For a man who has quite literally spent the last few months travelling around the globe, Conan’s Jon Davis looks pretty sprightly and relaxed. 2014 has been a year of critical acclaim, growth and progress for Conan. Ghost Cult caught up with Conan’s principal driving force in the middle of their UK tour to reflect on the year to date, the band’s development over the year, wax lyrical on the UK underground music scene and ruminate on the decisions, choices and sacrifices that artists need to make today to make something like a “living”. When we met, Jon was, despite having done interview after interview that day, in a chirpy and exuberant mood.
How has your year been?
“It’s been a crazy year. The album (Blood Eagle – Napalm) came out end of February, or beginning of March, dependent on where you live, and we did a UK tour of nine shows at that time. We then did our first European run of shows – three weeks in April, starting at Roadburn Festival and then we went all through the middle of Europe, venturing North through Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway and back down over those three weeks. We often do our own driving on tour and on this tour I did ALL the driving I was fucking cross eyed by the end of it!”
That must have been exhausting…
“It was, but it was brilliant. We then went and did two weeks in Switzerland and Austria in April and May and places like that. In June, we did Hellfest and a few smaller shows around that and then in July we played a festival in Pozniac where we went on just after Hawkwind who were headlining. That was a beautiful experience. We played to around 1500 people under the stars in a beautiful valley. It was a great crowd – it was a proper metal festival – and although Hawkwind were headlining and as legendary as they are, you probably wouldn’t describe them as metal by today’s standards. I think that maybe the people there were expecting a different sort of metal than they got with Hawkwind, so by the time we came on we had an incredible reception. It was a complete privilege.”
Whilst undoubtedly arduous, it appears that putting in the hard miles and doing the graft has paid dividends for Conan, both in terms of recognition but also in terms of breaking new territory?
“Definitely. At the end of July I had a message fromHigh on Fire asking if we wanted to tour with them! They were on the road in Germany, France and Belgium. It was one of those tours that wasn’t planned but ended up working out brilliantly. One show that sticks in the mind was playing in a practice room at a lad’s birthday to, like, eight people! It was an amazing gig! This lad was like “Can you play at my birthday? I can sort you guys with a hotel and I can make a small contribution to the band and…” We were like: “Let’s do this!” So there’s us three, this lad and seven mates in one room. It was an amazing gig!”
You also spent some time this year in Australia. How was that for you?
“Oh man, it was amazing! We flew into Perth – that was a weird show. The people were cool as fuck but the place was quite strange. I can’t quite put my finger on it but, you know, a great place, although strange. We then flew on to Brisbane and that show was absolutely incredible. From there we went down to Sydney and we did two shows in one day and, to be honest, I was nearly fucked from the jet lag by that time. To be honest, part of it was my own fault. When we arrived in Perth, rather than get some sleep, we stayed up past 1am and then there was a fire alarm in the hotel so when we needed to get some sleep we couldn’t get it, so it was no wonder it all caught up with us come the time we got to Sydney.
“Australia is great though. To me, Australia seems like a cooler version of the UK. People seem similar and there is a similar sense of humour and outlook on life. There’s a similar culture and when we got there, we were just coming into their Spring so the weather was like the weather in the UK….”
How does their underground scene compare to the UK do you think?
“Oh, I think it’s really cool, man. The crowds might be a bit smaller but they are totally crazy (and) everyone appears to be really grateful that you have travelled over to see them. There are some great bands knocking around the scene as well, bands likeCement Pig, Yanomamo, Horsehunter – all of whom are really good. There’s a lot going on and in the strangest places too. In Sydney we were asked to play an illegal squat show which was a bit random; I think the guy who had arranged it was disappointed with the numbers that had turned up but it was during the day and those that came were crazy for it. The show in the evening was equally good so the experience has been a positive one. In Melbourne, we played a little warehouse as big as this dressing room (imagine a room 8ft x 8ft, readers) and it was fucking crazy – everyone getting their tits out and going mad for it.”
Despite the progress and the constant opportunity to work in support of the record, it is now fairly well documented that not everything in the Conan garden was as rosy as one might have expected. Jon is understandably cautious about overstating the band’s issues but equally it is clear that decisions around the band’s personnel were coming to a head.
Jon explains: “It was the tour with High on Fire that we decided that we needed to replace Paul (O’Neil, Drums). It was a decision that we knew we had to make. Equally it was a decision that we didn’t want to make so it was something that we discussed and then decided that we would take our time over it and not rush into things. We agreed that we would discuss the matter again after the tour of Australia to see whether we all felt the same way. After the tour it was clear that there were still issues and we decided to part ways.”
It’s clear that the detail of this will respectfully remain between the protagonists. Whilst this was obviously a difficult decision for the band, the arrival of Rich Lewis has given them another fillip. There’s a genuine sense of the last-gang-in-town camaraderie with these guys.
In listening to Jon, you could be forgiven for thinking that this life as a professional musician is all a bit of an easy ride, though the harsh realities of today’s music business suggest that it is anything but. Having now given up his day job from the family business where he earned his keep as an HR Manager, Davis now devotes all of his time to the Conan crusade, either in terms of recording, playing live or selling merchandise. “Everything I do with Conan goes back into my home and my family” he says and you’re left with a very real sense that his love for his art is matched by his love and dedication for his family.
A brief sojourn to Metal Hammer Paradise on the Baltic coast awaits the trio and then it’s back into the studio for more recording. “We are going to do some new material in November” says Jon, “it’s likely to be an EP ready for June next year. We have FudgeTunnel’s blessing for covering one of their tracks which is brilliant. Our next album is scheduled for 2016 – we want to be busy but we don’t want to kill ourselves!”
In talking with Jon it is clear that he is a man who is massively driven but equally self-aware enough to know that this lifestyle may not last. His passion for his art shines throughout our discussion; he has as good a knowledge of the underground scene as anyone I have met and still has that childlike glint in the eye when talking about his own music, music that excites him and the possibilities for the future. “Deciding to go full time with Conan was one of the best decisions I have made. I get so much more out of doing this than I used to do with my day job but I know I’m a very lucky man.”
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