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CORROSION OF CONFORMITY: MIKE DEAN INTERVIEW

Corrosion of Conformity – MIKE DEAN interview by Baz Bardoe

For almost four decades North Carolina hard rockers Corrosion of Conformity have commanded respect from both their fans and peers. In January this year they released yet another powerful album No Cross No Crown. AM’s Baz Bardoe recently spoke to bassist Mike Dean about the band’s career.

Corrosion of Conformity.

It isn’t just a band.

It is a way of life.

An ideology.

My entire adult life I have had the COC logo – a spiky skull with the nuclear symbol instead of eyes – emblazoned on clothing, or staring back at me from posters and banners. The whole idea of corroding conformity – eating away at the mainstream – continues to appeal to me strongly. But it was not simply the cool name. In 1986 the band released ‘Animosity’ which took the hardcore punk and crossover thrash genre and expanded it in all sorts of ways. It was kind of like Black Sabbath had discovered punk, and maybe listened to a bit of fusion as well. The lineup that recorded this incredibly influential album was Reed Mullin on drums and vocals; Woody Weatherman on guitars and Mike Dean on bass and vocals. Dean was a huge inspiration to me. At the time I was playing bass in a crossover thrash band and his slamming finger plucking style stood apart from other players in the genre who used a pick. And now so many years later I found myself talking to Mike on the phone.

I started by asking him if he was still amazed by just how influential ‘Animosity’ proved to be. “Yeah it’s pretty amazing”, he states. “It was a pretty interesting time for us. A lot of musicians of the time…..people who had come through the hardcore punk movement had exhausted the clichés of that genre….’Animosity’ was truly crossover – it was a combination of elements”.

COC began back in 1982, but it was a couple of years before they released their debut album ‘Eye for an Eye’. It was a strong statement of intent which established the basis for the brilliance of ‘Animosity’. But after that the band went into a period of inactivity. Mike left and when they resurfaced with the brilliant ‘Blind’ album in 1991 they were a 5 piece with a different basis and a new second guitarist called Pepper Keenan.I asked Mike why he stepped away from the band at that point.

“The type of touring we were doing was pretty hard”, he explains. “We were in vans together and hadn’t figured out how to get guarantees and so on. It was really a matter of exhaustion and time to try something different”. After ‘Blind’ he subsequently re joined the band but the sound had changed radically. ‘Blind’ was a much slower and heavier album. The next album ‘Deliverance’ veered into ‘classic’ rock territory, and featured Pepper Keenan on lead vocals. It was an apt title because it delivered their most successful sales figures with almost 400,000 sales in the US. Despite the stylistic changes they somehow managed to remain uniquely identifiable as COC. When asked about why the band transitioned form crossover to a more metal and rock sound Mike explains, “we had been listening to classic rock so the idea to incorporate that was already there…..” He is quick to underscore that the crossover scene had reached a kind of creative end point, so change was inevitable.

COC have sold a lot of records over their career, had plenty of chart placings and been nominated for a Grammy. By any standard they have enjoyed plenty of success, so I asked Mike what his thoughts were on how you define “success” in a music career. “When you feel like you have created something worthwhile for the time you have put into it”, he says. “When you get affirmation from people who enjoy it. Some define it financially but that seldom works out….”

Around 2006 Keenan decided to focus on his other band Down, a kind of downtempo metal super group featuring Phil Anselmo on vocals. Dean and Mullin went off and did a band called Righteous Fool for a while, but in 2010 the ‘Animosity’ era lineup re convened much to the delight of long term fans such as myself. They recorded two albums with this lineup, and toured extensively; giving fans a taste of what they may have sounded like if they had followed on from the ‘Animosity’ sound. In 2014 Keenan rejoined and they seamlessly reverted to their classic 90’s era sound. Now a new album called ‘No cross, no crown’ is due and the first single is a classically downtempo and heavy number. I was however surprised to learn that they went into the studio with very little material prepared in advance. “We came to the studio with very little done”, said Dean. “We were messing about…..documenting a sound as it comes into being. It has a spontaneous feel to it”. I asked him if he was happy with the result. “It took a little while to get the perspective….we were so deep inside the process, but yeah.” He is quick to mention their long standing relationship with producer John Custer, which he counts as being a vital component in the creative process.

In terms of career highlights he says “It is hard to take stock of it and anything specific but there is a famous Colarado venue…. a natural amphitheatre. We played there in the summer of 2016 for the first time” He is also enthusiastic about “coming to Australia for the first time…..it is cool to travel and see places……” Incredibly when he asked me about the part of Australia I come from he knew exactly the area I was talking about having driven across Western Victoria on his way to a gig in Adelaide. Finally I had to ask him the advice for new musicians question and true to form his answer was very down to earth. “Just do something representational of yourself. Don’t think too much about it. Do your thing – don’t worry about fitting in”.

And as for the name. “it had a bit of a ring to it”, he says, and really summed up the way the initial three members bonded.

After all these years i get to chat with a guy who is like the Sting of crossover and metal – a bassist vocalist with thoughtful lyrics and a legendary persona. There was so much more I wanted to ask him, but I only had fifteen minutes. When they play here I will take him up on his offer to catch up again, and there will be more questions. Many more. For now I am delighted to have been able to speak with him at all.

Corrosion of Conformity. Legends.

NO CROSS NO CROWN IS OUT NOW

 

 

 

 

 

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