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Converge Look Back On 'Jane Doe'

With The Release Of 'Jane Live' We Talk To The Band About Their Seminal Hardcore Release

On March 8, 2017

Roadburn, held every year in Tilburg, Netherlands, is the metal festival of your dreams, brought to reality. For one, it’s in the Netherlands, a paradise whether you’re a libertine or a sober naturalist. It celebrates metal’s creative spectrum, not focusing on one particular genre. What other festival would have Pentagram, Diamanda Galas, and Repulsion in a single day, much less a whole weekend? Roadburn commissions full-album sets from some of the more notable acts the play the fest, including Yob, Neurosis, and Wolves in the Throne Room.

But not every full-album set is as insane or as big of a deal as Converge doing Jane Doe, for the first time in its entirety. You think it would have happened sooner than last year, as few hardcore records command such cult status. As far as the canon for classic hardcore goes, it is one of the first, and maybe only, post-2000 records that could stand right alongside Damaged. To put it lightly: this set was a big deal.

Few of us can make it to Roadburn, so their show has been immortalized as Jane Live, featuring artwork from Ashley Rose, John Baizley, Florian Bertmer, and Thomas Hooper. Just released through the band's own ConvergeCult, it is a collector’s item for sure; moreover, Jane Live’s mere existence is another notch in Jane Doe’s stature in metal and hardcore. How is an album so revered that not only would people want to see it all performed live, but would want to have that show commemorated on record?

Originally released through Equal Vision in 2001, Jane Doe was a record both of its time and out of place. It represents them growing outwards and onwards, taking in everything from AmRep style noise rock to thrash to deconstructed freeform explosions, all tied together by Bannon’s howls of heartbreak. Metal riffs and punk speed make for the best combination, and Jane Doe is a testament to that, albeit not from the same angle as thrash metal, crossover, or New York death metal.

Converge came up around the same time as another Massachusetts metalcore group, Overcast, some of whose members would eventually go on to play in Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall. Those two bands, along with fellow bands from the state like Unearth and the Red Chord, found success thanks to a renewed interest in death metal and metalcore, spearheaded by MTV2 bringing back Headbangers’ Ball and Ozzfest giving them some of their largest audiences.

All of these bands were interested in straight-edge hardcore, Swedish death metal (At The Gates probably wouldn’t have reunited if it wasn’t for late ‘90s-early ‘00s Massachusetts metalcore), and Metallica, and so were Converge, but they didn’t feel in line with them.

“If you look at the early Converge stuff, especially through the ‘90s, you can draw a direct line to the same influence that those other bands were pulling from. In our minds, that wasn’t what we were, but maybe creatively, we weren’t where we wanted to be yet,” commented bassist Nate Newton.

“We’ve never been a very locally rooted band. After the mid-90s, since we started touring a bit more, we didn’t look at our band in regional terms,” Bannon said.

As far as the canon for classic hardcore goes, Jane Doe is one of the first, and maybe only, post-2000 records that could stand right alongside Damaged.

That plays into why Jane Live was performed at Roadburn and not in Massachusetts.

“People say ‘you shoulda done the Jane thing locally,’ I sort of disagree, that album has connected with people in a variety of places. It’s not owned by a region,” he said.

In fact, New Jersey probably played more into Jane Doe than anyone from Massachusetts, save for the band members themselves. One band that would end up shaping the record was Dillinger Escape Plan, more as a force for guitarist and founding member Kurt Ballou to reexamine himself rather than a direct musical influence. Converge’s first two albums, Petitioning the Empty Sky and When Forever Comes Crashing, were a lot more technical — “hot-shit technical” to be exact, according to Newton. Once Dillinger came onto the scene with Under the Running Board and Calculating Infinity, two pioneering works of mathcore, Ballou felt he was “usurped.” The Poacher Diaries, a split with Agoraphobic Nosebleed, was him trying to be hotter than hot shit. He described Diaries as a “failed experiment” and a “transitional record” in the same breath, and says with Jane Doe, he “got more in tune with what it was that has always been most exciting to me about music — to make it memorable.”

Jane Doe is a memorable record, but it’s also a beautiful record, make no mistake. It’s not trying to be beautiful, it just turned out that way because of the fuck-it-all spirit of hardcore.

“I could hear the beauty in the sloppiness of early hardcore,” Newton said. “Where Jake was at the time, that mood sonically fit in with how I felt about hardcore. I never liked hardcore where you could tell the songs were really crafted and overwritten. I am a big fan of songcraft, but it needs to sound urgent.”

Converge had no shortage of hooks on Jane Doe, and like Ballou said, they don’t appear in conventional places. Opener “Concubine” is one song they’ve played at nearly every show since Jane Doe was released, finding a common ground between wiry Big Black and straightforward hardcore aggression. That second verse riff is a minimalist hallmark, looping like the circle pits it’s inspired over the years. You may have heard hardcore breakdowns before, but you haven’t one both as catchy and head-slamming as “Bitter and then Some.” “Distance and Meaning” fucks with the AmRep convention — an influence Newton says he brought into Converge — by pushing its nervous boogie nearly to the point of collapse; “Hell To Pay” does the same with noise rock’s more bass-driven side.

Jane Doe didn’t just sound like no other record before it, it also didn’t look like any record before it. The Jane figure — the mysterious woman on the cover of the original album — has become one of the most iconic images in hardcore. It’s their equivalent of the Rolling Stones tongue or the Grateful Dead skull, or as they’d prefer to compare it to, the Black Flag bars. If you’ve been to a hardcore show in the past decade, you’ve likely seen a shirt that has only the Jane figure on the front.

“If I say Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon, you don’t think about anything other than the prism and the rainbow. That’s what happens when we synchronize the visual aesthetic of a record with the sonic aesthetic,” said John Baizley, who did one of the covers for Jane Live.

Well-known as the singer and guitarist for Baroness and a renowned metal artist in his own right, he honors Jane Doe’s iconic look by going against everything Bannon did. The Jane figure became iconic for its anonymity, and Baizley subverts that by giving Jane features — “something highly recognizable, as opposed to nebulous and anonymous” — modeled after a friend of his, who he declined to identify. His portrait makes use of bright, bold colors that are a key element in his art, a stark contrast to the muted greys and yellows of the original. He discovered the record while in art school in Savannah, and most of his classmates who were into hardcore experimented with that album art too, an underlying factor in his total reinterpretation. In the background are his own fingerprints, using his own stamp as a tool to obliterate anonymity.

Bannon's cover for Jane Live

“There has to be a meaning and importance an an idea behind it — there has to be a justification for how the package is presented,” he said. “I try to be respectful to the fact that the musicians who created these records spent endless hours pouring over the details of their albums. Why would I do less than that?”

Ashley Rose, a fashion designer based out of Boston, took a different approach, creating a sculpture using the Jane face, decked out in pearls and stone, sporting a black feather and chiffon dress. While it’s not the radical reinterpretation Baizley’s art was, it still gives significantly more definition to Jane. The weight in this Jane’s eyes make feel as though she’s stuck in a dream, some stupor in the late nights of the Roaring 20s. As meaningless as “DIY” is as a buzzword now, Converge have always held up an ethic of doing things their own way. Rose’s piece was born from a frustration with making her dress, when she couldn’t find suitable materials at fabric stores.

“I remember feeling discouraged surrounded by floral lace and sequins - as those don't really scream Jane Doe, or Converge,” she said. “I went back to my studio and sat in front of my empty dress form and placed the album in front of me. I decided to just work with what supplies I already owned and what spoke to me in the moment.”

Rose's cover for Jane Live

Jane Doe’s influence ranges beyond Converge’s own prospects. Ballou is an in-demand producer at Godcity in Salem, Massachusetts, having worked with numerous bands including Nails, Disfear, Torche, High on Fire. Bannon’s Deathwish has put many up-and-coming metal and hardcore groups on the map, most notably Deafheaven, so you have Jane Doe to thank for the vile rancor of metal comment sections. Newton has also found success in Doomriders, and has even played with former Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera in Cavalera Conspiracy and Killer Be Killed. Koller has also kept himself busy with All Pigs Must Die and Mutoid Man, the latter of which he plays with former Converge bassist (and Jane Live guest) Steve Brodsky. For as beloved as the record is, Converge feel more reserved about it than most of their fans.

“I think it’s the beginning of us making good records, but I like all the ones that follow it better,” Ballou said. How would he approach it differently in 2017? “I’d love to remix it, it sounds kinda soupy to me, there’s not a lot of distinction between the parts even though it’s really bright.”

It’s often viewed that Jane Doe was Converge’s breakout record, where everything started falling into place. And while it’s true that it was a new beginning, Bannon stresses that it didn’t come out of nowhere.

“Kurt got laid off from his job at the time — in 2001 — and we chose at that point to give it a go and do as much touring as we could, do as much recording and writing as we could, and start taking all of it more seriously than we were prior, when we were all in college and stuck in that grinding wheel of things,” he said. “The narrative that tends to happen with this sort of thing — you put out a record, all these opportunities came up, your lives changed this way. That’s not the way it works for us. We constantly grind at this. We’re always in it. The time for reflection just isn’t really there yet.”

Jane Doe’s main lesson is about processing turmoil, in a more general approach to life than the specific heartbreak Bannon screams about.

“If you’re gonna give it a go and you’re want to give yourself to art and music, it’s not something you can do half assed, you have to jump in with both feet and not be afraid of the consequences.”

Profile Picture of Andy O'Connor
Andy O'Connor

Andy O’Connor heads SPIN’s monthly metal column, Blast Rites, and also has bylines in Pitchfork, Vice, Decibel, Texas Monthly and Bandcamp Daily, among others. He lives in Austin, Texas. 

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