Conan returns to Westside Bowl

Conan frontman Jon Davis was sporting a Westside Bowl hoodie as he did a ZOOM interview Monday in support of the band’s return to the Youngstown venue.

“I thought I would represent for the interview,” Davis said from his home in England. “And it’s one of the only clean hoodies I have. All my clothes are in the wash from the tour.”

Davis got home at 5 a.m. that morning from a European tour with Conan, and he was leaving two days later for a North American tour that will bring the band back to Westside Bowl on Wednesday.

Touring can be a blur of cookie cutter venues for any act that spends as much time on the road as Conan does, but the bowling alley turned entertainment complex made an impression — for multiple reasons — when Conan played there last year.

“I remember walking into the bowling alley itself and being hit with conflicting emotions,” Davis said. “My 8-year-old daughter and I go bowling once a week — either that or the trampoline park, and my knees can’t take that anymore. Walking into Westside Bowl, I had to take a look around. I kept expecting my daughter to be around me asking for a chocolate bar or an ice cream.

“Nathan (owner Nate Offerdahl) was really a good guy. We struck up a good friendship in the limited amount of time we got to talk. He is one of those promoters who makes touring more pleasurable because they’re personable. And it’s in a bowling alley, which makes it memorable too … It was the show we spoke about the most (on that tour).”

Conan describes its music as “Caveman battle doom” metal, and it has created a thunderous rattle over five studio albums and multiple live sets since 2012. Even through tinny laptop speakers, the bottom end on “Prosper on the Path,” the opening track on its 2022 album “Existential Void Guardian,” sounds like a savage horde pounding on the gates of a castle before vanquishing everyone inside.

Davis, guitar and vocals, and Johnny King, drums, will be joined by a new bass player next week. David Ryley is doing his first North American tour with Conan, but he’s been playing with the band off and on since 2018 whenever former bass player Chris Fielding wasn’t available.

“He played bass in one of my favorite bands growing up, a band called Fudge Tunnel, a noise rock band from Nottingham, England,” Davis said. “As a young kid, I was listening to a lot of Nirvana and grunge, and Fudge Tunnel always grabbed me as being a little bit like that but heavier and punk … He stepped in to replace Chris on a couple of festivals, and it’s gone on from there. I feel lucky to have him in the band.”

The group isn’t estranged from Fielding. He decided to leave the band and stop touring, but he will be in the producer’s chair when Conan returns to the studio in the fall to record its next album.

“I have about 25 riffs from which we can build songs,” Davis said. “If they all turn into songs, which they often do, there’s a large potential catalog of material there. By September, hopefully we’ll have two albums or at least the bare bones of two albums, to take into the studio.”

Oftentimes, Fielding was his collaborator in the writing process. This time he won’t be involved until the band enters the studio, and Davis is curious to see how that impacts the next album.

It will be different than “Existential Void Guardian” regardless. Those songs were influenced by the anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most of the lyrics were written around the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Even though that influence is buried deep in the lyrics, it’s there for those who want to search for it, Davis said. And the whole reason he started a band called Conan and sings songs inspired by the Conan the Barbarian books and films and Norse mythology was to avoid writing about the modern world.

“It came from a desire to not write about me. In the bands I had prior to Conan, it was more indie rock. I was writing music similar to Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam or Ash, Nirvana — grungy, introspective, miserable teenager kind of stuff. When I started Conan, I wanted it to be a complete escape from reality … I wanted to write about stuff like the cool movies I enjoyed growing up and the cool computer games I played — sword and sorcery, mythology, Viking mythology. I’m not an expert in any of those things, but I’m still fascinated by them.

Davis also takes a more business-like approach than many of his contemporaries. Before Conan he worked as a human resources manager, a career he abandoned to focus on music full-time. But in the early years when touring wasn’t as lucrative, Davis had his own record label and a small recording studio. He also had a concert merchandise company called Atlantean.

He’s currently working on developing an app that performers, management companies and venue owners could use to network and connect.

“I get real pleasure out of the music, and that really scratches the itch in terms of creativity,” Davis said. “I think the part of my brain which was a problem solver in my HR career, I think if I was to let the grass grow long around that, I probably wouldn’t feel good about that. My nature inclination is to be businesslike in what I do.

“I want to do more than just write music. I want to do lots of stuff within the music industry. Leave a little bit behind, so when I get to the stage where I don’t want to tour like we do now, I want to have something else I can put my energy into, and I would hate to start that process later in life. I’d rather have it bubbling now so it’s ready when I’m ready to jump into that particular cockpit.”

If you go …

WHO: Conan, Early Moods, Morbikon, Psychic Trash and Axioma

WHEN: Doors open at 7 p.m. Wednesday and music starts at 7:30 p.m. with Axioma. Conan is scheduled to play at 10:45 p.m.

WHERE: Westside Bowl, 2617 Mahoning Ave, Youngstown

HOW MUCH: $20 in advance through Eventbrite and $25 day of show.


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