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Interviews : “It’s a hardcore metal record for hardcore metal people” – An interview with Ernie C (Body Count)

By on May 17, 2017

Body Count – Ernie C

Ernie Cunnigan AKA Ernie C is the lead guitarist and songwriter from Los Angeles outfit, Body Count. Ernie C has been plundering razor-sharp metal riffs since band released its incendiary debut Body Count in ’92. The band has just released the tremendous new album, Bloodlust.

I recall fierce anticipation surrounding the album Body Count vividly. As no stranger to unfairly profiling bands, artists and musicians, Tipper Gore, the wife of Clinton administration Vice President, Al Gore, targeted the band and album through her Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) committee due to the inclusion of the album cut, “Cop Killer”.

The controversy overshadowed what many would go on to discover: The album Body Count announced the arrival of a seriously impressive outfit delivering thrash metal canticles fronted by rap artist, Ice-T, with music written by the supremely underrated Ernie C.

As a budding guitarist and bassist, I recall the impact of Ernie C’s guitar playing. Particularly his performance on the tracks “Necessary Evil” and “Born Dead” from the second album, Born Dead (’94) and “Bowels of the Devil” and “There goes the Neighborhood” from the debut.

“Not really. As far as what? Negative, or positive?”

That was Ernie C’s surprising response to my enquiry regarding feedback on his playing from guitarists and musicians. I went on to offer feedback that he was a tremendous influence on my own playing and the narrative I would establish with the genre of heavy metal.

‘Bloodlust’ out now via Century Media Records

“Oh, that’s pretty nice. No, I’ve been below the radar a whole lot. It’s like on this record they noticed that we could play, because we covered the Slayer song (Raining Blood). People are, like, ‘Oh, you can really play.’ I’m, like, ‘Yeah. We really can play.’ We’re overshadowed a lot, because in the early days, people thought it was just a side project for us, they didn’t take the band seriously”.

Ernie C has enjoyed a long and fruitful association with the genre of heavy metal. Many people would be surprised to learn that he produced the Black Sabbath album Forbidden back in ’95.

“Tony made me feel accepted in rock ‘n’ roll. And also I learned… that was when I decided I didn’t want to produce records anymore. You know, because it was so hard trying to (produce and play the guitar). Just sit back and play the guitar, don’t try to produce records. That’s why he hires people to do the records. Your guitar will do a lot better if you just play guitar. On this record I just play guitar and my guitar is a lot better. The record came out really well, just because I wasn’t stressing about tuning up my guitar, or lowering it. That’s what I learned from Tony, just play guitar. So, that’s where I’m at now.”

Apart from recording and producing one of heavy metals most revered icons there was another upside.

“I got to play Tony’s guitar that he used on Iron Man. I got to play that guitar!”

So Ernie C and Body Count are currently enjoying as high a profile as ever, particularly in Australia. Bloodlust peaked at #12 on the Aria charts. I ask for the man’s own description of the album.

“It’s a hardcore metal record for hardcore metal people. It’s probably the best record we’ve done in 25 years, if not the best record we’ve ever done. It has good timing, it has good songs, it has good notes. It’s a good record from beginning to end. And it’s been sequenced, you know, to play from beginning to end. We try to get people to get the whole record, because you’ve got to hear the whole record. You can hear songs, but the songs are a bigger piece of the whole puzzle.”

The album has certainly been received well. Ernie C would capture some of the sentiment in my earlier comments about the PMRC and their tirades when I ask for his thoughts on the bands reaction to Bloodlust’s reception.

“You know, on our first record we did “Cop Killer” and we were nervous… but on this record we thought it would be received well, just because we had a more mature perspective on things. On this record we’re mad at everybody and everything. We talk about class war on this record a lot. That’s what’s going on, you know. We’re still mad at everything, you know, nothing’s changed. But, it’s all over the place. So, nobody really knows what we’re mad at. We’re so mad you can’t even figure out why we’re mad. Is it this? Or that? No. You don’t know. We’re mad at everything!”

We both had a chuckle at Ernie C’s memory from their first Australian tour in ’95 on the ill-fated Alternative Nation festival.

“We were playing with Lou Reed, I remember that quite well. Yes. That’s what I remember, playing with Lou Reed. I remember just having a good time. Time goes by so fast, because we wanted to get back, but Ice has been on Law & Order for the past 18 years, so doing it in vacation, it’s so hard to get there. We only have a certain window to play.”

I ponder now if Metallica had been on the same tour, would the virtually unlistenable Lulu (’11) would have been released?

As someone who interviews many of our friends stateside, Trump is a frequent reference point. The rise of the much-maligned POTUS elect has at least had one positive affect- the choice of Australia as Body Count’s first stop on a broader tour.

“We just said ‘Okay, we’re going to go to Australia to apologise for Trump’. We realised we need to go back there, because we don’t like Trump. The first country that he ditched was your country. So, we decided on the first show of our new tour we’ll go there”

Catch Ernie C and Body Count on the Australian tour in June! Tickets on sale now.

Thursday, 1st June
The Tivoli, Brisbane
Tickets: TEG Live

Friday, 2nd June
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne
Tickets: TEG Live

Saturday, 3rd June
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Tickets: TEG Live


Andrew is a musician who has spent many years performing on the stages of the pubs and clubs of Queensland. A devotee of the broad church that is rock, punk, funk, jazz and of course all genres of metal... he now shares his enthusiasm via a burgeoning pursuit of music journalism. Follow him on twitter @andymckaysmith