Interview: Converge's Jacob Bannon details the ambitious Bloodmoon: I - a collaboration years in the making

Interview: Converge's Jacob Bannon details the ambitious Bloodmoon: I - a collaboration years in the making

- By Corinne Westbrook

The multi-talent explains how the group effort has become an extension of Converge, the diverse community of metal of how the music and visuals come together to create a complete experience.

Bloodmoon: I marks one of Converge’s most ambitious projects to date. Many years in the making, the partnership between Converge, Chelsea Wolfe and her writing partner Ben Chisholm, and Cave In frontman (and former Converge member) Stephen Brodsky is the perfect fusion of its creators’ differing aesthetics, to the point where it rarely sounds like anything Converge have done before.

It is rich, textured, and highlights the completely in-sync nature of each of the artists who worked on the album. With each one stretching their wings, filling new and different roles and fluidly switching from one instrument to the next, this album is a reminder of the power of collaboration and cooperation.

Bloodmoon: I was released on November 19th via Epitaph record and Jacob Bannon gave some insight into the creation process, the multifaceted contributions each member made to the album, and the live experience that is Bloodmoon we all hope will return sooner rather than later.

Bloodmoon was released on November 19th. How does it feel to have this mammoth collaboration out in the wild? And how do you feel about the reception so far?

It feels positive to be able to finally share it with people because I know we’ve been working on it in a variety of ways for years; especially in the last six months we’ve been really, really focused on refining it and getting it out to folks. It’s always a rewarding thing for that to happen.

In terms of feedback, I try not to pay attention to it to be honest. The thing with art is that, to the people that create art and music, it’s the most personal thing you can do, even if it’s not personal subject matter. In terms of the amount of heart and effort that you all put into it, for a wide array of reasons. Everyone has their reasons for what they put into it. I’ve always found it to be a bit unhealthy to attach somebody else’s critical take on what is something that is so pure, that is so personal to the artist or the musician. It almost trivializes the whole process and devalues it. Because there’s music that doesn’t connect with me, or does connect with me, but I don’t feel like it’s my duty to be openly critical of things.

That is a really healthy way of looking at things.

Yeah, there is a whole other universe that exists within that world. Especially now, in terms of people’s access to the artist. Everybody from us to small band A, B, or C could hypothetically see those things and I just don’t think reflecting on that stuff does anybody any good. Regardless of if it’s positive or negative. If it’s positive, you may start making art and music for the wrong reasons. You might make it to basically appeal to a certain kind of listener that didn’t connect with your last album, or to hold onto a person as long as you can, and that’s not what this is about for us and it never really has been. So for me, I try not to acknowledge it, not to hurt the self or feed the ego.

So this collaboration has been in the works for a bit, what was the catalyst that finally kicked it out of the door? Was it the pandemic or something else?

We started working on these songs 5 years ago. So very pre-pandemic. In the late 90s, Kurt and I talked about doing some sort of thing where we would bring in more instrumentation in our band. We didn’t really know how that would work, but we would talk about what was possible electronically back then, different kinds of strings or piano. To a degree, we have done that in a bunch of places since then. But we’ve never gone this far with that sort of thing.

When we initially met Ben and Chelsea, we already were fans of them and fans of their work. I started working with Ben on some things right around that same time, which would have been around 2010. We did a split 7”, one of my projects and one of Ben’s projects and we just stayed in touch from that point on and we started thinking about doing some sort of larger collaborative record.

Your relationship with guests is a bit different from collaborators. Where a guest is very much playing what you provide to them. They may add their color or their voice to a degree, but you’re not really looking for musical input, you’re looking for their character. So more often than not, they’re playing things that you hand to them or you instruct them. We wanted to collaborate. We wanted to do something bigger. Write within the confines of Converge, but in a different way. Typically with Converge, our creative process is a bit formulaic now because we’ve been doing it for so long and I think that happens to every band. So the four of us know our strengths and what we bring to the table and we kind of stay in our lanes for the most part.

With Bloodmoon, those doors are blown totally open. So everybody’s writing lyrics; everybody’s writing music; everybody’s playing music. We wanted to do something that was free of those regular confines. In 2015 going into 2016, we started preparing to do some Bloodmoon shows actually in Europe. And we did a few of those and it was really creatively rewarding for all of us. Since then we’ve been working on this material in some form or another. Sending demo ideas to one another, sending skeletons of songs here and there. We would have these moments where we would all be quite inspired and work on it for a bit, and then we would put it on ice for a while, while other aspects of our lives, personally and creatively would come in. And then we would address it again and start working on it again and we’ve followed this path for years up until this point, which is pretty crazy to think it has been as long as it has.

And what was the thing that made you finally shove this out to the masses?

Well it was just time, you know? Converge has tried to stay as busy as possible through these pandemic times, but it’s been hard. So when the pandemic hit, we just chose to work on this record remotely. A number of the songs got to the point we felt we had album one pretty much ready to go. So we chose to release it now. It’s how it just fell into place.

We’re not really rigid in terms of how we’re trying to schedule these things, or how it would fall. We just wanted to make sure that logistically we could all participate and create a really cool record.

You just referenced how long you guys have been doing this as a band, 30 years now. How do you continue to gain inspiration and break down different genre barriers this far into your career?

Well, we’re fans of music, not fans of our “career”. Where we just want to make things that connect with us. I think that we all just want to create unique things that resonate with us in some way and with that comes diversity and dynamics. Core Converge, the four-piece version of Converge, is known to be an aggressive band. And we are. We’re a loud, abrasive, aggressive band. But there’s a lot of nuance in what we do and there’s a lot of dynamics in what we do. I think a lot of surface level listeners of our band just don’t know that. Especially the way people take in music now, they’re not necessarily having album experiences. They’re typically just jumping from playlist to playlist, listening to a track and then moving on. They sink their teeth into music in a different way. And I think if you did that to 300 songs that we have out there, you’re going to get a lot of heavy and a lot of aggression and you’re going to miss some of the other stuff that’s there.

I see this project as an extension of our band. Where Converge is like this aging tree and we have things that shoot off of Converge and this is an extension of what we are. That’s the goal. To have both versions of the band exist at the same time. So we could choose to do another Converge record tomorrow and we could choose to do another Converge Bloodmoon record the next day and that’s totally okay because there are no rules.

That’s the best part about metal, there are no rules and if there are, we just go break them.

And that’s what’s funny. I’ve been a metal person, self defined obviously because nobody knights us right? Nobody tells us who can be in the group. But I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid and there’s always been so much diversity in it. And there’s always been so many cool voices. That’s not to say that all of those things are popular at any given time. It’s always changing and evolving, but it’s a really beautiful community that allows for that to happen. Where you have Darkthone exist in the same world as, I don’t know…

Darkthone exist in the same world as Babymetal?

That’s a really good comparison. Darkthone can exist in the same world as Babymetal. And they’re valid. They may not be for everyone, but nothing is. Metal is an umbrella for a lot of things. You can go in so many directions with it. And with our band, we’ve been doing this for so long that we want to be able to branch out on our own, within the character of what we’ve already created. And that’s really, really special, that we can do that within this community.

Switching away from the music a little bit, I know you had your hands in the visual elements for this record too. Do you feel that the music inspired the visuals, the other way around or were they created in tandem?

I think there is a little bit of truth in all of those angles. But, I was always an artist/designer as things were coming together musically. So I was seeing the lyrical metaphors start to come together. I was hearing the multi-layered approach to the instrumentation and I wanted to create something that represented all of those really cool qualities. So I was trying to capture some basic visual metaphors that I started to see pop out as all of us were writing and collectively editing lyrics and whatnot. I really just wanted to capture the vibrant nature of the music because it’s lush and rich. It’s a different thing than what we have done in the past. So I wanted to pull all of those colors in and create something that resonated that way.

If I put anything visually before anything else, it would have been the overall color palette. I really wanted to push colors and have things feel almost ultraviolet in a way, and almost dreamlike. I also wanted to create an information system that worked across multiple records because we don’t know if there’s going to be one Bloodmoon record or if there’s going to be 50 Bloodmoon records. So, I wanted to create a basic structure of how that could work. For the vinyl version for example, which people don’t have yet, everything is modeled around an outer cover and an inner cover and there’s interplay within the images that appear on the outside and inside. And I wanted this system to carry to other records as well. So, maybe the actual illustrations would change and the media pieces would change but the structure of all of those things would remain the same. There would be this overarching packaging theme that would encapsulate Converge Bloodmoon and define it in a way that would be different from other records that we’ve done.

There was other stuff happening at the same time we were finishing up this album, but I had to unpack the final record to get to the visuals. If I do too much visual work beforehand things can become disjointed. So I wait until I feel there’s a place where it can all work together.

So this also kind of ties into my next question a little bit. On this record you took a step back on the vocals and Chelsea’s are a bit more in the light. Do you feel that taking that step back allowed you to be more creative in other ways?

Yes and no. I never wanted to be a vocalist. To me, I’m not a vocalist. I started Converge 30 years ago as the bass player and the only reason I sang in our band is because nobody wanted to do it. We had plenty of people who wanted to play guitar and bass so I just ended up being the person that did it. With that said, I’ve always played instruments and I would be defined as a multi-instrumentalist in some way. Just as all of our members of this band are. And that’s one thing that’s important about Converge Bloodmoon. People in Europe that saw us play in 2016 know this. The idea is that we’re not all locked into our roles. This idea gets lost in just hearing the record. Sometimes I’m singing; sometimes I’m playing guitar, sometimes I’m playing bass; sometimes I’m playing bass and singing; sometimes I’m playing guitar and singing; sometimes Chelsea’s playing guitar and singing and sometimes she’s just singing. There’s a lot of movement you know? Everybody’s sort of switching instruments at all different times. It’s a very fluid stage setup because of that. We’re not rigid players that come out in our role of frontperson or guitarist or bass player, we’re all doing whatever the song dictates. That’s something that’s really special about Converge Bloodmoon. It’s not just us with a couple more people, but it’s also us in a few more different roles that people are not used to. And I’m sure that was a bit strange for folks that were used to a typical Converge show and then all of a sudden are thinking “Why did he just pick up a guitar?” But it’s built to be that. Free of the rules and the confines of the typical roles that we already have.

That sounds amazing! Well I only have one final question for you, and it’s one I ask everyone, and I know it’s a little silly, but I have to ask. What is your favorite dinosaur?

That is actually a great question! I just went through a really big dinosaur phase with one of my sons. He’s been into a lot of stuff so I’ve been exposed to a lot of dinosaurs. Probably any sort of long neck dinosaur was always interesting to me. Like a Brachiosaurus. Interestingly, the Brontosaurus doesn’t exist. It’s actually an amalgamation of a bunch of different dinosaurs. I’ve learned this all through the eyes of a kid going from 6 to 7 years old, so he’s taught me all of these things. But when we were kids, Brontosaurus was a thing, but it's sort of a catchall for the long necks. But dinosaurs are fascinating and every day they discover new dinosaurs. Archeologists doing that are doing incredible work. So this is a great question.

Well that was my last question, did you have anything else you wanted to add?

I really just appreciate everyone taking the time to listen to what any of us our making that are related to this band. We’re all individual artists that do a lot of stuff and it just means a lot that any of us have any sort of an audience and we are thankful.

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