I should have known this was gonna be a fun, loose, and somewhat goofy interview. After the pickup and I ask Is this Reed?, he busts out So far, yeah! as his reply …huh, never heard that one before. I learned a lot about both he and C.O.C. through this interview: we both saw Metallica as our first major concert; Reed was straight-edge for thirty-four years; sometimes catering costs $20,000; and his dad was birthed in Burlington, Vermont—where I’ve lived and worked since 2000. Then of course we come back to the new self-titled album, which is fast becoming a favorite contender in their repertoire. It comes out swinging, feints and flurries, never pulls punches, and lands consistently crushing blows. Okay, enough with the boxing metaphors; let’s get with the questions.
MML: First off, I want to tell you that C.O.C. is one of my early loves. Apart from local metal and hardcore shows [at clubs and coffeehouses], the first big concert I attended was Metallica and Corrosion of Conformity back in early 1997—a Load and Wiseblood tour. And stoked as I was to see Metallica, I thought you guys stole the show.
RM: Thanks! That’s crazy, I think Metallica was my first concert in a “big” situation; maybe during Ride the Lightning.
MML: That’s awesome! Do you remember who opened?
RM: I think it was W.A.S.P. and Armored Saint. Yeah… because they played Philadelphia… and we had the old C.O.C. touring van—a big, white, Ford Econoline 150—and it was a piece of junk! I can’t believe we didn’t die, with all the tours we did in that thing. I carried as many people as I could to the show from Raleigh and Chapel Hill, then we met a bunch of dudes in Richmond, and our packed van made it to the Tower Theater. I remember it was ice cold after the show, and I ran up to give Metallica some C.O.C. shirts… that was probably their introduction to the band. They played great, too—you wanna talk about stealing a show…
MML: Metallica in their prime—what more can you ask?
RM: Well, one of the dudes I picked up in Richmond was a black guy named Cliff, and he was probably the only black guy in the audience of four thousand people. And he jumped up to do air guitar with Cliff Burton.
MML: That sounds surreal: Cliff soloing with Cliff. [Random Editor's note: “Ebony and Ivory” just ridiculously jumped to mind.]
RM: It was such an amazing experience, and I still think they’re an amazing band.
MML: “Dance of the Dead” was my first exposure to C.O.C., and whenever I speak with someone whom I first discovered through Beavis and Butthead, I must ask about it. Half the people never even know—as if I’m first to break the news. So did you guys ever meet Mike Judge, or how did it make its way on the show?
RM: I have no earthly idea, other than Jackie Farry who was sort of our A&R person at the time. She went on to be—however famously or infamously—Kurt & Courtney’s nanny. But other than her, I don’t know how we got on Beavis and Butthead. We’d never met Mike Judge. Before Beavis and Butthead blew up all over MTV, they were still kind of an underground thing, much like The Jerky Boys or The Tube Bar.
MML: “Dance of the Dead” was an early one, too. I think “Clean My Wounds” showed up later. [The former is from “No Laughing” and the latter from “Vidiots”. ~Ed.]
RM: Yeah, and they didn’t like that one as much! I think Animosity, Blind, and Deliverance are my favorites. It’s actually part of the reason I performed one-off shows with Karl—the other guys feel weird playing those songs without him.
MML: Well I came in through Deliverance and was hooked deeper with Wiseblood, but was less stoked on America’s Volume Dealer. You did switch labels from Columbia to Sanctuary—how much can you divulge about the majors?
RM: Yeah, that was just the beginning of people downloading music, and everyone was like What are we going to do now? …plus, it was a weird situation for us to be on a major label, period. You wanna talk about Wiseblood. Okay, we recorded Wiseblood in three different studios. We did the basic drum stuff at Criterion in Miami, where Layla and Hotel California and a lot of old famous stuff was done. Then we went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras (for some reason) where, like, U2 had recorded and got nothing accomplished down there. [laughs]
MML: [laughs] Because of Mardi Gras, I’m guessing.
RM: [laughs] Yeah…sorta bad planning, but we finished everything at Electric Lady in NYC. Then this guy with a giant mouthful of teeth said he didn’t hear a single—just like that Tom Petty song—so we went in to record “Drowning in a Daydream” and that was a really gross experience. It really turned us off because we were like Wait a minute, we’re old punk guys, we don’t bow down to you! …but we did, because they threatened to sit on the album. Finally we agreed, if they paid for the recording.
MML: Still, you felt pretty dirty afterward?
RM: Totally. It ended up getting nominated for a Grammy, but at the same time…
MML: …yeah, but the Grammys are a tainted industry. It’s all backscratching and winks and promises. Fuck all that.
RM: For sure, and they’re always five or six years behind. So after that, their expectations were a lot higher for us to reproduce, so we were “invited to leave”. They called me up because I was sort of the manager, and I knew what it was gonna be our walking orders, it felt like it was coming. But I tell you what, it’s weird to see how much money was squandered with those kinda people. They gave me a stack of papers—and I’m not kidding, it was like four or five inches tall—that was our statement. And just on the “Albatross” video alone, we spent twenty thousand dollars on catering. Can you imagine?
MML: Twenty thousand dollars? No, I can’t, actually!
RM: Twenty fucking thousand dollars! We’ve shot entire videos for a third of that. It’s not like we were eating sushi, either; it was just, like, crappy finger sandwiches. I think that was common, though. I remember getting taken out by A&R reps and publicists—and bless their hearts, I’m sure they meant well—but when you’re cut loose, and you find out where all the money has gone….
MML: That’s infuriating. At least on some level, that has to affect your artistry, your songwriting.
RM: Absolutely, yes.
MML: During your time away from C.O.C., what was it like playing in your side projects Brown and Man Will Destroy Himself?
RM: It was just something to do. I was the third guy [from the original trio] to separate—Mike did it first in ’87 and then Woody in ’93. You gotta understand that being in a band is like being married… only to several people. Marriage is hard enough with one person, but with three or four it can get pretty crazy. So my back was fucked up and I went to Duke Medical Center to get it worked on, and they healed me up pretty good. I did some stuff around town and it was no big deal, but let me tell you, working with these guys again… I’ll be honest with you; I think I was in a funk. Not playing with Woody and Mike made me depressed. When I started playing with them again, it was like TAH-DAH!
MML: I was gonna mention how revitalized you all are on the new album. So how did you feel after reuniting with this classic Animosity lineup?
RM: Oh, even the first rehearsal was like this is what I’m meant to do. I mean, Woody showed me how to play drums; he taught me the do-dat-do-dat-do-dat beat and the doodoo-dat-doodoo-dat Ramones beat. Because the three of us learned to play our instruments better together…
MML: Do you feel as though you owe something to one another?
RM: I wouldn’t necessarily say “owed” but it’s certainly enjoyable! I just think we “fit” together. Okay, this is funny. It looked like I wasn’t gonna do the tour this past December, and a really good friend of mine named Bobby was filling in for drums. And he was so glad I ended up doing it, because even though he loves the band, he said I can’t figure out how you play with Mike and Woody! This is from a guy who’s played for twenty years himself, and it’s not like I’m some fantastic drummer, but he said it’s a “weird thing”, especially in the rhythm between me and Mike.
MML: You have a level of understanding that allows you to go beyond. I guess that’s the difference between seeing, say, a cover band versus the genuine article.
RM: So many people have come up to me and told stories of other drummers in past years. The three of us as a whole just hook up because that’s what we know.
MML: So forgive the bad pun, but is there any anomosity between you three and Pepper Keenan?
RM: No, not at all. He’s busy with Down and making good money touring with those guys. He just had a beautiful baby girl. As a matter of fact, I really hope we do stuff with both he and Karl this year, in terms of both recording and performing. For the 30th anniversary of the band, you know?
MML: Definitely. Corrosion of Conformity is one of those touchstone bands that everyone respects, from punk to hardcore to metal, . I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t at least okay with you guys. It always ranges from “okay with” to “fucking love” when it’s C.O.C.! So it’s good to hear that you’re all on civil terms, but I was wondering how much did you keep in touch during your decade playing apart?
RM: Oh, not at all—I just kinda did my own thing. I started working for my parents again, in the office where I used to book all our old punk rock tours. My dad invented, and used to manufacture and sell, CNC saws for the woodworking industry. Anyway, I think I did the same thing as the other guys—just chill out. And sometimes you get separated from folks and you hear weird shit, but I could never stay apart from those two guys. Mike and Woody are as much family as I can ever imagine.
MML: Aww, that’s so sweet. [laughs]
RM: …ehh, shaddup. [laughs]
MML: Here’s something that always fascinated me. Throughout the years, you always have this ageless look about you; like you were a teenager well into your 30s. The current promo photos have a look more akin to gritty realism. How do you react to that, and does it reflect your current attitudes in any way?
RM: Are you saying we’re pickled or I’m pickled?
MML: [laughs] I didn’t mean pickled… but were you? Have we got some stewed prunes in these shots? Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing “bad” here, but some older pictures must have been airbrushed and/or Photoshopped.
RM: I don’t know what to tell you about it! I might look a little worse for wear. I was straight-edge until I turned 34, and have… made up for lost time. Honestly, I think Mike Dean looks like he hasn’t aged a bit.
MML: Yeah, I can see that—sans dreads. Now back to the album itself. It’s interesting that you chose such deep cuts as lead singles; “The Doom” is track six and “Time of Trials” closes the album (excluding awesome bonus tracks “Canyon Man” and “The Same Way”). I think that decision, plus naming the album eponymously, displays real confidence in your product.
RM: I think we really felt it encompasses and encapsulates what we are and have been, and that we can now go in any direction…with that confidence you’re talking about. Originally, the name Corrosion of Conformity had more political leanings. Now it’s more like the three of us as the entity, as the core, taking the band where we want. I mean, I love Slayer and I love The Ramones—we’ve toured with both those bands—but I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a genre. I may love what they do, but I think we’re a little freer.
MML: Definitely—C.O.C. has never been tethered to genre, and I’m so glad you continue to do so throughout the years. Hey, have fun on your upcoming tour with Torche, Valient Thorr, and A Storm of Light! That’s quite a package. If you come to the Northeast near Burlington, VT we’ll have to meet up.
RM: My dad is actually from Vermont, I think Burlington! That’s where he was born. My parents were a mixed marriage: a Southerner and a Yankee!
MML: [laughs] You were hybridized from birth, man.
RM: [laughs] Hybridized from birth—that’s right!