Interviews

C.O.C.: FROM “RABID DOGS” TO RAISING HOGS — AND BACK AGAIN

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From left to right: Weatherman, Mullin, and Dean. Pic courtesy C.O.C.

C.O.C. is not only one of the best bands to come out of the old-school 1980s hardcore movement; technically, it’s at least five of the best groups to emerge from the scene. Over 28 years, every release – and later, every other album – has found the veterans with a new lineup and an all-new sound.

The band launched in North Carolina in 1982 as Corrosion of Conformity. In its first incarnation, the band played crusty, heavy, speedy hardcore. In 1984, the Eye for an Eye LP introduced the punk world to the group’s spiky skull mascot, one of the great extreme-music icons.

The lineup and sound reshuffled by 1985’s Animosity LP. The crossover disc was released on Metal Blade imprint Death Records, where they held their own against labelmates D.R.I. and the Ugly Americans. (The latter band featured singer Simon “Simon Bob Sinister” Bob, who would step as vocalist for C.O.C.’s 1987 Technocracy EP.)

“Technocracy”

If Technocracy isn’t the pinnacle of the crossover movement, it’s certainly a distinct – if all too brief – high point. Sadly, C.O.C. would never top or continue that blazing mix of metal and hardcore. The band splintered and didn’t reappear until 1991. (But the 1989 leftovers EP, Six Songs With Mike Singing, has some of the band’s hardcore highs.)

“Six with Mike Singing” EP

If you were holding your breath for more hardcore, 1991’s grungy Blind disappointed. The “Dance of the Dead” video landed on MTV, and its stoner rawk flavor earned the band a whole new audience. It was their first album with rhythm guitarist Pepper Keenan (who’s now an axe slinger with Down), who first took the mic to sing that album’s “Vote With a Bullet.”

“Dance of the Dead”

By 1994’s Deliverance, Keenan had become frontman for the band’s major-label debut. C.O.C.’s pre-punk roots as classic-rock listening, Black Sabbath-worshipping longhairs were now at the forefront.

“Man or Ash,” featuring James Hetfield

From 1996’s Wiseblood, “Drowning in a Daydream” earned the band more minor FM radio play and, amazingly, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. Metallica singer James Hetfield made his first official guest appearance on “Man or Ash” from the LP. The C.O.C.-Metallica connection helps explain Metallica’s baffling mid-90s rock period, which makes a helluva lot more sense if you imagine the faltering thrash kings were trying to sound like C.O.C. Metallica took the band under their wing, and had them open shows all over the world, from arenas to stadiums.

“Drowning in a Daydream”

The Grammy nod fizzled, as did the major deal. It was the label’s loss. If the first Down album isn’t the greatest modern classic rock LP, then C.O.C.’s next release, 2000’s America’s Volume Dealer, is. Allman Brothers/Gov’t Mule ace Warren Haynes contributed a stand-up-and-salute slide guitar solo to “Stare Too Long,” just one of the disc’s album-rock anthems. Diesel-burning nuggets like “Over Me” are the one thing that could improve the FX biker drama Sons of Anarchy. Most of the lineup held for 2005’s noisier In the Arms of God. And then… well, for quite awhile, nothing.

“Stare Too Long”

This weekend, C.O.C. officially returned with its most unpredictable swerve yet. While Pepper is busy with Down and a new child, the band has reunited its three-man lineup from Animosity: guitarist Woodroe “Woody” Weatherman, drummer Reed Mullin, and bassist-vocalist Mike Dean. The reunited trio is hitting the road playing old material. They’ve released a single of rough-and-tumble retro crossover, and a full album is likely to follow. Southern Lord released “Your Tomorrow (Parts 1 & 2)” as a 7″ single on 180-gram vinyl. (The label will also release the first 7″ from Righteous Fool, the new band featuring Mullin, Dean and guitarist Jason Browning.) Some references to the tour, including the single artwork, are calling the trio lineup “C.O.C. III,” but it’s still officially “C.O.C.”

To explain 28 years of twists and turns, MetalSucks talked to the only member of who’s been there in every lineup since the beginning. Your favorite site called Weatherman – as he described it — “at the crib,” his home in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountain foothills.

What do you do between public appearances?

[Chuckles] Not much. It’s been awhile, too. Since like 2006. Not much. Just gearing up for the next one, I guess?

What do you do between music? Do you have a side job?

Not really, man. I need one. Got any ideas?

Wait for the Sony checks to roll in?

Yeah, right: all 12 dollars. I dunno, shit – fly by the seat of my pants, you know? Just do stuff. Whatever.

Do you hang around with musicians, like those New Orleans guys who have a pack they hang in?

Up in this neck of the woods, I do. But they’re mostly bluegrass dudes and stuff – a lot of fiddle players and banjo guys. I’m up here in the hills, dude. The sticks.

So expenses are low?

Pretty much. We got a little spread. Me and the old lady got a little farm action going on up here. We keep cows and goats and chickens and pigs, and have a high old time.

For me, this is C.O.C. season. Volume Dealer is one of my favorite albums, and this is the time of year I listen to it the most.

In the heat of the summer? I tell you: A lot of people gave us crap for that CD when it came out, saying it was too polished and whatnot. I really didn’t think it was that slick sounding, to me.

Compared to Eye for an Eye, maybe?

Yeah, compared to that or Animosity. Whatever. I think we were just stretching our limits on that – going for it, seeing what we could pull off.

Pepper did a lot of the writing for that, right?

He did a lot of the lyrics and stuff, but it was one of those where we all chipped in. A lot of group effort on it.

So the music came from the band?

The music came from the band, absolutely.

And that was just where your head space was? You all have that classic rock background…

We just wanted to take it to the next level to see if we could pull it off. It’s one of those records that has some grit to it. There were some songs on it like “Stare Too Long” where we went out on a limb.

Does that still get airplay?

It did, surprisingly. It was fairly short lived. The big station in Raleigh and some other places picked up on it. It was in regular rotation next to Boston and Stevie Ray Vaughn for a while.

With this reunion, has Pepper left the band?

No. It’s kind of a weird way it came about. It was Pepper that stirred everybody’s bones back into motion. He had brought us up, doing some things in Europe this summer. Then with Mullin coming back in, being the original guy or whatever, that kind of fell through. Our cages had been rattled.

Mullin came out of the shadows, so we kept on going with it. When the time is right, when Pepper is willing and everybody else is willing, we’ll probably do more four-piece stuff later on. Bu this just seems like it’s got some interest now, and we’re rolling with it.

Is it a matter of Pepper being busy?

He’s busy. Down’s got some stuff going on. He’s expressed interest. And whenever we do this thing, whenever it’s out our blood… We got stirred from the slumber, and we didn’t want to go back to sleep.

Footage from a reunion show in Raleigh, N.C. on July 31

Pepper just had a kid, right?

He did. He’s got a little girl, and I’ve got a little boy. He’s a year and a half old. She’s four or five months old, something like that. It’s eating up a lot of his time at the moment. He’s probably changing a diaper right now.

Pepper’s definitely not split with you guys? You’re not done – you’re just…

I hope not. That’s not the way that we’ve talked. I think he agrees with Mike and Reed and myself. We’ve never shut the door on anything. I think it’d be cool to do this and then later go back and do another four-piece record. And last time I talked to Pepper, he kind of felt that way, too. So we’ll see if that holds true in the months to come. I think it probably will. I think we’ve got another one of those C.O.C. records in us too.

It’s the Animosity lineup. What will you be playing on the tour?

We’re gonna do that old stuff. It’s so damn fun. We haven’t done it, the majority of that record, we haven’t done in practically 25 years. So they’ve been coming up to my place. I built a little studio building up here. We’ve been playing that stuff. It’s crazy, too – those songs are kinda tough. There’s some tough damn arrangements and shit. We couldn’t figure them out.

What about the speed? You’ve grown into better players, but I’m guessing it’s been awhile since you busted out “Rabid Dogs” and the fast stuff.

Believe it or not, Mullin pushed us. Mullin’s on it. He’s just as fast as he was. Like, “Dude, slow down! What the fuck?”

After you’ve built your chops up, is it hard to play that fast? Is it a different kind of hard?

Yeah. It is a little bit hard with the fast chunking. But it comes naturally, because at the time, that was just the way it came out. It wasn’t contrived.

When you say “the old stuff,” is it strictly Animosity era, or are you going back to Eye for an Eye?

We’re not, at this point. I think we should. There’s some good songs on that album – you start talking about “Poison Planet” and “Rabid Dogs.” We haven’t touched that – we’ve actually got some new stuff. Some of those songs may rear their ugly stuff. We’re gonna do pretty much that whole deal [Animosity], maybe parts off the Technocracy thing. That is a wicked record. All the songs have, like, eighty parts. I don’t know what we were thinking.

The band has so many eras and sounds. To me, Technocracy is one of the absolute peaks of crossover. And I don’t know if it’s because it’s short or obscure, but people don’t look at that EP like they do D.R.I. or the Cro-Mags. And it came out of nowhere… How did that sound come together?

It was this short period after the Animosity thing. We had been touring with DRI, those guys, bands of that ilk. We just went back to Raleigh and holed up. I don’t know if we lost our minds or whatever, but it was these crazy songs that had 20 parts and were kinda herky-jerky, but they seemed to work pretty good.  I just wished that we’d more time and had more songs to put on that.

I listen to it and think, “I’d give a nut for another EP worth of songs like that.”

Yeah, it would have been great.

On the CD reissue, there are no real extra tracks, just the demo versions.

That’s all there was at that time. I don’t know what happened. That was a long time ago.

Did you write the songs before Simon stepped in?

Yeah. He just came in, and we did that, and we did a little bit of touring.  That was a strange period. I don’t remember a lot, to be honest with you.

The demos don’t even sound much like the final songs. Do you recall what kicked it up into that orbit?

WW: Some of those we did in LA, if I recall correctly. Maybe even with Metoyer [Bill, producer of Slayer, D.R.I., and others], the same guy that did the Animosity stuff.

Hold on, let me walk over to my… Here it is. Can’t miss it, the big yellow disc.

Yeah, the big old stinky giant yellow thing on the front. I say “stinky” because we made posters and printed them ourself. And the yellow ink smelled horrific for months and months. If you had one of those posters hanging in your room, it was like toxic fumes coming off it.

The credits say Metoyer did the demos. The EP was co-produced by the band and Dick Hodgin.

Yeah, [Hodgin was] an old cat in Raleigh. [It was a] time-and-a-place kinda deal. I really can’t remember.

The quote in there about “the best thing about skinheads is they’re biodegradable” and the hardcore manifesto about “fuck all those right wing meatheads” – was that really bugging you at the time?

It was. That sort of thing came out of just showing up at gigs, and out of nowhere, for no reasons, a bunch of neo-Nazis or whatever would show up and wreak trouble and think for some reason we were their target. It was commonplace in the punk-rock world at the time. We had a few altercations here and there, but nothing too major.

Speaking of [the “Technocracy” intro lyrics] “this ecological atrocity finally caves in on itself,” do you any interest in talking about the BP disaster?

Man, not sure I want to get into that whole deal. I will say: It looks like the current administration is not gonna let a good crisis go to waste. Hard to comprehend why they will not accept any help offered from all over the world. It’s almost like they want it to get worse to try and squeeze through some of this insane cap and trade stuff. In my opinion, that is nothing more than another massive goobermint power grab and huge tax hike for all the regular joes.

I’m looking at the CD book now. What do you call the skull? Is there an actual term for it?

The skull. Just “the skull.”

Who came up with it?

Mike Dean came up with it, but this dude,  a good buddy of ours named Errol Engelbrecht — he’s a great tattoo artist now – he did the first drawing of it. Mike Dean had the idea. The original idea was the spikes were missiles. But that never materialized.

Do you have a favorite period of the band?

A lot of the memories of it being new – ’84, ’85. I was a kid, it was all brand new. The first go-round is always the best. It was good times, but we’ve always had good times. Going on big arena tours, the first time you play in front of 50,0000, that’s good, too.

Was that mind-blowing, when Metallica took you under their wing?

That was. It was crazy. And we were out with them for-damn-ever, dude. It was a really long tour, in the US and Europe.

You guys got along, obviously. What was the common ground between you and them? The hardcore and the Jäger?

Whether it was Hetfield maybe liking the band, he spearheaded the bands getting together.

Were they cool guys?

We hung out. We partied. They were genuinely friendly. They had advice and they’d joke with us. It was a cool deal.

Was it mutual admiration? I wasn’t there, but I got the sense that Hetfield really dug what you did…

I think so. I always felt that way. We’re huge Metallica fans. I think those guys wanted us to do good, to have success. Hetfield really went over the top [helping] us. It was a good time.

And when the Grammy nod came along?

It was almost silly. It was cool. We took it in stride. We actually went to the thing, just for the hell of it. Where we were sitting, we were sitting in front of Dr. Ralph Stanley [the traditional country star of O Brother, Where Art Thou? fame]. And I’m a big fan of the Stanley Brothers. That was the highlight. I was telling my dad, “You’re not gonna believe it – I was sitting in front of Ralph Stanley!” And he tripped out on that.

What does the  new  material sound like – more Animosity?

It’s faster. We’ve got about five or six songs we’ve been working on. It’s pretty cool. Definitely not the same thing we’ve been doing over the last three or four records. It’s probably reverting back to a little more old-school style. I wouldn’t say it sounds [like Animosity], but it’s leaning that way. [And] it’s not like “Albatross” or anything.

A new C.O.C. song!

COC — new song from Mann’s World on Vimeo.

Is the band still attached to a label?

No, we’re not. We’re free and clear, man. We’re not hooked up with anybody. We can do whatever the hell we want.

Do you think you’ll do an entire album?

Our goal is to not play a million shows. We’re recording. We’re gonna do it.

We were talking about the skull. What kind of split do you have between music sales and merch, between albums and gnarly-assed T-shirts?

Merch is not… if we’re touring, merch can be happening. But the last three, four years, there’s not a lot of activity on that. Probably half the shit you see is damn bootlegs. I used to be up in New York and see ‘em hanging on 8th Street in all these hip shops and rock and roll shops. They were printed all fucked up and crooked lookin’. But that’s probably every band.

The new best of compilation, Playlist: The Very Best Of Corrosion Of Conformity — was that a contractual obligation?

That was a surprise. We had no idea about that. Obviously, we had no idea about that, because it’s kind of terrible. Hell, the picture on the front doesn’t even have Reed on it. It has Jason Patterson, a guy who was filling in back in ’06 when we did some European stuff. That [comp] came out of nowhere.

Did you owe them an album?

I think the thing with Sony is, it’s got this Legacy label. So if they decide they don’t want to keep printing the real albums, they’ll make these compilations and put them out on this Legacy thing. I don’t know all the details. I thought it was kind of bullshit. If I was gonna make a greatest hits, it would have had not those exact-same songs on it. And that’s only the Sony [parent to label Columbia] version of greatest hits, so a lot of songs are left out. Corporate America – what can you do?

The “Corrosion of Conformity – Blind” band [which features Blind singer Karl Agell and Mullin and plays the entire LP] – was that a sanctioned project?

I’m really kinda having no comment on it. Reed claims that it’s just something he did for the fun of it. It’s kind of a weird deal. I think it would have been better if they’d have just called it “Blind.” They did their last little thing, and now that we’re geared back up, doing some real shit, we’re not going to fiddle with that any more.

Are you printing up new merch, or bringing back the old-school designs?

I think we’re going to do a little of both.

What’s the interest been like? Are people calling up, saying “I’ve got to get on this?”

People have been calling up – like old friends. Reed was like, “Jello Biafra called me up and said hello.” People are excited about it, and I am, too.

Have you heard from any of the younger guys that have a healthy respect for that era?

I’m up in the hills – I’m not really out and about. I’m hoping when we do shows, those dudes will show up. And old buds, I’m hoping.

Have people been asking over the years, like “What’s it going to take to get some Technocracy songs?”

Yeah. Over and over. Every now and then, we’d grab one out of the vault – the easier ones. Those old ones are brain teasers.

C.O.C.’s tour resumes Sunday, August 8 at the Power of the Riff Fest at Los Angeles’ Echo and Echoplex , followed by dates in San Francisco, Seattle, Austin and Denver. Righteous Fool, featuring two thirds of the band, is opening. Visit COC.com or SouthernLord.com for more info.

–D.X. Ferris

D.X. Ferris is the author of 33 1/3: Reign in Blood, the first English book about Slayer. Ee-mail slayerbook [ at ) gmail dot com for a free chapter. Follow him daily via Twitter: @dxferris and @Slayerbook.

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