Becoming A Doom Icon In Your 40’s – An Interview With Conan
Conan is a national goddamn treasure of the UK, and I don’t care what you have to say about it. I’ve known frontman Jon Paul Davis since I was 17-years-old, and he has always been incredibly kind and decent to me. However, this was the first time in years I had had a chance to sit down with him. This meeting was especially interesting considering the sludge masters’ shift from ‘just another doom band’ to one of the most important groups in the genre today. Crushingly powerful and endlessly exciting, it’s hard to separate yourself from this latent majesty.
After all – they are uncontested in their status as best band to ever come from Liverpool – right?
How the hell are you?
Really good. This is our first run of shows with our new drummer Michael and so far so good. Obviously me and Chris have toured together a lot but having someone totally new in the setup is something you have to get used to but it’s been going well so far.
Can you outline the Conan drummer situation? There are mixed things being passed around…
We parted ways with Rich in May. We made an announcement when we started working with his replacement; he’s ready to go and we will make an announcement soon. In private it’s all sorted, we’re just waiting to announce it. We deliberately kept it quiet because we didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. We have no hard feelings, it just didn’t work out. Like we always have done we will move on with our best foot forward. It hasn’t caused us any harm. Everyone knows Rich is supremely talented and we will miss his playing style. Sadly it didn’t work out. We are excited about what’s to come though!
When we met when I was 17…
You didn’t have a beard!
You didn’t have long hair!
At the time though you were still a fairly small band, but in the last few years you have skyrocketed – why is that and how does that feel?
It feels great. It feels the same way as when we first started out. I feel as excited and enthused as I did then. The possibilities for growth and experimentation and fun is there as it always has been. We just keep going at it the way we always have. What has changed is the expectations of us. We have to have a more professional outlook now. In certain moments we need help with certain things – we always handled it ourselves in the beginning. Usually we’re not just driving to play a half hour set then going home. Now we usually are flying somewhere or are on tour in our own vehicle. It just feels really exciting still to be part of a cool music scene. I think Conan has become more popular by the same mechanism as any band. It’s a little luck, hard work and having a certain style which people seem to like. We showcase that by playing as much as we can. We have a good booking agent in most areas which enables us to access certain shows and be in front of certain people and build up a fanbase. You know – you work with bands. It’s probably 20% luck, 5% talent and 75% hard work.
What attracts people to Conan?
Within this genre we have a unique sound. I’m not saying we don’t sound like anyone else. Of course there are similarities with bands we look up to, but we don’t ape other bands. A lot of bands in our peer group might sound similar to certain godfathers of the genre, and I don’t think we have fallen into that trap. By design and luck we have managed to avoid doing that. People value that. It makes them feel like we are a little unique.
It’s like Bell Witch – you take up a style and push it further than anyone else would dream…
I would agree. We have a mindset and push it as far as we can. We are really into riff based heavy metal, and we strip that down quite a lot. We basically play Nirvana riffs tuned down to drop F.
Something that’s been interesting to watch as someone who has watched your band come up is that you have shifted into being a doom metal icon. Conan has become an entry level band to the genre and people make cartoons of you! What is it like to be someone batting on the same level as Matt Pike at the age of 41?
Well Matt Pike is an icon to me! If people think of me in that sense it’s a real honor. It doesn’t change my approach or how I see the band – it’s fucking cool. It’s not why you started the band, but it’s a nice byproduct of what we’re doing. Getting stopped and people asking for photographs or speaking highly of you in reviews is really nice. My reward is just playing it. That’s where I get my enjoyment is being onstage playing. That’s where I’m happiest. The offshoots of that are cool.
You’ve shifted from having a normal job to doing music constantly – what does that feel like?
It’s been fun. We’ve not suffered really in terms of my day to day routines. I have kids and have to be available for them, and when I’m not on tour I’m taking them to school and stuff like that. Initially I dropped my job down to a few days a week. And then I was able to slowly drop it off more and more and I didn’t need it at all. The studio was as much responsible for that as Conan. Obviously Chris and I have a recording studio, Skyhammer Studio in England. It’s important for bands in our peer group because Chris is a very talented producer who understands the sound people want to have. It’s been an interesting transition but I’ve always been a business headed person. I’ve always had crazy business ideas. It started out as a hobby, but now there is more going on on a business level. That brings its own intricacies but it hasn’t made life more difficult. It’s almost like a business that doesn’t feel like you’re at work. You’re working for yourself. It’s cool. I haven’t really noticed the transition to be honest. It’s only now and again – I’ll take my youngest daughter out for toast and we’ll have a cup of tea and I’ll think, “This is amazing – last week I was on tour and now I’m taking my daughter out for coffee” I have a lot of time to do what I want to do with my life and it feels great!
Many thanks to Jon for the interview. Conan’s Man Is Myth compilation drops next month. Pre-order it here.