Liverpool doom trio Conan are busy boys: they’ve just released Mount Wrath, a live album recorded last year at Holland’s legendary Roadburn festival, they’re set to tour the UK next month with cult US act Bongripper (with whom they recently recorded a split single) and they’ll be appearing at London riffathon Desertfest on April 28.
In a rare break from a heavy touring schedule – and working on his new studio – Conan vocalist/guitarist Jon Davis talked about life on the road, in the studio and on a building site with RUSHONROCK’s Richard Holmes.
rushonrock: With the release of Mount Wrath – Live At Roadburn 2012, you’re joining the likes of Neurosis, Yob and Wino who’ve all released live albums under the Roadburn banner. How does it feel to be in such great company?
Jon Davis: It is great honour to play at the Roadburn Festival. I can only imagine just how many bands Walter (Hoeijmakers, Roadburn artistic director) and Jurgen (van den Brand, managing director) must have knocking on their door for a spot on the festival, so to be asked in the first place was good enough.
To have our set recorded wasn’t so unusual, as a lot of the sets there get recorded I believe. But then to actually have the label (Burning World Records) decide to release those recordings was really cool for us as we didn’t expect it. I’ve heard the Yob and the Bongripper live releases and they are great, so hopefully people will enjoy our set too.
rushonrock: How does Mount Wrath convey your live sound?
JD: I think it conveys our live sound pretty well – (famed US producer) James Plotkin mastered it and I think he did a great job maximising the volume and low end on the record. The only limitation is volume; most home stereos won’t play as loud as the PA at the stage01 in the venue so that’s the only drawback I guess. The set is also pretty much the same as we were playing for the whole tour so you can tell that we are familiar with the songs (bar the odd mistake here and there!).
rushonrock: You’ve been touring extensively in mainland Europe in the last few months, how have you found the experience?
JD: We love touring in (mainland) Europe. You feel like you are a bit of an adventurer and you’re also playing shows for people that for the most part haven’t seen you play before.
Some of these people have maybe been into the band for a while and you can see in the vast majority of the people at the shows that they are really excited to see you play and that is a great thing – especially after a long drive.
One such example was in Brussels. We’d played four great shows in Germany (Leipzig, Potsdam, Hamburg and Dresden) and then had a ten hour drive to Brussels. When we got there we couldn’t find the venue and when we did we walked in to find this HUGE place, with a massive stage and a massive crowd area and we were pretty worried about filling the place. It was our first time in Belgium and while we did expect a decent crowd, we certainly didn’t expect so many people to turn up. The crowd was much bigger than we expected and for us, who have such low expectations, it was a real eye opener.
All the shows on the recent tour were like that though. The crowds varied from place to place, but from a small squat show in Potsdam to the awesome metal venues of Hamburg, Prague, Dresden and Leipzig the reception was just amazing. We couldn’t have asked for any more really. I have a young family and obviously if I go away on tour I miss out on doing all the fun stuff at home, but playing shows as enjoyable as these does soften the blow of missing my family, so it worked out pretty good in the end.
rushonrock: Any highlights from the recent European tour?
JD: There were many highlights. I’d say being allowed to go on my way after spending 30 minutes in the back of a German police officer’s van (following a minor prang between our van and a local guy’s Audi A4 estate) was a nice moment!
We played in some amazing venues and just being out on the road, taking our music to those people who make up our fan base in mainland Europe was an extremely enjoyable thing to do. We much preferred playing the places that didn’t have volume limits though, as those decibel meters were a nightmare to adhere to. One gig in Austria was so quiet on stage that I could hear the strum of my own plectrum on my strings… not good.
rushonrock: You’ve been working on new material for some time – how is it shaping up and when can fans expect a new full-length?
JD: We’ve had a few songs pretty much there for a while now and recorded demos of them at the end of last year. We’re pretty busy with shows but from early May we have some space and by then (hopefully) our rehearsal and recording studio will be sorted and we can really get stuck into the newer stuff.
We’re currently shaping a few more tracks and we’ll start practicing these properly over the next couple of months. When the studio is sorted we’ll be able to get in and work on them properly. We’ve also been approached by a few record labels, a couple of which are pretty significant, about the new album and I think talks may begin along those lines when the time is right. Fortunately we have someone who looks after that sort of thing for us now, and we can leave that in their hands.
rushonrock: How did the split with Bongripper come about and can you tell us more about your track, Beheaded?
JD: The split with Bongripper came about because firstly, we’re big fans of their band, secondly I’m pretty good ‘online’ friends with a couple of the guys in Bongripper and thirdly, because it would be a good idea because we’re touring with them in April.
We decided to record Beheaded after some conversations with John McNulty (original Conan bassist and fellow member of HORN, alongside Jon Davis) about putting the song out.
Back in 2008 Conan was put on ice and then, towards the end of the year John and I formed HORN with Andy Freen – John and Andy were in Zangief together also – and decided to do some jamming along slow, heavy and grim lines. These sessions produced a few tracks, including Dying Giant, which went on (Conan’s 2010 debut) Horseback Battle Hammer and also Beheaded.
John came up with the initial riffs and lyrics for the track and sang vocals on the original. We got John’s and Andy’s permission to use the track and then John provided me with some lyrics. In preparing the track for recording we phrased the vocals slightly differently and had to write some more to fill some gaps in the track – I had fun with this as I love the song!
rushonrock: You’re touring the UK in April with Bongripper – what can fans expect from the shows, and will you be airing new material?
JD: The tour with Bongripper will be cool – we’re really looking forward to it as we haven’t been out in the UK for a while. We are actually going to be playing a couple of new tunes… we might choose a couple from the new album (the ones we have demoed so far) but we’ll see.
rushonrock: The tour culminates with an appearance at Desertfest, alongside the likes of Pentagram – how do you feel about playing the festival, and the event’s role in promoting the stoner/doom metal scene?
JD: We were desperate to play Desertfest 2012 but it couldn’t happen unfortunately. When we were asked to play at 2013 we were really excited because we’re keen to play shows with other likeminded bands. We’ve always loved playing in London, which is one of our favourite places to play – regardless of the ‘big city’ thing, as we have a lot of friends down there so playing there with a load of other bands of our ilk will be really good for us.
We played Damnation in 2011 and Hard Rock Hell this year and we’re grateful for the opportunities, but we believe that Desertfest, given the other bands and the anticipated crowd, will be a really enjoyable place to play and we’re excited about it.
rushonrock: With the momentum you’ve built up since the release of 2012’s Monnos, Conan are now a big name in the doom scene – are you surprised by how popular you’ve become in the last year?
JD: To be totally honest with you, I didn’t even realise we were part of any particular scene until we released Horseback Battle Hammer and then all of a sudden we were playing all sorts of shows and speaking to lots of different people. Since the Slomatics split (in 2011) and the release of Monnos people have talked about us in the same way you have, and it’s great.
We don’t look for any recognition and we were just fucking around with Horseback Battle Hammer really – we nearly didn’t even release it if the truth be known, so I guess everything happens for a reason. Obviously with that sort of recognition comes more responsibility so we’re trying now to make sure we don’t release anything shit!
rushonrock: Finally, you’re building your own studio, Skyhammer, in Cheshire – what was the motivation behind the project and what are your ambitions for it?
JD: This studio is a pretty big project. My wife and I were originally looking for a larger house and considered a farm near to where we live. That place was huge though, probably too big for us to be fair… it was just too much. We gave up looking really, but while we did view that place a couple of times I thought that we’d be able to rebuild one of the old milking sheds into a practice place for the band. My wife was pretty ok with that idea but I didn’t think any more of it when we pulled out of making an offer.
A few weeks later we had an email from an estate agent with another other house on it – just a regular house with some extra buildings – and we decided to go and have a look. On that property is an old coach house, 28ft by 28ft, and we quickly agreed that I could use it as a rehearsal place for the band. Where we practise now is in Liverpool city centre and is great for what we need, but I felt it was just too good an opportunity to turn down and so we bought the house. The hard work is getting the bastard built! I had some plans made and it became clear that we could split it up into two rooms and run it as a ‘proper’ recording studio, with part of our house dedicated to living space for anyone recording there.
Since then I have developed that idea and we are in the process of having the inside walls of the studio knocked down and we’ll be on with the whole thing soon enough.
My hope is that the roof won’t fall in to be honest! We’re having to remodel the inside structure of the roof with steel as some of the outgoing internal walls are supporting it and it is becoming quite a big job, but our builders are experienced at what they do and can sort that I’m sure.
In the long term I’d like to use it as a full time practice place for the band and if anyone is interested I would like to run it as a commercial studio in the fullness of time.
* Conan’s UK tour with Bongripper and Humanfly starts on April 20, with the band appearing at Desertfest on April 28.