Interview: Conan

“If you litter your life with things that make you happy—some small and some big—it really helps. My life, with the band in it, is a really big thing. For me, the starry sky is Conan,” – Jon Davis, Conan.

Let’s face it; depression is a bitch. Combine that with the soul-sucking beast that is crippling anxiety and the ability to function on any normal level daily dissipates. Jon Davis, the guitarist and founder of Conan, knows this beast all too well.

In fact, when Davis was in his deepest, darkest pit—that hollow where you can’t see the light—he actually created Conan to help dig himself out. It was his coping mechanism; his musical guide. Throwing himself into this project—which themes itself in the realm of fantasy, myth, horror and, of course, the classic early B-grade Conan films—was his salvation.

“When I started Conan, I’d just separated from my wife,” Davis says. “We broke off and my son was only three-months-old and I was living in my mum and dad’s spare room. My mum was incredibly upset with the whole situation; so was my dad. It was a very uncomfortable time.

“At the time, it was extremely hard to be around me. I created Conan at that point as a distraction and a coping method for that scenario, so that I wouldn’t be dragged down by what was going on in my personal life at that time—even though a lot of it was of my own making; to be fair to my ex.

“I’d been in bands on-and-off for several years and I just thought to myself ‘…what better time to start a new project and really put my heart and soul into something’. So I created a band. Really, it helped take me away from that particular situation and helped to alleviate any negative impact made on me at that time. The fact that I was really able to get busy with writing music, arranging the songs, creating the band set-up and the business side of things kept me really occupied for several months. That helped distract me from the situation that I was in. I still dealt with the reality of it, but I was able to do it with the knowledge that I have something kinda cool going on—on top of the negative stuff. I think the band at that point really helped me get over that phase.”

 
 

Obviously, as went time on, things changed. He evolved and, as expected, healed. Ultimately, he learned from the experience. That means the nature of Conan changed. Instead of being his crutch, it became part of Davis’ existence. “As time’s gone on, I don’t lean on the band in that same way,” he explains. “I don’t use it as an emotional prop nowadays; it’s taken on a whole new angle now. Back then, it was a really important tool for me. It really helped me get through some difficult times and I’m still really fond of the songs that we wrote back then because they still now provide me with a lot of escapism. Playing those songs live make me feel really free, which is exactly the effect I wanted when I wrote them.

“Maybe I don’t need that anymore in the same way, but it’s still really enjoyable. The anxiety and depression; they’re all things that effect a lot of people and I’ve never taken any medication for those things and I don’t have those symptoms anymore. Keeping busy and having something to focus on and always having something to look forward to really helped me. Something as small as making a cup of tea would make me feel really good—just small goals. If you attach positive feelings to all those times in your average day, then it’s almost like the difference between looking up to a black sky or looking up to a sky that’s full of stars. If you litter your life with things that make you happy—some small and some big—it really helps. My life, with the band in it, is a really big thing. For me, the starry sky is Conan.”

But Conan was just the starting point. Now, a decade later, Davis not only has his Liverpudlian three-piece keeping him busy, but also a successful label, Black Bow Records, and a merchandising company in partnership with Samothrace’s Renata Castagna—Atlantean Merch. In other words, from the depths he was able to blossom.

To top it all off, last year Conan came out with their most diverse album yet. Their third studio full length, Revengeance, is not only their biggest sounding release—but actually sees the outfit going beyond their previous heavy rhythms and getting more technically proficient. But adding a few new band members will do that.

Chris Fielding, the band’s long-time producer, stepped up on bass and Rich Lewis, who is also from Intensive Square-fame, got behind the kit. “A major difference on this album is writing songs with a different drummer,” Davis says. “Rich was in the band for a little while before we wrote it anyway; it’s not like he was brand new. But it was the first time I’ve written music with a drummer that wasn’t Paul (O’Neill). I’ve been writing music with Paul since the dawn of time; very early Conan days. Then, obviously, Rich came in and I’m writing music with a new person, which—to be honest—I thought we’d struggle to get the same sort of sound. I thought we’d struggle to make it sound like Conan because it was a totally different rhythm section; if you count Chris in there as well.

“They are both very talented and versatile musicians, and they were able to take the stuff I was trying to write and really make the most of it in a way we haven’t done in the past. Previously, my offerings have been taken as gospel and then just turned into a song. Whereas now, I am like ‘…let’s play this this way’, and Rich and Chris are saying ‘…well, what about this?’. And that’s cool. They took the songs apart and made them better. You can definitely hear their influence on this album and I’m really grateful for them. Without them, the album wouldn’t sound as cool as it does. I think the songs are cool as fuck. If I wasn’t a fan of the band, I’d still really enjoy them album, you know? There’s a lot more to this album, if you compare it to Horseback Battle Hammer (2010) or Mannos (2012). Even Blood Eagle (2014) didn’t really have a solo in there. And now here I am, playing solos (laughs).”

“It was really refreshing to play music with two brand new people. Chris has been there since day one, as our producer. Usually, we’d have our albums ready and we’d go and play the songs to him in the studio and that’d be the first time he’d actually hear them and put his stamp on them. Now, we’re writing the songs with Chris on bass. So we’re able to get his input on the songs from the very beginning. That helped to make the songs sound a lot more polished and complete.

“Chris has been able to shape the path of the songs from the very beginning and it’s definitely really helped. And then, of course, Rich is a really technically gifted musician—not just on drums, but guitar and bass too. So he’s able to suggest things that I wouldn’t have thought of for guitar riffs and things like that. Then you’ve got me, who’s not really a good musician at all (laughs). I think I’ve got quite a good sense of rhythm, but I’m not really technically gifted in terms of complicated riffs and stuff like that. So I think the three of us compliment each other in that way.”

 

Now, for the first time, you can catch Conan playing Revengeance live (along with a lot of their back catalogue) as they head to Australian shores with mates, Weedeater.

Catch them at any of these dates:

 

Wellington - San Fran - July 12

Auckland - Kings Arms - July 13

Brisbane - Crowbar - July 14

Sydney - Manning Bar - July 15

Melbourne - Max Watt's - July 16

Perth - Rosemount Hotel - July 17

                                                            

Tickets from lifeisnoise.com, Oztix, the venues, and undertheradar.co.nz for Auckland and Wellington.