Profile: Jon Davis of Black Bow Records & Conan

jon davis black bow

Jon Davis may best be known for his work in the epic stoner doom band Conan. But he also runs a label, Black Bow Records which has put out some pretty phenomenal stuff in its own right. So what’s Jon up to these days? Well, a bunch actually. We had a chance to chat with him for our weekly profile. We got some pretty in depth and terrific answers with just the appropriate amount of snark and humor. So enjoy, and understand that the British grammar is intentional. Jon Davis is 100% the real deal.

How did you first get into being so involved in the music industry and have you achieved all your wildest dreams that you set out to achieve? What adjective would you use to describe your rise to the top (provided you’ve risen to the top)?

I’ve been playing in bands since I was 18 and have always been pretty keen to do music rather than work a ‘regular’ day job. The painful irony is that it often seems that the only people in the industry not able to make a living from it are the actual musicians themselves and so I carried on being in bands as a ‘hobby’ working regular depressing day jobs – I worked in call centres (Insurance admin and catalogue sales), then recruitment, then training, then Human Resource Management). In 2010 my band (Conan) released our first album and all of a sudden I started playing shows outside my home town of Liverpool, these one off shows soon grew into small tours, which grew further into longer tours and eventually we started to think of ourselves as a somewhat serious ‘touring’ band. Around this time I moved into a large house in Merseyside and decided to use one of the extra buildings and convert it into a recording studio, hoping it would supplement the income I was getting from my day job and enable me to buy an extra amp or guitar every now and again. The studio ( opened in August 2013 and the first band through the door was BAST (from London). Their recording was so cool that I decided to release it, and within 24 hours I started up a record label ( Since then I have released several recordings, mostly recorded at Skyhammer. To go along with the recording studio I setup a band van hire business where I would rent out myself and Conan’s tour bus ( to bands needing transportation / tour management. Furthermore, I setup a merchandise business with Renata Castagna of the Seattle band Samothrace ( All these things combined keep me busy enough and fortunately I’ve been able to drop the day job (HR Manager at a facilities management business) and work in a diverse range of roles within the music industry. I am far from the top in any of my chosen areas of operation, yet I’m enjoying the journey.

If I was able to use one adjective to describe that it would be ‘an enjoyable struggle’.

What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get a site to review or interview a band on your label that you really cared about?

Fortunately I’ve never had to do that. Each of my releases have had professional press people working on them. If they debase themselves on my behalf then so be it.

I’m wondering what your process is for signing and discovering new bands? Do you have plans to expand your artist catalog? Anything exciting on the horizon? And I have to ask, does it ever get dicey for you putting out work by Conan (e.g. the split with Bongripper) a band that you are actually in?

Putting out Conan stuff is actually very easy. Some Conan material is currently owned by other labels so I don’t try and release that stuff but when it makes sense to (like it with the Bongripper split) I am more than happy to put stuff out. To date I have released Horseback battle Hammer on cd, the split with Bongripper (remastered at Skyhammer) a ‘Live at Bannermans’ live album and a co release with Burning World Records (the Slomatics Split we did). I don’t think Black Bow Records is currently the right platform for releasing a Conan full length album. Whilst it would make financial sense I guess, we wouldn’t have to share the money with a label,I think we have some way to go before we can consider ourselves able to self release on the scale that other bands do. I’d like that to happen in the future though maybe, time will tell.

As for discovering new bands. I know lots of bands, am friends with some of them, and occasionally will approach them about working together. Sometimes a band will come and record at Skyhammer (like Bast did) and I’ll immediately like what I hear and offer them a release. Following a similar process I have agreed deals to release the new The Bendal Interlude album coming out soon (press should start on that soon) and next year I release Slomatics’ new album, both releases should be killer. Currently I am working on the pre order for a new album by this band from Seattle called UN. They’re a very heavy band, with bleak and thought provoking music and lyrics. They’re going to get a lot of good press for their new album ‘The Tomb of All Things’ and I’m really proud that they chose to work with me on it. The most exciting thing about having a record label is discovering new bands. I get the excitement that most fans of music get, discovering a new band or whatever, but I’m lucky that I go deeper than that and can help them get where they want to be. I remember when Conan got our first album ‘deal’ through Throne Records and I simply couldn’t believe it, I had dreamed of putting a record out on a label since I started playing in bands and I guess I get that feeling over and over vicariously by putting out music for other bands. I focus on being open and honest and giving the bands a fair deal on pressings and digital royalties. I really enjoy working along side the bands.

What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your work?

Well, I guess I believe in hard work and I believe that EVERYONE is capable of starting their own business. I come from a working class family who have had to work very hard (for other people) for everything they own, and in my well paid day job I felt like I was being paid for very little effort sometimes – HR is pretty hectic but really it doesn’t add anything to the world we live in, just giving out bad news to employees mostly. I really become sick of working for other people, the more Conan grew and the more ideas I got about starting the businesses I have started, the less content I was with the unsatisfying bullshit of working in an office. Through music I feel like I am able to leave a scratch on planet earth after I am gone – like claw marks inside an old cave.

What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you?

Growing up in Walton (Liverpool) I remember my friend’s Dad had vinyl records and I distinctly remember the cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘Number of The Beast’ (I was 5 or 6 at the time so my memory is surprisingly clear). I was pretty scared by the imagery on there and of course didn’t really get into metal / heavy music at that age (I grew in a house obsessed with Motown – which I still appreciate). However, in secondary school a friend of my Dad used to sell counterfeit copies of tapes from a locker in Ford Motor Company (their factory in Speke, Liverpool) and I remember seeing Def Leppard ‘Hysteria’ and Bon Jovi ‘Slippery When Wet’. I begged my Dad to let me have them and that got me into ‘rock’. From there I remember the next level was when a friend loaned me some Iron Maiden tapes (live stuff as I recall) and this seemed so dangerous and ‘edgy’ to me and I was hooked. Like most fans of heavy metal my interest grew from there and soon I was listening to Anthrax / Metallica / Iron Maiden / Megadeth and so on. I got an old compilation tape that had Trouble on it, I got into Black Sabbath and so on. I used to run a paper round when I was a kid, Powerslave and Ride The Lightning were the only tapes I used to listen to.

What’s the stickiest you have ever been?

I was actually responsible for testing the adhesive qualities of the web produced by the famous spider Shilob. This was on the set of the third installment of the Lord of The Rings Trilogy ‘The Return of The King’. Most people believe that she was created by CGI but I know different. I got stuck a few times and it was a nightmare – I really don’t like talking about it.

What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a label owner and musician?

Good question. I don’t think it’s my place to do this but I guess one bit of advice I should give is to try not to simply describe the music step by step as they listen to the tracks. I mean, it’s hard to review music (I did it and cannot read that shit back without cringing) but you can spot a bad reviewer a mile off…. I remember the Conan album Monnos was reviewed by a UK magazine and the guy was seemingly pissed off about bands using full stacks when they play live……? Not sure how that found its way into a review….. What a prick.

Do you have a day job and how much time and effort are you able to pour into your label and band on a daily basis? Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?

I gave a pretty comprehensive overview of this in answer number 1 above, but I am able to split my time between my kids, the studio (Chris Fielding (bass in Conan) runs the studio really as he is the producer there) my label, the tour management and the merch stuff. When I’m on the road I concentrate on driving of course, but when we get to the venue I’m free to deal with admin relating to the label, the studio and the merch (I take my laptop and work in the van using a 3g / 4g connection). When I’m home I am firstly concerned with being a good Dad and around that I deal with anything to do with posting out merch or records. I have a pretty good balance although it is hard being away from the kids for so long when I’m on tour. Hobbies? Not got time for any really but if I get time I take my boy to watch football (Everton or Tranmere Rovers)

Finally, what are some of your favorite albums of 2015 (feel free to include non-metal)?

As it so happens, all of my favorite albums of 2015 are listed here ;)…….

Thanks to Jon Davis for his time!



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