Releasing the critically acclaimed ‘No Cross No Crown’ at the beginning of 2018, Corrosion Of Conformity have cemented their return, following their reunion with Pepper Keenan in 2015. Returning to Download Festival, we caught up with bassist Mike Dean for a chat about the disc, their Donington Park history, and their upcoming tour with Orange Goblin and Fireball Ministry. The luddite; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Mike, how are you today?
I’m very well.
You’ve just come off stage at Download Festival; how was it?
Yeah, and it’s not even lunch time! It was good. It felt a little early in the day, but all things considered, I think it was successful. It was a short set, but we decided not to play too many songs and just sort of stretch out and improvise and make some stuff up, so I’m sure someone was pissed off about that.
Since your last visit to the U.K., you’ve released ‘No Cross No Crown’; were you eager to finally get it released?
Yeah, because we had a plan to make a record right away [after getting back together with Pepper Keenan in 2015], but we just kept getting offers to be on tour all the time, so we didn’t get to it for quite a few months. Then once we got to it, it seemed like it was past time to have it done, so we worked on it kind of furiously. Our preparation was pretty minimal; we just had some good ideas, and we’d really try to record and arrange as we went, and have it be very fresh and not overly-rehearsed. Hopefully not underly-rehearsed!
Having Pepper re-join and record after two albums as a three-piece, would you say that it was like recording with a completely different band?
It’s a different band, because mostly Pepper is the voice of this, and so it’s a different kind of vibe, and also, by virtue of having two guitars, it’s okay to emphasize two-guitar parts, and to emphasize more layering. I mean, we did it on the three-piece records, but it couldn’t be like a major feature, otherwise you’d get to the live situation and it would be missing. So, yeah, it’s fun either way. The three-piece stuff, I enjoyed coming up with a lot of vocal ideas and doing it, but I also enjoy this; I can concentrate more on engineering the record and more on the bass.
You’re a man down on this current run, as drummer Reed Mullin isn’t playing with you.
Yeah. I mean, I can’t really talk about personnel issues, but yeah, it’s disappointing. But we’re fortunate to know young John Green from Manchester, who plays the drums so well, so he just jumps in. We like to play with other musicians. We’ve played with other drummers; Stanton Moore from Galactic plays on ‘In The Arms Of God’. It is what it is.
There was a lot of C.O.C. shirts in the crowd today; how do you feel when you look out at a festival crowd and see that?
It makes it worth doing, you know? At this point, after all these years, if there’s not some of that affirmation, it’s probably… [*laughs*], you know, what are you doing it for?!
Going back, Corrosion of Conformity played at Donington Park back in 1995.
Yeah, even earlier in the morning! I don’t think I’d ever been to such a big festival. Metallica put in a word for us and got us on the bill. It was probably the first time I’d ever been to the U.K. There were punters bringing beer in, in plastic bags, drinking the beer, and then pissing in the plastic bags and then throwing the plastic bags through the air onto the stage where we had to dodge them! So that’s something memorable. I remember the monitor mix, not really having any discussion about what would be in it, so it was a little unusual, a little challenging. But it was the energy of all the people; I’d never seen a crowd like that. In fact, there was so many people it almost seemed impersonal; it just didn’t even seem real. And then it was over in like twenty minutes, and it didn’t even seem real at all.
That was on the ‘Deliverance’ tour, which saw the band rise to a different level, commercially.
I think they rose to a different level when I was out of the band, when they did ‘Blind’ . I wasn’t expecting anything form them, and then I hear this record called ‘Blind’, and suddenly it’s like super musical, and all the like seventies rock influences that we used to drive around in the van and listen to and imagine throwing into our, at the time, hard core / crossover style. Suddenly they were doing it flawlessly, and I was like; “Well, what’s this all about?!” And there’s this man, like ‘produced by John Custer’ thing, and I was like; “Man, it must be that guy – he must be helping them reach these goals”, and that was the case.
Is that what fired your interest into re-joining the band?
That was the key thing. I think that was the key thing for the band, and I wasn’t even there. I was out of the band for a while, and I was expecting nothing from the record, and I was like; “WHAT?”! And then their singer quit, and their bass player quit, and next thing, I was back in it for ‘Deliverance’.
‘Deliverance’  is the album that cemented the band’s career; is it a record that you’re still proud of?
Yeah, that was some very good material, and also the fact that the whole thing nearly fell apart. They lost two members in the process of creating it. That it should turn out to be pretty pivotal one, is something.
Was there a lot of expectation with the follow-up ‘Wiseblood’ ?
Yeah, and I think artistically, we were satisfied that we did what we wanted to do, but when you’re on a label like Sony like that at the time, in the 1990s when they’re looking for what is the next fucking Nirvana, you know; “What is going to make us some money in this rock thing”, and we know that we’re not going to have that commercial success, we know what we’re into – it’s just a ride for us, so we’re going to use this ride, we’re going to go to Electric Lady studios in New York, and spend their money and make the best record that we think we can make and not worry about it. If it turns out to be a successful as the want, it’s fine. It didn’t; it certainly should have made them some money from the numbers, but their expectations were shaped by like Mariah Carey or whatever at the time. But artistically, I think it’s one of the best, it holds up. In fact, the man that mixed the record ‘Wiseblood’, we turned back to him to mix ‘No Cross No Crown’, Mike Frazier.
The ‘Wiseblood’ album contained a guest vocal from James Hetfield.
Well, it’s a guy that certainly sounds like him.
Metallica displayed a huge influence from Corrosion of Conformity during their ‘Load’ era.
I think they were looking to tap into; “Where do we go from here? We’ve done the crunchy, chunky, fast” – they were looking for some new kind of territory to explore, and I think they did kind of explore some of the heavy seventies’ thing that we were doing, and mixed it with the contemporary thing and try to make it relevant. I think that’s an attractive thing to musicians who are getting to be more musical in their song writing. Yeah, I think there’s some similarities; I wouldn’t say they…
That they turned in to C.O.C?
No, that would be a bit strong, but they were barking up the same tree, certainly. And some of that material, I actually like. I’m not a big ‘Hero Of The Day’ fan, but I think just about every other song on those two records holds up. ‘King Nothing’s a pretty killer song; there’s a lot of good ones.
Back to the present day, and ‘No Cross No Crown’ follows on in the same mould as those two releases; was it important to do that, with Pepper returning to the line-up?
I think so. You know, you want a little continuity, but I think ‘No Cross No Crown’ is a much more aggressive record in a lot of ways, and more diverse. I mean, sonically, yeah, we achieved some continuity with ‘Deliverance’ and particularly ‘Wiseblood’, but stylistically I think it has a lot more in common with ‘In The Arms Of God’, in terms of being just a little off the wall.
Finally, you’ve just announced a U.K. tour with Orange Goblin; you must be looking forward to that?
Yeah, it’s a great band that interprets like, all the old Sabbath kind of stuff in a way that’s relevant, and not just aping it like some of these acts do now. It’s like the old joke; an original stoner rock band borrows from all eras of Black Sabbath; I mean, like, Orange Goblin have their own thing. And Fireball Ministry who are also on the bill, man, my favourite bass player Scott Reeder’s in that band.
It’s a big tour, and you’re playing some big venues; you must be looking forward to getting back on those stages?
You’re making me nervous! I’m looking forward to having more than twenty minutes at noon!
Corrosion of Conformity’s ‘No Cross No Crown’ is out now, via Nuclear Blast.
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Corrosion Of Conformity 2018 Irish Headline Dates.
22/10 Tivoli - Dublin
23/10 Dolan's - Limerick
24/10 Limelight - Belfast
Corrosion of Conformity with Orange Goblin 2018 U.K. Dates.
26/10 Engine Rooms - Southampton
27/10 The Institute - Birmingham
28/10 Rock City - Nottingham
30/10 The Ritz - Manchester
01/11 O2 ABC - Glasgow
02/11 The Plug - Sheffield
03/11 Cardiff University Great Hall - Cardiff
04/11 The Forum - London