Waiting in the long line of dedicated fans for Corrosion of Conformity’s set was like being transported to 1989. As the crowd waited for the doors to open in their homemade patches, studded belts and denim vests, conversations could be heard from every direction with tales of past C.O.C. shows from those who’ve been following the band since their beginning. As teenagers, Reed Mullin, Mike Dean, Pepper Keenan and Woody Weatherman started out as a hardcore band out of Raleigh, North Carolina. Just like those in the crowd, C.O.C.’s members are true and loyal fans of music. Since 1982 they’ve been releasing albums and building their material, always giving credit to their early punk and metal influences that inspired them to get together. With the the release of Deliverance in 1993, the band reached a global fanbase. Over the years, each member separated from C.O.C. to pursue side projects, but their new album No Cross No Crown will be their first reunion record with all the original members back from hiatus. mxdwn had the opportunity to speak in-person with drummer Reed Mullin before the show about the band’s long career and the album’s 2018 tour.
mxdwn: This is the big reunion of the original four members. You’ve all worked on separate projects, lived in different cities, what is it about each other and the music you make together that keeps you all coming back to Corrosion of Conformity?
Photo Credit: Owen Ela
Reed Mullin: When we were kids in Raleigh there was more of a punk-hardcore thing going on. When we first started the band none of us really knew how to play. The requisite of ability back then, if you could do the Minor Threat bad three and a Ramones beat, you’re in there. Actually, I got a drum kit for Christmas from Santa Claus and I didn’t know how to play at all. Woody actually taught me how and we started the band like two months later. Slowly we had to learn to play together, me, Mike and Woody, and different influences like Sabbath and Hendrix oozed in. We got a little bit better. While we were getting into all that stuff, Pepper was too in New Orleans. He became a fan of ours and we were pen pals, so when he joined it was easy, like we were old friends. We’ve been doing it since we were kids, it’s all we know. We got in a van when we were 16 and just took off, and back then there wasn’t any money in it, you know? We just did it for the love of the music, as corny as that sounds. And we still do.
mxdwn: Pepper was away from the band for awhile. Was it hard getting back into the swing of it after so much time apart?
RM: No, not at all. Woody, Mike and I actually had this nostalgic “back to the ’80s” thing where we did all the hardcore songs we used to do, as the three-piece C.O.C., so we’d been playing around for awhile, and unbeknownst to Mike and Woody, I’d been talking to Pepper once a week. He’d call me up and say “Mule, (that’s what he calls me – Mule) we gotta get together and do this shit.” I thought that would be awesome, but Down was on tour and we had to wait. So after a few months, they took a break and we’d done the three-piece enough, and yeah, we got back together. Originally we went to Europe sort of as a litmus test to see if folks still dug us, if we were any good and most importantly, whether it was still fun. And dude, all them things came true. All the shows were kickass, the fans were super into it, we had a blast. Then we were sure we were gonna get it together.
mxdwn: You’ve mentioned your new label Nuclear Blast was helpful when it came to writing the new material. As a band with an established brand and discography, what do you look for when deciding to sign on with a new label?
RM: Well unbeknownst to the rest of them that whole time, I was talking to Monty Connors, the president of Nuclear Blast. ‘Cuz I’ve known him for a long time, and when he caught wind of the fact that we were getting back together he called me up and was like, “is this real?” and I told him it was and that we were testing the waters, so he said, “I’m gonna sign you guys.” Check it out: he said, “Deliverance isn’t just one of my favorite C.O.C. records, it’s one of my favorite records period,” and damn, that’s a bold statement. He said, “I’m serious. I’m signing you guys.” We got a contract happening and he signed us. I promised we’d give him the best C.O.C. album and I think we delivered. We had other offers, but it’s hard to put a price on the enthusiasm, ‘cuz if they’re into it, they’ll come up with new ideas, go the extra mile, you can’t put a price tag on that.
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat
mxdwn: I know John Custer has been your producer for awhile, what is it about his style that makes him such an essential part of the team?
RM: He’s a Raleigh guy too. Actually, the first album he ever did, period, was our album Blind from ’91. He’s like an integral part of our band now, he’s our fifth member. He kinda learned with us. He was a good producer from the get-go, he likes to experiment, but his talents also grew during the whole process of making our C.O.C. records. I’ve heard the phrase “playing live is the get-off, recording is the documentation of the get-off.” Custer is really good at documenting our get-off. There were a couple times where we would play the song perfectly in the studio, but he would have us do it again because it wasn’t the right energy, the right power; he could tell.
mxdwn: The European tour kept getting extended because you were getting such a great response. As a band, it seems that being on stage is where you like to focus your energy. Are there any songs you particularly enjoy performing?
RM: You’re trying to ask me my favorite child!
mxdwn: On this record, there are a few slower instrumentals like “No Cross” and “Matre’s Diem” that break up the pace a little bit, and it makes it stand out from the average metal record. What inspires those?
RM: We’ve been messing around with different feels and tempos, for a long time. Like I said, when we first started it was hardcore so it was just two tempos… I know I keep going back to Sabbath but Sabbath also had a good mix of musical interludes, segues here and there, slow stuff. Not like we wanna be Sabbath but we, you know, we kinda do [laughs]. It was just one of those things where, believe me I love Ramones, Slayer, AC/DC, but they can’t venture out of “that.” Like if any of those bands did anything like the stuff we do, fans would revolt. I think we’ve stayed true to our name. I came up with the name in chemistry class in high school. I had this shitty mohawk, it was awful, and these jocks were throwing paper clips and shit at me. We were studying corrosive materials and I was scribbling in my notebook “CORROSION OF CONFORMITY.” Like I said, lyrically and musically, we’ve pretty much stayed true to that attitude, so we can do anything. At the end of the day, we make the music for us.
Photo Credit: Owen Ela
mxdwn: You mentioned that although the album’s title is No Cross No Crown, you’re not necessarily trying to make any kind of religious or political statement. Are there any core values that are important to the band that you do mean to convey through the music?
RM: Well [laughs] particularly in this day and age, yeah. I mean, it’s not like the band has a flag, we probably were a lot more political in the 80s and early 90s and weren’t afraid of going out and saying it. But I think Pepper and Mike, who write the lyrics, have a good way of talking about issues, whether it be personal or about a certain topic, in a creative, ambiguous way where it’s a little more interesting than just saying, “TRUMP IS BAD, FUCK TRUMP!” So, yeah. We’re still into expressing ourselves in terms of people being accepting and not tolerating ignorance and people being hateful and judgmental, we’re just a little less obvious about it.
mxdwn: You guys started in the late ’80s when metal was in its heyday. Obviously on your European tour, it was clear that metal is still alive and well. Finding that there’s still so much interest in your band through the years, do you think the metal scene has changed at all?
RM: Well, one thing that’s different nowadays with social media and the internet is that people seem to only like little columns of music, and a lot of people just like “this” kinda stuff- “this” kinda metal, “this” kinda punk, whatever, and that gets a little frustrating, ‘cuz that’s not how we grew up. In the old punk days, you could see Husker Du, D.O.A., Black Flag, Minutemen and the Descendants all on the same bill. But now one would be considered pop punk, one would be alternative or indie or something, you know? And they would be in their own little camps. It was cool back then because in the old scene people were all open minds and open ears. Now it seems like people segregated themselves a little bit and it’s kind of a bummer. Sort of like the division in the US right now with political parties, where everyone is just listening to their own echo chambers.
mxdwn: The reunion was described as spur-of-the-moment, although it sounds like you were doing a little work in the background…
RM: Yeah, I was plotting a scheme [laughs]
mxdwn: …So do you have any plans after this tour?
RM: Hopefully we’ll be touring on this for awhile. I think it’s good enough that we’ll be able to get some mileage out of it. There’s a lot of places I haven’t been, they’ve been to Australia but I haven’t, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, it would be nice to go back to Japan, you know before we stop this cycle. Then I guess we’ll do another one. ‘Cuz I think we’re definitely back on the map!