Conan Interview with Jon Davis: “Hither Came the Cimmerian to Tread the Jeweled Thrones of the Earth Under His Feet”

The above quote, adapted from Robert E. Howard‘s The Phoenix on the Sword, more or less sums up the mission of UK doomers Conan. Throw something in there about playing slow and loud and piling riffs like cinderblocks on the ribcages of their listeners, and you’d be right in there.

Conan‘s first full-length, Horseback Battle Hammer (vinyl through Throne Records, CD on Aurora Borealis), remains one of the heaviest records I’ve heard all year. It is thunderous — not the way you think of music as thunderous, but literally like thunder — and in just four songs, the trio of Jon Davis (guitar), John (bass/vocals) and Paul (drums) manages to roar onto the international stage, crushing those in their path with massive, amplified undulations.

As Davis‘ guitar is such a huge part of what makes Horseback Battle Hammer so incredibly heavy, I just had to ask how he managed to get that tone. Not only does he lay out his full gear setup, but in our interview, he also discusses how the band got together, their plans for shows and recording through the end of the year, and just how he sees Conan growing in the future.

You’ll find the Q&A after the jump. Doom on.

How did Conan get together, and how did the concept of the band come about? What was it about the work of Robert E. Howard that inspired you?

Well actually, the name Conan came around really early on when I was jamming ideas with another guy called Richie Grundy. We had some pretty awful names back then and one day I was just thinking of changing the name to something that embodied the musical ideas I had and all of a sudden the name Conan came about. I didn’t think it would be available so checked the internet and seemingly there was no other band with the same name, so I got the website set up in record time, before I even told Richie we had changed the name!!! I would say that we aren’t actually all about the character Conan as I believe that other bands are already on it (like Crom and The Gates of Slumber) and they have some awesome stuff. I prefer to see us as writing songs as Conan rather than about Conan, if you get me? Like for example our songs are more like, “Smashing my enemy’s face off with a battle hammer” rather than, “Conan smashes his enemy’s face off with a battle hammer.”

What went into the writing process for Horseback Battle Hammer? How long were you working on the album, and with songs so massive-sounding, what goes into the arrangements and actually putting the pieces together?

The writing process for Horseback Battle Hammer was pretty longwinded actually. I originally had “Krull” and “Satsumo” as part of a demo called Battle in the Swamp (with two other tracks named “Battle in the Swamp” and “Temple of Mu”) that was recorded in Crash Studios in Liverpool (in 2006, I think) with me on guitar and vocals and Richie Grundy on drums. We decided that we wanted to be a two piece at that stage – wall of amps, simple drums etc., however, Richie couldn’t really play shows as he worked in a factory so we ground to a halt. We went our separate ways and I fucked around for about a year trying different drummers and then I met Paul through a music forum. Straight away Paul was into it and we dusted off “Battle in the Swamp” and jammed on a couple of new tracks. One of these new tracks stuck with us and became “Sea Lord.” We played a couple of shows our first one was gave us the name two piece caveman doom which gave rise to the Caveman Battle Doom “genre.” However in March/April 2008 I had to put it on ice as I got a job that involved too much travel. Late in 2008, I discussed setting up a new band with John McNulty that eventually became Horn [MySpace here] with Andrew Freeney of Zangief on drums. This collaboration gave rise to a few pretty heavy tunes, much slower and heavier than the Conan tunes, tuned lower too. Towards spring 2009 I spoke to Paul O’Neill again about getting Conan up and running again and he was up for it. We had some rehearsals and decided to record the tunes we had at that time (“Battle in the Swamp,” “Krull,” “Satsumo” and “Sea Lord”). During these rehearsals we decided to ask John McNulty if he wanted to join in and he agreed. John played with us and we booked a session at Foel Studios in Wales to record the songs. As November 2009 approached we decided to drop “Battle in the Swamp” and with Andrew Freeney’s kind permission we used “Dying Giant” instead as it fitted better with the other tunes. We also decided to tune a bit lower (the original Conan recording from 2006 were played in dropped B I think, we decided to go down to dropped F to fatten the sound out a bit further). This tuning seemed to really help the songs, and with the added octave below from the bass the songs took on a whole new dimension – we were really happy with them. When in the rehearsals with John we reworked some of the riffs, for example the original ending for “Krull” slayed a lot less than the current one and there were parts of “Dying Giant” that were tweaked for maximum effect. When we got to the studio we added some bits to the songs also, for example at the end of “Sea Lord” you might be able to hear a Hammond Organ and we added the wah/noise bit on “Sea Lord” too, as an improvisation. The bit we really like too is the intro to “Krull” which is a reverse cymbal crash that oscillates and sounds fucking mad at loud volumes. We got this idea from a Black Sabbath tune.

How did the release through Aurora Borealis come about?

We recorded the album and sent it to a few labels including 20 Buck Spin, Throne Records, Relapse, Southern Lord, etc., and almost all of them showed interest but Uge from Throne seemed the most enthusiastic and this helped us decide pretty much straight away that it was him we wanted to release the vinyl through. The next step was releasing it on CD (as Throne only sells vinyl). Uge was kind enough to put us in touch with a few of his contacts and Andrew Hartwell from Aurora Borealis took an interest. We actually had two or three other offers for the CD release but Andrew seemed like the best fit for us. Once he heard a couple of the tracks he made us an offer and the rest is history.

How conscious of pace were you when you ordered the songs? The EP seems to have a genuine flow despite going from fast to slow and back again.

You may notice that “Satsumo” has its speedier sections and I was listening to the original recordings of this the other day (some old pre-Battle in the Swamp demos of Richie Grundy and I) and I can remember now telling him when to slow down and when to speed up – at that point it was very deliberate. Then if you think of “Krull” it’s pretty much very slow until the end. That was deliberate too and I remember the original riff we used at the end. With “Sea Lord” and “Dying Giant” – “Sea Lord” is pretty much the same tempo all the way through while the tempo changes in “Dying Giant” were originally a happy accident during a Horn rehearsal. We have some new stuff now that we are working on and while we don’t want to play everything as slowly as possible we don’t want to over complicate things as I guess our charm is our sluggishness – for me slower music is generally “heavier” or at least that is how I think of it when listening to the bands that influence me. In terms of the order of the songs on the album, we knew we wanted to start it with a slow one to set the tone of the album and then the rest just sort of clicked into place without much thought. The “pace” of the songs works quite well actually, with the mid-paced ending to “Krull” leading into “Satsumo” – aside from that we just went by feel.

Let’s go track by track. Tell me about how the writing went, how the songs relate to the Conan theme, or anything else you want:


This is an old track, musically we wanted to create a very slow song that was influenced greatly by the album Flooding the Wier by Slomatics, a band which has been a massive influence on me. Lyrically the song is about mountains and the film Krull which was an awesome sci-fi movie.


Again this song was one of the originals and musically I wanted to create something that stops and starts from fast to slow. When Paul joined he helped make the faster bits a lot heavier – he improved that song a lot. Lyrically, it was just shouting in tune for a few months then I got an idea about the scene in Clash of the Titans where the princess is saved from the Kraken. I imagined what it would be like if she didn’t survive and to see her sink to the bottom of the sea, to join the other corpses.

“Dying Giant”

This is a song written by John, Freen and I when we were in Horn, and musically it’s almost like an oscillation of riffs. The drum fills and stuff were Freen’s idea originally but the drums that come into the first “faster” section are Paul’s idea and kind of happened by accident one time. Freen’s drumming on the original demo of this song is amazing, and Paul really captured what Freen did and added his own style too, which is cool.

“Sea Lord”

We like playing this as it’s kind of trippy after a while with the amps on full. The wah section near the end was a recording studio improvisation and the lyrics are based on an old Danish Viking tribute to a victorious king.

What was it like recording at Foel Studio? The facility looks gorgeous on their website. How long were you there and what were some of the highlights for the band?

I remember seeing Foel Studios when I was looking for a studio to record some Horn stuff in. I simply had to record there, it had a great (and deserved) reputation.

This was the first decent studio for me and it was amazing. The first night I got drunk on Sambuca and Duvel and nearly didn’t make it to the first session the following day. Each day felt like we were in a dream world with all this amazing gear and the setting is just brilliant. Back that up with the knowledge and all round impressiveness of Chris Fielding who was our engineer and being able to chat shit about cats and cars with Dave Anderson (Hawkwind, Groundhogs) and you have all the recipes for a musician’s dream. We were there for three days and for me the highlights were listening to John do the vocals for “Dying Giant” and “Krull” as it was the first time I had heard anyone sing over one of the Conan songs – I loved it and I think it started to dawn on me that this record was going to sound pretty good. Another defining moment was when we finished mastering it at like 4AM (I was in work at 7AM), we listened to the CD all the way home and we decided there and then that we would definitely try and release it. That was awesome.

Tell me about your guitar tone and how it developed. What equipment are you using on Horseback Battle Hammer to get that huge sound?

Ok, I am a gear nerd so bear with me here:

Guitar – Gordon Smith SG1.
Pedals – DAM Sonic Titan, DAM Meathead Deluxe, some weird Czech Wah pedal.
Amps – Matamp GT200 bass head (Guitar Channel 1) and a Sunn Model T (Guitar Channel 2).
Cabs – Unnamed 4×12 (I think an old Sound City) with a Matamp 2×15 (both channels).

I think the tone sounded pretty good to the ear in the studio but all the magic came from Chris. He did an amazing job of getting that sound out of it all. I don’t know what he did, but I am really happy that people like it. It sounds just like we wanted/hoped it would. We wanted to make an album that we ourselves would be into if we weren’t actually in the band (because initially the recording was done just so we could have a copy for our own personal use).

Will Conan tour? Are there any plans for shows outside the UK?

We actually are doing a four-date tour of the north of England in November supporting Charger and have some shows in Cardiff, London and Liverpool coming up in November too. We were due to play a small tour in France in November too but we struggled to tie down the venues so had to cancel it. We would love to tour outside of the UK, but haven’t sorted anything yet.

What’s next in terms of recording? Will you do a longer full-length, or continue with shorter releases? Where do you see the band’s sound going?

Our next session is at Foel Studios in December for a split 12” with Slomatics. This is being released on Head of Crom Records (which is quite an apt name). In terms of the sound, I think we will continue in the same vein to be honest. From my perspective, I will write songs that I would love to hear other bands play – sort of like writing my perfect song. If other people like that then it’s awesome. Currently, I am still loving slow and low so it’s the way I will write for the foreseeable future. We have neither the inclination (nor do I have the skills) to write overly complex songs with loads of solos and stuff so I doubt it will change much.

Live photos courtesy of Lee Edwards –

Conan on MySpace

Aurora Borealis

Throne Records

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One Response to “Conan Interview with Jon Davis: “Hither Came the Cimmerian to Tread the Jeweled Thrones of the Earth Under His Feet””

  1. Henry says:

    Holy Lord. What tuning(s) are they in? “Satsumo” sounds like low F.

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