Before they get on stage to a sold out show in support of American stoner legends Sleep, all three members of the UK's own stoner doom phenomenon Conan sit down with eGigs to discuss new release 'Revengeance', their dedication to even heavier material in their future and a potential estimate on when they will start to work on the album's successor
How are you?
Jon Davis: Good, thanks.
How do you feel supporting Sleep at tonight's sold out show?
JD: It's cool. We've played with Sleep before at Oslo in 2012. They're nice. You don't get to spend all that much time with them because they're busy doing other things. We've all met Matt [Pike, guitarist] before and I've spoken with Jason [Roeder, drummer] online before. Not really spoken to Al [Cisneros] before but they seem lovely. Tonight should be cool. I don't know if everyone will be here when we play.
I think it will be pretty busy when you play. Musically, the two bands go hand-in-hand so it's a well put-together line up for fans.
JD: Yeah, we're really excited. We feel really lucky to be asked to play a show such as this because it's pretty high profile. It's probably our highest profile club show ever. It's probably bigger than...
Chris Fielding: It's bigger than most festivals we've played. A tonne of the festivals we've played have been technically huge but we've been on a smaller stage.
JD: Say everyone's here when we play, the only time we've played to more people than that has been Hellfest and Bloodstock.
Are you nervous?
JD: We'll be fine. I must admit a tiny bit of nerves today but not now. Not that we've set up and soundchecked and whatnot so hopefully it'll sound awesome. I was nervous yesterday.
So you still get nerves playing some live shows?
JD: Not usually but on shows such as this where it's a bit different…I don't know if it's just nerves or being more excited. Bit of both, I'd say.
How did fans and critics respond to your new album 'Revengeance'?
JD: Universally positive, everyone seems to have liked it. I think we've possibly gained some new fans as it has faster parts. We didn't really aim to try and attract new fans but the album sounding the way it does has done that and on the back of that, we're trying to play more metal festivals now as well as the places that we usually play, like Desert Fest. We're trying to straddle both camps. I guess we see ourselves as a heavy metal band as well as a doom band. We're capable of a lot more and I think the album shows that. It's been picked up on the reviews that we can add to our established sound and still sound like Conan. It's the first album we've recorded with these two guys. Chris has produced everything that we've done but it's the first album we've recorded with Rich. Rich wasn't new to the band; we'd already toured a couple of times by then so actually recording was very easy. We already knew each other's styles and we played a few shows together. It didn't feel like recording a new band.
Did the recording process feel the exact same as previous times then?
JD: It was more enjoyable because it was a lot more spontaneous, the writing process, and we all wrote together as a team whereas previously, maybe the writing wasn't all agreed but on this album it definitely was. It was definitely very good.
Did the faster elements in the music come from the personnel changes?
JD: I think so, yeah. A smaller proportion of the band now are massively overweight, before we were all a little bit heavy but now Rich and Chris are capable of playing faster music, particularly Rich obviously on the drums. The speed of the music that you play can sometimes be limited by A. what sort of style you're going for and B. the ability of the members. Without wanting to say anything negative about previous members, maybe when Rich joined, we'd been able to play faster music more comfortably and more convincingly. I think we've taken advantage of that on this album. 'Revengeance' was the first song that we actually wrote on the new album. It was crazy fast and it kind of set the tone. We wrote that and we said we don't mind playing other faster songs now and we blended that in with the other songs and we're comfortable with doing that sort of thing. Entombed asked us to tour with them recently and they play quite fast music so it's becoming less weird to have us play faster music.
CF: We're not doing the Entombed tour.
JD: Yeah, we had to turn them down [laughs].
That's the tour with Voivod at the end of the year?
Why did you cancel that?
CF: We didn't cancel it. We actually never [confirmed it]. It was a bit of a miscommunication thing. We actually couldn't do it. We all had other things on.
JD: How do you feel about that, Rich - being known as a band before you joined playing predominantly slower music then coming in and us having a few bangers?
Rich Lewis: You'd already made a step towards it with songs like 'Foehammer' and I probably personally wouldn't have plugged for it but the rest of you were quite down for the blastbeat thing. I did a first song and we were going to go with whatever was on the table. I'm glad for that. It didn't seem strange at all. It was always going to go like that, I think., whether I was there or not.
JD: We never sad: “Let's play fast songs.” It just happened.
You made a video for 'Throne of Fire'. It's a very trippy animation. How did this idea occur? Was it yours or the director's?
JD: It was the director's idea. There's a guy from America – David Paul Seymour – and he just basically followed the line of the lyrics, I think, and directed the video that followed the path of the song. He put us in it, which is cool and we didn't expect it. It's a bit less abstract than the video we did for 'Foehammer'. I really like it. There's something about the imagery that's really nice.
Conan are a really heavy band without playing super heavy music. You've incorporated blastbeats now. Would you ever consider involving more stereotypically heavy music like death metal, harsh noise or extreme industrial music if you ever needed to crank up the heaviness?
JD: I don't know. I think we've been able to get heavier with each album without doing anything weird, without throwing any surprises in there. We've evolved naturally. I don't listen to industrial or harsh noise or anything like that so it might be difficult for me personally to get into that. These guys might be more comfortable with that but I don't know. We probably just make the next songs heavier by writing heavier riffs and writing drums in a certain way. I don't know.
Do you think there is a limit on how heavy you can be? Do you ever think you'll get to as heavy as you'll ever be then revert to a slightly lighter sound afterwards?
JD: No, that won't happen. We definitely won't get lighter. We'll get heavier for sure. We kinda have to; it's like our mission statement. We couldn't write an album that was less heavy.
How would you make a heavier follow up to 'Revengeance'?
JD: I actually don't know.
CF: I think from a production kind of view for 'Revengeance' compared to 'Blood Eagle', I tried to make it a bit more…lo-fi isn't the right word because I wasn't trying to make it lo-fi, I was trying to make it sound more dirty and make it less clear. I tried to make it sound a bit noisy in general. I thought I made 'Blood Eagle' sound quite massive and clean and I tried to do some different to get the songs more aggressive but reviews said they thought it was clearer sounding than before [laughs]. I don't know. With this one, we tried to make it more live-sounding. We did all the bass tracking live without click-tracks.
Was it recorded live with all of the band playing at the same time?
CF: Sort of then a lot of it has just been with me and Rich playing together, partly [because] Jon has had things with his kids and whatever. We spent a long time recording and focusing on the feel and tempo. We had loads of takes getting it to feel better and editing from that point of view. We actually spent a long time on that. It was all going from a live feel more so than the other albums, which were done more to click-tracks. This time was more free, a bit more loose and that was what we were going for to keep it sounding spontaneous.
Did you think having faster tempos would make it sound heavier than slower ones?
CF: It's a different sort of thing. When things are slow, you can put more bottom end things in. You try that same sound on fast bits, it sounds like mud and you can't hear anything. You play with slightly different guitar sounds here and there and some other stuff but it's all got to sound like one. For the next one, we've been talking about writing new stuff and Jon's got a direction but we've just been talking about it.
When do you think you'd release a new album?
JD: Don't know yet. We've done it once every two years up to now. We might follow that path, we might not – that's the honest answers. We're incredibly busy. We have been incredibly busy for a number of years now but it's cranked up a notch since January onwards. It's good. We've benefitted from this explosion of doom metal bands. I don't think there's much science to it. I think what happened is the band Conan, different members at that point – were already active in 2007. We recorded a demo and the wheels were already turning on this band when people started to take more notice of this sort of music.
Did you play everywhere you could and shove your demo in people's faces?
JD: Pretty much, yup. Once we recorded 'Horseback Battle Hammer' in 2009, things just went crazy after that and they are just continually slowly snowballing for us. We were in Germany this past weekend, here we are supporting Sleep then this weekend, we fly to New Zealand and Australia. We're doing well at the moment. We're going to ride the wave as long as we can. We should still be here and respected when the tide starts to go out a little bit on this sort of music because I think you win people over in the long run by sticking at it when the scene itself is a little bit quiet. We were there as the tide started to come in so we're definitely in to sticking around.
It doesn't seem like you're waning popularity at all supporting Sleep.
JD: We've got it right somehow. Don't know how but we're doing it.
After your Australia and New Zealand tour, what are your future plans for Conan?
JD: We've got more touring the rest of this year, end of this month, we've got some festivals shows and a few shows in between in Europe, September a few festivals, October a European tour focusing on Scandinavia.
CF: We haven't been there for about two years, two and a half years.
JD: It's about time we made it back that way. Once that tour is finished, we've got a couple of shows towards the end of December and at the moment, that's all we have for the rest of this year. I reckon we'll end up getting in the practice room maybe starting some writing at some point in that period. We should maybe make some plans…but this is the first time we've mentioned this really [laughs]!
RL: Conan might have a jam [laughs].
JD: We've been busy enough this year, we've been working hard and people respect that. When we get the bulk of this year's shows out of the way, we'll probably start wanting to write more because you can't do both at the same time. It's hard. You can't be in the right frame of mind to write stuff.
That's the end of the questions. Do you have any last words for the readers of eGigs?
JD: No, I don't. Thanks for reading!
Thanks for the interview.