Since 1984, North Carolinas Corrosion of Conformity has been a relentless and powerful staple of the East Coast punk/metal scene. From their early classic punk release Animosity to the southern tinged doom/stoner metal Pepper Keenan fronted era, COC has made a huge imprint on the face of heavy metal music. I recently had the chance to connect with bassist/founder Mike Dean from his home in North Carolina. Mike and I talked about the stellar new self titled Corrosion of Conformity album, his beginnings as a young musician in North Carolina and how it is to be a band with out their guitarist/singer of 16 years Pepper Keenan. Hope y’all enjoy this one as much as I did.
Mike thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
No worries man. Thank you.
Congratulations on making an amazing album. I’ve really been digging the hell out of it.
I appreciate that man. I think it turned out pretty well [laughs].
Is there some significance to having this album be “self titled”?
It’s kind of a combination of circumstances that just felt right. It’s not like any type of dis to Pepper (Keenan; guitarist/singer) but when you have someone who is your main focus, vocalist and guitar player/songwriter for 15 years or so and then you suddenly make a record without that person you’re going to run into some critique. Without anyone even hearing it you’re going get some resistance. These are the three original people here and we are not going to make an inferior record. We’re going to do something that’s basically the defining work for us or we’re not even going to put it out. In a fun way it’s kind of like two middle fingers blazing and it’s also just a slightly provocative thing to do 30 years into your career. It also puts emphasis on the band name and is just kind of a conversation starter.
That’s really interesting. If I was Pepper I think I’d be a little bit nervous after hearing how good this album is.
Oh Pepper was into it man. We were waiting on him to do some Down (Pepper’s other band from New Orleans) stuff and then by the time we got our shit together to record he saw a little bit of daylight in his schedule and he wanted to make a record with us. At this point we had already stated our intention to do it as a trio. He was a little put off by that and I think he was concerned that we might be dragging the brand down or that we might do some type of inferior product. We played a couple of shows with Down and he heard the new material and he was like, “Man, if that’s the stuff you’re doing I’m very cool with that.” From that point on he was very gracious about it and he even came out and played some tunes with us at Hellfest in France. It’s been a good vibe with him.
That’s cool that you guys are able to maintain a positive relationship with Pepper but at the same time be like, “Hey dude, we’re cool but we’re not going to sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for you to have free time.”
Yeah, I mean we had to do something but at the same time you can’t blame him. He’s got a great opportunity to be creative and make a good living with Down. They’re really in demand and they are bunch of really down to earth and creative people. I don’t blame him one bit. He’s living back down in New Orleans where he’s from and that’s where Down is based out of. I think at some point we probably will do something with Pepper again and it will be a good story when it happens. If doing in the Arms of God (the last record they made with Pepper) is any indication of where we left off it’ll be a good time and a great experience.
When you guys decided to move forward without Pepper, was it a pretty easy decision to just have it be the three original members or had you thought about bringing in someone to step in for Pepper?
Nah, we didn’t really think about bringing anybody else in. We just kind of acted on the natural impulse that felt right and that was to just bring back the trio. The suggestion actually started out as a joke because Pepper had the idea that we should get back together to play some festivals in 2010. That ended up not working out because Down had to do shows and promoters didn’t want to do COC and Down together so we were a little disappointed at first. It would’ve been the first with we had Reed (Mullins; drummer) back in the band after a really long absence. When that didn’t happen, I just said, “Man, we should just go play as a three piece” expecting everybody to laugh and nobody laughed [laughs]. We started dusting off all of our Animosity material which we found had held up pretty well for being so ancient. Our starting point was to just write some songs that we felt would go well in the set list with the Animosity material that would demonstrate that we weren’t just trying to exploit the nostalgia. Once you write four songs off the cuff you might as well just keep on going and write an album. That’s how it all came together.
This new album really seems to have meshed that kind of punk Animosity era stuff with the kind of stoner metal Pepper Keenan era stuff. Was that a natural thing for you guys or did you find yourselves having to work at it a bit?
We were thinking that we were going to stick to a more slightly updated Animosity sound. We wanted to really work the kind of hard core metal kind of combination and then take that to a place that felt current and that reflected who we were. I think the sound managed to stay pretty cohesive but none of it was really calculated. I think if we had tired to do more calculating we probably would’ve just fallen on our faces. I’m really happy with how it all turned out.
I think it sounded so natural and I love the end result.
Man, some people just don’t get it. I heard people saying stuff like, “You guys rushed this out”. Well, we didn’t rush it out. It’s been 2, 555 days since our last release but you know [laughs]. I think we were well rehearsed and prepared but we made it a point to not over polish or whittle it down with excess production making it perfect and lifeless.
Speaking of making the album, you guys went out to California to make this record. How did you guys end up recording at Dave Grohl’s studio?
We had an opportunity to record in a really nice studio for a kind of a family rate by virtue of a favor that Reed did for Dave Grohl when he was in a band in suburban DC called Dain Bramage. Before Dave Grohl was in Scream or Nirvana he was in a band called Dain Bramage. COC had played a show up there and he came up to Reed and asked if he knew anyone he could talk to about putting a record out. Reed told him about a guy he knew who ran a label in Pamona, CA called Toxic Shock and told him that he’d put his stuff out. That ended up working out and while it wasn’t a huge money deal it was your boys first record that he ever put out. All these years later Reed runs into Dave at a Them Crooked Vultures show and Dave invited us to come out and record at his studio. All we had to do was pay the engineer and the studio was on the house.
You guys recently toured with an awesome band from LA called Kyng who definitely boasts a lot of COC influence. Do you hear a lot of you influence in some bands and if so how does it feel?
Yeah. With Kyng, I hear a little bit of “Blind” era COC. That band is terrifyingly good man. They’re very melodic and it’s like I told them, “There’s a lot music in that there music” [laughs]. It’s hard to say though. If you listen ot COC you’re going to hear a lot of Black Sabbath and Bad Brains or whatever else. It’s all just a language of music and it’s just hard to start entirely from scratch and have something that people are going to enjoy. I hear it here and there and sometimes you hear it in the context of a band that’s not fully baked [laughs]. I definitely do hear a lot of early COC references in some of the new metalcore bands also.
It really is hard to do something that is 100% original and especially for up and coming bands it takes some time to hone your sound.
Yeah. It’s always going to involve some of the other devices that somebody used before. You just have to learn to use them a different way.
Local scenes all over the country seem to have been dying a slow death for many years yet still manage to hang on w/ some great bands. From someone who’s been in the biz for over 30 years, what do you think has caused this?
I just think music has less of a stature. Live music as a diversion for the masses has kind of be usurped a little bit by sitting around looking at Facebook or watching DVDs or streaming movies on your awesome home theater system. It’s just a general waining of the appreciation and the celebration of music. There are people that like to come out and see music but I just think that every little kind of musical scene that was strong was sucked up and exploited by the bigger mass marketing type of concert promotion system and less than epic sized acts don’t really survive there.
Even here I go to local shows and while they’re not as heavily attended as they used to be, people still seem to enjoy getting out there and seeing live music.
Yeah. Hopefully people are experiencing music in a more direct form again and going to see a band live perhaps. Maybe they’re all at home pretending to play the drums with rock band or something [laughs].
Whenever I see these kids on YouTube who’ve mastered Guitar Hero or something I’m like, “Why don’t you take the time it took to master than and learn to play a REAL guitar ya know?
[laughs] Oh yeah. I’ve actually heard that people who actually know how to play guitar don’t score very high on Guitar Hero. It must be something about the interface or something [laughs].
The physical medium of music has changed so drastically but it seems like people are starting to gravitate back towards that classic vinyl format again which I’m loving. How do you feel about this shift back to an old school way of enjoying music?
Music has been kind of miniaturized like everything else along with the technology. If I want to listen to music with decent reproduction, I’m almost better off going to the thrift store and digging up some 1975 stereo equipment that still works rather than find something brand new that plays data compressed MP3 files that are just miniaturized sounding. They’re just completely compressed and people listen to them on ear buds and actually listen through the shitty little speaker on their cellphones. I do see signs of hope in that you see a resurgence of vinyl, People want something that they can hold in their hands.
Alright Mike. I have a few fun questions that I like to ask just to try and get to know someone a little better.
Fun for who? [laughs]
Fun for you I hope. Let’s go back in time. At what point as a young man did you know that music was your calling?
It was pretty early on I’d say. I think probably when I was like 5 or 6 years old it seemed like a good thing to do. I had my older brother’s record collection so I perused the Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Rolling Stones albums. It seemed like a pretty cool existence to me/
Do you remember the first gig that you ever played?
[laughs] Man, I think one of my first gigs was at the Milestone club in Charlotte, NC with a friend of mine from High School. He was the token African American dude in the punk rock scene that learned how to play excellent guitar. He had seen the Plasmatics on television and then he just got all into punk rock. We met this Jamaican guy in Charlotte who was into English Beat and then we had some terrible band for a while [laughs]. I heard the Circle Jerks and then Bad Brains started coming around and then I changed more towards the hardcore stuff. I don’t even remember what we were called.
If Hollywood was to make a movie about Mike Dean, who would play you?
Oh shit man. It depends on where you wanted to take the film [laughs]. Man, I’d have to say Steve McQueen [laughs].
If you could have dinner with any musician alive or dead, who would it be, what would you have and what would you talk about?
Damn dude. There’s a lot of possibilities out there when you just throw reality out the window [laughs]. I’m not very good with unbridled fantasy scenarios. I tend to just freeze up and come up with something underwhelming. I’d say Johann Sebastian Bach, we’d eat whatever they were eating back then and talk about all the things he had to do to avoid getting the plague [laughs]. I mean I guess I could have been like, “I’d eat with John Paul Jones and we’d talk about the song “Celebration Day” and how he wrote all the music and all the other dudes took credit except the music that they stole from black people” [laughs].
What is your biggest musical guilty pleasure?
Just any kind of country music like from the later half of the 20th century. I love stuff like Ferlin Husky or Porter Wagner. The more over the top, ridiculous, rhinestone suit wearing red white and blue guitar type of shit the better. Buck Owens. I love anything like that. Even stuff like Johnny Burnette and the Rock N’ Roll Trios is kinda cheesy but cool.
What is the most starstruck you have ever been?
I could say it was when we saw Martha Stewart at the Grammy’s but that was actually Pepper who was starstruck by that [laughs]. It was actually when Reed was down in Atlanta at the Them Crooked Vultures show and somehow he talked John Paul Jones into calling me and he left me a message on my voice mail. He said, “Mike Dean. This is John Paul Jones. How are you? You have Reed to thank for this.” [laughs] I went around playing it on my phone for everyone and nobody believed it was real [laughs].
Do you have any words of encouragement for any up and coming bands out there right now?
t’s better to be an imperfect version of yourself than a perfect copy of some other successful artist. Do your own thing. Stick out your territory and just try to do everything as self sufficiently as possible until you’re in a position to deal with the money changers or whatever labels are still left. You can make it happen on your own. Keep it self sufficient and sustainable. Don’t buy a Porche when you get your first 88 grand [laughs].
What does 2012 have in store for COC and it’s fans?
We’re doing a few weeks here in the states, a few weeks in Europe. Then we come back here for a few months and then back to Europe again. We’re just attempting to be everywhere at once or at least give that impression [laughs].
Mike thanks so much for taking the time to do this today. Best of luck with the new album and the tour and it was great talking to you today.
Back at ya man. Thanks so much and take care.
For more on Corrosion of Conformity, head on over to http://www.coc.com