INTERVIEW WITH PEPPER KEENAN
INTERVIEW BY TERRI CRAFT
INTRODUCTION BY TERRI CRAFT
The very first hardcore show I ever saw was Corrosion of Conformity. It was like walking up to a secret backyard ramp in the middle of a sick session. Their live show was intoxicating and I was addicted. Through the years, their hardcore cult status has only grown. Pepper showed up one day at the Juice office in L.A. and we walked around the boardwalk in Venice and talked about old times and new. C.O.C. hits the road next with Clutch, Karma to Burn and 60 Watt Shaman for a three month U.S. Tour.
Let’s talk about sex, drugs and rock n roll?
Do you have to have all 3 to be in the game?
The drugs probably more so than the sex, to a degree.
Tell your version of the history of underground music.
Well, I grew up in New Orleans. When I was a kid, the underground scene was so underground. The radio was all funk radio stations playing Kraftwerk and Sugarhill Gang and we were just measly little punks that liked Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. Between those two things it created this really weird scene. The New Orleans scene was more West Coast than East Coast and there was no straightedge scene at all. Minor Threat was the enemy. They were the anti-band. We were into bands like The Offenders, The Butthole Surfers and The Big Boys and of course, Black Flag.
“THE WHOLE HARDCORE ATTITUDE WAS TO BE DIFFERENT.”
You grew up with all that in a city like New Orleans.
I was a 15-year-old rat in the street, skating all over the place and all the bars were open 24 hours a day. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
And after you moved to North Carolina?
When I moved to North Carolina, I basically went into shock, but I was into C.O.C. They were such a powerful band at the time. They didn’t really seem like a band from North Carolina, most people thought they were from California.
What was your impression going into it?
I thought C.O.C. was one of the most original bands of that hardcore era. They were doing a lot of cutting edge shit and they didn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone else thought and that’s what struck me most about it. After I got there, we just started jamming. I was looking at it from an outsider’s point of view of what I thought C.O.C. should do and they were thinking the same thing. We really wanted to push hardcore to a different level. Back in the day, hardcore was such a cool underground family kind of thing, but then all the new bands started chasing each other in a circle. The whole hardcore attitude was to be different and all of a sudden you had a hundred bands that all sounded the same. It’s just like Alva and those Dogtown dudes. They saw the direction it was taking and they were like “Fuck this. We’re out of here.” We took a major left and started trying to create something else. That was the whole hardcore attitude in the first place and a lot of bands didn’t get that.
You recorded the new album in 28 days. What’s the best thing about working with John Custer?
Well, we’ve used him on four records and he kind of thinks like us. He’s really into trying different shit. And with the type of music we’re lumped in with, it’s really important to do your own thing and not worry about all these trendy shopping mall bands. When C.O.C. started, it was not a formula. It was bands really putting their ass on the line and trying something new and we still carry that same attitude. Custer thinks the same way. We’re not scared to try some different shit, if we want to try some crazy acoustical shit, we’ll do it. If we want to go off on a tangent, we can get there with him.
There’s a lot of diversity on the new CD, ballads and crunchy riffs. How does that carry across in the live show?
Every time we go into the studio to make a record, we separate the two. When we play live, it’s not a recital. The mellow shit is cool and I like doing it because it comes from the heart, but it’s not something I want to play in a crowd. You go to release at a show.
It’s like Soundgarden’s ballads, they were so powerful because they were mixed with such heavy stuff.
I talked to Kim and Chris about that one time. I told Chris I thought those songs were some of the heaviest shit he’d ever done. It wasn’t about the guitars or the volume, it was about the delivery. He said the same thing. He said some of our mellower shit was really some of the heaviest hitting. It’s cool when you go in uncharted territory and try things that a band like C.O.C. wouldn’t normally do and you pull it off.
You’ve toured with Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax. What tour was the best for you?
Metallica was the coolest thing because it was just so bizarre. The first show we played with them was in Warsaw, Poland at a soccer stadium in front of 60,000 people. I was sitting backstage looking at Hetfield, looking out there. They had all these tanks and army fuckers everywhere and I was like “holy fuck, we’re just this little band”. Hetfield said “Open fire!” So, we had 45 minutes to get our point across to a bunch of people that had never seen us before. We went out there and laid it down and they really dug it. We ended up staying with them for almost a year. . . most bands last two weeks with Metallica.
I heard you might tour with them again?
Possibly. I’ve become really good friends with Hetfield. We kind of think the same way. For all the money that guy’s got, he don’t give a fuck. He’s got a shitty old pickup truck and drinks Coors Light. He’s really down to earth and I admire that.
Is there anyone that had an outrageous rock star attitude that was hard to tour with?
It’s funny, some of the bands that open up for you are the worst. It trips me out. You’ll see these little bands walking around with their cock feathers sticking out of their ass. You’re like, ‘who the fuck are you?’ When you’re in a band like C.O.C. and you’ve the toured across the United Stated in a van ten times, you learn. You’ve got these bands nowadays that are on MTV and instantly on a major label playing hard music, but they don’t understand where it came from and how to get there. Getting there is what makes you what you are. And that shit don’t come easy. It’s a way of life.
Talk about the drug testing of musicians by the record labels…
[laughing] We got thrown off Columbia because of it. They knew what I did, I was out until 8:00AM in L.A. I’m not a drug addict, but I’d go out and get wacked. You have these people that are either high as a kite or in rehab. That type of lifestyle is too heavy to handle, you’re either in or you’re out. Columbia had a $1,000,000 life insurance policy on me and I was like “Whoa, that’s pretty fucked up. They’re waiting for me to off myself so they can cash in.”
Let’s talk about cars.
My car is a ’55 Chevy. I found it in Alabama, it was an old drag car from the ’60s. The guy kept it stored in a barn for 20 years. I finally tracked it down. There was a movie called Two Lane Blacktop, a famous Southern California movie, and the car in the movie was a ’55 Chevy. It’s got a 383 Stroker Engine in it and it was basically untouched. It was like the guy had just pulled it off the 1/4 mile drag strip and parked it in his barn. Me and this older guy that used to race back in the ’60s that lives down the road from me have been working on it. It’s not street legal, I can’t say that. The engine has been moved back a foot and a half. The fire wall has been cut out and the engine is almost back where you sit. It’s got roll bars and a straight axle from a ’59 GMC pickup. The car weighs 2200 lbs. It’s been gutted. It’s got two seats, roll bars, old school 4-speed manual transmission. It’s terrifying. I bought the heads off a guy at NASCAR.
Do you race it?
Yeah. There are a bunch of little redneck drag strips where I live, so Friday and Saturday nights, I take it down there. It’ll do an 1/8 mile in the low sevens.
Are you driving it?
No, I’m not driving it that way. You put a 383 Stroker engine at 8000rpms, that’s like Mazda Miata RPMS and that thing is terrifying. It’ll go 0-60ft in a little over a second. The spider gears are welded, it just goes straight, it’s not made to turn. It’s the same mentality from when I was into skateboarding. It’s as extreme as you can get. It cooks. It’s got a fiberglass front end. If you look at it, it’s what you call a sleeper. It looks like a regular ’55, with no front bumper. But everything that was not vitally necessary is gone. What got me into it was these guys out here in California, the nostalgic drag races. It’s the same as music. Drag racing got all computerized and it lost the aspects of gearbangin’ jammin’ shit and now there’s a resurgence of that here in California. If I was out here, I’d be going crazy. We’re out in North Carolina on our own. It’s the same mentality to me with doing those cars as it is with music. It’s got to be the purest, most straight from the source type of hotrod.
Do you consider yourself blue collar?
I consider myself no collar. I’ve always prided myself on never having had to wear a tie.
There were some good clubs in the Carolinas throughout the years, The Fallout Shelter, The Music Farm, The Mad Monk. . .
The Mad Monk was my favorite. There were a lot of good shows there.
I remember a Pantera show. . .
[laughing] I remember that show very well.
Tell the story.
Well, I’d known Phil for years, we were always friends and I’d always go to see them when they came through NC. So, we were all backstage getting all fucked up and Daryl rolled this enormous joint. He had written Led Zeppelin on it with an ink pen so we were smoking ink basically and drinking tequila. And Pantera was jamming. That’s when I was working at Eastern [Skateboard Supply]. I was a skateboarding fool and I thought I was bulletproof. I flew off the stage, did 2 1/2 flips off the monitor and just shattered my hip. I broke my femur bone in seven places. I went all the way over the crowd and landed on a railing sideways. I wasn’t thinking. I’d done it a million times before, but I had gone so far and flipped twice. I landed on that railing by the stairs to the pit. I came over it and landed straight on my femur bone and everything just went white. I opened my eyes and it looked like someone had poured milk in my eyes. I was trashed. We were supposed to start the Blind record in a week and I had destroyed myself. The whole time we were doing the Blind record, I was in a wheel chair. Damn Woody pushing me around NYC in a wheel chair. . . That sucked.
Are you still skating?
Every since that happened, the doctor was like, ‘if you fall on it again, you can’t fix it’. I always have nightmares of slamming my hip with that metal plate in it, with nine screws all the way up. I have nightmares that I hit something and it bends and just stays bent. I dick around but nothing as extreme as I used to. It’s a drag, but it’s better than my neck.
What was the first skateboard you had?
A Makaha with the standard wheels. Then I went straight to the Sims Taper Kick. I’ve still got it. It has the power pivot on the back. They’re killer. Then it was Dogtown all the way. Then it was Alva. Scott Oster was the one I dug the most of those guys.
How’s the hometown reaction been to C.O.C.?
I guess they’re tired of us. We do better in Wilmington than Raleigh. The Chapel Hill scene is conservative, so that’s what fuels us. We get amped to go against those people.
Are you happy with the status of the band?
Yeah, all our integrity is intact. I don’t really give a fuck what label it’s on, it’s got to be what we want to do. C.O.C. seems to constantly have problems with authority and we’re like ‘see ya’. It might not be the right thing to do, we haven’t sold 10 million records, but I know 20 years down the road, when I listen to it, I’ll know it came straight from the hip, we never bullshitted anybody. That’s my main concern.
Anybody you want to thank?
Thanks to you guys for sticking with it. Juice is a valuable magazine.