Like his 6-string sidekick, Woody Weatherman, Pepper Keenan plays a battered ESP Custom Shop Viper. “They’re just battle axes,” he says, “but you can get a million different tones on them.” Photo by Annie Atlasman
The album has your trademark raw feel. What was the recording process like?
Weatherman: It was really different than how we had done past albums. A lot of times, you demo things over and over, and then you go in and do the real record. And quite often you look back and go, “Man, the demo is fucking rawer and almost better!” So we were going along like we were doing a demo, but treating it like we were doing an album. And it just worked out. I wouldn’t shy away from doing it that way again. I kind of enjoyed it.
Keenan: Yeah. On this record, we literally did it like we were doing demos. We would go in there with no preconceived idea. If we had a riff, we’d shape it into a song and get Reed to perform the drums. We were literally writing things off the cuff. The entire record is like that. There was nothing that we re-tracked. Everything we did, we wrote at that moment, spent time on it, completed it, and went to the next song. So every song was completely different. And that’s a very tall order.
That’s one of the first things that struck me about the album. Every song, while definitely Corrosion of Conformity, sounds completely different.
Keenan: And that was a very conscious thing. We did not want to make a record where the guitars were the same on every damn song. But we did—literally—track the record with two guitars.
What guitars were they?
Keenan: Just the same junkers we’re playing onstage right now. The ESP SGs [a model officially called a Viper] that they had made for us when we did the Metallica tour in ’97. They’re just battle axes, but you can get a million different tones on them. We probably shouldn’t even have them out here, but they play so damn good. We actually sent them back to ESP because they were so beat-to-shit. They were stunned that we still had them. They refurbished them. I said, “Don’t touch the fucking wood, but you can replace everything else.”
Weatherman: That’s all I use live, and that’s all I fucking use in the studio. I’ve got one guitar, man. If it ever breaks, my career is over! [Laughs.] I mean, I’ve got a couple, but that’s the only one I like playing. I’ve had the damn thing for 25 years or something, and I haven’t found anything better. I’m not much of a gearhead. I’ve got the same old-ass-shit that I’ve had for fucking ever. My two Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifiers are the old original ones. And that’s my shit man. I plug that old-ass guitar in and go. The only thing I use live is a Cry Baby. Just a standard old, Joe Schmoe, nobody’s-name-on-it-other-than-Jim-Dunlop Cry Baby.
With only two guitars, how did you go about getting all of the tones on the album?
Keenan: All the clean shit you hear on some of those solos and mellow parts, that’s just the volume rolled back and stepping on the pedal to get rid of the overdrive. Woody had a Mesa/Boogie [Dual] Rectifier, and I just used channel B on an Orange Thunderverb 50.
And how about cabinets?
Weatherman: I’ve got these awesome Orange cabs with Vintage 30s. I love the way they sound. I had a bunch of old Marshalls, and I’ve even tried the Boogies. Even if they have the Vintage 30s in them, they just don’t sound as thick and heavy as the Oranges. Those things are brutal. And the Vintage 30s is where it’s at. That’s a big part of the crunch, having that speaker breakup like that. Pepper has some actual orange ones and mine are black. But other than that, I think they’re the same.
Pepper, on previous albums, you were using Mesas, too, weren’t you?
Keenan: Yeah. I had the 50 Caliber with the 5-band EQ.
What led to the switch to Orange?
Keenan: I was at a NAMM show with Kirk [Windstein of the bands Crowbar and Down], and we went to the Orange booth. The guy recognized me and Kirk and was like, “Dude, check this sucker out!” I plugged in that Thunderverb 50, no pedals or anything, and just raked a G chord. It sounded like fucking Malcom Young! I just knew right there. We actually got kicked out of the NAMM show for being at the Orange booth and playing so fucking loud.
Do you get all your drive from those amps, or do you use pedals?
Keenan: I use the Ibanez Tube Screamer. It just makes it more pissed. And then I have a Phase 90 and one of those Dunlop wah-wahs that you just lean into. And I have a Boss delay. And then I have a really good doubler pedal that someone suggested. I’ve been trying to find a pedal that sounds like a Cooper Time Cube forever, but hadn’t had any success. But someone recommended this pedal, and it’s pretty damn close. I use that for solos on “Albatross” and shit like that.
That phaser is a massive part of C.O.C.’s sound.
Keenan: Yeah. We just used my pedalboard in the studio. Woody doesn’t have one, so we just sat down in the control room and dicked off with that thing. But we’ll do tricky shit like double-track it and put the phase knob a little more to the right on the second track. That’s Custer’s crazy shit, trying to get things to spread out and sound big. Or we’d do a track with a wah pedal halfway down just to get the crunch from the pick hitting the string. A lot of overdubs on the record are done really incorrectly. [Laughs.]
Though Pepper Keenan’s ’97 ESP “PJK” Viper (left) has a P-90 neck pickup, he never uses it, relying instead on the Duncan Invader bridge humbucker. “I’ve had the damn thing for 25 years or something, and I haven’t found anything better,” says Woody Weatherman of his road-worn ’97 ESP Viper (right), which sports Duncan Invader and Pearly Gates humbuckers.