Part One - Revelation
“This is very important to me. You’re getting something that I have not told anyone. It’s very emotional. It’s fucking hardcore, man.” Joey Jordison has got a few things to get off his chest. More importantly, the world has got a few questions for the erstwhile Slipknot alumnus and the 21st century’s most celebrated percussive polymath, not least because he has been resolutely off the radar for the last few years. The last time Metal Hammer spoke directly to Joey, he was promoting his then-newly-formed band Scar The Martyr, who released their self-titled debut album in September 2013. Three months later, he was seemingly dismissed from Slipknot, the band he had enjoyed huge global success with ever since they exploded into our world back in 1999. Since that startling news broke in December 2013, Joey has been conspicuous by his absence from our ears, eyes and screens. This being the age of endless social media speculation, his disappearance and departure from Slipknot have been widely discussed online, one commonly espoused theory being that the diminutive drummer had gone spectacularly off the rails and was simply unable to fulfill his usual duties, thus prompting his bandmates’ decision to effect an unexpected lineup change.
In truth, only Joey’s closest friends and business associates know what he’s been up to for the last couple of years, but as he warmly greets Hammer at the door of the house he shares with girlfriend Amanda in Des Moines, it’s immediately apparent that today’s interview is much more than just an opportunity to herald the arrival of not one, but two new bands and Joey’s wholesale return to action. Instead, this is what he describes as “an opportunity to tell everyone what the fuck has been going on”. And it’s almost certainly not what anyone is expecting.
“It was at the end of the memorial shows we did for Paul,” Joey begins, referencing the death of bandmate Paul Gray and the subsequent world tour that began in the summer of 2011 and continued until August 2012. “We were in Canada, at the end of my last run of shows with Slipknot, and something happened to me but I didn’t know what it was. I was super ill. You can be sick and still play, but this was something I’d never felt in my life before. We found out that what I have is acute transverse myelitis. It’s a neurological condition that hits your spinal cord and it wiped my legs out completely. It’s like having your legs cut off, basically. I played those last couple of shows and it scared the living shit out of me. I didn’t know what it was. Everyone thought I was fucked up, but it wasn’t the case. I wasn’t even drinking. Everything was straight-laced and fucking perfect. Everything was on point. But I had to be carried to the stage…” Joey pauses, wincing at the memory. “The pain was something I’d never experienced in my life before, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
When he arrived home from the Slipknot tour, Joey could barely walk. On August 21, 2012, he was admitted to Mercy West hospital in Des Moines, diagnosed with some form of leg paralysis but unaware of exactly how or why this was happening to him. Ten days later, he was transferred to the neurological unit at University Of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, understandably terrified and extremely confused about his physical deterioration. “It was fucking bad, dude,” he recalls. “My lady has everything documented. I got struck with this fucking thing that I couldn’t control. The doctors said I might not be able to walk again. Today, I can almost run, but back then I couldn’t even stand up. I was bed-ridden. If I wanted to turn over in bed, I had to move my legs with my hands. I was in and out of the hospital for months. Some beautiful people have helped me out and got me back stronger and taught me how to walk again, but at that moment my whole life was screwed, man. Acute transverse myelitis is a fucked-up disease and a lot of people don’t recover from it and they’re paralysed forever.”
After having braces fitted to prevent his weakened legs from buckling, Joey was finally discharged from hospital in October 2012. Thus began an extremely lengthy, challenging and physically exhausting regime of physical and occupational therapy, as Joey tried to summon the energy and determination to beat the bizarre neurological condition that had wrenched the carpet from under his feet and left him both horribly vulnerable and understandably bewildered. Early in 2013, work began on Scar The Martyr’s debut album, as a further batch of Slipknot shows in Japan and Europe – including a headline slot at Download – loomed over the horizon. Still recovering from the worst of his illness, Joey somehow managed to recover to the point where he was able to perform at those gigs, after which he threw himself wholeheartedly into launching Scar The Martyr by hitting the road as main support to Danzig in the US.
All the while, of course, his global army of admirers remained entirely in the dark about the turmoil and trials going on behind the scenes. It was widely noted that Joey was looking overweight and far from healthy during Scar The Martyr’s debut UK tour, but the conclusions that most people were jumping to – in essence, that he had a problem with drugs and/or drink – were completely off target. Unfortunately, when Slipknot announced on December 12, 2013, that they were to forge ahead without their talismanic drummer, those rumours seemed to gain a little extra momentum.
“Yeah, and that’s why I love being able to do this interview, because finally I get to tell the fucking truth!” Joey declares. “It’s been really frustrating, but I can only bless the people that have been around me and helped me to get back to this point. And this is what I want to clarify for my fans…” – he punches his hand to emphasise the importance of this statement – “…it had nothing to do with fucking drugs or fucking alcohol!”
Several times during our interview, Joey’s eyes fill with tears. It’s abundantly clear that the extraordinary effort required to confront acute transverse myelitis and doggedly chase a light at the end of a seriously dark and bleak tunnel has taken a lot out of him, particularly on an emotional level. But now that he is about to click into top gear once again, via new bands Vimic and Sinsaenum, Joey is channeling his energies towards a cathartic clearing of the decks, and setting people straight about his life over the last five years is top of the agenda.
“Life takes you on weird trips and you just have to hold on, ride the wave and be as strong as you fucking can,” he shrugs. “I’ve been through so much fucking shit over the last few years and people just don’t know.”
Part Two - Struggle
The news that Joey had seemingly been sacked from Slipknot came as a huge shock to everyone, even without the additional knowledge of his devastating health problems. From the band’s enormous fanbase, through to many of us in the metal world that have always known him to be, at the very least, a wholly dedicated and passionate member of that 18-legged, arena-smashing entity, it was a wildly unexpected turn of events. The band’s own public statements at the time took a predictably passive course, the relatively benign implication being that Joey and his former comrades were simply heading in different creative directions and could no longer work together effectively. On January 2, 2014, he made his own statement on Facebook, making it plain that as far as he was concerned, there was no mutual agreement and he had been fired from Slipknot for reasons unknown.
“I was laying in bed with my lady, I’d been in rehabilitation for my health issues but everything was good, and the next thing I know…” he pauses, visibly upset. “No band meeting? None. Anything from management? No, nothing. All I got was a stupid fucking email saying that I was out of the band that I busted my ass my whole life to fucking create, you know? It was the weirdest fucking thing. I can’t imagine just sending Corey or Shawn or Mick a fucking letter, without a band meeting. We’re friends and we’ve been through so much shit together, but that was all it was, a fucking letter. That’s exactly what happened and it was hurtful, man. I didn’t deserve that shit after what I’d done and everything I’d been through.”
In light of revelations about his state of health at the time, it does seem an unusually abrupt way to bring such a longstanding partnership to an end. Joey even claims to have written and demoed a batch of new material, aided by Slipknot’s then-touring bassist Donnie Steele, and circulated it among his bandmates in an attempt to get the compositional ball rolling. But, according to the drummer, no one got back to him to discuss the new songs: subtle evidence, perhaps, that wires were distinctly crossed.
“They got confused about my health issues, and obviously even I didn’t know what it was at first,” Joey sighs. “They thought I was fucked-up on drugs, which I wasn’t at all. I don’t blame them for being concerned, but when you’re friends and you’ve been through so much stuff, you fucking talk to each other. But I harbour no bad feelings toward them at all, because I’ve moved on with my life. I’m happier than I’ve been in years. You need to move on, close the fucking chapter and, in the end, it is what it is.”
It is a testament to the positive way Joey has endeavoured to overcome his severe health problems that today, even after having been unceremoniously ejected from one of the biggest metal bands on the planet, he is hearteningly sanguine about the way things have turned out. During our conversation, he repeatedly declares how grateful he is for the friends, family and life that he has, and even when discussing the end of his tenure as Slipknot’s drummer, he is eager to state how much he still loves and admires his former bandmates. What is perhaps more surprising is that Joey not only made a point of checking out .5: The Gray Chapter, the album Slipknot made without him and released in 2014, but is also effusive in his praise for it.
“Honestly, I have a long history with those guys, so I give them the respect they deserve and I listened to the whole record multiple times,” he smiles. “And I think it’s great! It’s fucking cool and I’m glad they moved on. I’m not like, ‘I’m not gonna give them respect!’ – I’m not a coward like that. I’m glad they’re carrying on the name, because what’s important is the fans. There’s no stupid battle going on. There’s no point in saying, ‘Fuck them!’ No, I’ve been through so many things with those guys and I love them very much. What’s hurtful is that the way it [being fired] went down was not fucking right. That’s all I want to say. The way they did it was fucking cowardly. It was fucked up. But the love in my heart for those guys, that stays the same.”
It is at this point that Metal Hammer asks the inevitable and unavoidable question: despite everything that has happened, would Joey be willing to rejoin Slipknot further down the line? As much as his successor, Jay Weinberg, has acquitted himself brilliantly while filling the shoes of a contemporary drumming legend, it’s hard to deny that most Slipknot fans would be beside themselves with joy if Joey were to return to the fold. He takes a deep, measured inward breath and fixes us with a stern stare…
“Let me think about how to answer that, because it’s a big one,” he nods. “Honestly, I’m not trying to be dramatic, but if that was brought up, what I’d want to do would be to get together. Not just have a phone call or some stupid email. I’d want to see them, just hug it out and feel that energy that we had when we were fucking young and hungry and all that shit. They’re my brothers. We’d hug and talk and do shit like we used to do. We used to sit up all night long planning this shit and what we wanted to do. So that’s how I’d wanna do it. It’d have to be in person. If it happened, that would be fucking awesome, but only time will tell.”
Part Three - Rebirth
Back in the here and now, Joey Jordison is well on his way to being fighting fit once again. His recovery is still ongoing, of course, and daily trips to see his trainer at the local gym have now become an essential part of his day-to-day schedule, but as he speaks, he radiates sincere positivity. That said, the effort it has taken Joey to get from suddenly and horrifyingly being robbed of the use of his legs to a point where he is able to unveil two brand new albums with different bands is etched into his subtly expressive face.
He and better half Amanda have kept a detailed scrapbook of photos and other memorabilia from the long, hard road back from the onset of transverse myelitis. They allow us to leaf through it, and it brings the jarring reality of Joey’s last few years vividly to life. It’s a litany of woes, pain and frustration that many of us would regard as insurmountable, but even when faced with yet another grim obstacle, when he fell and broke his leg while in the studio recording Vimic’s debut album in the autumn of 2014, leading to his leg being cut in half and the insertion of steel rods and bolts, Joey’s determination to prevail and come back stronger than ever has been unwavering.
“I did question everything, like, ‘What am I going to do?’, not knowing if I was going to recover,” he admits. “It hurt a lot. It was a big question. But there was a definite point where I thought about all the blessings I’ve been given in life, being part of Slipknot and playing with Korn and Ministry and Rob Zombie and doing Roadrunner United and all those things, and you look at that and you’re grateful, and so you bust your ass to get back. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I do not quit. I’ve got fans I’ve got to take care of, you know? So there’s no hiding right now.”
If you want to know what the opposite of hiding sounds like, you need only lend an ear to either or both of the new records that Joey is releasing this summer. The first is Echoes Of The Tortured, the debut album from Sinsaenum, Joey’s collaboration with Dragonforce’s Frédéric Leclercq and a host of underground luminaries. A monstrous but eminently accessible death metal record, its jaw-shattering eruptions of blastbeats and epic fury showcase the full extent of Joey’s physical recovery in no uncertain terms. The second is Open Your Omen, the first album from Vimic, which is essentially Scar The Martyr with a new vocalist, former Korn percussionist and back-up singer Kalen Chase. It’s a sharper, more focused record than its (sort of) predecessor, planting Joey firmly back in belligerent mainstream metal territory, with plenty of the huge hooks and irresistible riffs that his loyal fans will be feverishly anticipating. But beyond the new music itself, Joey’s true focus is on the unparalleled joy he is currently experiencing as he escapes the nightmare of the last few years and returns to what he does best.
“This is a rebirth, and reaching this point is the ultimate reward,” he states. “It’s like having the ultimate trophies, having these two bands. These opportunities are coming back to me and it feels like a complete renewal. These are real bands, not side-projects. Everything I do goes at 100%… maybe even 666%, ha ha! At a certain age, a lot of people] become vegetarians or they find religion, but I’m never gonna stop being a fucking weirdo and a fucking metalhead! You wake up one day and you realise that nothing’s ever gonna change and you’re fucking committed. I’ve been like that since I was five years old, man. Right now, I just want to keep creating. These bands are two huge fucking journeys for me. It’s like when you see a rollercoaster that you’ve never ridden before, and you’re fucking scared, but you’re in line and waiting, like I am now, and then once you step on? You’re in!”
There are a few lessons to be learned from the story of Joey Jordison’s last few traumatic years. Firstly, maybe we should all be slightly less eager to jump to hasty conclusions when faced with only one side of a story (or, indeed, no verified information whatsoever). Secondly, never underestimate the strength, persistence, passion and potential of the human spirit. The most pertinent lesson of all, however, is one we all should have learned a long time ago: Joey Jordison is an unstoppable force of nature and, after fighting the toughest battle of his entire life, he’s primed and ready to make up for lost time and to remind the world that loud, angry, fucked up and furious music remains the best medicine of all.
“I have this weird-ass condition, but it doesn’t limit me and I’m getting better all the time,” he concludes with a confident grin. “I can play just as fast, or faster, than I ever have. Everything is fucking cool and I’m at the gym every day and it’s all going well. That helps me out so much. I went through some serious fucking shit. People didn’t know and I can’t blame them for that. But the thing is, you get up in the morning and you look in the mirror, and then you go off and fucking do it. You live your life the way you want to, and get the work done! What else can I say, dude? It’s good to tell my story. I’m fucking back and I’m ready to go full force. This is the best fucking job in the world. I’m never gonna stop.”
VIMIC’S NEW ALBUM, OPEN YOUR OMEN, WILL BE OUT LATER THIS YEAR VIA ROADRUNNER
What is Transverse Myelitis?
We spoke to Lew Gray, secretary of UK charity the Transverse Myelitis Society, to understand what Joey’s battling…
Can you explain what the condition means?
Lew: “Transverse myelitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord. You have a lot of nerves doing different things in your spinal cord, so the facts of each case depend on which part of the spinal cord is affected. It can be high in the spinal cord affecting the arms, or you may struggle to breathe because the muscles in your lungs don’t work. It could be lower, affecting different sensory nerves. Some people with transverse myelitis can walk but can’t feel the floor beneath their feet, or they can’t feel hot and cold or pain. We think there are about 250 cases a year in the UK.”
Does it typically come on quickly or is it more of a gradual process?
“It can be either. A lot of people are paralysed within an hour or two. But then for other people it can be very gradual and come and go over a period of months. It takes some people years to get a diagnosis.”
What treatment is available?
“Really, the only treatment is to dose you with steroids. They will reduce the inflammation, and therefore you’re not curing it, you’re minimising the damage until it goes away by itself. Physio-therapy is very important. Almost everyone gets some spontaneous recovery over time after transverse myelitis, but the body and mind ‘forget’ how to use muscles and nerves that are not working, so the purpose of neuro-physiotherapy is to ‘guide’ the recovery.”
What is the long-term prognosis for someone with transverse myelitis?
“The nerves are capable of regenerating themselves. Nobody can predict though how well they will regenerate, how long it will take, or if they will at all. The majority of people get some improvement, but there is no cast-iron guarantee.”
How common are relapses?
“We do know people who have had recurrences, however that is rare. Sometimes a reoccurrence of transverse myelitis leads to a diagnosis of MS [multiple sclerosis].”
For more on the Transverse Myelitis Society, visit www.myelitis.org.uk