Insider The Shredder’s Studio #5: Kurt Ballou of Converge

The latest inclusion in the Shredder’s Studio was inevitable. Kurt Ballou is no stranger to the Dec-faithful; he played on Hall of Fame and top album of the 00s certified masterpiece Jane Doe; laid down riffs on last year’s best record and helped close out our 100th issue party.
Mr. Ballou is writing the kinds of riffs that will end up on these lists in a decade, probably sooner. Without further accolades, here’s Kurt Ballou kindly telling us about the formative riffs that helped shape Coverge. If heaven exists, what would God say when Ballou arrived? How about “Converge fucking rules!”

Take it away, Kurt.

I think I went way overboard on this. I’m jet lagged and can’t sleep. Sorry. Anyway… here you go!

Link Wray – “Rumble”

This is one of the original “guitar riffs” and still one of the best.

Rush – “La Villa Strangiato”

Growing up, my friend’s big brother was a huge Rush fan and was constantly cranking it from his bedroom. He was probably smoking pot in there, not realizing we were on the other side of the wall just going “woah dude… this isn’t Iron Maiden!” I think hearing such a masterful use of odd-time signatures at age nine helped that sort of thing not feel at all strange to me as I started hearing it in other music as I got older. Plus their use of emphasized leading tones in their melodies had a huge influence on me as I started to write music.

The Meatmen – “French People Suck”

I don’t agree with the sentiment, but as a 12-year-old kid who was into Rush, I didn’t give a shit about punk, but I gave a shit about laughing, so I listened to The Meatmen. Eventually, the music started to grow on me and it became a gateway into other punk music.

Minor Threat – “Steppin’ Stone”

Yeah, this is a cover, but this is the first version I heard. As a novice guitarist, I was stoked to have a song that was actually within my ability level.

Quiet Riot – “Bang Your Head”

This riff makes me want to bang my head… I’m fucking serious!

Sonic Youth – “Mote”

I always loved Sonic Youth’s ability to be simultaneously melodic, heavy, and noisy. They, more than any other band, were the soundtrack to my high school days.

The Cult – “She Sells Sanctuary”

This is one of the first songs I ever learned that used droning guitars. It’s also one of the first things I learned that combined my love of classic rock, with my love of dark, brooding, Cure-esque melody. I’ve never looked back!

Slayer – “Live Undead”

I don’t care what anyone says, South Of Heaven is the best Slayer album. This song is just stupid heavy. That double bass part … HOLY SHIT … that was my “Through Silver and Blood” years before I heard of Neurosis. I remember falling asleep to this album every night, imagining this must be what it feels like to be a soldier in combat.

King Crimson – “21st Century Schizoid Man”

I was a saxophone-playing band geek in high school, but I skated and liked punk and metal too, so I didn’t really fit in anywhere. King Crimson was one of the first things I heard that appealed to both the pretentious nerd and the demented weirdo in me.

Van Halen – “Hot For Teacher”

No one can fuck with EVH’s riffs.

Born Against – “Well Fed Fuck”

This was a stand out track on this album for me. It was bluesy noise-rock with a groove amongst an album full of blistering fast hardcore. After all these years, it still makes me want to smash things.

Mountain – “Never In My Life”

This one is a favorite soundcheck riff at Converge shows.

Knut – “H/armless”

I remember hearing this for the first time, then seeing them play it live and just having my head torn off. How could an E mosh riff possibly be this heavy? The Converge song “You Fail Me” was partially inspired by this.

Entombed – “Chaos Breed”
Here’s where Converge stole a lot of “The Saddest Day” from.

Danzig – “Not of This World”

This has always been one of my favorite Danzig song. The riffs are super fun to play.

Deadguy – “The Extremist”

Deadguy and Rorschach were among the first bands in the 90’s to bridge the gap between metal and hardcore in a way that made sense. Most previous attempts, early Converge included, felt like a cheesy, cartoonish hybrid compared to this.

Edgar Winter – “Frankenstein”

One of the most classic riffs in rock … plus this live version rules. Notice Edgar Winter playing just about every instrument then doing a totally demented, trippy synth solo.

Descendents – “Van”

This song is so stupid, yet so infectious you can’t help but play it.

The Wipers – “No Generation Gap”

This one reminds me of an 80’s punk version of Link Wray’s “Rumble” – every bit as simple and every bit as infectious.

Jesus Lizard – “Then Comes Dudley”

Total cave-man riff. I like to imagine this song was played by a bunch of angry steel workers with hands too cramped up from forging steel all day to play anything more complicated.

Fugazi – “Break”

I always loved the two-guitar interplay in this band. This song is especially cool because in the intro, one guitar sounds like it’s playing drums and the other sounds like it’s playing piano. Then there’s some kind of Carribean part followed by a garage rock freak out. It’s simple and weird and totally fun to play. The best part is, the song ends before it has a chance to get boring.

Crom Tech – “II Men For Lord Dorpal”

Try to tab this… I dare you.

Spinal Tap – “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”

I don’t care if it’s a joke – it’s still a great riff!

Read previous installments of Inside The Shredder’s Studio:
#1: Elizabeth Schall of Dreaming Dead
#2: Mike Hill of Tombs
#3: Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy
#4: Alex Bouks of Incantation