Interview with Jon Davis (guitar/vocal) of Conan


“I actually exist in a world of tidying and cups of tea…”

Interview by Paul Castles

Hi Jon, congratulations on Blood Eagle (reviewed here). It’s an incredible album. Since its release, Conan have been really busy. How’s it all been going?

Hi mate. Thanks for the kind words, things have been great since the release of the album thanks, we are all really blown away by how it has been received and are pretty taken aback by the reception we are getting at shows. We’ve been pretty busy so far with a few tours and we’re about to head out to Europe again this week, we’ve got a few things in the works for shows over the rest of the year so we’re busier than we have ever been.

How does the new album Blood Eagle differ from the previous release Monnos – Do you see it as a progression and have you been pleased with how well it’s been received?

In terms of how it has been received I’d say that it’s been received in pretty much the same way as Monnos, but on a slightly larger scale. We’re playing to slightly larger crowds now in general and I think people probably recognise us a little more, which must just come natural once you’ve been around for a little while. Blood Eagle has been received really well and I think this owes quite a lot to the fact that we have diversified a little bit, we’ve improved upon what we do already plus have added a few touches here and there to what we had on Monnos and Horseback Battle Hammer. I think this is really important to keep things fresh and interesting.

Blood Eagle

Was it rewarding being able to produce the album at your own Skyhammer studios. What benefits did this bring?

The benefits were all the obvious stuff like it being right outside my back door, zero travel time and cost, more control over what happens and when, and being able to sleep in my own bed.

Were there any negatives?

The only one I can think of is that we still miss Foel Studio, it’s a beautiful place to record.

Was it a help this time around to be on a respected label such as Napalm Records?

I’d say so. It didn’t make any difference to how we recorded the album of course, but it did make a difference to how the album was pushed in terms of press and all that stuff. We’ve been really blown away by how well it has been received and some of that is because it has been publicised so well by the team at Napalm.

Conan exist in a wonderful world of battles and beasts – Where do the cultural reference points come from. What films and books have inspired you?

I actually exist in a world of tidying and cups of tea currently…. Plus we have a rain storm right now and I’ve been worrying about covering up all our fire wood as this weekend I’ve knocked down our wood shed. Nevertheless, we are pretty much entirely influenced by sword and sorcery films and computer games, plus I love to read about Vikings and warfare and ancient civilisations and mythology and history and all that interesting stuff you can nerd out to. I don’t write songs about the real world, many other bands do that better than I ever could, but I like to use a bit of escapism and write songs about things I think are cool – a little like Fu Manchu and their focus on fast cars and outer space.

Conan gigs are notoriously heavy affairs. What advice would you give to someone watching the band for the first time?

I’d say bring earplugs but defo stand at the front and get involved.

Of the recent shows promoting the new album, do any stand out? How was it at Temples in Bristol and what were your impressions of the festival as a whole?

Temples Festival was a great festival. I met some people who I knew, some people who I didn’t know and had a wonderful time talking to everyone. It was very well attended, very well organised and the sound was brilliant (we had a TOP sound engineer working with us). It was the first Temples Fest as we know, but you couldn’t tell – from our point of view it was a top place to play. They had these amazing hot dogs, and the line-up was insane.

Do you feel Conan are now starting to make a name for themselves overseas? Is this something you’re keen to develop?

I think really that we really just carry on at the same pace really. We’re not in this to make a quick buck now ‘doom’ or whatever we are is popular; we’ve been doing this since 2006. We simply enjoy playing this sort of thing and I guess we’re now getting a bit better at it and people seem to recognise us more because of it. We’ll keep going in the direction we are going and what will be, will be. We’re very keen to do all we can overseas and this year we have already been to most of Mainland Europe and Scandinavia. In September we go to Australia and (hopefully, if all works out) we will be in Japan in or around December. We’ve always been keen to play in Europe and do so quite regularly. The trick is not to do it too often because then people get sick of the sight of you.

Are any of the members involved in any side projects or is it 100% Conan at the moment?

Currently we are all pretty much focussed on Conan. I am starting to slowly work on a new project called Overthrone. But this will be slow and heavy and more like very slow doom, rather than the more up-tempo, catchy, Foo Fighters-style pop punk of Conan (joke).

Conan, photographed by Matt Thomas. © Matt Thomas
Conan, photographed by Matt Thomas. © Matt Thomas

It was obviously a shock to fans when bass player Phil Coumbe left just as the album was coming out. Chris Fielding obviously was a natural replacement with his involvement through Skyhammer and someone you’ve worked with for a while.  I understand he won’t be able to perform at all live shows due to work commitments. Are you happy to just call on replacements in the short-term and is the bigger picture one where Chris will be a permanent band member?

Yeah, we were pretty shocked when Phil left and we’re quite deflated about it as we didn’t expect it at the time. Chris certainly is a perfect replacement and he is Conan’s official bass player. Sure he is busy at Skyhammer and because of that we may, from time to time, have a stand in bass player work with us. It actually works out really nicely being able to do this as Chris gets to do the studio stuff (which is his main vocation after all) and the band (without Chris) is able to continue and not miss out on shows. We won’t just be calling on any old bass player though, David Perry is our preferred choice if Chris isn’t available and I’m not sure we would call on anyone else if Dave wasn’t available.

What musical direction may the band follow in the future?

Wherever I lay my axe, that’s my home – as Paul Young once sort of said.

Any bands that really inspired you when you were starting out?

Yep, Slomatics, Fu Manchu, Fudge Tunnel, Slomatics.

I know a number of you have regular jobs. As Conan grow in popularity does it become increasingly difficult to juggle your work life from your Conan life?

Not really. My income is from the studio and from the band, Chris Fielding is the same and Paul is currently ‘between jobs’ so right now we do not have the pressure of a 9-5 job. It works out really well so far. I stepped down from my day job when it became obvious that I would need to tour so much. Don’t get me wrong, this decision means I have a lot less money but it does mean that I have no friction when booking annual leave for shows or worrying about lost income when taking unpaid leave. I work on a very limited basis for our family business and my wife is / was my boss there, so I am under a lot less pressure because of these changes. The main advantage is I get to see my kids a lot more. When I’m not on tour I do the school runs, cook dinner and look after the kids when they’re not in school so it’s working out great for me.

Some pundits are hailing Conan as Britain’s best doom band – are they right?

I don’t know. We’re certainly the most handsome and the most intelligent, but I can’t play for shit – maybe they get us mixed up with someone else.

What does the remainder of the year have to offer Conan?

Like I said earlier, we have a lot of touring coming up – Euro tour in a week or so with The Moth and Belzebong, then Hellfest in June, a couple of tests in July, then some time off in August, then September is Australia, then October is another European tour and then we have an offer for Japan before the end of the year and I guess we’ll have to see if that comes off. It looks busy. I hope we can get some recording done in that time, maybe a split or two, but the main focus is to make sure the next album is better than Blood Eagle – that’s the big challenge that we look forward to.

Thanks for your time and good luck with everything for the rest of the year.

Cheers mate, and thanks to everyone at Midlands Rocks for the cool vibes.