Since its formation in 1982, Corrosion of Conformity has gone through a number of lineup changes, hiatuses, and stylistic shifts. Originally, the Raleigh, North Carolina-based COC (as it is usually called) was a hard-core punk group — a ragtag ensemble of pissed kids scrawling their own fliers, penning socio-political bursts of noisy fury, and driving the length and breadth of the country in a rusty van.
Pepper Keenan joined the band at the dawn of the 1990s, in time to play guitar on the Blind album, though he took lead vocals on a couple of tracks, most notably the classic “Vote With a Bullet.” By the time the next album was released, 1994’s Deliverance, Keenan had been installed as lead vocalist, the sound had gone in a Southern-rock-meets-stoner-metal direction, and the COC that we know today was in place.
January will see the release of No Cross No Crown, COC’s first full-length album in four years and the band’s first for Nuclear Blast Records. It’s also the first record with the core quartet of Keenan, drummer Reed Mullin, guitarist Woody Weatherman and bassist Mike Dean, since 2000’s America’s Volume Dealer. Mullin left soon after that, though he returned for the IX album in 2014. Keenan was absent for that one as the band opted for a nostalgic return to its punk roots; the new album sees the four of them sailing through safer, though no less exciting, waters.
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“The reaction [to Keenan’s return] was incredible, so we knew we had to record some stuff,” says Mullin. “All the while, behind the other guys’ backs, I had been talking to Monte Conner from Nuclear Blast. I had known him for a million years. I sent him bits of songs here and there. Yeah, Monty and I came up with a good record deal, and we started recording last year. It worked out great. It’s a heavy fucking record, man.”
Mullin says that after 35 years of playing in a band with Dean and Weatherman, and plenty of time spent with Keenan, too, they know each other inside out. That makes the songwriting process easier.
“We’ve been playing together for so long, and actually learning how to play our instruments together; it’s got this organic thing where it always seems to work,” Mullin says. “We know what to anticipate from each other. We all write music — I do as well, even though I’m the lowly drummer. But there’s not a shortage of things to write about. I’m still very political, though maybe not as over-the-top obvious as I used to be in the olden days. All of us have things to say. There’s a lot to sing about these days. Jesus fucking Christ.”
Corrosion of Conformity is currently on tour with Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society, which is a ferocious, inspired pairing. Mullin says he’s never met Wylde before, though he’s excited about the tour.
“Pepper and Down [the stoner-metal band that Keenan is in with former Pantera man Phil Anselmo] did a little tour with him,” says Mullin. “I’m friends with Dave Grohl, and he knows that guy. I’m excited to meet him and play with him. I knew Zakk’s manager, Rob [Nicholson], who used to play in a band back in the punk-rock days named Cryptic Slaughter. He’s been hanging around for a long time. An old-school guy like us. I was sleeping on his fold-out couch in 1994 when Pepper and I were in L.A. trying to mix the Deliverance record. He started playing bass for Rob Zombie, and there can’t be two Robs in Rob Zombie, so he changed his name to Blasko. But he’s a really old friend of ours. I’m super-stoked to meet Zakk. I’ve never had the pleasure, but I hear he’s super-cool.”
Mullin is also psyched to get back to Denver, where COC has seen adventure in the past. In fact, back in 1987, when Mullin was booking the tours for his band and COC was networking among a close-knit community of fellow punk-rock groups, Denver was the scene of a run-in with an ugly pack of Nazi skinheads. However, because of some bad planning regarding the distance between gigs, COC never made it to Colorado. That didn’t stop the Nazis from making a mess, though.
“On the EP we were touring on when we were still on Metal Blade, called Technocracy, in big bold letters we said, ‘The only good thing about a Nazi skinhead is that they’re biodegradable.’ I thought it was hilarious,” says Mullin. “It took a while for the Nazi skinheads to find out what biodegradable meant, but six months later, boy, they were mad as hell. At that point, they had all herded into Denver. They had an idea of what they were going to do to us, but the girl promoting the show never announced that we weren’t playing, because she wanted folks to show up. The night of the show, all of the skinheads showed up. After Blast [the band COC was touring with] had done their set, there were like seventy of them with bats, knives and all sorts of stuff. There was this van covered in COC stickers — it was the Blast van, and we were best buddies. All hell broke loose. They bashed every window in. There was enough skinheads there where they could push the fucking thing over. The cops finally came, because they were trying to light it on fire. That’s how mad they were at COC.”
That was a long time ago, and despite the occasional disruption, COC in 2017 is a much smoother, more professional unit. And Mullin loves touring as much as he ever did.
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“It’s fruitful in terms of keeping me smiling every day,” he says. “I’ve known Woody since fifth grade. Forty-something years, and every night, I’m looking at Woody rocking so hard. We really jell, man, the four of us. It’s fun, and it’s what it should be. We’re certainly proud of the music we’ve made. We’ve been doing it since we were sixteen. My dad bought us a deathtrap of a van, and we took off. We haven’t stopped, really. Taken little breaks here and there, but I really enjoy it. It’s a good job to have — cruising around the world and getting paid for it.”
As for the Denver set, Mullin says the band has been rehearsing and sounding great.
“I think any COC fan will be stoked, because there’s something from every album that Pepper was the singer on,” he says. “We’ll try to mix in as much new stuff as we can, but the album doesn’t come out until January 12, so we’ll see.”