Vocalist, Guitarist Jon Davis Outlines Band's New Recording And "Foehammer" Video.
While UK doom outfit Conan doesn't spend its days cleaning blood-stained battle axes or lounging on jewel-crusted thrones, the band's collision with nylon chords and shimmering cymbals shows their favor with Crom, the god of R.E. Howard's literary creation, "Conan." Moving with the long stride of ancient, forgotten giants, Conan returns with its second full-length "Blood Eagle."
Armed with the experience of several EPs and splits, the UK group now fly the banners of Napalm Records, thus widening the scope to include a larger throng of doom/drone/fantasy fans. In anticipation of the album which arrives on March 11th in North America, the band released a video for its track, "Foehammer."
In the following conversation, vocalist, guitarist Jon Davis reveals clues into the band's sonic alchemy known as "Blood Eagle."
Rex_84: "Blood Eagle" drops via Napalm Records on March 11th in America and even sooner in your native United Kingdom, March 3rd. The barbaric hordes are ramming your gates. Do you think it's time to let them in?
Jon Davis: I think so, although sometimes 10 people can make as much noise as 100 if they are angry enough so I guess we can see what sort of message they have for us.
Rex_84: Noisey.Vice released the video stream of "Foehammer." The imagery and animations make it a good teaser for the album. How was the video made? Is the imagery consistent with the song's lyrics?
Davis: Yeah, there was almost some fights over the premiere of the track and the video too - it was pretty confusing who was putting it out and where and when. It is definitely a good teaser for the album, and we were keen to make a video of this song in particular because it is the shortest on the album and kind of works best as a short example of how the album sounds overall. Plus, the imagery within the lyrics lend themselves really well to the ideas we wanted to show in the video. The video was made by some friends of the band at Tomfoolery Pictures. I met up with Owen and Adam there and we chatted out our ideas and influences and they showed me a few things like Howls Moving Castle and other stuff like that. I showed them the lyrics to the track and also gave them some demos and they got into the vibe of it all and then that was it, we handed it over to them so they could use their imagination, and they created this moving beast that absorbs the landscape and ends up astride the earth. I personally love this imagery and it works with my lyrics in general, in particular this song of course.
Rex_84: "Blood Eagle" marks the first release on Napalm Records. How do you feel about signing to this label? Will you release multiple recordings through them?
Davis: We feel great about singing with Napalm, they’re a really professional record label with great distribution and a great reputation for being honest, straightforward and hard working. It never used to be a concern of ours, what label we were on, and we were happy to just get the release out no matter what, but no we really value the role that the label plays in doing all the business stuff behind release - we’re glad we don’t have to and can concentrate on the music instead.
Rex_84: How does record compare to your last full length "Monnos?"
Davis: I think it is more aggressive sounding, both in content and delivery, it probably had more twists and turns and more changes in tempo than "Monnos" did. One of the differences is also in the greater use of dual vocals, we seem to use them much more on this album and I think they work really great. The tracks on this album are probably more workable in a live setting, they all seem like they will work really well in front of a crowd and we are looking forward to getting out and touring. We recorded the album in my own studio Sky Hammer Studio with our regular producer (Chris Fielding) and I guess some would see that as a bit of a gamble, given that the change of studio might lead to a change of sound, but we have definitely created an amazing sounding album - some of the guitar tones and drum sounds are great on there.
Rex_84: The artwork has a kind of Michael Whelan " psychedelica sorcery quality. Please tell us more about the album art.
Davis: The album artwork was created by our long term artist Tony Roberts. Tony has done all our album artwork thus far and he always does a great job. He took some of our demo tracks and some lyrics and just worked out some sketches to them. He showed us this idea for the Headless Hunter guy in the inner spread and we loved it and he also got the outer sketches done - the guy with the beheaded kings all on spikes. I think this works particularly to convey the heaviness of the material in the album, it focuses more closely on the imagery (like we did with "Horseback Battle Hammer") rather than zooming out and showing the landscape like we did on "Monnos." This intimacy really works with the aggressive nature of the tracks and we think it’s perfect.
Rex_84: Conan looks to fantasy literature and art to find inspiration in your art, music and lyrics. Who pens the band's lyrics?
Davis: It is me (Jon) that pens the lyrics. I take influences from Conan stories, old movies like "Krull," "Beastmaster," "Kull The Conqueror," "Conquest," "Fire and Ice" and basically put myself in those tales, rewriting certain scenes so they work with the song itself and taking the lyrics from my findings during these experiences. The end of "Satsumo" (on "Horseback Battle Hammer" EP) for example, is a reworking of the end of "Clash of The Titans" where the sacrifice to the Kraken doesn’t go to plan. I like to use movies / stories / mythology as the basis for the lyrics and then basically put down which images come to mind, I then fiddle about with the words so it works with the song and then the track is done.
Rex_84: Band hail from England, a place rich in medieval and ancient history. One of your promo pictures pictures depicts the group in the foreground with ruined castle and a hillside as your backdrop. Did you take this photo near your home? Does this photo capture the spirit of "Blood Eagle."
Davis: That castle is actually at the entrance to my house, inside it is equipped with solid aluminum crossbows (made very kindly by the guys at Electric Guitar Co). I’m just joking obviously….. That castle is called Dolbadarn, it is near to Llanberis in Wales. We were looking for somewhere outside to do some cool pictures and that seemed like the best place. We all took a drive down there and it was great. I’d say it captures the spirit somewhat yeah, we love this sort of thing castles, dungeons etc and it makes us think of landscapes in games such as Skyrim and such like. We didn’t pretend to be in an medieval battle or anything like that, we didn’t get carried away, but I guess with promo photo’s now you have to do something a little bit more interesting than us all sat on a couch, with beer in our hands, frowning.
Rex_84: Your guitar tones on the new record absolutely crush! How did you achieve such mighty tones?
Davis: On this album I used the same amplifiers in the studio as I did on the other recordings - namely a '70s Matamp GT120 and a 80s Sunn Model T. I didn’t want to change too much from how my guitars sounded on previous recordings. On "Horseback Battle Hammer" I used a Sonic Titan and a Meathead Deluxe www.stompboxes.co.uk and got this really super saturated sound from them, on "Monnos" I used a clone of a big box Rat distortion and also a modded Boss Blues Driver - the guitar I had at that time was a mahogany body Gordon Smith SG, made in the UK, that I got in a trade with David Majury of Slomatics. When we toured in Feb 2013 we played in Hamburg and we went to the music shop owned by a friend of ours called Christian Smukal, on his wall was a German made Travis Bean standard. I had a little go of it and fell in love with it immediately. I traded a few pieces of gear for that guitar and I think I got a really good deal. That guitar, tuned down to dropped F, played through the gear I use can only sound one way, HEAVY, and Chris captured that really well in the studio.
Rex_84: James Plotkin is a legend in the drone field. How do you feel about his mastering on the album? How did you connect with him?
Davis: You’re right, James is a GREAT mastering engineer and of course he has a great reputation as a recording artist too. We first spoke to James when we wanted to master our tracks for Monnos and he was great to work with. I was first introduced to him by Chris and Dave in Slomatics as they had James master their side of the split we did with them in 2011. James is able to wring every last drop of heaviness out of our studio recordings, he somehow is able to take a heavy sounding studio mix and make every aspect of it sing. It’s a lot more than just adding bass and making everything loud, mastering really is a very skilled job and James has been our preferred choice for a while now.
Rex_84: You and Phil dual vocal attack bring to mind Sleep, especially the first Sleep album. Was Sleep influential in your band's vocal development?
Davis: To be honest no. They are an influence in parts of our sound I would say, that is definitely true (they are an AMAZING band) but we have other bands such as Slomatics, Fudge Tunnel, High on Fire, etc. that play just as much of a part in our influences. Also, I would say that Torche, Slomatics and bands that used higher pitched vocals to very low pitched guitars were more of an influence on my vocals.
Rex_84: Do you both share vocal duties, is there no "lead" vocalist in Conan?
Davis: If we had to say one way or the other I would say that I was the lead vocalist but only just. We think it’s important that the vocals are actually the least important thing about us, we care more about the song writing, the tone and the heaviness, vocals come last.
Rex_84: What does Conan have in store after the release of "Blood Eagle?" Will you be on the road promoting the record?
Davis: Yeah we have got a UK tour in March, a European tour in April (including Roadburn). In May we go to Europe again and play some shows including St Helena Doom Festival. In June we play Hellfest. In September we go to Australia. In October we go to Europe again (tbc) and we are looking at Japan, Greece and Bulgaria for December.
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