“It’s a more challenging record in every sense”: Inside the studio with Conjurer as they work on album number two
It’s 9am in Northampton and the sky is determinedly grey. Shops are opening their shutters in a nondescript business park about 10 minutes’ drive from the rail station. A large hangar-like space is visible from the street, painted in that dank green-grey paint you never actually see on sale. Tucked just inside the cold exterior sits a puppy daycare centre, with pastel pink decor, doggedly at odds with its surroundings. We peer down the adjacent, featureless corridor that leads to the building’s communal bathroom, and pull open the heavy metal door, a term more than appropriate for what’s inside.
This is Conjurer HQ aka Excalibur Cottage. At one end sits the freezing-cold recording space with makeshift soundproofing on the walls and guitars strewn across the floor. A window links through to the smaller of the two-room set-up, housing a few more guitars, a mass of wires and pedals, and not enough chairs. One electric heater on the floor tries its best to raise the ambient temperature, sat in front of a small fridge, packed with homemade meatballs for the band to share for lunch. Greggs and Starbucks deliveries arrive throughout the day. The bin needs a bag but nobody remembered to bring one. This is the glamour of being one of Britain’s best modern metal bands.
We join Conjurer as they hit the home straight recording album number two, focusing today on laying down guitars for the as-yet-unnamed follow-up to their 5K-rated debut Mire. The majority of songs are ready in some form, with just additional passages and technical flair to be ironed out throughout the day. Despite just strings being on today’s agenda, the whole band are present, as they have been for the entire process. While Brady Deeprose and Dan Nightingale tirelessly struggle to nail certain parts, bassist Conor Marshall watches on, while drummer Jan Krause offers direction and assistance with the tone. Engineer Daithí Farah mans the desk, stitching together the misanthropic mayhem being created.
This is the first time the band have started the recording process without having all the music ready to go. Previously, on 2018’s Mire, they had played each song a bunch of times already, but today, Conjurer have an hour-long discussion about changing the intro to the opening song on the record (which has the working title of Chung). Couple this flux of creativity with a confined working space, not helped by the constantly-changing coronavirus situation, and it’s often a high-stress environment.
“To finally get it done just felt immensely relieving more than anything else,” says Brady a few days later, having now finished the record. “There was no external pressure from a label, we’ve not made any announcements regarding release, we’ve just given ourselves this deadline to meet, and the fact that we managed to do it felt good. It’s the first time we’ve put an undue amount of pressure on ourselves to do something – typically we don’t put ourselves in a position where we have to meet a deadline unless we’re ready to. For us to go, ‘The album isn’t finished but we’re going to go into the studio anyway because we want to do it,’ was a step outside of our comfort zone. Although the process was stressful, I think the product is going to more than justify that.”
There are advantages to entering the studio with unfinished material, though, allowing you to change riffs or add extra elements on the fly. Also, in Conjurer’s case, you can add a whole new song to the album with just a couple of days to spare. Not only that, but it’s a track unlike anything they’ve done before, clocking in at around two-and-a-half minutes and sounding more like Converge than the putrid sludge we’re accustomed to.
That said, there are, of course, plenty of neck-wrecking riffs throughout the record. As shared days earlier on the band’s Twitter, the terms ‘Iowa riff’ and ‘£60 a week riff’ were scrawled on a whiteboard as signifiers for heaviness. And it’s not just savage chugging; so much of the recording process – today’s session in particular – is about the tone. The band – Dan and Jan in particular – often talk of finding “sparkle”, “articulation” and “body” within the guitar sounds, adding more vivid imagery to the track currently-titled Whelmed as wanting it to “sound like an abandoned meat factory”. Mixing up different guitars and pedal settings for each part is a laborious process, but a necessary one, with Jan acting as de facto musical director, sat behind Daithí and twiddling with the smorgasbord of pedals.
“Jan has a philosophy that you should be able to drop the timecode at any point in a song and what you hear be interesting, whereas some of the ideas that myself and Dan go on are cyclical, trance-like sections that will have more of an affect on the mood than are technically interesting,” says Brady. “That’s where we clash with Jan, because his idea is that if something is repeating for too long then it’s boring. There’s so many pushes and pulls and different ideas within our music that we end up with this compromise where no-one’s particularly happy, but no-one’s miserable (laughs). Jan’s influence has been integral. A lot of the time Dan will come up with the riffs and Jan’s arrangement is his greatest strength – he can see parts in isolation and work out where they’ll fit best into a song. That way of coldly looking at a section of a song and working out what’s going to be best with it.”
Riffs and their arrangements are just one part of Conjurer’s new pulverising puzzle. For the first time, they are going to add some outside help to their music in the form of organs and even mandolins. Before it was strictly about recording what could be recreated onstage, but the band’s scope has grown so much that multi-layered soundscapes and textures will form the record’s backbone.
“We actually had quite an amazing moment,” begins Brady. “Three days before the end of the studio, we got the majority of the lead guitars down and it was these little final layers, little intricacies that were missing from the songs for the entire month that we were listening to them. You kind of attune yourself to listening to the song as-is, and certainly for me, toward the end I was thinking, ‘I’ve heard these songs so many times, are they even good anymore?’ Then you add those final layers and suddenly they go from being black and white to full Technicolor.
“We’re never trying to be technical for technical’s sake; our goal is to serve the song in whatever way best serves the song,” he continues. “Until every element of the song is down, it feels empty. For me, finally hearing the song with all those intricacies put together, it was a really emotional moment because I realised I didn’t hate the song, it just wasn’t finished (laughs).”
Listening back to the majority of the record with unfinished vocals, there is still a clear air of bleakness and morbidity that we’ve come to expect from Conjurer. Working titles like Bugger Song and You Don’t Win Friends With Ballad don’t lend themselves to the overwhelming heaviness and brutality the songs contain. And while there isn’t a ‘concept’ tying the music together, themes are emerging, with Maire focusing on dementia and the closing track inspired by the death of Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala who died after his plane crashed into the English channel last year.
“The last couple of days we’ve been brainstorming how to title the songs, trying to come up with a title for the album,” says Brady. “The discussions are revolving around the fact that the songs all tackle some kind of intense feeling – mainly sadness, which is pretty cliché at the minute – but what we’re asking the listener to do is empathise with a certain viewpoint or situation. It’s very much about empathy in a roundabout way.
“That song in particular is about this idea that broadly, as an atheist, when your loved ones die, that’s it. It’s dealing with that finality in a world where a lot of people believe there’s an afterlife, trying to reconcile what you’ve been taught growing up in a Christian nation, then growing up into adulthood and realising that’s more than likely not the case. Jan was definitely influenced by the crash and the idea that there are these bodies that are stuck in the water that you can’t get to. You know your loved one’s there, but you can’t reach out to them or get any kind of closure.
“I don’t think any of the songs are as literal as, ‘Here is a specific thing we want to talk about,’ we always try and go into a lot more layers of metaphor or wrap up a concept within a story, so there’s always the intention of there being a few more layers. We talk a lot about mental health, we’re not trying to align ourselves with a cause in any way, but the fact that members of the band do suffer with mental health issues – and one of the band works within mental health in education – it’s something we do talk about a lot and is quite personal to the band. There’s a lot of ideas in the music, especially on this record, that are maybe not straight-on addressing mental health, but are talking about some of those issues. Again, it’s never and black and white as that.”
To capture the heaviness of the subject matter, Conjurer have enlisted a producer who specialises in heavy. While Daithí tracks and records the band here in Northampton, the album will be mixed and mastered by Will Putney (Thy Art Is Murder, Norma Jean, Vein). While a predominantly deathcore/metalcore producer, it was actually Will’s mixing of Conjurer’s St. Vitus show for Kerrang! that convinced them he was the man for the job.
“We’re trying to take that physical, visceral attack that Will’s records have, but meld it with more traditional sounding drums and guitars,” Brady says. “It’s something I’ve not heard to the extent that we’d like it. I don’t know what it is about the way that Will works that allows him to get that sound, but he understands what we’re going for. The outcome will either be exactly what we have in our heads or it’s going to be the best possible attempt at getting a traditional sound to be as heavy as we are live.”
With all these moving parts of extra elements and a whole new way of producing, how does this record compare to the debut?
“It’s so hard with a second album – especially following one that’s as well-received as Mire was. I get this with bands, if I love a record, and they bring out another record, they have two options: they can disappoint me by doing something else or they can disappoint me by doing the same thing and it not being as good,” Brady laughs.
“This material is infinitely harder than Mire in terms of technical ability, we’ve really pushed the sounds we can get out of these guitars. There’s little-to-no standard chord changes, it’s all weird shit that I’ve had to specifically learn for these songs. Songwriting has developed in a more progressive way than I was expecting. If people would like us to carry on doing the same thing over and over, they’re going to be severely disappointed.
“It’s a more challenging record in every sense, and I think that people listening will get a lot of out of, it but not as immediately as they did with Mire. People will look back on it as a better record, but I think it will be a step in a process of evolution that will continue for as long as we make records. Some bands take a few albums to find their sound and the canon starts from there. You’re not going to be able to look back on Conjurer like that, every single record is going to take a step in new interesting directions. When we can’t write anything that pushes or challenges, or is interesting and fulfilling, we just won’t and that will be it. If you’re not having fun and can say that what you’re doing is the best version of whatever it is you’re doing, then there’s no point, that’s where bands get jaded and put out the same shit every few years. I hope we can make a career in music while also being fresh and exciting and innovative, but I guess only time will tell.”
Conjurer’s as-yet-untitled album will be released in 2021
Rugby metallers Conjurer have inked a new worldwide deal with Nuclear Blast Records and confirmed that their new album will drop in 2021.
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