Converge's Jacob Bannon On Queen, Texas Wrestling and Being a Mixed Martial Arts Judge

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Jacob Bannon, lead singer of the mighty Converge, returns to Dallas tomorrow night at Dada, as the four-piece promotes their latest, All We Love We Leave Behind. We caught up with him about the first record he bought, his first tattoo, how he got into mixed martial arts and his love for Texas wrestling.

Can you remember the first album you bought with your own money? First album I bought with my own money was, I think, Queen's The Game. I believe it was 8-track, if I remember correctly. We had an 8-track copy in my house and we had a vinyl copy. That was pretty much it. I still love Queen. An absolutely fantastic band. Probably one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I still listen to Queen, probably, weekly. You know? My musical taste that I had when I was a kid has always stuck with me. It's never really departed or anything like that.

Were you introduced to that record via the songs on the radio or stuff that was on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert? Well, popular culture then, we're talking - I don't know when exactly it would have been - Queen was one of those bands you couldn't avoid. Like, if you turned on television, you heard Queen. You heard "We Will Rock You." You heard anything like that in '80, '81. My timeline's really, really bad. If you were alive in America, you were familiar with Queen in some way. It was the first album I picked up. The album cover looked tough. The guys looked like a fairly bad-ass rock band. If I remember correctly, the cover of that record is metallic silver, a band shot like The Ramones. Just really stripped down. It called to me. It was everything a rock band should be. Sort of flamboyant, expressive, heavy in its own way. Not heavy like death metal heavy. Heavy in a sort of rock way. It was interesting to me.

What struck me about it, still thinking about it all these years later, is that it's in black and white and there's a gong in the background. Yeah, that's right! There is a gong in the background of that one, like, in the center. That really tells you what they're going for that band. It's interesting, too, considering the band has always been Freddie Mercury and Brian May. For any casual listener, when you think of [them], you think of their powerful personalities; they're amazing players. The whole band was amazing musicians. It's kind of ironic that you have drums in the background. It's sort of telling because aren't drums usually in the background of that band? Also, for them to be featured with drummer and drums. It's kind of funny.

Converge started when you were 14, in 1990, correct? Uh, yeah. It was about then. You're a kid, you're playing music. At that point, I was sort of legitimately trying. I grew up with my brother, he was an '80s hair metal guy, so I was really familiar with classic metal at the time and the stuff that dominated at the time. In 1990 or so, I really immersed myself in heavier music. You know, I was already familiar with metal, but that's when I really started to get into punk and hardcore. I felt a calling to that community.

Technically, is Converge your first band? Yeah! Kurt [Ballou, guitarist] and I have pretty much grown up in this band. I found him as the guitarist in our town who could play a solo where I couldn't play a solo. I could hack through everything else, but there was no way I could play a solo. We needed somebody that had some chops. Personally, I feel like we didn't start writing music that had a slant on our true character until '93, '94, something like that. It started clicking. Started shedding our influences, start trying things on our own. Again, we were children; we were learning how to play.

This totally dates me here, but I was in sixth grade in 1990. On one hand, you had Steelheart on MTV, and on the other, you had bands like Obituary and Carcass putting out stuff. Oh yeah, definitely! That was the world I was immersed in. I wasn't a purist where I came from a world that I was very familiar with Kix and random obscure bands like Nitro. Basically, anything that was around at the time, like Accept, Krokus, all the classic stuff, all the German stuff. I was definitely searching at that time for music, and it was funny, I was searching for something heavier. My brother turned me on to some heavier bands that weren't his thing. I remember going to the record store and buying LP cutouts, which were cheaper, like four bucks. I bought Ride the Lightning there. I don't remember exactly when that came out. I remember I was a child. I remember that and a Blue Oyster Cult record - they both had awesome covers. My brother gave me his copy of Motorhead's No Remorse when he got it. He enjoyed it, but it was a little too gruff for him. I had a concept of heavy stuff by the time I was getting into my double digits. When you're a kid and you're a male, you like fairly macho things. It's not really a far cry going from GI Joe and Japanese worldwide television shows to Metallica's Ride the Lightning. Then I jumped into punk rock and death metal. I was thankful when I was coming up, like you said, [for] Carcass, early Earache stuff. I was fortunate to be a music listener in all of that in such a diverse world. One month you get a Godflesh record, two months later you get a Nocturnus record. It was pretty awesome. You were learning about all this stuff all at once.

Frankly, this is me just being a fan since Jane Doe, but y'all are five for five with this new record. I mean, there's diversity. Who would have thought on your previous record to have a song with a singer from Neurosis do a Tom Waits song? Right!

That's what made me more interested in what you guys are doing than bands that peter out after a couple of records with a very metallic sound. Well, you know a lot of bands, to be honest, are fans of music. We know a lot of bands, and I'm not saying this to be derogatory towards bands, but a lot of bands' diversity in their listening palette is questionable at times. When you have bands start to experiment in the heavy world, they pull stuff from really strange places or they pull from some really obvious places. We're fans of music. We like musical weight. Oddly enough, like you said, Tom Waits or something like that. There's an immense amount of emotion, an immense amount of power in blues-oriented playing. It's not really that dissimilar from what we're doing on an emotional level. Maybe not on a sonic level, but definitely an emotional level, so when we bring those things together we're really happy about that.

For a sound like Converge has, I would easily tire with it with other bands. I'm excited about having the new record physically in my hands. That means a lot, mainly because we're also of the same mindset. I'm going to be 36 years old coming up on this tour and I listened to some random death metal records today and now I'm listening to a John Miles record from 1976. I like diversity in things. If we can have these qualities in the band, then we're doing something right. That's something we want to do. We want to be able to be a band that we would listen to and would appreciate if we weren't in our band.

What was your first tattoo? Good question! My first tattoo was this random black tribal thing. I was 15 years old. It didn't really turn out black; it turned more into scar tissue and gray. I got it on a living room floor from a friend's 18-year-old wife at the time. They were married as children and consequently divorced about six months later. But they were this punk rock skinhead couple that I grew up with. I have subsequently covered it up and buried it under layers and layers of tattoos.

Speaking of tattoos, since you see a lot in this sport: mixed martial arts. How did you get into MMA? I've been an avid fan of MMA since its early years, when you would go rent a UFC VHS tape at some random video store, in the pre-Internet days. Obviously the sport grew rather quickly. I followed it for a long time. Some people would call me a hardcore connoisseur or a fan of it, where I followed a lot of small organizations and things like that. It's always been my personality. When I was a kid, when I'd watch professional wrestling, I didn't watch the popular WWF stuff; I watched the Georgia Championship Wrestling because I liked it more and it had more character. I think it's part of the anti-social sort of punk rock attitude that some people have or some people don't have. I like going against the grain, finding other stuff. So MMA is the perfect sport for that. Now it's a little different because it's being widely accepted by popular culture, at least North America. I boxed for a long time. I did Muay Thai for a long time. I still do that. I'm a licensed mixed martial arts instructor in the state of Massachusetts; I work for the state athletic commission. I'm on an on-call basis if a show needs a judge. I volunteer my time.

I'm a huge fan as well and I've read Randy Couture's book, Chuck Liddell's book. I think about how they described how the UFC got going, around the time of Royce Gracie coming up with the idea and the first few pay-per-views. They were much different than they are now. They were going off of a tournament style of matches versus what they have now, which is, basically, a show, but in the best kind of way. Now it's an event. Now everything is basically a wrestling model. You have your prelim card then you build up to your main event. Back then, you'd watch RINGS tournaments or UFC and you'd be so excited you were going to see Babalu fight Randy or something like that, or the hope that a Nogueira you heard about, a heavyweight great that you know nothing about, but they have the same sort of game. You get excited about these people and you try to find out about their lineage. It's very similar to music. It has that sort of elitist quality, which is good and bad. I feel that it's good where it's protective; it's a sort of gut reaction when you feel this pure aspect that your community isn't threatened and you don't want people involved in it. But there's also an aspect of it where you want to see it flourish and grow. It's really turning into something interesting.

It was funny, when the UFC was here in Boston, I was special enough to be at the weigh-ins and hang out. I'm sitting with all the fighters in the bleachers of the Boston Garden. I had Gray Maynard sitting in front of me, Randy and his training sitting in front of me as well, and I'm flanked by Kurt Pelligrino in the corner and then BJ Penn in the other corner. And when Nick Diaz comes in, everyone gets a little quiet, and BJ's like, "Hey Nick! Come here!" And Nick goes and hangs out with BJ. It was really interesting to see that because, to me, they're all rock stars. They're what I like to watch casually. In a way, it's my music. Do I get sick of it sometimes? Oh, definitely. I get sick of the casual culture. I get sick of the blog-style reporting in a mixed sport like that, where it's so opinion-based that it's almost grating to me. There's only a few writers that I like, can pay attention to. I love the sport and I'm really happy where it's at and where it's going.

I read just one MMA website everyday. I'm curious about the pay-per-view results for either Strikeforce or UFC, but beyond that, like MMA fantasy stuff or people getting into Twitter battles, I don't care about that. It's the same way with music. Exactly! 'Cause really, it's just your opinion that matters, your experience. That's the funny thing. I don't have the free time in the world to care about that stuff. Another sidenote at the weigh-in when Gray was sitting in front of me, right before the public weigh-in: I wanted to tap him on the shoulder, but I didn't, probably because I was nervous and wanted to blend in and not get in anybody's way. But it was funny, I had to kick him out of my seat at a WEC event in Vegas. We were on tour with Mastodon when Jose Aldo was fighting Mike Brown for the WEC title that night and so I played the set, jumped in a cab, went to WEC and had great seats there. I watched the prelims, I played the show, came back and had to politely kick Gray Maynard and Jay Curran out of their seats because they had stolen my seat.

I can imagine, just that look that Gray is always giving, was more intimidating in person. You know, Jay Curran was more intimidating out of the two, because Jay could not give a shit. I respect him greatly as a fighter. I was like, "Hey Jay, I'm a big fan, but unfortunately you're in my seat." He was a little bummed out when I had to remove him.

When you guys played on the Axe to Fall tour, didn't the power go out at the Prophet Bar? I think it was. I don't remember exactly. I wish there was a Wikipedia for all the shows I've played so I could look at it and go, "Oh yeah, it was that show!" But I think there was some kind of lightning storm and lightning hit somewhere in the neighborhood and the power went out. The power came back on, but not everything since fuses were down. There was no PA. We had only stage power. We only had just the guitar cabs and we made the joke that God's trying to stop us from playing, but we refused. Some people thought it was funny. We thought it was funny and we continued to play for one more song and then we had to stop. But it was still fun. For us, it's just really more rewarding being that far away from home in a place like Dallas. I mean, Dallas, to me . . . wasn't that the home of the Sportatorium and World Class [Championship Wrestling]?

Oh yeah! The Von Erichs. Fritz Von Erich territory. Gino Hernandez, Chris Adams territory. To me, that's my childhood, so that's the stuff I think about when I'm in Dallas. Like, "Wow, I wish I could go to the location where the old Sportatorium was." I'm just grateful our wild, intense music connects with people in some way that we can go and share it with people like that and go tour and go travel. People look at heavy music a lot as something negative, much like they see mixed martial arts as something negative or violent, and it's not. I mean, some of it is in context, but it's people trying to make a positive in their lives, you know? A lot of people listen to heavy music because they want an escape. They don't want to be a monster. They don't want to be an intense person, so they look for an outlet and it's a positive one. It's a positive one to create it as well. With fighting professionally or on the amateur level, same thing: people searching for something.

Converge play Dada on Thursday, November 1, with Torche, Kvelertak, and Enabler.

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