I first heard Body Count when I was 11-years-old. My big brother bought their self-titled record; he’d been listening to frontman Ice-T’s rap records since the ‘80s and loved thrash and speed metal, so when Ice and his long-time friend Ernie C formed, Body Count, it was a big deal in our world! As a constant sidekick of my bro, I got into Body Count too. I saw them in 1995 when they first came to Australia and played the Alternative Nation Festival (along with Tool, Faith No More, L7 and more) which happened five minutes down the road from my house. They blew my mind, still to this day it’s one of the best live shows I have seen. This week they’re about to play their first tour here in two decades, to share latest album, Bloodlust, with us. I was stoked to catch up with guitarist, Ernie C to chat about the new record, of dreams coming true, doing the right thing, his love of guitar and more.
ERNIE C: I like this record [Bloodlust] an awful lot! Its 25 years almost to the day that we came out with our first record. The timing is right, everything is right, it just feels like it’s the right time for this record. Over the last few years, with the members of the band, we’ve been trying to get the right combination of people, after our members passed. With this record and Manslaughter, we got the right combination of people. This album is a lot better technically because we’ve been able to play for three years on the road together and get better.
You still practice playing guitar every day?
EC: Yeah, of course! It’s like going to the gym, it’s like you don’t just go to the gym when you’re getting ready to go on tour, you do it all the time. I like playing guitar, it’s part of my regimen.
EC: Yeah. I took some guitar lessons, and they were trying to make me play right-handed… see I’m left-handed. The teacher told me, ‘if you played piano, you wouldn’t change the keys around on the piano would you?’ I’m like, oh, ok. So I started playing right-handed. I did that for a year, then I saw [Jimi] Hendrix play and I was like, well he’s playing the other way around, so I started playing left-handed. I don’t play it upside down though, I play a left-handed guitar so people won’t notice that I’m playing left-handed, hopefully [laughs].
You don’t have tone and volume knobs on your custom guitar, right?
EC: You know about that?
EC: No, I don’t. I got rid of all that stuff. I don’t have knobs, because when I use to play I’d hit the knobs and then wonder why the tone sounded so bad [laughs]. And, I’d hit the volume and it’d go down and I’d have to turn it back up. The first time I could finally get my own guitars made, I didn’t want the knobs. That’s really what rock n roll is anyway – on and off – there’s no in-between [laughs].
I love that!
EC: That’s the way our music is, it’s on and off! There’s a song we’re playing loud, then there’s a brief space and then other song we’re playing loud. That’s what rock n roll is, I don’t know where people got all these different pickups—there’s just loud, with a little taste to it when you hear the notes.
On the new record, there’s a little part where Ice talks about starting Body Count so that his friend, you, could play guitar and have a band. That’s really cool.
EC: Yes! I thought that was the cutest thing ever [laughs]. When I first heard it I thought it was a joke, I was like, ok… then he’s like, ‘nah I’m going to put that on the record’. He’s always said that over the years. I played on his rap records. We reached a point though where we couldn’t put anymore guitars on his rap records without it being something else, so we started the band. I thought it was so cool of him saying that though, if he said that, yeah, that’s why we started the band. There’s a lot more to it but, that’s a good way of putting it.
I know you guys went to school [Crenshaw High] together.
Yeah, the original band all went to high school together, except for Moose, he was a little younger. We were sitting around one day ordering some food, we were at Denny’s, our road manager and Sean [E Sean] our sampler has been in the group from the beginning, he went to high school with us; I joked that we can order from the Senior menu, we been hanging out so long. We’re the same guys that used to sit around in the lunchroom in high school [laughs]. To us, no one has really aged.
That’s so awesome! You guys have been friends for 40 years or so…
EC: 45 years or so! Since we were 14 or 15 years old.
Do you remember meeting?
EC: Not really. There was this one crew and then another crew and we started mixing it together, there were dancers and musicians. Ice was a dancer in high school, they were all breakdancers. I played music to back up the breakdancing. I don’t remember when we met because I didn’t think we were going to be knowing each other 40 years from now. In high school we weren’t thinking, let’s start playing music and go around the world, we were just trying not to get shot [laughs]—that was the #1 thing!
What were things like growing up for you?
EC: When we look back now, it was bad, but when you’re in it, it is bad but not as bad as it seems. There was good times and bad times. From this point of view now, we were lucky to make it out. A lot of people don’t make it out of that situation. We were very fortunate. The music kept us out of a lot of trouble. Everybody did shady stuff here and there, but the music kept us focused on something else.
I was going to ask you about that and of what role did music played in your early life?
EC: Music played a big role, but it’s different for musicians say than it is for sports heroes. Sports heroes, the school takes them in and they become Prom King and all of that, musicians are more of the outcasts. Sports heroes – I went to school with [baseball player] Darryl Strawberry – they get scholarships to go to college, where as musicians have a rougher life. The way society treats musicians is very interesting.
Totally. I feel like sometimes people don’t value music and art or think it’s not a profession but then they go home and listen to music, read a book, watch TV or a movie, decorate their home with art wear fashion—that’s all art! It’s all creating.
EC: Yeah, the thing is with musicians and artists, people don’t enjoy them when they’re struggling, they enjoy them when they’re rich. Like Picasso, he was semi-famous when he was living but, when he died he was more famous. When you’re a musician, you’re playing at clubs, people don’t really appreciate you, but when you become successful it’s like, ohhhhh! We were talking about injustice years ago, now it’s kind of a popular thing to do. Ice did it on his rap records in the early ‘80s.
From start to finish, Bloodlust, tells a story. It explores themes like, why people kill?
EC: Yeah, that’s what the record is about. It’s about why people kill and how humans enjoy killing for sport, things like that. If you listen to the record, it’s 46 minutes, it’s sequenced… that’s something people don’t know about in this generation, ‘cause everybody buys singles. We wrote a record that you can put on and it takes you through a journey, up and down and up and down, and right and left, every song connects to another song. People have forgotten about something like that.
When we first started the record, we were like, we want to sell some records. I think the reason that we are selling records is because we made a good record. Artists don’t talk about records anymore, they focus on a single on iTunes and they sell that. We wrote a record, a real record, not just something with a single and filler material. We took time as artists. That’s why people aren’t selling records, they’re not taking the time to make great records. You have to take time to focus and make a good record. People lose focus sometimes.
You guys got a place together and took time off to be in the same place to make the record this time?
EC: Yeah. The thing is, we didn’t have to write this record. We did Manslaughter, and we didn’t have a record company to do this record. We got Century Media when we started writing the record; we knew we would find a place for it but, basically we just wanted to write this record. The album may sound intense but we were really relaxed making it, there was a lot of thought put into it. Ice did some things that he’s never done – I’ve been writing with him for almost 30 years – he got rid of some stuff. He wrote a song, we listened to it, and he’d be like, let me get rid of this and write something else. He rewrote the song, he doesn’t do that, he sticks with what he writes.
I read somewhere that you love writing with Ice because it helps make your stuff digestible, because you’re a guitar player’s player and you just keep going and going?
EC: [Laughs] Yeah, he always helps me slow down. If you get a guitar player writing a record it could get too busy. Guitar players always have someone writing with ‘em – [Jimmy] Page has [Robert] Plant, Mick Jagger has Keith Richards, even Ozzy [Osbourne] has Tony [Iommi]… you need someone to get the guitar player to slow down and focus on song writing, not just riff writing.
How do you help Ice with what he does?
EC: Sometimes I help with melodies and things like that, but he kind of knows his limitations. We know exactly where we can go with a song, he helps out arranging songs so it’s comfortable for him to sing. When we first started the band he was so used to working with drum machines, he’d be like let’s cut this part and put it here, so the band over the years has known how to cut n paste; like play this part over, hook it to this, grab that and put it there—that’s the way we write songs…. almost like a drum machine [laughs].
Do you find that because you have such a long-standing friendship that you work instinctively and intuitively together?
EC: Yeah, we do. The friendship helps out writing the music, when I’ve written with other people I don’t know as well, it might not go as smooth. The friendship has a lot to do with the way things run. He knows what I can do. The new members of the band are great, there’s our new drummer, then we’ve got Juan of the Dead who came over from the band, Evil Dead, he works out great in the band. He helps out a lot, we’ve been playing guitar together, which is something that I’ve missed doing since D-Roc passed; I’d play guitar a lot with my rhythm guitarist. Juan and I get together on off days and just play.
I love talking to people like you, who are just so passionate about what they do. I can hear it in your voice, you have such an enthusiasm, even after playing all this time.
EC: Yeah and that’s the way it should be, that’s what makes a band a good band. We’re not new at this, we’re not kids, you have to keep that passion, if you lose the passion you lose something in the music. The bands that are still around have passion, like U2, your Rolling Stones, they’re not sitting back relaxing, they’re treating their band like they did when they were kids, they still love it—if you don’t, then that’s when bands fade out. They go their separate ways, they start arguing, and become bitter and start fighting, they worry about royalties, and the new kid on the block coming up and taking everything from them—a good band will stay together through thick and thin and get better.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that the new record, Bloodlust, is really intense, dark and serious, and of how your other albums were dark but still had a humour. I’ve been following the recording of the album and I noticed in some of the behind the scenes videos that there still is that humour element but it may have come out a little more hidden on the record. Like, when Ice is doing vocals on the track ‘Here I Go Again’ and he’s doing this funny voice and says he got it from the Evil Dead 2 film.
EC: [Laughs] yeah, totally! That sense of humour is there on this record, it is buried. That song you mentioned about the serial killer, that’s funny! He’s looking at someone in the mirror and he sticks himself in the eye and says he wants to kill the guy he’s looking at—that’s humorous, that’s actually funny [laughs]. He ends up stabbing himself thinking that he’s killing the guy in the mirror, it’s a different kind of humour. Ice loves slasher movies.
In one song we were going to use the theme from movie, Halloween, to make it even darker but, John Carpenter wanted so much money. He could have done another movie for what he wanted to use that [laughs].
Didn’t Ice write the song ‘Here I Go Again’ a while back? Wasn’t he writing it for a rap album but people thought it may be a bit much for a rap album at the time?
EC: Yeah for rap at the time it was too much, for rock n roll it’d work though, they walk around with skeletons and whatever [laughs]. With rap people weren’t into stuff that dark. After we wrote ‘Voodoo’ we can write anything though [laughs]. We wrote ‘Momma’s Gotta Die Tonight’! [laughs]. Even though it’s a metaphor, like what’s worse than ‘Momma’s Gotta Die’?!
When I first heard MGDT, it reminded me of Suicidal Tendencies’ song ‘I Saw Your Mommy’.
EC: Yeah [laughs], what could be worse than that?! [laughs]. Wait until you see that video for that song. We’re making a video for every song on the record.
I heard that! There’s ‘No Lives Matter’ and ‘Black Hoodie’ so far.
EC: We have three or four of them done. The video for ‘Here We Go Again’ is really, really good. It’s a horror movie.
I know you have an animated clip too.
There’s a song on the record ‘All Love Is Lost’ that you guys do with Max Cavalera [Soulfly/Cavalera Conspiracy/Killer Be Killed/Sepultura]; didn’t you guys learn that song from a cassette tape Max brought into the studio?
EC: Yeah he brought in his tape, played it and we learnt it. He was at our show the night before and came to rehearsal and we just did it. That’s why everything is so natural. When we started doing the record, we didn’t say, oh let’s go get Dave Mustaine [Megadeath/Metallica], or Max or Randy Blythe [Lamb Of God]—it just happened that everyone ended up on it. When we were doing it, we didn’t make a big deal out of it, it was just our old friends… when it’s done we were like, those are the right people for those songs. When you listen to Randy’s song [‘Walk With Me…’] it sounds like Lamb Of God, we sound like Lamb Of God playing behind him [laughs]. It works out fine. He came up with the treatment for the video for the song, it’s going to be cool.
It’s great that it’s such an easy, collaborative process.
EC: Yes, and it’s not a forced collaborative process. It’s not like the record company or management say we’ve got to meet with them… it’s Randy calling on the phone saying, ‘hey, what’s going on? What are y’all doing?’ and we go, we’re working on a record, wanna be on a track? Then he’s like, ‘yes! Send it over’. When you listen to the record the first time and you hear Dave and Max and Randy, we listened to it the first time the same way ‘cause we gave them the tracks then got it back and when we listened we’re like, wow! I get the reaction from people when they hear it, ‘oh, Randy killed it!’ and that’s what we thought too when we first heard it, oh, Randy killed it! [laughs]. We felt the same thing. That was one of the fun things about making those tracks, letting them do what they want, then hearing it when we got it back; hearing it as a fan of them, we got to be a fan of our own record too.
The song ‘God Please Believe Me’ I understand started as a instrumental, it was going to be your instrumental moment on the record; what happened?
EC: [Laughs] How’d you know that?! [laughs]. It was going to be like ‘C Note’ from the first record. After Ice did the part that he did on it, I’m like, ok, that’s good! It flowed. This album was about consistency and making it flow from one thing to another. When he added those lyrics, it made it go really smooth in the transition of the record.
With the lyrics of that song, I remember a while back, I watched a TEDXTalk Ice did from Sing Sing and during the talk he actually raps the lyrics that would become ‘God Please Believe Me’; that was in 2014.
EC: Oh, ok… I didn’t know that. See he holds onto everything [laughs]. You never know when you could use something, or when it can fit with what you’re doing, it’s good to have there. You just have to find a place for that, and he found that place finally.
I will forever remember the first time I saw you guys play, I was a teen and you were playing 5 minutes from my house at a big festival. Still to this day, and after all the bands I’ve seen, it’s still one of the most memorable shows I’ve ever witnessed. I’d never seen anything like you guys before.
EC: When we first came out it was a lot of fun! The music was new and different, to mix all that stuff up together, and the influences that we had; it’s rock but there’s a lot of other stuff. Often when black guys start playing rock n roll, it’s reggae influenced and some other stuff… we were a rock band with Isley Brothers under it.
What was your first introduction to music?
EC: It was mostly through friends. I’m an only child so I needed to occupy my time so I wouldn’t be off stealing car radios [laughs]. I got a guitar and I stayed in the house for very long periods of time and played it. At first it was just me and my dad, I wanted to impress my father by learning to play B.B. King songs. After about 50 years, I’m still working on trying to play a B.B. King song! [laughs]. I just wanted to learn how to play, one of my first influences I had was listening to Mr King. Later on in life I got to meet him—that was a big, big deal. Then I started listening to The Isley Brothers; Jimmy Page was the guitar player that really influenced me.
What was it like meeting Mr King?
EC: I met him at the Montréal Jazz Festival. He was giving away these pins that said B.B. King. He said to me that he loved to see young black kids playing rock; I thought that was nice. He didn’t know who I was from a can of paint, but he said that. He knew we were playing rock.
Another theme that comes up on the album is economics and class war, people not having enough money to fight back…
EC: And that’s the next ‘Cop Killer’ …when we were younger, us 25 years ago, we’re like, oh, it’s the cops that’s the problem! As you get older it’s like, yeah the cops are a problem but there’s another problem, it’s the class war that’s under everything. Ice talks about it. I listen to Ice when he talks about it, ‘cause I have to represent the songs too, it’s my and his point of view. One time he was talking about a scene from Law & Order, he said that they were going to the Upper Eastside, a well-to-do area in New York, and the Captain goes, ‘Tread lightly when you go over there’. What he means is, these people have money so ‘tread lightly’. I’m sure the Captain wouldn’t say, if you’re going to South Central [Los Angeles] ‘tread lightly’ [laughs]—they don’t say that. They’d just bash the guy’s door in and get him outta the house. It’s a different thing when you have money, you get treated differently. That’s what this record, and song ‘No Lives Matter’ is about.
‘No Lives Matter’ started off with the Black Lives Matter movement here in the United States, it’s like, ok, we got that but, we don’t want to beat that drum. Everyone’s beating that drum and no one is talking about what’s really going on… the lyric in the song says ‘Don’t fall for the bait and switch / Racism is real, but not it’—that’s the lyric right there that sums it all up.
In a way the songs gives a snapshot of what puts people in the position that they want to kill and I think one of the things that come up is, people feeling desperate and like they don’t have hope…
EC: Yes! And, hope has to do with everything. There’s less and less hope… when we were younger there was some hope, but since we got our new president, it’s like everything has gone haywire in the last 99 days. The thing about presidents is, that they all have hundred days… but this one, in a hundred days nothing has been done except a bunch of rhetoric. One of the first things he did was go over to your country [Australia] and diss your Prime Minister [laughs]. He don’t even know how things work. He didn’t even know where Australia was ‘til he got elected [laughs]. He’s not the sharpest knife in the case.
The other day at home I peeped an old print men’s mag from 2002 and it has an interview feature/photo spread with the First Lady Melania Trump who was his girlfriend at the time and he first consider running for President and they asked her, what would you do if you became First Girlfriend/First Lady? Her reply was, to introduce a new social program named ‘Just Say No To Fat’. She said: ‘I believe that it is important to reach out to children at an early age and teach them the value of purging after each meal’. I mean what IS that even?!
EC: [Laughs] Yeah, they’re out of their mind. Obama was kind of laid back and cool, then Trump gets into office and tips over the table, it’s like a card game going and Trump comes in and tips over the table. It’s something that has always been there, now it’s kind of just bubbling up; the whole world has been like this for a while—something has to give. America likes bombing things, that’s the answer to everything, just bomb it [laughs]. In ’94 we did a record, that’s when the ‘Smart Bomb’ came out, on, Born Dead, we put a sample ‘the smart bomb…’ya, know, that’s America, we bomb. It’s crazy!
[Laughter] Man it is all so crazy. It’s a serious thing but like my mother who has now passed always said, in difficult times, you gotta laugh!
EC: Yeah you have to laugh, ‘cause what else can you do? It stops you from crying.
Have you ever had a life changing moment?
EC: Oh every day is a life changing moment. I just go along with the flow. I haven’t had a near-death experience or anything like that. I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve just been in cruise control. I try to do things right so I don’t have to change too much. First and foremost, if you live right and do right, things go right—that’s where I’m at.
That’s a great way to be, I think people often over complicate things.
EC: Keep it simple, that’s my life principle. Don’t walk across the street on a red light, keep it simple [laughs].
Wasn’t there a time when you went to rehab?
EC: In 2010. I haven’t drank in seven years. I told Ice, I wanna quit drinking and I want to do it right, so I went to rehab. I told him, now we’re a real rock band, I’m the first member to go to rehab! [laughs]. You can’t have a rock band without someone going to rehab. It’s the funny attitude we have about things, you gotta keep things light. I’ve done well, because I wanted to quit drinking, I haven’t drank. I help out the kids. I didn’t do hard drugs or anything like that. I understand that some of those kids don’t have any hope so they’re doing hard drugs.
What’s been one of the lowest points for the band?
EC: Our members passing—we’ve had three members passed [D-Roc, Beatmaster V & Mooseman]. That’s the lowest point that you can get. When our drummer [Beatmaster] passed in the ‘90s, that was the lowest point because that was the time when the band was going well and we were invincible. When he passed, that made everything real; over the next 15 years we lost Moose and D-Roc too. We replaced each member but it just wasn’t working right. Now the band works well because each member is one removed from an original member. You can’t replace Moose, but you can replace the guy that replaced Moose. When we had the drummer that replaced our original drummer, I’d look at him and think of our original drummer, now I look at our drummer and I think of the guy he replaced and I’m glad he replaced him [laughs].
I remember when I first met you back in 1995, you guys were out in the audience meeting everyone. I thought it was so cool that at such a big festival you still came out into the crowd to meet people and didn’t just hang out backstage like bands often do.
EC: We still do that! You can’t live in a bubble. I remember we were somewhere here in the United States in middle of nowhere, we were at a restaurant and some guy walks in sees us and is like, ‘what are y’all doing here?’ It’s like everyone has to be somewhere [laughs]. We still like meeting people. People are there to see you. It’s even better if you’re out there listening to the opening band with them. I wanna see the opening band too, I don’t wanna just be on the side of the stage hearing a guitar blasting my ear, I wanna hear what they sound like.
At the start of the ‘No Lives Matter’ song Ice says: since the beginning of time, humans have killed each other because they disagreed… the ability to kill is as innate as our ability to love; what does love mean to you?
EC: Love means happiness. As I always say, there’s only two emotions that you really have—love and hate. You either love something or you hate it. I don’t really have a whole lot that I hate, if anything. Love is the thing that you need to have, love is compassion.
Are you spiritual?
EC: I’ve been everything in my life. I’ve been a Catholic, a Baptist, a Buddhist, a Jehovah’s Witness… and I like to add in that I’ve been in the music business for 35 years which means I’m also Jewish [laughs]—that’s an inside joke there. Right now, I’m a Christian, I believe in Jesus and all that. I just believe in doing things right, that’s the best you can do, and be of service, that’s all we’re here to do—anything is possible. I go to meetings and things like that, I work with MusiCares and I sit in a meeting every Tuesday… young kids there are like, ‘I want to be a rock star’ and they’re having trouble and I’m like, I’m a 58-year-old black man in a speed metal band [laughs]… come on you can do it, if I can! There’s hope.
Dreams come true!
EC: [Laughs] Yeah. I’m almost 60-years-old and I’m in a speed metal band! We’ve played with Slayer, we’ve played with Guns n Roses!
I love how Ice calls Body Count’s music ‘grind house’ like the film genre, a Tarantino or Rodriguez film, violent and aggressive.
EC: [Laughs] Yeah I like that one too! It’s like, we are? Ok! Cool. Body Count is everything. Body Count is Seinfeld!—it’s all about something but it’s all about nothing [laughs]. It’s the same band that can play ‘KKK Bitch’ and then turn around and play ‘No Lives Matter’…don’t take us too seriously.
Where do you get your confidence from?
I get my confidence because I realise that music is what I do and not who I am. Once you realise that, I’m able to walk away from it… my guy tells me, don’t love anything that won’t love you back. Ya’know I love music but it’s not tangible… it gives me love but not the same kind of love, so that’s where I get the confidence from—it gives me joy. I find joy in playing for other people. I don’t have an ego about it, I’ve learnt to let go of my ego. Fuck dealing with people with a lot of ego! [laughs].
It’s pretty obvious you always play from the heart…
EC: Oh yeah, every note! I play a little fast but, every note, I try to have an experience with that. On this new record, every note is more well-placed than any other record, there’s no wasted note. On some records I can say, you can play and you can lose notes or you’re like, yeah, that’ll work… you might not be sure about every note—every note is accountable with this record.
Ice’s son, Little Ice, does backing vocals on this record too…
EC: Oh yeah, that way we can keep track of him [laughs]. It’s good to have a 22-year-old in your band, it’s good to have that different point of view. We can relate to him too.
I love that you guys are like one big family.
EC: We are. The baby [Chanel Nicole] is going to be there too at the shows, she’s got custom headphones.
You mentioned earlier that if you wanted to walk away from music you could; if you did, what would you do?
EC: I would help out kids getting off drugs, I would be of service for the rest of my life. You can always make enough money to live on when you’re doing the right thing.
Didn’t you meet Dave Mustaine back in the ‘80s when you used to deliver packages for a living?
EC: I did. I also met Perry Farrell doing that, that’s how we ended up on Lollapalooza. I met a lot of people delivering packages.
You also used to produce records for bands too. In an interview I once read you say that the biggest thing you learnt being a producer was that you didn’t want to produce records. That made me laugh.
EC: [Laughs] Exactly! Like what do you do with someone like, Black Sabbath, that’s established and set in their ways? They’re not gonna wanna change. Sometimes it’s a lot of tedious work. I didn’t get the satisfaction from it that I was looking for. We [Body Count] did a record and the record is great, a lot of that has to do with Will Putney. See I should have mentioned him on the way in, not out [laughs].
I’ve heard that you produced demo tapes that ended up getting bands, Rage Against The Machine and Stone Temple Pilots signed?
EC: Nah… I did help them along, helped them get managers but that’s been twisted over the years. I had their demo tapes that had been recorded and I gave it to someone, things like that. Tom [Morello] is still my friend to this day. I sent some of these songs from this record to Tom and he said, ‘It’s great to have your uncensored voice out there right now’. Tom thinks music is censored, I thought that was the greatest thing that somebody could say considering the way music is now.
Thanks for reading!
*All photos courtesy of BC’s fb & insta.