They’re named after a bloodthirsty barbarian, write songs called Headless Hunter and Battle In The Swamp, and with latest album, Monnos, have delivered one of the heaviest things you’ll hear all year… it’s fair to say Liverpool doom trio Conan aren’t for the faint hearted.
Formed in 2006, the band recently took their crushing live show to mainland Europe, where they performed at legendary Dutch riff-fest Roadburn alongside a slew of doom/stoner luminaries.
Ahead of Conan’s appearance at the Doomsday all-dayer at Tyneside’s Trillians venue this month, Richard Holmes caught up with vocalist/guitarist Jon Davis to talk about the band’s recent progress… and his doom metal take on The Simpsons!
rushonrock: You recently appeared at the Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, your first show outside Britain and Ireland. How did you find that experience?
Jon Davis: Roadburn was the first date on our first run of shows on the mainland. There is little more I can say aside from that Roadburn was simply the most amazing experience. We turned up at the venue and met Jurgen (van den Brand, Roadburn MD) as he was walking past. As we’re chatting away, Wino (doom legend and Saint Vitus vocalist) walks past. We finish our chat and meet up with our record producer, Chris Fielding, and then head inside to get our passes. As we’re on our way in we bump into Mike Eginton from Earthless and then as we’re stood at the counter, in walks Matt Pike (Sleep/High on Fire). It was like being on a set of the Simpsons in the episode they did about the Roadburn Festival where the unknown band from England gets to share a building with almost EVERY SINGLE band they listen to on a daily basis! The whole thing is run amazingly well, and we totally weren’t prepared for it. The show itself went absolutely great. We made one or two mistakes in a couple of tracks, but we were so into it that we didn’t notice. The most nerve wracking bit was setting up in front of so many people. We entered the room after the previous band had long gone and the room was still rammed. We had to struggle through with all of our gear and set up as everyone looked on. As we’re just about to start one of my amps cut out… five seconds later I pulled the lead out of my pedal board and all of sudden, with 30 seconds to go, I had zero amps working. Thanks to the engineer and my realisation of how clumsy I had been, I was back on line by the time Krull started. No wonder I fucked up a couple of lines!
rushonrock: Do you feel that Conan are ‘on the map’ now, with playing the Roadburn show and releasing the new album?
Jon Davis: I’d say that right now, as a result of Roadburn and the European tour, we have probably picked up a few more fans. We have been able to actually play live to more of our fans in Europe. We’d sold quite a lot of merchandise and spoken to a lot of people in Europe, but had not been able to play there. Obviously, Roadburn is very well attended and is one of the main festivals that will be attended by people who are into us. At most of the shows that followed Roadburn we met people who had actually seen us at Roadburn and that was really cool too. We never set out to be popular or to win people over, but we really enjoyed Roadburn, and we also really enjoyed the other ‘smaller’ shows that followed. If this means that more people will get into what we are doing then that’s awesome. One fan would be enough for us, so to have people singing our lyrics at concerts is very nice.
rushonrock: Monnos signals the start of a new partnership – tell us more?
Jon Davis: The release of Monnos is the first we have done from scratch with one label. (Previous album) Horseback Battle Hammer and the split with Slomatics were both released on two labels for vinyl and CD and the label we are working with now (Burning World / Roadburn Records) is, with all due respect to the other labels we’ve worked with, the one with the highest profile.
rushonrock: Has the label’s profile made a practical difference?
Jon Davis: It has helped Monnos reach a wider audience. An example of this is that Monnos sold out on vinyl within a few weeks of the pre-order going up and it being released. We sold all our copies on our European tour, and when we heard a repress was being done we were surprised and very happy, obviously. Horeseback didn’t sell out as quickly as this, but was still popular enough for a repress on vinyl – Head of Crom Records looked after this early last year.
rushonrock: How does Monnos compare to your earlier work? Was there a change in approach this time around?
Jon Davis: I’d say that Monnos is a bit more direct than Horseback Battle Hammer and heavier than the tracks on the split we did with Slomatics, with less of a ‘prog’ influence. The tracks are pretty basic, stripped back and less rambling than say Krull or Sea Lord. As a result, the album will be seen as being a bit more accessible than what we’ve released earlier.
rushonrock: The production is noticeably different on Monnos…
Jon Davis: The production helps immensely. On Horseback Battle Hammer, the production was very foggy and very dense – I love the production on it actually – whereas on Monnos it is clearer. The trick I think we have managed is to get it to sound no less heavy, which is down to Chris Fielding, who produced it and James Plotkin, who mastered it. We asked them to make it sound as dense and as heavy as possible and we’re very pleased with how it sounds.
rushonrock: Was the recording process dramatically different?
Jon Davis: The album was recorded in a very similar way to both of our earlier releases, i.e. in the same studio with pretty much the same equipment and we approached it in pretty much the same way, aside from giving ourselves five days instead of three. The main thing that is different is that Phil (Coumbe) has come in on bass. With him, I have started doing this dual vocal thing which sounds really nice – we’ll see how that progresses on the new material.
rushonrock: Do you have a favourite track on Monnos?
Jon Davis: I’d say Battle In The Swamp, because it is like the discarded, unwanted pup spawned by the early incarnation of the band. It was written at the same time as Krull and was never quite good enough for inclusion on an album. When we decided we wanted to put it on Monnos we made a lot of effort to make it sound really heavy and have it fit into the vibe of the album – I think we’ve done a pretty good job and it’s a great song to play live.
rushonrock: The stoner/doom scene is getting more attention at the moment, do you feel Conan is benefitting from this?
Jon Davis: That’s a tricky question. We started all of this as a bit of a fuck around, it was never intended as anything serious or ‘important’ so we’re just taking each show and each release as it comes. It’s cool that this sort of music is getting more popular I guess, but we’ll carry on regardless. We write this stuff to please ourselves firstly, so if ten other people like it and buy it we’re more than happy. If it is becoming more popular then that is down to the hard work of people who support the shows and the bands.
rushonrock: Are there any newer bands in the scene which you particularly admire?
Jon Davis: Some of the bands that I have been listening to for a while might be new to the scene for some people and not for others. But I can recommend Slomatics, Fister, Volition, Black Magician, Grimpen Mire, Serpent Venom, Undersmile and Wizards Beard.
rushonrock: You’re currently working on some new material, how is it shaping up?
Jon Davis: It’s really in its embryonic stage. Theme-wise it will take the mythology theme and progress it a bit further, and the music is currently sounding very cool. We aren’t in any rush to release it, as we have one or two little things planned release-wise, but we won’t take it to the studio until it’s sounding better than Monnos. To record it before it goes to that level will be pointless.
rushonrock: You’re appearing at the Doomsday event in Newcastle on May 27 – what can the uninitiated expect from your live performance?
Jon Davis: They can expect some howling feedback and songs about things that only ever existed in books.
rushonrock: Finally, how would you sum up Conan’s sound?
Jon Davis: We played a show with Sleep the other day in Oslo. They watched some of our set and Matt Pike said we sounded like a herd of elephants, with warriors on their backs, swinging 20 ft hammers with heads on them like this (holds arms out wide). Jason Roeder (Sleep drummer) added: “smashing whole armies”. So that will do I reckon!
* Conan’s latest album, Monnos, is out now on Burning World Records. They play the Doomsday all day festival at Trillians, Newcastle upon Tyne, on May 27.