Many have known Converge to be one of the most iconic and acclaimed names throughout the scene of metal, punk and hardcore music since the early nineties. With the band returning after a five year gap from 2012’s “All We Love We Leave Behind”, Converge are set to release their ninth full-length “The Dusk In Us” early in November. Speaking with co-founder, guitarist and well-respected producer and engineer Kurt Ballou about his take on the production of the album, we got to know a lot more about why Converge have been known to be quite the DIY-band, as well as his thoughts on the reason for inspiration to take its time to create the final product, that is “The Dusk in Us”.
“I’m always really happy and feel fortunate to be able to return and work with my friends” he says. “Converge has never been a career band. It’s not a full-time job band, so when we are fortunate to have a collection of songs that we feel that are inspiring and exciting for us, that’s when an album can get released. That’s pretty much why it took so long for us, because we didn’t have the material until now. There’s no pre-meditation or strategy for us on when we wanna record has to do with inspiration that the four of us have.”
With many knowing Kurt Ballou for his extensive knowledge and work as a producer and engineer, the skills he developed come from the traits of his family. Hence the reason for doing most of the work on the recording process for Converge’s catalogue, including vocalist Jake Bannon, creating the artwork for the band’s incarnations.
“My family is very DIY, so it’s sorta how I was raised. There were people with frugal panics or were always people of means. I think there’s also a certain enjoyment in learning the skill and kneel to express it, which goes back to my family. When we were starting as a band, there really was no business in punk rock. There was The Ramones and Sex Pistols, who made money. But, for our type of music and other bands on our level, the idea that someone could break even on tour was just preposterous.”
As he continues, after talking about the moves they made based on the business that they’re involved in, it wasn’t so much about who had the better experience and knowledge in the scene. It turns out, it was more about working with the people who have the same background as you, in order to make the final product be placed in its spotlight.
“There weren’t really any record labels with deep pockets that were interested in us or we couldn’t record in nice studios with good engineers. We had to book our own tours, and that was a realistic problem, back then, because people were originally, willing to do that. It’s personally, harder to do that, nowadays. So, DIY was our only choice, so we started releasing our own music through Jake (Bannon)’s first record label. And then, when it came to recording we had to see if there was a record studio near where we lived, and then later, there was Brian McTernan, who lived in Boston for a little while. He had a lot of roots in punk rock and hardcore, and that kind of stuff, so we started working with him. If there was something that we weren’t able to do internally, in the band, we had to find someone with a promising background and had similar ethics that we had. So, once we got things like booking agents and other record labels, it was important for us to find likeminded individuals, rather than to just go with the best business strategy.”
Kurt proceeds to bring up how working with other people can also be a struggle, when you attempt to translate an idea of your own to others that you’re in the same studio with. According to him, some aren’t able to interpret it the way you can. This apparently, goes all the way back to when analogue and tape recordings were still present, back in the day.
“Recording for me, I was always frustrated in the studio, trying to convey my musical ideas to our engineer. Whenever you have an idea, you have to translate that to words. When you do that with another person, they have to hear your words and then translate that in their own brain and try to figure out their intents and then try to help you. That’s a hard thing to do. Especially, when the person you’re working with comes from a different background than you. I just felt that if I understood the recording process better, I’d have better vocabulary for communication with engineers that I’m working with. Remind you, this goes back to the day of analogue and tape recordings. So, back then, bands having an idea of how the recording process works was really uncommon.”
“It was always a long process, and I never intended to do that as a full-time career. That was something that was an extension for the creative process for me. I think there’s a certain freedom in terms of our schedule. We don’t like to hold back anyone’s own schedules or workspace, so we rehearse at our studio. We’re really accustomed to how our music sounds in that room. I really couldn’t tell you if I was a dramatically different band.”
As he looks back on everything that’s been going with “The Dusk In Us”, Kurt mentions that he faces mixed emotions with each record that Converge have under their belt. That being said, he sees himself as a perfectionist, which is one of the many characteristics that he and the band struggle with.
“I think that coming in terms with my own inadequacies is always emotionally challenging. All of us have really high standards and expect to be better than what we already are. As a guitar player and engineer, I always want to be better, and I’m never satisfied at where I’m at, so I always strive to be better. Sometimes, I’m partially satisfied. Right now, I’m partially satisfied with “The Dusk In Us” and I’m certainly not completely satisfied with it. Maybe with the next album, I’m probably going to be perpetually satisfied, but that’s also a de-component for me. Because, most creative people have a degree of self-loathing when it comes to their creative output that drives them to keep going and do what they can to be better. It’s totally natural for us to do the best we can, whatever the circumstances are and whatever the inspiration is in that moment. I feel that every record we make is better than the last, or at least a lateral goof. I mean, it’s at the point now, where all of the records are different. So, I understand why people like one over the other, and that has to do with the mentality of music and how the other albums are discovered in that time. It’s really difficult to focus on a band with a large catalogue. So, I understand that some of our albums will be more revered than the others. For my own satisfaction, I think every record we make is better than the last.”