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Refuse To Conform: An Exclusive With CORROSION OF CONFORMITY Bassist MIKE DEAN

By Brian Davis, Contributor
Wednesday, February 27, 2019 @ 8:38 AM

"...most of our writing ideas are kind of archaic anyway, so it’s just our way of being out of style. (laughs)"

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The decade of the 1990’s always invokes a wide variety of prospective memories when it comes to the Metal scene; many believe that Metal died in the fame-grubbing claws of anti-Metal alternates like NIRVANA and PEARL JAM, while others believe it was a groundbreaking time for revolution, evolution and change in the Metal atmosphere. For those who subscribe to the latter no band could better represent that conviction than the immortal CORROSION OF CONFORMITY. Whether in their anarchic Punk-Metal days in the 1980’s, their sole but nevertheless genre-defining Thrash epic Blind, the stonified Blues-ed out Metal of Deliverance and Wiseblood or the current amalgamation thereof with In The Arms Of God and now the long-anticipated return of iconic vocalist/guitarist Pepper Keenan in their highest charting release of all time: No Cross No Crown. COC have long stood as a band who far prefers their own fans and flow than the lure of corporate Rock success. Having fostered COC’s early Punk-Metal vibe and developed the bass into a wholly dominant aspect throughout the band’s music, founding & long-term bassist Mike Dean has stood by as genres come and go while his North Carolina powerhouse withstands every storm poised and ready to strike with the next unique batch of Southern Discomfort and gritty blues-swaddled Rock served fresh, rough and raw the way momma never intended.

KNAC.COM: Thanks again for meeting with me, Mike – this is a real honor. So your latest album, No Cross No Crown is COC’s highest charting album ever, how does that feel?

DEAN: Good. Yeah, I think people were expecting a good record with us coming back with [Pepper] Keenan in the line-up and playing around after a little while and there’s a little anticipation. Then you get someone like…there aren’t many good record labels left but the people at Nuclear Blast, they know what they’re doing and they can get the word out so it all smoothed out nicely and we’re happy with the result.

KNAC.COM: Once Pepper [Keenan] was back in the band was there a particular focus on kind of modernizing the Deliverance and Wiseblood style?

DEAN: Well, I don’t think we’re modernizing anything, but we were just looking to do some shows and see if the vibe was there between us, and then it took a while because we kept getting offers to perform, you know…(laughs) So it gets hard because it’s so much fun to play live; but once you sign a recording deal it’s time to get down to work for a while, which is almost as fun. My idea as far as going into [No Cross No Crown] was to try to pick up where we left off with In The Arms Of God, the last record we did together, because that’s a badass one that we wanted to just kind of pick off from what we did there. So we weren’t trying to modernize anything, just be ourselves; and most of our writing ideas are kind of archaic anyway, so it’s just our way of being out of style. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: (Laughs) So are you guys just riding the moment or do you have any longer-term goals?

DEAN: We’re getting caught up into playing so we’re just starting to have discussions about where to go next. You know, we always have a lot of ideas, a lot of things kicking around with riffs and lyrics and things like that, but as far as actually planning anything out we’re just getting talking.

KNAC.COM: Is there a fair amount of touring left that you guys have to do?

DEAN: Yeah, yeah; that could be pretty ad-nauseam, you know – that could be endless. So you gotta pull away at some point and get working on the next thing for sure.

KNAC.COM: What’s the band’s take on the art? Are the albums a necessary evil so you can get out and perform, is that what you prefer or…?

DEAN: No, it’s more than necessary – it’s pretty essential. Like what I’m into is creating the work and then the challenge of playing live. If it were up to me we would be in the studio more and having more output, but I understand the other side of us needing to be out there on tour all the time.

KNAC.COM: So essentially the only CORROSION OF CONFORMITY album you have not appeared on is Blind, correct?

DEAN: That’s true, yeah.

KNAC.COM: Ironically that’s my favorite COC album…

DEAN: Yeah, it’s one of my favorites.

KNAC.COM: As far as legendary Thrash and just as a political statement of that era, that album’s about as good as it gets for me and my younger years in high school. I’m surprised that you weren’t on it - what was going on for you during that time?

DEAN: I kind of peeled off after the EP Technocracy – after the tour on that I kinda bailed and I had a friend who had just quit a band called BLAST from Santa Cruz, CA named William Duvall, who I used to know from a Hardcore band known as BEYOND CHRIST; he and I got together in Atlanta, GA where he’s from and we played some music with a really talented drummer; nobody’s really ever heard of it – it was never really recorded – but it was a band called FINAL OFFERING. Then he ended up moving to California and meeting Jerry Cantrell, now he’s the singer for ALICE IN CHAINS. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: (laughs) Wow, small world.

DEAN: Yeah, yeah! So you know, doing stuff like that and travelling around a little bit, I took a little trip to Latin America; just travelled around Mexico and Guatemala – better then than now (laughs) – and then…yeah, ended up with a great career of delivering things on my bicycle in San Francisco and Philadelphia until I heard COC was looking for a bass player in…I think it was 1993, and I got back into it.

KNAC.COM: And in that time with Blind is when Pepper came along; he only did vocals on Vote With A Bullet but as you came back and the band moved forward into Deliverance what was the mindset leading to deciding to have him cover all the vocals? Was that determined from the get-go or was it over time?

DEAN: No…you know, I don’t know what everybody’s real thinking was before I got back into it but literally since this was before the internet they put things out as advertisements in alternative weeklys like, “[sarcastically serious] Hey, we’re looking for a singer!” So every person who wanted to be famous or be in a semi-famous band like COC at the time would send their 8x10 glossy photograph posing like they’re a fucking Rock star and their set of their great works as a singer and their un-proof read letter or perhaps even professional-yet-not-professional un-proof read biography (laughs). It was just a cheesy hair metal fiesta of the most random people who wanna be in your band or just wanna be famous (laughing harder). So it was bad to be in the position that they were in, grasping at straws and contracted to do a record, because it was different then – you couldn’t just sit down on your computer to get it out so you had to deal with a bunch of people with addiction to celebrity; it was pretty funny. So finally I just looked at that shit and was like, “What’s the best song on the last record? Come on, you know I’m gonna back you up – it’s "Vote With A Bullet".” And Pepper acted like he was reluctantly doing it but I think that was his ultimate agenda all along (laughs).

KNAC.COM: (laughs) A total CORROSION coup.

DEAN: (laughs) Yeah but it all worked out, so…

KNAC.COM: Oh that worked out well for sure. Early on with Animosity, Eye For An Eye, Technocracy and maybe peaking with Blind there was a strong political angle that went along with an anger towards social injustice. Was it strictly just age that made you ease off on that or…?

DEAN: Well man, see…here’s the thing: To call that “political” – really, is there any real in-depth analysis in there, is there any real…? I mean it’s artistic, it’s on the subject, it could be topical but I mean really: It’s still just fucking Rock. When you’re 15-20 years old the answers are real fuckin’ easy, you know? As you grow older you start to realize that the people who have the answer to things may have an answer but they still just have the same human limitations as the people they’re denouncing; so while they may feel the same way and have the same sort of agenda you just eventually realize that it’s human nature and it’s the support & shell that holds the whole brothel together. (laughs) The other thing is you look at being an artist, being a musician, and wanting to create something that’s durable and that lasts a while - but when you get something that’s like super-on-the-nose topical songwriting it tends to give it a shelf life and put it in a real place & time that can sorta diminish the shelf life and evoke a kind of two-dimensional imagery that’s just sloganeering or something like that. The danger of political songwriting in terms of successful art is that it’s usually either super on-the-nose & super topical and therefore it lacks passion or it’s just sloganeering, you know – gibberish. I mean if it goes with the song well and it’s anthemic then I go for shit like that sometimes – you know, if it’s BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS or PETER TOSH or something like that – but we were wanting make stuff that was as artistic heavily as the stuff we were listening to, more evocative song writing. There may be a little more intent there but just a little…you know, smear the focus such as that it could rest in another time or another situation if you were to back off that focus. And I think that’s better art, you know?

KNAC.COM: Absolutely, you want something that lasts no matter what.

DEAN: Exactly.

KNAC.COM: Was there a point…did you start out looking for a certain satisfaction, a specific achievement in your career as a musician – was it simply being able to live as a musician?

DEAN: Yeah, looking forward to being a musician. (laughs) Not have to go back to the job you just got fired from at the end of the tour all the time, you know? I mean I still do a little bit of work at home on the production angle, working at concerts doing rigging and stuff like that. That’s what it’s like being in a hard core band, at some point you’ve worked at every kitchen in Raleigh [N.C.] and you’re the dude that always quits at some point and goes on tour (laughs). So yeah, to get beyond that and to get paid – it’s not a great way to get rich…

KNAC.COM: It’s a good way to be happy though, right?

DEAN: Yeah it’s a good way to keep your head above water for a while and have some fun.

KNAC.COM: Is that the long term solution for you?

DEAN: Oh yeah! (laughs) It’s long term - it’s been long term, I intend to keep it there - lifer-type shit.

KNAC.COM: And I’ve read that you’ve done some other projects – LIGHTNING BORN?

DEAN: Oh yeah, yeah! I recorded with a couple Rock groups in Raleigh, there are two I did some recording with – one is called DEMON EYE, they’re named after the DEEP PURPLE song, and it was kinda like PENTAGRAM, Proto-Metal stuff, then the other band was called THE HELL NO! where we had this amazing singer with this big, soulful voice – this woman really tears it up so they found this way at this really Proto-Metal/Doom type of thing and got together with a great drummer; they talked me into some songwriting that turned out just a little bit different than I thought but was this great thing so we recorded that and we’re going to put it out on Ripple music, which is the same mother ship that we’re playing for tonight. It’s a cool little label out of Northern California and…yeah, it’s coming out soon. Then for a while I was doing the VISTA CHINO thing with the KYUSS guys – with everyone minus Josh Homme – but that was amazing. We got to go to Australia twice and a bunch of Europe, they had a new record out with a really strong song and we were So hopefully that everyone would come together to play & write some new music - you know like a KYUSS tribute or something - then it was kinda like 1994 all over again where Brant Bjork and John Garcia were butting heads and John said he was out…but yeah, it was cool while it lasted. It terrified me because I’d never played covers & I’d never been in a cover band playing other people’s songs really so like on 10 days notice…[KYUSS/VISTA CHINO bassist] Nick Oliveri got into a little jam down in Los Angeles involving falling asleep and not answering the door while a S.W.A.T. team was there; they didn’t like it so they put some kind of charges on him that made it so he couldn’t leave the country until the end of 2013 so I get a call from Brant Bjork like, “Hey man you wanna go play bass for us in Australia?” And I was like, “That sounds great, I mean I’d really have to make a commitment to learn the stuff properly because people have expectations of these songs – I know I would” and he’s like, “Well, it’s not for ten days.” (laughs) I’m like…how do you learn even half of Scott Reeder’s bass lines in that amount of time? So for ten days I’m looking up like 18 year old kids on the internet that actually know how to play the shit right and thinking, “I gotta write this kid a letter, he saved my fucking ass on these songs” (laughs) Like I should put them in touch with him, right? (still laughing)

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