In spite of a mind-boggling amount of personnel changes (including two members leaving and then returning), Corrosion of Conformity has nevertheless remained consistent for over three decades. Currently whittled down to the trio of bassist/singer Mike Dean, guitarist Woody Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin, COC recently released IX, yet another album of crucial crossover hardcore metal.
Speaking from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina before a tour that comes to Denver tonight, August 22 at Summit Music Hall, Mike Dean spoke about Corrosion of Conformity's complicated history and how the band soldiered on when others would have surely packed it in.
You haven't been a part of the Raleigh music scene for a while now. But when the band first started, what was the scene there like?
The city didn't really have a good punk or metal scene. There was a vacuum and there was a role to fill in that regard. You kind of had to make your own fun. We started to do that. It happened to be an auspicious time for bands of the hardcore punk persuasion. We were fortunate to be geographically located between Washington D.C. and Atlanta. Raleigh was a tour stop for bands like Black Flag and Bad Brains. Those bands inspired us to get together, survive and have fun. If we would have formed in a place with more going on, it could have been easier to be overlooked.
The band formed in 1982. That was a seminal time for American hardcore punk rock.
Some of the music holds up pretty well and some of it doesn't. Some of it sounds now like a period piece. It was basically a new type of music. We would tour and people would call us a hardcore band from North Carolina.
A lot like Suicidal Tendencies, your band drifted more towards metal towards the end of the '80's. Why do you think many hardcore bands evolved into metal acts?
Well, that was always our shtick. That's what we became known for. You could see elements of this going on in Black Flag. With punk, you started to see this conformist tendency in something that was supposed to be non-conformist. We wanted to be one of the bands that pushed other buttons. You look at a band like Void. They were on the Flex Your Head compilation out of D.C. Void were already messing with metal. That was the conception of Corrosion of Conformity. We were not out to change the world. There was this subculture that was supposed to be non-conformist. And then they would bust your chops if you were not wearing the right. Dr. Martens shoes. There was this weird Southern California standard of hardcore. We grew up on heavy rock. When I was seven, I remember digging into my brother's record collection and becoming fixated on the Black Sabbath song "Electric Funeral." We've always had big ears, even are kids. We didn't want to play a single style of music. That is an artificial construct. There was this narrow-mindedness that shouldn't be a part of hardcore. We started mixing in this metal stuff that we always liked. They started to call if crossover and there were likeminded people all over the world. In the 90's, that became a more commercial avenue. We were never interested in being put in any particular box.
That super-fast style of hardcore has kind of made a recent comeback with Keith Morris' band OFF.
OFF are pretty entertaining. When I first heard that they were getting together, I went to a show in L.A. There was this guy close to me who was talking. He sounded very familiar. He had these big glasses and these dreadlocks. He kept talking to me like I knew him. I had to figure out who it was. That voice was so familiar. We parted ways and about ten minutes later I finally figured out that it was Keith Morris. I am not surprised that they have done well. If you go out to California and see the scope of that scene, they have big shows. I don't think that style of punk has ever gone away. You've always seen versions of it. People get tired of it and then a new group of young people pin their aspirations on it. Some of it is corny, kid's stuff, but some of it is very real. There's some of that scene that I carry with me every day, but you have to keep moving on.
How is your new album, IX, different from what you've done in the past?
I think there are some things that have remained consistent. We have some of the same influences as before. The biggest change is that Pepper Keenan is not on this record. He contributed a lot to the earlier albums. There was that void to fill. Unfortunately, a lot of the musical ideas and production ideas came from him. We had to put an emphasis on what the other members could bring to the table. I think it is a little more effortless now. We just sort of tap into different reinterpretations of our influences. We do stuff that makes us interested and we think people will be interesting in as well. I think the process is similar, but we are trying to be less regimented. We wanted to capture first takes, to capture elements as they were being born. We wanted to capture some happy accidents.
The band has been somewhat of a soap opera with various members, including you, leaving and then coming back. Hasn't the band had five different drummers and four different vocalists?
How did you count five different drummers? I don't know about some online sources. Reed Mullin has always been our drummer. He quit and we did have Stanton Moore play on a record. You might be close. It might be four. Jimmy Bower played with us. And Jason Patterson played on some live shows. That's pretty amazing man. We've been a band a long time. I was in the band early and I quit. They went ahead and had a different line up that I didn't see much potential in. One day, I came across a record they did called Blind. I was blown away because I didn't have high expectations for them. It was crazy good. They were doing music like bands we listened to driving around in the van, bands like Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple. They didn't give a fuck if it fit into one musical category. It was just music and I was proud of them. They ran into a bit of writer's block when they began the sessions for Deliverance. They asked me to play bass and we talked Pepper into singing. We increased the quorum of original members back to three. As long as we have a couple of original members, we know we'll be OK.Are you singing on songs that you didn't sing on originally?
No, we aren't interested in doing much of that. That is definitely to be avoided. We know that some people will not be happy to not hear some of that stuff. We have 30 years' worth of material and that is a good problem to have. We have some discussion and disagreement of which songs to play.
You've done some great tours with Metallica and Motorhead. When you first formed, could you imagine doing such shows?
Well, yes I did. Motorhead is not that big of a band, really. It wasn't impossible and we were a little cocky. I could see it. Now, in terms, of those Metallica shows, they were at the absolute peak of their drawing powers. It was a little extreme. I am not sure I pictured that.
Were the audiences receptive to your music?
In some instances, yes, but in others, it was a tough gig. They had come to see Metallica. It was their crowd. Many of them had no idea who we were. You're just one more barrier to them, one more obstacle to them seeing the band they played a lot of money to see. Sometimes, you would feel a connection, in certain locales. In some places, it was just like, "hurry up." I never had anything thrown at me. It was surreal. You would think you would be nervous playing to that many people, but the experience is so impersonal. It is hard to latch on to one pair of eyes. It was a very unusual experience.
Corrosion of Conformity performs with Bl'ast, Brant Bjork and Lord Dying on Friday, August 22, at the Summit Music Hall.