By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – North Carolina’s Corrosion of Conformity has seen a lot of changes sweep the music industry since their inception in 1982, and so it’s only fitting that the punk, thrash, heavy metal act has reinvented itself on more than one occasion. Most notably, the comings and goings of guitarist Pepper Keenan and drummer Reed Mullin have had a significant impact on the tone and personality of the band. Tracking their commanding presence, subsequent absences and gradual reappearances is enough to give a music archivist hives! Still the steadfast act has managed to survive and thrive, from the early success of formative albums like Technocracy (1985) to the definitive movements of In the Arms of God (2005), the tenacious Southern-blues-rock phenomenon has made a career of traversing genre-lines and outlasting trends. Today Corrosion of Conformity continues to draw on the same elements that have always been their calling card; solid songwriting, intense collaboration and a pure unabated lust for working their audiences into a lather. And, judging by their work ethic, it’s evident that elder statesmen Keenan, guitarist Woody Weatherman, bassist Mike Dean and Mullin aren’t quite ready to rust in peace.
“Don’t get me started on the nightmare situation here in the States. My God!” says percussionist Reed Mullin of the band’s current political outlook, noting that COC hasn’t abandoned its post, but is perhaps a bit more subtle in expressing their views than in the past.
“We still touch on issues, but I don’t think we’re quite as demonstrative, or finger-pointing, as we’ve been in the past. Not to say we’ve abandoned things that we feel strongly about.”
Judging by the strength of COC’s first new album full-length album in four years, No Cross No Crown (2018), the band isn’t running short on ideas.
“It’s a long one isn’t it? She’s long!” Mullin exclaims with an air of pride.
“The new album definitely represents us and this chapter in our history very well. We kind of feel like we can and have done whatever kind of music we want. And haven’t been bound by our past or anything like that. Our name is Corrosion of Conformity (I came up with the name in chemistry class) and I think we remain true to the name. We’ve always been into blending different things, because we like a lot of different types of music. Luckily a lot of people grew with us. Our sound is complex, it has a lot of influences, and a lot of ear-candy.” Mullin elaborates.
“The vast majority of, No Cross No Crown, was written in the studio. Originally, we were going to demo the material at our rehearsal space/studio and then we were going to take the tracks somewhere else, like Dave Grohl’s studio, to do what was supposed to be the real tracks. But, as we went along, the demo tracks just sounded so fucking good that we finally asked ourselves ‘How are we going to make this better? It already sounds slammin!’ Everything was really loose and not over thought and I think that’s one of the main aspects of this new record. Captures the live essence of COC.”
Bottling the lighting that is COC in-performance is one thing, but bringing those recorded tracks to life on stage is another ball of wax. Fortunately, by (the soon to be 52) Mullin’s estimation, getting back into tour-ready condition was as simple as falling off a bike.
“We’ve been touring together again as this particular line-up since 2014. This is a classic line-up and certainly the most popular one, but if you ask an old crusty punk rocker they’ll probably disagree with you. We’ve had three big incarnations as a band; the original ‘80s hardcore punk version (so it was a little different), and then we did one album with a guy named Karl Agell singing and Pepper (Keenan) sang one song called “Vote With A Bullet,” and that was much more metal and super political, and then the Pepper one. For me it’s been 18 years since I recorded with the band. I split for a little while and they did an album with a badass drummer named Stanton Moore. So, America’s Volume Dealer is the last one I was did, in 2000. I think we probably always thought that we could keep going on. I don’t think we ever thought it was over with.”
Knowing when to say “When!” has never been the hardcore outfit’s prerogative, but they have established a crew of talented (and more restrained) individuals who dutifully curb those tendencies from the other side of the soundproof glass.
“We’ve used our Producer, John Custer, since 1991,” reports Mullin. “He’s a Raleigh-boy like me, Mike Dean and Woody. He’s fantastic and was able to extract these killer takes from me and everybody else. We ended up getting it mixed by Mike Fraser, he’s a well-known engineer, mixer, producer-guy who did our Wiseblood album. Something Henry Rollins of Black Flag used to say was ‘Playing live. That’s the get off. And when you go to the studio that’s just the documentation of the get-off.’ I think we documented the get-off pretty good.”
Corrosion of Conformity perform with Black Label Society and Eyehategod on Monday, Feb. 12 at The Ranch Roadhouse (Edmonton), Friday, Feb. 16 at Bowes Event Centre (Grande Prairie) and Saturday, Feb. 17 at MacEwan Hall (Calgary)Black Label Society, Bowes Event Centre, Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, MacEwan Hall, The Ranch Roadhouse