The story behind In The Arms Of God
TCE interviews Woody Weatherman and Pepper Keenan

by Todd K Smith

“The president of Sanctuary Records, when he first heard our new record, pulled his car off to the side of the road and called to thank us.” Pepper Keenan

Four months ago COC was in town touring with Motorhead in support of their latest effort In The Arms Of God. It was a rough one according to guitarist Woody Weatherman and singer/guitarist Pepper Keenan. In fact, they both agreed it added some gray hair and as Weatherman told us “put a real hurtin’ on ourselves.” But much like the headlining act COC persevered. “We’re a real band,” says Keenan. “We know the pressures of the road. Not everything goes as planed. We still had a great run with Motorhead and plan to tour Europe with them this summer.” It’s been four long years since COC’s American Volume Dealer. There was the highly acclaimed Live Volume released in 2001 accompanied by a brutal hard rock DVD of the same name. Then nothing but silence except for the startling appearance of Keenan in Metallica’s documentary Some Kind Of Monster. To the horror of COC fans he was trying out for bass duties vacated by James Newtsed.

“Man, I never intended for that to get in the movie,” states Keenan on his return to Portland. “They asked me to come out and play a couple songs – see what the vibe was. Hell, man we have a history there – we did two tours with those guys. In fact I talked to James yesterday. But I’m glad nothing came of it. I’d be known as the bass player for Metallica instead of Pepper Keenan.” As it is Pepper is even more committed to COC than ever, “To be honest,” he says, “I came home after that experience and wanted to make a record that made them look like fools, really kick their ass – and we did.” Besides his duties in COC, Keenan is part of the Southern metal supergroup Down (which also features Pantera’s Phil Anselmo and members of Crowbar). “Down helps me stay pissed off – that also added to the fuel for this new record.”

Guitarist Woody Weatherman joined our discussion filling in the gasps of the past four years from his vantage point. “Sometimes you got to lay around in the backyard for a year or two and get your head together,” he says. “Our last DVD was off the Volume Dealer tour. It was at the end of that whole shebang and we were fried. Jimmy Bower (drummer) was out with us at the time so were glad we got to record that moment in time. It came out really good and put a big ‘Fuck You!’ to all the critics that bad-mouthed American Volume Dealer. That record had some killer songs on it and Live Volume proved it.”

Though the new opus, In The Arms Of God, seemed long in coming both Weatherman and Keenan are quick to point out that the timeline on In The Arms Of God was actually quite short. “We had some of the riffs floating around and went down to New Orleans and had Stanton Moore play on the drum tracks,” says Keenan. “We ended up staying there while he did ALL the drum tracks at Galactic’s place. Some of what we used are complete first takes like ‘Never Turns To Move.’ What was amazing about Stanton is we never even jammed with him - we just showed up and he blistered.” Weatherman picks up the story, “We brought the tracks up to Raleigh to work on them at our place and a few months later we were done.”

Long time COC bassist Mike Dean was working on the studio where the band recorded the new record. He was the mastermind behind “Stone Breakers” the incredibly fierce opening cut off In The Arms Of God. “Man, Mike just threw it out and bam! it took,” says Keenan. “We kept the songs loose on this record. We didn’t want to strangle them in the studio. We wanted them to feel live. We wanted it to sound like we’d been playing them forever. For me personally, I wanted that record to feel like it was on the verge of collapse the whole time – listen to the drummers, they are falling off the deepend all the time.” Weatherman adds, “It’s the little mistakes here and there that make the record sound organic. We’ve been here 23 years already. It’s not to say there’s no thought put into the songs, but we keep it open to new ideas all the time. We’re not scarred to change things around. Not being a slave to the gear is key.” Injects Keenan, “Sometimes you’ll pick up the guitar and step on the box and get the most disgusting tone you’ve ever heard. I’ll go with it and write a song based on the tone. I can’t tell you how many times the song has turned because of the guitar tone.”

“That’s COC shit man,” continues Keenan. “We knew we were onto some heavy shit when we were making this record. We wanted it to be pretty brutal - a “shut the fuck up” record. There was no slack when we recorded it. You watch us play live and you see how much energy is in each song. The critics that comment on our records are not even advanced enough to be writing about it. They want to be spoon-fed the same shit every time. I got nothing to do with that. Every song on this record is killer. It might go over people’s heads but I’m not about delivering some easily digestible shit.” The band’s conviction runs thick in their blood. “We do things we feel real about,” says Weatherman. “We not going to toss shit out there that we don’t feel is honest. We’ve never done an album we haven’t felt right about. We’ve progressed a lot. We learn how to do different things, try them out and see if it works. We’ve just kind of grown up doing what we do. We’ve progressed. In the end you learn how to get your point across with personal satisfaction.”

“Luckily we’ve got a killer fan base that knows to expect weird shit from us,” admits Keenan. “There’re so many bands out there that are just plain boring. We’re always pushing ourselves. Not trying to sell units or give people an inferior version of us. We’re constantly trying to push the parameters of hard music. It goes in lots of different directions and a lot of bands don’t get that. We grew up listening to Southern rock and we can do it better than most. Lamb of God claims roots in the South but the guy can’t sing his way out of a paper bag. People label you just because you have melody and soul in your voice. That soul thing is called singing, man! Not screaming like a dog half the time.”

Keenan points out that, “sometimes we get cursed by all the different things we try with our music. We don’t try to be versatile – we’re just evolving - trying not to be a one-dimensional band. We push ourselves. Try playing a rock song with a mandolin and you’ll see what were talking about. It takes us in a whole different direction. It makes us diverse. Though our live set is pretty heavy on this record, we do go way back, we try to do songs off every album. There are bands out there that create their sound and they never stray from it. They never progress or grow. What do you have then but a bunch of mediocre bands who all sound the same. For us it’s about quality loud music.

“What else is there besides loud, guitar music? I didn’t know there was any other type of music. In fact I feel sorry for all those assholes out there that listen to pussy music. They’re completely missing the boat. Loud music never goes away. You watch Deep Purple videos from 1973 and man, that’s just as cool today. We’ve been trying since the first record to get just the right combination of sounds. Half our early shit was sped up Sabbath riffs played half-ass. Deliverance was our biggest stretch. After we did that record we knew what we could do whatever we wanted to do. Ever record since we’ve tried to push further. It challenged us and our fans have come to expect that. Besides I want to look back after x-amount of years and know that we were a great fuckin’ band.

Corrosion of Conformity, Sanctuary Records