Karl Agell has had a pretty illustrious career, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. His latest band, King Hitter, just released their first EP. However, he’s also logged time in Leadfoot, a rock band. And what he might be best known for is for singing on Corrosion of Conformity’s breakthrough album, 1991’s Blind. In fact, he’s currently on the road with C.O.C. drummer Reed Mullin and KH’s Mike Brown and Scott Little performing that album in its entirety, which will come to New England Metal and Hardcore Festival next weekend. We caught up with the surprisingly chatty Agell to talk about his new band, their plans, Blind‘s legacy and playing the Metalfest.
So how did King Hitter came about?
Well, King Hitter basically is the convergence of a bunch of guys who have known each other for a long time. Scott Little, the one guitar player and I have been playing since 1999 and he was second primary guitar player in Leadfoot, my band before King Hitter. He recorded two records out of the three with Leadfoot. He’s always been out and about in the scene, jamming, rocking out with different people. The band before Leadfoot, he played with this guy Mike Brown who is now the guitar player of King Hitter. Not an incredibly exciting story, just good friends who had been in parallel bands in the scene for years. And the drummer and the bassist were in a band called Sex Love And Money out of Greenville, NC and they had their little heyday then they got signed to Sony for like two minutes like everyone else and then they got dropped and they weren’t the flavor of the day anymore. But, the rhythm section’s been playing together for like, 25 years. Yeah so it was just like convergence of guys who have known and jammed together with each other and decided “Hey, let’s kinda try putting this thing together and go for more of a metal thing. It seems to have been really easy and really working out.
So what was the time period between when you guys decided to jam and now, with you having the EP out?
About a year and a half. It was one of those things where the drummer Jon and Scott were just getting together getting a feel for it, and my name came up and I hadn’t been doing much for a long time, I hadn’t put anything out since 2003. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely interested in playing some heavier jams’ and we started getting together every weekend and it just kind of snowballed.
How much other music do you have? Is the EP mainly it, or do you have more?
No, we have a lot more material actually. We should hopefully be ready to record by late summer or fall – a full length LP. So this is just the initial best five of, you know, “Hey, let’s not wait forever, let’s get something out, ‘cause we’re really into what we’re doing,” and just decided to test the waters with this EP and doing a various number of shows in or around the state and people were really, really digging it. So, it felt right, you know, just clicking, you know, firing on all cylinders. So, we just took it to the next level and we just decided to do this EP to see if people even cared and it seems like they do.
So turning to Corrosion of Conformity, you’re going to head out on the road and do Blind, how long has that been in the works?
Man, Reed and I have been trying to do the Blind thing on and off. We’ve done it to various degrees of success over the years. Back in 2009 we tried it and I believe in 2011 we tried it again, just doing kind of, you know, extended weekends – that kind of thing. And people were really digging it and excited, but it just seemed that the timing wasn’t right to take it to the next level. For some reason now, 23 years later or whatever, Blind is kind of in fashion again. Prosthetic Records decided to reissue Blind on vinyl, and people just took to it. Blind came out November 5, 1991 and is somehow a hot record again within certain circles. Everybody involved which is three members of King Hitter at this point, the two guitar players and myself, and then Reed and then our buddy Jerry Barrett from DC, he was playing with H.R. from Bad Brains playing bass in his solo project, we just came again together this time around and we found a version that works, and the timing is right because, well you know, COC has a great legacy.
The COC 3-piece has been out and about doing two records the last couple years, and just now they’re doing the 4-piece version which was the version that came after Blind, after I was out. It’s just a really positive, amazing legacy of 33 years of this band that evolved from a punk band in high school. We came up with the name Corrosion of Conformity in chemistry class and it just grew out of there and they were amongst the pioneers of merging metal with hardcore punk and creating that crossover thing, and mixing Sabbath with their Black Flag, you know? I came out of the same background, in fact I saw them in 1984 – I’m aging myself here, but that’s just the way it is *laughs* – but my band Seizure, my hardcore punk band in Connecticut, opened up for them in 1985. I saw every version of that band and was a huge fan and then when I found out that through mutual friends and an ad in the Village Voice that they were looking for a vocalist I was like ‘Damn, you know, I’m ready!’ I mean, I’d just left School of Violence and I was just ready to move onto something else, and it was perfect timing. It’s this great legacy and somehow I think just the fire’s been lit by the 3-piece, and all the versions of the band. It’s just so many good eras to celebrate, that’s how I look at it.
I mean, did you know what a special record it was when you were cutting Blind?
Well, you know it’s funny, a lot of people, you know – it’s kind of a somewhat misunderstood record in some ways, you know. There’s a lot of purists and a lot of old hardcore punk guys and stuff that were like “Hey, this is really a big change.” But at the same time, everybody was evolving within that whole scene and listening to different genres and even reaching back to older bands like Sabbath and Deep Purple and Judas Priest and saying “Hey this is awesome stuff , that we can take the power of metal and combine it with the kind of intense intelligence of punk rock,” and that’s what happened. We walked in and had all this energy and angst, and lyrically we were keeping the tradition alive, the cutting edge lyrics going on there. But we had just also all kind of evolved in our musicianship as well. I figured out like, I used to kind of be a screamer and a yeller with the whole punk rock thing, which was awesome, but I just all of a sudden realized, “Hey, I can actually sing!” and I took a chance and did that with COC. We were just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what would stick and we just knew what bands that we loved, and we were trying to do our influences justice and be true to ourselves, and that’s what Blind was – a cool moment, that came out. It was not really planned, just a swirl of influences, getting together and making it happen.
Every COC album sounded a bit different for a while. Where do you see your legacy in Corrosion of Conformity?
That’s a big question. From a shared numbers point of view, just to be crass, is that with our version of the band – the 5-piece with Phil Swisher on bass and all that, the timing was right coming out of Metallica’s Black record and the various other bands that were breaking through, getting bigger and bigger. It was the first COC to finally go overseas, to actually to get two videos on MTV back when that was sort of important. We took it to another level, we broke through that glass ceiling, that underground glass ceiling and started to get noticed on another level. And there’s nothing wrong with staying true to your roots at all, I’m not saying that – it’s not a criticism. But it was a moment where we broke through and pulled a lot more people into it. All of a sudden a lot of like, straight up metalheads were paying attention and they said, “Hey, these punk rockers can play,” you know? And we were still paying tribute and trying to write intelligent stuff that would stand the test of time and not just singing about fast cars and chicks, though that’s cool too! But, that wasn’t the thing.
What are your thoughts/remembrances about being on Beavis and Butt-head?
Oh god. I was truly surprised and really happy being a huge Beavis and Butt-head fan and a huge fan of Mike Judge, when in those early days when he basically was slamming and tearing every band apart. In that “Dance Of The Dead” video, it’s that scene where I’m coming out of the hospital gurney, kind of a silly cheesy moment, and they’re yelling “That dude’s totally pissed!” you know? “Fire, fire!” and then they basically loved it. They seemed to like White Zombie, us, Pantera and Gwar, and they were just totally showering hate on everybody else. So I felt like as a member it was a very privileged plug.
So what are the plans for King Hitter? Do you plan on having it being a touring, full on commitment?
Yeah! That is the plan, I mean obviously we’ll evolve as they evolve. But the big picture is to record more material, so far so good with the EP – we were just sticking our foot in the waters and the water seems pretty cool! Like, it’s alright. You know? So people are digging it. The idea is to get the word out, you know, take advantage of obviously all forms of media, you know, here I am speaking to you. Just to get the word out and to go and see if people are into it and keep writing stuff and put out more material. We would absolutely love to hit the road for real. And then take it over to Europe and wherever else will have us, South America, Japan, Asia, wherever – Australia, you know, global. It’ll be awesome.
Do you have any thoughts about playing the New England Metal & Hardcore Fest?
Oh awesome. Worcester, man. I’ve actually played Worcester with Seizure, my hardcore band back in the mid 80s sometime. I’ve driven through it a million times. I’ve got family up in Maine so I’m always driving through Worcester. I’m super, super psyched that we were able to not only get that date, this tour but actually could get on a Metal Festival of that size and stature. It’s incredible. I’m really, really excited and I’m so, so grateful for all the COC fans and fans of this genre in general that are interested enough and wanna come out and support this. It’s a legacy special event kind of thing, it’s not gonna happen all the time, so I’m really excited to do it.