Conan: Herculean Doom Metal from Liverpool

The genre of doom metal has just undergone a serious upgrade courtesy of the U.K.’s Conan. The trio from Liverpool, England are best known for their herculean sound and guitars tuned so low that they may have quite possibly summoned the Old Gods from the deep, bringing about the end of all mankind.

Both their live shows and their latest album, 2014’s Blood Eagle, have been hailed by critics and fans alike—of which I am both. Their set was one of the more sonically powerful sets at Psycho California this year—their heavy chords like iron shaking the rafters of the venue. Amidst the chaos of the fest in Santa Ana, I had a chance to break away for a few minutes and talk to vocalist-guitarist Jon Davis and drummer Rich Lewis about all that is Conan.

How’s Psycho California going so far for you guys?

Jon Davis: It’s been great! We almost felt like we couldn’t settle down before we got here and we went onstage pretty much straight away. We’re looking forward to relaxing and having a few beers.

Sounds excellent. Do you think the set went well?

JD: Oh yeah, I think so. [to Rich Lewis] What’d you think?

Rich Lewis: Yeah, we had a great sound on stage and I think we played pretty cool.

Pretty good crowd reaction?

RL: Yeah, yeah. It was good watching them and sort of putting it back in.

With fests like Psycho California and Maryland Deathfest in America, do you feel like the U.S. is starting to catch on to what’s been going on in Europe for years?

JD: Well, I don’t know. Maybe. I couldn’t really explain why there hasn’t been such festivals. MDF has been around for a little while, hasn’t it?

Yeah, 13 years.

JD: Maybe because America is so big, it’s hard to put on a festival because the population is spread out quite a lot? You can’t really guarantee that people are going to start flying in from all over the country. Although MDF have pioneered that approach it seems, and it’s been a success. Over on the west coast, you’ve got this festival here, which seemingly has mirrored that success. So, who knows, you might get one down in the South at some point, maybe?

It’s a little easier to hop around Europe to all of those festivals than it is here.

JD: One of the reasons why those festivals aren’t as widespread is that it’s harder for us European guys to come over.

Absolutely. It’s so expensive.

JD: Before we even set foot on soil here, we paid almost four thousand pounds, in like, solicitor’s fees for the visas, the flights, backline hire. It all adds up, you know? Most bands, I guess a lot of bands, can’t afford that up front. What we did is just went on tour in Europe and some of that money went towards the cost of this tour which we were really lucky to be able to do. The conditions are different, but it’s just as good. We’ve been surprised and we’ve really enjoyed the touring experience over here. It’s been ace.

That’s great. Who are some of the bands that you’ve been playing with over here?

JD: We’ve played with Samothrace, we’ve had Mantar with us over here in our actual tour bus. Sinister Haze, umm…who else? I can’t fucking remember. It’s all gone by in a blur! [laughs] All the bands have been cool. Oh, wait, Worship! We played with Worship.

RL: They were really heavy, and fast, man! They were really good.

So tell us a little bit about your last album, Blood Eagle that came out in 2014.

JD: We recorded that in our own studio called Skyhammer Studio over near Merseyside in North West England. It came out on Napalm Records and it’s been received quite well, I think. We seem to be snowballing a little bit, if you could say that. We’re doing quite well, I suppose. Considering we started from nothing.

So you self-produced as well?

JD: Oh yeah. Chris, who does bass and vocals in Conan, has actually been our producer since day one. He joined the band, actually just after we finished making the record when our bass player dropped off unexpectedly. The record seems to be quite popular, it’s selling out. We’ll probably do a re-press soon enough.

Rich, did you prefer self-recording and producing as opposed to going to someone external from the band?

JD: Rich actually wasn’t in the band yet when we recorded that album.

RL: I’ve also recorded with Chris, and I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d want to work with. He makes it very easy, as a drummer, to get your grooves down nice and tight.

JD: We wouldn’t record with anyone else, mainly because Chris is the best person we could imagine, and secondly, he’d be really pissed off. I have to work with him every day and he’s a miserable ogre half the time, so I don’t want to make him any worse. [laughs]

A lot of your music has mythological and fantasy themes, even your name, Conan, is inspired by fantasy. Where and how do you find that inspiration?

JD: It’s almost like a rebellion against the trend for heavy bands always singing about stuff that they’re pissed off about, or drugs, or Satan, and all that. Well, Satan doesn’t actually exist. Neither does Conan, neither does Jason and the Argonauts, the Titans and Perseus and all those characters from that. It’s just as much fun for us to sing about all of those characters, whereas bands that sing about Satan, only actually sing about Satan. We can sing about fuckin’ anyone we like from any of these movies.

RL: Any of it’s all fair game, isn’t it?

JD: There’s lots of scope, and we really enjoy it. The lyrics are really easy to write, because you don’t feel self-conscious, and no matter what you write, it’s gonna sound stupid anyway. [laughs] So, we just go all-out to make it sound as farfetched as possible. When you’re up on stage shouting about it, it feels really good, and people seem to like it. It’s been a conscious effort to write about those sorts of things. We wanted to steer away from real life.

There’s such a huge pool of material to choose from.

JD: Oh, for sure. It’s really easy to write about it.

I was at Amoeba Records up in L.A. the other day and saw a record by a band called Crom, and couldn’t help but think that it would be a good opportunity for a split or a tour. Conan and Crom!

JD: Yeah! It would be, but then we just wonder whether the world might explode or something. [laughs] I don’t think Crom and Conan are meant to meet in real life, are they? They never did in the books or the films. If we actually met the band Crom physically, who knows what might fuckin’ happen.

A dimensional portal may open, or something!

JD: It might be! It might turn into those freaky later levels in Skyrim where you’re sort of like in a really weird dream world—and I’m afraid that might happen—so I’m afraid I’m going to have to say no to that.

Did Blood Eagle get a vinyl release?

RL: Oh, yeah. On Napalm, as he said.

JD: Napalm records, it got a worldwide release.

Are you guys personally into vinyl?

RL: Yeah.

JD: Oh, yeah.

Are you big collectors or just a fan of playing the records?

JD: I like to listen to vinyl alright. I like to buy my favorite albums on vinyl, but I’m not like a nerdy corksniffer. Some guys will be like, “Oh, well I’ve got the red version from 1973.” I can’t be asked for that. I get it on vinyl and I’ll get it on iTunes, and that’ll do me.

Purely for the enjoyment of it, not for the collecting aspect.

JD: Yeah, definitely. I’ve got my turntable set up in my office at home, so when I’m doing work on the computer I’ll listen to vinyl, but that’s no good to you if you’re driving around Europe so that’s where Mp3s come in.

They definitely weigh less.

JD: Vinyl does sound better, that’s true.

What are your further plans? More dates in the U.S. after Psycho California and Deathfest, or are you heading back to Europe?

JD: Maryland Deathfest is followed by a show at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. Then we go to Philadelphia at Kung Fu Necktie. After that, we fly home, and when we get home, we’ve got a U.K. tour about a week later. Then we’ve got a few standalone shows, a couple of biggish festivals. Bloodstock in England, we’ve got Eistnaflug in Iceland, which is really cool. The big thing, which we are doing, is finishing off the new album. We’re writing a new album at the moment, so we’re going to get that ready for September-ish.

RL: As far as the U.S. goes, we’re hoping that the album will bring us back over next year.

JD: I think we’ve got a twelve-month visa, so we might come over again. We haven’t had a burger in every city yet, so we need to do that!

Conan heads back to the U.K. and Europe this summer. Check here for tour dates near you.

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