Conviction: Guitarist Jim Winters Reminisces on His Days in the ‘90s Hardcore Band

Conviction @ Unisound, Reading, PA, 1991. (Photo: Justin Moulder)

Let me start out by saying, I’ve loved everything I have heard that guitarist Jim Winters has been a part of. That includes the bands Conviction, Earth Crisis, Believer, and Turmoil, to name just a few.

I formally met Jim in the summer of 1988 at Unisound, a club we frequented from 1988-93. He was in a band called Transmission at the time, and I loved their Side by Side-like approach to straight edge. I first talked to Jim about a Transmission interview for my zine, Suburban Fanzine, and he asked me to hold up because they were evolving into Conviction. More on that below. Anyway, I did the first Conviction interview and if memory serves me right, it came out in Issue 3 of Suburban way back when.

Conviction @ Josh Grabelle's basement, Tinton Falls, NJ, 1993. (Photo: Justin Moulder)

Fast forward about 30 years, I was asked to contribute to '90s Hardcore Week on No Echo, and after trying and failing to get a second part to my Ink & Dagger piece together, I hit up Jim and he finally agreed to answer some questions for me.

Fun fact: when Eric Wareheim considered leaving left Ink & Dagger (after a show on North 3rd Street in Philadelphia), I told [vocalist] Sean McCabe and [guitarist] Don Devore they should ask Jim to join. They considered it briefly before I suggested Ashli State. But I digress. Anyway, here’s a quick chat with the incomparable Jim Winters.  

Conviction started in the summer of 1990, after Bill [William Mecum] left Transmission for Admiral. Was that where Question of Commitment came from?

Answers may differ on this. I'd say his departure had become a catalyst in the band moving forward, and as a title was reflective of the process. It may have just been a general statement of intent.

Conviction @ Josh Grabelle's basement, Tinton Falls, NJ, 1993. (Photo: Justin Moulder)

I know you guys had a huge following in upstate New York. I’ve always wondered how the hell that happened!

[Laughs] I wish I knew that answer. Basically, we had already expired many of the surrounding areas and venues for shows. I mean, you could only re-play Unisound so many times. 

I do seem to recall City Gardens being a goal at one point early on, but then that closed not long after. With respect to New Jersey, they had an established thing going on and it wasn't necessarily much of our vibe, in all honesty. We may have suffered from a bit of an exclusionary attitude as it usually felt like we were still outsiders. I'd say we almost preferred it that way. Personally, I reveled in it.

Conviction @ Lost Horizon, Syracuse, NY, circa 1993. (Photo: Josh Grabelle)

As for Syracuse, those shows were usually well attended, it seemed the whole 315 scene were there. Lost Horizon was fairly equidistant to other scenes as well, so we probably benefited from those higher profile shows.

I'd say it was more the case of certain contingent who gravitated to the band, as there was a fair amount of idealistic crossover to what was happening up there at the time.

Conviction was playing metal straight edge before virtually anyone else. I tell everyone, I feel like you guys were Earth Crisis before Earth Crisis was Earth Crisis. Tell us about that metal influence.

[Guitarist] Mike [Royer] and I were the metalheads first dudes in the band, so we were already familiar with the nuances to that playing. [Vocalist] Travis [Shirk], [bassist] Ron [Mann], and [drummer] Jon [Pushnik] were getting into heavier styles of music around then as well, so the transition felt fairly natural.

Conviction performing in Emmaus, PA, circa early '90s. (Photo: Justin Moulder)

That whole first wave of crossover was long over, but then newer bands in the immediate scene were beginning to display more obvious metallic elements: Zero Tolerance, the Die Hard demo, that Integrity two-song cassette, and even the later Release come to mind as the initial spark.

Conviction performing in New Brunswick, NJ, 1991. (Photo: Justin Moulder)

Also, Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power album had just come out, so I'd be a bullshitist to say that had no impact. Around that time, our ideas were probably more informed by Prong, Wargasm, Burn, Pestilence, Godflesh, etc.

I always wanted to maintain Conviction as a hardcore band while stylistically bringing in those influences. The challenge was maintaining that delicate balance of the two, so maybe our incorporation of sound was distinct enough.

Did you guys ever plan an LP after that last demo, that ended up becoming the second and final 7 inch?

There was never a discussion beyond what we had already recorded and released. In retrospect, I think we were just better as a 7" band, plus it gave us less chance of seriously fucking anything up [laughs]. Only a few bands really had the strength to carry a full-length, with enough consistency to warrant that time, anyway.

(Photo: Justin Moulder)

Y’all didn’t really last all that long, I’m guessing it all came to an end around 1994/95, when Travis moved out to Colorado?  

I think it was around summer-fall of '93, but this is where the timeline starts to blur.

Tell me about Vigil, the band that came after Conviction broke up.

Post-Travis, we informally planned to continue in some form and just work it out as needed, then things started going crooked. Ron tried vocals, but also expressed plans on eventually going back to school, so that would present an issue. Mike stuck around for the first few months, but eventually decided to leave, followed by Ron or vice-versa. Considering the time and location we may felt limited on options, we never reached out too far though.

Ashley was a friend of the band who was always supportive. He knew the songs and expressed interest, so it felt natural to bring him on-board to do vocals. Similarly with Mark Lacasse on bass. I think we may have had a rehearsal or two with EMS [Eric Michael Schauffele] on bass as well in the beginning as well. 

We played a decent amount of shows for the short amount of time we existed.

Vigil (Photo courtesy of Jim Winters)

Why didn't Vigil last longer as a band?

That was a strange time for the scene, and hardcore in general. I would say my musical scope may have broadened beyond what we would've been capable of pulling off at the time, and that was the issue.

My approach was in flux as newer bands began to pique my interest. Being the only guitarist felt a limiting prospect, as I didn't have that wall of sound as a crutch so that almost forced a new phase of development, and moving forward became pretty reflective of that whole struggle.

Regardless, I'd count that period of musical development as crucial, for both Jon and myself.

The Stones to Mark a Fire compilation from 1995 was the only appearance Vigil ended up making on a record (they're the first track):

What ever happened with the Vigil demo that never came out?

That was really just a re-recording of those last Conviction songs and something we finished as Vigil. It never had vocals, the performances always felt lazy to me, so there wasn't much intent. To be honest, I'm not even sure why we did it [laughs]. Perhaps, as a document of what was left maybe? [Laughs] I don't know. I've pondered possibly trying to rework the thing, but who knows?


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