Interview: Corrosion Of Conformity

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY
interview by mike bushman


Corrosion of Conformity is an institution of evolution, dating back to its earliest documented conception when Reed Mullin (drummer) and Woody Weatherman (guitar) started the band as childhood friends. Many member changes and a claim to some of the first melding of metal and hardcore, these first versions of COC cemented the band with historical merit. But like any band that’s been around for close to 20 years (like its all THAT common), an evolution is going to take place. With Corrosion of Conformity, this took its most solid contemporary direction when the band enlisted Pepper Keenan into the family. The first album Pepper was on, “Blind” featured another new addition, singer Karl Agell. But Pepper took vocal credits on, “Vote With A Bullet”. And that was the kind of track singled out in record reviews. The next COC album found Pepper Keenan taking on lead vocals (Agell was no longer in the band) and the greasy slow gravel rock of COC most distinctly became the sound you’ll hear from the band today. It’s been a long road for this unit, but with all the member changes and newfound focus of the past years, the band is seeing more and more success with their current direction and respected for their mark made on the landscape of loud rock.

Bushman: Anybody whose knows the history of COC realizes you (Pepper) came into the band a ways into the bands career. What most attracted you to joining COC?
Pepper: Back in the hardcore days, when they put out, “Animosity”, that record pretty much stumped a lot of people. I thought they were a really original band for what they were doing. They were really opened minded into different types of music. One thing led to another and they were looking for someone to sing in their band. I wanted to play guitar at the time. I went and hung out with them (I was from New Orleans). I was one of the few guys in that whole genre who knew ZZ Top as well as Black Flag. We were always into different kinds of music. At the time, the hardcore scene…it was either hardcore, or metal or punk or whatever. It was very gentrified scene back then. I was into all types of music as was COC. To make a long story short, COC and me thought the same on the future of music.

B: This is in the context of late 80’s early 90’s?
Pepper: Correct. At that point we felt it was really important to start pushing the parameters of this type of music and see how far you could get away with it. Because most of the other hardcore bands at this point were just going in circles. We really felt we had the strength to try and branch this thing out and see how far we could broaden this ideal that we had about the music.

B: It seems a very interesting progression if you could show someone the first COC album next to this current one.
Pepper: It was very bizarre but it was just an honest move. There was no contrived marketing thing involved. Just us dudes into heavy music trying to better the music and the scene by not becoming stagnant. It was always about being honest to yourself and moving on.

B: You’ve got a very distinctive vocal style and the production seems to compliment your style. Any motivations behind your vocal approach or recoding process?
Pepper: I try to make my voice kinda like a chameleon to fit each individual song. I try and mimic certain things that a particular song needs so I’m not just stomping all over a song with one type of voice. The song becomes stronger than the individual parts. Some people would just growl over something that’s got melody to it. You gotta go each way on it. It’s challenging shit to try and do that.

B:“13 Angels”, is a pretty dramatic song with a lot of tones of looking back with some mixed feelings. What do the 13 Angels represent?
Pepper: It was just…I don’t know man. Whacked out on acid writing lyrics. We had the song and it was a pretty epic thing. It was a big long…rock…thing. And it needed some pretty hefty lyrics. I don’t know where they came from but they just kinda spilled out.

B: How does “popular music” as it pertains to COC in the context of the music industry?
Pepper: I think COC is a very valuable band in the context of popular music. I think if COC didn’t exist in this whole thing, I think things would probably be a lot different. COC has always been somewhat cutting edge or staying ahead of the curve. When bands do that, it makes it more open for other bands to try different shit to.

B: COC seems the type of band that just manages to persist no matter what. To what do you attribute this longetivity?
Pepper: Just a drive to play music. When you grow up playing that hardcore shit, man, you carry that with you everywhere you fucking go. It’s just on your shoulder all the fucking time. That persistence, from being in a van and playing to fucking 20 people and cruising around the United States. You still got that mentality. So now basically, it’s just that same mentality but on a bigger scale. We are trying to see how far we can infiltrate this mainstream type of shit on our terms.

B: Where is your head at when you play live?

Pepper: Man, I don’t know, it seems like you walk on stage and all of a sudden its over. It’s fucking just a big blur. You get so into it…it’s extremely focused…but it just seems to blaze right by.

B: What’s the most messed up thing you’ve ever seem someone do at a rock and roll show?
Pepper: Oh god man…I remember this one time we were playing this show in Dallas, Texas and some fucking dude threw this fucker on stage and he didn’t have any arms or legs. He was like some handicapped kid. It was fucking whacked, but he was into it man…he was flipping around the stage, man. He had hands right here, and had no legs. And we were just jamming, playing live, y’know in a completely in a different space and I look down and the floor, and I see this…guy flipping around, man…I jumped like four feet in the air because I was so in a different place.

B: Old school favorite bands:
Pepper: The Offenders. They were a killer band. The Big Boys. The Bad Brains. Outside of the punk rock hardcore shit, I was into like Robin Trower, ZZ Top and shit like that. That’s kinda what COC basically turned into. An amalgamation of those types of different music.

B: New school favorite bands:
Pepper: There’s a band called Sixteen Horsepower I dig a lot from Denver. They are kinda like a gothic, redneck Joy Division or something. The guy is a really good musician. He plays like accordions and banjos and shit and its just real creepy with biblical redemption lyrics. It’s heavy stuff.

B: What made you want to become a musician for life?
Pepper: Basically, when I got my first guitar. A buddy of mine got killed in a motorcycle accident when I was a kid. He played guitar…he was like the older kid in the neighborhood. And when he died, his mom left all his shit in his room like it was. So me and my buddy broke into the house one time and stole the guitar. I mean, we figured he’d want us to have it. It was an honest thing. So once I had the damn thing, I started fucking around with it and kinda went from there. I mean, I stole it, but I put it to good use.

B: Any opinions on the MP3 crisis?
Pepper: I met these fucking hackers last night. Hardcore computer fuckers man. Somehow I ended up in their apartment in Hollywood. They got their own server in their apartment. One closet was just racks of computer shit. We got all fucked up and got on Napster and burned a greatest hits COC CD and they made this cover and shit for me. It was awesome, we were pulling shit off of Flipside Magazine’s floppy vinyl that they had on there, with Mike Dean and singing. Shit we didn’t even know existed anymore.

B: “Congratulations Song”. (my favorite on this album) Another song with some vague, perhaps drug overtoned(?) Lyrics. “Staring at the wall like it’s a window”… do that a lot?
Pepper: No, but I know people that do.

B: Favorite way to feel good?
Pepper: (laughing) Man…I don’t know.

B: I want the answer that just went through your head.
Pepper: No you don’t…honestly my favorite way to feel good is to wake up with a clear conscience y’know?

B: Any causes you wish to champion with this platform?
Pepper: Mainly, my thing is for people to be true to each other. COC has always been so anti-politician. I don’t really give a fuck what the governments doing to be honest with you. Morally, I think is where the issues stand with people in America. I think morally, people need to take a look around and make sure if some mutherfucker hits the ground, help his ass up.

Post interview: As Modern Fix is based in San Diego, Pepper inquired as to the status of those, “rocket-billy” mutherfuckers (referring to SD’s own – really big in Europe – Rocket From The Crypt). Apparently, Pepper was hanging out at Hetfield’s house recently (that’s James of the band Metallica) and he said that he freaks over that band. “Yeah, he’s got every video…he’s like, ‘Check this fucker out man.’”

Metallica hates Napster. Loves Rocket From The Crypt. And hangs around with Pepper Keenan from COC. Who have a new album. “America’s Volume Dealer”. Connections? Few. Rock. Much.