Interview with Mike Dean from Corrosion Of Conformity: Crafting The Myth

It says something that, 30 years into their career, North Carolinian stalwarts Corrosion Of Conformity are just now releasing a self-titled record. Due out Feb. 28 on Candlelight, Corrosion Of Conformity is the first C.O.C. album in seven years and the first since 1985’s Animosity not to feature the contributions of guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan (also of Down), leaving bassist/vocalist Mike Dean, guitarist Woody Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin as the trio they once were.

But they’re not just the trio they once were, and the self-titled is anything but a rehash of the band’s crossover/hardcore punk glory days. Rather, it manifests sonic elements from throughout C.O.C.’s career and, helmed by the band in conjunction with longtime producer John Custer, encapsulates a new C.O.C. constructed out of the old. The Your Tomorrow 7” released in 2010 was just a taste of what the three-piece has to offer stylistically, and songs like “Psychic Vampire,” “River Of Stone,” “Leeches” and “The Moneychangers” show that although longtime fans will recognize some of the moves Dean, Weatherman and Mullin are making, there’s nothing redundant about C.O.C. in 2012.

Before we get there, though, the band has managed to hook up with Maryland road-doggers Clutch on their annual New Year’s tour, which hits Starland Ballroom on Dec. 30 and the Trocadero in Philly on Dec. 31. The two acts also toured together this past summer, and below, Dean discusses C.O.C.’s road plans, writing dynamic and much more.

Take me back to what got you guys jamming again. What put the idea in your head to really pick up C.O.C. again?

Well, I mean, we didn’t really put it down, in theory, but it’s just in practice, we were waiting around to work with Pepper, because we’d done some good stuff with him and we were looking forward to the opportunity to get him and Reed back together and do some stuff. He was pretty occupied with Down, but what put the idea in our head was him actually saying, “Let’s go play some festivals. We could do well.”

And then it turned out he couldn’t do it, so we just suggested in jest that we should do it as a three-piece (laughs). I kind of blurted it out and nobody was laughing, so it was like, well, maybe we should pursue this. Then, once we got into that process, it seemed a little lame to be going out there to play the nostalgia circuit.

Obviously, as a three-piece, our last record was quite a while back, so we’d be learning an Animosity set that people wanted to hear, but at the same time, we didn’t want to play the nostalgia circuit, so it was kind of a condition of mine that we would get some new material together, and while we were dusting it off, do a recording, so it wouldn’t be just exploitation of past deeds.

Can you talk about the change in dynamic between C.O.C. working as a three-piece as opposed to having Pepper involved while you’re writing?

Everybody has a lot of ideas to contribute, and the more participants involved, the less direct individual contributions everybody’s gonna make in the realm of songwriting. Take one person out of the equation, and it’s that much more everybody has to contribute and gets to contribute. That’s interesting. That’s a good thing. I thought we all rose to the occasion.

Another thing is, we were doing it with this format a really long time ago, when we were literally still in high school, so it was kind of like reverting to something that we hadn’t done for a while, but it was very natural to us and kind of reminded us (laughs) of old times. In a good way.

Were you surprised at all at the reaction you got initially to coming back as a trio live?

Nah. There’s so many different incarnations of C.O.C. and the various incarnations have covered a lot of stylistic ground along the way. People will become alienated with some new thing that we do, and they’ll pine for whatever came before, so there are a lot of people that were anxious to hear the hardcore thing, or the hardcore-punk-metal-crossover type of thing or whatever.

We were getting a lot of requests to do that, and people spouting off about how that was better or they wanted to hear that. So I think we expected a good reaction. We expected there to be interest. It was about what we expected.

On the album, you kind of cover all the bases, sound-wise.

Yeah. It’s not just a crossover nostalgia record at all.

Were you conscious of that as you were putting the songs together? Did you have the shape of the album in mind?

I think once we had a few songs written, then we could be a little more calculating. We started off with some real natural exploration of ideas and just moving quickly to write some lyrics and craft a couple songs. Once we saw where it was going, then maybe it was a little but more calculated, like, okay, we want to show the scope of what we can do with this lineup and not have it just be pigeonholed to be going backwards to old times, even though we wanted to demonstrate that we could still play fast.

Was there ever any doubt you’d be recording with John Custer again for this record?

Perhaps. We knew he’d be into it. We were considering possibly doing it all ourselves, but ultimately I thought that he could really add some ideas and add some perspective to it. A little bit of depth. He kind of likes to sit back a little bit and let the band be the band a little more than he probably did with Blind or he did with Deliverance, certainly. He’s pretty much just trying to enable us. He’s not trying to mastermind, really, anything. I enjoyed working with him this time.

It was kind of John Custer and C.O.C., really, that produced it. It was a good collaboration. He was remarking that we were kind of working like one organism, and I thought that was apt. But I think for a moment there we were thinking about trying to just entirely produce it ourselves, and I don’t know how that would’ve turned out. At this point, I’m glad we did it the way we did it.

One thing I’ve noticed in listening is a balance between a raw, natural sound, and still being clear and full. Did you know you wanted that kind of natural vibe?

We wanted something organic. We wanted a pretty organic performance. We weren’t looking to record something that was put on a grid with real prominent drum samples that sounded like a machine, although there’s some music like that I might enjoy. We wanted honest performance, and something that invoked a real live but also powerful rock band-type of thing. I’m still digesting how it turned out.

We mixed it pretty quickly and I know I’m happy with it, but I don’t really have that much perspective on it yet. I’m very happy with the results… I’m just not sure what’s making me happy (laughs). I can hear everything. The idea was to have something a little bit vibe-y, a little bit real, but still presentable.

What’s your process of writing lyrics?

I’ll tell you what, sometimes I start off with an idea and I just try to channel whatever comes into my head on that matter and step away and look at it. Sometimes it starts to take on an alternate meaning, and if it seems too direct or on the nose, I try to go back and be a little more vague so that there’s the possibility for people to have other interpretations. That way, when you have it all written and said and done, people will mention their really involved interpretations of it and make you sound like a genius.

Then you’re just like, “Yes. Yes.” You just adopt their mythology for it, so the next time I’m giving a—you got an early interview here, so I don’t really have much to say—but in about six weeks, I’ll have all these really elaborate explanations for the songs that, by virtue of being vague, I get from people who come to me and tell me what it’s about and I’m like, “Oh yeah, yeah. That’s what I was thinking.”

But really, I just try to leave it a little bit up to interpretation. I think that makes the songs a little more enduring. Some of the stuff is pretty on the nose, and I’ll have a concept that’s set in stone, but it’s a little inexact, and if I’m not just channeling what I’m hearing directly, I find it hard to work deliberately and literally in a straight line. It’s one of those things that just has to happen. I’m not that good a writer. I’m just a receiver of randomness, and I try to assemble it in a meaningful and entertaining way.

Any solid touring plans for 2012 yet?

Oh yeah, starting in March, we’re gonna do a bunch of U.S. dates. Still finalizing who we’re playing with. But we’re gonna do a little brief headlining tour of the U.S. and we have some plans to go to Chile and we definitely have some festivals in Europe in the summer, and that’ll be interesting to see if they still have Euros to pay us or not. I’m sure it’ll be fine (laughs).


Corrosion Of Conformity is set for release Feb. 28, 2012 via Candlelight. Catch C.O.C. live with Clutch on Dec. 30 at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville and Dec. 31 at the Trocadero in Philadelphia. More info at


One of the first CDs JJ Koczan ever owned was C.O.C.’s Blind. It’s a fact. He was 10.