Corrosion of Conformity är åter en samlad trupp igen nu när Pepper Keenan är tillbaka på plats. I mitten av januari släpps “No cross no crown”, som visar upp bandet i fin gammal form. Vi passade på att slå trummisen Reed Mullin en signal för att stämma av läget angående albumet, men även för att minnas trubbel med skivinspelningar, en arrogant Yngwie Malmsteen och en fantastisk Chris Cornell.
What was it like being back in the studio with Pepper again?
Well… let´s see… It was pretty much like it was in the past. We´ve done so many albums and recordings before. Actually, Pepper came to try out to sing for the band in 1989 and he had just auditioned for Faith No More out in California and obviously they said no and got Mike Patton. Next up he came up to try out for us and I was an old friend of his from whenever CoC, the hardcore punkrock CoC, would play down in New Orleans and his band Graveyard Rodeo would always play with us and they were really good, but in that band he didn´t sing, he just played the guitar. I said ”Sure, come and try out!” I arranged it and we played for about an hour and he was absolutely terrible. It was not any good. He was trying to do more of a hardcore approach to the songs that we were writing at the time. Anyway, he ended up singing a song called ”Vote with a bullet” on the album ”Blind” (1991) that our Swedish singer Karl Agell sang on, and it was like the most popular song on the whole record. When things kinda fell apart in the recordings of ”Deliverance” (1994), it made sense. We tried a whole bunch of people out to sing, but it seemed like a no brainer. We got Pepper to sing and it worked out splendidly and ”Deliverance” turned out to be a fantastic album. The last album I did with CoC was ”America´s volume dealer” (2000) so it´s been a while since we did some serious recordings all four of us, but it was like riding a bike. It was very natural and smooth. We had to do it here and there because Pepper could only come up like five days and then had to go back. But it´s like when you start playing live too, it takes a couple of gigs to get into it. Initally the idea was that we were gonna record the album somewhere else. We were gonna do basics at our rehearsal studio, a samll place. We had some good sounding demos. The songs have the energy, the heaviness, the spontaniety. Most of the songs in our lives we´ve played 3-10 times and that was it and that´s including trying to learn the songs. That´s one of the good things with a producer like John Custer. He´s also essentially been in the band sicne ”Blind” and he can relate to us well and he can read us all very well. He´s genuinely the best person I´ve ever worked with. He can get the best take out of you and he can capture the essence, the purity. When I think it´s a spot on drum take, he´ll just go ”Let´s try it one more time!” CoC is not a metronome kinda band. We would not be good playing to a klick track. It´s more of a push me pull you. That comes out of playing together for 35 years and also learning to play our instruments together. When I was 16, I got a drum set for Christmas and I didn´t know how to play. I set it up and Woody (Weatherman, guitar) came over a couple of days after Christmas and showed me the Ramones beat and then a few days after that, Eric Eycke, who sang on ”Eye for an eye” (1984), showed me the punk rock beat and that was all I needed. Once I had those we started CoC. From December to February I learned how to play drums and in February we started our band. (laughs)
The songs on the new album ”No cross no crown”, are they old ideas or did you just start writing once you decided to record the album?
We all write, which is great. There are som riff ideas and song ideas from a while back, but the vas majority of all that stuff were written as soon as we saw the green light to go ahead and get into the studio. We could´ve written like 35 songs because we had so much good stuff.
When I talked to Pepper he said that the only other person he´d work with besides Custer, was George Martin. Have you ever thought about getting someone else to produce an album or is it just a ”if it´s not broken, don´t fix it” kinda thing?
There´s only one time when I can say ”Yes, we did.” We had done ”Deliverance” and toured with Megadeth and all that stuff and had a great tour with Monster Magnet and then we did ”Wiseblood” (1996) and toured with Metallica and Machine Head. When it was time for album number three on Columbia Records, we sent them demos, but they wanted to hear something that was more appeasing to the royal ears, in other words they wanted to hear something that was more radio friendly. That´s the only time we worked with somebody else since 1991. His name is Dante Ross and he´s a really good producer. He did Everlast and helped that guy with all his stuff. We flew to New York and I think we recorded four or five songs with him and it didn´t work out so good. (laughs) He´s not a musician and you know how you hear stories about Rick Rubin? He kinda feels things and he gets this hot shot engineer and makes his ideas come to fruition. Dante was a bit like that. He would come into the live room when we were recording and sing out the drums he wanted me to play, which he always referred to as more of a ”hip hop thing”. I´m not the best drummer in the world, but I´m certainly not the worst, so I would do exactly to the T what he had just sung to me and he´d stop in the middle of a take and go ”No, no, no that´s not what I told you to do!” Anyway, we got the songs done and they just didn´t sound all that good and not long after that Columbia decided to let us loose.
As an artist, it´s gotta be really hard when you end up in that situation where the label pressures you to something you don´t really wanna do?
Oh, totally! The worst experience I´ve ever had when it comes to music label stuff was with the same label. The songs I mentioned before, we had Warren Haynes come in and do some guitar tracks which ended up being ”Stare too long” om ”America´s volume dealer”, so we salvaged some stuff we did with Dante. We worked pretty hard and finished the ”Wiseblood” album. We went to a couple of different studios, like Criterion down in Florida. As a matter of fact, when we were there, it was Corrosion of Conformity, Yngwie Malmsteen and R Kelly all at the same time. I remember we were in a middle of a take and Yngwie walked in and kinda stared at us all, picked up one of Woody´s SG´s and looked at it and said ”I used to play one of these, when I was a child!” and then he walked out. We also did stuff in New Orleans but decided to go to Mardi Gras so we didn´t get much done and then we went to Electric Lady in New York. We got the album done and James Hetfield sang background vocals, which was probably the first time he´d ever done that and we thought everything was slamming. We turned it in and then we didn´t hear anything from the record company for like a week. Usually you hear something the same day. Finally the president of the label, Donny Ienner, said, just like in the Tom Petty song, he didn´t hear a single and he wanted us to go back and record a single. We were furious and went ”That´s the album we made! We´re not some pop band. What´s that all about?” It was like a stand off. Then they flew us off to New York to talk. We said it wasn´t gonna work and told them to take it or leave it. We said ”This is us. If you sign a band called Corrosion of Conformity you should know better.” Ienner said ”Ok, you don´t have to do it, but we´re not gonna release your album. It´ll sit on the shelf for eternity. We paid for it, but we don´t have to put it out. That´s up to us.” So we went into the studio and recorded a bunch of songs and actually one of the songs we recorded, called ”Drowning in a daydream” ended up getting nominated for a Grammy, so it ended up working out ok. They had Alice in Chains and they wanted us to be like that because they got played on rock radio. We should´ve gotten Max Martin to write us some songs. (laughs)
Do you have any personal favorites on the new album? I really like ”Wolf named Crow”
I like ”Wolf named Crow” too, but I haven´t decided yet. It´s like picking out which one of your kids is your favorite child. They´re all my children! (laughs)
How do you go about picking songs from the album to play live?
I´ve heard others mention ”Wolf named Crow” too. It´s interesting. Mike Dean (bass) and I don´t particularly see eye to eye on introducing new songs, but it usually works out pretty good. We´ve changed quite a bit over the last 30 years, but there´s a basic essence and element that´s alway been and always will be Corrosion of Conformity. Particularly because I´ve known Woody since 5th grade and Mike since 1981 and we learned to play together, so there´s that which is immediately recognizable. I´ve told I have a recognizable drum sound, which essentially means I fake it pretty good. I fake it and try to be Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters, Entombed, Imperial State Electric). (laughs) Is it true that The Hellacopters supported the Rolling Stones?
Yes, they did, in Sweden and Finland just recently. I believe it was the second time they did that.
Wow, that´s awesome!
You´ve toured with a lot of bands throughout the years. Is there any tour that stands out as being more fun than others?
Somebody asked me the other day about touring with Metallica and honestly, it was so much pleasure and so easy. No humping of gear, beautiful clear sound every night, playing in front of thousands of people, total comfort. We flew in the Metallica jet a bunch of times and it was amazing. There was never a problem, but we grew up as this punkrock band and DIY and jump in the van back in ´82. Vanna White is what we called her (the van) which was really a death trap. But I could probably tell you about every single day becausde every day was an adventure. Getting chased by Nazi skinheads, blowouts… it was interesting. It´s hard to say. Touring with Soundgarden was great. We toured with Iron Maiden once and that was great. I´m not the biggest Megadeth fan, but that tour was good. I remember… around the same time as Pepper tried out, ”The screaming life EP” (1987) with Soundgarden had just come out and I got in touch with Kim (Thayil) somehow and asked him if he´d join CoC. (laughs) And I asked Buzz from The Melvins. We toured with Soundgarden like three times in the early 90´s. I was pestering them to play the first song on that EP, called ”Hunted down” and finally in the middle of the tour in Birmingham, Kim comes up to me and says ”You´re up tonight!” and I go ”What do you mean?” and he answered ”We´re playing Hunted down and we´re playing it first. Are you ready?” and I went ”Fuck no, I´m not ready!” They pushed it back in the set a little bit. (laughs) It´s shows like that, here and there. A couple of years before that, the very first tour we did in Europe, we also played in Birmingham at a place called Edward´s No. 8, a tiny little place. It was Napalm Death, Carcass, CoC, DRI and Entombed on one of their first tours. What a show! Playing with the Ramones was cool too. I remember the first time we played in Sweden. We played Gothenburg, Stockholm and this place north of Stockholm…Fagersta?
Right. That´s where The Hives come from.
Alright. We played a punkrock thing there and it was maybe six bands or something and we were supposed to go on last and by the time we were going on, everybody with the exception of maybe 10 people, were all so blitz drunk they were passed out. It was crazy. (laughs)
We´re losing a lot of rock and rollers these days, like Lemmy, Bowie, Chris Cornell…
We did the Motörboat right before Lemmy passed away. You could see that he was pretty sick. I did a side project in Dave Grohl´s studio. Me and Karl (Agell) flew out to do a photo shoot for the Teenage Time Killers album and the day we flew in it happened to be Dave Grohl´s birthday party and it was at The Forum in front of 20.000 people and he had all these different guests throughout the set and the last one was Lemmy. I remember them trying to get Lemmy onto the stage physically and just as they got him up, he started falling backwards and it was like 20.000 people all gasping because they were about to see Lemmy die in front of them. He was looking peakish then and that was probably a year before he passed. Chris Cornell dying, I couldn´t wrap my head around that one. My girlfriend and I went to see Chris do his solo thing and he was playing in Richmond, Virginia which is like three hours from where I live. One thing that is absolutely true about me is that I am always late for everything. I showed up and I was 30 minutes late and I was like ”Fuck!”. Well, I got my tickets and somebody grabbed me and said ”He´s waiting for you!” and I said ”What are you talking about?” and he went ”Chris pushed the show back so he could see you.” and I said ”You gotta be fucking kidding me?” They took me downstairs and we caught up and reminisced for like half an hour. That´s just the kinda guy he was. Then me and my girlfriend went to see the Temple of the Dog show and nine days before he killed himself we saw him in Charlotte. He and the whole band (Soundgarden) were talking about all the stuff they were doing and they played me one of the new Soundgarden songs and Chris was talking about all this shit he had planned for the rest of the year. Not just Soundgarden, but tons of stuff. When they played he did a shoutout to me from the stage. He was the last person I would´ve guessed to do that. He was super cool.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Dean Karr