Last time SoundShock spoke with Liverpool’s Conan, the band were sitting backstage at Damnation Festival 2011, relaxing ahead of their 4:00pm performance. Steadily gaining a UK fanbase at the time, the three-piece had just released a split EP with Slomatics a few months earlier that put them on the musical map. With all things going rather well these days, Calum Robson caught up with the band to find out how they’re handling a new phase in their careers.
Conan the Barbarian is the sort of character you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong end of, if he were real of course. The mighty fictional warrior is a strong and determined natural leader of men who would have you decapitated in an instant if you got between him and his primary conquest. The guy was even spawned on a battlefield, but born a son of a mere village blacksmith. Liverpool act Conan might not chop your head off, but they certainly have their own means to lay down their primitive authority. It comes raining down in a molten shower of immovable doom metal, and much like the barbarian character they are inspired by, they’ve come from a relatively unknown setting to create a quite a stir and bring doom to all who cross their path. First album ‘Monnos’ was released at the beginning of April this year and it has proved popular – so popular that the band has recently toured outside the UK, played Roadburn Festival and had endless positive feedback. “It doesn’t seem real,” says drummer Paul O’Neil. “We’re just three mates who happen to be in a band and listen to heavy music, and suddenly we’re writing heavy music and people seem to like it. It’s weird, there’s nothing pre-meditated about it.”
As modest as the three-piece are about their success, they have spindled their own web of doom that stands on its own in the much-divided arena of styles. When they started out, a local promoter dubbed them as ‘Caveman Battle Doom’ – a term that still sticks, and a one they have no problem with. It seems to fit in quite well with their aesthetics if anything. “We want the songs to sound as though they are written by and sung by someone with limited intelligence, who also has access to equipment that makes it sound good,” guitarist and vocalist Jon Davis says. “Imagine Conan, if he were a musician,” adds his band-mate O’Neill.
The barbarian himself would be proud of the final product the three-piece come out with. But getting to that final, impressive point of accomplishment is something that requires a consistent method. Conan usually head into the studio with the majority of their ideas solidified and the framework of their songs established, without any demoing. But with last song ‘Invincible Throne’ from ‘Monnos’, the band made significant changes in the studio before its completion. “Most of it that we took to the studio stayed pretty much as we’d written it but then when we did ‘Invincible Throne’,” says Davis. “It was just a collection of riffs and it sounded random. When we went in, we thought ‘yeah, that’ll do’, but when we got there it was obvious that, compared to the other songs that we’d heard back through the monitor speakers, it needed to be sorted.”, “I was fucking playing and I was thinking to myself ‘shit, what the fuck am I doing here?!’ O’Neill laughs. “It needed a new format. It wasn’t like we stripped it apart and spent hours reworking it, we just kinda went ‘this can go there, this can go there and that can go there.’”
The end product, no matter how unlikely, became a vivacious force of energy – a galleon of monstrous force chugging forward in powerful strides of crunching doom. But amid the heavy, carnal sound is Conan’s ambition to take the listener to a different time and place away from modern society through their lyrical themes and album imagery. “We like escapism when we play,” Davis says. “You close your eyes and you can picture Tony Roberts’ artwork and that is quite inspiring, so what we would like other people to do is join us in that. Our music is quite nerdy I suppose because it refers to a lot of things that the mainstream probably wouldn’t be into, like Jason And The Argonauts, and it’s for people who feel the same way about those kind of things and are able to imagine that.”
Conan are, in this respect, a heavy mystery to be interpreted by the listener in their own way. Whether it’s monotonously gyrating your neck muscles with ‘ugg’ chants or being taken away on a mental journey to a landscape where a native species fight technological warriors from another star system, Conan’s music has the criteria to meet your invented mind-escape. The band have a successful songwriting process when it comes to making that all-important atmosphere too. “The lyrics come quite a long time after the songs are written,” Davis reveals. “We’ll write it to the point where we can jam it. First of all we have to work out where they fit, so I’ll just shout anything to work out what syllables we need. Then we get those syllables and we work out each vocal line. I actually have the original recording of ‘Satsumo’ (from first EP ‘Battle In The Swamp’) and the line I was shouting for that was ‘something, something… and a bottle!’”
Regardless of whether their pre-lyric, phonetic bawling makes sense or not, it’s clear Conan have found a rhythm of form that translates into fresh ideas on record and the on live stand. But does that mean the band will exclusively stick to what they know in future? “We could turn into a djent, skiffle band – we know what won’t happen!” says Davis. “But we’re just starting to work on some new songs now. 2012 is the third year since we started recording properly and that was our third release, so we want to try and make each release better and heavier.”
The only other stylistic continuity they guarantee – other than getting heavier – is of course, being loud. “Because we’re not particularly complicated in what we play – apart from the drums – the louder it is the better,” says Davis. “It’s not necessarily the key to the sound, but it’s got to be loud.”
Photos by Lucy Adlington.