For over three decades, Corrosion of Conformity has been helping shape the sound of heavy music with its unique explorations of hardcore punk and metal. Founded Raleigh, NC, in 1982 by main members Mike Dean (bass/vocals), Reed Mullin (drums/vocals) and guitarist Woody Weatherman, COC would release two seminal albums that brought elements of thrash metal into hardcore.
The band's 1984 debut Eye For An Eye (and only album with singer Eric Eycke) put the group on the map in the underground punk and metal community and is cited along with DRI's early recordings as one of the first crossover efforts.
The band would continue as a trio with Dean and Mullin sharing vocals on the equally classic follow-up album Animosity the next year. COC recruited new lead singer Simon Bob for their next recording, the Technocracy EP, but by 1987 both Dean and Bob left the group, putting it on hiatus.
When COC reformed with new singer Karl Agell, bassist Phil Swisher and second guitarist Pepper Keenan for the recording of 1991's Blind, it marked a new southern-tinged metal direction and a new beginning. Though it was the only tune to feature Keenan's vocals, "Vote with a Bullet" became a breakthrough MTV hit and raised the band's profile considerably.
Keenan would become the focal point of the band after the departure of Agell (Swisher would also leave, replaced by a returning Dean), and the band would score another hit with their landmark 1994 album Deliverance. While the band remained a popular live act and toured regularly as support for Metallica, subsequent efforts didn't achieve the same commercial success.
The departure of Mullin in 2000 would slow productivity, the band managed a celebrated comeback with their 2005 album In the Arms of God that featured Keenan's New Orleans friend and monster drummer Stanton Moore (Galactic, Garage a Trois). After a successful tour with Motorhead, the band went on another extended hiatus that found Keenan focusing his energy on metal supergroup Down with former Pantera singer Phil Anslesmo.
Fans rejoiced in 2010 when the classic Animosity line-up of COC reunited to play its classic early material, but the band gave them even more to cheer about with the release of several acclaimed new recordings that found the trio moving easily from more frenetic punk sounds to tuned-down, Sabbath-influenced sludge. Late last year, COC announced that Keenan would be returning to the fold for the first time in almost a decade.
The reunion of the Deliverance line-up has been greeted by ecstatic audiences thrilled to hear the group's '90s material for the first time in ten years. Keenan recently spoke with KTVU.com about the band's reunion, its first headlining tour of the U.S. since getting back together and plans for new music.
COC returns to San Francisco to play Slim's on Wednesday, Nov. 18, with a stellar touring bill that includes former Kyuss/Fu Manchu drummer Brant Bjork strapping on guitar to lead his Low Desert Punk Band, Oakland-based metal heroes Saviours (who are celebrating their latest album, Palace of Vision) and Texas heavy rockers Mothership.
I was thinking this fall tour was the first time you were back with the band in the States, not realizing it’s actually just the first time you’re making it to SF. You’ve been touring supporting other acts, but it looks like you’ve done some headlining shows here too…
Most of the headlining stuff we did was done in Europe. But this tour is the first time we’ve done the headlining thing around the United States in a loooooong time. We went to Europe this summer just to test the waters and play together and see what we could get going, and it kind of opened a whole new can of worms.
We got invited to go back to Europe twice shortly after that, so we went three times this summer. It was kind of mad, but it was good! It showed that there was interest out there and we could do it. We were playing great together and having fun doing the songs. Now we’re at the point where we’re kind of honing s—t down and looking forward.
I know the hiatus with COC was on good terms from what Woody and Mike have said in past interviews. Was there something specific that spurred this line-up to back together?
I guess the big thing was Reed coming back into the picture. I hadn’t talked to him in so long and we just started talking. There was no ill blood or anything; we’d just gone our separate ways for lack of interest. Enough time had gone by. I’d be on tour with Down, people would always be asking, “What’s up with COC? Are you getting something going?”
So we started talking about it and started getting excited about it. I went up there and rehearsed with them a couple of times and was great! We just kind of went from there. It’s time. I think this COC band is still very valid in the world of this kind of music and we kind of left it unturned. It’s a fine time to get it going again and make it happen.
Ten years is a long break; was it pretty easy to knock the rust off once you started playing together again?
It was a lot of homework! I hadn’t sang in a long time. I had been mainly been doing the Down stuff. I had side projects here and there, but Down was a full-time gig. So, yeah, I had to get my pipes back into shape and all that stuff. It was interesting.
It had been even longer since you’d played with Reed, wasn’t it? That goes back to like 2001...
Oh yeah, absolutely. That had been like 15 years. I don’t know how time flies like that.
Besides the headlining dates and the tour with Clutch and Mastodon, you’ve also been hitting a lot of festivals on both sides of the Atlantic…
We played Roskilde and stuff like that. They invited us at the last minute. That kind of shows that we were onto something; that they wanted us there that bad and flew us back for one or two festivals.
COC also played Motorhead’s Motorboat and Slipknot’s Knotfest. What was your experience at those two festivals?
I love the Motorboat thing! We did it the year before with Down and I was adamant about getting COC on there. Mainly because there’s so many people from all around world that go to that thing. If you can go to Motorboat and can kick some ass in front of fans from 40 different countries, that’s a no brainer. That was the first thing to kind of get the word out really that we were doing this, so we just kind of used it as a catalyst to spread the news.
And Knotfest was awesome. That was a Slipknot move. They just straight up knew we were back together. We actually played the Download Festival in the UK and the Slipknot guys were there and they were kind of psyched that we were getting our s—t back together. And three weeks later, a phone call came inviting us to play Knotfest. So that’s how that happened.
We’ve got a lot of people, fans and industry people, that have really been giving us a lot of support and I really appreciate that. It makes you feel pretty good that people are rooting for you.
If you wouldn’t mind indulging me for a second, I wanted to ask you about the first time I saw COC about 20 years ago. It was a bizarre line-up at Great America. I wanted to see you and Monster Magnet, but it also included Ugly Kid Joe and Sugar Ray. We basically bolted and went on roller coasters after your set. I was wondering if you have any recollections from that tour?
That was some festival thing at an amusement park or some s—t. That was some radio thing or something. I remember that. I thought it was weird too.
So it was just the one show? Me and my friends saw Monster Magnet and you guys and then just took off and rode roller coasters because we didn’t care about the other bands…
That’s probably what I would have done do. We were on tour with Monster Magnet. We were doing a bill together and some promoter added us to that show.
Looking at the set lists you have been playing since rejoining the band, you’ve been sticking to songs from the albums you fronted. Do you look at the current line-up of COC versus the version of the band without you as two separate entities? I know you have plenty of material to cover among the albums you recorded…
At this point, we’re just getting our s—t back together. Perhaps we can branch out, but between all the different eras, there’s so many f—g songs. Believe me, I’d love to play “Loss For Words,” but that’s not why I’m here right now. So we’re focusing on getting our s—t together and make it work like this line-up is meant to do.
The last time I saw CoC with you was touring for In the Arms of God with Motorhead in 2005…
That was a fun time!
I think In the Arms of God is my favorite from the line-ups that you fronted. I only wish Stanton Moore, who played on that album, did more heavy music.
Me and him have a couple of side things together that are pretty insane.
Is that something you just do locally in New Orleans?
Well, it’s something we recorded a while back. We’ve got some demos of stuff. It’s me and Stanton and a guy named Robert Walter, a B-3 player, and Skerik, the saxophonist for Les Claypool. It’s this manic thing called Curb Feeler. Every time I play for somebody, they’re like, “Dude! You ought to put that out!” It’s some crazy s—t.
But Arms of God? I tell people all the time that record is about as good as I can do it. I can’t do any better than that. I hold that record in high regard. That’s kind of a catalyst for what we’re shooting for on the next stuff. We’re kind of leading from that. It’s a good example of all of us, with open minds, playing pretty badass s—t.
With these headlining dates, will you be playing more tunes from In the Arms of God, or is Deliverance still the main focus?
It depends if Reed can learn the damn things and wants to learn them. He knows two or three of them now. It’s a tall order, because we’ve got a lot to cover anyway. It’s good. Reeds got them nailed, so we’re having fun playing those for sure.
It sounds like you guys are already kicking around ideas for new songs. Are you writing while you’re on the road?
We’re pretty deep into it, yeah. We’re organizing riffs and ideas and lyrical content and direction. We’re going to work with Custer again and have the studio figured out where we want to do it at. We’re not sitting around waiting until we have nothing to do, let’s put it that way.
Do you think you might be able to get something together by next year?
We’ll be in the studio in 2016 for sure. Once again, it’s a tall order. It’s gotta be right. If it ain’t right, it’s wrong. After all these years, I’m not going to just throw something out there. We’re going to spend our time and get it right.
Do you see yourself splitting time between Down and COC versus taking an extended break from Down the way you did from CoC after Arms of God?
Yeah, it’s a whole different ball game now. It’s a whole new can of worms. I’m in uncharted territory here. I’ll just go as I go and figure it out as it happens and try not to half ass either one. There will be an opportunity, I’m sure, where I’m going to end up at a festival and Down and COC are going to be on the bill. I’ll have to run from one stage to the other. I’m quite sure that’s coming.
Would you consider a tour with both bands, or do you think that would be too much?
Well, sure! Yeah, I would.
It seems that more and more working musicians these days are keeping multiple projects going versus just focusing on one band. Do you see it as a way to keep yourself more engaged musically as far as having variety?
Not really. It just something that happens. There were years where I was manic, just playing music and going in different directions, and Down took a life of its own. It just became this big giant monster that none of us expected. And it demanded attention, so we gave it attention. To look back, it’s a lot of material between both of these bands. It was a pretty prolific period.
And from what I understand, you’re moving forward with another Down recording soon as well?
Yes, we’re working on the third EP.