The veteran heavy-music shapeshifters in Corrosion of Conformity have spent the past three decades living up to the notion that change is the only constant.
And as they look forward to 2015, another shift is imminent: Former frontman Pepper Keenan is set to rejoin the outfit for a ew album and some heavy touring, while drummer Reed Mullin will release the debut album from Teenage Time Killers, the old-school hardcore supergroup he organized with contributions from characters including Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Pat Smear (The Germs), Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana).
But before any of that can begin, Mullin has organized a benefit concert for former Metal Maniacs editor Katherine Ludwig, who is battling lymphoma. On Sunday, Mullin and former COC singer Karl Agell will perform 1991’s Blind along with a five-piece band billed as “special guests.”
For Mullin, it has been a welcome burst of productivity after being sidelined by surgery to mend an injured rotator cuff earlier this year. We caught up with him by phone to talk about Sunday’s benefit, the future of Corrosion of Conformity and getting back out on the road.
Tell me a little bit about this benefit concert you’re putting together.
It’s for an old friend of ours named Katherine Ludwig. She was the editor of a magazine that was pretty big in the ‘90s called Metal Maniacs.
And a big COC supporter, as I understand it, too.
She really was, yeah. Late ’80s, early ’90s, Katherine was really instrumental for COC and lots of other bands like Prong, White Zombie, Cro-Mags, Pantera and more crusty bands like Carcass and Amebix and stuff, just exposing them to the masses of metal maniacs in the world. But, yeah, she was a big advocate for us and ran stories on us before and during the release of the Blind album. That exposure helped us make that jump to a much wider audience. We were a hardcore punk rock band before that was pretty well-known, but this was a much different thing, more of a metal, hard-rock album. The lyrics were still very punk rock and the things we were saying were definitely punk rock, but the music was more mathy and metally.
She took a chance on us, man, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that without her help, being an advocate and exposing us to all those new folks, there might not have been a Deliverance, necessarily. She was a big supporter. And without Deliverance there wouldn’t have been a Wiseblood, and maybe after all that Pepper [Keenan] might never have done Down. Who knows? She was just a really big advocate and instrumental, I think, in helping us reach more of a rock audience.
She’s a super cool chick, really down to earth, badass. I only found out about her illness about a month ago. A friend of mine named Randy [Ada] who does a lot of video for COC whenever we’re recording stuff said he was going to try to auction off some of his photographs to help Katherine Ludwig with some of her medical bills. I said, “What are you talking about?” I had no idea she was sick. He filled me in and then later that day I called up Karl [Agell] and said, “Hey man, we’ve gotta do something for Katherine.” 10 minutes later, I was on the phone with the Lincoln.
It’s a very era-appropriate setlist to bring out.
I think so. Katherine’s a fan of the old hardcore stuff, the Blind stuff and all the Pepper stuff; she’s just a COC fan, but like I said, she was a big Blind fan for sure.
Who’s filling out the COC roster at this gig?
At this one, it’s just gonna be me and Karl. Karl’s buddy Scott is going to be playing one of the guitars. We’re just doing a five-piece. Scott was in Leadfoot with Karl. We did some shows about five or six years ago, and it’s that lineup. We’ve played before so it was quick and easy. We already had pretty much all the songs.
Are you back to drumming with COC proper, after your surgery?
Yeah. Later next week, we start in Vancouver for our month-long tour with GWAR. We’re opening for them. I think it ends, like, mid- to late-December. Then we do a New Year’s show at The Pour House, and then I think we’re going to put the three-piece to bed for a little bit and start rocking with Pepper Keenan and do a new album with him next year. We’re going to be busy. And I’ve got that Teenage Time Killers thing coming out in January.
I hate fucking sitting around, dude. The worst thing for Reed Mullin is when he grows moss upon his ass. I’ve been really busy. It’s been cool. This Teenage Time Killers thing has turned out really good.
You said that’s pretty much in the final stages?
Yeah. I think they start mastering it tomorrow. Bill Stevenson from the Descendents—he’s got a big studio—he’s going to do the mastering on it, which is apropos.
Are there any concrete plans for releasing it or touring behind it at all?
Touring, I don’t know. Dave Grohl’s folks—his management and marketing people—are going to help us do all that with the thing. We recorded about 98 percent of it at his studio. They were talking about—since there’s so many people from so many different bands—maybe do something like [Jimmy] Kimmel [Live!] and have three or four different singers come out at one time, like Jello and Lee Ving, maybe Randy from Lamb of God, something like that. All the songs are real short, so we could do, easily, four songs and not go over. But you know, we’d have Brian Baker come out and play guitar, Pat Smear play bass or guitar or whatever. It’s pretty star-studded.
It sounds really organic. It sounds like we—the people that we associated with for the different songs—wrote the songs together. Rise Records from Portland is putting it out.
You mentioned working on a new record with Pepper, too. Has writing started for that? Or is it kind of just a “get together and start from scratch” in 2015?
It’s a mixture of both. Pepper and I were talking the other day, and we’ve got some riffs left over from that era that I never used for COC stuff, and he didn’t use for Down. They’ve just been sitting around from when we used to do demos at Jag Studios. He was like, “Man, I found a couple cassettes. Remember those cassettes we used to do with [John] Custer down at Jag?” So yeah, he found a cache of some good riffage in his house down there in New Orleans that I guess he had packed away.
And for some reason, I can remember a lot of the riffs those guys write. Like, there’s a song on the new COC album, the three-piece, and the music is music Pepper and I had jammed back in 1989, and I ended up just putting lyrics to it. Me, Woody and Mike recorded it. It’s called “Tarquinius Superbus,” after the last Roman king. For some reason, I remember a lot of the stuff they do, so I’m kind of like an encyclopedia of a lot of their riffs.
It’s not a shallow catalog. That’s a lot of riffs to remember.
No shit, right? It’s going to be an interesting year next year, finishing off the three-piece for a while. And me and Karl are actually talking about doing some limited touring, doing the Blind thing, just because a lot of people around these days never got the opportunity to see those songs performed. You know, COC now and COC with the four-piece, the only song they perform off that album is “Vote With A Bullet,” so we’re kicking around the idea of doing some stuff next year, too.
Going back to the old days of COC, I saw the new design of the logo that Errol Engelbrecht did.
Yeah, that was cool looking. Fuck yeah! Errol’s finally getting more than the $150 we paid him for the original skull. Poor thing.
Was that meant to be an opportunity to resolve that after all this time? To pay him a little more.
Hell yeah! Poor guy, we must have made hundreds of thousands of dollars off that damn skull, and he only got 150 bucks. I think Woody’s still got the napkin or the receipt that we did. I think he signed it at Sadlack’s, like in ‘83 or something. So finally he’ll get a little extra cash. But 150 bucks, back in 1983, was a lot of money to us, though. Who knew that we would go on to sell more T-shirts than albums?
Is that logo going to make its way into circulation, or was that strictly a one-off?
I like it a lot. I hope they do more. It was just a limited run right now of, I think, 500 shirts. But I think they’re crazy limiting it to that; it’s a cool design.
Now you’ve got the logo that was on the self-titled album that Seldon Hunt did. I know that found its way into shirts and merch. it’s cool to have those variant logos become so iconic that you can riff on it.
Yeah, like Motörhead riffs on their thing.
Or like how Iron Maiden’s Eddie shows up in different guises.
Eddie the pirate! Eddie the Revolutionary War guy!
What else is coming down the line?
I think the first shows that we’re going to do with the four-piece are going to be in March. Before then, I guess we’re going be working on the new album. Woody’s going to have a baby in April, I think, so we’re going to take a little time off in there, and then I guess get back to touring with Pepper. He’s taking time off from Down and, you know, he makes so much damn money doing Down we’ve got to get him while we can get him. He’s really excited about it, and we’re awful excited to do it. It’s been a while. It’s been I think 2000 since I played with him. I mean, we’ve done songs here and there, at festivals overseas and things, as a four-piece, but as a tour, it’s been a long time since this entity, this four-piece has been out on the road. It’s going to be a blast.
That’s a pretty quick turnaround, though, to start putting material together in January and be ready to play out in March. But, obviously, there’s old material to pull from. What’s the balance?
I don’t know how much new stuff we’ll play on the road. Nostalgia-seekers are going to want to hear as much of Deliverance and Wiseblood and Volume Dealer and Arms of God as they can. So we’ll have four albums, pretty much, to go off of. And maybe later in the year, we’ll add a couple new songs. Hopefully by the end of the year, we’ll have an album out.
That’s still a pretty brisk pace.
I think it’s doable, though. If we start working in January, don’t you think? Like I said, we’ve got to use Pepper while we can get him! It’s cool of him to do this because, you know, he’s got his set-up in New Orleans. He’s got a bar, and he’s got a little girl, so he doesn’t go out for that much touring, anyway, so for him to do COC and more Down stuff next year is awful cool of him.
Well, I don’t think you’ll have a chance to grow any moss next year.
Thank God! I love Raleigh, but, man, I love touring. I’ve been doing it since I was 16. If we could tour nine months out of the year, I wouldn’t be disappointed.