Thursday 10 April 2014

Interview with Jon Davis of Conan, Electrowerkz, Islington, London, 22/3/2014

I managed to get an interview with Jon in the band's tour van, two hours before show time. He was in a relaxed and loquacious mood, taking the time to answer the questions and thinking before he did so. Thanks must be extended for allowing me half an hour of time so close to the band going on stage. What follows is the best of the Q and A.

SL: The new album Blood Eagle is a real progression for the band. How did that progression come about?

JD: I think one of the main reasons is that we toured quite a bit between the recording of “Monnos” and Blood Eagle. Two years have passed since "Monnos" was recorded and set in stone. We even play those songs better now. You are bound to listen to Blood Eagle and say “wow, that is a progression.” I think progression's good; I think getting better at what you do is good. People seem to like the style that we have. We sit loosely within a genre, but I think we are different in quite a lot of ways. This album drives home the fact that you can be heavy but you don't have to be slow all the time. We love playing the mid-paced stuff. We picked up on the fact that people seemed to get into those bits more, and that affected ourthinking subconsciously; we have written songs now that have a higher proportion of “rocking bits”. "Krull", for example, was 95% slow and 5% rocking at the end. Now, I think things are more 60/40. We just got better at what we do and capitalised on the things that are best.

SL: The new album, the sound of it is immense, huge sound, massive snare. Tell me about the recording process.

JD: We recorded it at Skyhammer studio which my wife and I own. Chris Fielding works there with me. He has produced everything we have done so far. He has come up from London and things have been working out for him. The building work started proper in May ‘13 had our first band in August. The recording process is pretty much the same as we have always had- the drums are recorded live with a guitar guide track. We then work for a couple of days on the drums, making them sound as good as we can- Chris does that. After that guitars are recorded to the drum track and then work on the bass. The vocals are then done. We mix it after it is all recorded and then the album was sent to James Plotkin for mastering. After the mastering it really starts to shine. The separation from the studio mixes was really good already; it gave James a great platform from which to work on it. In the end we were made up with it. We still listen to it ourselves! We are fans of our own music- that might sound weird, but you hear film makers and actors say that they do not watch films they have made after they are finished, but I think that's a shame. We really love listening to our own stuff. If it is good enough for you to write it, then it should be good enough to listen to and I am proud of it, so...

SL: In terms of the writing, what do you think of first: themes or song titles?

JD: Well, actually, sometimes it can be either. More often than not a theme will come first- it could be a line or a film that I've seen or even a scene from a film. I am not affected by everyday life- that is not what we are after, not what we're about. For example “Total Conquest” that track name came to me when we were getting riffs together for the album. The film by Lucio Fulci “Conquest” is an old sci fi/sword and sorcery film, in it the hero can draw power from the sun to fire arrows and they multiply into many arrows and kill everyone. It inspired me to write lyrics along those lines. Another theme would be in Crown of Talons; about the return of the messiah and how he is probably not going to come back in a good way. It is probably the closest to real life on the record.

SL: Are your themes inspired from Literature, film or both?

JD: It can be both. From literature, mainly the Conan novels. They are such a rich source of material. I don't write songs about Conan, but I might read a scene and think it is a cool idea. Gravity Chasm is a scene in one of the novels and I used that.

SL: How did you get interested in doom?

JD: I have been into heavy metal since, in my terminology- the third and fourth year seniors at school. I was listening to rock music- like Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. A friend introduced me to Iron Maiden then that developed into Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Sepultura, Anthrax... In around 2003/2004 I started listening to High On Fire- that really got me interested; like, “wow his amps sound amazing!” And I wanted to get a Matamp then and my quest for guitar equipment started then. In 2004, I started getting interested in this genre of music; High on Fire, Slomatics, Zoroaster, Graves At Sea.

When Conan started in 2006/2007 I just wanted to create the heaviest music possible. I didn't know what genre we fitted into. I remember sending a message to someone on MySpace asking them what kind of music we did- I didn't know! Horseback Battle Hammer came out and we were suddenly part of the sludge/doom “scene”!

SL: Doom/Sludge is getting big in the UK at the moment. What do you think the reasons for that are?

JD: Maybe people are playing this music after playing a style of music that they didn't find fulfilling. Maybe they have been influenced by some of the underground bands of the past. I listen to pretty much the same music since 2004/2005 but with some of the newer bands too. My appreciation for this music has not changed for me personally. Maybe the music is a bit more honest and meaningful and worth spending time on. The bands here tonight- we are all friends. It is quite close knit in that way. Facebook has helped in that way- cross pollination has happened. People seem to accept us and I am really happy with that.

SL: Conan seems to be a very well organised operation- hard working, touring, social media etc. How much has that helped the band to grow?

JD: I think it has helped quite a lot. It is almost symbiotic: the more effort you put in, the more people will know of you. The more people know of you, the more people will buy your stuff. The more people buy your stuff, the more they'll tell their friends. The more friends they tell, the more people turn up at the shows. The more people turn up at the shows, the more interested booking agents will be. The more booking agents are interested, the bigger shows you get. The bigger shows you get, the more people come, they buy your records, bigger labels are interested because you sell more... it's like a big circle. Our approach to not expect anything but to give everything. To do whatever we can to be approachable, honest and reliable. We don't cancel gigs at short notice or at all -we have only done it once and we had a good reason. We are just normal regular people who go about our business. We do this because we enjoy it. I have played to rooms to two or three people.  We have put in the time. If we are helping people to discover heavy music, it's nice. Hopefully we can help people get excited about this type of music.

SL: To paraphrase Henry Rollins, it is important to make things look like the music sounds. How much do you get involved in the art work?

JD: We don't get involved in it too much. We trust Tony Roberts. We loved the initial things he did with “Horseback Battle Hammer.” We give him demos, songs titles and lyrics and he comes up with ideas. We think about what would be good on the front, on the back of the cover. Tony is a good professional person to deal with- a really nice guy too. It is a good visual representation of the music. We are really lucky to have found him.

SL: You have gone through line-up change recently, what went on?

JD: At the end of November, Phil sent Paul and I a message, saying that that he was struggling with the idea of touring so much this year. He had some personal stuff going on. He said he was going to bow out. We said that was fair enough. We are still friends and have chatted to him. About a week or so later, we decided to speak to Chris. He is very busy as a producer, but he was excited about being in a band, seeing things from both side of the fence. We have landed on our feet with Chris- we know him anyway and musically he is an accomplished musician. All the equipment that Phil ever used belonged to the band so it is not like he took all of it with him. There are no hard feelings and it has worked out great.

SL: I know you are into your gear... tell me about the rig you are using?

JD: Well, I will start with the guitar first. I have a Travis Bean standard. Mahogany body and neck. Rosewood fretboard. It is German made. They were made with aluminium necks in the 70's, mostly. I bought it in Hamburg in 2012. On my pedal board, I run into a fuzz throne fuzz pedal- a bit like a meat head deluxe. I asked them to add an extra gain stage and a big muff tone stack. I have a phaser, a Giga delay pedal and a wah pedal which I don't use too much. I have a sound city 200 old bass head, re-worked, running into a 1200 watt 4x15 by Sound Dune down in Wales. I also have a Matamp GT120 from the 70's which I run into two four by twelves.  I am in the process of agreeing a price on an electric guitar company flying V from America.

SL: If you could jam with any band in a rehearsal room for a day, who would it be?

JD: Either Nirvana or Fudge Tunnel. I would say High on Fire, but I am not good enough to play their songs! I am not good enough to play like Matt Pike.

SL: If you could have been involved in any era of music, which one would it be?

JD: I wish Conan were active in the late 90's early 2000s. We play a really heavy downtuned grunge. We have the same kind of ingredients. I am not saying that we are like Nirvana- but we might have fitted in with that crowd.

SL: Your top five most important metal bands of all time- to you and/or the genre?

JD: Slomatics. They influenced me right at the beginning. They stopped me from packing it in when I had lost a drummer, too. Matt pike; High On Fire- they have driven the vintage amp/heavy metal kind of sound. Playing cool riffs through great sounding amps is what it is all about for me. High on Fire or Sleep- you can have them as one!

Fudge Tunnel- to me they are a band that really influenced me when I was playing at 18/19.

Zoroaster- they are quite different now, but they had an album with a ship being pulled under by a sea monster. That was just a heavy dirty record.

Bast- they are a young band- not in years, but in how long they have been active. Nice guys, we enjoy touring with them, they are a really cool mix of black metal and atmospheric stuff. I think the small bands are just as important. They are the ones who make up the underbelly of the whole thing. Imagine if you couldn't go to any small shows and you just had to save up to see a big gig like Iron Maiden? I mean, I am a fan of Iron Maiden, don't get me wrong- I am just using them as an example. Bast are a great example of a hard working underground band who are just giving it a good go because they love playing music.

Words and Interview by : Richard Maw

You can read our review of Blood Eagle here.  I'd like to say thanks to Jon Davis for talking to us and Andy @ Napalm Records for setting up the interview.  Be sure to check this band when they hit your town.

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