Corrosion of Conformity: An oral history of 30 years | Music Essay | Indy Week
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Corrosion of Conformity: An oral history of 30 years 

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Eye for an Eye (1984)

Mike Dean: Eric Eycke was the kind of singer that people would be into hearing at that point. He was a hardcore kind of tough dude. Never could hear him; he would usually be running around and miss the microphone.

Woody Weatherman: He put on a good live show, and that's what mattered.

Eric Eycke: In Richmond, we opened up for Hüsker Dü. Then we opened up for Dead Kennedys down at the Pier, and I had already heard about the Dead Kennedys so I was kind of in awe. I was like, "Damn, Jello's here." I remember we finished our set, and I walked off and he just looked at me and he was like, "Goddamn, blown off the stage again." That always stuck with me. If that's what it takes, then yeah, I can do that.

Mac McCaughan (Merge Records, Superchunk): I think that if I'd lived anywhere else and just seen COC, I would have been just totally blown away and they still would have been one of my favorite bands.

Mike Dean: Recording Eye for an Eye was pretty transformational.

Reed Mullin: It didn't really sound like us. Well, we had done two or three songs at that place before, for the Why Are We Here? compilation, the seven-inch. And that sounded pretty good, it sounded kind of like us because we were actually kind of heavy for that time. The only other hardcore band that was playing that stuff was Void, I guess.

Woody Weatherman: We just trusted. We didn't know too much about studios. And they didn't know what to do with us.

Eric Eycke: It could have been so much better. Reed was like a kid in a candy store. He went back in and he remixed it after-hours. We did our time; we went home at 6. He came in at 7 and worked until 10. That's how we ended up with that product, and no, I'm not happy about it. But it is what it is. If you like it, you like it.

Ricky Hicks: They just had this roar. It was just piercingly loud. I think they were competing to be heard.

Scott Williams: Reed would pretty much set up a bunch of shows and a lot of times, if they weren't on tour, they would play. And they'd play with the higher echelon of hardcore bands. And they'd just blow them away every time. It was kind of cool because it was like, my friends and the people I live with are making these idols of mine just look like complete shit. And for real, they would.

Danny Hooley (Ugly Americans, The Bastages): The first time the Ugly Americans played a show—actually, a show at the Duke Coffeehouse—COC showed up and they asked if they could play. And they did. They played on our instruments. They just wanted to check out Durham. Of course, they did show us up because they were amazing, and it was our first gig.

Eric Eycke: It was like, goddamn. We were blow-your-head-off loud. It's not like this geriatric metal crap that they're playing now—not to mention the whole Southern rock crap. It was in your face. They can say whatever they want to about me, but goddamn, man, you pay for a show, you get a show.

Mac McCaughan: The craziest thing that happened was the show where Reed and Mike Dean got stabbed. That was at the show at St. Joseph's church in Durham, like in the basement. I drove them to the emergency room at Duke in my car. Someone was trying to steal Mike Dean's amp, and Mike Dean chased him down and maybe Reed too, and they both got stabbed. Just, like, a crazy night. That was the sort of thing that happened, I guess. Those guys probably had that—well, maybe nothing that severe—but they probably had crazy stuff happen all over the country.

Errol Englebrecht: When they played the battle of the bands at Dorton Arena, I think they got through two songs and then the security guards and the cops all showed up. Somebody got beat up. We're all running around through the fairgrounds, cops chasing us. It was nuts, absolutely nuts. Apparently, they didn't like COC.

Steven Blush: The problem COC always dealt with is the singer is always the focus of a band, and they changed face kind of constantly.

Eric Eycke: I was sitting out here at Sadlack's, and I saw Woody and Mike Dean drive up. I just looked over: "Here it comes. I'm getting kicked out." I was just like, whatever, fuck you.

Animosity (1985)

Scott Williams: When Eric left the band, they became a three-piece. That's really when they kind of became a machine because they were touring constantly. As much as Eric was a good frontman for what it was, he wasn't that good. And a lot of people are like, "Oh he was so rowdy on stage, like a monster." But then if you really see videotapes of Eric Eycke from that period, he was really goofy and stupid and talking all kinds of crap on stage. When he was out of the band, they got a lot sharper, a lot more condensed. Reed sung most of the time, Mike sung most of the time, and they were just ripping heads off.

Woody Weatherman: Metallica and Exodus and Slayer and all that sort of stuff was happening. We enjoyed that stuff as well.

Mike Dean: You can get a lot of attention by being into metal if you're in a hardcore band, because it's so controversial to say stuff like that or incorporate it into your music. It was humorous. Hence arrived the unfortunate term "crossover."

Steven Blush: It was natural. The most intense music, after Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, was Slayer and Metallica. Therefore, that's where everybody was going. That turned into a culture war, basically. And the people who were on the alt-rock, indie-rock side won, and the people who were crossover kind of got destroyed.

Greg Anderson (SUNN O))), Southern Lord Records): The Animosity tour, three-piece: They played some shithole in Seattle, a little hall, and they really tore the roof off the place. It was awesome. It was a great show, really intense. Back then in the mid-'80s hardcore scene, there wasn't a lot of three-piece bands. It was cool to see a band with as much energy and intensity as the other bands do it as just three people.

"Dixie" Dave Collins (Weedeater, Buzzov-en): Animosity is probably my favorite record of all time. Not just Corrosion of Conformity records, but all my favorite records.

Reed Mullin: Because we were friends with Slayer, we had a show with them in Baltimore when Mike and I were doing most of the singing. We had a pretty big following up there. It was The Obsessed and Slayer, and I think it was their first tour, too, cruising around in a Trans Am and a U-Haul. The Obsessed were pissed because they were told that they had to go on first. They were saying, "We ain't gonna open for a punk rock band," and made a big stink about it. So we went ahead and played first and Slayer got mad. Tom [Araya] and Dave Lombardo were like, "Fuck those guys. I don't know them." And we tell them not to worry about it. And we play and it's fucking packed, a great show. The Obsessed were trying to put their gear up on stage, and Slayer's whole crew blocks them and Slayer went on after us—and killed it.

That night, Slayer took us aside and said, "Man, you guys ought to be on a label. We're gonna get you guys signed." Sure enough, that Monday at my parents' office, in the fax machine, was a contract from Metal Blade.

Brian Slagel (Metal Blade Records): Way back in the '80s, we had started doing some punk stuff. So we started this offshoot punk label called Death Records. Really it was the Slayer guys who introduced me both to D.R.I. and COC. We had gotten the first COC record in the office. And one of the guys that was working at the label had heard it and said, "Hey, you should check this out." So I listened to that and got in touch with the guys, and said, "Hey, we'd love to do a record deal with you." And they were surprised it was a metal label but we said, "Well, we've got this little offshoot as well that we can put some records on." And it was a deal.

Mike Dean: We were unknowledgeable about what appropriate terms would be, so we contacted a lawyer. The lawyer apparently was unknowledgeable about what good terms would be, because he told us to sign it.

Woody Weatherman: I think every band from that era had a story like that. They don't really care; they just want to have a record out.

Brian Slagel: The main reason why I even started a label was because I wanted to turn people on to music. If we helped to make it happen a little bit because we gave the band the vehicle, then that's cool.

Simon Bob (Ugly Americans; singer, Technocracy-era Corrosion of Conformity): COC recorded the album Animosity for Metal Blade Records. I was out there with them while they were recording it; I even sang some background vocals on it. I talked to the producers and the label people, and through that connection, Ugly Americans got signed to the same record label, and we put out a couple records with them.

At the time, I'd say it was great. Ugly Americans were an independent band. We got signed pretty easily and just did our recordings and sent it to them. They gave us total control over everything. They didn't try to make us change anything. When we said we wanted to do a new record, they said "Cool." And we went on and recorded it. They paid for everything, and I didn't have any complaints at all. We didn't make any money off of it, but just in terms of getting our records out there, they were real helpful.

Scott Williams: When Animosity came out, I remember going, "Oh my god, this sounds so fucking weak compared to what they were live." Because on one side of the record, they used these electric drums. Reed didn't use a real drum set, so it sounded weird. Compared to what they actually sounded like at that period, it's different.

Danny Hooley: That trio was fucking scary. That is one of the scariest bands I've ever seen.

Technocracy (1987)

Simon Bob: I guess it was 1985, they decided they wanted to get a singer, and my band, Ugly Americans, had broken up. So that's the point when I joined the band.

Reed Mullin: We were friends with Simon Bob because we used to play with Ugly Americans all the time. Mike was really tired of getting microphones smashed into his mouth. It became a health hazard for him. And that's why I did a lot of singing, too, because he would get the mic bashed into his mouth and cut his lips. Somebody had to do some singing, too.

Scott Williams: To deal with COC locally, it was whoever was kissing their ass the most at the time was able to be their roadie. And if you worked really hard, you could maybe even sing for them. So I think that's kind of what happened with Simon Bob.

Simon Bob: In terms of vocals and stuff, I like a little more melodic structure to the songs, and I like to sing a little bit more than just the heavy metal deal. In Corrosion, it was kind of just the same thing. They weren't real open to some of the stuff I wanted to do. It was their band; I was a newcomer.

Danny Hooley: I like the fact that Simon Bob sang the way he did on Technocracy because I like throwing a little bit of a wrench into the heavy metal thing. And I think Bob was that wrench. But they had different ideas. And, fair enough, because the guy who should sing for that band is Mike Dean.

Simon Bob: We did the Technocracy record about six months after I joined the band. None of that was really any of my material; those were just songs that were already written. We probably should have waited longer than six months to record it. Another year-and-a-half later, we had almost another album's worth of material that I was real proud of. Most of that never got recorded because I left the band. They just moved on when they got a new singer.

Brian Slagel: I think they just wanted to put something out fairly quickly after Animosity came out. We felt it was pretty good.

Mike Dean: We weren't getting paid a dollar. We weren't getting any kind of support from Metal Blade. But there was a couple of good songs on Technocracy. And then we almost actually had a whole new set of stuff.

Reed Mullin: We just kept playing on throughout the '80s. Mike bailed in '87.

Simon Bob: While I was in the band, Mike Dean was unhappy with the direction it was going, and he left the band. We got a new bass player, Phil Swisher. I think it wasn't going in the direction Reed and Woody wanted it to go in. And I was a large part of that, so at that point, I just decided to bow out.

Mike Dean: I don't think I was planning to quit the band. I was planning on seeing everybody back in Raleigh because we had another tour booked. I did a little walkabout in Mexico and Guatemala with my girlfriend at the time.

Karl Agell (singer, Blind-era Corrosion of Conformity; Leadfoot): He just got tired of the whole thing. Phil Swisher, who was a friend of theirs in the Raleigh punk scene, played in bands like UNICEF and Blood Bath. Phil jumped right in on bass and they kept on touring.

He was really essential in keeping the band going when the band was falling apart. He was a really, really strong songwriter. And the thing that Phil doesn't get appreciated for is that he actually was the guy who brought in a lot of the rock 'n' roll, a lot of the blues. That was what he was doing. And he was just a phenomenal bassist. He wrote virtually half of the Blind record.

Blind (1991)

Mike Dean: We were dabbling in metal. We just changed a lot more parts a lot more frequently. When they got up with John Custer and started really refining that stuff for Blind, that's when something really awesome started happening.

Eric Eycke: When Pepper Keenan joined up, basically, they almost went, like, Southern rock, as far as I'm concerned. I mean, they can do whatever they want to do. It doesn't make any difference to me. Just by the pure name, you've already sold out. There's no elbow room to do anything that you want to explore musically, without conforming.

Brian Walsby: Another reason why punk rockers really hated that stuff so much is not that it was different but that their music represented the enemy. Playing Southern rock reminds all those people of Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38 Special, but it reminded them of their surroundings. I didn't grow up with rednecks trying to beat me up because of the music I liked. A lot of the people around here who liked punk rock got a lot of shit from a lot of people. So regardless of how good or bad the music is, there's this stigma of those kind of people attached with COC and what they're doing.

Mike Dean: I felt like my music taste in a way was going backwards, going deeper into the Sabbath and Hendrix catalog. The way these hardcore bands evolved in the mid-'80s, it had become a little bit two-dimensional. People were looking for some musical inspiration from the past, like '60s and early-'70s type of stuff that was a real free type of music. The way a lot of people broadened their horizons was to kind of take a step backwards.

Scott Williams: They were tired of playing the same crap to a bunch of idiots running around in the same circle. I was probably the harshest person about that, but in hindsight I really can't blame them. I was always thinking local, and I think they were thinking global.

Reed Mullin: When Mike left the band and we were looking for singers, I called Chris Cornell to see if he wanted to sing—and this is after [Soundgarden's] first album came out. I asked Buzz from the Melvins.

Karl Agell: I responded to an ad in the Village Voice, essentially. They said, "Looking for a singer, cross between Ian Gillan, H.R. and James Hetfield." I was like, "Wow, that's totally interesting." I kind of knew people that knew them, and so I just got in touch with them and arranged an audition. I ended up coming down and basically getting the job in May of '89.

Reed Mullin: Pepper Keenan came up to try out to sing. I'd known him for a long time. I'd met him down in New Orleans. He wasn't really hitting the bill of what we were looking for singing-wise. But he was a guitar player so we were like, "Hey man, kick around. And we'll see if it works with two guitar players."

Anyway, we did this album with this guy named Karl singing. He was in these hardcore bands from New York and Connecticut. And we did that Blind album with him. We had an independent record deal with Relativity. That's the first time we did some videos. Beavis and Butt-Head liked us. That was our first true record label pushing us.

Pepper Keenan (former frontman, Corrosion of Conformity): I wasn't what they were looking for, so I ended up going in as second guitar player. The hardcore scene got pretty stale and everybody was running around in circles doing what the other bands were doing. I always thought COC would be one that would push forward and create its own thing, so that's when we started working on the Blind stuff.

John Custer (producer): Woody and Pepper worked well together. Good opposing styles. Pepper was more into riff-oriented metal, but Woody could play all that bluesy kind of stuff.

Reed Mullin: Pepper got some notoriety for singing the vocals for the "Vote With a Bullet" song on the Blind album.

John Custer: Actually me and Pep had to sneak back into the studio to record "Vote With a Bullet" because he kept trying to explain he had an idea for this thing, but we were so pressed for time. And he's like, "Hey, double back and meet me. We got to record vocals for 'Vote With a Bullet.'" We didn't go to sleep. We stayed up till the sun was glaring through the windows of the studio.

Karl Agell: We ended up driving up to New York in the spring of '91 and ended up staying 10 weeks in New York, and we booked basically this welfare motel in Chelsea. One night Phil got really, really wasted, and he was at one of those Korean deli buffets in New York City at 3 in the morning. He was sharing a room with Pepper and Woody, and he ended up puking on the floor. And later on, Woody was woken up by the rats fighting over Phil's vomit on the floor.

It was 10 arduous weeks, man. We did like a 52-hour mixing session, just freaking out under pressure to get this thing done, and people are losing their minds.

John Custer: They had played thousands of punk rock shows and now they wanted to do something else. You have a band like that, with a reputation for never letting their knee hit the ground for any kind of corporation, whether it be a record label or anything, yet we wanted to get to a larger audience. We had to make this punk-rock transition into a wider demographic and retain all of the credibility.

Reed Mullin: I think we're one of the few bands that can say we toured with Minor Threat, Black Flag, Metallica and Iron Maiden. We've been pretty fortunate and got to play with a lot of cool bands.

Karl Agell: Touring went really well. It was always a good thing. As I see it, and as a lot of other people see it, it was always well received. In the time between what happened in the studio, the second album, and touring, there was more than six months of separation. Things didn't reach a head on the road at all. It was in the summer of 1993 when things finally came to a head, five weeks into the recording session.

Pepper Keenan: There were a lot of things going on, and to be completely blunt and honest, we were punching it pretty hard. I was pretty much insanely playing guitar constantly. I lived in Raleigh, so I didn't have anything to fucking do. I'd sit down in the fucking Wig Shop and play guitar all fucking day long. We started working on Deliverance, and the input Karl put in wasn't what we expected. When it came time to sing, it didn't seem like he had done the same amount of homework as we had put into it.

Karl Agell: We were recording the album, and I guess I was a little bit naïve in the sense that I was very, very into it. I came to realize that there was other motivations going on, that other people wanted to be in charge and wanted to steer the direction of the band. Pepper auditioned for the band—originally, he wanted to be the frontman—and he definitely got a taste when we recorded "Vote With a Bullet." All I can surmise is that he realized, "Hey, I can be a front person and I can get the attention that I originally wanted."

It sucked. This is the decision they made; it wasn't a decision I made. It's just what happened. So yeah, it totally sucked. I was pretty hurt. Phil Swisher wasn't fired from the band. He said, "Dude, you've been misunderstood or maligned." And he quit on my behalf, essentially. So we started Leadfoot, our reaction to this whole thing.

"Dixie" Dave Collins: At one point, Mike wasn't going to be playing with the Deliverance lineup. They were looking for a bass player, and a friend of mine drove me up to Raleigh. I jammed with those guys for a couple days. Then Mike came back, which was fine with me; he's pretty much my hero.

Mike Dean: They got working again and it just came to my attention that they were looking for a bass player. I said, "Yeah, I'll do it." They were auditioning singers and I'm like that's ridiculous. Pepper sang on Blind, and it turned out really good. Why get one more person in the band?

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