Coady Willis has toured alongside High on Fire as a member of both Big Business and the Melvins, so when the modern metal legends needed a new drummer in 2021 they knew exactly who to call.

This month, Willis made his recorded debut with High on Fire on their impressive new album Cometh the Storm. We spoke to him about the recording of the record, his recent surprise return to the Melvins, and the future of Big Business.

You've known and shared stages with High on Fire for years now, but were you still nervous about joining the band?

Yeah, I knew those guys. And I'm familiar with the band, and as a fan of the band for a long time I think my biggest concern was just, you know, paying tribute to their legacy, moving it forward, trying to do my own thing and do what I do well without putting my big greasy fingerprints all over everything. I wanted it to sound like a High on Fire record, and I wanted the songs to come across as High on Fire songs. But obviously, I'm not like [previous drummer] Des Kensel, he has a very distinctive style. And he's a very good drummer, he was a huge part of building that band. I felt like trying to ape his style and trying to play like he would play would probably just shine more contrast onto our differences. I would still end up sounding like me, but I would end up sounding like me trying to be somebody else. I didn't want to do that. So I wanted to try to put the songs across in the spirit of High on Fire as I knew it, and use the tools in my toolbox to do that without trying to sound like he would.

Watch High on Fire Perform 'Burning Down'


What was the songwriting process like?

Well, I live in Los Angeles, those guys live in the Portland area. So it's either them coming down to me or me going up to them. So more often than not, I'm flying up to Portland to practice with those two guys [singer / guitarist Matt Pike and bassist Jeff Matz.] They had a bunch of riffs they had recorded, they had a riff vault, this  Google drive full of just loose riffs. So I would practice those in my studio down here, record some ideas, get a feel for it, and then go back up there. Then we would get in the room together and kind of hash out the riffs, hash out the ideas and do some arranging. We did a bunch of different writing sessions where I would go up there, we did a couple where just Matt came down to my studio, we wrote for a week,  just me and him.

Then we had a couple of sessions where it was just Jeff and I writing and recording. Then we brought everything we did from all the sessions all together into into a room and worked it out that way. We had a different palette of songs, they weren't all coming from one person. It was like, one guy originated some of these riffs, one guy originated some of these riffs. And then we got some different flavors on the record, then we put it all together. You don't want everything to sound like one thing all the way through. We tried to get it so there's ebbs and flows and some different flavors on there, so it's not homogeneous.

Are there any songs where you're particularly proud of your contribution to the process?

There's a couple. We practiced a lot, we made a lot of strides going into the studio. I found that the songs that give you trouble once you're in the studio are never the ones that you think are going to give you trouble. And that's kind of what happened here. There's a couple of songs that seem like they're more complicated, and we laid those down no problem and they came out great. And then there's a couple more that I thought were a little more simple and straightforward, and those ones ended up being harder to get down and get right.

And so there's a couple of songs that kind of go together, "The Beating" and "Tough Guy." The first one, the first couple of times I tried to get it down it was like, this doesn't sound quite right. It was toward the end of the day, and I was having a hard time nailing it, and then finally got it down. And I kind of thought of it like, "Oh, this is good. It's good enough. It's good enough. It's fine. Leave it, leave it." And then "Tough Guy," the one that comes after that, that one I thought I had nailed  before we went into the studio. And then as we were laying it down. Kurt [Ballou], the producer was like, "That doesn't really work with the guitar riff." And I realized, fuck, he's right. And so I had to, on the fly, figure out a variation of what I was playing. And it was again at the end of the day, and I was tired from drumming all day, and just frustrated and pissed off. I wanted it to work so bad, and it just didn't.

So I slept on it came back in the next day. And of course, overnight when I slept on it and woke up, I'm like, "Oh, I'll do this, I got it!" And I came in fresh and laid it down, and it's one of my favorite ones on the record. It came out better than what we had practiced. It was a struggle to get it down but it I think it came out really cool.

Hear High on Fire perform 'The Beating' and 'Tough Guy'


I also really like "Cometh the Storm," the title track, I think that came out great. I like the drum part that opens the song and I think Jeff's bass tone on the chorus is just insane. And that is real, that's how it sounds coming out of his amp, it's not some weird production trick or something like that. We recorded a demo of that song, and he was using this fretless active pickup bass through an SVT and another amp. For some reason the settings he added on it, when we recorded the demo I was like "Oh my God, that sounds like World War Three! We have to like make sure that chorus hits that is full blast in there. "That's just his bass sound. I think it came out great, it came across in the recording just huge.

Watch High on Fire Perform 'Cometh the Storm'


Last year you briefly returned to the Melvins after Dale Crover had to get surgery just before the start of their tour with Boris. Was it daunting to fill in under those circumstances?

There was no prep time. It was a surprise. And it was very last minute. I was in the band for eight years with those guys, we toured with two drummers. So I was familiar with a lot of the songs that they're playing. On one tour we did two nights in each city doing four of their classic albums, one of which was Bullhead. So I had played all those songs before. Dale ended up having to go in right before the tour. Boris was also playing, and they were already in the country from Japan. But Dale found out that he had to go in for this emergency spinal surgery where he's having four vertebrae fused in his neck. So I was actually in Portland playing a show with High on Fire. And [singer / guitarist] Buzz [Osboune] gave me a call. And he's like, can you do this? It was a seven week tour, and we had three days to practice before the tour. So we did three days of nine hour practices. And I had to fly back immediately from Portland. There ended up being a hurricane in L.A. that day. So my flight was canceled. It was like this whole thing but we ended up getting the practices in and kinda got the set down.

The first show was in L.A in for I think it was like 1700 people or something. It was a pretty good show. I live here so it was like everybody I knew was there, I was nervous when I showed up. I saw Kevin Rutmanis, the band's former bass player, there. I haven't seen him in years and years. I'm in the dressing room and he burst into the backstage and he's like, "you must be so nervous!"

Oh, that's gotta be helpful.

Yeah, and he doesn't stop, he's saying, "Are you going to be shitting your pants right now?" It was hilarious. But it also took the tension out of it. And that ended up being a really fun show, then it was a great tour. Those guys are super fun to play with, everybody's a pro. So it was just smooth sailing, and seven weeks never went by so fast.

Watch Coady Willis Perform with Melvins in 2023


The last thing I wanted to ask about was Big Business. Obviously you're going to be busy with High on Fire, and [bassist / singer] Jared Warren is currently on tour with Unwound. But are there any plans for new music or any tour dates?

Yeah, we're trying to find time to write some new music this year, we'll see. Hopefully, in the later half of this year, we'll find time to get together. Jared used to live in L.A., he moved back up to the Northwest. He lives in Washington now. And he has two kids, and he's playing in Unwound, so yeah, it's a little bit more complicated than it used to be as far as the two of us getting together. But after after this run we're doing with High on Fire, Big Business is gonna play a show in Texas. So we're still fitting in Big Business shows where we can and we're trying to find time to write some new songs.

Hear Big Business Perform 'People Behave'

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