Latest release: IX (Candlelight)

Corrosion of Conformity made a comeback in 2010 after a four-year lay off during which they lost frontman Pepper Keenan permanently to Down. The band is now about to release their second album since re-imagining as a three-piece and at the end of this month they will be back in Australia for the first time since 2001. Immediately before they were due to catch a plane to New Zealand, we spoke to bass player Mike Dean about the new-look COC, his busy schedule this year, Vista Chino and more.

Thanks for taking the time today Mike. How are things in the Corrosion of Conformity camp right now?

Pretty good man, pretty good. We’re getting pretty excited to get on a plane and head south. We’ve got a new record out with some good response from it. It’s all starting to sink in to us now coz we were all caught up in making it.

This is the second album you have done now as a three-piece. What has the dynamic been like, coming down to a trio?

We’re having a bit of fun with various styles of music we came up on and trying to combine it in an unusual way but still an approachable way for people who like heavy rock, and to be a little bit challenging. We’re just having fun with it. Generally that’s been our approach always. This is just another version of it. Just three people involved so we can’t really fall back on harmony Thin Lizzy style dual-guitars or anything like that. Even in our recordings we had to do things like do things that would translate to a trio. Everything comes across really clear as a three piece, but if you make a mistake, there’s nowhere to hide.

You have been quite a frequent visitor to Australia over the last couple of years. How have we been treating you?

I enjoy it! Everything but the super-long flight. But I can deal with that. I really enjoyed coming down for Soundwave with Vista Chino and doing the special Sidewave shows and then going down there for the Big Day Out. I hadn’t been down there since 2001. That was the only time Corrosion of Conformity’s been down there and played in Australia.

I actually shared a cab with you, Woody Weatherman and (former drummer) Jimmy Bower out to the venue on the Sydney leg of that tour. What did you come away with after touring here with Pantera that time?

(laughs) That was a pretty out-of-their head group of people at that time. Darrell… Philip… Pepper Keenan (laughs). I was just kinda sinking it all in, you know what I mean. That whole world is a little bit different. I admire them for taking us out as a support band, that’s for sure. I’m sure where we were coming from came across as something a little bit different.

Tell us a little bit about the new album now.

Our last record was self-titled and it was our first stab at doing a three-piece recording. We came back. And at that time we thought that we wanted something in the vein of Animosity but we were in a state of flux and it wasn’t where we were really at at the time and we couldn’t really hope for that conccept exactly and we just kinda went in a couple different directions. It turned out good, but one of the things we came away thinking was that it didn’t necessarily sound like us in terms of the instruments and stuff like that. It wasn’t our gear – we got on a plane and went to California to record and we brought out instruments but we just weren’t looking around for amplifiers or anything like that. We put up a few microphones and liked what we heard. We were just going for a very clear sound on the guitar and it was heavy and you could hear the plectrum scrape on the strings. We came away from that thinking that next time we really wanted our own gear on the record and we wanted it relate more to what we do live. And so we made a plan to make a record at home here in North Carolina. We put some microphones in front of Woody’s guitar rig and try to capture what it’s like being there and we wanted to touch more on the heavy rock we heard growing up. You know, like when I was seven years old and discovered my brother’s Black Sabbath records. Paranoid was a little over my head until it settled into ‘Electric Funeral’ and discovering the wah-wah and it was like, Woah! We wanted to do something to capture that feeling a little bit so we just put it together. To some extent it was a little bit haphazard and we had to follow a stream-of-consciousness path and have some vocals that we liked and have some lyrics that we liked and just follow that to where it lead to an actual song.

What do you think is the best indication on the album of where it all came together? What’s your favourite track?

I have a few favourite tracks. I think the track that starts it all off for me got thumbs up from me because, you know, generally if you’re going to have ten, eleven keeper songs you’re going to record thirteen or fourteen so you’ve got some kind of quality control and give something else a chance if something doesn’t work out. I think ‘Brand New Sleep’… those guys didn’t know what I had going on in my head as far as the vocal melody or any of it, any lyrics or anything. And I think they thought of it as, because it was a later track that we didn’t work on much, I think they thought it might have been a throw-away track. We were recording it and it was like, We don’t need headphones. We know the song, just make it bleed into the room. Turn the guitar up loud, and the drums. So what? Everyone just sort of get real relaxed and the stakes didn’t seem very high coz I’m convinced they didn’t think it was gonna be on the record. Everyone played their parts and went on about their day and John Custer and I went on to do vocals and start mixing and then we realised what we’d done, and we put vocals on it and it was the first track on the record. It just had to be, because that first song is the beginning! I think that just captured the real spirit of what we were doing.

It’s been quite a busy year for Mike Dean so far, hasn’t it? I also spoke to Brant Bjork a few weeks ago – were you surprised about the way the whole Vista Chino thing turned out?

Yeah, well he was very surprised too. Bruno and Brant and I were very surprised at John’s timing to go ahead and make a solo record. That kinda blindsided us a little bit because we were really enjoying what we were doing and VC was just super strong and really feeling that improvisational thing that was coming together in a coherent way. We saw a lot of potential there to hurry up and do another record. But Garcia had it in his head for a long time to do a solo record. Over a decade now he’s been wanting to do it and it was a monkey he really needed to get off his back. I understand that and I kinda respect that. I mean it was a little bit irrational, but those are the kinda things you gotta go for sometimes. What I’ve heard is really amazing! I’ve only heard little samples, 15-second samples of each song. It’s really strong. The vocals are real up-front and it’s kinda stuff that’s really built around the vocal and he’s got a great voice, so I imagine it’ll do real well and I’d like to hear the real thing when it’s done. But the end of last year and the beginning of this year, I was a little busy doing the COC record, coming home briefly and doing that, then going back out with VC, but you know I was really enjoying it actually.

Thanks for your time Mike. It’ll be great to have you and COC back in Australia once again. Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to about getting out here again?

To be honest I was looking forward to going out to Perth and being away out there in Western Australia, but apparently that’s not going to happen so I’ll have to console myself with all the comforts of the big cities of Melbourne and Sydney.

Corrosion of Conformity is playing in Australia this month:
24/7 – Crowbar, Brisbane (+ Frown + The Matador)
25/7 – The Factory Floor, Sydney (+ Lo! + Whisky Smile)
26/7 – Reverence Hotel, Melbourne (+ Caged Grave + Wolf Pack)
27/7 – Enigma Bar, Adelaide (+ Hydromedusa + Emergency Rule)