By the end of this week Conan will release their much anticipated new album Blood Eagle, their first release on Napalm Records. John Dickie recently reviewed it for Ech(((o)))es and Dust and stated that "Conan are probably the best metal band in the world" and that Blood Eagle is "pure Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Metal". John asked guitarist/singer Jon Davis some questions about the band, the new studio and the new album. Jon also has some useful advice for new bands. Please read on...
(((o))): Hi mate, how is it going?
Jon: Alright John? I’m great thanks, things are going well. Been busy packing up the new Bast album today so have been busy with that, but having a nice Monday!!!
(((o))): That sounds great mate. Can you think of a number between 1-100?
Jon: Yeah, I can.
(((o))): Was it the number 69?
Jon: It was actually, that’s fucking brilliant 🙂 !!!
(((o))): When is Jon getting here?
(((o))): So, Blood Eagle is quite good, great in fact. How's the band feeling about the reaction to it?
Jon: Thanks. We feel great actually. It’s really cool seeing what people think of the music, but I’m personally more interested in playing live and seeing how people react then. Up to now we have had some really positive reviews, really high scores etc., but heavy metal isn’t about scoring points or pretty reviews - it’s about sweat, head banging, tinnitus and screaming your head off at a show. We’re really keen to get touring again and we can then see how people react to this stuff played live. But the early signs have been great so far, people seem to see the things we thought they would in their reviews and most have mentioned the tempo changes and the slightly more aggressive manner of the tracks so up to now it’s going well.
(((o))): I'm right into the whole tech side of music, even though I have nothing to do with it. Tell us about all the tech you guys use, pedals, guitars, amps etc.
Jon: Well for me I have a German made Travis Bean ‘clone’ it is made by some company that bought the copyright to make these guitars in Germany. It’s not 100% true to the original designs I don’t think but it has been made pretty much in line with the original specs and aside from a wooden neck (instead of aluminium) it is hard to see the difference. I play that into a Matamp GT120 and a Sound City L200, these go into a 6x12 and a 4x15 (both cabs are being made for me as I speak). Guitar pedal wise I use a custom made fuzz pedal called Fuzz Throne - it’s bit like a Muff and a bit like a D*A*M Meathead all in one - it’s prefect for what I need.
(((o))): Talk us through how you create a song like 'Gravity Chasm’.
Jon: I think I was either trying to copy the riff from 'Children of The Grave' (Sabbath) or ‘Call Me’ by Blondie, fucking around in practice one night, and that riff just happened. It’s not a very complicated thing but sometimes is more than a sum of its parts and we think, with this track, that we have the perfect marriage of charging riffs and weighty slow parts, with our own style of vocals screamed over it. The lyrics are kind of a miss mash of various bits and bobs I had lying around. For example ’Shaman’s Disease’ was because I had a virus on our our website and Lee (Edwards - The Sleeping Shaman guy) was fixing it for us, ‘Man Is Myth’ was just a cool idea about our brief stay on planet earth - in a few thousand years when we have tweeted each other to death and evolved into a touch screen human with one round button on our midriff and no other discernible features, we might be remembered as a failed experiment or a bad mistake. Basically it all started with that riff, then Paul added the drum intro and it sounded a bit like .Where Eagles Dare' by Maiden, then the rest of the track pretty much snowballed over the course of a few practice sessions. The ending, where it all slows down quite a bit, rings out in a riff which uses the same notes as the intro to 'Horns For Teeth' (hence partly why they sit back to back on the album).
(((o))): What inspires Conan?
Jon: Well, the music is all about just playing the loudest amps possible and using this medium to deliver riffs that other more technical bands probably throw away all the time as being too simple. We are like the Hovercraft amps of the heavy music world, we take all those bits and bobs that don’t work for other bands so well - songs about giants, hammers, ancient battles etc., and we then mash them all up, give them a clean and make something completely different from them. Our core ingredients are the same as any other band - we don’t use any weird instruments or weird techniques and I guess sometimes less definitely IS more.
If you look away from the music, I can say that I have wanted to do something like this for several years. Even when I was a teenager I knew I wanted to play guitar and sing on stage - I couldn’t even play guitar then, nor had I written my own song. I first started writing songs using an old spanish acoustic, using my finger for a plectrum (I couldn’t work out how to hold a plectrum for a while) and I would make up single note melodies and write songs along side these. This progressed into writing more upbeat songs, I was shown how to form a bar chord by some guy I was buying a leather jacket off in Manchester Arndale shopping centre with my 18th birthday present off my Grandfather (My Grandfather John Fitzsimmons was in the merchant navy and latterly the Dockyards in Liverpool) he used to save up his coppers for me and I remember when I was 18 he gave me what he had saved, it was around £120. I bought a leather jacket with it in Manchester, one of those big stiff ones that were all the rage back then - anyway, the guy in the shop showed me how a bar chord looked (the three string version, not the full chord itself) after this I started learning Nirvana songs and also started writing music that was pretty much Nirvana / Soundgarden style and played win a few bands similar to this. As time went by I decided to start Conan because I had been out of action for a little while and had some time on my hands so I started it with the intention of writing the heaviest, most simple riffs I could and try and copy some of the style of bands like Slomatics, Fudge Tunnel, Sunn etc.
(((o))): Are you guys still loud or are you louder?
Jon: I’d say we’ve been a little louder. My biggest ever back line for a show was four 4x12s and an 8x10 and I doubt this was necessary, however I am currently having some custom made cabs made that will work very nicely with our sound. I'm having a 6x12 and a 4x15 made by these guys at Soundune Audio. The 4x15 will sound fucking amazing, so I’m looking forward to that. Our volume is always going to to be considerable but I think we could always go one better.
(((o))): Tell us about Skyhammer Studio.
Jon: Skyhammer Studio is a recording studio and adjacent 2 bedroom cottage that I own with my wife. The studio itself is run and managed by myself and Chris Fielding with Chris managing the recording of bands and myself managing some of the business related stuff. The studio itself is custom built within the shell of a 19th century coach house at the back of our house, across a small courtyard from our kitchen. As I am sat here in my house, I could walk into the studio within 30 seconds. We had the studio designed and installed professionally, and every aspect of it is aimed at both seriously high level sound isolation (so our neighbours can’t hear the noise going on within the studio) and also an extremely high quality of finish. The inside of the studio is a nice mix of oak flooring, oak doors, grey acoustic fabric and aubergine walls. It’s a nice relaxing place to come and record music. Of course, the main draw is Chris Fielding. Chris, as most people will know, is a highly thought of producer and we have been friends for a few years now. He asked if he could come and work at the studio and of course we said yes, the rest is history. As well as being Conan’s practice space it is a really busy commercial recording studio, with bookings being taken all the time, as we talk we have bookings as far ahead as November this year.
(((o))): How can bands reading this record there?
Jon: The best way is to email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
(((o))): Do you think the whole doom scene is now a bit over saturated with few bands attempting anything interesting?
Jon: I don’t think there are too many bands, but there are a lot more opportunities for the bands that are active. This would explain why there are so many good shows happening. What I have noticed is this uprising of young fresh bands, injecting youth and vitality and life into this music and then you get bands (that gave up a while ago for whatever reason) reforming to have another bite at it. You therefore have a nice mix of established acts headlining shows that the younger bands provide support for and this has created this snowball effect where bands are being created all over the place because there are so many decent shows coming through, and decent festivals coming up - it’s pretty exciting to be a band right now. Whether or not they are contributing anything new is another thing. I don’t listen to an awful lot of new music for this very reason, if I am being honest, but whether or not some bands are original they are still capable of being very good. Fuck it, we’re all into Black Sabbath anyway pretty much so there will always be some level of similarity - I guess those bands that reach a little further with their sound and their whole vibe will probably get more of the breaks.
(((o))): What's next for Conan?
Jon: Well right now as I type I’ve just had the nod on our upcoming Australia shows. We’re playing about 10 shows across Australia later this year - the dates will be announced soon I’m sure. We have tours coming up in March, April and May and then Hellfest in June. July we have a couple of festivals on the horizon in Europe and I think we’re going to Europe again in October. We’ve got a few support slots in the pipelines that we’re working on currently and I dare say we’ll tour in the UK again before the end of 2014.
(((o))): How did you guys hook up with Tony Roberts?
Jon: Initially it was John McNulty who brought Tony to my attention when we were looking for an artist for Horseback Battle Hammer. Once I saw his work and once John had introduced us we hit it off straightaway, his initial sketches for Horseback Battle Hammer were amazing and he hit the nail on the head each time he sent an update. Tony is great to work with and fits really well with our whole style, his artwork just fits brilliantly with our music. He’s also a really nice person and easy to get along with.
(((o))): Any advice to bands starting out?
Jon: I remember before we recorded Horseback Battle Hammer and not really being arsed what we did, or when. I also remember those first couple of days when we had the recording in our hands (after our trip to Foel) and being really organised sending the tracks to a few record labels and trying to be as professional as possible. If I had to try and steer other bands in the right direction I would say focus on two areas:
1. TRYING TO GET A LABEL. If you want your music to reach an audience further and wider than those people who have bothered to look at your Bandcamp, or have bought your CD at a show then you should try and get the backing of a label that works with similar bands. Most record labels will sign you off the back of a previously successful release. For those bands who get lucky you might be able to grab their attention with an exceptionally well recorded debut release. If you have not released anything yet, but are very serious about being signed to a particular label, then unless you are personal friends with the guys / girls at that label you had better develop a big buzz by gigging EVERYWHERE or pay for some studio time at a great studio. Then with this nice recording you can convince the record label to press some vinyl copies for you. You must remember that it will cost the label about £900 to press 300 copies of a 12 inch record so you have to make it worth their while, the best way to do this is to make the album sound great and get some cool artwork lined up. Do not send tracks out to labels if you are in any way unsure of the quality.
2. TRYING TO GET DECENT SHOWS. We were really lucky with the release of Horseback Battle Hammer and so haven’t had to work too hard to get gig offers. The hard work starts when you are trying to fit all the shows in. I believe it is really important that bands play as often as they can as this is how you build a fan base. There’s no point releasing a great sounding album unless you go and tour to back it up. Start by going to the local shows and getting pally with the promoters. Do shows for free, or just the cost of fuel (sell merch to make more money) if you wish. Play shows all over the country if you are offered, and try not to let people down by cancelling…… Once or twice is expected, but if you do it often, especially with the same promoter, you’ll quickly find yourself down the pecking order.
Basically, get the best recording you possibly can and then tour like a fucking bastard to back it up.