Corrosion of Conformity
America’s Volume Dealer (Sanctuary)
An interview with guitarist Woody Weatherman
by Brain Varney
One thing you gotta say for these guys, they sure know how to pick a name. Perhaps the most accurate name a band’s ever slung over its own shoulders, Corrosion Of Conformity has made a career of exploding the status quo. From rabble-rousing hardcore to brutal metal to Southern-fried swamp boogie to straight-on classic Southern rock, COC (as fans call ’em) shed musical identities like guitar strings, yet never feel contrived.
In spite of the band’s exceptionally long career (18 years and counting), COC have only gotten better with time. With their “classic” four-piece line-up in place (original trio of Reed Mullin on drums, Mike Dean on bass, and Woody Weatherman on guitar, plus Pepper Kennan, singer/guitarist for the last ten years), COC have been on a creative peak for the last six years. Deliverance (1994) and Wiseblood (1996) are revered by fans of heavy music everywhere, and rightfully so.
However, never ones to sit in the same chair for too long (remember that name thing again), COC have changed their sound slightly on their latest release, America’s Volume Dealer. While not as brutal or heavy as the previous two albums (something which has caused a bit of complaining from some listeners), AVD substitutes continuous guitar pummel for a broader spectrum of flavors; there are rockers aplenty, of course, but there’s also epic Southern rock like “Sleeping Martyr” and “13 Angels,” as well as pleasant surprises like the breezy, introspective acoustic rock of “Stare Too Long.” Call it a sell-out if you like; put a sneer on your face and call it “maturing” if you like; whine and cry and play your copy of Wiseblood over and over as you try to figure out what went wrong. If you choose to follow such a path, it’ll be your loss because AVD is a fine rock record and I’d be remiss in my duties as guardian of the rock if I didn’t tell you to buy it in large quantities.
Reed (Mullin, drummer) is hurt, right?
Yeah, he’s got a situation with a nerve in his back…
Not his sciatic nerve, I hope.
I don’t know, man. He went in for an MRI and the doctor told him that he’d broken his back a few years ago! It wasn’t a major break or anything, obviously, but he’s having some problems with it. He’s gonna have to miss the first leg of the tour. But we’ve got Jim Bower up here jamming with us.
He’s in Eyehategod, right?
Yeah. He was on the Down record too, and he also has a new thing called Clearlight. They’re going to be playing a few dates on the tour.
He knows the COC songs and everything?
Oh yeah, we sent a list of potential songs for the tour to him in New Orleans. Now he’s up here with us and we’ve been jamming every night and it’s starting to sound good.
Are you happy with the new album?
Oh yeah, man. We figure that if you’re not happy with it by the time it’s ready to go to the pressing plant, you shouldn’t even bother. You’ve gotta live with it for the next twenty years, you know?
I like it a lot, but some of the people have been bitching about the mix, saying “The guitars aren’t loud enough” and things like that. Have you heard any of that?
No, not at all. They wanted the guitars to be louder?
Yeah, I guess they just wanted it to be Wiseblood Part 2 or something.
Well, Wiseblood is a raw fucking record, man. We were out of our heads when we did that one…
Yeah, you can tell.
But we’re really happy with the new one. I guess we like to mix things up a little bit, just to keep it interesting. But at the same time, we’re not into alienating people. That’s not our trip at all.
Speaking of mixing it up, how’d you get Warren Haynes to play on the new record?
We were working on that song (“Stare Too Long”) and we decided it needed something really over-the-top to finish it off. We kinda settled on the idea of a big slide guitar sound, and the first name that popped into my head was Warren Haynes. So we just called him up and he was into it. He’d actually heard of the band, which was pretty cool for us. We sent him a tape of the song and he came down to the studio and played it. He just laid it right on like it was nothing, like a knife through butter.
It gives the song a nice Southern/classic rock feel. There’re a couple of songs on the album with that classic rock thing…
We figured that if we were going to try something like that, we really wanted to put it over-the-top, and it seems like it worked out.
It also emphasizes how far you guys have come. I just heard the Animosity record for the first time a couple of weeks ago.
My fiancee played it for me. She saw you guys back in the day and she was all into that record. I’m a little too young to’ve heard it the first time around, but I was thinking, “I can’t believe this is the same band that made Blind and Deliverance and Wiseblood.”
Yeah, well that was, what, 15 years ago? Me, Reed, and Mike were really into the early hardcore scene.
That’s so weird, just because you guys don’t really look the part, you know?
Yeah, but that was OK. Back in those days, you kinda had your punk rock kids and your metal kids…
And never the twain shall meet, right?
Yeah, and we weren’t into that. We liked Black Sabbath just as much as we liked Black Flag, you know?
Who sang on those hardcore records?
Well, when we made Animosity we were a three-piece. Mike sang on most of it and Reed sang a few songs.
What happened between the hardcore era and Blind?
We took some time off after Technocracy and Mike left the band for a little while. We had Phil Swisher playing bass and Karl Agell singing. That’s when we got Pepper.
How’d you hook up with him?
He’d seen the band early on and knew of us, but we didn’t know him. We were looking for a guitarist and he showed up in Raleigh with a guitar. I think he was in the band three weeks later.
Speaking of changes, how did “Vote With a Bullet” come about? In addition to being a great song, it seems like such a focal point for the band. It’s one that inevitably ends up on just about every mix tape I make.
It’s the only song on Blind that Pepper sings…
The first one he sang with the band, right?
Yeah. As far as how it came about, we wanted to say something and just kinda knocked it out. It was just a really simple riff, but sometimes those are the best songs.
Phil and Karl left after Blind. COC has had a bunch of line-up changes. Is it ever difficult to deal with constantly changing sidemen?
Not really. When it’s someone’s time to go, it just is, you know? If they’re not into what we’re doing anymore, or way out in left field, they’ll either be asked to leave or just leave on their own.
Has COC ever had the same lineup for any period of time?
America’s Volume Dealer is the third record with the current lineup. Mike came back before Deliverance and we’ve been the same four-piece since, so it’s been about six or seven years.
Do you remember the first show you ever saw?
The first rock show I ever saw was Black Flag, here in Raleigh. I was actually too young to get into the gig, but I went with my dad…
Wow, hip dad!
Yeah, he got me in. There were only about 20 people there. That was about 1980 or 81. It was incredible. After that, I just went berserk on all that stuff – them, Discharge, stuff like that.
But you had the Black Sabbath records, too?
Oh, totally. Them, Judas Priest. I just really liked the crazy energy of that hardcore stuff.
Do you still listen to that stuff when you’re sitting at home, chilling out?
Oh yeah, I have a huge vinyl collection. I’ve got a mountain of CDs, too. I play all kinds of stuff. Old hardcore, Black Sabbath, Slayer… If I’ve got some buddies over and we’re drinking beer, I’ll throw on an old Priest album. If I’m in the partying mood, I’ll put on a Beastie Boys record. My ears are always open to new bands, too. I just bought the new Queens of the Stone Age.
Last question, what’s the name of the new album mean?
That’s a funny story… We were hanging out after a show and this kid came up to us and said, “Man, COC, you guys are, like, America’s volume dealer.” We thought it was funny and when we were trying to think of a name for the album, we said “What about America’s Volume Dealer?” I can’t believe no one’s used it before!