Interview by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
We spoke with Mike Dean and Reed Mullin of Corrosion of Conformity backstage before their Dublin show on April 30th 2016. They told us that they’ve started working on a new album with Pepper Keenan and recalled band and family members getting arrested at a show in the early days.
Alan: It’s a pleasure to be here talking to you. I’ve been a big C.O.C. fan for more than twenty years. The first time I saw you play was supporting Metallica at the London Astoria 2 in 1995. It was a secret club gig.
Reed: Oh yeah. We did that, yeah. It’s funny you say that because Pepper just brought that up yesterday, and we were talking about that gig.
Alan: What do remember about that show?
Mike: I remember that that’s a good place to see Metallica!
Reed: Didn’t Hetfield come up and play Vote With a Bullet with us at that show? Or am I thinking of something else?
Alan: I actually only caught the last few songs of your set because the venue was overcrowded and getting in was a problem. I had never heard your music before that night, and that riff in Deliverance was what immediately hooked me. Then you supported Metallica in Dublin the following year on the Load tour.
Reed: And 1997…
Alan: Then you were here in Dublin less than a year ago for a sold-out show in the Academy. Are you surprised by the appetite of the Irish fans for C.O.C.?
Mike: Not “surprised”. I don’t want to take it for granted, but Dublin has always been a good gig for us.
Alan: You haven’t been here too many times, so it was great to have two gigs in such a short time frame.
Reed: That’s true, yeah. I think we came over with Megadeth before too.
Alan: Oh, yeah. On the Youthanasia tour. I forgot about that! And I think you were here in 2011, but I missed that show.
Mike: Actually, so did we! Well, Woody and I got here but Reed didn’t. He lost his passport in Germany, and he had to call our poor Czech driver as he was having a few days off
Reed: Our dumb drunk drummer lost his passport!
Mike: He had to come and pick Reed up. Woody and I were sitting in Dublin and couldn’t play the show. Reed was forced to attend a wedding deep in the heart of the Czech republic
Reed: And eat horse meat. It was a scene man. But yeah… We’ve always had great shows here man.
Alan: The question I have to ask… A new album? You’ve got Pepper back on board. What can you tell us?
Mike: It’s kind of it the formative processes right now.
Reed: A little nebulous. We’ve got a bunch of good…
Mike: We have riff A, and riff B. And we’re just kind of getting there.
Reed: If you’re a C.O.C. Fan you’ll be stoked. If you’re a C.O.C. with Pepper singing fan you’ll be super-stoked. Just what we’ve been working on so far has been fantastic. It’s going to be a great album.
Mike: There’s a few… I don’t want to reveal anything before its time. There’s some conceptual ideas we’re starting with, and they might all get thrown away, so I’m not going to mention them yet.
Alan: Have you actually recorded anything yet?
Reed: Yeah. Mike is our documentarian. We’ve got some good stuff.
Mike: We’ve been working and we’ve been documenting everything as well.
Reed: But since we started playing again, we keep getting offered tours. As soon as we’re done playing Belfast tomorrow, we have to skidaddle back to the States to do a big tour with Clutch and Lamb of God.
Alan: Yeah, I wish I could go to those shows.
Reed: You can’t say no to that. You know what I mean? It’s a badass tour.
Alan: Lamb of God is a little bit heavier than you guys and Clutch.
Reed: Yeah, but that’ll make it interesting.
Mike: We did some recording with Randy from Lamb of God on a record by a band called Sourvein. He was a guest vocalist and Reed played drums on a song.
Reed: Yeah, another North Carolina Band.
Mike: I was interested in watching the way Randy works. He was learning a song he was going to sing. And I was like “Everything cool man?” and he was like “Yeah, I’m just figuring out which character I want to be”, because you know how he’s “La la la la” on one song and “wooahh” on another song. So that made a lot of sense.
Reed: So this time, we’re going to try to document more riffs and songs on the road. We haven’t really done that before.
Alan: I saw you were hoping to record the drum parts at Dave Grohl’s studio…
Reed: Maybe, yeah. Pep found this studio in Louisiana that we may document the drums there first, but I like the drum sound at Dave’s place. 606 sounds really good. He’s a drummer, so he made the studio sound good for drummers. A lot of people go there just to do drums.
Mike: I might buy a church.
Reed: Yeah, Mike’s going to buy a church.
Alan: Do you want to record your bass parts in a church?
Mike: We’ll just do the snare drum in the church. Or a different drum in a different church.
Alan: So Mike, Lyrics-wise for the next album. Who’s going take that duty?
Mike: Well, we expect to get a whole lot of that out of Keenan. Otherwise, what the hell? We’re all kinda in it together, so we’re just figuring that out. We better a lot out of Keenan. Or why are we here? [laughs]
Alan: So are you happier to have Pepper back on board to do the writing and singing?
Mike: Not “happier”. But either way, it’s just a different slant on the group and a different ensemble, so we just roll with it and see where the ideas are coming from. It’s fun to do two things at once. I enjoy that. But it’s also fun to focus on playing some bass. A lot of times we help each other with lyrics when we’re stuck on something and it all gets amalgamated.
Alan: I saw an interview where you said C.O.C. without Pepper is like Sabbath without Ozzy or Sepultura without Max. Do you feel that Pepper completes C.O.C.?
Reed: No. We started the band, so hell no. I love this line-up. It’s great.
Mike: It’s fun to do it again, and we kinda want to make up for lost time and do some new creative things with the line-up that’s more familiar to people. But we’re down for whatever. I think we made a couple of great modern three-piece records. These guys made a fine record without me way back in 1991 called Blind. We made two records that were hardcore crossover classics. We have a couple of different slants on our careers.
Alan: In the early days the lyrics were a bit more anti-establishment…
Mike: Well, you know, maybe they’re always that, but maybe they were a little more on-the-nose, a little more literal, because you know, when you’re 18 years old, you literally have the answer for everything. Sloganeering is the easy lyrical path. It really is.
Reed: Yeah, it was brand new to us. We were inspired!
Mike: That works for a while, but then you want to create something that’s a bit more evocative, that stands the test of time a bit more and has more different interpretations, and has wordplay or whatever.
Alan: And will your longtime producer John Custer be involved again?
Reed: Absolutely, yeah. I think he’s been involved on all our records since Blind.
Alan: Your skull logo that has been on a lot of your album artwork. I believe you [Mike] came up with that back in the early days?
Mike: I mentioned to a guy who could draw that we should do a skull with the fallout symbol and he actually made it so the middle spike in the skull made it almost like an inverted cross as well.
Reed: And originally the spikes were MX missiles.
Alan: So does he have a name, like Eddie from Iron Maiden or Vic Rattlehead from Megadeth?
Mike: [Shrugs] Spikey Skull?
Reed: Have you got any ideas?
Alan: Spikey Skull sounds good to me. Reed, you’ve played drums onstage with Metallica and Soundgarden in the past. Is there any band that you would still love to join onstage for a song?
Reed: I don’t know! Jesus! Who do you think I’d play good with?
Alan: Well, I wish I could make it to the Clutch and Lamb of God tour next month, so either or both of those would be cool.
Reed: I played a couple of Clutch songs with Neil, and I was so nervous beforehand that I forgot and I had to ask the bass player how they started! But that’d be cool. Clutch would be fantastic. Mike played bass with a lot of the Kyuss guys. That would have been fun.
Mike: Yeah, Kyuss Lives. Nick Oliveri got into some kind of stand-off with the police and couldn’t travel, so lucky me, I got to play. With Brant Bjork and John Garcia and a nice Belgian guitar player named Bruno who was standing in for Josh Homme.
Reed: Actually, Josh called me when Brant quit in 1994 and sent me a cassette of Sky Valley before it came out. Yeah, in one week, Gwar called me to play drums for them, Trouble and Kyuss.
Mike: Gwar’s production is very theatrical. If Reed had been taken into Gwar it’d be like being in the circus. You gotta wake up early in the morning and cover the venue in plastic so that none of the fake blood and slime gets on everything. Then you get in costume, then you play the show, then get out of costume, then you take the whole show down, and you get back in the bus for four hours and do it all again.
Reed: You can tell we’ve toured with them before.
Alan: Tell me the story about how and why Woody’s mother got into trouble with the police to defend Mike?
Mike: Oh. When we were young we had this hardcore punk band and I think it was called Corrosion of Conformity at the time, and we went to play a battle of the bands at a terrible sounding arena. We were the only hardcore band there. It was all high school hair metal bands or something at the time. All our friends came and they started a pit and were slam dancing and so the people putting on the show tried to shut it down. Our singer at the time was kind of a muscular Henry Rollins lookalike, and the guy came on the stage to take the microphones and take the gear off the stage and he pushed him into the crowd, and the crowd sort of trampled him, and as Anthrax would say, he was caught in a mosh. So the police came and apparently an uncle of Woody’s was working for the North Carolina State Fairgrounds Police and briefly was going to arrest Woody and our singer got arrested, and apparently this little guy broke his arm or something and he came up and got in my face and said some hurtful words that hurt my feelings, but I was going to leave it at that. But Woody’s mom took issue with that and there was a tussle and I had to go to court and had to say that in my opinion I felt that that man perhaps was threatening her.
Reed: Yeah, cos she got arrested too! Our singer and Woody’s mom got arrested!
Mike: She was within common sense to protect herself from this little jackass who hurt my feelings…
Reed: Yeah a little jackass who was kicking Woody’s little sister too.
Mike: But apparently, if anyone needs to know… If you need me in the courtroom, I’m not the best witness! I wasn’t very convincing.
Alan: Well, we’ve run out of time. Any final words to say to your Irish fans?
Mike: Thank you for coming to the show!
Reed: Nice one!
Alan: And thank you for coming back again so soon!