Conan specialise in formidable power and devastating low end frequencies – they’re also one of the finest metal outits to come out of Merseyside. Showered with praise over in the States yet criminally-underrated in their home town, Getintothis Orla Foster meets a band that are happy, fun but ready to mash your brain to a pulp.
In the realm of doom metal, it’s funny what passes for a compliment.
‘Monstrous’, ‘oppressive’, ‘murky’, ‘devastating’, ‘destructive’, ‘sludge’ – all are epithets which have been used to describe Conan. With their hell-shattering battle cries and primordial lyrics, the trio have even been decorated with a very healthy rating from Pitchfork, which berated their lack of notoriety in the US.
But behind the formidable rage and infernally low frequencies, Conan are a disarmingly modest, soft-spoken sort of band. When we catch up with Jon Davis, the band’s singer and guitarist, he’s just finished discussing plans to convert part of his house into a recording studio. He’s clearly thrilled by the thought of being able to do what he loves best, right in the comfort of his own home.
Yet Conan weren’t always so serious about their musical output. The band started in 2006, as a fairly casual project between Jon and some friends. All had been playing in various bands since the age of 18, and nobody viewed it as anything more than a way to pass the time.
‘We just needed a distraction, that was all,” recalls Jon. “It was never meant to be a long term thing,’ he says.
The turning point came when the band took to the studio – four years ago. Having previously concentrated on their live portfolio, fine-tuning their songs for release gave Conan a fresh perspective on their own work.
‘We went to Foel Studio, in Wales, to record four songs. We were sat there at 4am playing it back when we thought ‘Wow – let’s get this out there.’ So we made a list of all the decent record companies we could think of and sent them copies of our EP. To our amazement, all of them got back to us.‘
The resulting EP, Horseback Battle Hammer, showcased the trio’s commitment to pugilistic, ominously-paced doom metal, and was followed by two further releases: a split record with Slomatics in 2011, and last year’s critically-acclaimed Monnos.
The success of their recorded output has pushed them towards deservedly bigger and better bookings, with bewildered punters replaced by armies of kindred spirits. Take Roadburn Festival, for instance, where they played alongside some of their own heroes – to rapturous crowds.
Their profile has continued to rise; they’ve played a slew of European dates on a two week continental tour, and will be supporting Chicago favourites Bongripper on their forthcoming shows.
‘To be sat at Roadburn selling t-shirts with some of our favourite bands, just talking about normal things, was great,’ Jon reflects.
‘And the audience too. You get a different kind of crowd at those shows, people come from all over the world to be there. They’re people who’ve invested a lot of time and effort just because they love the music so much.‘
Conan have had their share of “square peg” moments, though.
‘Our worst gig was in Yorkshire, in some tiny venue. Nobody knew who we were, and the other bands were better. We didn’t fit, we were on last, and by the time we finished everyone was tired and there were just four people clapping in the corner.
‘That time it just didn’t happen for us, but there were other shows on that tour where we were surrounded by the right crowd. In Oslo, we supported Sleep, who are really the father of our kind of music. We were able to use amazing equipment, and when we finished they switched on the lights for us as though we were the main act. It was fantastic.‘
It’s little surprise that the band went down a storm in metal-loving Oslo, but how about on Mersey shores? Liverpool is often typecast as a jangle-pop enclave by those who don’t know any better. Is there any chance that a GIT Award nomination could change this?
‘Yeah, just to be recognised by our hometown is really cool. We never expected to be nominated for an award just for doing what we do, as we don’t consider ourselves particularly talented or special.
‘The city isn’t that well-known for its heavy bands, but there’s a lot of great stuff coming out which needs to be heard.‘
It’s true that the Liverpool metal scene doesn’t get a great deal of press. You’re either devoted to it or don’t know the first thing about it. Which other Liverpool metal bands would Jon recommend, to put readers on the right track?
‘Black Magician, Iron Witch and Coltsblood,’ he answers, in a heartbeat. ‘Also, Crypt Lurker are great. I predict a lot of big things for them.‘
One small but essential detail: Conan are supposed to be fun. Their songs are cathartic and always performed at a volume to make your liver throb. (‘Amplifiers have to be loud, or they’re not working properly,’ Jon reasons.)
Taking inspiration from all of their favourite outlets – old battle films, computer games, 1970s cartoons – the band offer a path of escape from the dreariness of the everyday, and they’ll certainly be the loudest band you hear on the night.
‘I’ve had other bands for the real life stuff, girls, politics, what it feels like to be dumped, and there are lots of people who are much better at writing about those sorts of experiences,’ Jon says.
‘But I’m happy, I’m married, I’ve got kids – I don’t need to write that stuff. Some heavy song about paying taxes, or rising fuel costs, is just going to sound forced coming from us.‘
Take it from us, Conan are every bit as battle-ready as their name suggests. Insanely belligerent and agonising, they’ll crush your brain to a pulp. And we mean that in the best sense.
Conan feature in Getintothis‘ top 50 albums of 2012.
Further GIT Award 2013 reading
GIT AWARD 2013 shortlist revealed ahead of April 19 Leaf showcase
The GIT Award 2013 the nominees: the shortlisted artists in detail
GIT Award 2013 at Leaf on Bold Street Friday April 19 with £1000 to winners.
For a full list of the GIT Award 2013 judges and their profiles read here.
The GIT Award 2013 returns championing the best of Merseyside music.