These days, most know Ice-T from the hit TV show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but between his days as a world-famous rapper and the show, he and his pal, Ernie Cunnigan (better known as Ernie C.), who he met while they both attended Crenshaw High School in Compton, California, started a punk-metal band called Body Count. I was in high school when the band released its debut album in 1992, featuring the controversial song “Cop Killer.”
What many deemed a side project at the time now has lasted 25 years. It’s been a long ride but not an easy one. Three band members have passed, but Ice and Ernie C. have remained. Despite never really going away during Ice’s 16 years playing detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola on SVU, Body Count had somewhat of a resurgence in 2014, with the release of its album, Manslaughter (featuring “Talk Shit, Get Shot”), and touring on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. But was this just a novelty act reliving the glory days? We probably wouldn’t hear from back the band for a while after this, right? Wrong.
With the current unrest and political state of the world, Body Count once again has a lot to get off its chest and its back with what is sure to be another controversial new album called Bloodlust, due March 31, 2017 (pre-order the album here). Now a “full-on” metal band (as Ernie C. told me), the new release features guest spots from Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe and Sepultura/Soulfly legend Max Cavalera, along with a Slayer cover medley. And there’s already been some feathers ruffled with the first single, “No Lives Matter.” Yeah, Body Count never has been a band to shy away from the cold, hard truth and tell things from its perspective.
Prior to the album’s release, Ernie C. called in to Live Metal’s Jeff Maki to discuss Body Count’s career, the prejudice the band faced in its early days and the new album.
LIVE METAL: Thanks for doing this interview, Ernie. I’ve been a Body Count fan going all the way back to high school when I had the cassette of the first album. It had the uncensored version with “Cop Killer” on it …
ERNIE C: You know what’s funny about that? (Next) Friday is 25 years since that album came out (March 31, 1992).
Yeah, I was looking at it recently and realized it was released in 1992.
Our (new) record comes out March 31, so that’s 25 years!
I was pissed, though, because back in high school, we had a string of break-ins where people were stealing stereo systems out of our cars, and of course, my buddy’s system ended up getting stolen with the Body Count cassette in the tape player (read story here). I never did get it back.
The cassette! I don’t even have a version (with “Cop Killer”) on it. (laughs)
So when you guys released Manslaughter back in 2014, I don’t think anyone expected it, and it was really well received. But then after that, I don’t think many people expected Body Count to be back again so soon with Bloodlust. Had you guys already had music written for this album?
No. What happened was, we took eight years off from the time we did Murder 4 Hire (2006) to the time we did Manslaughter. So we did Manslaughter, and we toured with (the 2014 Rockstar Energy Drink) Mayhem (Festival), and the next year we toured Europe. So last year, we’re sittin’ around and the election cycle was going on, so we said, “Let’s write a record!” So we wrote another record and it feels like it’s close together with it being three years, but back in the day, people released a new record every year. So (this makes) three records in 10 years, and that’s not a lot. You actually could write a record every year, but it just takes so much prep to get a record out now and to do all the things that it takes. You could put records out all the time, ya know?
It’s interesting that you say that they’re close together, but it just seemed natural—nothing planned. The band was getting better, because when we did Manslaughter, we came from being flat-footed. We had Juan (Garcia) (Juan of the Dead) as the new guitar player, so the band was basically kind of new. Through touring and everything, the band got better, and we wanted to record again. So this record is musically further along than Manslaughter was.
Anyway you put it, Body Count has had a resurgence, like you said, with the new band and two new albums out. Is the current state of America and the current state of the world partially responsible for Body Count having this kind of resurgence?
I told Ice, “Well, every 25 years, we manage to do a good record.”
I think this record is getting a lot of play because of the timing and because of the climate. I do press all around the world, and it’s not just us. It’s not just us in this kind of political warp. It’s the whole world. France is in it, England is in it. The whole world is in this kind of funny mix of things. Nobody really knows what’s goin’ on. Even if you like the president or whatever, you still don’t know what’s goin’ on. No one can put their finger on what’s goin’ on. So Body Count is just part of it. It’s part of what’s goin’ on.
We don’t bash anyone (in particular). We bash social things and economics. We hear a lot about economics goin’ on. In “No Lives Matter,” that particular song.
Yeah, you guys tell it like it is, from yours or from Ice’s perspective. You’re never afraid to tackle pretty controversial issues in the lyrics. Do you ever worry that the controversial lyrics will overshadow the music at all?
I let (Prophets of Rage/Audioslave guitarist) Tom Morello hear the record, and he said that it’s good to have your uncensored voice out there right now. I thought that was a good compliment. On the first record with the band, it was more of a punk record. It’s a different kind of feel in the band now. That’s the point I was trying to get on this record, also—showing the musicianship of the band. Dave Mustaine is playing guitar solos with the band. Not that it gives us credibility, but it’s just good to have. On this record, I wanted the band to play really tight and show that this is a really good band—not Ice’s side-project or novelty act. I wanted the band to sound really tight and on point. It’s not Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith together, it’s a real band.
We shipped (the music) off to them, and they did it on their own time. What happened was is that we’ve known Dave from the ’80s. Years ago, he wanted me and Ice to be on a Megadeth record. (This was) back in the ’80s, before there was a Body Count, but it just never happened. When we first started this band, one of the people that came to support us was Dave. It was Dave and (Guns N’ Roses bassist) Duff McKagan, and all these people came to support the band, but it just never happened. So (Dave) and Ice were on Twitter together and started talkin’ and Ice said, “Wanna be on the record?” And Dave said, “Cool, send over a track.”
Then when we were rehearsing this record in Arizona, writing a record is kind of monotonous, so we decided to do a show because shows are always fun. So we did a show, and Max (Cavalera) came down to the show because he lives in Arizona. We were talking to Max and said we were writing a record and that he should come down. Max came down, and he brought the track that he’s on. He brought his guitar, and he plays on like three strings, but he brought the track down, and we recorded it, and he hopped on it.
And Randy’s a cool guy. We’re buddies. Years ago, I had to quit drinkin’ and Randy quit drinkin’ also. (laughs) I told him we were doing a record, and he said, “Cool, send over a track.” The record company had nothing to do with it; there were no management. They were just our friends that we wanted to be on our record, and they were gracious enough to be on the record.
This record I’m really proud of, and I’m really likin’ it a whole lot. It’s like a horror movie. There’s some slasher songs on here. Ice has been watching a lot of horror movies. Like I’ve always said, if he wasn’t a television star, he’d be a mass murderer. It’s one or the other. (laughs) TV star or slasher. He knows how to be in the third person really good, and he’s good at writing from another perspective. So those songs are really good, and I enjoy ’em a whole lot. They’re entertainment. They’re really entertainment.
Yeah, Body Count is definitely an entertaining band. Like I was talking about earlier—goin’ back to our days in high school—it was so fun when that first album came out.
Exactly, it’s fun. It’s a release. You can say “Fuck the Police” really loud without getting in any trouble. That’s what Body Count is. It’s not about taking action. It’s about getting it off your chest and knowing that someone else can have this point of view that you have.
OK, let’s keep it back in the day. Back when you released that first album in ’92, we were suburban white kids rollin’ around in my buddy’s station wagon listening to the Body Count record, and we just thought it was so cool and so different that Ice-T and these black guys were playing this hardcore punk-metal. It was so fun and entertaining. You talked about the people who supported you early on, but did you face any backlash or prejudice when you were starting Body Count?
The prejudice I got was from the black rockers, more so than anything else. The Black Rock Coalition were the people that were giving me the hardest time, because they wanted me to be part of the organization. Then when I started the group, I went there by myself to join them and they didn’t accept me. But then they found that Ice was in the band later on and they accepted us. And Ice is always the guy that says, “You can do it all by yourself. Fuck them, you don’t need ’em.” And the people that came to my support was Axl Rose, Duff McKagan and Dave Mustaine. Those are people that came to our shows. D.R.I. (Dirty Rotten Imbeciles) took us on the road. So that’s what I got more-so than anything else.
Then, even to this day, when I was looking for another guitar player, I had Juan, and Juan is Cuban. And I heard that somebody from the Black Rock Coalition said that Body Count was a “black band,” and I’m like, “What?! Where’d you get that idea from?” Body Count was just black because we were all in high school playing. There was no secret formula. It wasn’t like, “Oh, let’s get a black band.” So I’m not obligated to do this (to have all black members in the band). Juan was the perfect man for the job.
One time, I auditioned this drummer. He’s a white guy, and it was back in the ’90s. He was a great drummer, man. He played ,and the next day he called me up and said, “Did I get the job?” And I said, “No, you didn’t.” And he says, “Well, why not? It’s because I’m white, right?” And I said, “No, because you’re on heroin.” (laughs) So he would have got the job, but he was on heroin.
Is it better now than it was back in the day for people of different races or ethnicities to break into the rock and metal scene? And why or why not?
I think music is kind of in a hodge-podge where anything can go on right now. But black kids still really aren’t listening to a lot of metal. They listen to hip-hop and things, and it’s all mixed up. Body Count is strictly a metal band. We’re not really a rock band. The only reason they see us as a rock band is because people put us in this “rock-rap” thing because Ice is in the band. But Ice really doesn’t rap in this band. This is a metal band. We don’t have 808s (drum machines) and a bunch of samples. We’re not a hip-hop band. And actually, we’re not like Korn, we’re not like Limp Bizkit. We’re not those kind of bands. We’re closer to Slayer and Anthrax.
Yes, (Body Count) is a very metallic band, and that’s what was always kind of surprising.
Our first record was more of a punk record. It was punky and (rhythm guitarist) D-Roc plays a little looser on that and plays looser chords. And then we became a better band. Like on our second record, we were able to tour and become a better band, and we got more metal. I always considered metal to be a little more precise than punk. That second record was a lot tighter, and it’s a real full-on metal band now. We try to be real precise and fast. We’re like speed metal.
I think I know part of the answer to this, but looking back over the last 25 years of the band, what are some of the biggest high and low points of Body Count’s career?
The low point would be that we had three members that passed. Two of them died of cancer and one got shot. Our bass player was playing for Iggy Pop at the time. He went to visit his mom, and he was at the wrong place, wrong time—he shouldn’t have been there. You can’t get no lower than that.
The high points are just playing, just being able to play for 25 years. That’s the high point, of still being able to do music, and go out and play. We went and played with Avenged Sevenfold on this last tour, and after 25 years to be able to play with them, I consider them a new metal band, a new breed of metal. And audiences are 25-26 (years old), and they come and meet us after the show, and they’re like, “Oh, the guy from Law & Order is in a band now?” They don’t know. Ice has been on that show 16 years, so if you’re 20-something, that’s what you know Ice-T as. And I just thought that was so funny. He accepts the Law & Order thing. I don’t hang out with him as much as I used to, but when I hang out with him, all the grandmothers come up to him and they hug him. It’s interesting. It’s a whole different thing. But it was fun to go out and get that 20-something audience that just know us from “Talk Shit, Get Shot” on YouTube.
So what do you think of Ice-T’s career on Law & Order: SVU? At this point, that show is a staple across living rooms in America and the world. I watch it to see Ice’s one-liners. I think that’s my favorite part of the show. They discuss the case, then it pans to him for a one-liner and then cuts the scene.
That show, it kind of reminds me of him with the one-liners. It’s not too far from what he is. He’s not a cop, so it’s different, but the way he talks is his mannerisms and that’s everything about him. So it’s been a fun ride for him, and it gives us time … I think if he wasn’t on that show, the band might not have lasted this long ’cause we would have burnt out. But now we’re playing, and it’s fun again. We could do this for another five years just from it being so much fun right now.
That was my next question. What does it look like for the immediate future for Body Count, and how much longer is the band going to go?
We’re gonna go as long as there’s somewhere to go. That’s what I feel right now. As far as the tour, we’re gonna do the States in June. We have a big show in Chicago (Chicago Open air) with KISS and Korn in July (14 to 16). Right now, I’m just gonna go wherever the flyers says. (laughs) I’ll just keep it simple. I know that I’m gonna be playing, but I don’t know where it’s gonna be. And I really don’t care, because it’s always a good time wherever we go in this country. It’s always good just to get out and play. All our audiences are pretty much the same, and we have a great time with ’em. We just enjoy being there, so it makes no difference where we go. And next year we’ll go to Europe, and there’s no tellin’ what might happen.
OK, Ernie. Well, I’m definitely looking forward to Bloodlust comin’ out.
I think you’re gonna like it. You got to listen to it from beginning to end. It’s made to play like that. There’s something on this record that people and kids don’t know about, and that it’s sequenced. Remember that? It’s exactly sequenced. People sell singles now, so they don’t know how to sequence a record anymore. Like our first record, it goes from this and that. The first record goes from the cop on the street that gets shot to the end, which is “Cop Killer.” And this record is sequenced in that same kind of way.
ORDER BLOODLUST ON ITUNES
https://www.instagram.com/ernie4321 (Ernie’s Instagram)
https://twitter.com/FINALLEVEL (Ice-T’s Twitter)