INTERVIEW: Corrosion of Conformity’s Reed Mullin on Reuniting with Pepper Keenan & New “No Cross No Crown” LP

Last Friday, Corrosion of Conformity returned with a new album, No Cross No Crown. The bands first album with vocalist/guitarist Pepper Keenan since 2005’s In the Arms of God, it’s a dense, murky album that recalls the past, but doesn’t rehash the old tropes that would otherwise make it sound dull and uninspired. What’s more, along with guitarist Woody Weatherman, drummer Reed Mullin, and bassist Mike Dean, this is the first album in 21 years with the lineup that gave us 1994’s Deliverance and 1996’s Wiseblood – arguably, the most successful albums in the bands career.

Currently, the band is out on tour with Black Label Society (and Eyehategod and Red Fang on select dates). We caught up with Reed Mullin ahead of their show in Dallas (check out our review and photo gallery) to get the scoop on the new album and tour.

Congratulations on the new album! Are you guys happy with how it came out?

Reed Mullin: Oh yeah, totally happy. Originally, the plan was…well, I’ll tell you the full story. When we first got back together to do the four-piece, it was a situation where we were doing the three-piece, punk rock stuff, me, Mike (Dean), and Woody (Weatherman) and Pepper was still doing Down – this was like six years ago or something. Pepper and I were talking like every month. Pepper calls me “the mule” and he calls me and says “Mule! We gotta get this shit happening.” And I said, “yeah, man. I would love to, but you’re on tour with Down right now.” It worked out that after six months of going back and forth that Down was going to take some time off and the three-piece, punk rock C.O.C. was going to take some time off. So we got together and set up a tour, our first tour was in Europe, kind of like a barometer to see if the fans still dug it and whether we had fun and whether it works. And all those things came true.

Unbeknownst to those guys, just as I was talking to Pepper, the same thing was true when we first started doing the four-piece stuff, I was talking to Monte Conner, the president of Nuclear Blast America. I’ve known him for like 30 years or something. When he caught wind that we were doing this thing again he called me and said, “Are you guys serious? Because I want to sign you and I will sign you if you’re gonna do it.” And he would talk to me every month and ask how things were going and I’d say “Pretty good, I think we’re gonna do this.” And Monte said something to me, “Deliverance…the first record with Pepper singing…Deliverance isn’t just my favorite C.O.C. record, but one of my favorite albums of all time.” And he ended up signing us. We had different labels interested and we had more money thrown at us, but he was the most enthusiastic. And you can’t but a price on enthusiasm. So, we did a little more touring here and there and we were totally gelling.

So, we had the record deal and went into the studio. Originally, the idea was we were going to go in the studio and demo at our rehearsal studio in Raleigh. Because, Mike Dean has got a nice recording set up there. Then we would do basic tracks somewhere else when we had a batch of new songs. I’m old friends with Dave Grohl and he has a really nice studio in Northridge, California. So, I kind of had that set up. He’s got a great drum room out there. Actually, the three-piece has recorded there. Actually, I’ve known Dave since he was a little kid. I put his very first band’s album out, it was call Dain Bramage. I put that album on a little indie label I had. I’ve known him forever. He totally hooks me up whenever I want to do anything up there.

So, we got John Custer, the guy who has produced all our albums since Blind in 1991. He’s sort of our fifth member, with this line-up it would make five. And Custer is so good at getting phenomenal takes with such energy in them. He’s good at figuring out…like I can play a song perfectly, right? From start to finish. But, if it didn’t have that vibe to it, he would get me to do it again. He’s good at being encouraging and all that other kind of stuff. But, he does it in a way that gets you enthusiastic. And he does it with all of us. He’s good at getting that out of me. It ended up being a situation where all the demos sounded badass and we got to a point where we came to the conclusion…how is this going to get better if we re-record it? Sonically, it’s sounds good and the energy is there. There’s no knob for energy, there’s no knob for vibe. So, we came to the conclusion that this shit is sounding badass. It’s got that thing. Like Raw Power by the Stooges, it’s got that thing. I think Sabbath’s first two records were done in hours, not that we’re Black Sabbath, but they have that vibe to them. So, we ended up deciding we would roll with this because it sounded so good. So, we got a buddy or ours, actually he mixed the Wiseblood record, his name is Mike Fraser. He’s phenomenal. He was another guy who when he heard we were doing this as a four-piece, he said, “I want to be a part of it in whatever way, shape, or form I can.” So, he ended up mixing. He lives in Vancouver. And sonically, everything sounded pretty damn good in our studio, but Fraser made it sound really damn good.

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Corrosion of Conformity. Photo by Dean Karr.

That was one of my questions, actually. One of the things that can make or break an album is the mix. And I usually judge a mix on whether or not I can hear the drums. And I think the drums sound great on it. 

Reed Mullin: Me too! Right on.

Anyway, I saw that he did Wiseblood and I was gonna ask how he got involved. 

Reed Mullin: The first drum kit I got, it was either Christmas 81 or 82, I can’t remember. But, it was Santa Claus who gave it to me. It was a sparkly pawn shop drum kit. And I didn’t know how to play, but Woody knew how to play. I’ve known Woody since fifth grade.  Woody knew a couple of beats and he showed me, like the Ramones beat, and another friend of mine, Eric Eycke who actually sang for C.O.C. on our first album Eye for an Eye, he showed me the punk rock beat. So, I learned those two beats and we started C.O.C. a month or two later. There wasn’t much of a prerequisite for ability back then. If you could play a little bit, you could start a hardcore punk rock band. The next kit I got was, well one of my favorite drummers…my favorite drummers were George Hurley of the Minutemen, Chuck Biscuits, Bill Ward, and Clive Burr from Iron Maiden. So, I saved all my lawn mowing and baby-sitting money and I ended up buying this giant Tama superstar kit, that was similar to Clive Burr’s, at a place called Chuck Levin’s up in D.C. And I think I got an 8, a 10, an 11, a 12, a 13, a 14, a 15, a 16, and an 18…two kicks and a snare. I didn’t get a gong drum or octobans, those were the only things I didn’t get. But, anyway that kit has recorded every single C.O.C. album, with the exception of the one I didn’t play on, and I play it live right now.

Wow! Really? Well, if you found what you like and what sounds and feels good, why change?

Reed Mullin: Everybody’s like, “Why don’t you get another kit?” Why? I like the way this one sounds. It sounds like me now, too. It’s been representing me for…30 years. I’m playing it tonight. It’s a little smaller, I’ve cut it down. I think it’s a five-piece.

It’s been 12 years since you’ve done an album with Pepper.

Reed Mullin: It’s longer than that. They did an album with Stanton (Moore). For me, it’s like 18 years.

Well, I was wondering, since he’s been gone for so long, what was like as far as everyone getting back into a groove with writing and playing?

Reed Mullin: It was automatic as soon as we started rehearsals for that European tour. We’ve been playing for so long and Woody, Mike, and I have been playing together…because we started playing as a rudimentary hardcore punk band, and learned to play our instruments as we were going along in the eighties, and we’re so in tune with each other. All of us were into hardcore punk rock, but also 70’s heavy metal and rock. There’s a lot of influences that oozed in, but we couldn’t really play it. But, we started getting a little better. And our first album, Eye for an Eye, we had a song Woody wrote called “Redneck KKK” and it’s really “Symptom of the Universe” by Black Sabbath sped up. So, even on our first record you could see we were getting a little better. We wrote a song with the intro from “Cornucopia,” we did Judas Priest’s version of “Green Manalishi.” You could hear all those influences early on.

Strangely enough, when that record came out, Pepper and also Mike Williams from Eyehategod got it and they were huge fans. So, me, Mike, and Woody were into that stuff, but Mike Williams and Pepper were into that stuff and when we started playing New Orleans we would always play with Pepper’s first band Graveyard Rodeo. So, we were moving on the same train, but to different stations. Or different trains, I dunno. So, when Pepper joined the band in 89, or whenever it was, it was kind of like he had been part of the band the whole time anyway. So, when we first started playing again, it was so natural and it’s so fun. It’s a great job to have: you get to jam with your bro’s and write killer tunes and tour the world and get paid for it. So, going back in the studio was easy.

Check out the video for the single “The Luddite” –

What really stands out to me about this record is that it really has an album feel to it. It’s not just 10 songs or whatever. One of the things that enhances that is the musical interludes you’ve got on there, the short instrumentals. 

Reed Mullin: Yeah, we’ve been doing that…that’s part of the influence of Custer. He’s been getting us to mess around with that stuff since the Blind record and Deliverance.

How do those song come about in the songwriting process and the sequencing of albums? Is it a matter of having a shorter piece of music or maybe wanting to follow a couple of songs with a break?

Reed Mullin: That’s exactly the way it comes about. We’ll be fiddling around with something and Custer will ask “What’s that?” And Woody or Pepper will just, “I dunno, just something I was working on” and Custer says “Remember that! Let’s fuck around with that later.” Ordinarily, that’s how those things will come about. It’s a spontaneous thing, nothing really planned out.

I think the title track is kind of an atypical title track in that it’s probably not going to be a single. It’s a slow, evil sounding song, and what I found to be one of the more interesting songs on the album. Can you tell me how that one came about?

Reed Mullin: Well, sorry to disappoint you. But, it kind of came about just like the other ones did. But, I can tell you about the song title. When we were doing that tour I was telling you about, we were in Colchester, England and it was show five or six of that tour. And it was a hundreds and hundreds of years old church in Colchester, in the city center. We were all looking at this church and thinking it would be a cool place to do a photo session. And on the side of the church, when we were near the end of the photo session, was the “No Cross No Crown” on the side of the church and we thought it would be a cool song title.

How much of the new album are you playing on this tour? 

Reed Mullin: On this tour, just one. We learned three. Like I said a lot of the stuff we did, some of the songs on the album we’ve only played a couple or three times, period. They were supposed to just be demos. So, we kind of had to re-learn them. But, we’re doing one, it’s the video song, “The Luddite.”

Cool, that’s a great track. 

Reed Mullin: Thanks, man. I like it, too.

So, then just a mix of songs across the other albums? The Pepper albums. 

Reed Mullin: Yeah. We’re doing “Vote with a Bullet,” that Pepper sings on and a bunch of others.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Best of luck on the tour and congrats again on the new album. 

Reed Mullin: Thanks a lot, man. It was my pleasure.

Check out Corrosion on Conformity on tour now with Black Label Society.

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