Conan, a band who seem to be riding on the crest of a doom wave of late and since the last time I interviewed them back in 2010, they now need little in the way of an introduction, unless of course you’ve been living under the preverbal rock as these 3 harbingers of doom have been destroying venues up and down the country and with a new album due in the first part of 2012, along with an appearance at the inaugural Roadburn Festival in April, I thought now was a good time to harness the glowing valves and catch up with guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis.
Hi Jon, well it’s been 2 years since I last interviewed you, and what a whirlwind 2 years it’s been, so how are things at the moment with you and Conan?
Hi Lee. When you interviewed us last we were waiting for Horseback Battle Hammer to be released. It has been a very busy 2 years, we’ve enjoyed everything that has happened, and we are looking forward to 2012. I’m enjoying life, keeping busy at work – the family is doing well and all is good.
In my previous interview I mentioned in the intro text that 2010 should be the year that Conan put’s its stamp on the Doom map, and man did you do that with authority with a constant stream of glowing reviews, gig, festival and record offers, so has the response overall been a bit of surreal one and do you at times pinch yourself in case it’s just all been a horrible dream?
To be honest, we never expected any of the publicity we have had as we had never been on the receiving end of anything like it in the years leading up to our time as Conan. We released Horseback Battle Hammer with no plans or intentions so when it started to get good reviews we were all very surprised and very excited. I’ve never had any music ‘reviewed’ so I wasn’t sure what to expect…. For people in the ‘music world’ to pay compliment to what we had done was pretty weird at first. I’d get reviews sent to me by friends that had seen them on the web, or I’d find them myself and all of them had been extremely positive. Those songs were written about 2.5 years before they were recorded and when I did write them, I was in a bit of a bad situation personally – so to have them recorded was enough for me….. Everything that has happened since then has been cool and extremely satisfying.
We play and write this stuff because we really enjoy listening to it and playing it, it gives us an enormous sense of release and the lyrics contribute to a real sense of escapism for me personally. To play these tracks live with all that beautiful noise going on from the amps and from the drums and our voices is just awesome and it is for this reason that the band exists – this overwhelming sense of personal enjoyment from playing the songs – we get this in rehearsal as much as we do at shows. The fact that people enjoy coming along and listening to us is just fucking great – we’ve used the proceeds from album sales and merch sales to pay for our share of recordings and artwork and things like that so we feel like we’re just really lucky.
That said, it all hasn’t been a harmonious time as Bass duties in the band have been a bit of a revolving door as you’re now up to number 3, which is a bit ironic if you don’t mind me saying considering you started out as just a 2 piece of Guitar & Drums, anyway, I digress, this didn’t seem to affect the bands output in anyway so I guess you didn’t find it difficult to find suitable replacements or were you just ‘lucky’, and how is new warrior Phil Coumbe settling in on the 4 string battle axe?
It is true that we originally wanted to be a two piece, indeed we were a two piece right up until we recorded Horseback Battle Hammer, but we much prefer being a three piece now. The heaviness of the bass really compliments the other aspects of our sound and we wouldn’t sound as heavy without bass that is for sure.
When John joined we knew it would be temporary and he actually stayed with us longer than we first planned. We were therefore able to phase David Perry in quite easily and suffered from no loss of continuity or stability. Dave gave us around 4 months notice of his intention to go to Denmark and so we were able to, once again, seamlessly integrate Phil into the band. We were gutted when both John and Dave had to go, but I think we’ve been very lucky to bring Phil in. Phil brings to the band a different style of playing and singing and he is just a fucking great guy too – he ‘out-headbangs’ every bastard I know and it’s awesome to see him enjoying things as much as Paul and I do. He’s also got the biggest beard in the band, so we worship him every week at practice. You’re right that it hasn’t affected our output because we have been able to plan around the departures and arrivals – it’s been quite an operation but everything has been totally cool as everything has been totally amicable…. Phil hasn’t been in very many bands before us, but is a massive fan of this sort of music….. His first show was very soon after his first jam with us – two weeks later he was playing Damnation……
It’s just been announced that your Split 12” with Slomatics has now sold out on vinyl, this amazing slab o’ wax was released by the up and coming Head Of Crom Records, so how did the idea of doing this split come about and what do you think about the recording now that hindsight has kicked in as it did show a slight deviation to the tracks on ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’?
We had been in contact with Adam from Head of Crom since around the time HBBH was released. We always agreed that our next release (initially our ‘next release’ was to be album number 2) would be on Head of Crom. As time progressed the idea of doing a split with Slomatics before the new album was to be written was floated around and it quickly stuck. I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again, that Slomatics are a very influential band for me and a lot of what Conan do is because of the inspiration given to me by Dave, Chris and Joe (Joe now replaced by Marty). I had, for years, wanted to do some shows and release something with this band and when this opportunity came around it was simply too good to turn down. The tracks on the split were written and recorded jointly by Paul, Dave and I and we took the decision early to include moog and synths on the tracks. We agreed that for this split we should use some tracks that were pretty different from the tracks on Horseback Battle Hammer as we didn’t want people to get too bored with the same sort of stuff. I love these tracks, they mark the advent of our vocal harmonies which we hadn’t used on HBBH and happened as a happy accident in the Studio. The production on the tracks is slightly different and does sound slightly clearer – the synths clearly make it sound slightly trippy. Things worked out exactly as planned… And the artwork – oh my fucking god, we love it.
Not long after the release of the aforementioned Split 12”, you were approached by the ever reliable Roadburn / Burning World Records who started showing an interest in releasing it on CD as well as album number 2, so how did you hook up with Jurgen and Co, and is it a label you’ve so far been happy working with?
Initially the CD of the split was always going to be released by Aurora Borealis Records. We had an agreement very early on to have them put it out but unfortunately it couldn’t happen. Around this time we had been speaking to Jurgen at Burning World and he quickly agreed to put it out on CD. Naturally we began to talk about future plans and the new album came up. We had some stuff written at this point and after some negotiations we had an offer from the label. Before we made any decisions I spoke to Adam at Head of Crom to see how he felt about it and fortunately he was cool, for this we are very grateful.
Everything to do with our working relationship with Jurgen and the label has been just great, as it had been with Adam, Uge (Throne Records) and Andrew (Aurora Borealis) before that. We’re pretty open about everything and we talk often so any questions are answered swiftly and there’s no problems either side. Jurgen is a cool guy and we get along great with him, so we’re very lucky.
This brings us nicely to talk about your new album, I believe it’s now been recorded as you once again made the trip to Foel Studios late last year with Chris Fielding at the helm, so can you tell us how the recording went, what tracks are likely to feature on the new album and what the working (or confirmed) title is?
Yes, we recorded at Foel again and the album was once again produced by Chris Fielding. The recording went absolutely perfectly. I used my full live rig in the studio (instead of just one stack like normal) and I was very happy with the sound I have on guitar. Drums, bass and vocals once again went absolutely great and we managed to get everything recorded on schedule. Working with Chris again, and spending a whole 5 days at the studio was a real privilege for us. We looked forward to going there for months, so as we were writing we could almost smell the place!!!! Once we got there it was everything we expected and more. We do have an album name and set running order but I think there is some press stuff imminent to announce it. What I can say is that the album is almost 40 minutes long, has 6 tracks and in terms of how the tracks are written we seem to have captured all the best aspects of Horseback Battle Hammer and the tracks from the split. A handful of respected people have heard it and the general consensus is that it shows a clear progression from both of our previous recordings and retains all the heaviness you would expect from us. We’ve been listening to it for quite a while now as you can understand and we are extremely happy with how it sounds – we are very grateful to Chris and James for the effort they have put in on our behalf.
Have you got an approximate release date for the album yet and what formats will it be available in?
The album will be released in March this year. Currently mastering is nearly finished and artwork is being done so we’re excited about seeing the final product in both respects. Latest from Jurgen is that it will coming out on gatefold vinyl, CD and digital.
You’ve also previously used James Plotkin for mastering, will this be the case again for the new album?
Yes, that is correct. James Plotkin was a new one on us. Of course I know his bands, but I’m no expert in these things and so I didn’t know who did what to what during the recording process before HBBH…. When the Slomatics lads told me about JP and mastering the split I was blown away – I love Khanate. He did such a great job on all the split tracks (the Slomatics tracks absolutely fucking SLAY) so we didn’t have much of a decision to make when deciding on the new album. Initially we were talking to Billy Anderson, but eventually we decided to go with JP. He’s been great to work with and when we compare the studio mixes to his mastered version you can see just how skilled the guy is. It’s a very heavy album, and JP has done a great job making it sound so. The material out of the studio sounded awesome on its own, down to Chris Fielding’s production skills, JP has simply made the very best of it.
It’s also the 3rd time you’ve used Foel Studio so what do you feel is the draw to recording there with Chris Fielding engineering? Was it also a nice surprise when the Hawkwind legend and studio owner that is Dave Anderson got involved on the split recording?
Quite simply, we feel totally at home at Foel Studio. We count Dave as a friend as we do Chris. I’ve been to some decent (albeit less renowned) studios before and they were cool but as soon as we decided to record HBBH back in 2009 I knew there was only one place for us – I was drawn to the place initially because of its remoteness and the fact it had a pool table, but then I realised Chris Fielding worked there (his old band did a split with Slomatics) and that sealed it for us – now we have more substantial reasons for liking the place, namely the positive impression that is left on us each time we go there, the quality of the recording environment, the quality of the bands ‘retreat’, all of these ‘professional matters’ coupled with the sheer beauty of the place and the working relationship we have with Chris and Dave mean that we simply don’t want to record anywhere else. John McNulty wrote a monologue for the split called Obsidian Sword and we wanted someone with a neutral accent to read it on the recording. I called Dave and he agreed immediately, which was a surprise to be honest – I expected him to tell me to fuck off…….!
Your also going to be playing this year’s Roadburn Festival, I guess with you now being signed to Jurgen’s label, there must have always been a glimmer of hope in the back of your mind you’d be asked to play, but when you were eventually asked, was it another ‘pinch yourself’ moment?
It was a Tuesday afternoon. I had been in Liverpool all day representing my employer at an Employment Tribunal and my phone battery had died mid morning. When I got to the office I plugged my phone in to charge and then went to make a cup of tea. After checking some stuff on my computer I checked my phone and noticed I had some emails. One of these was from Walter, asking me to call him. I called him, he answered, and he explained that Voivod wanted us to play as part of their event on the Friday…… This was probably one of the most exciting moments of my time in this band and its a conversation that still lingers in the mind. Up until this point in time we had no hope of playing at the festival – we watched the announcements of each band but never thought we’d get a call up – we never thought we would be worthy of getting a call up. We’re VERY excited about this show for obvious reasons and still cannot quite believe that we are being given the opportunity to share a bill with YOB, Sleep and all the other absolutely fucking AMAZING bands. It’s such a huge thing for us personally, and of course collectively as a band – to be considered worthy of an invite for such an important gathering of like minded bands and fans. We’re really excited about going and are really grateful to Voivod and Walter for asking us.
There’s also plans in place for you to do a short European tour off the back of your Roadburn appearance, so how is that coming together? Any dates confirmed?
The European tour is taking shape very nicely. We have two dates in Germany booked, one in Holland booked with another tbc, Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Oslo confirmed too. We have some dates blank in the middle of the tour right now but have a booking agent helping us.
Besides the new album, your Roadburn appearance and a European tour, is there anything else in the pipeline for Conan in 2012?
Yes, we have some shows in Brighton, Cardiff, London, and Manchester (tbc) set up for Jan and March. In August we are planning 3 shows with Slomatics in England and then in October we plan to go over to Ireland with them too. We’re talking to people in Bristol about playing there and will be visiting Glasgow and maybe Edinburgh at some point too – I’m sure we will play Leeds and the Midlands again too – where we have enjoyed playing before. We’re good mates with several cool people who put on shows up and down the country and we want to share a stage with them again (we REALLY enjoy playing these kinds of shows). Damnation Festival has whetted our appetite for that whole thing too and accordingly there are numerous festivals we would like to play at, so we are trying to see what we can do there. The problem is that unless you have a booking agent you tend to struggle. We are trying to rectify that.
Thanks for the interview Jon and please use this space for any final words….
No worries Lee, thanks for asking us. Thanks for all your support and have a great 2012.
More info on Conan over on their website at www.hailconan.com.
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards