records. Formed by core members Jacob Bannon and guitarist Kurt Ballou, (rounded out by guitarist Aaron Dalbec, bassist Nate Newton and latest addition, drummer Ben Koller), Converge has risen from their inauspicious beginnings, playing to empty rooms in the desolate Boston underground scene of the early '90s. They've evolved from their more metalcore leanings to become one of the genre's leading innovators. In the process, they've played a substantial part in rebuilding Boston's burgeoning aggressive scene, released a string of landmark albums, and become one of the most recognisable names in the underground, all on their own terms.
Their first full-length CD, Caring and Killing (HydraHead, '96, originally released on Lost and Found, '95), showed only glimpses of what was to come; but was hamstrung by lacklustre production, sloppy execution and half-formed ideas. It was with the release of Petitioning The Empty Sky (Equal Vision '97, originally released on Ferret in 96) that Converge's mix of metallic staples, hardcore and punk-influenced structures, and anthemic emotional explorations, coupled with stark poetic lyrics and an artistic presentation, truly began to blossom. With Petitioning , Converge foreshadowed and defined a style of hardcore that thrives in popularity to this day.
Continually staying ahead of the throngs of metallic hardcore acts emerging in their wake, Converge recorded When Forever Comes Crashing (Equal Vision, '98), with the Reverend Steve Austin, of Today is the Day infamy. It pushed the artistic limits of Converge to new levels of anguish, while musically evolving a noisier, atmospheric and emotionally devastating brand of metallic hardcore, spurned on by complex playing and truly vicious vocals, yet retaining subtle sonic handholds. Forever kept Converge ahead of a hardcore scene dominated by uninspired mosh-metal, while perfectly reflecting hardcore's upcoming twists and turns, in turn dictating a number of them.
The technically ruthless slant explored on Converge's split with Agoraphobic Nosebleed, The Poacher Diaries (Relapse, '99), was an aggressive aside, taking Converge's technical mayhem to its extremes just as the complicated sub-genre of hardcore was finding its footing. Their split with Japan's Hellchild, Deeper The Wound (Deathwish Inc., '01), was merely a taste of their forthcoming release, Jane Doe.
With the impending release of Jane Doe, Converge has once again embarked upon a new path, eschewing any of the current trends in the metallic hardcore underground and refusing to rewrite their past successes. Jane Doe is one of the darkest, bleakest, most unrelenting and punishing acts of musical emoting ever committed to disc, even warranting an advance web site (www.meetjanedoe.com), preparing the unwary for what was to come. Essentially a 12-step conceptual journey, including a striking and beautifully disturbing 28-page booklet of accompanying art, the whole package takes Converge's musical aggression, creativity and penchant for artistic nihilism-as-therapy to unparalleled emotional depths.
"We have crafted an album that is essentially about all the same subject matter and dealing with the coping process. It's realistic and it's true to life; it's a really human record. There are no punches pulled in that respect, there's no ridiculous use of visual metaphors. This is not [Queensrÿche's legendary and fanciful overblown concept album] Operation: Mindcrime," offers Jake, about Jane Doe's brooding conceptual themes. "It's a record that's about emotion and experience, about life and how grey and complex it is and how bleak things can be."
Musically, Jane Doe continues Converge's sonic evolution, and is as desolate, elaborate, yet as emotionally varied and single-minded as its lyrics. While still unmistakably Converge, it takes their sound to harsher, yet more emotionally draining and atmospheric levels of abuse, relenting but not entirely abandoning the technical precision of past endeavours to focus on emotional upheavals and an all-or-nothing buffeting. And it sidesteps metallic hardcore's current preoccupation with more complicated, technical sounds, an evolution Jake sees as unavoidable.
"Every record has its own unique personality and sound and experience, and this is just another step. It's probably the most bleak of all our albums, probably the most emotional; it has that depth to me [that the others lack]. It's a little more artistic than the rest, which are traditional albums. When people get the whole package of this record, they'll see it's bigger picture."
And what has allowed Converge to conceive such an album, musically, conceptually and artistically, besides Jake's devastating personal issues serving as impetus? Constantly risking alienation, by testing an audience that would be content with, and might even prefer, another Petitioning The Empty Sky.
"We function on a little bit of a different level than many other bands," says Jake bluntly. "We play for ourselves, we're not trying to capture an audience or please a label or make groundbreaking sales; we simply don't give a shit. I think having that mindset has kept us fresh."
It was the emergence, after years in isolation, of a side-project called Supermachiner, between Converge's Jake and Kurt, along with Seth Bannon and Ryan Parker, that inspired Jane Doe's experimental side.
"Much of Jane Doe comes from the Supermachiner stuff I was doing," says Jake. "The actually song Jane Doe' and also Phoenix in Flight' were initially intended for the new Supermachiner album, but it made sense for Converge to play them. They fit."
But if Converge is viewed as a progressive and eclectic hardcore act, Supermachiner is another world of unorthodox music altogether.
"In 1994, we started experimenting with this and people [in Boston] would be like What the hell are you doing?'" begins Jake. "We were trying to get really simple, powerful songwriting down, crafting a more experimental, minimalist kind of writing, and it was just a unique approach at the time." Seven years later, Supermachiner's avant-garde debut was finally released.
"The Rise of the Great Machine [Undecided, '01] album is 20 songs of experimental recordings that we did over a long period of time," Jake explains. "It's difficult for a label to market most of the sales for that album aren't based on Converge, it's people who have never heard Converge that pick it up, people involved in the avant-garde community, and that's the point. It allows me to do different things, musically and conceptually. There are moments on it where we're like Why on Earth did we do this?' But in the same breath, there's a lot of experimental work that I really appreciate on it."
With close to 30 releases (compilations, seven-inches, LPs and CDs), not counting side-projects, it's safe to say that Converge understands the pitfalls they can befall a band on record labels. With this in mind, Jake and partner Tre McCarthy recently created a new label, Deathwish Inc., whose first release was the Converge/ Hellchild split.
"We created a pro-band, proactive environment for bands to be treated as they would want to be treated. Deathwish Inc. is trying to do as much as possible to help out our friends who are in bands that we think are fantastic but have received the short end of the stick. And also new bands that are not getting the time of day from any of the larger independent labels."
Despite Deathwish Inc.'s creation, and plans for a three-disc concept trilogy from Supermachiner, for the moment, Converge's future is dominated by Jane Doe's release.
It may have almost destroyed him emotionally, but for Jake Bannon, the creation of Jane Doe has become his salvation, a way to cathartically work through life's devastating events, finding solace, at least for now. "It gave me some sort of outlet, some place to focus. I was really fortunate with the timing of Jane Doe, I can safely say that the band and my involvement, just being a creative person and creative body within the band, has certainly been a godsend to me. It got really rough still to this day, it depends, I can wake up and be fine and I can wake up and just not want to function. At this point, I'm really busy, and being busy tends to help me deal."