Corrosion of Conformity, or COC, has a long, complicated history, starting with its formation in the early 1980s as a punk band and enduring a multitude of lineup changes until reaching the peak of its popularity in the ‘90s. After the band went on hiatus in 2006, the trio that recorded the 1985 album Animosity—bassist/vocalist Mike Dean, guitarist Woody Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin—reunited in 2010 to tour and eventually release two new albums. Last year saw the return of guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan, who had spent nearly a decade focusing on the supergroup Down, completing the reunion of the classic ‘90s lineup responsible for albums such as Deliverance (1994) and Wiseblood (1996). Writing is underway for a new album, possibly to be released later in 2016, and the band is hitting the road for a few headlining shows before a longer tour with Lamb of God and Clutch. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Mullin to talk about the tour, the reunion, the new album and more.
LIVE METAL: It’s a pretty exciting time for you and COC right now. You’re about to head out on tour for some headlining shows first, with Mothership.
REED MULLIN: Yeah, Mothership, yeah. It’s gonna be bad, dude. We did a little thing with them in the wintertime, a couple months ago. It was a blast.
After that, you’re going out with Lamb of God and Clutch. What can fans expect to see from COC?
Well, the headlining set’s gonna be big. That’s not a whole hell of a lot of shows. That’s only like nine shows. But Lamb of God and Clutch—fuck. I was thinking, I think I would pay scalpers’ prices to see that fuckin’ show, if I wasn’t playing. That’s two pretty fucking badass bands.
I know you’ve toured with Clutch before. Have you done anything with Lamb of God in the past?
No, and I’ve never seen ‘em before. I know Randy (Blythe) from just being around. Randy did a song on the side project I did, Teenage Time Killers, as did Neil (Fallon) from Clutch. I’m looking forward to seeing ‘em. Randy is one of the best front guys I’ve ever seen. We did a one-off show in the U.K., and he’s one of the best front guys, period. Neil is, too. Stylistically, they’re a lot different.
For COC, Pepper and I have been talking about getting the Deliverance-era stuff, that lineup, back together. We’ve been talking about it for years, and finally, last year, it was the opportune time, because Down were taking a break—not really a break, but Phil (Anselmo) was doing different stuff, (Jimmy) Bower was doing Eyehategod stuff. So it worked out perfect. We did a bunch of shows last year, and it was like an experiment, a litmus test. We wanted to see what the fans thought, if they were into it—and they were fully into it—but, also, if we could get along. We just had such a fucking blast, dude. So we decided to keep it going, and we’re going to do a new album this year. We got a great deal from Nuclear Blast.
But yeah, like I said, we were friends with Randy and the Clutch guys. I think Clutch did one of their very first shows ever opening for COC, when Karl (Agell) was the singer. It was like ‘91 or ‘92 or something. So we’ve known those guys for years and years. It’s gonna be a fuckin’ badass tour. The nostalgia part of doing the Deliverance and Wiseblood stuff is there, but we’re writing a new album, so it’s gonna solidify everything and get us back on track.
Are you gonna be playing any new material on these tours?
It’s funny you ask that, because my dad asked me that. Pepper came up a couple times last month, and we wrote just a boatload of songs, and they’re bad as fuck. Some of ‘em are just a compilation of riffs. But anyway, I hope so. To me, it’s always best to throw different ideas out into the fire. If you expose new ideas to a crowd and see how they react to it and, also, how you play it, because oftentimes, when you play songs one way, they feel different and you can manipulate them and fine tune ‘em. So to answer your question, yeah, I hope so. We’ve got a plethora, a cornucopia of good new riffs and good new songs.
COC back in the early days and then kind of again when you were playing as the three-piece had more of a punk kind of sound than it did when Pepper was in the band. So which direction is the new stuff going in?
Yeah, that was our birth, from the primordial ooze of punk rock in the early ‘80s. That’s where we came from. That’s what we were really into at the time. It wasn’t a hobby. For me in particularly, it was between a movement and a religion, the whole punk rock thing, in terms of music and the whole phase we were writing songs about—it was in the midst of the Reagan era. I think if you’re a COC fan, this new material, you’re gonna be stoked. If you’re a Pepper Keenan-era COC fan, you’re gonna be super stoked. A good majority of it is that slippery, super heavy, kinda swampy.
There was one COC album that you did not play on, In the Arms of God. You’ve played at least a couple of those songs live. What has it been like to play those songs? Are you enjoying that?
Yeah, yeah, particularly “Paranoid Opioid.” I love playing that song. That thing’s badass. They got Stanton (Moore) from Galactic, a friend of Pepper’s. He’s an incredible drummer. I think because I kind of carved my initials into the sound of COC to a certain extent, it sounded a little weird. I think Stanton did a great job. I’ve heard some people say it didn’t quite sound like COC. I think it did.
We’ve played a couple songs from there. It’s funny, because when we first started talking about doing this thing—Pepper and I had been talking about it for years, but when we first agreed to get things happening—they were talking about doing a couple songs from Arms of God. At first, I was like, “I think folks would rather hear a song from Deliverance than something from Arms of God.” And then when Pep came up—because Pepper lives in New Orleans now and we all live around the Raleigh, North Carolina, area—when Pep came up, we jammed on a couple of those songs, and I was like, “Goddamn, these songs are killer!” At first, I said I’ll do one out of the two, and we ended up learning both of them.
You had left the band back in 2001, so it had been even longer for you than the other guys since you had played with Pepper. At that first rehearsal, did everything feel natural?
Yeah, super natural. You’ve heard it a million times: In bands, it’s like being married, but you’re married to several people. Mike Dean was the first to leave in ‘87, and then Woody left in ‘94. When we kicked Karl out, Woody, Phil Swisher and Karl started a band called Loose Cannons. I was the last one to leave, in 2000, 2001, something like that. It was hard for me because that was my baby. I even came up with the name in chemistry class. So it was hard. I was burned out. It wasn’t fun for me at the time. It felt more like a job.
And that’s not why you got into it, right?
No, not at all. The exact opposite is true. Back in the old days when we started doing the punk thing, the idea of making money playing our genre—hardcore punk rock—that was insane. The fuckin’ biggest bands in the world were Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, and they might have made enough to make their mortgage payments—that’s about it. They weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination. Times have changed, a lot. The reason we did it back then was purely for the fun and the adventure and the love of that form of music.
What would you have said back then if someone told you in 10, 15 years, you’ll be signed to Columbia Records and playing arenas with Metallica?
I’d go, “Who’s Metallica?!”
Maybe they’re on DMT or crocodile or some crazy-ass drug. (laughs) No, that was never even in the realm of possibility for us. That was really before Metallica were big, too. I would’ve told you you were absolutely crazy, but we’ve enjoyed the hell out of it. Who could ask for more? Jamming with your best buds, fuckin’ making killer music and getting paid for it, getting paid to see the world. I don’t know that there could be much of a better experience. It hasn’t necessarily made all of us rich, but it’s definitely been a rich experience.
Do you have something you look back on in your career as your proudest achievement?
I think I’m proudest that we’re all friends again and we’re still making fucking badass music. I think some of the records that we did I’m incredibly proud of–Animosity, Blind, Deliverance. I’m incredibly proud of those and most of ‘em.
I’m an ordinary, pretty humble guy, but every once in awhile, it’s nice to hear from different people how we—that we influenced them, but more than that, that we had an impact on on their life in a positive way. For example, Randy Blythe says that the reason he became a singer is when he was a teenager—like 15 or something—he was on his way from Richmond down to the North Carolina coast to go the beach or party and pick up chicks or whatever. He and his buddies hopped in some station wagon, and this pretty girl or somebody in the car decided to put a cassette in, and it was COC’s Animosity album. Randy was a big COC fan and was singing along to it, and the pretty girl turned around and said, “Man, you’re a good singer. You should sing.” I don’t know if it’s true or it’s a yarn or whatever, but Randy said this pretty girl telling him he could sing made him want to be a singer. So little things like that.
We got nominated for a Grammy, but I’m not proud of that at all. And the back story to that is a classic fuckin’ major label thing. Particularly if you’re an old-school fan, you know about our punk history. We had done an album with Columbia, and we did the whole cycle, and we started doing songs for what would end up being Wiseblood. We turned in Wiseblood to the record company, and the record company came back and they were like, “You guys, this is good, but we don’t hear a single.” This is like ‘95, ‘96. And we were like punk kids: “And? What’s the next part of this? What do you mean?”
What’s the problem?
Yeah, what’s the problem? They were like, “Well, we’re not gonna put it out unless we think we have some things to market.” This is when they had Alice in Chains on Columbia, when they had this whole machine. So they were looking for something radio-friendly. On Deliverance, there were a couple things that were on the radio a little bit. And we said, “We don’t know what to tell you. This is it.” They said, “Well, we’re not gonna put the record out unless you come up with something else.” And we’re like, “What?! You signed us. You know what we’re about.” So we tried to force their hand, and they said, “Well, we’ll just shelve it.” That pretty much was the lowest point. We all had a lot of highs, and being on a major label there were a lot of incredible experiences. But they made us go back into the studio and record a single, or something more radio-friendly, which ended up being the song we got nominated for, for the Grammy (“Drowning in a Daydream”). I think that was the lowest point of my musical history.
I imagine the attitude from the people at Nuclear Blast is completely different from that.
Oh yeah. Fuckin’ a, dude. Monte (Conner) and all those dudes, we’ve known those guys for years and years and years. Super cool. I was just talking to somebody the other day, telling them the story that when I saw Monte, it was like two or three years ago at a COC three-piece show. I told him that Pepper and I had been talking about getting the four-piece back together, and his eyes got real big like one of those Tex Avery cartoons. He said, “Dude, do not sign anything until you talk to me, ‘cause I’m gonna sign you.”
Sure enough, in the next year or two now, every month he’d call me and ask me how things are going, and when we finally got down to brass tacks and started talking to labels last year, he won that battle, for sure. But it was more to due with—’cause we got offered more money from different labels, but it was the enthusiasm that Monte and the guys at Nuclear Blast have for COC. There’s a lot of people there that are big fans, and not just the Pepper era but the past, like the whole catalog. They just understand it. And that’s the thing: You can’t buy enthusiasm. That doesn’t show up in ledger sheets. You can’t put a dollar figure on that. If people at the label are stoked, that goes so far.
So to make a long story short, yeah, we’re super stoked about this. And this record we’re gonna do, I’m gonna go ahead and stake my claim and say that if it’s not one of the best COC records, it might be the best COC record we’ve ever done. It’s gonna be badass.
What is the timetable for it?
Well, we were kind of surprised by Randy and the Clutch guys offering us this tour, ‘cause we’re supposed to be all summer working on the new album. So that might push some things back. Pepper moved back to New Orleans a couple years ago. He had been living up here when COC was rocking. Pepper’s come up two or three times the last month or two, and the process of writing tunes, it couldn’t have been more like it was back in the Blind era or the Deliverance era. Everything’s so easy. Towards like ‘99, people started to get known a little bit—and I include myself—and started staking their claims for different songs and stuff like that. Then things got pumped up a little bit.
But yeah, it’s just like the old days. You probably hear that a lot when people get back together. We’re still in our honeymoon, but I think we’ve learned so much from being separated. It’s going amazingly well. The two or three times Pep’s come up, we’ve assembled, I don’t know, a dozen, 15 tunes—some of them just an assemblage of riffs, badass riffs. Hopefully, after we get off the tour with Clutch and Lamb of God, we’ll go straight into demoing and finishing up these songs and get into the studio with (producer) John Custer. What I want to do—it’s gonna be a little difficult in terms of time. Let’s get the record out this year. That would be badass.
I think that’s about all the questions I have. Is there anything else you would like to say?
I don’t know. Where are you at?
I’m in Maryland.
Back in the punk days, for some reason, not so much D.C. but Baltimore, the folks in Baltimore loved us. We used to play there all the time, and actually, the reason we got our first record deal was because of a show we did in Baltimore.
We were friends with the Slayer guys. This is like the early ‘80s, and they hadn’t really toured outside of California. They were fans of Eye for an Eye, and we would see them when they played out there. When they did their first American tour for Haunting the Chapel, they asked the promoter if COC could play in Baltimore at the Loft, and the guy was like, “Fuck yeah.” So it was the Obsessed and COC and Slayer. Like I said, it was their first tour. They had a U-Haul truck, and I think they had a Trans Am. That’s what they were touring in, a Trans Am and a truck.
Anyway, we came up early ‘cause we hadn’t seen those guys in awhile. And then closer to the gig time, the Obsessed showed up, and they saw the lineup. The Obsessed guys were bummed. They were like, “We’re not opening up for a fuckin’ punk band. What’s this all about? We’re not gonna open up for COC.” They said that in front of us and the Slayer guys. We were like, “Hey, it’s no big deal. There’s a line down the block. We can go on first. It’s no big deal to us. The place is gonna be packed.” But it made the Slayer guys mad, like, “Who the fuck are these guys?” I’m like, “Hey, don’t worry about it.”
So we ended up going on first, and we fuckin’ killed it, dude. It was like one of those popcorn poppers at the movie theater—people bouncing all the over the place, sweaty as hell punk rock show, super badass. When we’re loading off after the thing is done, the Obsessed are kind of loading on, and Slayer’s road crew block their way. And they told the Obsessed, “OK, you’re not gonna open for a punk rock band, but you’re not going on now.” They made the Obsessed play after Slayer! They were upset. They played to like six people. But this was before we knew the Obsessed. We’re friends with them now.
But after that, (Tom) Araya and (Dave) Lombardo and all them dudes—’cause we had put out our first record on our own, a DIY thing on our own label, Eye for an Eye—the dudes were like, “You guys are too good to be doing this. You need to be on a label. Let us get you signed to our label, ‘cause we know that our guy (Brian) Slagel will be into it.” We thought they were just being nice. Back then, having a fax machine was a big deal; my parents let me do all the COC business out of their office. So I gave them my parents’ fax machine number, and sure enough, that Monday morning—the show was on Friday—and that Monday morning, there was a contract from Metal Blade on my parents’ fax machine. That’s Baltimore right there, dude.