Nate Newton is up for a challenge. "I like playing towns where hardcore bands and metal bands don't usually play," says Newton, entering his sixth year as bassist for metalcore juggernaut Converge. "It sounds cheesy, but it's kind of like being Johnny Appleseed." Strangely, Newton's awkward kids' story metaphor is apt; since their formation in 1990, the Boston hardcore vets have been on what amounts to a 15-year tour, all the while creating some of the most innovative (and inspiring) hard music since the heavy metal of the '70s.
"We've always done what we wanted to do, and always had a sort of screw you attitude to everybody else that didn't approve of it," says a surly Newton from his home, packing socks and baby wipes for his band's upcoming tour.
It's this classic confrontational sentiment--matched only by the frenetic blasts of rusty sound and bloody noise on their records--that has allowed Converge to become such a monolith. Mixing their particularly cacophonous brand of metallic hardcore with a nearly impossible DIY aesthetic, the band has grown into a sort of living monument to the romantic, moralistic backbone of modern hardcore.
But Newton--a punk rock lifer who shares the stage with vocalist Jacob Bannon, guitarist Kurt Ballou and drummer John DiGiorgio--would rather not acknowledge that. "I just don't care," says Newton. "Even though we're involved with this scene, we're all kind of removed from it too. We don't really pay attention to what's popular or who thinks who is cool."
And while 2005's hardcore conception of cool has mostly been reserved for those girl-crazy skinny boys with careful black haircuts and painted on jeans, Converge is an undeniably hip anti-hero in a world of cookie-monster screamers and jet-black crooners. They're a band that doesn't deal in eyeliner heartbreak and mic-swinging bawl-o-thons. The band's furnace of a front man Jacob Bannon occasionally barks a line or two about failed relationships, but not about pining away at someone's window with tear in eye and rose in hand.
"So we were like OK, let's look at the direction that hardcore is going in right now, look at the direction that all these other bands are going, and let's go the opposite direction and do something completely different," says Newton. Their 2004 release and Epitaph Records debut, You Fail Me, was just that. Marrying the unbridled math-metal aesthetic of past albums with a newfangled appreciation for texture and restraint, Converge offered up a platter of intelligent metal and introspective, almost thoughtful hardcore that might not have sat well at their former home, hardcore-upstart-turned-emo-empire Equal Vision Records.
With what sounds like veiled indignation creeping into his voice, Newton recalls the split: "Equal Vision just didn't seem like the place for us anymore. It was going more in a Coheed and Cambria direction, which is fine. They're a good band, just not what we're into."
What Newton is into is the creativity he champions in his own band. "There aren't enough hardcore bands trying to be a driving force behind writing creative, honest music anymore--music that they themselves would be interested in listening to," says Newton. "And that's unfortunate."
But with all this righteous talk of success and doing things on their own terms, one begins to wonder if Converge has ever faltered, even taken a tiny misstep, over their decade and a half existence. Naturally, Newton recoils when asked, and with that same bit of indignation, he quips, "We haven't gotten a Grammy yet. That's our biggest failure."
Of course, Newton knows Converge will never win worthless statues. And that's sort of the point.
Converge play Cat's Cradle with Darkest Hour, The Red Chord, Municipal Waste and Idea of Beauty on Nov. 17. The show starts at 7:30 and tickets cost $14. You Fail Me is out now.