Pepper Keenan: I Stand Behind Corrosion of Conformity’s ‘No Cross No Crown’ ‘Big Time’ [Exclusive Interview]
Last week (Nov. 10), Corrosion of Conformity announced a Jan. 12 release date for their latest album, No Cross No Crown and delivered the lead single, "Cast the First Stone." It'll be their first with vocalist Pepper Keenan since 2005's In the Arms of God and the first to feature the classic C.O.C. lineup in nearly 18 years.
Keenan has spent the past several years as the guitarist in the supergroup Down and Corrosion of Conformity kept going as a three-piece, but he returned in early 2015, spending a couple years on the road before heading back into the studio with the band. We caught up with the singer to talk about the new record, the status of Down and getting his voice back in shape. Check out our exclusive interview with Keenan below!
You recently wrapped up a short run of dates with Danzig, but that wasn’t the first time you guys played together.
We toured with them back in the day; it was C.O.C., Soundgarden and Danzig – on Danzig’s [second] record. It was crazy.
Soundgarden were just a heavy band out of Seattle back then.
Yeah, absolutely – they were still on Sub Pop I think. It was great! Glenn [Danzig] had that record, that was a game changer; Rick Rubin and s—t and all that stuff. The whole band was on fire, and it was Chuck Biscuits on the giant skull, beatin’ the s—t out of the drums. I mean, we were kids, I was 19 or something. We didn’t even have a record deal yet, it was before Blind . We had a three-song demo and Glenn took us out and I’ll never forget that.
What can you tell me about the new record, now that it's finished?
It’s done, and it’s been a long time since the four of us played together; it was like, America’s Volume Dealer was the last thing. So it was a tall order and Nuclear Blast came up to us and offered us a deal and we didn’t even go anywhere else. We were on tour forever and they were very cool about lettin’ us have our time to write this thing. [We] knew it had to be epic or big or whatever, so we spent a lot of time on it. We mixed it in Vancouver with Mike Fraser, the guy who mixed Wiseblood, so it’s got all the elements of what I think are the best parts of C.O.C. It’s a broad record – it’s got depth to it.
You never want to compare it to anything else in your catalog, but what elements does it pull from? A lot of people were into In the Arms of God, I love America’s Volume Dealer…
America’s Volume Dealer was such its own thing. We got one or two songs that are kinda close to that – but not really. We went kind of guitar heavy and just went apes—t and had fun being musicians…it starts to tell you what to do. It just became this big, trippy giant thing; so many different types of songs on it. I’d say it’s kind of like Deliverance/Wiseblood/Arms of God.
It’s been such a long time since you put out a record with C.O.C. How did it feel going back in and recording with those guys, especially since, like you said, it’s the first in so long with the four of you.
It was good. We kind of knew what to do, you can just go backwards a little bit and chase yourself and know what things worked, what groove things worked and just … it sounds stupid, but just the “epic-ness” of certain songs in certain directions and working with [producer] John Custer again – we just went apes—t. It didn’t take long to get in the groove, but the quality of the songs had to be really good so we spent a lot of time on that. I was in New Orleans and flying up to North Carolina to record and we’d just do three-day stints and just band heads and go at it. And we kinda tracked it like a demo but recorded it correctly. So we were in demo mode, but it sounded great. Sometimes your demos sound better than your record, ‘cause you beat the shit out of them down the road trying to redo them again, so the freshness of it was kind of there. It was a very good experiment. It’s heavy, it’s thick, it’s broad, but I didn’t want it to sound dated. It sounds like the real thing.
Extensively touring before going into the studio was something you mentioned. Was that just to re-familiarize yourself with one another?
Absolutely. Just to see if it could work and what we could do. We ended up touring a lot more than we thought we would.
What did you think of the albums they did without you?
C.O.C. is a powerful band – they can do what they want. It was just a matter of time to get everything to where you don’t let it dictate itself. We have our own deal when we get together, I’m adding another element to the band the three-piece doesn’t have.
When you were in Down, did you feel like there was some material that might be better off to use for C.O.C. down the road?
It’s two different animals. The thing with Down was a different thing because Phil was singing. There was shit where I was like, “I’m damn sure not gonna sing this and play at the same time,” you know? Not always that difficult, but some songs sounded more appropriate, like, riffs – maybe two that I used for C.O.C. stuff.
What is the current status of Down; is it in a holding pattern as it tends to do every so many years?
Yeah. I talk to Phil [Anselmo] every once in a while, he’s doing Superjoint I guess. But yeah, I haven’t spoken to him in-depth about anything. Once he knew that I was focusing on C.O.C., he’s a busy guy, so I just wanted to focus on doing a C.O.C. record and once the label thing came in I was like, “Here we are.”
For so many years, people are asking, "When are you getting back with Down?" You do that, and then, those same people want to know when you’re coming back to C.O.C.
The grass is always greener [laughs]. Believe me, over the years, there’s been a lot of information written in music and it’s tough. There’s two different bands that are equally powerful. It was time for me to sing again and people kept bitching about that, and I hadn’t sang in 12 years; I mean, I did to my daughter, with the ukulele…
But you’re not singing her stuff like “Shake Like You.”
Or “Paranoid Opioid” [laughs].
How long did it take you to get back on that horse?
I had to get back in the game; vocal exercises like I do and exercising in general and trying to keep it potent and believable. The vocals on this record, I surprised myself. I stand behind this record big time.
Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown Artwork
Corrosion of Conformity, "Cast the First Stone"
Best Metal Albums of 2017 (So Far)