Following a split with Bongripper and a live album at Roadburn, three man band Conan got to work on a fresh new album, “Blood Eagle”. Though only their second LP (or third, counting ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’), the record sees a band determined not to rest on their laurels.
After a bustling afternoon at the Liverpool city centre, I got together with founder and frontman Jon Davis to discuss songwriting, being honest with yourself and the importance of a good sound system.
“Blood Eagle” was released in late February. What can you say about it as a Conan release, let alone a doom metal release?
Well, for those who know our last album “Monnos” and the release prior to that, “Blood Eagle” is heavier than those two in some ways, with more dynamics, twists and turns being used; there are also quite a few tempo changes.
So I’d say it’s got a little more going on! There are more heavy metal riffs here, than a slow, drawn out “drone” direction. It’s more mid-paced, so as to get people to nod their heads at shows and become more involved (with our performance).
You also have a following amoung the extreme metal crowd. What can you say the new album has to offer these fans?
I’d say that we’re probably much heavier than most extreme metal bands, without being overproduced! We have quite a natural “warmth” to the sound production of our records, particularly on “Blood Eagle” which has a nice sound quality to it. To my ears, a lot of extreme metal can sound overproduced and (especially on compilations) much of it sounds very similar to one another. So in that respect, we may be able to offer the fans of that side something quite different, than evil and violence.
Before Conan joined Napalm Records, you were all with Burning World, which specialises in doom and sludge metal. Why did you make this transition?
Napalm have actually got a lot of bands similar to us on their roster, such as Cavelera Conspiracy and Monster Magnet. On the face of it, they were the perfect label for us, especially on the business side of things; they have good distribution and strong promotional networks.
It’s also why I’m speaking to you today, rather than with our last album a couple of years ago!
While we were happy enough with Burning World, switching to Napalm Records seemed like a really good option for us. Once you start putting out a couple of releases, it’s important to get in touch with a company that supports your promotional aspirations. Networking eventually becomes a key thing, after you’ve been around for a while and want to have a good booking agent as well as play decent shows.
It’s essential to take advantage of such opportunities as a band, whenever they come along. When we signed over, it was really an easy decision; the people we asked around (as we did a background check on this label) had mostly positive things to say about Napalm Records.
Quite a few doom bands are coming out of Liverpool, including Black Magician and Crypt Lurker as well as yourselves. What can you tell me about the doom metal scene over there, let alone the local metal scene?
There’s a clear distinction between these two – on the one hand, you’ve got Crypt Lurker, Iron Witch and Coltsblood, while on the other, you have the metal scene which is populated by bands who have Dean Reiserbach guitars who want to sound like Pantera or Lamb of God.
The two sides don’t mix together very much; you don’t get many bands like ourselves playing together with the kind I’ve just mentioned. But for what we want to see, there are a lot of groups that (support it) in Liverpool. In this respect, it’s a healthy scene, like with other cities in the UK.
We don’t live in Liverpool now, but we call ourselves a “Liverpool band” because it’s where we came from, and where we’ve always practiced. I must admit that we’re quite detached from the scene over there in some ways, and we don’t contribute as much to it. We play there every now and then, though.
Lately, it’s said that there’s a doom revival; many “retro doom” bands are coming out, like Amulet and even Ghost B.C. Where would you say that Conan lies, amidst this?
To be honest, I don’t know. We’ve been playing this music since 2006, when we were originally a two-piece project, and we didn’t know where or what we were in terms of the whole “music map”.
Obviously now, we were one of those who got lucky – we got to play larger stages, and even play as far as Australia as a band. Just this week, we’ve had to turn down shows with established names like Crowbar due to being so busy.
Some of the bands who do play shows in the UK are indeed part of this “retro doom” phenomenon, and I think it would be a shame for bands coming out of the woodwork aim to play a specific kind of music. I think that they should just be themselves!
You will see a person in one band go ahead and start a new project, while writing the same type of material as other fashionable groups at the time. It’s a bit transparent, really! I would rather see bands who have been around for a while simply doing their own thing, like ourselves, and gaining popularity through sticking to what they do without concern for being different. From day one, you can see the bands who sound exactly the same from a mile off by following the popular sounds at the time. They’re not adding anything different, instead playing more of the same music as they believe they can get a few decent shows out of it. I don’t like it.
Obviously some play such music inspired by the 1960’s and 1970’s because they genuinely love the spirit of it, while some merely copy it ad nauseam…
Again, you can see this quite clearly from these bands. Some are good, some aren’t, and this is just one of those things!
Some of our equipment comes from the 1970’s, and this was obviously a good era for music. Though I don’t understand why bands wouldn’t want to create something new or do something a little different; that’s the secret to it all – try to stand out a little bit, though I guess some are happy simply going along with what’s already there.
For us to take such a direction, it would be pointless. I would hate to play a show with a band, who sound exactly like us – that would be depressing! Yet on some line ups, you notice that the musicians who come on do sound quite similar; they play 70’s rock, which is cool if you like it, but makes things seem cynical. You see bands coming out of nowhere, who are playing this fashionable type of heavy rock, which is quite weird for me.
What do you personally consider to be the key values of doom metal, through Conan?
You’ve got to have nice sounding instruments, and the ability to play live in the studio. You’ve also got to be honest, and musically heavier than anything else. Those things do sum us up, and we don’t record any music which we can’t perform live. What you see (with us) is what you get.
Conan has a live studio production, so that the album gives an idea of how we are on stage. By being more preoccupied with how we sound, we’re also less focused on how we look, which makes for far less posers with this type of music! The people you play with, be they male or female, also show the same concern for their sound rather than their appearance.
Ann S. would like to thank Jon Davis and Napalm Records for this interview.
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