Interview conducted and edited by Bryan Beller
Interview original transcription by Massie Kitagawa
Can you talk about metalcore then and now, and the whole hardcore punk-and-metal, for lack of a better pun, convergence? What's your take on that?
Um…that's a hard one, actually. When the term "metalcore" started getting sort of thrown around, it was a lot different than what it is now. It was bands that were more hardcore-oriented. Bands were coming out of the punk/hardcore scene that had a little bit of a metal influence. And nowadays it seems like they are bands that are much more influenced by metal and have just a little bit of hardcore/punk, so...it seems like it's just kinda gone from one end of the spectrum to the other.
I mean, when people say "metalcore,” to me, I mean, I just generally think genres are kinda dumb anyway. But I think, you know, Rorschach, the Accused, Dead Guy, I think bands that were coming from a punk background and were more... they weren't metal players. You could tell they had some Slayer records, but they were equally influenced by Black Flag and the Melvins. So that's the school of thought that I came from. It's a little weird to me when I hear what people call "metalcore,” like, why is the "core" on the end? I don't hear the "core" part of it.
What's the mission statement of the bass in Converge? What are you after?
To tell you the truth, I don't know. I'm just trying to get through the songs and keep up with [guitarist] Kurt [Ballou]. [laughs] I just wanna add that little extra oomph, little bit of attack, and just...you know, I think Converge sort of can sort of sound like a train wreck to someone who doesn't really know where we're coming from, and so I think it's my job to just be the glue that holds it all together. 'Cause Ben [Koller]'s an amazing drummer, but he's all over the place, so if you're not used to following that, then maybe you can try to follow me. But I can barely play, so who knows.
Do you try and occupy some rhythm guitar space when you're playing bass?
Absolutely, yeah. It's kinda funny because when I joined the band, we were actually a five-piece, and we had two guitarists, and so when we became a four-piece, I then had try to compensate at least for the sound of a guitar being there, so I started playing with a lot more distortion than I had before. And then using two amps certainly added to that. Also, I didn't start out as a bass player, I started out as a guitarist, and I basically started playing bass because Converge needed a bassist to go on tour with them one summer.
And what year was that?
1997, I think.
And is that when you joined the band, or were you in it before then, even?
No, that's when I joined the band.
So you've been there for thirteen years now.
Yeah. Aw, man, that's crazy.
Yeah, that's a while. That's longer than most of the people that are gonna be in this article.
Oh my God, that's terrible.
Hey, talk about that gear for a second, that two-amp setup. What bass do you use and what are those amps?
I use a Fender P-Bass, the quintessential punk rock bass. If it worked for Dee Dee Ramone, it works for me, I guess. And two Orange heads, an AD200 and a Thunderverb. The AD200 is where I get all the bottom end, and then the Thunderverb gives me the guitar-amp kind of bite that I like to get, the attack. I like a really midrange-y, mean, dirty tone, because you listen to old Bad Brains records and that's what it sounded like. Although they probably just had one amp completely dimed out at the time. But those old records are the ones that influenced me the most, I think, as far as what I wanted to sound like as a bass player.
Do you play just with a pick, or do you play with your fingers also?
I sometimes play with my fingers, but, um...
Mostly with a pick?
Yeah, I'm mediocre at best at playing with my fingers.
Do you have any effects?
No. No effects.
Who was the bass player for Bad Brains, so I get that right?
Darryl Jenifer. [Plus] Chuck Dukowski from Black Flag…who else, uh... who played bass in the Rollins Band, was it Andrew Weiss, I think? Those were the guys that influenced me. They just had this really dirty, in-your-face bass tone. Actually, Harley Flanagan from the Cro-Mags, too. He had that just nasty, all-attack kind of bass tone. He played more like a guitar than a bass, really.
What's your, uh, favorite tune to play from Axe to Fall live?
I think it's a tie between "Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast" and "Dark Horse.” I mean, they're both very different, but I enjoy them for different reasons, I guess. [“Dark Horse”] just came out of nowhere, too. We wrote that, I think, two days before we were going to start recording. But I generally think those are the best kinds of songs, man. You didn't think about it, they just kinda wrote themselves.
What's your take on the super-technical side of metal – not just like the Meshuggah kind of technical stuff, where the whole band is doing stuff, but bass players who are playing six-string fretlesses and stuff like that, or playing back by the bridge pickup and really going for stuff that you'd usually only see fusion guys do?
You know, far be it for me to put down anybody else's artistic expression, [but] that just never appealed to me. I've always felt like the bass should be the rock that holds everything together, instead of having a solo going through the whole set. And part of that is just my ability and really...I can't do that, it's just not the way I play. So I have respect for it, but it's just not what I like. I grew up on punk rock and hardcore, and so the virtuosity of a lot of metal players doesn't necessarily get lost on me, but I hear it and I'm like, “Oh, yeah, that's cool,” and then I put on a Thin Lizzy record.
All right, last question. Why do you think metal in general is so huge right now?
NN: I really don't know. I've been kind of wondering that myself. I think maybe people just need a little bit of aggression in their lives, to get their frustrations out, or something. It's kinda funny, just a little bit off subject, that you asked me this because the other day…I have a VHS copy of the first Decline of Western Civilization. And I was watching it, we were watching the Germs part and we were just, like, "Fuck, this is just so awesome, man. I love the Germs." My wife was like, "Why is this one never on VH-1, but the metal one's on, like, every day?" And we were just tryin' to figure it out. And I was like, "I don't know, that's weird", 'cause this seems like an equally valid documentary about an important time in music, but...I wish I could tell you why metal's so big. Maybe just people like loud guitars and rocking out, I don't know.
I don't even know what to call us anymore, It's funny 'cause we're getting ready to go out on a headlining tour and we were actually have a really hard finding time bands to do the tour with. Because I feel like we've almost painted ourselves into a corner…we've always been the band that just was like, “We don't want to have anything to do with what all these scenes are about, we're gonna do our own thing,” and we've done it so much that I don't really know of any other bands that we can compare ourselves to. I don't know, it's weird. So we were having a really hard time finding bands to do the tour.
I get it. If the point, I guess, is to really stand apart from genre and do your own thing or invent your own thing, which you guys did, then after a while you get respected in your own right for whatever it is, and then you're gonna get elevated to, at least in [terms of] publicity and all the rest of this stuff, the stature of all of these other bands that are firmly in these other genres.
And then where does that leave you?
Well, it leaves us as being the dudes...nobody knows what the fuck to call us.
[laughs] So who's going to do the tour with you?
Coalesce is going to be on part of it. And then this band Gaza will be one of the openers. Another band on [singer] Jake [Bannon]'s label called Lewd Acts – they're fuckin' awesome. A band called Black Breath, from Seattle, who is one of my favorite newer bands. They're kinda like a hardcore band that's influenced by the whole early Swedish death metal scene, like Dismember and Entombed and stuff like that. And then, actually, I think part of it is gonna be with Thursday. That might be interesting, we'll see.
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