Why Slipknot thrive on dysfunction

The Clown exhales slowly as the question is put to him.

“I know what you’re asking, man,” he says, his voice calm but laced with menace. “You want to ask me if I’m older, fatter and uglier now? That’s what you’re asking, right? Listen to me: I’ll still flip [a coin] with you for a punch in the face right now. I can still revert back to the animal I was. I’m actually more dangerous now than I ever was. And so is this band. Because now we can do anything.”

Hammer isn’t trying to pick a fight with Slipknot’s redoubtable leader. We were merely wondering aloud about the ways in which his band has changed in the 20 years since Slipknot walked into SR Audio recording studios in Des Moines, Iowa, to track what would become their first demo, Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. For, of the six musicians who formulated the original Slipknot sound on that record, three (vocalist Anders Colsefni and guitarists Josh Brainard and Donnie Steele) quit the band before their first national tour, bassist Paul Gray passed away tragically in 2010, and drummer Joey Jordison left in December 2013, leaving Shawn Crahan as the last man standing.

Shawn Crahan: musician, artist, fi lm-maker, husband and father

Shawn Crahan: musician, artist, fi lm-maker, husband and father (Image credit: Travis Shinn)

Today, Shawn is at home in Des Moines, licking his wounds ahead of Slipknot’s final engagement of 2015, a first staging of the bespoke Knotfest festival in Mexico, where the group will top a bill featuring Lamb Of God, HIM, Megadeth, The Dillinger Escape Plan and more. As his kids play with their dog, and his wife Chantel heads out to get him cigarettes and coffee, the 46-year-old percussionist is less interested in reminiscing about the past than plotting the path ahead for his band, because, as he sees it, Slipknot are about to enter a phase of their career in which they will not merely consolidate their legendary status within the metal community but create a legacy which will transcend genre boundaries and elevate the band to the pantheon of all-time greats.

Clown’s co-conspirators Corey Taylor and Jim Root are equally enthused about the road ahead. Speaking to Hammer from Florida and Los Angeles respectively though, the pair voice different opinions as to how each envisages the future, and it’s not hard to detect a little tension in their contrasting views. Mention this to Shawn, and he emits a dry, mirthless laugh, suggesting that he’s more than familiar with the niggles and frustrations that always bubble beneath the surface of this combustible unit.

“It’s interesting for me to hear what my guys say through you, and what you say through my guys, and what the fans will say about it all,” he says. “It wouldn’t be Slipknot if there wasn’t this giant banquet of drama and gossip. Tell me what they said and then let the Almighty Clown tell you what the fuck is actually going to go down…”

By common consent, Slipknot are on fire right now. While the lengthy hiatus between 2008’s All Hope Is Gone and 2014’s .5: The Gray Chapter was enforced by circumstances more than choice, the past 15 months have been one of the most successful and settled periods in the nonet’s career. Though The Gray Chapter was denied a Number One UK chart debut by singer-songwriter Ben Howard, the group’s fifth album scored chart-topping placings in the US, Australia, Japan, Canada, Russia and Switzerland, and the smooth integration of new bassist Alessandro ‘V Man’ Venturella and drummer Jay Weinberg allowed the new-look band to rack up in excess of 100 live shows supporting the release. There are already 19 European shows on the docket for 2016 – including February appearances in Cardiff, London, Birmingham, Leeds and Belfast – with pending offers set to keep the ’Knot on the road until September. What happens next is still the subject of some debate.

Undeniably, there are big plans afoot for Slipknot album number six. In recent interviews, both Corey and Shawn have spoken of the band’s desire to make an expansive concept album, a double album in the vein of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pink Floyd’s 1982 masterpiece The Wall, complete with an accompanying film: “I have some really cool ideas that I want to flesh out,” says Corey, “that could really bring a different sort of darkness and heaviness to what we’ve been doing.” The good news is that writing for the album has already begun, with Jim Root having demoed four new arrangements at Westlake Studios in Los Angeles with producer Greg Fidelman (Metallica/Slayer) and engineer Jim Monti in the autumn. The bad – or let’s say ‘less good’ – news is, that no one has yet agreed a schedule to actually commit to recording the album, with Corey alarming some members of his own band with comments about his plan to step away from Slipknot for two years upon completion of the .5: The Gray Chapter touring cycle to explore other avenues of expression.

“We’re a band that knows how to draw back and let the audience miss us; we know not to overstay our welcome,” he tells Hammer, confirming his intentions. “If you keep beating people over the head with this, it’s not going to have the same impact next time around.”

“Maybe some people will be taking a two year break, but I won’t,” counters Jim Root. “We need to talk about this as grown-ups. If we’re going to take two years off, people need to plan for it. But you just never know what’s going to happen with this band. There are some… growing pains that are happening.

“I don’t really understand, at this point in our career, why there’s the need to go out and do all this other stuff, but for whatever reason it’s still happening. We haven’t been able to do back-to-back records since the first two records and we’re at a point where everything is going extremely well, so why should we turn our backs on it?

“I don’t want to piss anyone off or offend anybody, but I remember years ago, when we were playing our first Stone Sour show in LA, [producer] Ross Robinson took me aside and said, ‘Why do you guys need to do this? Why don’t you take all the energy you’re putting into this and put it into Slipknot?’ At the time I was like, ‘We kinda need to do this, it’s a breath of fresh air from a situation that’s extremely rewarding but extremely difficult to be in.’ But I don’t see it that way anymore. Our circumstances have changed, and our communication is so much better. I definitely understand where he was coming from more than ever now. There are millions of Slipknot fans all over the Earth that want to hear new music from us, so it’d be an extreme shame to ignore that.”

Jim Root doesn’t feel the need to “go out and do other stuff”

Jim Root doesn’t feel the need to “go out and do other stuff” (Image credit: Travis Shinn)

“Look, bro,” says Shawn, perhaps speaking as much to certain bandmates as to Hammer, “Slipknot breaks are mandatory. We have to take a break, so that we can physically heal, spiritually heal, mentally heal… and then be bored. And right when the boredom kicks in is when we start getting antsy and get back to work.

“I’m letting you know that it doesn’t matter what anyone else is going to do, I don’t want to see anyone for a while, period. I don’t want to be around them, I don’t want to talk to them, I don’t want to listen to our music, I don’t want to play our music, I don’t want to talk about concepts, I don’t want to do any of that. I want to refresh the palette just as we’ve done for the previous four albums. The people in the band that do things outside the band are going to do those things, whatever they are, and then Slipknot is going to get back to work. Jim can write from the first very day we’re off to the very first day we’re back. He’s on a roll, he wants to write and wants to create, so we’re going to let that happen. But I have a family – four children and a wife – and I just turned 46, and I want to enjoy my life, and enjoy my kids, and I need this break to reboot me, so I can make great art for everyone, so that I can be the best I can be.”

For Shawn Crahan, the idea of making a Slipknot film would represent a career ‘grand slam’ – an encapsulation of everything that he’s worked for in this band for the past two decades. And with directing work on his debut feature film, _Officer _Downe, now complete, that idea, The Clown says, is “definitely a reality”.

“I’m working on it right now, collecting visuals,” he reveals. “But the nature of it won’t reveal itself for a while. It would not only be a movie, but it’d be very theme-oriented as to what the band is, and it will take a lot of time to collect that information. Whether it comes out with the next disc, I don’t know.”

“We’ve finally gotten to the point in our career that people take this seriously,” says Corey, “that they understand that there’s art behind this – it’s not just nine crazy guys trying to make a ruckus. And if we can do it right, we can do something that nobody’s seen before.

“Some of the stuff we’ve talked about has a kind of [Led Zeppelin movie] _Song Remains _The Same vibe. We’ve got so much history that we can pick from, seeing how it’s done right, and seeing how it’s done wrong, and there’s so much creativity in this band that we can really do something in the vein of [Prince’s 1984 rock musical] Purple Rain or The Wall, but Slipknot. We haven’t nailed down what the story might be, but we’re throwing around concepts.”

“I won’t push a concept on anyone,” insists Shawn, the band’s unofficial ‘artistic director’. “I’m not going to have something visually and then tell Corey to push himself to write something that he’s not into. I have told him, ‘Only if you feel it man, only if there’s a concept that you love.’ But if he’s talking about it that means he’s thinking about it, which is great.”

Whatever form this proposed Slipknot film might take, it will be interesting to see how it captures the shifting dynamics in this unholy union. Without a shadow of a doubt, Slipknot in its earliest incarnation was Shawn Crahan, Joey Jordison and Paul Gray’s band, but as the years have unravelled, Jim Root – the last to join The Nine, just ahead of their 1999 Ozzfest tour – and Corey Taylor have emerged as both principal songwriters and key spokesmen. Corey, of course, has also carved out a complementary, parallel career, fronting Stone Sour, penning three best-selling books and embarking upon spoken-word tours. In 2016, he’s the closest Slipknot have to a “celebrity” in their ranks – “which is weird”, he concedes – but the worry for fans, and indeed quite possibly among members of the band, too, is that in 2016 Corey Taylor has so much going on in his life that Slipknot might slip down the priority list during the band’s next hiatus. It would be disingenuous for the vocalist to pretend to be unaware of these concerns, and to his credit – while pointedly noting that “people on the outside make more of it than there actually is” – when mention is made of this in conversation, Corey swiftly moves to dismiss the idea.

Corey Taylor: does he have enough time to don his Slipknot mask in 2016?

Corey Taylor: does he have enough time to don his Slipknot mask in 2016? (Image credit: Travis Shinn)

“To any fans who worry that I might split because my station in life becomes something different, I can tell you right now, that is not the case,” he affirms. “What the fans get from our music I get, too, and that’s one of the reasons why I am still here, because my passion for making this music is the same as it was when I was younger. So don’t look for me splitting anytime soon.”

That’s the ‘Maggots’ placated, then: what about your bandmates?

“That’s something that the guys in the band worry about sometimes,” he concedes, “and I have to reassure them as well, to say, ‘Look dude, this isn’t a job for me, this is something I want to do.’ My reasons for being in this band have never changed: I’m here because I want to be, not because I have to be. They know that I carry my weight and more in this band, let’s put it that way. I do a lot, and I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t love it.”

Though no one in the band is keen to revisit old controversies, Corey Taylor concedes that Slipknot – for him at least – could not have continued had Joey Jordison remained in the group: “I couldn’t have seen myself going any further past that,” he admits. “I can’t speak for anybody else in the band, but I know that I could not have continued with the way it was.”

When talking about the current group dynamic, the singer is quick to credit the band’s two latest recruits – “great dudes and incredible musicians” – for helping re-energise the collective. “I think they’ve helped us rediscover an excitement and enjoyment in the music that maybe sometimes we forgot because we’re so close to it,” he says. Both Shawn – who hails Jay and V-Man as “wonderful people” – and Jim, who describes the rhythm section as “absolutely fucking great”, are equally effusive in their praise, with Jim going on record as saying the band have never sounded tighter or more “proficient”. (“No one would have talked to you about ‘proficiency’ and ‘accuracy’ in 1999,” mutters Shawn. “That wasn’t part of our vocabulary then”). But when asked whether the two men will remain part of the family when the current touring cycle concludes, the trio become rather more tightlipped.

“Um, I don’t know, because we haven’t really talked about that,” Jim admits.

“That’s the plan, of course, but anything could happen,” Shawn adds. “I don’t know the future. But everything’s good: I love working with them and there’s a reason why they were chosen.”

For all the fine words, however, it’s notable that when Shawn, Jim or Corey talk about the band’s decision-making process, they always refer to “the seven of us”. Asked what it would take for the new men to become fully part of The Nine, Corey Taylor initially offers, “I don’t know”, before pausing and conceding, “I don’t think anything would do that, to be honest.”

“It would have to be The New Nine,” he muses, “because it would never be the way it was. And I don’t think I would want it to be. Because that would say that it would be easy to recreate that. And it’s not. There was something so unique about the original Nine that I’m kinda glad that it’s different, that it’s Slipknot 2.0 now. We obviously had the tragedy [with Paul Gray], and then we parted ways with someone who has been a brother for a very long time [Joey Jordison], and I wouldn’t want to recreate that, because it would be… I don’t want to say disrespectful, but certainly too different, and it wouldn’t be fair to the new guys to try to force that on them. I would much rather have them be themselves, and bring what they do to this, than worry about them having to play a certain role. For me, I like the fact that, you know, as this band is evolving, we’re not trying to chase a legend, we’re trying to create a new story.”

The next chapter in this ‘new story’ will be written when the band hit Europe again in January/February. While admitting that the tour production won’t vary hugely from the sets taken to Europe 12 months ago, the trio promise there’ll be surprises, with a revised setlist, featuring the inclusion of songs never previously heard live in the UK. Metabolic, from Iowa, was premiered live for the first time on the ’Knot’s last US run, and Shawn reveals that old favourites such as Prosthetics and Me Inside have been exhumed and restored to the set: “They’ve blown people away,” he promises.

The Clown acknowledges that there are times he misses “that vibe from the old days”, but maintains that Slipknot in 2016 are exactly what he wants the band to be.

“There is no better time in Slipknot, it’s never better or worse, it’s just different,” he insists. “We all love where we’re at, and we worked really hard to get here.

“We’re not the band we were when we started. In 1999, we didn’t care about being your friend, or you being our friend; we were here to destroy the world. Things have changed, and we accept that. But the next album is going to be really special because of the things that we’ve learned. This is our life, this is our dream, this is our art, and we don’t do anything for anyone else but ourselves. If you push this it will fail… and we don’t believe in failure.”

Slipknot tour the UK in February. .5 The Gray Chapter is out now

Shawn Crahan updates us on the progress of his debut feature film, Officer Downe

The Clown’s directorial debut, _Officer Downe_, stars Sons Of Anarchy actor Kim Coates and is based on the _Man Of Action_ comicbooks about a go-getting officer who repeatedly dies and is resurrected.

“The movie is set a little while into the future and it’s about a cop that’s been brought back to life for 25 years by these people who’ve learned to speak telekinetically and harness energy together. So they bring him back so that he can finish what he started,” explains Clown. “I can honestly say that directing this movie was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. I worked 18 hours a day for six weeks, and man, I learned a lot.”

The movie is scheduled for release in June, “around Comic-Con”, according to Shawn, and he’s excited for Maggots to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

“Once Slipknot fans see it, the style and the aesthetic will blow them away,” he promises. “It’s been an honour to have the chance to show my skills as an artist in that arena.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.