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Interview: Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity

By Dean Karr
By Dean Karr

Corrosion of Conformity are a band that need no introduction for what they have contributed to heavy music over the course of 35 years. Whether it be hardcore, crossover, or stoner metal, the band is respected the world over for their accomplishments. Now, they have cast themselves to the forefront by reuniting with lead guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan to release the first new material with him since 2005’s In The Arms of God. We talked to Mike Dean about the band’s influences and their peers, going totally headfirst into 1974 on this one.

—Tom Campagna

I’m really excited by what you guys are doing with No Cross No Crown; that’s not to take away from your self-titled and IX, because being a late comer to the band I have been listening to Blind for over a decade now, so I started with Pepper in the band. Those two recent albums were incredible, so we can start there. How was the time in between In The Arms of God and No Cross, No Crown?

I felt like the word might not have been out, but in some regards it kind of fell through the cracks, but we played some big shows and I liked what we were doing. I would have kept doing that but the opportunity to get the whole Deliverance and Wiseblood format back on track was just a great opportunity. We could really have gone either way with it.

That’s really the great thing about you guys, how you can vary from the early days of Eye For An Eye and Animosity to Deliverance and Wiseblood and then the true in between with Blind as well. Do you feel as though you had revisited some of the themes of Blind with the recent two albums?

Well, two of the guys in the band were a part of Blind, but we got some offers to play Animosity, although we realized that we had become much better musicians over time… and even though we played punk with some heavy metal in it, we had a lot of 1970s-type stuff, more harmonic complexity and melody. It didn’t rise to the two-guitar attack of Blind with Karl Agell sounding like Ian Gillan; it really was a special record. I even had quit the band prior to that record since I didn’t think it was going anywhere,and maybe for a while it wasn’t, but when it came out, I was living in Philadelphia and I heard it… and I was like, “holy shit!” They had figured out a way to incorporate influences like Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath, that we would listen to in the van. It would have been a tall order to pull off, but their producer John Custer helped them to move forward with that, something more classic and melodic without sacrificing the band’s identity.

It seemed a bit more fleshed out. I look back to that era, and I think about the twin guitar attack and Thin Lizzy, and you go back to the early 1990s and see what bands like Trouble were doing. Maybe they had a bit of a different starting point, but there was a lot of melody to it also.

Y’know, it was a bunch of kids who just loved Black Sabbath [laughs].

I think everybody did at some point or still does for sure.

The Animosity era of Corrosion of Conformity played a show at the Metro in Chicago with Trouble. Our record was on Metal Blade too, and the first time I had heard their first two records, they blew my mind. The Skull was like, whoa.

Speaking of The Skull, I just saw the band The Skull and was wondering who in the world was going to take Ollie’s (Jeff Olson) place on drums. But that day, they had Thee Slayer Hippy from Poison Idea, and he had been in jail for some drug store heist for a few years. They put him in this recording project, and he has all these recording chops, but he is a giant Ollie.

Having listened to No Cross, No Crown a few times now, it has myself and a few other fans of the band really excited for the Deliverance/Wiseblood era, a true sequel to what you were doing 20 years ago. A strong, solid album that shows that you guys haven’t missed a step.

Thanks man. It does feel a bit more aggressive in some places, especially towards the top of the record. It comes out swinging at a few points like on “Cast the First Stone” with an NWOBHM riff and late Thin Lizzy vibe… some Thunder and Lightning in there and a southern rock guitar solo, a true mixed bag. “The Luddite” was the last song on the record that we wrote and is a bit more relentless than the 1990s stuff, more of In The Arms of God. We managed to do that with a different drummer, and the touring for it died off real quick because of hurricane Katrina and the whole New Orleans story happened, then the Down dudes went and recorded a record right away.

I know that must have been a crazy time for you and friends like Mike IX Williams and Jimmy Bower, and Pepper Keenan. It’s good that you guys were able to keep things somewhat together during that trying time. Pepper is from the area correct?

Yeah, he is living there now. As a matter of fact, the entire making of No Cross, No Crown was a matter of flying him up here for four or five straight days and working 16 hours a day. Tracking songs that often times we wouldn’t have had more than a riff or two written for them. We would record it, listen to it, arrange it, record it and add some rhythm tracks to it. At his motel, he and Woody Weatherman would try and write some lyrics and come back the next day. They would go from next to nothing to a totally fleshed out song in two-and-a-half days.

Who was the major lyrical force on the most recent album?

It was Pepper, seeing as he is the one who has to sing, so that’s how that is. Basically there were a lot of spots and Pepper would say, “I need some syllables, what’s gonna sound good here?” since he was leaving in two days. I’m used to it, in kind of a stream-of-consciousness kind of way. I’m really good for putting those wrinkles into a song. It came out something like 92% Keenan. He’s really particular about the cadence and the phonetics. There might be a perfect word in an essay, but it doesn’t flow with the music. He’s all about a certain sound, he can be pretty funny about it.

If there is a method to his madness, it works. So I see you are hitting the road with Eyehategod, Red Fang, and Black Label Society. Anything in particular that you are looking forward to on this tour?

Just getting out there and playing and working in these new songs will be great, only had a few gigs this year and gotta pay the bills. It’ll be nice to get in a vehicle and bring our gear and drive around this landmass without renting gear. We can show up with whatever gear, but it adds some authenticity to use the same drum kit that Reed Mullin got for his 16th birthday and bring it on tour.

It sounds like it has seen some shit and owes exactly nothing to you guys. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Or if it is broke, it sure sounds good.

Anything to close things out?

One of the reasons we are particularly proud of the record is that we got back together with a guy named Mike Frazier who had mixed Wiseblood in 1996, and we elected to work with him and recorded at our studio, but went out to him in Vancouver, which was a really fancy place. We drove from Raleigh, North Carolina to Vancouver.

Jesus what was that, four or five days?

Yeah, Custer didn’t want to fly, and I said, “well you aren’t going to drive there alone,” and we went completely diagonal across the continent. I would say Mike Frazier mixing this was about the sonic focus of the record.

It really feels like the way it was produced with the same focus.

In 1995, a lot of the things we were coming from were, like, 1974. A lot of the artform that we are in was established back then, and we are supposed to be creative.

So what if you listened to Captain Beyond a few times and loved it? You wanted to do that.

Captain Beyond was a big influence on songs like “Wiseblood” and “Wolf Named Crow.”

Corrosion of Conformity’s new album No Cross, No Crown was released on January 12th via Nuclear Blast. Check them out on tour with Red Fang, Eyehategod, and Black Label Society through February 27th — tickets and dates here.

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