Caveman Battle Doom trio Conan are a bit of an unknown entity, but with their scattered history now in tact, 2010 should see that all change with talk of gigs for the first time as a 3 piece and more importantly, their debut album, ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’, co-released by Aurora Borealis (CD) and Throne (Vinyl), seeing the light of day in the first part of the year, so I decided the time was right to round up these 3 warriors of doom…
There’s little in the way of information available about Conan, so can you give us a brief history of the band?
Jon: Sure, the band was created in 2006 by myself and a good long term friend called Richie Grundy. Richie played drums and I played guitar and sang / shouted. We practiced for quite a while and wrote the bare bones of Krull and Satsumo, along with a couple of other songs. We planned on releasing these four songs as an EP called Battle In The Swamp and recorded the CD at Crash Studios in 2007. Through a combination of reasons around work schedules it was impossible for us to play any gigs (which we really wanted to do at the time) and therefore the EP was dropped and it was decided to put things on ice while I looked for a new drummer. I played with a few drummers and things didn’t really click until I met Paul O’Neill (who has played in other bands such as Rise Deadman, Zen Baseball Bat, Profane and others). Paul is a great drummer technically and he also has a great feel for tempo changes and straight away he helped to shape the songs and the approach we use today, initially they were a bit ‘simple’ sounding but with the initial help of Paul and latterly John (who helped rewrite parts of Satsumo, Krull and Dying Giant) we have made the songs on the album much more listenable than they once were. Paul and I had several practices and played some shows (namely in Korova, Barfly and Zanzibar) and planned on recording the Battle In The Swamp EP again but in early 2008 it was decided to put the band on ice again, I am sorry to say that the decision was mine.
This hiatus lasted longer than planned but in early 2009 myself John McNulty and Andy Freeney (bass player and drummer respectively in Zangief) began a side project called HORN which yielded some pretty heavy songs. Toward the end of HORN I had been in touch with Paul O’Neill again about resurrecting CONAN as a two piece. We both felt that there was plenty of life left in the band and agreed that the decision to hold it all up in March 2008 was a rash one. Nevertheless Paul and I started jamming again and booked a recording session at Foel Studios for November 2009. At this session we planned on recording the original Battle In The Swamp EP and one or two other songs. When HORN finally broke up we discussed, with John (ex-Horn, ex-Dragged Into Sunlight, Zangief), the possibility of him joining to play on bass and to share vocals with me, to fatten out the sound and lend his song writing abilities, fortunately he agreed. I have known John for a few years now and he has always been a friend of mine and the ‘band’. He has some great ideas about where he thinks the band should go, that marry up with the ideas that Paul and I have had all along and so we were very keen to get him involved. John joined us for some practices and then for the recording at Foel (which created the album HORSEBACK BATTLE HAMMER) and now, together, the three of us are planning the release of the album, which will be available early 2010.
Paul: I think the fact that we took a break when we did was a blessing. At that time, there’s no way we would have ended up with a recording as ‘complete’ as the one we have now. The addition of John on bass and vocals, plus his ideas and perspective regarding songwriting has helped shape and improve what me and er, the other John were already doing.
John: These two had some great riffs and songs already written before I joined, so it was a simple process of getting all our ideas together and progressing with the recording. Dying Giant was a song we wrote while playing in Horn, which we have covered for Horseback Battle Hammer.
In only 3 words, how would you describe the sonics of Conan?
Jon: Broadswords Striking Shields
Paul: Warhammers crushing skulls
John: Stone Temples Falling
Why the name Conan?
Jon: Initially the band was called ‘Elf Beater’, ‘Here Lies The Body’ and then ‘Demon de Mauro’ and none of these really suited the image I wanted for the band – those names are actually fucking shit now that I see them in black and white…….!!!!!! Just before Richie Grundy and I started practicing regularly I was thinking of a name that was sounded brutal, instantly recognisable and fitted with the theme for most of the songs i.e. fighting, war, myth, legends. When I thought of the name I did a search for other bands with the name CONAN and I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t one out there (aside from some old South American metal band from the 80’s), the name then stuck.
For those like me who are thinking, hang on, didn’t Conan split up around 18 months ago are actually right, so why did you initially call it a day, but then got back together with a revamped line-up which now includes John of Zangief on bass/vocals in the summer of 2009?
Jon: We split up in the Spring of 2008. Paul and I had been practicing pretty intensely and had done a few shows but I was working in Salford at the time (I live on the Wirral) and the drive to and from work was simply too much for me. The scarce spare time I had was being taken up with regular life and fitting the band in was causing me problems so unfortunately I had to sacrifice something to keep my head in check – sadly CONAN was it. However, now that I work close to where I live I have much more time and energy to commit to the band and had been talking to Paul about getting something going since late 2008. When HORN broke up it was the perfect opportunity for both Paul and I to make something of what we started, and fortunately we are able to count John into these plans. I do regret that the band split up last year, but it couldn’t have gone on much longer the way it was, and the break was much needed – it gave us the energy to make the album and we are very proud of it.
Paul: That’s right. Jon’s life got in the way. It was all his fault… Tho in retrospect, it was a blessing. Now we’re approaching it with a fresh perspective.
You’re a band that hasn’t really gigged much, so is this something we’re likely to see change in 2010 and beyond?
Jon: Well yeah definitely, we do plan on doing some shows this year. In the past we played some gigs but the only one I personally thought was worth doing was with Zangief and others at Korova. Others that were arranged elsewhere in Liverpool were either poorly managed or we were put on the bill with bands that we didn’t compliment; this makes for a shit night. When we got going again this year our main aim was to build up to making a good recording and we have achieved that now. However, there are now plenty of opportunities to play gigs outside of the city and even elsewhere in Europe. In 2010 we are looking forward to playing some selected shows with bands that we respect and maybe even recording one or two songs for a split release or two, but we will not play unnecessarily.
Paul: We’re willing to play as many times as we can, but they have to be the right shows. Most promoters in this country are shit, with a few ecceptions. They couldn’t organise a piss up in a proverbial. We shared a bill with fucking indie bands last time out. I don’t know much about indie fans, but I’m fairly sure they don’t enjoy prolapsing into their skinny jeans… We’ll be playing shows, definately, but only the right ones.
John: I’m looking forward to playing shows with Conan in 2010, especially as it’s the first time gigging as a three-piece.
Your debut album ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’ is due for release in the spring so what can people expect from the 4 tracks on offer?
Jon: We set out to create an album that was in the ‘doom’ territory and I think that the engineer (Chris Fielding) has done an excellent job of recreating the sound that we all had in our heads. The sound quality on the album is astoundingly good and everything sounds very heavy and thick – Chris did a great job.
Paul: The record came out better than we could have hoped for. I echo Jon’s comment about Chris. He’s one of the best engineers I’ve ever worked with and knew exactly what we were after and how to achieve it. We’ve managed to make an album you can physically feel as well as hear. It’ll knacker a great many speakers…..
John: Heavy droning metal played by three Neanderthals.
The pressing will also be handled by 2 labels, Throne will be doing the vinyl version and Aurora Borealis the CD so for such an unknown band, how did these deals come about and will they differ in any way?
Jon: Initially we sent a sample of the song KRULL out to about 13 different labels on the Wednesday after we recorded the album (we just sent them a download link) and Ug at Throne got back to me within an hour or two expressing an interest in hearing the rest of the album on the premise that he might be interested in releasing it on vinyl. We also had a response from Noise Terror records in America who wanted to do a CD release. After some discussions within the band it was decided that we would accept Ug’s proposals for the vinyl release and we asked for his advice on who we should approach for the CD release. He gave us a bunch of contacts at other labels that he respected and dealt with so we sent them a download link for KRULL. On the back of this activity we got an offer from PsycheDOOMelic and Aurora Borealis. After some deliberation we accepted the offer from Andrew at Aurora, both were brilliant to deal with.
Paul: We’ve basically signed to two labels that understand the music we play and the people who love it. And artwork is shaping up to be fucking mind-blowing. Can’t wait to see the final versions.
And is it true you actually had 3 labels with offers on the table? That must have felt a little surreal considering your scattered history?
Jon: Including Throne we actually had 4 offers but yeah, it did feel a bit surreal actually. The main thing is that our music will be distributed worldwide and, although this might make me sound a bit stupid, it’s cool that people from all over will have a copy of our stuff (if any fucker buys it of course). So, Throne expressed an interest, then put us in contact with PsycheDOOMelic and Aurora. Within 1 week we had both deals agreed, it was a very hectic period. We do realise that it’s not very easy to get a deal in the first place. Therefore, from my perspective I am really grateful for the opportunity and very proud that someone has taken an interest in what we are writing, especially labels who have both in the past and present released albums by bands that I fucking idolise myself (Grief, Corrupted, Moss).
Paul: It all happened really quickly. I’ve been lucky to be in signed bands a few times, but it’s never happened as quickly as it did with us. Especially with labels as respected as these. Hopefully a few people will actually buy the records…
It was also recorded at Dave Anderson’s Foel Studios in Wales which has been used by the likes of Electric Wizard, Moss, Hawkwind and even Ozric Tentacles, I guess this session didn’t come cheap so why did you chose them, are you happy with the overall outcome of the recording and did your time at Foel live up to any expectations you had?
Jon: The session actually was not quite as expensive as you might think. We stayed there Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night and left at 3am on Tuesday morning and the whole experience was brilliant. The facilities at the studio are awesome, the cottage that is there for the bands has Sky TV, pool table etc and it was a bit like being on holiday to be honest. We met Dave Anderson (ex Hawkwind, Amon Duul II) and were being engineered by Chris Fielding (ex Agent of The Morai) so were surrounded by people who understood music. Moreover, in Chris we had an engineer who understood the sound we wanted and who helped us to change some aspects of the recording for the better. The expectations I had were exceeded by the end result, the facilities we had there and the enjoyment we got from the time spent in the studio, I would certainly recommend the studio to other bands – everything about it is sound.
Paul: It’s really simple. If you play in a really heavy band and want to capture exactly what you can hear in your head, I genuinely can’t think of a better place. The end.
John: It was a pleasure to meet Dave as he’s seen and done it all; he’s set up a great place for bands to be able to record, and Chris knew the type of sound we were looking to create so there was no antagonism there.
I have to say I’m a complete luddite when it comes to music equipment, but I know (and gathering from your Myspazz photos!) that amps, cabs and electronic gadgetry are the
porn of the guitar world, so can you give us an insight into what gear you and the rest of the band use?
Jon: I used a 200 watt Matamp bass head and a Sunn Model T for the two guitar tracks into a 4×12 and a 2×15. I also use a Gordon Smith SG (bought from Dave of Slomatics). I use some different effects for fuzz / overdrive and on this album I used a couple of D*A*M pedals for dirt (Meathead Deluxe and Sonic Titan www.stompboxes.co.uk – Hello David, Sickle and the others on there). I may sometimes use other stuff by Earthquaker Devices – (www.earthquakerdevices.com). I have a ‘CONAN’ custom designed Hoof pedal that is pretty beat up now (John uses that on bass actually now) and a Tonebender MKIII clone by Ian Sherwen GHOST effects (www.happyrobotmusic.co.uk). I have now sold my amp head though, and replaced it with something with a little bit more vintage vibe.
Paul: If anyone’s interested, I is using a Pearl World Series kit, Iron Cobra double pedal and hi-hat stand, and 14 inch Quick Beat hats, 8 inch Sabian AAX splash, 10 inch Zildjian Avedis splash, 16 inch AAEXlosion crash, 18 inch Sabian AA crash, an old 20 inch Zildjian Z ride and a 15 inch Sabian AAX china. And some sticks.
John: Hondo Professional II bass, Hoof Fuzz pedal, Sunn O))) Coliseum 300 head, 1×15 Laney Custom, 1×18 Trace Elliot.
And how important is it to you as a guitarist to find that ultimate tone, from an outsider looking in, it seems like it’s treated by some as the Holy Grail?
Jon: For me there is no such thing as ‘the ultimate tone’ but yeah it does seem to be an obsession for some. Your guitar tone will sound different depending on what room you are playing it in, the acoustics in that room, the position of the amp, the position of you in relation to the amp, how much wax is in your ears, what sort of mood you are in etc…….. From my perspective I have always chopped and changed my setup as I like to vary things. In the past I have used Sound City, Selmer, Carlsbro, Sunn o))), Marshall, HH and Matamp. Currently I choose to use HH and Matamp stuff as they sound the best to me for the sort of guitar sound I want to have. The guitar sound on this album is very good in my opinion but I didn’t do any of it aside from turn the amp on, the rest was down to Chris Fielding.
I also love that illustration of your old head/amp set-up, but who did it and would you consider using them again for future Conan artwork?
Jon: Yeah, that was done by a guy called ‘Eyeprod’ ages ago. He did a load of other ‘Skeleton’ pictures of actual people on some forum or other. That picture is actually of an old Matamp head I used to have and a Sunn o))) 2×15. I would probably not use him for album artwork as such as I did not keep in contact with him, but it’s quite cool to look at now and again. Quite a few people have commented on that one actually.
A couple of more personal questions, what is on your current playlist?
Jon: I listen to my Ipod in work sometimes and lately I have been listening to CORRUPTED (Anciano is my favourite so far), I also listen to a lot of EARTH and MOSS.
Paul: I listen to all sorts of stuff. At the moment I’m listening to meshuggahs ‘destroy, erase, improve’, Katatonias new album which is awesome, everything by Pantera…. Can’t believe it’s 5 years since Dimebag was murdered…. Jesus….
John: Darkthrone, Deathspell Omega, Hawkwind, Sons Of Otis, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Deicide, Unholy, Ahab, Incantation, Nachtmystium, Earthless, Yob, Sarke, xCanaanx, Volition, Discharge, Evoken, Revenge, Vehementer Nos, Ocksen.
And as we’re now at the start of 2010, what were your top 3 albums of 2009?
Jon: I would say that the albums I have enjoyed in 2009 were not necessarily recorded in 2009 so will say that my 3 favourite albums ‘Enjoyed’ in 2009 were as follows, and in this order.
1. Slomatics – Flooding the Wier. I could listen to this album for days on end and still want to put it on again. The inspiration I got from this band and this album in particular are key reasons why CONAN is active today.
2. Earth – Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method. John McNulty described this album to me, when we were writing stuff in HORN, as a Cowboy in a deserted chapel in America’s Midwest playing riffs that went dooooowowowowowowow…. I bought the album on the strength of this write up and he was right. This album is fucking HAUNTINGLY bleak, I love it.
3. MOSS – Tombs of The Blind Drugged. Chris from Slomatics made me aware of this band last year and I never got around to listening to them. However, I got the album from Itunes earlier this year and it gave me goose bumps. It sounds grim, horrible and nasty and is possibly one of the ‘doom’ iest pieces of music I have ever heard.
Paul: I have no idea…. I genuinely can’t narrow them all down…. I’m copping out on this one cos it’s dead hard to answer properly…
John: I’ve had that European Fastness 5 way split on a lot recently.
Thanks for the interview and please use this space for any final words…
Jon: Thanks for asking. The people on your site probably don’t need any advice from the likes of me so I won’t go on about supporting this sort of music or whatever but instead will say that I hope those of you who listen to our album will like it and we hope to see you at some point over the coming years.
Paul: I’ll echo Jon. Every person on this site will probably know more about this style of music than I do, but if you like what you hear, come to see us and I promise we’ll redefine what you think of as heavy. Oh yes!
John: Cheers for the interview Lee, keep up the good work.
More info on Conan at: www.myspace.com/conandoomconan
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards