The Trials of Conjurer, or the Ceaseless Fun of Touring in a Van

I walked into Moe’s Original BBQ just before 6. The show didn’t start until 8, but bands were scattered throughout the restaurant and music venue, checking the soundboard during mic checks and setting up merch tables. I had arranged a 6 PM interview with Conjurer through their PR guy but had been trying to organize things with Brady, one of the guitarists.

When we walked in, I texted Brady. “Hey man! We’re here. Trying to track y’all down now. We’re out front near the bar.” No response. “Whatever,” I thought. “I was coming to this show anyway. Ho-hum, guess I just HAVE to eat delicious barbecue now.” Worse things have happened.

6:30 comes around and no word from Brady. I start wandering around to see if I can figure something out. I ask the manager of the restaurant if he knows where Conjurer is. He didn’t but said I should just ask around. I walk to the back of the restaurant near the stage to see if these dudes knew where they were. A bald guy is bent over a drum case. “Hey man, do you know…wait, aren’t you the singer of Rivers of Nihil?”

“Yeah, man. I’m Jake. What were you asking about?”

“Man! I saw y’all a few months ago with Revocation! Y’all were great!”

“Thank you, man. Who are you looking for though?”

“Oh, sorry. I’m supposed to interview Conjurer, but I haven’t heard from them and I just wondered if it was still cool.” Jake narrowed his eyes a little like a man determined. We walked around the restaurant a little to see if he could recognize anyone to no avail. He said he was sorry but I said not to worry about it. “I’m sure they’re just running a little behind, not a problem.” I was coming to the show anyway so no big deal.

At 7:15, a group of guys walks in with some cases. A lanky guy with blond hair comes up to me. “Pete, sorry mate! We only just got into town and had to crash a little and grab a quick bite to eat.” He looked a little flustered and maybe slightly embarrassed. “I’m Brady.” “Hey man! Don’t worry about it. Y’all do your thing first. I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.” Brady goes over to help out with setup. After 20 minutes, Brady comes back to tell me Dan’s going to do the interview with me and he’ll be out in a minute. Dan wanders over after a few minutes, we shake hands and greet, then head to the alley in the back for a little chat.

P: Is this your first time in the States?

D: Yeah, we’re on the 9th date, and we’re not quite shot yet.

P: How many more dates do you guys have?

D: Oh god. I think we’ve got 34 dates, so 25 to go!

P: I have done quite a bit of listening to you guys, and this a pretty mature sound and quite original. Where does that really come from? How did that start and where did it go?

D: I don’t really know, because all of us,have been playing bands since our mid-teens. We’ve always been doing music. And even though we’ve not always been in the same bands together, we’ve all been in different bands in the same scene. We’ve always kind of crossed paths. With each of us, we memorized each other names. Like, “Brady, he’s the good guitarist. Jan is the good drummer. Conor, he’s a good guitarist,” things like that through being in all these different bands. Me and Brady started off in metalcore bands. The scene in our hometown with metalcore and stuff like that was rapidly going downhill. After that and the collapse of our earlier bands, it was like, “What do we do now?” It was weird to not have a scene to follow or take influence from. When you’re a kid, you look at other bands around you, you think, “Oh yeah, we wanna play with them!” So you end up aping them a bit. But I think it all just came from not having a clue what to do. We would sit by ourselves and think about what we wanted to hear. Brady and I would play in his basement, it was very much like, “I like bits of these doom records and bits of these hardcore records.” And he’d be like, “Oh yeah, cool! And here’s this metalcore record!” It was just CD swapping and just getting to know each other. It was about a year and half of that and looking up these different labels and like, “Oh, these guys are putting out cool stuff.” It became this big cooking pot of stuff as opposed to a single scene or trend. It took a fair few years for me and Brady especially to look at where we were at and where our music tastes were at and where our local scene is at and go, “Things could be better.”

Dan Nightingale (Guitars, Vocals). Photo: H. King

P: The music that you all make is an amalgamation of several different things. If you’re versed enough and you listen close enough, you can definitely hear a little bit of all of it. What were the kinds of records and bands that influenced what you guys were doing? You said you started out with metalcore which is pretty different from what you’re doing right now. There are little elements here and there of that stuff, but what influenced what you guys are doing now?

D: Probably the number one pick is Gojira. Brady put up a Facebook post years and years ago saying he wanted to get back into a metal band. He was in a pop punk band at the time, he had left his old metalcore band…

P: He was in a pop punk band? Interesting.

D: Not even like pop punk! It was like Bowling for Soup pop punk. Not even something like Against Me!. Anyway, he was doing that and I’d dissolved my metalcore band. I was in a classic rock covers band thinking, “Yeah, this is fun but it’s not me.” And he felt the same about where he was at and put up that post saying he wanted to get back into playing heavy music. He wanted to do something like Black Dahlia Murder and Gojira. They were two bands I was really influenced by. I thought, “I’LL DO IT!” I hit him up, we got together, and what we ended up writing was nothing like either of those bands.

P: That was the surprise for me. That doesn’t make any sense at all.

D: I think it’s because when we were swapping CDs, it wasn’t about, “We really like this sound, let’s do that.” It was more like, “This 10 second snippet of this song is fucking awesome. What are they doing here?” We weren’t consciously studying everything. It was more, “Listen to this, isn’t this cool?” And doing that with dozens and dozens of records. Certain things start sinking in.

P: It’s definitely like there’s a lot of surgery you’re doing to records. A surgeon doesn’t just generally think about the human body, it’s more like the lungs or the brain or this little piece and understanding it.

D: Right, like “How does this little thing work?”

P: Exactly. So where did the other two guys come in?

D: When we hooked up with Jan, me and Conor the bassist were in a death metal band together. I was rapidly growing disinterested with that because it was very much like “Write this kind of death metal!” But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to add different elements, and it all fell apart. We ended up getting him in right when I decided I was kind of done. It was kind of annoying because he just made the band so much better. But I still thought I was done with it. So when we hooked up with him for Conjurer, we thought, “We know you’re fucking sick, we know you’re the best drummer we know, what do you reckon?” And we got in the practice room and he said, “Well, the songs aren’t very good.” And we thought, “Oh. Well, you don’t have to be in the band if you don’t want to.” And he said it was good exercise, so we were bewildered with why he would want to be in a band if he didn’t like it. Then he said, “Look, I’m not going anywhere unless you kick me out.” So we thought, “Okay!” Over the years of getting to know him, he really likes tons of stuff. One of his favorite bands ever is a band called Three Trapped Tigers from the UK. They are kind of like mathy, electronic, hectic post-rock. It’s crazy but it’s really fucking cool. He loves Gary Numan. He loves the 80s New Romantic synthpop like Ultravox and Depeche Mode, things like that. So we bonded over that. He also loves Snarky Puppy, this awesome jazz troupe. We’ve bonded over some jazz and stuff like that. He’s just a rhythmic monster.

Conor Marshall (Bass). Photo: H. King

P: He has to be if he’s listening to all of that. It’s not as though that’s not going to come out in his playing.

D: He’s someone like Navene [Koperweis] in Entheos. Jan can look at someone like that who’s a machine and be like, “Yeah, he’s amazing.” At the same time, he can look at Ringo Starr and say he was also an amazing drummer. Usually when people talk about drummers, it’s about who’s the fastest or who has the best double bass and all that. But he thinks more about what serves the song, and there is no one I know who knows how to serve a song like Jan. That’s where his influence comes in.

And Conor, I’ve known since he was 15 and we were playing super technical death metal together and stuff like that. He wasn’t really into that stuff when I knew him. He joined that band just as something to do. Through me and him bonding and me saying, “Oh, I’ve got to show you Aborted, I’ve got to show you Gojira, The Faceless” which he probably doesn’t even like. But I just always think, “Come here! I’ve got to show you all this stuff!” And he’s just really blossomed into a brilliant musician since then. He was one of the first people we asked to be in the band. And he said, “Uh, the songs aren’t very good.”

P: I’m noticing a pattern, Dan.

D: Haha, yeah. But first and foremost, Conor’s a really good guitarist. But when we were in the studio doing our album, our bassist was having a really tough time. He had a wife, mortgage, high end job, and realized things just weren’t really going to work out. It was heartbreaking really and it sucked, but at that point we just needed someone right then. I called Conor and said, “You’re the new bassist!” And he just said, “Yeah, okay, cool.” He didn’t really have a choice. And now here he is in America! We got him on just at the right time. He didn’t have to do all the crummy shows.

P: He got to skip all that crap, huh?

D: Yeah, and we give him shit for it. We’re always like, “Where were you, man? New kid is mooching off us!” But he really is a brilliant musician, and that’s why I asked him in the first place. He’s kind of playing catch up at the moment. He joined in, as he has said many times before, as a friend and a fan. So now he’s wondering where he puts himself. He helps out with riffs and writing. He’s the same with me and Brady. All 3 of us have the same kind of influences. But then as soon as it’s Brady and Jan, there will be clashes. Or Conor and Brady will have a clash. We don’t have the butting of heads or anything, but we have the differences in taste that allow the amalgamation.

P: It allows it to be its own thing because you’re not fighting over it. You’re trying to figure it out as a group, and you’re going to “butt heads” but you’re trying to create a product.

D: Ultimately, we don’t care about “No! It has to be like this thing!” We’ll go through all of that for months and months on end so long as we know the song comes out banging in the end.

P: It keeps coming up. Doing a straight genre thing, like tech death or brutal death or whatever. A lot of people like that sort of thing, and no offense to bands who do that kind of thing, but I could see why it could become boring. Did it become boring to you when you were doing those kind of straight genre things?

D: Yeah, it did. Even with my old metalcore band, which was my baby and I was writing all the music for it. I was trying to add different kinds of things to it, but because it didn’t fit with the things that we had already done, I thought, “How am I going to do this?” I didn’t know what to write for the band anymore. When I was in the death metal band, the singer said, “I want to do this kind of death metal, and we’re going to sing about this kind of stuff, etc.” I thought, “Well, I want to have a lovely Jewel kind of chord melody.” Which he then shouted, “NO! NO MELODY!” So I did get really sick of, “Why can’t I do this?” Same thing with Brady. We look back at our old bands now and we know exactly now what we wanted them to sound like. Because we’ve had the years of experience and gigging and playing with all sorts of different bands that we know, “AH! If we had done that, the band would’ve worked! If we implemented these influences, it would’ve worked out!” That is the ultimate key. It’s cool if you can get with 3 mates and say, “We all really loved XYZ bands!” But then that’s all you’re going to do.

Brady Deeprose (Guitars, Vocals). Photo: H. King

P: Yeah, that’s like me going to my buddy’s house and goofing off for an afternoon versus being an artist and progressing and making a living. It’s obviously a very different thing.

D: If you come along and you sound like the next Darkest Hour, you think, “Yeah, but we already have Darkest Hour. We’ve already got that thing.” That’s the point. It wasn’t a conscious decision to think, “Oh, we need to be different and out of this world.” It’s part of our MO, but mainly we’re just trying to write something kick ass. If it rips off something, whatever. But we’re so critical and surgical with everything, not to the point that everything’s lifeless. I don’t want to sound snooty or anything, but I’ll come up with something and think, “No, it sounds too much like this band.” And it won’t go in. I’ve been in bands before where someone comes up with a riff and I think, “That’s just a rip off of so and so.” But that’s what the band liked, and I said, “But people are going to know that.” People aren’t stupid. A lot of bands try to cater to an audience and say, “Oh you like this thing? We’ll give you more of that thing!” But that other band’s already giving you all that! You don’t want to treat audiences like they’re idiots. You need to give them something that nourishes them.

P: It’s hard work being truly original and trying to come up with your own thing! Are y’all working on anything right now?

D: We’re trying but it’s VERY, very slow. At the minute, me and Brady have been working on a collaboration record with another band on our label. That’s just finishing up now and about to be sent off for mastering. That’s the main priority, and coming here has been a big logistical thing. There’s not been much headway on a new album just yet but things are starting to come together. I really want to be able to write on tour. I’ve never experienced that. You hear about bands saying, “We wrote this on tour.” Where the fuck do you get the time?!? Touring is weird because there’s so much going on but so little to do. It’s very much hurry up and wait. “We have to get to the venue now!” And what do you do now? Just hang around. But even then, you’re not in a position to get out your guitar and write something.

Jan Krause (Drums). Photo: H. King

P: You always hear about that when you hear about a band who shot up to the top. They were already big and could afford a tour bus where they can hang out.

D: Oh, the dream.

P: I imagine that’s not really your situation yet.

D: Nope. We’re in a cramped little van. There’s nowhere to lie down.

P: Cramped little van from Air BnB to Air BnB?

D: Over the next couple of days, the drives are really long. We’re driving overnight. So we have to sleep in the van, but there’s no room to lie down. So you get in the van and just curl up.

P: The true road warriors!

D: It’s shit. (Belly laughing ensues) But we’ve gotta do it.

P: But it’s one of those things you look back on and think, “Hey guys, remember when we were stuck in that van? Wasn’t that great?”

D: Dude. No. (More belly laughing) Not at all, I’d think, “Let’s never do that again.” Jan has been to the States before with another band. It was the first big tour he ever did and he was in a big night liner, so there’s bunk beds and room for the crew. That might’ve been the last good night’s sleep he had. So he’s done all that, and now he’s looking at this and thinking, “Oh no, this isn’t as good.” Whereas for me, I sleep like a log anywhere. Last night was 10 and half hours to get here. I can’t remember where the fuck we were, the days blur together. It was a long drive from where we were. We all thought, “Just get in the van and try to sleep.” I managed to a bit. I’m very surprised I’m not absolutely knackered now. We’re doing that for a few more nights, and then we go back to hotel rooms. Our driver has that choice privileges thing, so for every couple of nights you get a free one. I can’t wait for that free night. For the first week, we were staying in hotels and that was wicked. But now, we’ve got three nights of no real sleep and you wake up in excruciating pain. Because you were sleeping with a crooked neck. Our guitarist’s girlfriend flew in to Colorado to just hang out and have a little holiday. She’s awesome and does merch for us. She’s not a slacker or anything. She’s a party animal but she’s not a slacker. She’s here now, so it’s like, “Wicked! Even less space in the van!” It’s all part and parcel of it. We’ll sit there and moan about getting 2 hours sleep but…we’ll be in the hotel soon, boys.

P: Well, Dan, I really appreciate it, dude. Thanks for talking to me.

D: Thank you so much.

Conjurer’s latest album Mire is available now via Holy Roar Records.

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