Ahead of their forthcoming UK tour in support of new record Revengeance, Getintothis’ Zach Jones caught up with Conan’s Jon Davies to talk all things touring, LPS and more.
Rising from the sludge of Liverpool’s ever growing heavy music scene, Conan have tasted a level of success few of their peers have. Playing music for a living isn’t something many get to experience, never mind touring with your inspirations, running your own studio and starting your own label.
Conan have well and truly been busy with new album Revengeance solidifying them as one of the UK’s top doom acts. Yet the album isn’t a tribute to Sabbath, Eyehategod and Electric Wizard. It’s a Conan record, and stands on its own. Conan are very much innovators, not followers.
It’s that approach that has lead to their success, so before they head off on a UK tour with fellow scouse noise mob The Bendal Interlude, we posed some questions to Jon Davies, lead vocalist and all around mastermind behind the act.
Getintothis: How’re things in the Conan camp with the new line-up and recording process on the new record?
Jon Davies: All is good thanks. We’re preparing for our tour this year and are excited to start playing seriously again, it feels like ages since we got on the road properly so we’re keen to start. All was great during the recording process, we had no hassles, and the record came out just how we wanted. We recorded at Skyhammer Studio, and Chris produced the record so we had our main man on the desk, he has recorded everything we have put out so far.
Getintothis: We remember hosting you guys at The Kazimier with Bongripper and Humanfly. You’ve always been a band that has outskirted Liverpool’s metal scene. You never seem to ‘overplay’ the city, yet Skyhammer Studios has become a key place in the North-West for heavy music and the times you do play are always incredible. Do you feel as if being part of a scene is important geographically, as in Merseyside, or is the bigger picture more important for you?
JD: That was an awesome show and tour, in fact that was the tour which pushed me over the line from balancing a day job and being in a band, to just doing music on its own. This transformation has been made possible by the presence of Skyhammer studio and you’re right, it does seem to be the place to go if you want a great quality recording. At first, back in my ‘Release/Windego/Evil Eye’ days all I knew was playing showcase nights in the Masque, or Heebiee Jeebies or Zanzibar and that was all I ever had on the horizon.
When I started Conan it was pretty much the same too, but somehow something changed when Horseback Battle Hammer was released and all of a sudden we were invited to tour across Europe and then of course internationally. I believe that music is so much more of a global thing now, currently we are talking to a booking agent in Australia about touring there with a band from the USA…That is the best example I can give to illustrate my point.
Firstly, of course, a band will play local shows – similar to Conan’s first handful of shows in Korova/Zanzibar/Barfly and then when a band becomes more known and (importantly) releases music and reaches a wider audience through magazine reviews/press etc it will start to transcend those geographical boundaries that, at first, seem impossible to get past. We have played Liverpool a handful of times, and we would be totally up for playing there again, but the opportunities haven’t come around so far.
Getintothis: Following on from that, your rise has been incredible. The US tours, Maryland Deathfest and Psycho California shows are all a testament to how respected you’ve become within heavy music. How do you adjust to realising how well your records have been received, not just nationally, but globally?
JD: Thanks, that US tour was a lot of fun. It might seem arrogant but I honestly don’t think there has been any ‘adjusting’ so to speak, even though at times it does seem pretty surreal when we play shows overseas and the reactions are so strong.
I’ve been totally focussed on playing music and shows since I was a teenager. I remember promising myself, while eating curry and chips at home at lunchtime in school (I went to Sacred Heart in Crosby), that when I was older and I had finished school and university I would somehow play music live. Fortunately I have been able to realise that, touring the USA, Europe, Australia so far… Maybe I somehow knew back then that if I was patient enough I would get the outcome I wanted from music, and so far so good.
However, in spite of the fact that we have toured the world, I enjoy playing in he UK just as much. Sure we have a fun time being out of our comfort zone touring further afield but we still love touring the UK, playing the venues we know and meeting friends and new fans alike.
Getintothis: We remember watching an interview with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and them explaining all they wanted was the ability to write and record music and tour when they want. How feasible do you think this is for most artists? Do you think that freedom is something artists actually get to express in 2016?
JD: I think that for most artists this is simply not possible on a practical level. Those who have a day job to balance can book a week off work and go around Europe for a few shows or festivals and such, but those who have a day job and also have the bills and expenses that come with it and annual leave in the UK is usually capped at 20 days or maybe 30 days if you are lucky.
I think that a band needs to tour as much as it can, playing music is surely the most important part of being a musician? I see bands who don’t release much and don’t tour much and worry about them. They must be pretty frustrated. Conan is lucky enough to tour a lot because we do not have those same restrictions. Myself, Chris and Rich all have very flexible working patterns and in a way can control our own destiny.
Every now and again Chris may not be able to tour because he has work commitments at Skyhammer, but even then the band continues because we are lucky enough to be able to replace him temporarily. The band is more than a sum of its parts I guess.
Getintothis: Judging from what we’ve seen, Conan does seem to operate very independently and closely with the people in your camp. What do you think are the advantages to that, as opposed to attempting to appeal to major labels or sign with big booking agencies?
JD: We have always been pretty self sufficient, managing most of our affairs personally. However, we do have a manager who will help with some of the bigger things like when we recently changed booking agents. For those things it seems to help if you can get some help pulling strings, especially if there is a language or cultural barrier.
Our manager is based in Germany and has definitely helped us out a lot along the way. We have had some really bad experiences with certain people though, one ‘management’ team tried to take money from us that they weren’t entitled to and this was pretty annoying, I’m glad we worked it out though – one of them was cool but he was let down by one or two others.
When you get to the point where you have a ‘big’ record label the stakes do get a little higher, you tend to sell more records, you tend to have a lot more responsibilities to do ‘business’ stuff like interviews and accounting and things like that. It’s a long way from when we started out playing one or two shows a month for fuel money in the UK, but we enjoy it.
Getintothis: Finally, do you have any advice for a band or artist starting off? Or maybe advice you would have liked to have been given by someone?
JD: I think the best advice I can give bands starting out is to try and enjoy just existing for a while before trying to play bigger shows. Take your time and find your sound before pushing hard. Don’t get a manager until you literally can’t cope with your workload.