CONAN “Barbaric Thunder”
By Dr. Abner Mality
This CONAN hails from England, not Cimmeria, and they have carved out a sonic empire with guitars, not swords. When it comes to low tuned riffage, very few, if any, are in the same kingdom as these guys and nothing proves it more than their new record, “Evidence of Immortality”. If this thing was any heavier, a crane couldn’t lift it.
It’s not my first time talking to CONAN and their vocalist/guitarist Jon Davis, but the band is quite a bit further down the road than the time of my previous chat. The key to these guys seems to be “evolve, but don’t change”, as Jon admits in the following interview. I was super glad to cross swords with CONAN once more so let’s dive into it without any further ado…
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings and hails, Jon! Thanks for talking to us. The new album “Evidence of Immortality” is upon us. To me, it sounds like you really doubled down on everything CONAN is known for...heavier, sludgier and more punishing. Was that what you were after from the start or was that just the way it turned out naturally?
JON DAVIS: Well, Chris is not just our producer but he’s also in the band as our bassist. He’s always thinking two steps ahead on that kind of thing. We always want to get heavier and better with each new release. Chris is always looking for ways for us to sound better, I guess, and he certainly did do that on this album, it’s got a different sound to it. I was using mainly solid state amplifiers on the last album. I was using Vowelph amplifiers on this album, so you can definitely hear a difference in my guitar tone. I know Chris used something slightly different on the bass as well. And this is Johnny’s second album drumming for us, so there’s definitely an evolution in his sound. So yeah, Chris made this one sound a lot angrier, I think, and more in your face. For that reason, it comes across really well and I can’t wait to get out there and play it live.
WC: This is your first album of new material since 2018. Have the songs on it been brewing for a long time or are they all relatively new?
JD: A couple of the riffs were already in place when we started running demos back in December of 2019. We’ve been working on demos all the way through that period There are some riffs that are off-cuts from “Existential Void Guardian” but the majority of these ideas came forward from 2019 onwards.
WC: 2018 was only four years ago, but it feels a lot longer given what has happened in the world. Were the new songs inspired by the changes we have seen...or were they written in spite of them?
JD: Sort of in spite of them because lockdown was hard for everybody. We wanted to come out of it better than when we went into it. So in our mind, we wanted to do cool songs that really reinvigorated us in a way because after being in lockdown, we hadn’t played live. We wanted to get motivated to play live again so we wrote songs for that purpose and I think we achieved that. We’ve got some really good tracks which, I feel, do us justice and they definitely show our evolution from “Existential Void Guardian”. At the same time, that was only one album ago but it was four years since we released any new material. So we didn’t want to change too much, we didn’t want to go too far away from what people know us for. We’re really excited about getting the album out there and proving that the lockdown didn’t defeat us. A lot of contemporary artists have released great music during this period and we’re excited to get our album out there and join them.
WC: The album title “Evidence of Immortality” intrigues me. The cover art shows a warrior who’s as dead as dead can be, yet we have that album title. Are you saying that death is a way of securing immortality? What’s the meaning behind it?
JD: Nothing so deep as that, to be honest with you. During the lockdown, my wife was watching this TV show called “Gaia” a lot. A lot of the talk on it had to do with life after death, immortality, ancient civilizations and all this mystical kind of stuff. They’re not really giving proof of it but they make their living talking about it. I just thought it would be cool...what if there was immortality, what if it was possible? What proof would we have to have to convince us that was possible? It just got me thinking and the album title “Evidence of Immortality” came from that. Of course, Tony Roberts created the artwork coming from it. Who knows if our guy on the cover is dead or not? We won’t find out until Tony does the cover for the next album. But yeah, we just thought it was a cool album title to be honest.
WC: The “Levitation Hoax” video is one of the most enigmatic and unique I’ve seen, with the band undergoing a kind of “sex change” on stage! Tell us about the making of the video, where you got the girls from and how you put the crowd together.
JD: Well, that video was actually shot in Finland. It was shot during a time when we weren’t able to get over there so we asked our friend Esa if he would do the video for us. He originally wanted some kids to play us on stage but that wasn’t possible for whatever reason so the next best thing was Esa suggesting that we have some women play our parts on stage. So yeah, we thought, go for it. We met the people who took over our roles on the video and they did a great job. We weren’t really trying to make a statement or anything like that, we just wanted somebody who was completely different from us and our first choice was children. But getting the women on there was also a cool idea. Yeah, the video turned out great. We just wanted people who weren’t us playing us on stage and then all the people in the crowd would die. The people in the crowd were all fans of ours from Finland so it was pretty fun to see it all come together from a distance. It was just frustrating that we couldn’t be there.
WC: Another new twist you tried was for the “Grief Sequence” track. Is this the longest CONAN track ever? It is almost like a test of will to endure the depression in this song.
JD: Yeah, well, imagine how depressing it would have been if we had put some vocals to it! It was quite a flat landscape, that song, so we decided that we wanted to have Dave Perry, our previous synth player, on it. He came along and made the song what it is. He played bass and keyboard on the split LP we did with SLOMATICS and we figured that it would be a good idea to inject a bit of that sound on this album. I think it worked great and we all love it. I think it is our longest album track, actually, so it’s always great to break your own records, I guess.
WC: You used a good deal of synth on that track. Is this something you might dabble in a little further?You had an old comrade Dave Perry help with “Grief Sequence”. How did that come about and will we be seeing more of Dave on future CONAN projects?
JD: Yeah, as I said, Dave Perry is obsessed with synths and we wanted him to come on because of that and make the song “Grief Sequence” unique and totally different than what me, Johnny and Chris could have been capable of on our own and he definitely did that. I don’t know about Dave being on future recordings, but maybe! We’ll see. As far as “Grief Sequence” goes, people probably had had enough of me shouting by that point so we felt we’d give them a break and put synths in it instead of vocals.
WC: You were one of the first of the “newer” doom-oriented bands to do a live album with “Live At Freak Valley”. What has the response to that record like, both from fans and yourselves?
JD: Well, actually, the response has been great. Chris mixed the album and we’ve enjoyed listening to it ourselves. Yeah, it’s been fine, all the fans seem to like it. We’ve actually had a couple of live albums. We had a “Live at Roadburn” and “Live at Bannerman’s” up in Glasgow, so we’re no strangers to a live album. I think it’s important to do that sometimes, so people who haven’t seen you live can take a listen and see what it might be like at one of your shows.
WC: Does the band still get a lot of inspiration from sword and sorcery tales and “grimdark” fantasy or is that something you might be moving on from?
JD: No, I definitely still do get inspiration from that. I’m not as obsessed with it as people think. But it definitely does help me write songs and riffs, it puts me in a certain frame of mind which makes me write a certain way. It’s not like I’m reading the book and then putting it down and picking up the guitar. It’s more like a general state of mind that I have when I’m playing. Certain ideas come to me when I’m reading about this giant battle or whatever. It’s quite normal for me and it’s a cool way to write.
WC: How do you hit the balance where you keep true to your established sound but keep things fresh as well? It’s one of the trickiest things to do.
JD: Yeah, I agree with you. A lot of the bands that I love at some point in their career change too much for me. Some of them are able to maintain their success but you’ll notice that they do that by not playing a lot of their newer songs live. Some of them play the newer songs live and push through and can maintain that success regardless. Some bands I love, when I first discovered them, their next album let me down. I won’t name them now but there are a few examples. I’ve always been very careful with CONAN not to change too much from album to album because if somebody discovers us after the album “Monnos”, I don’t want them to think “Blood Eagle” is too far a change for them. If somebody discovers us with “Existential Void Guardian”, I don’t want them to think “Evidence of Immortality” is too much for them. So we just try to improve gradually and that way we can keep hold of the fans who love you already and you have a strong chance of attracting new fans as well.
WC:. Any live plans for 2022 or early 2023? Any plans to play in the States?
JD: Actually we are planning a US tour at the moment and that will be next year. We won’t be going over to America this year although we are playing in Canada at the end of 2022. We’ve got a few festivals coming up and a few one-off shows as well so we’re definitely busy.
WC: Are all of you guys strictly devoted to CONAN or do you dabble in other bands or projects?
JD: Well, I’ve got one called UNGRAVE which is like a two-piece thing...maybe a three-piece thing depending on how we feel. Originally it was just a solo thing...me and a drum machine, which was terrible live. Yeah, we’ve all got a few. Johnny’s in DREAD SOVEREIGN and a couple of other bands. I would say CONAN is the main band for the three of us, although Johnny has got other projects that he was a part of before he joined CONAN, like MALTHUSIAN. He’s been around the block a few times so he’s got a lot going on. We’re just glad to have him in the band and Chris as well.
WC: What was the last release you listened to just for your own enjoyment?
JD: Hmm, let me scroll through my phone. The new AUTOPSY album is amazing, “Morbidity Triumphant”. Actually someone introduced me to 3-D HOUSE OF BEEF, which was really cool. YOUSUF LATIF, he’s a jazz musician who’s really good. And I’ve been going back and listening to “Under the Sign of the Black Mark” by BATHORY as well. I’ve been enjoying those...quite a wide range there, as you can see.
WC: Any last words to the faithful?
JD: Well, thanks for listening or reading. If any of you are a performer or if any of you have a venue or promote shows, then I recommend you go over to www.scenegen.io and register there, because we are developing something that’s going to improve things a lot for the live entertainment industry. It would be great if you took part in it. Rock on, rock CONAN, thanks for the interview and cheers!