Artist Spotlight: Corrosion of Conformity (or; Banned In N.C.) [Part 1 of 3]

“People were just like, this band is coming from North Carolina, and they’re a hardcore band. Just crazy, a hardcore band from North Carolina. That’s a stupid country place. How could it be a hardcore band?”

-Mike Dean, Corrosion of Conformity bassist.

Before North Carolina’s Raleigh/Chapel Hill would be known for indie rock in the 90’s, it birthed a hardcore and punk scene in the early 80’s. While it seems unlikely, and the scene wasn’t as big as DC’s scene, or the Midwest’s scene, it was there. After concerts from Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, and Circle Jerks in the vicinity, the kids in the area decided to stop watching and start playing.

In the beginning, there were a handful of bands. Colcor, No Rock Stars, Bloodmobile, Stillborn Christians (I love this name), No Labels, and Corrosion of Conformity, or sometimes just COC (Hardcore bands love their initials: DRI, TSOL, GBH). No Labels was before COC, but for awhile they ran concurrently. No Labels shared two members with COC, drummer Reed Mullin and guitarist Woodroe “Woody” Weatherman, but he played bass in No Labels. COC was rounded out by bassist Mike Dean.

No Labels formed in March of 1982, and was named when the singer was tearing the “swoosh” off of his Nikes. The band quickly began playing shows out of state in cities in the Mid-Atlantic area and eventually all the way up to New England. One particular show in DC, inspired Mullin to write “harDCore”, which called out the DC scene for its elitism. “I didn’t have a ‘different’ hairstyle and dressed pretty normally,” Mullins said. “Anyway, I was really excited being in the East Coast’s ‘punk Mecca’ and tried to meet people. Everyone I talked to was really snobby. Well, when I came back to Raleigh, and being in a ‘hardcore punk rock band,’ I decided to write a ‘harDCcore punk rock’ song. The song is more of pointing out the few ‘territorial morons’ I met.”

(This apparently rubbed Minor Threat singer and Dischord Records founder Ian MacKaye the wrong way at the time, but when discussing COC in 2012, he was nothing but complimentary.)

Mullin, Weatherman, and Dean were all school friends. Mullin having recently received a drum set, was getting into any band he could. The three started COC in 1982, and had gone through three singers before settling on Eric Eycke (from Colcor). In those early years, they would make the trek out of town for shows, not unlike their sister band No Labels. Dean came up with the name by scribbling it in his high school notebook. Dean said they chose the name because it was a good, generic hardcore name. He continued, “But it’s also a response: You go up to DC, to this enlightened scene of youth, with these young bands that are very creative and have something to say and have got the energy and they’re ready to go. And it’s like high school and you’re not cool because of whatever. You don’t dress a certain way and you don’t have a pair of creepers and an expensive leather jacket and you haven’t done anything stupid to your hair. They give you this disapproval vibe…”

After these brush ups against other scenes where they were not readily accepted, what do you do? You start your own scene.

Back in those stone-age, pre-internet days, Mullin would make treks out of town to find new music to bring back to influence the scene. He also would go get bands. He went to DC and brought back Void, and after they played, he drove them back to DC. Mullin’s parents owned a business in town, where he worked, and the band also had a rehearsal space. The drummer would often use the business phone to call places long distance and set up shows.  He used his earnings from working at his parents’ business to help promote other bands and help other bands record.

There isn’t anything concrete here, I haven’t found a definitive source, but COC and/or No Labels released a scene compilation cassette in 1982 called No Core, featuring COC, No Labels, No Rock Stars, and Colcor. Based on Mullin’s dedication to building a scene, I would assume he was behind it, as the No Core Records label would release COC’s first album.

In 1983, No Core Records released the EP compilation Why Are We Here? with COC, Stillborn Christians, Bloodmobile, and No Labels. The EP was long out of print, but reissued for Record Store Day in 2018.

Eye For an Eye (1984)

Later in 1983, COC went to the studio to record their first full length album, Eye For an Eye. The band were kind of at a loss, despite having recorded songs before, there weren’t many bands that sounded like them at the time, and the result was an album that no one was happy with. “We just trusted,” Weatherman said, “We didn’t know too much about studios, and they didn’t know what to do with us.” Eycke laid blame elsewhere, saying: “It could have been so much better. Reed was like a kid in a candy store. He went back in and he remixed it after-hours…That’s how we ended up with that product, and no, I’m not happy about it.”

Truthfully, this is boiler-plate hardcore from the time. Eycke’s vocals aren’t great, and the production leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not terrible, however, far from the worst I’ve heard. Even on some songs, like “Indifferent” and “Coexist” there are some short solos, signaling they would be approaching the crossover genre soon enough. Plus, they close the album with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Green Manilishi”, but based on the Judas Priest version. The album was self-released, then later re-released on Toxic Shock.

Even though the band was disappointed in the final product, they still had the strength of their live show. Many people report that they routinely blew legends of the stage every time the opened for someone. Dean said of Eycke, “[He] was the kind of singer that people would be into hearing at that point. He was a hardcore kind of tough dude. Never could hear him; he would usually be running around and miss the microphone.” Weatherman added, “He put on a good live show, that’s what mattered.”

Even though Dead Kennedys front man Jello Biafra was quoted as saying, “Goddamn, blown of the stage again,” their shows were not without incident. After a show in a church basement in Durham, someone tried to steal Dean’s amp. When Dean and Mullin gave chase, they both were stabbed, and had to be transported to the hospital… but that’s not even the wildest.

On May 5, 1984, Corrosion of Conformity played Battlerock ’84 in Dorton, North Carolina, which would find the group banned from the city for over three decades.

Battlerock ’84 was set up much like the Sunset Strip scene of the early 80’s, where the bands had to sell their own tickets. COC had given away a lot more tickets than they sold, so they ended up making up the difference to the promoters out of their own pockets. Even though No Labels played the battle of the bands contest in 1983, the result was much different the following year. Dean later explained that most of the bands at that time were Quiet Riot cover bands, and they thought it would be provocative and entertaining for a hardcore band to show up and play. “A few people would think it was cool and most people wouldn’t like us,” Dean said.

The band began playing, and the crowd erupted into a frenzy of moshing and stage diving. Obviously, being 1984, the authorities weren’t familiar with the type of thing they were seeing. Two songs into the set (keep in mind the average song length at that time was 60 to 90 seconds), Eycke had barely sung any words when the State Fair police moved to shut down the show. Once the power was cut, fights erupted between the band, stage crew, and police. Eycke was grabbed by an officer, that he immediately threw off of the stage and into the crowd. Eycke was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, inciting a riot and three counts of assaulting law-enforcement officers, but only served 40 hours community service.

If that wasn’t enough, guitarist Weatherman’s mother was also charged with assault. “This guy came over to Mike [Dean] and pulled his hand back like he was gonna hit him,” Karen Weatherman stated 32 years later. “‘Heck no,’ I thought, ‘that ain’t happenin’.’ And I slapped him, hard.” She only ended up paying a $30 fine. Her husband Toney, and Woody’s father, said, “The judge was kind of dismayed, he thought [Karen was] gonna say it was self-defense. But we had decided ahead of time, hell no, that guy needed hittin’. That’s punk rock.”

Unrelated to the Battlerock ’84 incident, COC fired Eycke near the end of the year. I’ve never found a solid reason for his dismissal, but Eycke said in 2012, “I was just like, whatever, fuck you.”

In 1985, the band recorded Six Songs With Mike Singing, which was songs from Eye For an Eye re-recorded. It was released on vinyl in 1988, and they were reissued together in 2012.

Animosity (1985)

After Eycke was released, the group continued on as a three-piece. During this time, the band toured endlessly. As a result, they tightened up the sound, but something else was happening, not just with the band, but with hardcore. Thrash metal had begun making some serious waves, they were getting faster by incorporating more hardcore elements. Meanwhile, some hardcore bands were incorporating more metal, and a new subgenre called “Crossover” had begun. “You can get a lot of attention by being into metal if you’re in a hardcore band, because it’s so controversial to say stuff like that or incorporate it into your music. It was humorous,” Dean said.

COC had gone to Baltimore, where they had a reasonably big following, to play a show with Slayer and The Obsessed. The Obsessed threw a fit when they were told that they had to go on first, they said they weren’t going to open for “some punk band”. COC handled it with grace and went on first, and played an impressive show. Slayer told COC that they should be signed, and that they were going to get them a deal. Sure enough, the following Monday, the band got a fax from Metal Blade Records.

“We were unknowledgeable about what appropriate terms would be, so we contacted a lawyer.” Dean explained, “The lawyer apparently was unknowledgeable about what good terms would be, because he told us to sign it.”

Animosity is a much more solid record, and the recording sounds better as well, but it still sounds dated production-wise. I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten a full reissue/remaster, for the amount of people that still speak highly of it. The album has a lot more in common with DRI than it does Dead Kennedys, there are some straight up metal diversions in it when compared with their prior hardcore releases.

Technocracy (1987)

Technocracy was the second, and last, release recorded for Metal Blade, and it has a far more metal slant than they had previously. At the same time COC recorded Animosity, Durham, North Carolina band Ugly Americans was also recording their second album, which was their first for Metal Blade. Ugly Americans singer Simon Bob sung back up on some of Animosity, and the band decided to hire him full time as their singer since Ugly Americans had just broken up.

COC hired Bob because Dean was tired of getting his lips split while singing during shows.  Every show, people would get on stage, hit the mic stand, and the mic would slam into his mouth causing him to bleed everywhere. As Mullin said, “Someone had to sing, and it was becoming a health issue.”

The EP is fine, Bob’s vocals aren’t really right for the release. The EP was reissued by Columbia Records in 1992, with four demos with Dean on vocals.

While touring for Technocracy, Dean exited the band. Dean didn’t initially intend to quit, but he was unsatisfied with the direction of the band musically, and frustrated because they had not seen a dime from Metal Blade, so he went on walkabout in Mexico and Guatemala. The band hired Phil Swisher (UNICEF) as the new bassist, who was a friend from the scene back home, and they resumed touring.

Mullin and Weatherman were also unhappy with where the band was headed musically. Sensing the tension, Bob quit COC. After Technocracy, the band had nearly a whole album written, but when Bob went, that was all scrapped.

To be continued…