Corey Taylor is suffering. That’s not unusual for the Slipknot frontman, but this is different. “My allergies,” he says, voice tinged with hoarseness, as he sits down on a sofa in a backstage portacabin at Download festival, where Slipknot will make their record-equalling fifth headline appearance in less than 90 minutes’ time.
He arrived at his hotel in Birmingham at 3.30 this morning, and had to get up at 7am. “The only thing holding me together is duct tape and the fact that I have a day off tomorrow,” he says, with the demeanour of man who has done this many, many times before. Corey is in Castle Donington today on Slipknot business, but the 49-year-old Iowan has a new solo album coming down the pipe.
CMF2 is the follow-up to his 2020 debut, CMFT. It doubles down on its predecessor’s joyous punk-infused hard rock, but sounds more focused and less patchwork than that sometimes chaotic debut.
His main band’s recent travails – the departure of sampler/ keyboardist Craig Jones, founder and percussionist Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan’s decision to stay at home due to his wife’s health issues (though he makes a surprise appearance at Download) – are off limits. Still, there’s plenty of other stuff to get into. “Interrupt me if I go on,” he says. “I’ve got a habit of talking too much.”
Who was the band that made the young Corey Taylor think, “I can do that”?
“Seeing Faith No More on the [MTV] Video Music Awards in 1990. It was the day of my last attempt at suicide. I had attempted it a couple of times before. This time, I’d just hit the bottom of the bottom. I’d taken a handful of pills from the bathroom – I didn’t know what they fuck they were. Luckily, my ex-girlfriend’s mom, who was an EMT, happened to stop by my house to check on me ’cos she knew what I was going through. She found me on the floor, called 911, and they rushed me to hospital and pumped my stomach, which I don’t recommend.
“My grandmother came and picked me up from the hospital. I was lying on the couch, thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I turn on the television and here comes Faith No More playing Epic. They sounded amazing, Mike Patton was out of his gourd. The next day I started putting signs up in guitar places, looking for people to start bands with. And that’s where it all started.”
Where did you meet Clown for the first time?
“At the city jail. We were both there to bail people out. [Original Stone Sour drummer] Joel Ekman and some friends had been evicted from this house which was being torn down, so we decided to destroy it. We broke every window, destroyed every bathroom. I finally crawled into the back of somebody’s car and passed out, and they took me home. A couple of hours later I get a call. It’s my buddy Marty: ‘Dude, they all got arrested, we got to bail them out.’ So I begged and borrowed enough money for bail, and when I went down there, Clown was there to bail his people out – they’d been arrested too.”
What were your first impressions of him?
“He was a very affable man. It always amazes me that our bands had never played together – I had Stone Sour at the time, he had Heads On The Wall. And I’d seen Slipknot, they were amazing. The more I hung out at his bar, that was when I really got to know him. I just knew he was an odd cat.”
“He has one of my favourite minds in the world, but he has a tendency to butcher the English language. What happens is that his mind is so fast that it’s already racing ahead to the next thing, but his mouth hasn’t caught up to it yet, so this jumble of amazing English comes out and it’s beautiful.
“But I love the way he looks at life, the way he creates art, the way he talks. And his vision has never strayed - it’s branched out but it’s never strayed. I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he’s brought to the table in Slipknot.”
When did you realise that things were starting to take off for Slipknot?
“We had a sense that something was happening was when we played the Astoria [in London on December 13, 1999, their first UK show]. Coming from Des Moines, when do you think you’re ever going to be able to play London, for fuck’s sake? We were just wide-eyed: ‘Oh fuuuuck.’ We came out and it was packed and people were hanging from shit. I’d never seen anything like it. Everyone I meet, regardless of age, has said they were there. There’s no fucking way, ’cos the capacity of the Astoria would have been 100,000 people, but I love the fact that show has become this legend people talk about.”
Things went from 0 to 60 in a split second for Slipknot. What was it like being in the middle of it?
“I gotta be honest, I don’t know. We had our heads ducked down, just running for the sun. We were gonna do this over everybody’s bodies. I went through three relationships in that time – they crumbled ’cos I was never at home. It’s one of the few regrets I have, that I didn’t poke my head up and take a second to drink it in. I was fucking gone.”
What was the single greatest moment for you during those early years?
“There was a great moment when we did Ozzfest UK [in 2001]. The Iowa album hadn’t come out yet, so it was brand new music, and people were just really chuffed that we were back. We got our photo taken with Ozzy Osbourne by [legendary rock photographer] Ross Halfin, I got to get up and do Jumpdafuckup with Soulfly. I remember that day as feeling like the pinnacle of, ‘We’ve made it.’ But things were getting very dark after a minute because of the booze. We really went off the fucking rails.”
How dark is dark?
“I was a full-blown alcoholic. I wanted to stay drunk so I could do horrible shit because of my depression, because of my lack of self-confidence. I had become every cliché I hated because of it. You may have a family at home, but you may be running around fucking 10 chicks a night because of that lack of self-love. When you drink that much booze, who you are becomes very washy. There’s something in you that’s empty. Something in you that feels like chewing tinfoil.
“Health-wise, it was really fucking me up. The first three months of working on Vol.3 were a washout for me, because my voice was so shot from the boozing and the lifestyle. I couldn’t stay in key, I couldn’t hit any of the heavy shit, I’d get half a take and I’d spoil it. The other guys did not appreciate it: ‘Goddamn it, dude, you’re never fucking here, you’re always wasted, it’s obvious you don’t give a fuck.’”
What was the wake-up call for you?
“All the dramas in my life catching up with me. My fiancée at the time, later my wife [Scarlet, his first wife], had come out to LA to see what the fuck I was up to and confront me about it. We got a room at [LA hotel] The Hyatt House, we were going to talk, but we went out and I got fucking shit-faced. That was when I tried to jump off the balcony of this eighth-storey room. My friend Tom grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me back. It was a heavy night.”
When did you get sober?
“The first time was literally the next day. It lasted three years, until my marriage ended. Then I started drinking again for about three years until it was, like, ‘I don’t get anything from this anymore.’ That was 2010. Trust me, it’s a struggle every day ’cos of how my brain works and how I am as a person.”
The first decade of Slipknot: what does the pie chart of ‘fun’ versus ‘not fun’ look like?
“There were some great moments. Headlining Download for the first time [in 2009]. I can remember us all looking at each other, going, ‘Fucking hell, we’ve done it. Even if we never get to do it again, we get to do it tonight.’ I look back on those days with great fondness now, especially knowing that they were my last days with Paul [Gray, late Slipknot bassist].”
Do you think about Paul Gray and [late drummer] Joey Jordison a lot?
“Constantly. Especially when we’re onstage. Even with Paul fighting his demons, and there were definitely moments that sucked, we had some great fucking times when he was sober. We had great talks, great nights, making each other laugh. He was just a fucking unique person. Joey’s another thing. His demons were so strong that it was hard to see past them.”
Just as Slipknot were taking off, you reactivated your old band, Stone Sour. Why?
“It was a very selfish thing. I knew that at the time I didn’t write music as good as the guys in Slipknot, I wasn’t confident in my abilities, I contributed that much [makes tiny space between his thumb and index finger]. There were times when some of us felt pushed out of the writing process because of Joey and Paul. They’d started writing immediately and the rest of us were, like, ‘We just want to take a second…’
Reforming Stone Sour meant I got better as a songwriter and was able to contribute music to Slipknot. But it came from a purely selfish place of just wanting to feel like I could do it.”
With Slipknot, you’d joined somebody else’s band. Stone Sour was your baby. Was there part of you that wanted Stone Sour to become bigger than Slipknot?
“[Emphatically] No. ’Cos I knew we would never have the same impact. You have one chance at grabbing lightning, and Slipknot was that chance. When I was young, maybe I wanted to have more credit [for Slipknot] from an ego standpoint. It’s only in retrospect that you can look at it and go, ‘I was actually a very big part of it.’”
We’re talking about Stone Sour in the past tense…
“Yeah. I’m in no hurry to do it again, let’s put it that way. Why? The reasons are nobody’s business.”
Is it true that you almost replaced Scott Weiland in Velvet Revolver?
“It is. It was very close according to reports. They kept shit close to their chests, so I don’t know. And I was ready to go, but I think it had to do with internal issues. All I know is that I had a fucking brilliant time hanging out with those guys. We recorded some songs, did some demos.”
What happened to the demos?
“Somebody’s got them. I haven’t heard any of them. I know Matt [Sorum, drums] has reached out to all of us about possibly using one of the songs that had been written, having us all play on it and put it out for a charity thing. I was fine with it: I was like, ‘I just want to re-record the vocals.’ They were very much demos - you go in, blast it out, get some ideas down. But some of it was really, really good.”
Can we talk about your physical ailments?
You revealed in 2016 that you’d broken your neck. What happened?
“I’m not sure, but I think what happened was that I fell offstage in 1999 and landed straight on top of my head. When you’re 25, you can shake it off: ‘OK, I can still move, I’m fine.’ But then you exacerbate that with 16, 17 years of headbanging and windmilling… There were pieces of bone jutting into my spine. I could feel it – there’d be moments onstage where’d get an electric shock through my body, and that was the bone hitting my spinal cord. My C5 and C6 [vertebrae] were pretty much destroyed. They replaced the disc, shaved the bone back. I have a loss of strength on my right side, my balance can be wonky…”
And then you had surgery on your knees…
“Yeah. There was a bunch of scar tissue, there was evidence that I had torn my MCL [medial collateral ligament] and it rehealed like shit, so I had hard time bending my knees.”
Are there times where you wonder if it’s been worth the damage?
“Oh god, yeah. Of course. But then you go onstage and it just all goes away. It’s like the football player who wants to win the Superbowl – the passion and the flesh haven’t given up yet, and there’s still the chance you can get back into the big game. Every night for us, we want to win the Superbowl. But I have talked to my wife recently about how much longer I want to do this, physically. I figure I’ve maybe got another five years.”
Have you had that conversation with the rest of the band?
“We’ve all had talks about it together. We all worry about it. Especially Clown, he’s had serious shit. Sid’s [Wilson, DJ] obviously bionic at this point. Mick’s [Thomson, guitarist] had bulging discs in his back, but he’s completely turned his health around. He’s in the best shape I’ve seen him in in 20 years.”
Can you imagine a time when Slipknot aren’t in your life any more?
“There have definitely been moments where I’ve questioned it. There have been moments where I’ve gone, ‘What am I doing here? Why am I here?’ But we’ve all talked, and none of us want to lose this yet. We’re loving the fact that people are still loving it.
“I wouldn’t stop making music. I’d just stop touring like this. The worst thing about touring is the time away from your kids. I’ve lost a lot of time with [my son] Griff. I’ve been trying to make up for it with my daughter. If my wife and I have a child… I can’t imagine being that 60-year-old on the road, fucking himself up, then going home and thinking, ‘I’m gonna be able to pick up a child and take care of it.’”
Your son, Griffin, has his own band, Vended. Given your past, does that worry the dad in you?
“The dad in me is constantly worried about him. He’s gonna be 21 this year, and I’m still, like, ‘Oh god…’ At the same time, I have to let him do his own thing, and I love what he’s doing – nobody is more proud than I am. Have I tried to give him advice? Sure, but he’s got that Taylor gene where you don’t learn anything unless you’ve had the shit kicked out of you.”
Your first solo album, CMFT, was great, but it felt like a collection of songs that had been written at different points over the last 20 years. The new one sounds more cohesive.
“There’s some songs that are very old. The bones for Beyond have been around since 2005, 2006. The song Midnight, I did a demo of that when I was putting Stone Sour back together in 2000-ish. Some songs are new. But we went out and toured [as a solo band], doing things from all the things I’ve done – solo stuff, Slipknot, Stone Sour, occasional covers – and it made me realise we had an audience for this. That’s when I started putting real energy and focus into this."
Midnight is the bleakest song on the album. You sing: ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’
“It’s very much about a moment in your depression when there’s almost a numbness that happens. There’s been moments in my life where I’ve been so detached, emotionally and psychologically, that I’ve had to just lay down on the ground and almost ride the Earth to get through it.”
You’ve brought up depression and suicide. Are you OK talking about that stuff?
“You have to be. If you don’t talk about it, you can’t get a grip on what you dealt with and why. As a teenager, you feel things much harder ’cos you don’t have coping mechanisms. But I’m blessed now, in that my wife has the patience of a saint. When I physically feel it coming on, I tell her, ‘It’s going to be a weird couple of days.’”
People see you on the stage in various incarnations and you look like a superhero to them.
“Right. At the same time, that’s one of the reasons I try to be as open about it as possible. I want them to see me less as a [makes air quotes] ‘superhero’ and more like: ‘You never know what this person is going through at any given moment; the fact is he’s doing his very best to make sure people are having an amazing time.’ That’s what I want people to take away from it all: that we all have the capacity to rise above our station, to have the capacity to get our legs under ourselves and deal with adversity.”
What’s the song you’re proudest of being involved with – the one that shows the best of Corey Taylor?
“That’s tough. It’s a different one for every band. With CMFT, it’s Beyond from the new album. I started at the drawing board and rebuilt it into something that was way better than the demo ever was. With Slipknot it would probably be Snuff. With Stone Sour, it would probably be Zzyzx Rd., largely because I wrote that song using two fingers on a piano. It’s the quintessential longing-for-home track. Years later, going from [CMFT solo track] Home into Zzyzx [live onstage]…, that made me proud."
Last question: have you kept hold of all your old masks?
“I’ve got most of them. Some of them just melted – they ruined the carpet in my first apartment. And their smell starts to get weird. There’s something that comes out of my face that’s very toxic.”
CMF2 is due September 15 via BMG.