There are few artists who can be called iconic on multiple levels without a hint of exaggeration. The likes of Nick Cave and Bob Dylan are obvious calls, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to factor Jacob Bannon amongst those esteemed individuals. His visuals have been reproduced and ripped off ad nauseam, his lyrics are some of the most emotionally poetic in extreme music and as a vocalist, he has developed a range to rival that of Converge’s sonic palette. Now, he has expanded his reach further with Wear Your Wounds, a solo project that has been lurking for decades but is now about to see the light of day. He took some time out of his perpetually hectic schedule to give us the low-down on this new(ish) venture.
Congratulations on the new record, it’s pretty wonderful stuff. How long have these recordings been around?
I’ve been recording material on my own for a long time – over 15 years, maybe more. I started really working on this project actively in 2000; some of the songs that ended up on the record started off even that early. When I decided to actually take the time and make a record, and make an album out of all these half-finished recordings that I’ve had around in various states for years, I had maybe 27 songs that I had roughed out and that I wanted to take a crack at, and I pretty much did. The ones that ended up on the album, that’s what made the cut. That’s not to say any of the other songs were less important than the others, it’s just that they fit well together and I felt that that group of songs was the way to go for the first record. It gave a good sampling of the variety of the things that were going on musically with the idea of the project. We’ve already started tracking new stuff and I already have another album that’s fully demoed and pretty much ready to go into the studio with, we have a bunch of EPs that are actually done completely, I have another record that we’re mastering right now, so there’s a lot going on.
You seem to keep unbelievably busy pretty much around the clock. How do you find the time for reflection and downtime?
A pretty good question… I don’t really take downtime, not in the traditional sense at least. I go home pretty much like anyone else at the end of the day, have a fairly normal life but the gears in my brain are always turning. I always feel the need to make something and I’ve had that for a long time, whether it’s a natural inclination or just being addicted to work and forward movement, it’s just something I find a lot of joy in. I don’t think I would be that happy of a person if I sat back and didn’t do those things and didn’t throw myself into creating something. I always feel the drive. Sometimes I don’t – I have to tap out sometimes and take a little time off but you’ve gotta remember, my day job is a creative one. I do a lot of stuff that’s not just an emotional outpouring or something like that. I own and work for a record label. There’s a lot of things I do on a daily basis that are somewhat creative but they’re not me trying to write some monstrous emotional song, I’m not digging into that part of myself all the time. A lot of the time it’s just doing somewhat mundane things. Every single thing that you see coming from the Deathwish world, every single piece of copy that happens is coming through me in some capacity; any kind of interaction, whether it’s just promoting records or unloading a pallet with the guys, taking the garbage out with Richie. I’m always doing something.
In terms of that creative impulse, how long has it been like this? When do you first remember feeling that urge to create?
I’m 40 years old now so I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. You’ve got to remember, I started Converge when I was a kid, like 12 or 13 years old. I’ve spent more of my life inside a creative outlet than I have not in one. That’s a pretty big thing for me, but I’ve never really run out of things to say. There’s always been something in there, thankfully. I’ve always said that if I felt the need to not make music or not create art, I’d just stop. I wouldn’t push for it, I wouldn’t try to make it something that it’s not. I’m a career artist to an extent because I’ve been doing it for this long but I wouldn’t just do or make stuff for the sake of doing it. I have to enjoy what I’m doing and be able to get something emotionally and psychologically out of it.
Given the fact that you had worked on these songs over a period of years, did you find that you took a different direction in terms of construction than you might have done in a typical album cycle?
Yes and no. With Converge, we’re a band; that’s a democratic band, we’re a collective. We’re four people coming together as a whole to create a specific collective vision, whereas this project is more me steering the ship but since I’ve collaborated successfully within it with some of the guys I’d been playing with on, for lack of better terminology, session work that’s slowly changing. They’re my friends and I’m excited to play with them, but I’m also going to them because they are technically more proficient at, say, guitar than me, because I’m a horrible guitarist. I can hack my way through stuff but I’m not a virtuoso like some of the guys I’m around. I can write a song but I can’t play every part of the song as I intend, so through going to my friends and asking if they want to contribute, and thankfully they have but it’s been my vision; Converge and the other things I’ve worked on has been more of a collective. It’s more or less a solo project, or it started off as much as that. I’d say now, myself and Mike McKenzie (Gunface) who’s from The Red Chord, has been collaborating a lot with me; same with Chris Maggio, who’s been in a lot of bands too, has been playing drums, adding subtle nuance to things especially on the newer recordings we’re putting together, whereas on the album stuff they were all just getting the initial vibe of the record, the vibe of my own musical voice. It was a new thing to them. “Hey, I’ve got this new record.” “Is it a metallic hardcore record?” “Nope, I’ve been recording other stuff.” It takes a bit of getting used to for everyone to become cohesive.
How are you feeling about taking this work live, especially to somewhere like Roadburn, which is a pretty massive deal?
Yeah, Roadburn’s great. I was fortunate enough to play two sets there last year. Walter’s been really supportive of our creative world so I’m really excited to do it and I’m really excited about the band that is together for it. It’s a bunch of the guys that have been doing this already with me, with Gunface and Chris Maggio, but my friend Adam McGrath from Cave In is also going to be playing guitar– he actually just recorded a Wear Your Wounds session as well – and he plays guitar in an entirely different way from how Gunface does, so it’s very interesting to hear them interact with one another where Adam is really into effects pedals and that kind of thing, pushing the dynamic aspect to a whole new level where Gunface is more of a give him a guitar and a cord and he’ll plug it straight into the amp and go. It’s really cool to hear them interact and to hear two different musical voices interpreting my song is very cool. My friend Sean Martin is also playing guitar live too, holding down the rhythm. He’s a very multifaceted musician – he’s a sick guitar player but he’s also an electronics and sampler guy who does a lot of hip-hop producing so he will be able to work with some of the tracks that we won’t be able to do in a live setting, like some of the piano stuff that’s played, things that are hard to replicate on a small stage.
The vocal work throughout is incredibly impressive, especially on something as lush as “Fog”. Did you feel you were pushing yourself in other directions with this approach?
I’m pushing myself to a degree but it’s something that I can do. One thing that’s really important for musicians is to know what they’re good at. You could be a fan of a million musicians and you might want to be a technical death metal player but you can’t do it, it’s just not on the cards as you can’t play that way so you find where you fit. With stuff vocally, I’ve been yelling in a band since I was 13 years old so a lot of people know me primarily for doing that. I didn’t even mean to start being a vocalist, period – me being a vocalist for Converge was a kind of interesting thing for me because when we started, I was the bass player; we didn’t have a singer. I was just writing songs because I wanted to do that; I only sang because no one wanted to and I wanted to push forward as a band and try to do something fun. I took up the role just because so I never thought about being a vocalist, or as a lyricist either. It’s something I had to work for and sing naturally, not try to emulate any other vocalist. I see that a lot, where someone will try to stylistically get into something, do some kind of croon or something that’s derivative of someone else. I’m just trying to have fun, sing soulfully and honestly and whatever comes out, comes out. If someone knows me primarily as a loud vocalist and they hear me doing this stuff, they might be a little surprised because they’re used to me sounding like a monster.
Given that perception, there’s sometimes an impression that people are intrigued by Converge as an idea but put off by the more abrasive aspects. Do you think Wear Your Wounds can be a segue for those people as there are similarities even though it’s an entirely different beast?
It’s funny, you can’t really control how people perceive music or your art, no matter what you do. Once it’s out there, you relieve ownership of that aspect of things and what it means to people. It just exists, it’s just out there. I try not to read musical criticism for the most part unless I’m talking to peers because a lot of people to whom I talk about music aren’t players and so I try to distance myself from that stuff as much as possible, but when I have heard stuff, people just don’t understand that Converge have dynamics as well. On every release we’ve done, there’s been serious dynamics and there are some songs we’ve done where things are slowed down considerably. People know us predominately as a fast, abrasive, heavy band so I don’t know if this will pull people in to listening to Converge in a different way or looking at meaning in a different way, and I don’t really care. I know it’s weird to say. I’m 40, I’m having fun and I just love the fact that I get to make music and that there’s an audience out there that want to grow with me and my friends and the people that I’ve been playing with for years wants to do other stuff that we can also do.
“I’m a career artist to an extent because I’ve been doing it for this long but I wouldn’t just do or make stuff for the sake of doing it. I have to enjoy what I’m doing and be able to get something emotionally and psychologically out of it.”
In a similar vein, then, do you think that people may connect with these songs in a similar way to how they do with Converge?
Possibly but it’s funny. The people that connect with Converge connect with them in an emotional way because they’re emotional songs. It’s just my personal approach – I don’t like writing love songs, I don’t like writing decoration in any band – it has to have emotional substance. The people that have cut through the noise and volume of Converge to find the poetry, something behind the abrasiveness, already know that we’re capable of doing other stuff. It might still surprise surface listeners but what I think Wear Your Wounds and Converge do, and what a lot of bands do, isn’t for surface listeners in music. It’s for people that want to lose themselves in a song and become emotionally invested in an artist, really feel something as opposed to listening to something because it’s just heavy or there.
What was your approach in terms of the production for these songs, as I believe you largely self-produced the record?
The phrases ‘production’ and ‘producer’ get tossed around a lot in music and I don’t know if it’s necessarily used accurately. A traditional producer really digs in and produces the music, goes with a raw band and they have something to do with the structure of a song, every aspect of a record coming together. This stuff is primarily home-recorded in some capacity, either on 4-track or digitally and mixed it on my own. I had some tracking that I did with Kurt at God City a bunch of years ago just because I didn’t have the technical ability to do it and he was gracious enough to give me some time in there, which was super cool. Some drum tracks were recorded in Kentucky, quite far away from me, and that’s one of the nice things about recording music in this day and age, being able to share things with fairly little expense because this was recorded on my dime for quite a long time. I didn’t have a lot of financial flexibility, it’s just me; it’s my record. I had an engineer, Tom Curtis, who’s recorded drums with Chris Maggio so he’s been great for working with me so far.
Is there a feeling of relief that these songs are finally going to see the light of day?
For sure – at least we have some sort of beginning. I’ve been working on this stuff, though not actively or consistently, for a long time. One of the main reasons I didn’t finish things is because I have a day job and in that I work with bands and people that I am committed to. As much as initially we built Deathwish to be a home away from home for Converge and related projects, I never wanted to put what I’m doing first so if we’re releasing the Planes Mistaken For Stars record or an Oathbreaker record, those are going to take priority and I’m not going to cram my record into that schedule because I want to make sure that I can focus all my time on them or any of the bands that trust us enough for us to work with them, so it’s taken a while for us to find a break in schedule where it would make sense. Also, life gets busy. Every time I would start to hunker down and focus on working on this stuff, you’d think have a day here or a day there to record some stuff but life gets in the way. Regular responsibilities take hold and you can’t really do what you want. That time is long since gone. I’m busy because I love it but I’m also busy because I economically have to be. I have to pay to live, I have to pay to run a business so a lot of those things have been hurdles in getting this out but thankfully there hasn’t been a schedule apart from me wanting to get it out and out of the way so it does feel nice to finally get it out to people. It’s going to be a crazy year, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on.
As an aside, I understand that you used to adopt greyhounds. How did you find the experience?
Oh, they’re amazing animals for sure. The greyhound adoption world here has gotten a bit smaller as the racing world has died down. There was a big track in the area that had live races and a lot of dogs came from that facility for a while but yeah, they’re great dogs. I had two for a long time and they’re probably not my last, but they both passed away. Now I’m down to one dog that’s getting older now, who I’ve had since he was a puppy. He’s a big AmStaf, a pitbull, and he’s wonderful but they’re incredibly misunderstood animals. I just appreciate their companionship, a non-human bond, but greyhounds are really unique – they’re statuesque, they’re not like any other dogs, and people compare them to cats but I don’t really feel that’s quite fair. They have a lot of interesting personality traits. People don’t realise but they don’t know what glass is – they try to walk through windows – they’ve never seen a mirror, they don’t know how to go up and down stairs because they’ve never had to. With a dog that’s between 2 and 6 years old when they retire, they have a lot of wild things going on with them personality – and behavioural-wise and hurdles and challenges to make them a regular domesticated pet that you wouldn’t have with a regular pet. Their problem-solving skills just aren’t exactly the same but they’re fun, wonderful animals and I think they’re great.
What else do you have going on at the moment? I know that the Jane Doe live record is on its way.
We’ve been working on that for a little under a year. We recorded it last April but it took a lot of time for it to come together. We wanted to do something that was different and special, and also last year we did Blood Moon, and that was really fun; we played that at Roadburn with Chelsea (Wolfe) and Ben Chisholm and Steve Brodsky. We recorded that and we hope to do more Blood Moon stuff, and Converge have been working on a new album on and off since 2012 but again, life gets in the way. Between all of us, there’s a crap-ton of kids daily responsibilities, so we can’t really just crank out a record, nor would we really want to. We just want to take our time with things and make something special, which is something that we feel has always worked. So we’re trying to get a record done and we feel that we have enough material and it’s time so we’re working on that now, and a bunch of other Converge stuff, Blood Moon stuff, Wear Your Wounds… Mutoid Man just recorded an album… Doomriders are writing new stuff, Kurt’s always busy with engineering, I have art projects and Deathwish-related things. We have a lot of irons in the fire right now.
One final question – apart from music, what does make you happy?
Just my family and friends. I’m a simple guy, I’m not particularly complicated. I like making stuff, I like making art and I like spending time with my friends and family when I get the chance. That’s pretty much it. Those things are all positive things. I can’t really complain in that respect; other people have way harder hurdles in life than I do but I’m really happy with what we’ve built. It’s taken a long time to build this collective world that we have here and I really appreciate that we have it – we have the label, the band, a big group of creative peers. It’s a good thing.