INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA AND ARTO LEHTINEN
Corrosion of Conformity (C.O.C.) recently embarked on a European tour with Pepper Keenan, who has been away from the band for a long time. Metal-Rules.com sat down with the band’s bassist, Mike Dean, to talk about the reunion with Pepper, the various versions of C.O.C., and of course, to reflect on the past of the band from their heyday and hardcore era.
THE REUNION TOUR
Mike Dean: Three weeks ago.
Metal-Rules.com: Before the actual tour started, you put out a great video shoot from the rehearsals in the UK, and it seemed that you really had a blast within the band.
Mike Dean: That was a little scary putting that online because that’s the first time we really played together. All four of us really in a very long time, so yeah. We remembered the songs pretty well, so it was good.
Metal-Rules.com: So how have things developed since then?
Mike Dean: We are getting a good response, and it’s fun. We are looking at doing some more shows, trying to get some invitations to festivals, and hopefully making records soon. That’s what we’re going to do.
Metal-Rules.com: With Pepper now back in the line-up, how much did you re-learn and change things compared to the last few tours you did as a threesome?
Mike Dean: Yeah, I mean myself personally just have to sing a lot. It’s a lot more work than just digging in and playing bass and putting all your energy into that. It makes me respect Pepper because just to have to sing and play and deliver those songs that people are very familiar with up to a standard every night is challenging. I have my taste to that for a little while, and who knows, maybe I will do it again. But this is more about just trying to; it’s a bigger sound, more guitars. So it’s about just finding players for your instruments and just making it tighter.
Metal-Rules.com: The last time you played as three-piece was when I saw you at the Roadburn festival, and the setlist was built primarily around the first three albums.
Mike Dean: Yeah, mostly about ANIMOSITY in fact. That was one of the first shows we played together as a three-piece after a long time, so that was not so good. It was literary right from the airport to the show, and poor Woody was very ill. We were supposed to do Roadburn again this year… But we had a nice invitation on this, it’s not like a big-money show, but it’s a big cultural event. It’s good for our publicity, and you get to see lots of great bands, and the Netherlands is a good climate for music.
DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF C.O.C.
Metal-Rules.com: You kind of have three versions of the band now. This one, the three-piece version and the Blind version. It’s a really confusing situation for the fans, I think?
Mike Dean: I agree. But we are not doing the three-piece thing right now because we are trying to keep it simple. But our drummer has chosen to… He wants to demonstrate that he’s still friends with Karl Agell and Karl is a great guy, and people do want to hear those songs, I agree. But I agree that it’s very confusing and maybe not smart marketing to do that “Blind” thing, but I feel that they will play less as we play more. And Karl will focus on his band he’s in now, which is called King Hitter. They have a few really amazing songs, like a two-guitar harmony lead attack, kind of like Judas Priest. It would be a fast song in 1979, but now it’s kind of normal, but it’s really strong sounding. A little nostalgic sounding put in a cool creative way. It’s a good band sound.
Metal-Rules.com: As for the Blind line-up, that version recently played on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise.
Mike Dean: I had nothing to do with that, the only people that were ever encouraging forming that are Reed Mullin and Karl Agell and some other guys playing.
Metal-Rules.com: That line-up is also going to tour with Death Angel this spring.
Mike Dean: You know, I liked Death Angel; I remember them from being a kid and going to play out on the West Coast in the United States for the first time. Some of the first really good kind of West Coast crossover thrash metal.
Metal-Rules.com: The guys were really young at the time.
Mike Dean: Yeah, yeah. They showed up in the back of their mother’s station wagon, and got out of the car, and put on all their wrist bands made out of nails and stuff like that. It was pretty funny, and they were like 16.
Metal-Rules.com: Andy, the drummer, was like a 13-year-old back then.
Mike Dean: Yeah, that was a trip for sure.
Metal-Rules.com: So time will tell which lineup is the strongest in a way. Do you believe that this line-up will be the one and the only C.O.C. in the future?
Mike Dean: Musically, that’s a very good thing that they, the C.O.C. Blind, are doing, I’m not knocking it at all. But it is confusing in terms of having an artistic identity. It’s a long twisted story anyway, just with one version out. But yeah, I just think this sound’s legitimacy by everyone.
SPEAKING ABOUT METALLICA
Metal-Rules.com: Going back to the current lineup, which we will see tonight, I remember seeing that version live last time, maybe 15, 17 years ago, with Metallica.
Mike Dean: Yeah, man. I do remember that. “Laughs”
Metal-Rules.com: Actually, you were supposed to play here again with Motörhead in 2006, but then you had the hurricane thing going in the States, and you were forced to cancel the whole tour.
Mike Dean: That sucked because that would have been a good tour for us because it’s a hard gig to play around for 40 minutes in front of some people that are really just interested in seeing Metallica.
Metal-Rules.com: Any positive memories from that Metallica tour?
Mike Dean: Yeah. The most positive thing is these were all pretty down-to-earth guys like even at that stage of the game where they are so huge, and just being on the whole cruise on a giant tour like that and seeing how it all works. I get to the point where we are not playing music, and I had a pivot ground. So I got involved in all kinds of local show production, stuff like that, rigging stuff. I wanted to do the rigging was because I saw those guys first thing in the morning, putting that show up every day, up in the roof. I’m like, I can do that, I’ll do that. Then, of course, the tour riggers are the guys who would be in the trust spot chairs, and they would do the stunts, where they would get blown up and fall out of the sky, stuff like that. I still work local shows, and I see those guys around. They work for big country artists now. They are as high up in the tour organization, but the guys who were just the tour riggers there, I’d say. I met many people that I still keep up with, especially on the crew side of that.
Metal-Rules.com: Were you kind of surprised when Pepper later did the audition for Metallica? Did you others in the band know what was going on back then?
Mike Dean: He wasn’t going to make it as a bass player; let’s just be realistic here. So it might have been like, not that he can’t play the bass, but it’s not something they would go along with. Because to them, it would be putting somebody who could offer more to the world into a role that’s like; you are just a bass player. Are you going to play all the songs from JUSTICE FOR ALL? I don’t know. It’s like that just wasn’t going to happen. Three quarters, most of those who tried out, you know, they weren’t going to be in the band it was just a bit of fun, it was skeptical. Scott Ryder is my favorite bass player probably. But is he going to be in Metallica? I don’t think so. I think they chose a pretty good one. It’s like Jason Newsted worked really hard. He was the hardest working guy, the background vocals and all that. He was badass, he was hard to replace, and Cliff Burton was impossible to replace.
RECORD COMPANY TALK
Metal-Rules.com: Speaking about record companies, currently, you have a deal with Candlelight Records, right?
Mike Dean: No, no. It’s all over.
Metal-Rules.com: Was it just one album deal?
Mike Dean: Two albums, and when you think it’s one, that’s exactly why it’s over. Do you know about record IX? Because no one has heard about that. Because they don’t do anything, I don’t know what they do. They do something besides us. The only artist they have that does well is Orange Goblin. Because Orange Goblin is Orange Goblin and they are doing well, I don’t know how they make money. I don’t know how they continue to exist.
Metal-Rules.com: It’s maybe because they have a huge back catalog with Emperor, Cradle of Filth, and the stuff like that, I guess, mostly black metal thing.
Mike Dean: Yeah, but I’m not impressed. I’m sorry. I guess they don’t like our music, something like that. I don’t know. No love lost there. I don’t know if you saw the cover of the self-titled?
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, I have the album.
Mike Dean: The Candlelight was like… we really don’t like the record cover. We really don’t like it. We like what we do. So they put it out. Then we did IX, and they were like, we really don’t like the record cover. What is this supposed to be? I’m like; it’s supposed to show that it’s like a no-bullshit record, with like three dudes playing instruments and that we were into heavy rock. It’s kind of a posturized thing like Black Sabbath volume four. They were like, okay, alright. It was like a bad fit, and they are not even on the same channel that we are, and aesthetically, in any sense, I have no idea why they offered us money to make records. But that’s their so-called business.
Metal-Rules.com: So, you’re going to start working new album with Pepper, but you don’t have a label at the moment?
Mike Dean: No. We don’t need anyone’s help to come up with music and start putting it together, at the point that we really go and start recording. There is plenty of offers, but yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: In the past, you have been in many, many different record companies. So do you miss being in the big company?
Mike Dean: Not really, there are good things about that and bad things. We knew that wouldn’t last, and it’s the expectations were to be so commercially successful. Those expectations were unrealistic, but we decided to enjoy the ride, and the way we enjoyed the ride was; Hey! We would like to record at Electric Lady. We’d like to record at Criteria Studios, where Tom Dowd recorded Cream and Derek and the Dominos and The Allman Brothers. So we kind of use the recourses to do that and just get in touch with the history of making the records that we enjoyed as kids, so that was cool. We succeeded in that, and then some fun people work for those organizations. Still, the whole corporate idea of quarterly profits, quarterly earnings is what drives those entities, and it’s driven them to the ground. They haven’t addressed it because there is hardly any physical product to sell beyond vinyl now, so yeah. It’s not really that desirable situation to be involved with those people at this point. I’m not sure they’d be interested in being involved with us anyway, but we will see.
Metal-Rules.com: How about the Sanctuary Label? They released a couple of C.O.C. albums, but then the label disappeared completely because they basically went out of the business.
Mike Dean: Yeah, the label. These albums are hard to find, I could tell you. They have been absorbed by some major like Universal or something like that. That was just a flip. That was the only North Carolina-based company that merged with the UK Company that used to be part of Iron Maiden’s management Sanctuary. They merged together and started making records by bands dropped by the major labels, yes they made money, but they didn’t make enough money for the majors who want to do them basically. They managed to run that business on two grounds, so yeah. That was alright. If you wanted to have an argument with the record company, you only had to drive 10 minutes across town to do that in North Carolina. You don’t have to fly to New York to do it.
Metal-Rules.com: But do you have rights to albums released through them?
Mike Dean: No. It’s Universal because it was Sony and BMG got together, and then the EU broke them up, and they had to sell things, and they sold all the things that were on Sanctuary to Universal Music. I don’t know how I know this; I’m like the least business guy you’d ever know. But I know that. It’s like sports trivia, and it is stuck in my head.
THE EARLY DAYS
Metal-Rules.com: You started your recording career with Metal Blade, and I remember that Tom Araya from Slayer helped you get the deal, right?
Mike Dean: Yeah, such as it was. “Laughs”
Metal-Rules.com: Metal Blade has a huge legacy in the metal world, but how well did C.O.C. fit in that community?
Mike Dean: We just kind of started out at a time we were a few in a hardcore band, as a hardcore punk band, there is a built-in audience. As you said, there was no Internet. People were just like, this band is coming from North Carolina, and they’re a hardcore band. Just crazy, a hardcore band from North Carolina. That’s a stupid country place. How could it be a hardcore band? I have to see this, so just check it based on that, and there would be a crowd everywhere. Because this is just a word of mouth type of thing, the whole idea of it wasn’t worn out then. It was a perfect time to start the band, and we did the whole thing where we put like classic rock and a little bit of metal in that, and it was a time when people in the metal were starting to get into faster stuff. It just fell into place, of course, then we went to Los Angeles and, as kids, played these big shows at The Olympic Auditorium. With some of the bands that were beyond Metal Blade, stuff like that. So they got to be aware of us and played. Slayer came to play for the first time on the East Coast and played with them in Baltimore. The funny thing is like I’m the biggest Obsessed fan in the world, especially the California version of the band and all Wino’s recent projects and stuff like that. That’s just like one of my favorite musicians. But at the time, the show was going to be The Obsessed, Slayer and C.O.C and The Obsessed were like we’re not playing before a punk band. We are not going to play before a punk band, and we are not going on first, and Slayer was like, okay, will go on after them. So Slayer played in the middle, and then three chords of the crowd laughed, and it was a kind of a dirty trick, kind of felt bad for them. But it was just like Slayer. They were standing up for us in a way. It’s kind of funny now that I think about how much I listened to The Obsessed’s music since then, especially after Scott Reeder got in and Greg and all that. But yeah, they just put in a word for us.
Metal-Rules.com: TECHNORACY, that album was the gateway for me to get into C.O.C…
Mike Dean: Yeah, yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: At that time, it was tough to get albums. There was tape trading and stuff like that. When I was a kid, I remember that when you released the TECHNORACY EP, before that EP C.O.C. was playing a hardcore punk style, but then you went more like sludge and doom or whatever, a Black Sabbath inspired style. I was like, hold on, what happened to this band? So what I’m asking is, how important of an influence has Sabbath been for you?
Mike Dean: I have listened to Black Sabbath since I was five years old, and I found “Paranoid” in my brother’s record box. At that age, it was pretty much just the song “Electric Funeral” because of the “wah-wah.” But we grew up on all that, and then basically, what really got us into punk rock was seeing the Bad Brains. Because they played around North Carolina a lot and we were just like everybody else, we were blown away. Because they had the aggressiveness of hardcore, but they had the agility of musicians. So that was kind of the game-changer for us. It was the Bad Brains. When Black Flag played around North Carolina a lot for whatever reason, it was on the way to somewhere else they needed to go. Better than a nod of. So that’s where it kind of led us into like the hardcore thing, just incorporating more of our original influences just kind of came more with being able to play better. Getting bored with one-dimensional music does all aggression and too many songs, just like kind of one-dimensional. Some people can do great within that box.
Metal-Rules.com: I would say that with the last two albums, you went back to your early days, but there are still some elements from the 90’s stuff as well. It’s kind of a mix of everything you have done in your career.
Mike Dean: The last one was really just a whole, except a couple of songs. It was really just a whole lot of Black Sabbath, but the self-titled yeah. The self-titled was sort of being an experiment of trying to make a record like ANIMOSITY that was current, without thinking too hard about it, and it just kind of end up being very eclectic fairly mixed. So we let that happen. We had a concept, and then we said, who needs a concept? We just need music.
DIFFICULT 90’s AND OWNERSHIP TALK
Metal-Rules.com: In the early ’90s, Corrosion of Conformity was doing well. I remember seeing your videos on MTV, and the album WISEBLOOD was everywhere. But soon after, the grunge thing came in, and death metal was really dominating in the underground.
Mike Dean: Yeah, yeah. People didn’t really understand traditional metal anymore.
Metal-Rules.com: But how did you manage to pull through the ’90s. That must have been a difficult time?
Mike Dean: That’s kind of how the band’s been all along because we just kind of have our own vision, and there are all these different genres and sub-genres of music and metal. To us, it’s all just music, and we don’t really get stuck on one particular mode because we’ve listened to so many different kinds of music our whole life. It’s fun just to try to use some of those ingredients to do what we do, and it’s more interesting that way, but yeah, it’s sort of makes it difficult to clarify. Like you write reviews, and I’m not saying it’s bad to describe the band and try to narrow down what they are doing because it helps you communicate it to people. But at some point, everything gets put in a box, and it’s not good, I think right now, especially in Europe. It’s just a sub-genre of metal type of stuff. It’s just ridiculous. Especially when you go to a store, and they attempt to segregate these stuff on each other. And that comes with viewing as a commodity that has to be packaged in a certain way or so. So I guess that is a necessary evil, but it doesn’t help us by being… Do you know?
Metal-Rules.com: After all these years and all these lineup changes and stuff, who actually owns the band’s name?
Mike Dean: I suppose we all do.
Metal-Rules.com: Everybody in the band??
Mike Dean: Yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: Three or four of you?
Mike Dean: Three or four. I don’t know. We were probably deferred to Reed because he came up with the name, and when he was supposed to be studying in school, he was thinking of what a great reputation for our band would be and writing on his notebook. It’s nothing worth it, it’s one of those things I can walk away from, but I like to do it. I’m not going to get in any kind of situation with these guys over that if there is ever a problem, but just out of respect, I think we all own it.
Metal-Rules.com: Speaking about Reed, he left the band in 2000, and then you had different drummers. But I can’t help asking why Mullin left the band. Did he have some personal issues?
Mike Dean: I think it was probably a combination of things. He can probably tell you better. But he had some issues with his neck from touring and playing drums, bone spurs, things like that. So it was hard to play that music and be on tour and be in a little surgery for eventually, I think he had other artistic things he wanted to do as well.
Metal-Rules.com: There was a time between 2006 – 2010 when C.O.C. didn’t exist at all. But in 2009, Reed started the Blind version of the band with Karl, right?
Mike Dean: I believe they played. They didn’t really send out any music. I quit. They played some, but it was maybe a little disorganized. They were really finding what they wanted to do. Everybody doubted them, and then one day, I see this record called “Blind” and was blown away by how musical it is. It’s totally awesome. I think you have John Custer largely who produced it largely. Thank you for that kind of musical push forward. That included all types of just really took into account like the history of rock and great classic rock, and how you could utilize it and put it into something new, you could draw on those ideas. The band has drawn from that concept and benefited from his vision, his help ever since then. So that’s a very, very good record. I’m not knocking it at all.
TEENAGE TIME KILLER
Metal-Rules.com: Tell something about Teenage Time Killer?
Mike Dean: The best way I could sort of put it in perspective for you is; are you familiar with the PROBOT album?
Mike Dean: It’s like a more uncontrollable version of that, so I mean that was basically like Dave Grohl coming up with the songs and then seeking out like metal vocalist that he respected to come to sing them. He would try to write songs that were crafted for that person and like a doomy one from Lee Dorian and Eric Wagner. Actually ended up switching songs. By the way, they traded songs. So it’s that type of concept. The house engineer 606, this guy named John Lousteau, he’s also a drummer from Tennessee who moved to L.A, a good friend of Nick Raskulinecz, the record producer. But anyway, they wanted to do the same thing, create some songs and then see how many different guest vocalists and musicians they could get. It went beyond vocals. All kinds of stuff are there. It’s like the PROBOT album but even more, like you’ve got Greg Anderson from Altar and Goatsnake playing guitar and some stuff. Max from Sepultura and so on. We recorded some of the vocals around the time when we were doing IX, so I recorded some vocals, Woody’s guitar, I got a bass song there, and it was kind of split out. But Jello Biafra was there, and just a lot of, I called it super collaboration. I got very little to do with it, but I guess that’s better because I was in the photograph of Randy Blythe. Randy from Lamb of God. You know how the Internet is, and he’s like, Mike Dean. Just like, no, I just…I just did some cheap recording for them.
Metal-Rules.com: But do you have some other projects going on right now?
Mike Dean: I have to go home, to record an album for the band Sourvein. They did Roadburn last year; it’s kind of North Carolina kind of sludgy kind of bands. Pretty good. I recorded IX with John Custer, kind of helping out, and I also just recorded with a band called Earthride, a Maryland doom band. Lastly also talked to a band called Foghound with people from Sixty Watt Shaman out of the Maryland area. But the Sourvein thing, I’m doing it in trade and part for a two-inch tape machine, analog tape machine.
Metal-Rules.com: As you keep your nose on the ground checking new bands and stuff like that. But when you think about this sludge thing, the sludge or doom metal thing from the Roadburn festival. There are a lot of bands playing the real doomy stuff…
Mike Dean: Yeah, it’s getting a little crowded. I enjoy something, but it’s very easy to do it to do a mediocre version of that. It’s very easy to do a mediocre version of that. I like it when there is songwriting and melody involved or some kind of creativity like YOB. I like YOB because the lyrics are good. There is a lot of kind of crazy ambiance, some texture, and you can tell they are not just going through the motions. There is a little bit of Sabbath, and there is a little bit of like almost like a musical neurosis there as well. I like the more creative versions of that, for sure. There used to be Eyehategod, and they were good. But now all of Europe is discovering; this is not too hard, I can do it.
THE LAST WORDS
Metal-Rules.com: Ok, so our time is running out now… but in brief. Tomorrow you go back to the States, but what’s going to happen with Corrosion of Conformity after that?
Mike Dean: Reed is doing his tour with the C.O.C. Blind, but before it starts, we are playing a show in Chicago, Corrosion of Conformity, with the Pepper guy singing. We are playing in Chicago, the first North American show in a long time with them. We are talking about some festivals, maybe Download? Something like that. It’s not for sure, and I probably should say that. Basically, we are going on tour this summer to see what’s going on, I’m writing some songs, and I will be mixing a record as soon as I get home.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay. We thank you for your time.
Mike Dean: No problem man, thank you.
LIVE PICTURES FROM C.O.C.’s GIG IN HELSINKI 2015