Jon Davis, guitarist and sole founder member of crushing Doom behemoth Conan, is one of the UK’s most hard-working, beloved and respected musicians; a man of both modesty and determination. Before their recent show in Manchester Ghost Cult quizzed him about their latest tours, their new set-up, and the forthcoming recording of their third album.
This is the penultimate date of an extensive UK tour – the first since your first ever trek to the US. How has this one compared to others?
There aren’t actually that many good places to play in the UK. We’ve had some amazing shows, but a couple of shit ones also – not naming names! There is a difference between playing in the UK & the US, and in Europe. The latter is very professional and business-like; the UK and the US slightly less formal. Over here we tend to drive home every night; we will tomorrow from Glasgow. It’s only four and a half hours so it’s not so bad.
There speaks a man who’s just driven across America! And then it’s straight to the studio?
We’re booked in around July / August time. We’ve a couple of standalone festival shows before then, plus shows in Sheffield, Nottingham and Oxford. Aside from that we’re just going to concentrate on writing the album, getting it finished and trying to get it to the label by September.
With such big international tours, it shows your profile has grown since second album Blood Eagle (Napalm). Does this increase the pressure on the new album?
I haven’t really noticed a difference. As we’re playing live more often we have to make more of the time we’ve got. What we’ll tend to do is get together in the studio and write a song every day or two, then record it in basic fashion. So we’ve got a demo of songs for the album by the time we hit the studio proper.
Things have really taken off since Blood Eagle, with much critical acclaim. Have the last couple of years seemed a bit of a whirlwind?
It seemed that way after Monnos (Burning World Records), our first album, and last year was our busiest year so far: we did over 80 shows, and must have been away from home for at least 100 days. So yes, but we’ve been in control of it. We really enjoy the touring, it’s tiring but rewarding and leaves us with a positive balance in our minds. We’re more in demand, and that’s what you want. I promised myself when I was fifteen or sixteen that I’d play guitar on stage. This venue [Manchester’s Star and Garter] is really important to me, because it’s the first place I played outside of Liverpool – we played here with Charger back in 2010. It was a big turning point for me, and ever since that gig we’ve embraced that energy.
Since Blood Eagle Conan has a new drummer and bassist. How has that affected the writing process?
The writing’s really good as all three of us are in the same room. Chris (Fielding, bass) and Rich (Lewis, drums) are both really good writers, but I don’t think they could write a Conan song yet without me being there. I don’t class myself as a good guitarist but I do have a certain style, which is to focus more on the drums and with the three of us in the room it works more easily. Chris has been our producer since day one, so he understands exactly where we’re coming from and if I write something, he can imagine just how it should sound and move it on. The core Conan sound won’t change; we’re just getting better.
So there’s more energy?
I’d say so. There’s more spontaneity; we’re able to use more of what we come up with so we don’t waste as much now. Rich is no stranger to bands, he’s a very accomplished musician, so having him in the band has been really beneficial. I’m really happy to have both guys in.
So what stage is the album at?
Four songs are demoed, and a release date penned in for January next year. So we’ll be quietish for the rest of this year, then next year we’ll get touring again properly. When we’re in the studio Chris is always the boss, and that’s the way it will stay this time. It must be a little different in his mind, now he’s actually playing bass also, but he doesn’t show it. Chris is actually a great guitar player, better than me by far, and he’s taken to the bass with ease.
And it’ll be out on Napalm, rather than your own label Black Bow?
Yeah. Napalm have a contract for our next two albums and, to be honest, I’m not sure it would be such a good thing to have Conan on my label as I need to separate the two. I also don’t think my operation’s big enough to sell the kind of amount that Blood Eagle did. I’d rather Black Bow was my business, and Conan my enjoyment.
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