Founded in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1982, Corrosion of Conformity arrived at the intersection of punk rock and heavy metal. In an era when new hybrids of both genres were being hatched, Corrosion of Conformity proved itself to be an act that championed rock's independent spirit. The outfit's 1984 debut, Eye For an Eye remains a must-listen for fans of either genre. It also cemented the musical partnership between guitarist Woody Weatherman, bassist Mike Dean and drummer Reed Mullin, all of whom are in the current Corrosion lineup.
They are joined on their latest LP, No Cross No Crown (Nuclear Blast Records), by longtime friend and occasional guitarist and vocalist Pepper Keenan. The record, which was released in January of this year, has received wide critical acclaim with some critics arguing for its place at the top of the Corrosion of Conformity heap.
The band performs Sunday evening at The Cotillion Ballroom on a bill with Black Label Society (featuring longtime Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde) and Eyehategod.
Woody Weatherman spoke with KMUW about his band's new record and its rich and winding history.
Jedd Beaudoin: When did No Cross No Crown first start taking shape?
Woody Weatherman: We had been talking with Pepper for a number of years about hitting the road when the time was right. We wanted to get a feel for the four-piece lineup. We spent almost two years on the road. We kept accepting tour offers and little things of our own. It was almost two years before we actually decided to go into the studio. I think the wait paid off because we let ourselves gel a little bit. We didn't want to jump back right back into it. We wanted to make sure that everybody felt good about it.
Were you writing on the road or did you have a period of downtime where you said, ‘OK, this is it. We're gonna go into the shed and come up with new songs?'
We used to do a little bit of writing on the road but you really can't. This time around we threw our normal approach out the window. We showed up in the studio with a blank slate. We didn't have anything. We wrote and recorded as we went along. I think that lent itself to a rawer sound. I would love to do it that way again.
Did you have an idea of how good the record was while you were recording or is that something that only becomes apparent when you turn it over for other people to hear?
I think after you get into it and start realizing that everybody's coming together with riffs and the ideas are flowing, you might start by saying, "This might be another classic record for us." At first, we thought we were just going to demo a few things and get a feel for the particular studio we were using but once we got into it, it was like we were recording a record. We used two-inch tape for rhythm tracks, got two or three songs into and said, "Hey, this is probably going to be the record."
Was there a song that emerged early on where you thought, "We're onto something now?"
Pepper already had some ideas in mind when we started and we'd fiddled around with part of "Forgive Me" a little bit the year before during soundchecks. That was actually the first song we laid down. It was the most cohesive thing we had, the one that was halfway there. The rest took shape from there.
You guys have probably known Zakk Wylde for a long time, so this current tour makes a lot of sense in that regard but musically too.
We'd talked about doing this for a few years. We're giant fans and he's an old friend. We did the first leg in December, January and February and then were asked to come back for July and August. We were having a good time and, really, the tour makes a lot of sense. We share fans with Black Label Society but there are some people who are new to us.
I think my first encounter with Corrosion of Conformity was just through the name. I might have seen Kirk Hammett wearing a t-shirt in Metal Maniacs or something like that. And I thought, "What is that?"
[Laughs.] "What is that? What is that skull?"
You were starting off in North Carolina in the early/mid-80s, a period of time when the country, the world, is pretty separated. There's a lot of word-of-mouth. How did you get the word out in those early days?
There's a long-lost forgotten art known as tape trading! [Laughs.] You'd put a demo on a cassette tape, dub it off, put it in the mail. They'd get it a week later and then send some stuff back to you. Now, it takes 20 seconds to send somebody something online. It was a different world.
With our early stuff, even though we were giant fans of Sabbath and Thin Lizzy and Rush and Queen, we also really loved the rawness and the energy of bands like Black Flag and Bad Brains. We were trying to bridge the gap between those two genres, punk rock and heavy metal/hard rock. It took us a few years to figure out how to play our instruments. When we were starting out we were playing all these hardcore punk shows. There was a scene where we could show up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and people would show up just because we were a punk rock band.
I think that's one thing that helped to kick-start the band in the early days. Through the years we've been lucky to play with such a diverse group of bands, everything from the Ramones to Metallica to Slayer to Soundgarden.
When do you feel that Corrosion of Conformity got to be the band that you saw from the beginning?
I think when we made the jump in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and recorded the Blind album. I think that solidified where we might possibly be going in the future. To us, it was fully natural, we weren't trying to do something crazy but for us it was a big leap. But compared to our previous albums it was a big leap for us. We were taking giant chances. I think that laid the groundwork for later albums, the Deliverance album especially. We showed we weren't going to continue making the same album over and over. We're going to do something different every time.
That's what COC fans can expect and to this day we still try to do that. Then again, we have our own niche and style that nobody else has. I think that's one reason why we're still here 36 years later.
It must have been somewhat strange when you jumped from being an independent band that relied on word-of-mouth at the start to a major label band within the space of a decade.
We made a couple of records with Sony/Columbia but we'd also been out on the road and worked and worked with such a diverse group of bands. Touring Europe with Soundgarden a few times really opened a lot of minds. Even though we were hard to peg, we were out with major acts, including Metallica.
When did it happen that people started to talk about your guitar playing and saying that it was an influence?
I don't consider myself to be any sort of virtuoso. I do my own thing and wiggle my way through life on the guitar. I'm always very appreciative when somebody has something nice to say about the guitar work. We do put time into. It's always nice when people notice that. I'm always humbled by it.
There have been lineup changes over the years but you and Mike and Reed were there at the beginning and are still around. You've known those guys for a major chunk of your life.
Getting out on the road and traveling together at an early age means that we've grown up together. We've learned how to manage life out there with each other. That's very important. A lot of bands fall apart on the road because they don't know how to interact and give each other room and respect. It's pretty simple, though: Don't start breathing down the other guy's neck. Try a little kindness.
You're self-managed now too.
We are. We have a couple of booking agents that hook us up with tours. Most everything else is just friendships, calling up dudes we know or dudes calling us. Sometimes doing it this way is a pain in the butt. Mike Dean is actually the most business-minded of us all. He's the one that's able to take care of the technical stuff that happens every once in a while. You're playing a festival and the next thing you know there's a 10-page contract you gotta fill out. "Oh, man, this is over my head!"
Those are some of the things that managers or management companies would handle and we have to do on our own. It's not that much. It adds a little bit of a headache and takes away from just being in the band and being a musician. It also takes away from some of the critiquing and whatnot that management companies can lay on you. We have been managed before but it's been a long time.
There's also that extra 10-20 percent that you get to keep
[Laughs.] That is true. That does take a dent out of you. Everybody's got their hand out when you're in a band but that's another story.
I'm not really that interested in where bands get their names but I have to say that Corrosion of Conformity is one of those bands where the name stands for something particular.
Reed was the originator of that. He was sitting in science class in what would be his last year of high school. He was looking at all the people around him. This was the early ‘80s and there were all these preps sitting next to him. They were giving him the evil eye, it popped into his head and stuck. I think one thing about that name is that it's allowed us to do whatever the hell we want.