Thursday 21 June 2012

20 Questions with Conan

Conan 2012
Hi again, here at the Sludgelord over the coming weeks we have yet more instalments of my 20 questions segments to come, which I hope you will approve of.  (Some of which I am very excited about!)  As of yet, I have not talked to any of the amazing British talent we have.  Ha ha, up until now!
Who we go this week?  I hear you cry or should I say, growl? None other than the mighty Conan.  One of England's finest purveyors of heavy music and hot on the heals of their amazing second full length album, Monnos, which is without doubt some or if not the heaviest album of the year.  Conan has been destroying some of the best festivals and venues out there, including Roadburn. I’m only gutted I couldn’t be there. 
So, I thought it would be cool to get this awesome band to talk to us.  Too my surprise, Jon Davis, vocals/guitars and all round top bloke from Conan, agreed to answer my questions.
This is what Jon had to say, when I put my 20 questions to him (22 to be exact but who’s counting).  Enjoy, because it is an awesome read.  Until next week, catch you later and thanks for reading.  Your continued support means so much to us, cheers Aaron. 
Hey Jon, How are you?  I'm stoked you agreed to talk to me.
Today I’m good thanks. Sat in work, quite tired and listening to some new riffs I am working on.
I am embarrassed to say, your band originally came to my attention because I loved the name of the band, obviously I love your music too, but why Conan?
Conan, when we chose it as a name for the band, seemed like the obvious choice at the time. I was listening to a lot of music about swords and stuff, and was listening to a lot of Slomatics / High on Fire etc and was trying to get my own band started. I’ve always been into the films, not just Conan but also other similar ‘Sword and Sorcery’ types and I was going through some personal stuff at the time and wanted to work on something to keep me going.
The band had some other names at the time, had some songs (some of them became Krull, Satsumo, Battle In The Swamp) and I wanted a name that summed up the mood of the tracks.  My love for action / sword and sorcery / gaming and stuff like that – Conan came to me (I think I may have thought of ‘KRULL’ at first) and once I checked it I realised it was available and set up a Myspace page to ‘claim’ it. I still can’t believe it wasn’t already taken.
Conan are one my favourite bands from the last few years, however for those people who are unfamiliar with your music, can you tell me little bit about your history and some of the bands you've played with? Where you’re from, when Conan first formed? Current band members?
To be honest we came from nowhere. Conan started as a two piece (me and Rich Grundy) and we recorded the Battle In The Swamp demo in Jan 2007. Soon after this Richie left and I was looking for a new drummer. I played with a few, and none of them were interested in what I wanted to do and then I met Paul (around September 2007 I think). We jammed a bit and played a handful of shows, and then had to knock it on the head in Spring 2008 because of my work commitments. Later that year I started another band called HORN ( with John McNulty and Andy Freen (Zangief) and we played some slow heavy songs and then I was made redundant from my job in Salford.
I then got a job very close to home and decided to start Conan again. I spoke to Paul and we got John McNulty to join on bass for the recording of Horseback Battle Hammer. John told us he couldn’t stay permanently and in late 2010 David Perry Joined us. He recorded the split we did with Slomatics and then told us he had to move to Denmark in Jan 2012.  This was around September 2011 and we had just agreed to release our next album (Monnos) with Burning World Records. We decided we would rather get the new bass player in before the recording rather than afterwards and pretty soon after Phil Coumbe came to jam with us.
He’s still here…….. Paul has been in other bands before – Zen Baseball Bat, Brudge 13, Rise Deadman…… Phil was in a band called My Wooden Head.  I’ve not really been anything of note, early on Richie and I did some ‘rock’ stuff in Release, then after that it was Windego, then we did a band called Evil Eye – each band gravitated further towards the early Conan sound (as per the Battle In The Swamp demo’s), it was quite a slow transition.
You originally started the band as a two piece, what made you decide to add a bass player to the line up?  Why the line up changes? 
Originally, we wanted to stay as a two piece as I was listening to bands like Winnebago Deal and Black Cobra. Funnily enough Richie and I did practice with another lad on bass for a while but he just came across as a tool and we fucked him off in the end – or he left us or whatever – I remember being relieved when he left and we decided we could be just as heavy without anyone on bass – that is when I started buying a load of amps and bass cabs to play guitar through.
When we reformed and decided to record what became Horseback Battle Hammer we asked John McNulty to join in so we could have an octave lower with his bass guitar and we also liked the idea of someone else doing vocals from time to time. We did some shows as a 3 piece and it just sounded a lot heavier. We enjoyed working as a 3 piece – and it stuck like that really. When John joined us we knew it would only be temporary and indeed he stayed with us for longer than we originally planned. When David joined we expected him to stay but he decided to move to Denmark and really we had no choice but replace him. Both David and John contributed A LOT to what we did at the time and we are very grateful that we got to spend some time with them in the band.
Is Conan a full time project? 
This is the only band that I am in currently, same for Paul and the same for Phil – so right now it is our only outlet musically. We all work though, out in the real world, but our day jobs are much less interesting than our musical outlet though so we definitely ‘work to live’.
When you started Conan, What were your hopes for the band?
When I originally started the band (back in 2006) my only intention was to avoid being sucked down into the Saalec pit monster that was my life at that time – it became a hole through which I could escape and be away from the problems I had at the time. I’d always been in bands and was not active musically at the time. I needed a project, a focus away from all the negative stuff, so started the band. When deciding on subject matter I was very clear that I wanted the songs to be as far removed from everyday life as possible – hence songs like Krull – Battle In The Swamp etc…… I needed to escape and I saw playing music as a healthier alternative to taking drugs or drinking too much.
Since Horseback Battle Hammer was released we have been totally blown away by the response – the same goes for the split with Slomatics and also Monnos which has just come out. This clearly changes your perspective and now our aims are different. It’s no longer simply an ‘escape for poor old Jon Davis’ it’s something real and tangible for not just me, but for Paul and Phil and anyone else who has taken an interest in us and obviously we need to treat it accordingly and do the best we can, for us as a band, and for those who believe in us and have shown so much faith in us so far.
How do you describe Conan's sound? Has it evolved?
I’d say our sound is unsophisticated, unfussy, appealing, warm, loud and honest. We don’t use loads of modelling effects, we don’t use any samples and we don’t fuck around with loops or anything like that (although we’re not anti this sort of thing of course). We feel like our sound is earthy, and basic – but showing a great amount of depth. When you listen to a Conan record you are listening to amplifiers that were made by REAL LIVE HUMANS in the 70’s, speaker cabinets that we have wired ourselves, effects pedals that were handmade for us alone, by people we speak to regularly, and instruments that have been set up to our own exact demands.
Our sound is literally ‘our’ sound – each aspect of it is quite carefully chosen, amps obsessed over – we’re a bit weird like that. I’d also say that yes our sound has evolved, certainly from the Battle In Swamp demo. We’re better at using our instruments now, so we know how to get the most out of them. We know what things work and what doesn’t, we use dual vocals a lot which we never expected, and that works well. Is our sound getting ‘better’ as we go along? I don’t know….. I love the sound on Horseback Battle Hammer just as much as the sound on Monnos but both are different.
On Horseback Battle Hammer I used a fuzz pedal AND an op amp distortion pedal into each other – on Monnos I used a Rat clone and a modded Boss Blues Driver but both on separate amps – this might explain a slightly clearer tone on the new album. My live rig is now back to the Horseback Battle Hammer setup, so I guess our next recordings will have a similar sound to that on Horseback Battle Hammer.
Your sound is bass heavy, how do you get that sound and what key do you turn to?
We have always made an effort to be as bass heavy as possible. All of our equipment is chosen and tuned so that we sound as ‘deep’ as we can. From using bass amps for guitar, high output pickups, recapping our amps regularly to maintain bass response, to something simple like turning the presence switch off on the amps.  We tune to dropped F, one note above a standard tuned bass. This sounds heavy enough on the guitar but on bass the low F is only a few steps above the inaudible range. We can’t find strings heavier than those we use on bass, so I doubt we could practically play any lower. People think we have ‘custom made strings’ – we don’t…… But there is only one set of strings out there capable of the tunings we require so I hope they don’t stop making them……..
What made you start the band?
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted an escape from all the shit I was going through back in 2006.
2012 seems to be a busy time and quite successful for you? Would you agree?
Yeah, 2012 has been very busy – from playing at Roadburn, to supporting Sleep in Oslo, to playing shows with Toner Low / Heavy Lord and others. We have quite a few things to come also – including some shows with our heroes SLOMATICS, a trip to Holland, gigs in previously unexplored caves such as Basingstoke and a couple of other things on the bubble right now. We were excited enough once we played Damnation late in 2011, so right now we are just enjoying playing the shows and we hope people enjoy what they see.  Monnos came out in Europe (in April) and quickly sold out on vinyl. Our stocks of cd’s have dwindled due to high demand, we sold out of the vinyl of Monnos within weeks of getting it, and our shirt sales are overwhelming sometimes. Success is relative…… We can’t all retire on the earnings from it. We aim to make enough money to pay for our practice place, for the storage on our equipment, for the cost of travelling to shows in England and overseas and for any future recording.  Currently this is working out great, but we do all our own financing, we get no help in that respect (Horseback Battle Hammer was 100% self-financed until it was released by Throne). But ‘success’ in terms of becoming more ‘recognised’ then yeah I guess it has.
We’re not into being ‘liked’ and all that – you won’t get us spamming other peoples pages on Facebook or putting flyers out at other people’s shows or whatever. We’ve become more ‘recognised’ just through being there. I’ve said before, that before we recorded Horseback Battle Hammer we had literally no profile at all. Then we had a demo reviewed on and I think that started to get a few people’s attention. Once we released Horseback Battle Hammer things just got really busy. We started getting gig offers, tour offers, record labels offering us the chance to release stuff with them and plenty of other stuff which was a total surprise to us – it was something we simply had never experienced before.
We’ve decided just to proceed by playing as many shows as we can, we’re careful about which bands we play with, but will play pretty much anywhere, and we also try and make the right decisions ‘off the pitch’ like with shirts and which labels we work with and stuff like that.
Are you a full time musician? Or you work too?
Currently I work; I have an office job at our family business. But in a sense I feel like my connection to this band is fulltime. If I’m at work I’ll be dealing with merch or emails on my breaks, I’ll be planning stuff and speaking to people of an evening when I’m not doing family things, I’m THINKING about the band pretty much 24/7 but the same goes for Paul and Phil – if we’re not practicing or playing shows, we’re working on new riffs or packaging shirts up or whatever. It sounds like ‘hard work’ but it isn’t, we love all of it.
What's it like being in an underground metal band in England? Is it a struggle?
If you had asked me this before Future Noise put us on in Manchester back in June 2010, I would have said yes.  Up until that point we hadn’t played outside of Liverpool. But since then we’ve played in shows up and down the country, and also in mainland Europe and as a result of this we have developed good relationships with some cool people. We’ve been noticed by the guys over at Roadburn, Incubate, Damnation Festivals and other important people inside and outside the UK and therefore we feel that we are in a pretty good place right now. There are some amazing bands currently playing in ‘the underground’ but even the underground scene is well supported and attended.  I’ve been totally blown away by the support we have had, and how many mates we have made in the process, so for that reason I would say that being a band in this environment is a pleasure, not a struggle. I’m sure the other lads would agree too – we always enjoy playing shows, no matter where they are, so it’s all cool to us.
England seem to be producing some amazing bands at the moment, what do you think of the scene and who would you recommend?
There are lots of amazing bands, as you know.  Bong, Tide of Iron, Slabdragger, Serpent Venom, Black Magician, Jackal -Headed Guard of The Dead, Volition, Wizards Beard etc…….. One I would mention in particular is Slomatics, insanely heavy, riffs that you will break your life to – you should check them out if you haven’t already.
What are your influences musically and artistically?
Musically, Slomatics, High on Fire, Fudge Tunnel, Zoroaster, Gonga, Helmet, Yob…… Artistically, just look at all the amazing Sword and Sorcery films of the 70’s and 80’s – Sinbad, Clash of the Titans, Jason and The Argonauts…. I’ve been working on some lyrics for new material lately and films like Conquest, Fire and Ice, Death Stalker and Beast Master have been dominating my viewing. There are so many amazing films to choose from but they all have one thing in common – a sense of otherworldliness – warfare, awesome weapons, monsters, overcoming the odds – all those things which make a good film. You then look at books, there are literally 1000’s of books that can be referred to for subject matter – anything about Vikings, Lord of The Rings etc…….
Are you surprised people buy your music?
I was at first. I’d never sold my own music up until we released Horseback Battle Hammer. Since then we have been surprised by how many people have bought it, rather than being ‘surprised that they have bought it at all’….. The response to all three releases has been very encouraging and we don’t even believe that we’ve got fully into our stride yet.
You recently played Roadburn, what was that like and were you star struck meeting some of the bands, such Yob, The Obssessed etc?
Our merch stand was between that of Church of Misery and Yob. I was very pleased to get a picture taken with those guys as we are big fans. I speak to Mike of Yob from time to time, so it was great to meet him face to face at last.  I met up with a few people actually, those who weren’t musicians, who I was very pleased to see face to face – JJ (The Obelisk webzine), Matt (, Kim Kelly, the guys of Burning World Records (Desiree, JP).
It was of course really cool to meet Jurgen again, and Walter again, as we had met briefly once before – we got to meet some of the people who consider themselves fans of the band and we especially enjoyed seeing them and chatting to them – there were lots of the people we know from England there too.  They came to support us during our set and we really appreciate that too. But imagine, if you will, being in a band and arriving at your first major festival – your first show ever in mainland Europe. When you arrive there and meet Jurgen (good friends and now of course allied through our releases on Burning World Records).
As Paul, Phil and I are chatting to him Wino walks past. We finish our chat and go to the counter to get our badges and we are stood there next to Mike from Earthless. In walks Matt Pike….. Later you high five and chat to Mike from Yob…. etc etc etc.  You watch Yob from back stage……I’m just an overweight guy with a beautiful family from Merseyside, there is nothing special about me whatsoever.
I do not deserve any special treatment from planet earth or the human race for I am just a human being, I am a just another leaf on the tree of life…. I am basically just a spec of dust; I am almost nothing in the whole scheme of things. Yet, for an afternoon I am truly blessed by someone somewhere – a god in the sky, a spirit in my soul, a deceased relative in a parallel dimension or whatever - and somehow I am allowed to take part in one of the world’s leading festival of music, perform with my good friends Paul and Phil, for a huge crowd of people who have made a conscious effort to stand and watch us, and sing songs about Minotaur, the Kraken and Vikings – in front of  a raging twin full stack of amps, through my favourite fuzz pedals – this is simply the best thing ever.
After our set we see and speak to friends from all over the world, I get to meet my old mate Jopper (who moved to Tilburg when we all finished University) and we get to smoke weed, drink beer and watch Yob.
For me, if I am not at home reading stories to my kids or spending time with my Wife, I could think of literally no better way to spend my time.
What's your career highlight so far? What your aspirations for the future?
My career highlight would be receiving an award for my services to unemployed construction workers in Liverpool, during my time at Liverpool City Council. I don’t view being in the band as a career….. To me that suggest that it could be some form of ‘work’……. Instead I view the band as a part of my life. It shares my time and my interest in the same way that my family and friends do.
It is another part of my life that keeps me going, it’s a totally irreplaceable aspect of being ‘me’ that I think about every single day and almost every single minute. As such it’s very difficult to pick out a ‘highlight’ as that would make everything else a lowlight……….. I can say this though, the closest I have come to ever shitting myself with both fear and with excitement, was when we walked into the room we played at Roadburn 2012 and had to wait while we pushed our way through an expectant crowd to reach the stage.
Knowing that people had deliberately stuck in the room following the end of the previous band’s set, presumably so they could ensure they saw our set, made us feel humbled and grateful. We still talk about it now. On a personal level, each of my three farewell hugs with Matt Pike will live long in the memory –I’ve consumed his riffs since I first heard him in High on Fire and I was very happy to meet him.
You got any interesting stories from your tours?
Yes, but what goes on tour stays on tour ;). We’ve done nothing to embarrass the likes of Mick Jagger or Slash, but we’ve enjoyed being away on tour - I’d like to keep those things under my hat.
Do you write music all of the time on the road? I have heard you've got new songs already written
Funnily enough, we don’t write at all when we’re on the road – or at least we’ve not done it yet. You hear of bands who’ll have a day or two to jam in an expensive practice room somewhere, but unfortunately we haven’t had that luxury yet. The closest we came was in Leiden when we played at the Sub 071 venue. This venue is a squat and we set up the night before and stayed over. We could have jammed all day long if we had wanted but because of the lack of sound proofing we decided not to, to preserve the peace and quiet for the guys who call that place home.
We are currently working on some new tracks yes, but these are way off ready. They’ll take a while as you can expect as we want them to work first. But what we have is already starting to sound cool, so in between shows we are going to the practice room to work on the new stuff. Our next release will be a new album but we have no planned date for release.
We expect to start recording early next year but don’t want to book the studio time until we have something worth recording…. One thing we are certain of though, is that this album will be heavier than what we have released already, to go backwards in that respect would be shameful.
The first time I contacted you was to ask if you would sign some cds for me (not sure you can remember?).  I also recommended the band Fister (amazing band) to you, turns out you're tight with those guys.   They helped release your first record, is that right? I know they release their music on a pay as you like type deal, what do your reckon to people downloading music for free?
I remember it very well. You ordered the split and asked us to sign it for you – then when you ordered Monnos I emailed you to ask if you wanted it signing like you had with the split, you explained that you were just about to message me with the same…….? Kenny from Fister and I first got in touch through the Sunn (the amps, not the band) forum. Since then we have exchanged merch and I’m a big fan of his band Fister.
He’s a cool guy, with a FUCKED UP sense of humour and has me in stitches without even trying. We speak all the time about stuff. His label (Pissfork Anticulture) released Horseback Battle Hammer on cassette, limited to 50 copies I think. I think people downloading music for free is stealing…… But do I think anything can be done to stop it? No I don’t.
We created the internet, and without it you would probably never hear of most of the bands you like, so it’s a double edged sword.  I don’t think free downloads ever did any damage to Conan, or any other band in our league – it’s simply a by-product of the times we live in.
Any chance you're doing a full UK headline tour?
This is possible, but we are still in the groove of doing our own little weekends here and there. We’ve not been offered a headline tour yet by anyone. If this changes I’m sure we’ll consider it
Last question, you got anything you like to say to your fans?
Yeah, I have – thank you for all the kind words they have ever said and thanks for wearing our shirts at other shows.
It goes without saying, that I have to say a massive thank you to Jon Davis for giving up his time to answer the quesitons I put to him.  Thanks man, much appreciated.  Your bands is awesome.  If you did't get chance to be at Roadburn, I posted a video of their set below.  Hope you enjoyed the interview and enjoy the awesome live set.  Check the links below and do yourselves a favour, buy their merch. See you next time.  Aaron