The United States flag stands in the corner of the room. The ol’ Stars And Stripes: a symbol for freedom, liberty and justice. Its very appearance conjures images of towering cheeseburgers, Disneyland and bald eagles crowdsurfing to Bruce Springsteen.
In front of the flag sits a man in a suit. A man who is complaining about said suit, as it’s very rare he finds one that fits around his infamously gigantic neck. Laid out on his desk are battle plans for worldwide domination through Operation: Hydrograd. What is Hydrograd, you ask? That’s classified information… until the time is right.
The man in the hot seat is none other than Corey Taylor – one of the most powerful men in our world, both on and off the stage. Flanking him is his VP, guitarist Josh Rand, the only other surviving co-founder of Stone Sour. Josh is the quieter of the two, cool as ice, while Corey lives up to his Great Big Mouth persona, laughing and shouting through today’s photoshoot in central London’s fancy Gibson studios.
They’re both jetlagged, having only landed the night before, but eager and excited to talk about their new music. It’s immediately clear that both Corey and Josh want to hit home that it’s their record. From the outside, Stone Sour might seem like The Corey Taylor Show, but their sixth album, Hydrograd, has come from a partnership and a mutual respect for each other. The pair have been friends for nearly three decades, growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, and writing music together for years. They first played as Stone Sour in 2001. This was also, surprisingly, Josh’s first live performance ever.
“I wish I hadn’t waited so long to play live,” laments Josh. “I loved the creative side of it, and for whatever reason the live aspect never really sunk in to me. I only wanted to write, and when I got that opportunity to play live – or was forced to play live, ha ha ha – it opened up this whole other world to me.”
“I was nervous just being myself,” remembers Corey. “I hadn’t played a show in so long without a mask on, and then I was thinking, ‘Oh, what’s Josh going through? Is he throwing up?’”
And the room fills with laughter again.
Despite starting way back in 1992, Corey believes that 2002 was the definitive origin of the band. Originally named Project X, until they realised it was taken, Josh and Corey were swapping music long before Stone Sour really took shape.
“He would write stuff and bring it over, I would write lyrics to it – we just wrote songs together,” Corey recalls. “Cut to 2000, I was on a break with Slipknot, and he brought over the demo for Get Inside. That was really the catalyst for this.”
And now, 17 years later, the two friends are closer than ever, laughing and joking constantly in the three hours we spend together. The pair are almost overly nice towards each other, keen to point out how much fun they had in the studio this time around.
Throughout our chat, the idea of democracy comes up again and again. And while Corey admits the pair take care of most business decisions and “boring shit” on behalf of the band, he and Josh are keen to stress that Stone Sour is a team effort, and everybody’s input is important. “It took all five of us to make this record,” confirms Josh. “Everybody contributed, everybody’s voice was heard, everybody worked their ass off.”
This may be surprising, as many still perceive Stone Sour as a side-project run by Corey – ‘that thing he does when he’s not in Slipknot’.
“It’s always been more about the band than me,” insists Corey modestly. “I get really uncomfortable when I get pulled aside like that. I do it because I know it’s good for the band, but I enjoy being a part of the collective.”
This comes in stark contrast to how we know Corey these days. The masked miscreant might have started off as one of the cogs in Slipknot’s 18-legged killing machine, but he’s increasingly become their mouthpiece. Sitting at the helm of one of the biggest bands in history, he’s now accustomed to the limelight, but is eager to remove himself from the glare with Stone Sour.
“I’m not the leader,” says Corey emphatically. “I may be the frontman, I may be the leader onstage, but that’s only because I’m trying to run the show, and the guys trust me when it comes to that. They know I’m not out there trying to toot my own horn or make it The Corey Show.”
“He’s looked at as the [multi-Super-Bowl-winning quarterback] Tom Brady of the rock world, but to me we’re the same,” says Josh. “I don’t look at him like that because our relationship has grown and was established before the success [of Stone Sour or Slipknot]. I get to play music for a living. I get to create. Honestly, I don’t put much thought into it; I’m not a person who needs a pat on the back.”
But that perception of Corey Taylor isn’t going away. He’s one of the biggest names in rock and metal, an author, an actor, a public speaker – he’s even been a guest on QI, and his fame is growing by the day. Every quote Corey gives in an interview is turned into hundreds of news stories and think-pieces, because his name is money. He’s fully aware that he’s Corey effing Taylor – and clearly enjoys sending himself up in today’s cover shoot – but admits he’d “freak out ” if his level of fame continued to increase. He knows where he came from, and he’s grounded.
“It’s so fucking weird to me,” says Corey. “I wouldn’t be where I am without help from a lot of people, and without the fans, and I’m very aware of that – I didn’t do this on my own. I’m not bummed that I’m not Lady Gaga, why the fuck would I be? I couldn’t deal with that. I feel like this album’s going to blow up, and if I become more recognisable I’m comfortable with that, because I know me, my friends know me, my family know me. I’m not nervous about letting my ego get out of fuckin’ check, because at this point in life I’ve done quite a bit – anything more than that is just extra.”
But does Corey care that these fans may only drift toward Stone Sour because of his name?
“Not really. It’s like bands who won’t play their biggest hit because it’s recognisable. Are you kidding? Fuck off. I would much rather people show up to the shows than worry about why. I’ll never understand that logic. It just spits in the face of being in a band. Why are you ashamed of what you have? If I can use that to turn people into Stone Sour fans, even better.”
In fact, the idea of a figurehead or frontman seems like an outdated concept to him.
“Thirty years ago, when you’d see the lead singer on the covers of magazines, you’d think he was the leader – and maybe that’s why a lot of tension would come up in those bands,” he says. “But we’re just friends who like hanging out and playing together. It’s when people start to let that shit go to their head that the issue comes. I just love making music with these guys. Why would I try and be a dick and ruin that?
“I’d rather have a really positive experience and make something awesome than be a snivelling cunt who can’t even keep his own ego in check. There are enough of those in rock’n’roll.”
Sitting in the meeting room today, the illusion of Corey being an all-powerful dictator shatters. The maniacal control freak you read about on the internet is nowhere to be seen; he’s just chilling with his best friend, talking about the band they have grown and n
urtured together. But there’s still an elephant in the room: the departure of Jim Root.
In May 2014, the guitarist and Slipknot co-conspirator was fired from Stone Sour, the band he had helped form some 13 years earlier. Hydrograd is their first album without him. While no official reason was given for his departure, rumours began to circulate of tensions within the group, and Jim was very vocal about his feelings, likening Stone Sour to a “sinking ship”.
When today’s conversation turns to the dismissal, there’s a noticeable mood shift. The previously jovial atmosphere dissipates, and bouncy Corey Taylor becomes almost static, his voice altering in tone. It’s clear that the wounds are yet to heal, and he refuses to talk about the ins and outs.
“He was going one way, we were going the other, and that’s just where it’s at,” he states.
“It was a difficult time for me, largely because everybody blamed me,” continues Corey. “Obviously being on the road with Jim [with Slipknot] was tight sometimes, but I feel like we were able to put a lot of that aside, because I think in a way he realised that he wasn’t happy, maybe not just with Stone Sour but in general. I feel like that’s helped him, which is one of the reasons why I don’t want to talk about it, out of respect for him and who he is and what he was to this band. I feel like he’s on his own journey that he needs to figure out, and I don’t want to be the one to talk about it. It’s not fair for him and it’s not fair for me.”
Jim’s departure was the second shake-up in Corey’s world. In December 2013, Slipknot founding member and drummer Joey Jordison had been removed from the Slipknot picture – again with no reasons given publicly. Within the space of six months, two of Corey’s oldest friends were pushed out of the two most important parts of his life. He hints that he wasn’t an aggressor in the Joey scenario; his wishes were tied up in the will of the group.
“Joey’s going through his own discovery and it just happened to differ from Slipknot,” Corey says. “Sadly, I would have given anything for that not to happen, but it did. I wasn’t the one who made those decisions, I was part of a collective who talked about it, but I wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger, let’s put it that way.”
Corey reveals that he has spoken to him on a number of occasions, including after Joey’s Metal Hammer Golden God win last year, adding a cryptic but oh-so- teasing, “He’s doing his thing and I’m doing mine, and that’s where it’s going to be for a while, until things sort themselves out.”
Suddenly we see the more vulnerable side of Corey Taylor, much more sedate than the prowling beast you see onstage; a human being with real-life emotions – especially when he takes time out to FaceTime his two-year-old daughter. But he’s never downbeat, never glum, never angry, just beaming with positivity about the new record he, Josh and the rest of Stone Sour have created.
Hydrograd began to take form a year and a half ago, as Corey wrote lyrics while on the road with Slipknot. But with the five members of Stone Sour scattered across America, the recording process took time; the album was demoed over the course of a year in four different sessions. The band would send songs back and forth among each other, only beginning work on the ones they instantly reacted to.
This might sound dry and business-like for a rock record, but with Corey dedicating time to his much bigger band, the opportunities for jam sessions were limited. But that doesn’t mean all the fun was sucked out of it; after all, they were working in a recording studio, not a box factory.
“We laughed every day,” says Corey, grinning widely. “We had so much fun making this album, it was unbelievable. We’re just such dicks, joking and laughing, and it proved to me that there’s this horrible misconception that you have to be miserable and there has to be all this tension to make a fucking good album. It’s such horse shit. We enjoyed every second to the point that we were all depressed when we were done, like physically emotional about it, missing it, not believing it’s over.”
Opening with the line, ‘Hello, you bastards’, Hydrograd has its tongue firmly in its cheek. And with songtitles like Knievel Has Landed and Friday Knights, there’s a typically strong pun game from the Stone Sour camp. Despite sounding like a strain of weed, the album title itself doesn’t actually mean anything – it’s a word Corey thought he saw at an airport in eastern Europe, until he realised it was his mind playing tricks on him.
The first song proper, Taipei Person/Allah Tea (or Type A Personality, geddit?), sets the tone for the rest of the record. With its bombastic pomp and Steel Panther-esque hair metal hooks, it’s clear that this is a rock’n’roll album. While in the past Stone Sour have been (wrongly) categorised as a metal band, they’re out to prove that while they can play metal, that’s not their raison d’être.
“We’ve always deviated,” says Corey. “We have never called ourselves a metal band that plays rock’n’roll – we have called ourselves a hard rock band that plays everything. It’s just taken 15 years for everyone else to catch up with us.”
Speaking of ‘playing everything’, there’s a lack of cohesion on Hydrograd, as it flits between genres – from metal to punk to 80s stadium rock…
“We didn’t set out to do anything other than write the best songs we possibly could in this moment and not worry about the styles,” says Josh. “Go all the way back to 2002, to the first album – Get Inside and Bother are as different from each other as any band in history.”
As Josh boldly likens Stone Sour’s approach to making a record to that of Zeppelin or The Beatles by “pushing themselves to write the best music they possibly could”, Corey insists it’s big, timeless songs, not big bands, that influenced the record.
“I think it’s almost like a lost art these days – the big chorus, the big hook – people are scared of it, but we’re like, ‘Fuck you, fuck that pretentious bullshit, people want to hear a song they can sing along to,’” he says. “We wanted to put an album out where everything was top-notch, absolutely exceptional, over-the-fucking-top catchy and badass, and it feels like we did. And it harkens back to those days, because the 80s and 90s for me were the last days of great songwriting.”
This notion is echoed on Stone Sour’s two …Burbank EPs from 2015, covering the likes of Alice In Chains, Kiss and Mötley Crüe, who aren’t short of a massive tune or two.
“Everything about this album feels like the opposite of what people expect from a rock album now,” says Corey, warming to his theme. “It feels alive, it feels cool, it doesn’t take itself too fucking seriously. It doesn’t have to change the world. This album isn’t going to cure cancer, but it doesn’t have to – it’s a rock album.”
It’s a brave move to nail your rock’n’roll colours so sternly to the mast in an evolving world with artists exploring the deepest, darkest niches to find new sounds to connect with the most passionate fans on the planet. With a vast expanse of every subgenre you can think of just a couple of clicks away, the idea of being a ‘rock’ band is an arcane concept.
But Corey is unashamedly a rockstar, his blackened heart pumping with a cocktail of adrenaline, whiskey and sleaze. Sure, he has an ego, but he knows it and channels it into his performances, as any maggot will attest. He isn’t afraid to get down and dirty, not giving two solitary shits about anything other than putting on a kickass show. It’s in his DNA, it’s something he’s proud to be, whether rock’n’roll is cool or not.
“All these fucking assholes who try to come off like, ‘Oh yeah, I feed puppies when no one’s looking’. You’re so full of shit! You’re drinking wine out of a stripper’s ass like everyone else, but own it! Be that thing.
“People are too cool for themselves,” he continues. “People are pretentious and can’t allow themselves to be considered something that’s already been done. All these rock’n’roll bands that call themselves alternative, shove that up your ass you fucking bunch of dickbags, get over yourselves, you’re a fucking rock band, what’s wrong with being a rock band? I refuse to be anything other than what the fuck I am. You can’t call yourself a rock band and then decide you’re not a rock band anymore, fuck you, you fucking childish prick. Be a rock band. It’s so fucking good to be who you are; there’s a freedom that comes with it.”
This lifestyle caught up with Corey Taylor last year, when he had to undergo serious spinal surgery as a result of his energetic, deranged performances with Slipknot. Thankfully, he’s on the mend, and the ability to exercise again came as a huge relief after he grew to 14 stone at the start of the album sessions. As the man known to many as Number Eight grows older, he’s aware that his joints are starting to go… but why should that stop him?
“When it comes to metal bands and rock bands, so much of your body is in it that you forget the punishment you put on it,” he says. “Next it’s going to be my lower back and my knees, I can feel that shit starting to go, but fuck it, I’m never getting out of this. I’ll be singing until they push me out in a fucking wheelchair.”
We believe him.
Hydrograd is out June 30 via Roadrunner. Stone sour tour the UK this winter
“We’ve wiped our ass with this planet!”
Here’s what The Great Big Mouth would change if he was really in the Oval Office
How would you behave if you were President?
“I would be way more bipartisan than all these other fucking leaders and not allow them to get away with shit like filibuster or party politics. That’d be my reason to run – to walk the aisle, not cross it, and try to get people together.”
Who would play your inauguration?
“Prophets Of Rage, and I’d make sure that Tom [Morello] got to make a speech to keep me right.”
How would you redecorate the White House?
“I’ve never been, but I’m sure it’s one of those places where you can feel the history – put yourself in the mindset that for over 200 years, people who’ve shaped policy and history have walked these halls. I wouldn’t fuck with that, because I have a great respect for history.”
What would you change the national anthem to?
“I’d change the version we listen to, probably to the Hendrix version. Or depending on the event, the Whitney version, because it’s pretty rousing.”
What would you choose for your Presidential pet?
“I’d have a big fluffy dog like a golden retriever or a black lab – something big and goofy that I can go out on the South Lawn and roll around with.”
What would be the first thing you spent your budget on?
“I’d look into the corruption of state funding. In every state I’ve been to, there are two areas where that budget gets gutted: clean water and education. The fact that we’ve been bullshitted into drinking bottled water is horse shit, when money is allocated from the government. And with education, schools are closing all over the place and I know that money is being allocated.”
If you could send one celebrity into the sun, who would it be?
“Rachel Dolezal – the girl who pretended to be black who was head of the [Spokane chapter of the] National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People. She said she identifies as a black person. I identify as a Martian – that doesn’t mean I’m fucking from there!”
Would you try to explore space?
“Absolutely! We have wiped our ass with this planet. Climate change is a real threat. Exploring space will expand people’s minds – or at least shut people up who have tiny minds.”
Living The Meme
We ask Corey Taylor what he thinks of the internet’s ‘What Does Corey Taylor Think?’ joke. This is where shit gets meta…
How do you feel about having your own meme?
“I think it’s hilarious. It’s funny, because people act like I just toot my own fucking horn or chime in. I only give my opinion when people like you ask – I’m not online doing this shit. I think that meme is in reaction to the fact that my opinion gets picked up by a million fuckin’ media outlets, and then it’s turned into a thousand different news stories, and it’s taken so far out of fucking context that you have to trace it all the way back to the source material to figure out what’s being said.”
Is it annoying when that happens?
“It’s a pain in my ass, however the meme is hilarious. I love that it’s used in a way that takes the piss out of me but also takes the piss out of other people as well. It’s saying, ‘Stop doing this clickbait bullshit, we don’t care. If we did care, we would’ve read the fucking interview.’ I think it’s funny.”
Does it ever piss you off?
“A little bit, but I get over it – you have to have thick skin in this business. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been made fun of, screamed at or talked shit about, I wouldn’t need to do this gig, or I’d be doing it at a whole other opulent level, coming in a gold fucking limo handing out titles for everyone!”