Converge’s Ben Koller: A Well-Rounded Timekeeper

converge
Converge came into existence at the behest of founding members Jacob Bannon (vox, lyrics) and guitarist Kurt Ballou in 1991. Subsequent lineup changes and several albums (met with critical appraise) later, Converge has been one of the most interesting and influential bands in hard core metal today. Their highly acclaimed album, When Forever Comes Crashing, produced by Steve Austin (Today is the Day), found Converge getting into their respective creative groove, solidifying a sound that is both unique and brutal and always evolving.

Though Converge has been around for the past 10 years, it wasn’t until the release of their highly lauded and groundbreaking concept album, Jane Doe, that mainstream metal pundits started taking notice. At which time gave them more footing in not only the hardcore metal scene but also garnered much respect among metal enthusiasts and art rockers alike. The intelligence in lyrics and songwriting make Converge a compelling and formidable band.

Drummer Ben Koller took some time between his busy schedule working a full-time job and recording for the new Converge album to talk to themusicedge.com

How old were you when you started playing music?
I got a drum set for Christmas when I was 13. I started playing in bands a couple years later.

Did you play music in school? Were you involved in any after-school band programs?
Hell ya! Let’s see if I can name them all off. Jazz band, elite jazz band, concert band, pep band and a Blues Brothers cover band. I also took guitar class.

What is your first recollection of music? What inspired you to become interested in playing the drums?
I grew up listening to stuff like Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The song that made me want to be in a band was “I’m Not a Loser” by the Descendents.

What are some of your early influences as a drummer? Who are some of your most inspirational drummers?
Drummers in local bands on Cape Cod were a huge inspiration when I was in high school. Some drummers that I dig are Bill Stevenson (Black Flag, Descendents), Danny Carey (Tool), Dave Lombardo, Bonzo, etc. There’s so many, it would be impossible to try and list them all.

What benefits, if any, did you attain from playing music in school?
I learned how to read music and sight-read, I learned from other drummers, built some amazing friendships, built up my chops, learned to play with other musicians (not just guitarists but brass, woodwinds, etc.), learned dynamics (although I always played way too loud), and kept my sanity by having a break from the monotony of the rest of school.

Did you take lessons? What was the most important thing you learned from lessons?
I took lessons for a few years after I started playing. I did a lot of stuff that I probably never would have done on my own like jazz, salsa, Latin, etc. Also all the nerdy stuff like rudiments and reading music.

What is the songwriting process like for Converge?
Don’t ask. It’s ugly.

How often do you get to compose an entire song on drums, and is it easy or hard for the other members to write around drum parts?
Rarely are entire songs written from drum outlines, but many songs start with what we like to call “drum riffs.”

Do you favor speed over technique and style in your own playing, and which do you focus on the most?
It all depends on what the song calls for. In Converge, I try to compliment the rest of the band as best I can while still having a unique voice.

What kind of playing style do you gravitate toward? Converge has some very jazzy bits, and it’s in those bits that your playing really shines. Is this something the band strives for with each release, slowly moving away from the traditional hard core or metal style and into a more freeform improv style?
We write what we think we would want to listen to, and what we write is drawn from so many influences that it can be hard to categorize.

On “Homewrecker’s” intro there are some serious rolls—do you use triggers at all? How important is a double bass pedal, and how often do you use it?
I don’t use triggers with Converge. I never played double bass before coming into this band, and I probably wouldn’t have if the old songs didn’t call for it. When writing new songs I don’t consider using it all that much.

“The Broken Vow” has some interesting timing changes—was that something conceptualized when you were writing with the bass and guitar, or does it just sort of appear out of the creative process?
I’m so used to writing with odd timing and time signatures that I don’t really notice it that much. Ever since I started playing in bands I have grown accustomed to playing non-4/4 rhythms, so it just comes naturally.

What does your dream kit look like?
Led Zeppelin John Bonham custom kit. Clear amber vistalite shells. 26” kick, 14” rack, 16” & 18” floor toms.

Are there other projects you are currently pursuing? If so, what are they? If not, is there any you can see yourself being a part of in the future?
A couple months ago I assumed drumming duties for a Boston band called The Cignal. They’re amazing people, and they write amazing music. With any luck, we’ll be recording the band’s first full-length in the future. http://www.thecignal.com

Do you have any advice for new drummers? Any tips or insights that would benefit someone in the early stages of playing?
When I first started playing, I would practice playing along to The Ramones and The Sex Pistols songs with a boombox and headphones in my basement.
Start a band! Start a lot of bands! Playing in a band is one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences one can have. Start today!

For more on Converge, visit http://www.convergecult.com

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