Interview by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
We chatted with Jon Davis of Liverpool Caveman Battle Doom band Conan at Brutal Assault about playing at European festivals, their music, classic computer games and life-after-death in the form of a hologram.
Alan: Hi Jon. Nice to meet you. So, have you performed at Brutal Assault before?
Jon: No, but I have been wearing a Brutal Assault neckchain with my car keys on it for two years now. We toured with High On Fire and they played here in 2014, so I’ve been hoping we could play here for a while. We thought if it was suitable for them, it might be suitable for us as well. It’s a cool place.
Alan: I have to confess that we missed your show last night because of delays getting our passes. So tell us how it went…
Jon: It was great. We couldn’t really see the crowd too much because of the lights in there shining in our faces, but the show itself was really good. We’re quite used to playing at festivals now. Up until quite recently, we’ve played in clubs mainly. We played Hellfest and Roadburn a couple of times, so we’re staring to get used to playing on the festival circuit as the businessmen would call it. Playing here last night felt really good. The set up was really quick. We only had twenty minutes to get ready, and I think we stuck to our time just-about.
Alan: Maybe compare Brutal Assault to Hellfest? We’re based in Ireland so we’re more familiar with UK festivals like Bloodstock and Download.
Jon: We played Bloodstock once. We played Hellfest once. And unless I’m missing something really obvious, we haven’t played many other large outdoor festivals. We played ieperfest in Belgium which was a hardcore festival. That’s quite big and similar in feel to this. But this is the first time we’ve really done a proper festival season run. Over the course of four weeks, we’re playing eight to ten festivals.
Alan: What’s next?
Jon: Our next festival is Sauzipf Rocks in Austria. Then we play Summer Breeze in Germany, and then Motocultor in France. Then we head home after that. We would always play small clubs and drive ourselves. We’re one of those bands who have started from scratch and here we are playing on larger stages, sharing a tour poster with some of the big name bands with the big production and who turn up in a nightliner. And we turn up in a van that we bought ourselves from our merch sales. We drive ourselves and we don’t have a sound guy. We think that’s really important. Festivals like this need bands like us to remind them about where bands actually start out. We worked very hard and I think a lot of people probably respect us for that and I’m quite proud of ourselves, you know, coming from Liverpool. From playing the Dock road in Liverpool to being invited to play festivals like this and sharing the stage with a lot of cool bands that I actually really like.
Alan: A lot of big bands have come from Liverpool. Who would you rate the highest from Liverpool?
Jon: Well, Carcass. It’d be obvious to mention them. But then again you’ve got other bands who maybe don’t have the same level of exposure. They haven’t had quite that pinch of luck that they need. You’ve got bands like Coltsblood who are active now. Ninkharsag, a black metal band from Liverpool. Cult of the Head which is another band that is born from the members of Ninkharsag. And some other bands. There’s probably six or seven others. It’s quite a healthy place, but no more than other cities. Everyone mentions the Beatles and Billy Fury.
Jon: They’re not a band that I would listen to much, so I wouldn’t really mention them, but they’re obviously successful.
Alan: So your show was yesterday, but you’re still here, so are you staying for the entire festival?
Jon: Well, we’re staying here today because we have nothing else to do. We’re going to have a look at the Ossuary Bone Church.
Alan: Oh yeah, we were there a couple of days ago.
Jon: A couple of us have seen it before, but I’ve not seen it. We were thinking of going later on, but we’ve all had a few drinks now so we’ll probably wait here a little while longer. Today we’ve just been ambling around, drinking and eating food. Tomorrow we’re driving to Austria. That’s another day off. We’re driving about 800km and then staying overnight.
Alan: Did you get to catch any of the bands here today or yesterday?
Jon: I’ve seen snippets of lots of different bands. I saw Abbath playing yesterday. And Chelsea Wolfe.
Alan: Are you camping?
Jon: No. We were given accommodation by the festival yesterday and we’ve arranged something for ourselves tonight. So we’re not camping. We’re too old for that!
Alan: Maybe you can tell us a bit about your music for those that haven’t heard it?
Jon: I think Dave Grohl once said that if you really want to be serious about playing in a band, you should just be in your garage and be shit for a bit and just keep going at it until you get good. And I think we started out like that and we messed about for years in our practice room in our friend’s cellar and then we got to the point where we wrote some songs and we recorded them, and then we were able to tour. And here we are now playing the larger festivals. We play pretty simple heavy metal with cool themes based around sword and sorcery and mythology and old computer games and stuff like that. And we draw on influences which aren’t controversial. We don’t try to sound evil. We’re just an honest heavy metal band who play heavier and slower than most.
Alan: You mention old computer games as one of your inspirations. I saw on your Facebook page you have a nice little 8-bit graphic of yourselves as your profile picture. Any story behind that?
Jon: There’s no real story behind that. I saw some guy had posted it on instagram, so I just asked him for a JPG, and he sent it. But that’s in line with the sort of games that I would play. Like Rambo or Commando or Cannon Fodder.
Alan: What was your first console?
Jon: I remember having an Atari that plugged straight into the TV…
Alan: Atari 2600?
Jon: I honestly can’t remember.
Alan: Cartridges on the top. Red button on the joystick?
Jon: Yes. I remember playing Frogger. That tennis game. Then I moved onto a Commodore 64. Then I had an Amiga. Then the first PC I ever had was a Hewlett Packard Pavillion, and the CD with Microsoft Windows 95 came preloaded with the video for ‘Buddy Holly’ by Weezer. I remember watching that, and that was the first time I was ever on the internet.
Alan: So if Conan were to create a computer game, what would it be?
Jon: It would be a bit like Operation Wolf but instead of using a machine gun, you would throw axes at the screen.
Alan: You mean you would throw real axes at the screen?
Jon: That would be awesome. Throw axes at real people. If that was legal, I’d be well into that.
Alan: Last week, Dio Disciples played at Wacken and they had a hologram of Ronnie James Dio on stage with them. It was a big surprise, and had been in the works for twelve months. Did you hear about that?
Jon: Wow. I didn’t know that.
Alan: What do you think about the idea of bringing someone back from the dead as a hologram on stage?
Jon: I think it’s inevitable, but I don’t like it. I think it takes the honesty out of music. I mean, if he’s dead, which he is, then don’t try to recreate him in any way because that’s not really going to do his legacy any good. I’d rather remember someone as being awesome than think of them as a hologram on stage at some festival in Germany.
Alan: I’ve read some interviews you have done in the past where you mention overcoming your fear of death. How would you feel about overcoming death by living on as a hologram?
Jon: I think it’d be a bit weird. I think once you’re dead, you’re dead. I think your spirit lives on in those things you’ve created in life. I think it’d be a bit weird if they brought a hologram of me back on stage. If they did, I’d hope they’d make me a bit better looking and a bit thinner. It’s an interesting idea and a cool way to use technology, let’s face it. But I’m not sure whether my kids would enjoy seeing me as a hologram on stage, and if Ronnie James Dio was my dad, I probably would rather not see that. So I guess it depends on who you ask. I’d like my kids to watch videos of me playing when I was in my pomp, rather than watching a hologram of me in modern day pretending to be alive. You may as well just get a hologram of me at the dinner table or walking them to school in the morning. Where do you stop? It’s a bit of a gimmick.
Alan: If you could give your 18 year old self some advice, what would it be?
Jon: My advice would be “Eat a bit less, but do everything else the same”. Because my 18 year old self wanted this for me when I’m 40. And I’m 40 now. Actually when I was 15/16, I promised myself I’d play on a stage in a band and play shows. So I’d probably look at him and say I did you proud there. That’s all I wanted to do when I was a young lad. So if I was going to give myself any advice it’d be “Keep at it”.
Alan: That’s pretty cool. What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on the road?
Jon: There’s probably loads of stories that aren’t even that crazy. I won’t say which one of our band members pissed all over me one night in bed because he was sleep-walking, and he’d only just joined the band. That’s probably the craziest story. We’re pretty boring. We drive ourselves. We don’t drink much. We don’t take drugs. And we’re in bed by 11:30. Sorry, there’s nothing really crazy going on. Save that question for Abbath, or someone.
Alan: Well, we’re out of time. It was a pleasure to talk to you. Enjoy the rest of the day.
Jon: We will. All I’ve done is drink coffee and whiskey today, and I’m in line for another whiskey!