After losing their lead singer, the awesomely named Pepper Keenan, to the metal supergroup Down, North Carolina metal titans Corrosion of Conformity decided to continue on as a trio. Bassist/singer Mike Dean, drummer Reed Mullin and guitarist Woody Weatherman had started out that way back in 1982; that was the lineup on their much-loved 1985 album "Animosity.” The way they look at it, their new disc, "Corrosion of Conformity," marks the rebirth of the new/old CoC.
Nobody has ruled out Pepper's eventual return to the band (which plays Baltimore's Sonar on Friday). Members leave CoC and return with some regularity: Dean himself left in 1987 and came back in the early '90s. Dean got on the phone from the band's practice space to talk about his band's new album, and their new lease on life.
This is your thirtieth year with the band, if you don't count your hiatus.
Yeah. We hadn't been on it full time at all points, but when you stop and look at the math, it's pretty terrifying.
Does it feel like thirty years or does it feel like yesterday?
Yeah, it feels like 30 years when you go back and examine the earlier music and see that we were wet behind the ears kids who knew everything and were willing to tell you about it. [Laughs.] So it feels like 30 years from that perspective.
You've seen some things, huh?
Yeah. And I even remember some of them.
How does it feel to be back to a trio? Was it like riding a bike?
It was pretty easy, because our methodology was to revisit the last album we did as a three-piece, which was "Animosity" from 1985. It held up pretty good, even if it's not something we would recreate as the individuals we are now. We decided we'd go out and perform it in its entirety just for kicks. So we wouldn't seem like a nostalgia-driven exploitation machine, we wrote several new songs and got them in the set right away. Personally, it was my intention to [do a new album] I'm not sure if everyone else was on board right away, but we got a good response playing the new stuff.
When you went back to "Animosity," was it to reassure yourself that you could still be good as a three piece?
It was not even that, it was that we had an opportunity to perform as a three-piece and that was material that someone had heard before. We needed to listen to it to see if we were still feeling it, and actually re-learn it again.
A lot of bands who go back and revisit their old material tell me they look themselves up on YouTube to see how they used to play it.
[Laughs.] I believe it. Yeah. Our stuff was surprisingly natural. Like, I absolutely remembered it and it was very familiar, but there were certain parts of certain songs I had no recollection of whatsoever.
You named this album after yourselves. Were you trying to make a statement?
We were sort of trying to make a point. We were trying to motivate ourselves to do something of importance. When you do a self-titled [album] twenty-something years after your last [trio] album, it's kind of a responsibility for it to be a defining work. It has to be good, or it's just going to be kind of a joke….
There's people who didn't necessarily believe this was something we should be doing. We had Pepper playing with us for so long and making a really good contribution, and maybe they're not familiar with the earlier era of the band. So there was some resistance, and it was kind of our way of taking ownership of the fact that we started the band and we were there at the beginning. It was kind of like coming out with two middle fingers blazing, really.
What was it like when you left the band, and you heard the things people said about you? Was it like being at your own funeral?
It was a really long time ago, and we were living kind of a rough lifestyle. Not in the cliché rock-and-roll kind of way, but a D.I.Y. kind of way where you go off on tour and sleep in a van, or if you sleep at someone's house it's probably at somebody's house who wants to have a party. So there's not much sleep, and you have business decisions made by people who aren't really in business. So there was a lot to stress about, and it was kind of a relief to step away.
For a while I didn't think the band was doing that good, but then one day someone brought me a record called "Blind" and I was blown away ... it was something I would have been proud to have been a part of. And little by little I started making friends with those guys again. Pretty soon they had a bit of a soap opera while "Deliverance" was taking shape. And I took the invitation to come back.
Is it weird to be a trio? Do you look over and [expect to see Pepper]?
No, it's totally natural. It's easy. There's a smaller quorum, you know, so there's less possibility of a trainwreck.
So if Pepper were to come back, how would that work?
Oh, I think it would work pretty good. There might be some logistics as to what material he would perform, but as far as making an album, I think it would be a lot of fun.