CONJURER are one of the stand out bands of this year so far and there’s not even any music out to back up the claim, but such is the hype of debut album Mire that you’d be hard pushed to find someone who isn’t a fan of it. In the run up to what will be one of the records of 2018, we caught up with vocalist and guitarist Dan Nightingale to discuss how they’re coping with the hype, their label in Holy Roar Records and who controls their ever-amusing Twitter page…
The hype surrounding CONJURER and Mire has been nothing short of biblical recently – are you managing to keep on top of it?
Dan: I’m personally not, I’m really bewildered and pretty baffled by a lot of it! The kind of press we’re getting is nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’ve only been in much smaller bands before, but yeah it’s just kinda insane at the minute and I’m trying to take it all in as I can but every time I’ve processed one bit of news, there’s always something else that comes down the line and I think “Oh! I’ve got to get used to that now, okay!”
A number of people are heralding you in the same vein as bands like CODE ORANGE, EMPLOYED TO SERVE and MARMOZETS in terms of breaking new ground within heavy music. Does that ramp up the pressure for you at all?
Dan: Oh yeah, it’s mental! The thing is, we’ve known the EMPLOYED TO SERVE guys for a while and when we were recording the first EP we were not exactly shopping for labels but just looking around the scenes and stuff like that. We were always keeping on top of bands like ROLO TOMASSI and through them it was like “Oh, there’s this cool band called SVALBARD!” “Ooh, there’s this cool band called EMPLOYED TO SERVE!” and whatnot, so we we are fans of the bands on our label for a while before we got signed to them. That said they were much bigger than we are now a couple of years ago, and with CODE ORANGE getting the Grammy nomination and stuff like that, as much as I wouldn’t be as confident in saying we’re in the same league as those bands, it feels cool to be around at the same time as them and seeing how much they’re doing. It does seem to have come out of nowhere as well; I Am King (CODE ORANGE‘s previous record) came out and we thought “Okay, yeah, obviously big band” but over the last couple of years, basically since we’ve been a band, we realise that we’ve stumbled into something massive here, what’s going on?!’
This new ‘movement’ as such which encompasses all the bands mentioned before and so many more; has it come at the right time for metal and heavy music in general or do you think it could have done with arriving a little sooner?
Dan: The thing is, whether you think it could have come sooner or not, the fact that it’s come around at all is enough, because when Brady (Deeprose, vocalist/guitarist) and me were in our older bands, second rate metalcore bands, there wasn’t really anyone to follow and the ones that WERE there were dropping like flies. How we got CONJURER started – and how bands like EMPLOYED TO SERVE did – was looking around and thinking “Well…we can do what we want!” and I think from that time of there being so-called ‘scene deaths’, in that time of nothing going on, there was this dormant, almost bubbling of these different and multi-genre bands doing their thing and now you’re almost kinda seeing the lava coming over the top. It’s all been brewing and to me it’s come at the right time because if those bands had prematurely come about then you maybe wouldn’t be getting the quality that you see now, so I’m happy to have had that two/three/four year break where not a lot went on and then have it be like a laboratory experiment that’s been taking its time, building and building until now you have this massive explosion that we have at the minute.
You’re a band who juggle your career with full-time jobs like so many others; do you feel that, in this day and age, the dream with bands has shifted from selling out the biggest venues around the world to just being able to live off your passion?
Dan: Back in the day it was a lot of people were very ‘star in their eyes’ and like “Right, we wanna be the biggest band ever” and that’s not to say the ambitions have died down, everyone still has them, it’s just that we realise now that as much as the music industry isn’t dead, which a number of people say, it just isn’t ‘LINKIN PARK‘ days and that’s just how every industry goes. It has its ups and down and I think now it’s more a case that people are not trying to settle or coast, but they’re trying to balance everything evenly, it’s not a case of risking everything to do this stuff. It’s not that people aren’t willing to take those risks either, but those sorts of opportunities aren’t coming around as much any more and so a lot of bands have to make do with what they’ve got. Everything feels a little more DIY, people are still putting the same amount of passion into their projects but they’re also making sure they’re happy, getting by, not risking life and limb to do everything and for CONJURER, that balance is especially important to us. That’s not to say we wouldn’t take any bigger opportunities, of course we want to see the band grow and our peers likewise, but at the same time we’re aware of the risks and the state music’s in right now. It’s not jumbo jets flying everywhere, no-ones going to have that sort of expense any more.
So Mire – firstly, what an incredible record. You must be even more proud of it than ever!
Dan: Yeah, I mean we kinda saw Mire as somewhat of a fresh start; when a band goes and does their first EP they’re not going to have the finished product on the first go and I don’t even consider Mire the finished product but it’s all about getting as close to that a possible and Mire‘s a lot closer to what we want than what the EP was. So long as everything grows closer to what we want then I’m happy with it. Seeing the response we’ve had so far, seeing people say it’s blown THEM away has blown US away more than they could ever imagine. You don’t really think about this kind of stuff, you just put it out there – when we’d finished the record and got everything sorted in terms of the artwork and stuff we thought “Right, that’s done, onto the next one!” But because it took a little while for it to all come together, it was almost in the back of our minds and now things are picking up it’s reminding us that we do need to focus on it for a bit, put the brakes on a bit.
A lot of this was written around the same time as [debut EP] I, wasn’t it?
Dan: Yeah, I think two, maybe three songs were. We just felt they could do with fleshing out a bit more, they’re weren’t quite as cohesive as the four songs that made the EP, so we put them on the shelf and came back to them later on and they then resurfaced on Mire. It feels weird because as Mire was written from practically the beginning of the band – it doesn’t exactly feel like a compilation but songs from three years ago are turning up on it. You see documentaries of bands who are in the studio with all their songs coming together in six months and we’re like “might need to work on that side of things”, [laughs]!
You’ve been very open in your talks about the eclecticism of your music tastes as a band. Are you taken aback at point by how many different styles creep into your songs here and there?
Dan: Well, we’ve never really sat and thought okay, well we’re going to have this, that and the other in here, it’s all just come about naturally, never a conscious decision. It’s more that we write the songs, we play them for people and they’ll come up to us and say “oh, this sounds like CONVERGE, this sounds like NEUROSIS, this sounds like BURNT FROM THE SUN etc” and half the bands they’ve mentioned we’ve never even listened to! It does mean that when it’s come to giving the band a genre and filling out the ‘For Fans Of’ sections we’ve kinda let other people decide for us because it’s never really worked when we’ve tried to do it ourselves! I mean, the general consensus is CONVERGE, NEUROSIS, MASTODON and GOJIRA, they’re the ones that pop up the most, but I spoke to our drummer when we were recording Mire and I said to him “is…is this all going to fit? Does this all kinda work?!” and he’d say “I think it’s more cohesive than you think it is”, and now that I listen back, it does feel that way. It is always interesting to see what people say we sound like and I agree that we do but it just happens, there’s never a decision to include all these influences, it’s what we feel on the day, that’s what comes out.
Give us an insight into your writing process as a band.
Dan: When it comes to writing, there is no structure. There’ll be times when I sit down at the guitar and I’ll say “I’m going to write something” and then a few hours I’ll have nothing and I’ll play some PS4 instead, but the times where I’m not really feeling it and I almost force myself to pick up my guitar and write something, I’ll come up with something really gnarly and gross. There’ll be times when I sit down to write something heavy and write something light, times where I want to write something really sad and come up with a happy melody. We kinda lead ourselves; as much as we want to write a certain type of thing, it just doesn’t work like that. We have to write what feels right, what we’re in the mood for. I’ll write whatever riffs or sections or phrases, chuck them into a guitar profile and send them over to Jan (drummer) because he’s much better at arranging and structuring than me and once we’ve got a foundation, something to jam out, we’ll take it into the practice room where Brady and Connor (Marshall, bass) will say “I think we should try this bit here”, so it’s all a step-by-step, building up process but it all kinda starts from my spare room.
Is there anything you’re particularly proud of on the record, be it from a whole song to a particular movement within one of the pieces?
Dan: Erm, I’m really proud of the first track which is the last one we wrote for it. A lot of the songs on I are all kinda angry but from a ‘confused about your own mental health’ view whereas Choke is a more full on. It’s not autobiographical, for once! There are other songs on the album that are more fantastical. Flesh Weaker Than Ash is Brady‘s composition about the universe and God and the like, influenced by Richard Dawkins whereas the closing track, Hadal, is about the abyssal zones underneath the sea. Otherwise most of the songs have been around personal issues; beforehand I never used to write that sort of stuff, but since being in CONJURER and going through mental health issues I felt that I should get this stuff out but Choke was more me being “nah, I’m just pissed off!” and although all the songs are inspired, I guess Choke comes to minds first because it was the most recent and because it’s getting closer and closer and closer to the sounds that we all agree on, but as well Thankless I really like – that’s full-ion delving into questioning yourself and going in the other direction. Sometimes we call it a bit of a whiny song because there’s a fair amount of emo influencing it and I’m proud of that as well because it’s the longest song we’ve done but it doesn’t feel like that so I’m proud of it because of the arrangement, structure and the journey it takes the listener on.
You recently released a 360 degree video for Retch via Kerrang! What attracted you to the concept of shooting it that way?
Dan: I honestly couldn’t tell you! We got into practice and Brady said “right, they want us to do a video for Retch, so I’ll get a 360 degree camera and we’ll do it in the practice room. It was just a case of “sod it, let’s do this, nice and easy”. We liked the idea of it being simple because it’s a punk song, a hardcore song and it just felt right. We did have ideas of using live shots from different performances and gig but we likes the idea of “nah, just bust it out”.
How important has it been for CONJURER to be a part of Holy Roar Records?
Dan: The most important. Going back to when we were talking about influences, there’s no one band or album that we all agree on as being a huge, huge influence, so for instance me and Brady will be massive on MASTODON when Jan (Krause, drums) won’t be and on YOB when Connor won’t be, that kind of thing. It’s very rare that all of us agree on one thing apart from maybe SYSTEM OF A DOWN’s Mezmerize and Hypnotize because we have them on a lot! But it’s hard to say that any one band influences us because whenever we play with bands they could have albums out, videos out, whatever and that may not do anything but there could be a live show that really sticks with us. An example of this is we played with a band called PRIMITIVE MAN and we don’t really listen to the music but we played with them and saw them live and there was a flick of the switch and we had a sense of “right, now we understand how you be heavy” and with the Holy Roar bands it’s been a case of learning from them, them being our biggest influences – playing with bands like EMPLOYED TO SERVE, OHHMS, WE NEVER LEARNT TO LIVE and SVALBARD; they’re the bands we gravitate towards and like I said before, we were gravitating towards those bands beforehand even when we weren’t on the label. Me and Brady attended Temples Festival in 2015 and SVALBARD were there and whilst we couldn’t check them out at the time like we wanted to, we made sure to buy their discography and check them out properly when we got home. As well as this, we wouldn’t know how to describe them. EMPLOYED TO SERVE aren’t just straight up hardcore, there’s more to them than that, same with OHHMS and doom metal and that’s what’s been so inspiring, just learning and them being subconscious teachers in a way, saying to us “if you want to do this certain thing, this is how you do it” but even then it’s not a case of ‘this is the standard’, it’s more a case of ‘this is how good we’ve done it and this is what you can do with this sort of thing’.
And particularly for a band like yourselves who have appeared on doom, hardcore, noise rock and many other kinds of bills, I guess for you it’s important that whilst CONJURER may have a central backbone, it’s about filling it out and fleshing it out is as many different ways possible so that you create something even more unique than anybody else around.
Dan: Yeah, I mean, kinda going way, way back – you look at bands like METALLICA, when they’re putting acoustic guitars on Ride the Lightning and everyone was saying “you can’t do that! You can’t taint the metal with acoustic guitars! It’s disgusting!” But now that’s the standard for use now so of course you can put acoustic guitars with metal, it sounds fantastic. We’re all bands that grew up with that mentality. On EMPLOYED TO SERVE’s latest record my favourite song is Apple Tree because it’s pure emo but so heavy and crushing as well. That’s the stuff you get drawn towards and we’ve been doing that anyway in all of our respective bands and doing whatever we want but growing with those bands, seeing them doing all those different things, it’s more of a pat on the back, like “yeah, it’s cool, we’re all doing it as well, we can do whatever we want all of us” and as cheesy as it sounds it is kinda like a family, everyone’s doing their own thing, they’re really strong at it and there’s nothing more inspiring. It gets us even more pumped up to be on a label with all these different bands and you realise you can do whatever you want.
As we come into land, I do want to ask; who controls your Twitter?
Dan: Oh that’s Brady, he takes full responsibility for that, [laughs]! Nothing that he says on Twitter reflects the opinions of the rest of CONJURER at all, it’s him!
There’s a real organic vibe about CONJURER’s feed as well; you’re not just chatting about your releases and your shows, you’re plugging other bands and conversing with fans through the account as the vast majority of other people do. Would you say that this is approachability factor has contributed to the frenzy that’s kicked up around you?
Dan: Yeah, we’ve said before that if I was in charge of it we wouldn’t be anywhere where we are now! As much as we begrudge some of the things Brady says because he can be really cheesy and cheeky, that’s what we love him for. He’s more down to earth than me, he just likes to have fun, be real with people and it’s his own thing and I don’t really pay attention to that kind of stuff because sometimes he does get really silly but if it’s keeping him happy and helping the band grow then, you know, whatever!
CONJURER have just been announced for 2000 Trees which is wicked and is another festival to add to your already impressive CV. Is it the only place you’ll feature this summer without giving too much away?
Dan: [laughs], you’ve put me on the spot, yeah I think I need to keep hush on this one, be a good boy!
Do you think your love and desire to play as many places as possible around the country was born out of there being very little in the way of venues in your local areas?
Dan: Oh yeah, Brady and me especially! Jan’s from the same town as me and Connor’s just a little bit further out, just outside Rugby, but for me and Brady in Rugby and Daventry there’s nothing. We did have our own metal nights – I think Brady’s was called Phoenixfest because it was held in a Phoenix Centre and we had Full Metal Racket, the venue round the corner from us. Both those places are gone and they were the only places we could go in our home town so it was always a case of “right, better go to Northampton, Birmingham, Wolverhampton”. As much as none of them are our hometowns, they kinda feel like them because they’re the only places we could go. Not to put them down or anything because we’re incredibly grateful for them, but it’s weird to say that we’ve never done a hometown show and probably never will which is kinda strange.
Finally, as much as you’ve said you’re bewildered at how this has exploded, you must be relishing 2018?
Dan: Oh yeah, [laughs]! While I am bewildered it’s stepping back, realising how cool everything is and also being kinda scared because there’s just so much. It’s all incredible stuff but it’s full steam ahead, we’re doing one thing after another. It’s not been majorly hectic but it’s as hectic as it has ever been for us as a band and I’m so excited about the stuff we’ve got coming up. I’m quite slow to process a lot of things so there’s plenty that won’t hit me properly until it happens but for now it’s a case of appreciating all the support we’ve had and all the chances that people are taking on us and stuff like that.
And you can be sure people will be taking you on once the record is out as well. Dan, thank you very much for taking the time to chat today.
Dan: No worries man.
Mire is set for release on March 9th via Holy Roar Records.
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