UK power doom standouts Conan are a band with a sound to match their name, a solid wall of battle field leveling fuzz so think it renders all adjectives quaint. I feel like I finally discovered a band heavier than Crowbar. I recommend you immediately search Bandcamp for these guys and hoist a skull crusher to your lips (even though it is Scottish ale, not British…but the beer name makes it apropos). Turn up HORSEBACK BATTLE HAMMER and listen to the soaring, chilling vocal cries atop the gargantuan width of “Sea Lord” and have your Conan cherry popped like mine was. You will get the bends when you try and recover from the dismal depths of this song.
Conan have been busy in recent times, releasing a live Roadburn document called MOUNT WRATH as well as dropping what many consider their best work yet, the face bludgeoning fast track to a hearing aid long player MONNOS. I have wanted to interview this band ever since I heard them and now seemed like as great a time as any, so I was thrilled when they responded to my inquiry. MONNOS was my soundtrack whilst recently reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s 2004 novel The Last Light Of The Sun and it was a great pairing to the grim tests of mortality and hope for redemption that are the themes of that recent fantasy masterpiece. Conan really create an overpowering mood, and also I might add that the band are always making quality merch (up there in my book with All Pigs Must Die working with Florian, Circle Takes The Square, Kongh and other bands who really work to put out a great product).
I resisted the urge to ask Jon Davis of Conan if he prefers crushing enemies or the lamentations of women, but we did talk about what albums we’d love to have seen get made, the growth of Conan as a band and what it was like recording at Foel Studios in Wales. Click HERE for the interview and wear a fucking helmet!
MONNOS was considered by many to be the ‘next level’ for you guys, though I think all your releases are strong. As the band has progressed and experienced things together, how do you feel the album was an example of your evolution in regards to what Conan should sound like? Is there a sound you are always looking for or just kind of taking sips from the the eternal doom stew? I love how your songs often begin with this low rumble, like the awareness of a coming avalanche.
Jon Davis (Guitar/Vocals): Yeah, we’ve read reviews of MONNOS and it’s weird because we don’t see this album as being ‘next level’, like as though it’s better than what came before it. I personally really like all the recordings we’ve done pretty much equally as they all have different aspects to them. When I look at the bands that I listen to and like, I wouldn’t say that their newer stuff is better than their older stuff, in fact it is quite often the opposite somehow. It’s like a band will build up to a great album with a couple of rough sounding demo’s and then make a couple of cool albums, then get some attention and carry on releasing albums that are good, but not better than what they had before and that’s cool. Look at bands like Iron Maiden who have consistently released great sounding albums and then look at the more ‘modern’ bands…. How many ‘modern’ metal bands can you see still going in 30 years?
You know that feeling when you discover a new band and you can’t stop listening to it? (* Author’s Note: Um, yeah. They are a band called Conan).
You find out things you like about it every time you put it on? Well we want to feel that way about all our records each time, so that even people who know us get that ‘wow this is awesome’ feel. I believe we’ll do this by evolving as slowly as we can, not taking major leaps that will alienate people, we just want to play great songs, songs that get us excited about playing them live.
Ever worry about legal action in regards to the band name? After the great pop band The Vaselines broke up, Eugene Kelly tried to name his band Captain America but had to change it to Eugenius, for example.
We did think about yeah, but then we don’t write about Conan himself and we do not use any of the established imagery directly so we don’t beleive we are messing with any copyrighted material. I mean, sure we use the sword and sorcery stuff, but the name ‘Conan’ isn’t like ‘Captain America’ or ‘Spiderman’. There are loads of people called Conan in the world and if anyone official asks we’ll just say we’re really into that chat show host everyone jokes about.
How was it working on MONNOS at Foel Studios with Chris Fielding? I am of Welsh American heritage and always wanted to go to Wales, but have never been. What was the experience like? People don’t realize it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to capture low frequencies so well. I know engineers that hate doing normal metal records let alone doom. I think some people think tracking a doom record is like turning a tape recorder on during a bong hit, but that is really short of the reality.
Recording at Foel studios is great. It’s in a valley in rural Wales, miles away from everything that could distract you. You struggle to get a mobile signal most of the time and so people can’t bother you. It’s possible the most perfect recording environment you imagine. Working with Chris there is always great. He’s a great guy to be around and he understands what we’re trying to capture in there. He is into heavy music and has produced all our stuff so far, so it’s a really smooth process, he seems to really enjoy working with us and that’s why we work with him each time. Getting our low end recorded seems to come easy to Chris, and then of course it is helped along by mastering (James Plotkin has done our last two albums). For MONNOS I used a RAT clone and a Kelley modded Boss Blues Driver into my normal guitar set up and I had my full live rig set up in the studio (two 4x12s and two 2 two x15s). It sounded great in the studio so I’m not surprised it has had good compliments on how it sounds on record.
Mount Wrath: Live At Roadburn 2012 is, quite simply, awesome. I love your band art in that is suggests epic stories and your mind has to fill in the blanks. The cover art of the live release is particularly great, like some weird Cyclopian giant’s cave of secrets. What was it about this Roadburn show that made you want to release it as a live document, other than that working with Burning World makes sense? Also, I just want to say I think it is lame you guys or Alcest didn’t win our cover art battlee for 2012 because you both had art way better than the horrible Bilocate cover that ended up winning. Meh.
Well, shortly after we were offered the show we found out that most of the sets at Roadburn are recorded for potential use later. So we kind of hoped that we’d be able to have a live album made from the set. With that in mind we just played our normal regular set. That show is the biggest show we have done, and so we’re really happy that there is now a permanent record of it. People seem to like it so that’s fine by us.
UK. Metal. The two words are synonymous and true, slow, bluesy sludge in particular. I love bands like you guys, Pig Iron, Orange Goblin and of course the greats like Maiden and Sabbath. Of course another mighty power trio, the legendary Motorhead. As a band do you strongly identify with the British metal history or do you kind of do your own thing and just happen to be from there? Classic records or new artists from your region you feel kinship with?
I’m not sure we identify with the British metal history aside from the fact that one day we will of course become part of it in one small way. We’re don’t consider ourselves to be keeping that ‘trad doom’ flame burning the way some other bands are. These bands do a great job but I guess that’s not where we see ourselves. We do like older styles of metal and rock, but that’s an obvious thing to say as listening to bands from the future would be impossible. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow go hand in hand with Forbidden, Hex, Fu Manchu, Slomatics and Trouble. I really love Deep Purple Perfect Strangers and other stuff like that but really we listen to loads of stuff on the road like Maiden, Kyuss, Pantera, High on Fire etc. I have a 4×12 once owned by Vex Red so that fills our ‘nu metal’ quota too.
Kind of continuing along the line of the last question, if there was a famous record you could go back in time and be a fly on the wall while it was getting made, what would it be? I would love to see Hendrix doing the side one master tapes for AXIS: Bold As Love that were lost in a taxi cab, for example. Or see Cathedral track my favorite of theirs SUPERNATURAL BIRTH MACHINE. That’s just two that come to mind. Anything you can think of and why?
I’d love to see High on Fire making either ART OF SELF DEFENSE or SURROUNDED BY THIEVES. They are my favorite High on Fire albums and got me into the whole ‘Matamp tone’ thing. I’d love to see how these earlier tracks came about and witness just how much weed was consumed during the recording process.
What are your favorite countries or venues to play?
Some big, some small… The 013 in Tilburg is a great venue and very professional. You get that ‘looked after’ feel there in a big way. Then we think of the Betong in Oslo where we supported Sleep in May, that place is huge and playing there was a lot of fun – great staff and great facilities. Moving onto the ‘smaller’ venues we loved playing at the AJZ in Bielefeld in Germany and the 071 in Lieden (both squats). We’d never played in a squat before and weren’t sure what to expect, but we loved it there – it was a great experience. In the UK the Royal Park Cellars in Leeds, Bannermans and Star and Garter in Manchester are also very good places.
Do you think of your songs more as individual songs or as stories or both? “Battle In The Swamp” or “Invincible Throne” or the title of HORSEBACK BATTLE HAMMER evoke thoughts in my head of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion or old pulp, fantasy fiction, of course. Ever think of doing something long form with a specific narrative like High On Fire’s latest DE VERMIS MYSTERIIS, for example?
We did consider making MONNOS a ‘themed’ album but shied away from it in the end as it just didn’t seem like our sort of thing. HORSEBACK BATTLE HAMMER does, to me at least, almost seem like one long track because of how it was written and how it was recorded. We didn’t expect anything from it and it just kind of blew up really. It was a lot of fun to see. But the newer stuff is borne from a more traditional song writing process. I see other bands being interviewed and being asked for the ‘secret’ to good song writing and they all try and say the same thing but in different ways, they jam out an idea between them and then mold it into a song and we’re no different in that way really. The writing process for MONNOS was more of a ‘ok, let’s write an album’ than it was on HBBH where we simply went into the studio aimlessly recording some of the tracks we already had. Now for the new album we’re going to wait for the new recording studio to be completed (I am building my own at our new house - http://skyhammerstudio.blogspot.co.uk) and when we get in there we’ll continue the writing process. We’ve got a few songs sorted already, and have several other ideas in the bag. We’ll wait until we’re ready before recording though as we see this next album as pretty important and we’ll probably have more of a HBBH approach to it.
How did this project start? I like that you almost had like a restaurant “soft opening” for the band, just started releasing great material years back and let the acclaim and excitement build up naturally as opposed to the bullshit hype behind many newer, less deserving bands vomit all over us right out the gate before they have anything really worth listening to!
Well, this band started as a two piece, me and a mate called Rich Grundy on drums. We wrote and recorded the BATTLE IN THE SWAMP demo back in early 2007 and then split up. After that I played with a few different drummers and then met Paul. Paul and I hit it off really well and I already had “Satsumo”, “Krull” and “Battle In The Swamp” written. Seeing these songs take shape was very liberating. Early 2008 saw us split up again as I worked a while away, but then early 2009 we set up Conan again and ended up recording HBBH. Hearing all the praise for it was great, and I ‘discovered’ this scene where people loved what I was doing.