Sunday, January 22, 2012

Corrosion of Conformity: Old school or new style, the Raleigh band is blasting away with a vengeance on new record

Woody Weatherman and Reed Mullin at Maryland Death Fest last summer. (All Cat Rose pics, except where noted.)
By Andy

As heavy raindrops fell from the blackened sky and hammered metal fans scurrying for cover at the tented Corrosion of Conformity merchandise table, guitarist Woody Weatherman was all smiles. He was soaking up the atmosphere of last summer's Maryland Death Fest: from sun to storm; from loud guitars to silence as Neurosis fans wondered whether the band would appear after blistering sets by COC and Aura Noir. 

Oh, the sky soon cleared and Neurosis played, but it had a tough chore of following COC, which has returned to the metal/punk world in the form of the three-piece "Animosity"-era lineup of Weatherman, Mike Dean on bass/vocals and Reed Mullin on drums/vocals.

Although the band is playing tunes from the "Animosity" and "Technocracy" records, it's not a nostalgia trip, Weatherman ensures.

"We wouldn't come out here unless we had some new tunes," said Weatherman as he took a pull from an ice-cold beer as Cat and I helped him pack up the merch and head for the band's van backstage.

Woody at Death Fest.
At the time of Death Fest, the "Your Tomorrow" single had seen the light of day and the band was rumbling through that "Mad World"/Trouble-esque tune and a few other newcomers on stage. On Feb. 28, the band will offer up its latest self-titled, 11-song ripper on Candlelight Records. I've been sporting the Brian Walsby-drawn COC "The Moneychangers" T-shirt for a few months now, and have explained to several fans that it's a new song and more "Raleighwood"-style tunes were forthcoming. (Peruse Walsby's review at the end of this entry.)

The new self-titled album is a fist-raising, gut-gripping frolic through COC's past and a head-first dive into its present. On that journey, imagine yourself stepping on album-sized slabs of stone that represent each COC album: from "Eye for an Eye" through "In the Arms of God." As you trek onward, you'll visit some punk, rock and metal destinations that have made COC fans' bodies and minds twist and turn with pleasure for 30 years. Dean's early spastic hardcore growl may have given way to a melodic gnarl, but it nails down modern-day COC alongside the firm hammer of Weatherman's chugging, smooth guitaristry and Mullin's bludgeoning drum beats. Mullin also gives his voice a workout by singing lead on "Leeches," "What You Become" and "Come Not Here."

Mike Dean at Neumos in Seattle. (Andy photo)
Much like Washington, DC, stalwarts Scream -- who were jamming in that town the night of COC's Death Fest appearance -- COC recorded its new platter at Dave Grohl's Studio 606 in LA. Both bands, who also shared a bill the night before, are matching old tunes alongside new ones with aplomb these days -- and they're digging it all the way, judging from Weatherman's grin and recollection of the previous night's gig with COC's old buddies.

As for Mullin, who was clearly stoked on Neurosis for the first time at Death Fest, he enjoyed telling a Grohl story of when he met up with his fellow sticksman at a Them Crooked Vultures show in Atlanta on Mullin's birthday. Grohl was ecstatic to see Mullin in attendance, and he pulled Led Zep/Vultures bassist John Paul Jones in Mullin's direction to introduce the two and praise the COC man's drumming style.

After seeing the classic punk-rock, wedding-reception sketch on Saturday Night Live with Grohl and others as 'Crisis of Conformity' a few years back, Mullin -- who released Grohl's first band Dain Bramage's record on his Fartblossom Enterprizes label in the '80s -- said, 'I gotta go fuck with Dave about this!'

Reed thanks the crowd at Neumos. (Andy photo)

Mullin added some extra zing to the story as he and I chatted by phone Jan. 15:

'So I showed up, and they were already playing. I knew the tour manager, he was the guy who used to work with DOA, and he got me a good pass, so I was right behind Dave when they were playing. They were like a third through the set, and he saw me and said, 'Oh my god, Reed, what are you doing here?' This is at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, place is packed, and he jumps up from his drum stool and gives me a big hug right in the middle of the set. The band's like, 'Where the fuck did Dave go, oh shit!' He runs to the side of the stage and grabs John Paul Jones, so now there's only two guys left on stage, and he brings John backstage where I'm admiring the show: 'John this is Reed, Reed this is John...John, this guy's the reason I play drums.' (I thought) What's that bullshit? Just hearing him say that made my head just fall apart-- disintegrated. For him to say that is such a big compliment, and John Paul Jones goes, 'Reed, you must be pretty good.' (Laughter)

After Mullin hung out with the Vultures all night, Grohl invited the band to record at his studio in March. And now the record is nearly ready to roll, and Mullin is set on talking about it and life in COC:

--What is it about the record that really stands out, what's gonna make it leave its mark?

Well, I think we were fortunate to convince John Custer to produce us again. I really love his creative input. We already had a batch of what we thought were really good songs that we had been touring on, but I think it's a good mixture of-- if you're a COC fan, I think it will be hard for you not to be pleased because it has glimpses of old school, the 'Animosity' era, it has glimpses of the mathy, more metallic 'Blind' era and it also has the swampy, doomy Pepper feel. It has screaming, it has melodic stuff-- I think it encompasses what the name Corrosion of Conformity says, that we pull off a lot of different styles of music, because we have done so many different styles of music.
I'm proud of it, I think it's one of our best.

--How does it feel to back behind the drum kit on a COC album?

It was as easy as eating an apple pie. Woody and Mike and I really learned how to play our instruments individually together, so we cultivated some kind of weird hybrid of whatever it is that we do. A lot of people say to me, 'How the fuck can you play with Mike Dean-- he has such a weird bass style?' And a lot of people say to Mike Dean, 'How the fuck can you play with Reed--he has such a weird drum style?' It's because we have played together for 30 years, it's just this genuine natural thing for us.

What we were planning on doing was jamming with Pepper and doing some shows over in Europe, and he ended up having some Down gigs instead. So we were like, 'What the fuck, man, this is so much fun, we oughta continue on.' So many people had been asking for years for us to do some of this old-school stuff. There's a lot of people who weren't born when 'Animosity' came out, weren't born when 'Technocracy' came out. (We said) 'Let's do it,' and we did it, it was fun and things just kept on going.

--As far as the new songs go, who's the main writer? I know you play guitar, as well, do you guys all contribute with the riffs?

Absolutely. Mike does more of the lyric writing (Reed adds some, too), but in terms of the music, we all contribute a great deal. And you will always see on a Corrosion of Conformity album from now on, 'All songs written by Corrosion of Conformity.' The way I feel, a band is a band and a solo project is a solo project. If you're gonna sit down in a sweaty basement and work out arrangements and all that other bullshit (it's a unified effort)... plus it helps the band last longer, everybody feels like they're contributing and they're gonna get something in the end.

--How does it feel to still be playing with these guys and playing your style of music so far down the line?

For me, certainly it's a dream come true that I can continue to play, do something that I love and get paid for it off and on. I don't know how to do anything, I can barely get up in the morning! The idea that I'm able to cruise the world with two of my best friends ever and get a little cash in there for it, it's certainly a blessing. (Talks about going to the gym, and preparing for gigs: 'Being the ancient creature as I am, stretching and all that stuff is super good.')

--Not many people can play with such a ferocity over that course of still have that passion and energy for it?

Absolutely, it hasn't gone away. In fact, I think it's increased. When I was a kid, it was like, 'Earplugs are for pussies,' we would just go for it all the time.

--As far as this band going strong with new music out, do you guys have any goals where you're gonna go from here?

I think this is COC and it will be together until we start to crumble-- I can't imagine us stopping now, I think we're just getting geared up... and do another 30 years, COC 90-something (laughs).

--I could push you around in the wheelchairs if need be.

Yeah, right!
We're enjoying ourselves. I think we appreciate it a lot more. From getting in the van, like Rollins would say, and touring the country and Canada, and then accomplishing a little bit of success with 'Blind,' 'Deliverance' and 'Wiseblood,' and then losing all that and sort of breaking up a little bit, I think we really appreciate it, any ounce of pleasure and the ability to provide sustenance for our bellies-- our growing bellies.

--Just seeing you guys doing this, and watching you guys all these years, you guys make me happy.

It's funny you say that-- the last couple batch of shows we did with Clutch, it was almost every night I had somebody, some kid, some person who maybe hadn't seen us before, say 'You are the happiest drummer I've ever seen... I mean, you're intense, you're playing hard, but you seem so happy, what's going on up there? Are you doing Ecstasy?'

--You're on natural ecstasy, just life, having a good time and appreciating everything.

Yeah, my life couldn't be any better: I'm married to a beautiful woman, have a beautiful house, playing some good-quality punk rock; I even got Mike Dean to do a Bad Brains cover-- with our other band Righteous Fool, we did 'Right Brigade,' and that's cool.
So, life is good, man.

By Brian Walsby

I would like to say that I am really happy and “stoked” for my old pals, Corrosion of Conformity. When I had completed my last book, MANCHILD 5: RABID PACK WITH SIRENS HOWLING, I noticed that the three of them had done what I just never thought was possible.

But let me backpedal a bit: About three years ago, I was having what I would like to call “a really bad day” and I found myself at a place in Raleigh called the Dive Bar. I was seeing Mike Dean and Reed Mullin playing together in a band with guitarist Jason Browning called Righteous Fool. They were damn good, Jason is a great guitarist and it put a huge smile on my face to see Mike and Reed play together again, to put it lightly. Plus I got to see a lot of old faces that night: Ricky Hicks, Andy Freeburn and even Woody Weatherman’s incredible parents, Toney and Karen. It was really cool, but I didn’t think that would lead to Woody eventually joining Mike and Reed and setting COC up again, which they did.

Two things were great to see: That the three of them (when I saw them eventually not too soon afterward) still sounded great and that old chemistry remained intact. The other great thing is that Reed and Mike also didn’t abandon Jason and that Righteous Fool are still a band. I think that shows what kind of people Mike and Reed are. RF will have an album out eventually, but that is another story.

So after at least a year's worth of touring, the band with longtime producer John Custer flew to Los Angeles to record what would be their almost-ready-to-be-released self-titled album, out in February. A week or two ago, I was able to get a copy of the record.

So how is it?

Well, it is great. It just might be my favorite Corrosion of Conformity record yet. After a band being together as long as them, that is really saying a lot. And one thing is clear: it isn’t some hokey “crossover” record. Instead it is a recording of three men and how they kept their chemistry intact without pandering to it. So essentially they took the risky situation of coming back and sidestepped the entire issue of nostalgia and maybe sucking. Very few people pull it off. They did. They took the bull by the horns and came out on top, no doubt about it.

And there is something here for everyone. I like every song on the record. As much of a fan I am of this trio when they last recorded together, I still can’t say I like every song on “Animosity”. The record and the songs all flow together very nicely and the record does not overstay its welcome. It is almost like the approach here is: get in, and then get out. Which is a nice approach if you think about it. Custer’s production is incredible, organic, heavy and clear. It really sounds good.

Courtesy photo
You want hardcore punk? You listen to “Leeches”. You want a musical voyage? You have the next track, “River Of Stone”. You want slow doomy punishing music? You have “The Doom”. You want Bad Brains worship? You have “Rat City”. You want some punishing new ground? You have “The Moneychangers”. You want some weird hybrid of Black Sabbath jamming with Discharge circa their “Warning” 12-inch? You have “Your Tommorow”. And even stranger: you want some weird cross between Led Zeppelin and Voivod circa their “Angel Rat” album? You have album closer “Time of Trails”. I could go on, but you get the idea.

All three of them play like they have something and yet nothing to prove at this point. I think the reason why it might be my favorite COC album is because it is here NOW. There are only so many times you can put on some old record and wax nostalgically.

Regardless of your bias with whatever era of the band that you like and don’t like, it’s a good one. You’ll like it. I sure do.

Thanks guys.

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