Thrash Hits Verdict: We first became aware of Conan last year, when one of our photographers, Matt Thomas, started singing their praises at us. Well, when say “singing”, we really mean “sent us an email”. Given that like Conan, he’s based up in Liverpool, he’s far too far away from us for us to hear him if he did start singing. Conan on the other hand….let’s just say when they play live, you can probably hear them on the other side of the planet. However it was a result of their talents – rather than their volume – that will see the trio support the legendary Sleep over in Norway later this year. We got on the blower to the band’s guitarist/vocalist, Jon Davis, to find out what it’s like when your idols want you to open shows for them.
Describe your sound in three words.
Drums and amps.
How did you meet?
Paul [O'Neil, drums] and I met in 2006, he was looking for a band and I was looking for a drummer. Things clicked pretty much straight away and we started jamming on the tracks which made up the bulk of Horseback Battle Hammer.
Progressively the music I was involved in got more and more like the sort of music I was actually listening to at the time and around the time I was heavily into High on Fire/Fudge Tunnel/Slomatics and other amazing bands that have this riff worship going on. I started writing stuff like the tracks we play now and was lucky enough to meet Paul and latterly Phil [Coumbe, bass], a friend of our previous bass player, David Perry.
What made you want to start a band?
I’ve been in and out of bands for quite a while. None of them amounted to anything really. The band I started with some close friends split up after quite a while when they decided they wanted to go and make a covers band…… They didn’t do very well. I remember being 16 and saying to a mate of mine that one day I’d love to be in a band and play shows. I did this by my mid 20s but somehow it seemed a little bit pointless at that stage. We’d play these fucking shit “showcase” shows in clubs in Liverpool where you’d be under pressure to “bring all your mates”. We’d play at those and it was just balls.
So why go with ‘Conan’ as a band name?
Well, we had some shit names that didn’t work and one day I decided to put some effort into finding a name that would suit a band that played simple heavy one note / bar chord riffs at high volume and the name Conan came into my head. Everyone knows who Conan is, the stories in the Conan books are very ‘heavy metal’ and the films would be awesome if wasn’t for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Where did you grow up? How do you think it’s affected your music?
I grew up in Walton/Norris Green/Kirkby until I was seven or eight, then moved to Crosby and Waterloo until my late 20s. I’m not sure that where I lived affected my music at all to be honest. I’ve had a regular normal life, nothing to be angry about, no major drama and I’ve not been involved in any ‘arts’ movement/scene or whatever. Sure, there have been a few bits and bobs along the way but I would say the band as it stands now exists as a result of a lifelong desire to create a band to play music that we considered “cool”. I wanted to play music that I would love to hear from other bands and if I am honest. Conan never really seemed like the sort of band that would put us in a position to be interviewed by magazines. No one fucking knew about us until Horseback Battle Hammer so I guess it pays to choose the right amps…
What would you say your musical influences are?
I love bands who play great riffs through great gear. To be concise I’ll name my three favourite albums for these things….Flooding The Weir by Slomatics, High On Fire – Surrounded by Thieves or The Art of Self Defence by High On Fire, and Dopesmoker by Sleep. These all have one thing in common…. MATAMP. I’m not a very good guitar player – I am half the musician that Paul and Phil are – but I just love great-sounding guitars. In my opinion you can’t get a better sound than a guitar being played through a Matamp GT120 or Orange OR120 at full bore. I just love a certain guitar sound and it almost doesn’t matter to me what a band plays, but how it sounds. That Matamp/early Orange saggy overdriven distorted tone is just the best fucking guitar tone ever – I don’t care what anyone says.
So far, what has been the best thing about being in a band?
I would say the best thing is meeting so many great people. John McNulty and David Perry were both contacts/friends of mine for a while before they joined the band, and now we have shared shows together they are good mates. Paul and Phil are both excellent mates and great guys to be around. Paul is fucking mad and Phil is a total placid fucker, so it’s nice to have a mix of personalities in the van. We’ve made friends and contacts worldwide and it’s very nice to be able to say hi and chat to them online or at shows. Being in a band is great when you enjoy it and you get something from it.
With which band would your dream support slot/tour be?
I would have said Sleep but we’ve been asked to play with them already in Oslo, in May. For me personally I would say High on Fire/Fudge Tunnel/Nirvana (in no particular order). For Paul, I reckon he’d say Meshuggah/Iron Maiden/Pantera, and for Phil I reckon he’d say Grand Magus/Clutch/At The Gates.
What bands do you consider as part of your scene or as your peers?
We are labelled as a ‘Liverpool’ band and I am a very proud Liverpool lad (Everton fan) but we haven’t been able to play in Liverpool very often (twice in two and half years). Seems like we could get a show there much easier BEFORE the album came out? It’s a real shame because we’d love to but it hasn’t happened really so far. Instead we play all over the country (last year we did Leeds 3 times / London and the South three times etc) Therefore my list will have bands on from around the UK rather than just Liverpool. I’d say we are closest to the following selection (in no particular order) Slomatics, Jackal Headed Guard of The Dead, Undersmile, PUS, Bastard of The Skies, Iron Witch, Dragged into Sunlight, The Bendal Interlude, Serpent Venom, Wizard’s Beard, Grimpen Mire, Sea Bastard, Bong, War Iron…there are more but I guess you don’t want me to go on forever…
What marks you out as different to other bands around at the moment?
I’ll be honest, I do not know. We play music that we ourselves get a thrill from. We play stuff that we love playing, and love listening to. I think most other bands will say the same things about themselves. Early on we made the decision to play simple stuff but play it loud through specific gear – fortunately people seem to like it, but I’m not sure why they would like us in particular. I like us because we use old gnarly gear that we buy for cheap and get it to sound good despite it almost exploding in our hands, but that’s because I am a dick.
What’s been the best – and funniest – showas you’ve played?
Best show so far – Damnation Festival 2011, mainly because of the atmosphere and the reception we got. This was despite us having Coldplay’s sound engineer and him being scared of anything beyond 09:00 on the volume dial….Funniest show was in Cardiff at The Gower. It wasn’t funny at the time, but we were stopped nine minutes into our first track, ‘Krull’, by a very drunk landlord who said we were very loud and couldn’t go on. I think he grabbed Paul’s cymbals at one point – it was all very silly….. It took us four and half hours to get home after a nine-minute show – a fucking nightmare. We love playing in Cardiff though, and were happy to be able to play another show recently for those who lost out the first time.
What can you tell us about your forthcoming second album, Monnos?
Monnos is coming out on CD in early April, and then a couple of weeks later on vinyl. The album is six tracks long, and is just under 40 minutes long. It comes out on Burning World Records. We recorded it in December last year and it took us 5 days, it was pretty intense (one track was totally rewritten in the studio during the drum takes). It takes some of the best elements from Horseback Battle Hammer and mixes it with some of the best elements of the split we did with Slomatics and is, in the opinion of those we have given a listen, quite a progression. We recorded it at Foel Studios (produced by the man Chris Fielding) and it was mastered by James Plotkin. The artwork is by Tony Roberts, who captured the mood of the tracks perfectly as always.
And what’s the significance of the album title?
We’re fascinated by Giants……. Google the word ‘Monnos’.
As you’ve no doubt read above, Conan’s second full-length album, Monnos, is set for release via Burning World Records in April. Those of you of a London-based or Continental disposition will soon also have the chance to hear what it sounds like live, when the band take to the road for a Europe-spanning jaunt later this Spring.
Conan Spring 2012 tour dates:
24 London Black Heart
13 Tilberg 013 (Roadburn Festival)
14 Wurzburg Catadooms
17 Leiden Sub071
18 Utrecht DB’s
19 Bielefeld AJZ
20 Hamburg Astra Stuve Waagenbau
21 Copenhagen Beta3000
22 Gothenburg Truckstopalaska
05 Oslo Betong (supporting Sleep)