Thirty years ago, Ernie C and rapper Ice-T formed Body Count. Pulling inspiration from the world of metal, punk, and crossover – with Ice bringing in his incredible talent for storytelling – Body Count proved themselves from the start to be a formidable act. That first Body Count record, released in March of 1992, not only displays strong instrumental performances, but also a plethora of gripping narratives that aim to present audiences with very real struggles and horrors taking place in the world (and those horrors are still happening to this day).
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of that record, we had the opportunity to talk with Body Count guitarist Ernie C. We talked about the band’s early days and what it is like all these years later looking back on the album; we talked about the band’s iconic song “Cop Killer,” and if a track like that could be released today. Ernie also shared with us a really cool story involving him and Lemmy of Motörhead playing video games together. Without further ado, here is our interview with Body Count’s Ernie.
The Pit: It has been three decades since you and the band released the debut Body Count album – How does that feel?
Ernie C: Well, today I’m sitting here at 63, and I think we released that record when I was 32. My perspective hasn’t changed a whole lot and the world hasn’t really changed a whole lot. There’s just more video of it now. You know what I mean? [With all] that was goin’ on back then, there’s just more video of it – same world that we are livin’ in.
The Pit: Prior to your days in the band – and we know that you enjoyed a lot of different music growing up – but did you ever picture yourself in such a heavy band? Or were you thinking you would just be someone who jammed?
EC: I just wanted to play; I wanted to be a musician. I listened to rock, I wanted to play rock. I listened to a lot of R&B, that’s what I grew up listening to. But when I saw Jimmy Page play, and how cool he looked, when I watched Don Kirshner’s rock concert, when I saw Foghat, and Queen play – that’s what I wanted to do.
The Pit: After all these years, how do you keep your creativity fresh?
EC: We’ve done seven records; they don’t come every year. We get a chance to tour, we get a chance to listen to other bands and see what other bands are doing. I listen to what’s going on in metal; that’s how I keep fresh, I’m always trying to learn. I’m still a student of the guitar to this day.
The Pit: Who are some guitarists you look up to?
EC: I still [look up to old school guitarists], but some of the new kids – I’m just listening, I don’t know their names, I’m just listening to them play. But there’s some good stuff out there. Certain stuff is just so fast and has no melodic value to it. You know what I mean – ‘How fast can you go?’ Some of it has some good melody to it; I’ve always liked a good melody to playing guitar.
The Pit: There is some shredding out there that’s ridiculous
EC: It’s way ridiculous – it makes Steve Vai and everything look like preschoolers.
The Pit: Is there any kind of behind the scenes story regarding the creation of the band’s first album that still stands out to you this day?
EC: I just remember – I was in the studio with our assistant engineer, and he worked on a Metallica album. He worked on it for years – The Black Album. He worked on that at 101 Recording. I remember asking him, “What does Bob Rock do?” I picked his brain. Bob Rock did some trippy stuff with this 32-inch subwoofer. I’m like, “Oh we need to do that. Whatever Bob did, we need to do it.”
The Pit: At one point, the band did go on a little hiatus; eventually, you all came back with your 2014 album, Manslaughter. Between the records you created in the ’90s, and the albums from Manslaughter and onward – What has the creative process been like? Specifically regarding your more recent albums?
EC: From the hiatus, we have seven different variations of this band; people in, people out, people passing, seven different variations. [Our] first two albums [involved] original band members; then you have the stuff in the middle [of our career], where we were trying to figure it out. Then we had the right combination; the last piece of the puzzle was Juan [of the Dead, rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist]. He came from Evil Dead and all that kind of stuff. Vince [Price, bassist, backing vocalist] and I have been together for awhile, then we added Will, the drummer; since he’s come in the band, it has been gel. We like hanging out with each other, everyone likes each other, the band is good. Whatever works.
One record we played in a studio; we went to Vegas and stayed in a house together and played. The last record, Will Putney [producer, and guitarist of Fit For An Autopsy] did a lot in the studio; I flew in and did guitar parts. This record, we’re just doing it as it comes along. Whatever happens, whatever way we can get it done. There’s no formula – [no] “We gotta do this, we gotta do that.” I might go to Arizona and see Ice while he is on vacation right now, we’ll write some stuff. I’ll go to New York, hang with Will Putney; his band is out there playing a lot also.
The Pit: Body Count gets a lot of credit for pioneering the rap metal genre (which would also end up inspiring nu metal). We are seeing a great resurgence in both genres, and we wanted to ask – Do you have any particular feelings regarding those genres?
EC: I never thought of it that way [regarding genres]. We just had a band; we looked at Slayer and Anthrax. Our first tour that we ever did was with D.R.I. – we thought we were just fitting in with those bands. We toured with Guns N’ Roses and Metallica. We fit in where we could fit in. Then other bands started coming after us; you have your Korn and Limp Bizkit. Even now other bands are coming along that are kind of like that style. But I always considered Ice my Dave Mustaine.
I just never looked at a label like that; I just thought it was metal. I mean, our first record was more punk style, because the band was looser. Then as the band got better, we got more metal; I thought we were a punk band first. We wanted to be The Ramones, we wanted to do 50 records in a year.
The Pit: Initially, the band planned on releasing the song “Cop Killer” as part of the debut record; unfortunately, the song received backlash and was ultimately removed. Today, as the conversation regarding police brutality and defunding the police becomes more apparent, do you feel a band could release a song like “Cop Killer” today and it would be better received? Or do you think not much has changed?
EC: That’s a tough one. I don’t know how the song would be received now. You know it wouldn’t get any air play. I don’t think it could be received any worse; we got the President of the United States talking about it. I don’t know what else you could get it.
There was this one kid – we were at a show – he comes backstage, [he] must’ve been 21 years old. He met us, met Ice, and he’s like, “You know that song ‘Cop Killer’? You guys should release that.” We’re like, “Okay,” cause all he knows is Ice-T from Law & Order. He came in with his friends after the show – he had never heard the song before – but he said “You should release that.” I’m like, “Good idea kid” [laughs]. But, it’s a different kind of anger now; it’s different, it’s not NWA “Fuck The Police.” People are mad… but it’s a different kind.
The Pit: Body Count has done some really awesome covers in the past. Whether we are talking metal, punk, or non-heavy bands, are there any other covers you would like to do?
EC: We’ve covered a lot. We covered a Slayer song, because we love Slayer; we covered a Suicidal [Tendencies] song, because we love Suicidal – they’re a LA band. We covered Lemmy [Kilmister of Motörhead]; Lemmy was my drinking buddy when I used to drink…
The Pit: No shit.
EC: Oh yeah, from way back.
The Pit: Do you have a Lemmy story you would be down to share?
EC: We used to play this video game at the back of the Rainbow. One day [we were] in there and I got close to his score, and he’s like, “Oh no you’re not gonna beat me.” We used to hang out there in the middle of the day; that’s rock and roll, when you really rock and roll, you’re drinking at 12 o’clock. At 12 o’clock, you’re at the Rainbow.
The Pit: We imagine you can’t say too much about this, but… Can you tease a little of what we can expect on the upcoming new Body Count record?
EC: It’s gonna have loud guitars [laughs]; I’m gonna play more guitar on this record. In fact, a [Jimi] Hendrix sound, I’m gonna try to go back to a throwback Hendrix sound – kind of a psychedelic sound.
The Pit: Besides it being the band’s first album, what does that debut Body Count record represent to you now 30 years later?
EC: It means a lot. That’s the record I worked my whole life to do, up to that point. There are some records you work your whole life to create; I worked 30 years to create that record. So that’s the most interesting record you are ever gonna have. I mean, my second record came two years after – it’s not the same as working 30 years for one record. If I stopped [making] music right now, and I waited another 30 years to do another record, I’ll be almost 100 years old. So that first record meant a lot.
We at The Pit would like to thank Ernie for his time talking to us! The latest Body Count album Carnivore is available now. We will keep you posted on news regarding the band’s upcoming eighth studio album as details become available!