Donning masks, jumpsuits and a “heavier than thou” attitude, Slipknot has drawn as much praise as criticism by fans and critics alike. Fans complain that they’re getting too commercial, while critics claim it’s all a gimmick. Singer Corey Taylor, who also sings with the band Stone Sour, feels that the band hitting its 10-year milestone — a mark many bands fail to hit — is enough to show they are for real, and aren’t going anywhere. I spoke by phone to Taylor before the current tour’s opening date in St. Paul, Minn., about the tour, the band’s evolving sound, the recent news of a solo album and all those breakup rumors.
Creative Loafing: You guys only have a few hours until you hit the stage. What’s the mood like backstage?
Corey Taylor: “The mood is actually pretty light, man. Everybody’s pretty stoked. We had rehearsal last night which was good because we had to knock the rust off of some of the songs that we’re pulling out for this. It was wierd to say the least. It feels really good to be kicking off this close to home. We always try to start as many tours as possible in the Midwest since this is where we come from.”
How is this tour going to be different from what you’ve done in the past?
“It’s pretty sweet. We got rid of the pyro and everything. We’re going with a visual thing as far as the lights go. There’s also video, but that’s more of a Clown thing. Musically, this is gonna be one of the best sets we’ve ever put together. We’ve got the hits in there — as far as any hits that we’ve had, really (laughs) — and it’s also kind of a celebration of the first album. We’re really trying to get our feet in all these different sides and show off the diversity of the band.”
I was going to ask how much your set will focus on the new album versus the rest of your catalog.
“We’re definitely playing some stuff off the new album. We’re going to try and play with the set as the tour hits different cities, too. We’re gonna try to get as much of the catalog in as possible. With the first album, not to give any spoilers away, but we’re bringing “Me Inside” back out, we’re bringing “Purity” back. It’s gonna be sweet.”
Are you surprised that you’ve made it 10 years as a band?
“I can’t believe people have put up with us for this long. It’s ridiculous. It sounds kind of tired, but it’s true — we kind of beat the odds as far as popular bands go. Just when you thought we were going to do something that would kill the career, we kept getting bigger and bigger. For a band that wasn’t supposed to make it in the first place, I think we’re extremely lucky. I’m amazed at the reaction that we get every night. I’m amazed at the level that we’ve been able to get to and that it’s become a generational thing now. That stuff is special. When you’re growing up and wanting to become a performer, a musician and a songwriter, you look up to bands like Zepplin, Metallica and bands that stand the test of time. They’re immortal. I feel like we have a touch of that. We continue to do things that are vital to people and they love it.”
Every time you guys make an album or finish a tour, there are rumors flying that you’re breaking up. Has it ever gotten close?
“The closest it got was when we were making Vol. 3. Maybe before that, when we were doing the Iowa cycle. It was dark. It wasn’t all our fault. Some of us were in dark spots, but we had a lot of controlling people around us at the time. For a young band that was experiencing a lot of success, we kind of had our ‘Behind the Music’ moment early, which is good. If it was gonna happen, it would have been then. Vol. 3 was a celebration of being in this band. As much as we get on each other’s nerves, we can take some time away and then come back and have a blast. There are very brutal egos and attitudes in this band, but for some reason we just work and we just click. Rumors will persist until we do break up and then there will be rumors that we didn’t break up. (laughs) It’s gonna be ridiculous.”
Were you surprised when the new album, All Hope is Gone, hit No. 1?
“I was, but I wasn’t. When we were making the album, I kinda called it in the studio. Some of that was bravado and some of it was hopefulness. When you’re in this business, you set that goal for yourself and when it happened, I was blown away. Obviously, in true Slipknot fashion, we had to fight for it and start an argument about it. It was good to see that 10 years of work paid off and that the fans came out and supported us. Even though I went and did Stone Sour for three years, they came back in droves. The great thing about that, a side effect, was people in the genre coming up and thanking us. It became a goal for them. You don’t have to be a pop band or a hip-hop band or some obscure indie-rock band of the week to have a No. 1 album now. It’s achievable. We’ve always strove to light the way and lead the way for a lot of bands. When the business looks down on our genre, we always fight through it to say we’re real and there’s talent here. When the genre rallies around us and says ‘thank you,’ I take that very seriously.”
Do you attribute the success to the band becoming more melodic on the last album, Vol. 3, and diversifying the fan base? Was it a conscious decision to broaden the band’s musical spectrum?
“The thing that we’ve always tried to go for is different albums. You never want to become the guy that keeps putting out sequels. You know what I’m sayin’? For us, if we’re not challenging ourselves, we’re not challenging the fans. All four albums are very different, and that to me is a testament to this band. A lot of people had the misconception that this was going to be a more mellow album and it’s actually heavier than Vol. 3 is in a lot of ways. Melodically, you want to try different things. For me, it was important for us to break new ground, just like we did with Vol. 3. We did that with “Snuff” and “Dead Memories.” It’s about creating those different atmospheres for the songs. At the same time, it’s showing the maturity of where the songwriting is going and the performances. It’s more than nine minutes of ‘Hey check me out.’ It was getting back to the songwriting and I think we achieved that.”
When you put “Snuff” next to “This Cold Black” it’s two completely different ends of the spectrum.
“Exactly. That’s what it’s all about. This band has never been afraid of showing every side of what it’s capable of doing. I think that’s another reason why we just don’t go anywhere. If you’re good at something, continue to do it.”
Is it difficult to get all nine of you on the same page when you’re writing something?
“Hahaha! You know ... it is and it isn’t. I know some people were a little iffy about ‘Snuff’ at first, but when they put their love on it, it really became one of our songs. It really did. I know a lot of the fans said it was a Stone Sour song. Um, no, not really. I wrote ‘Snuff’ specifically for Slipknot. I remembered playing it for Paul and Joey and they flipped for it. I remember going in and listening to what everybody had done and I was blown away. I don’t get moved to tears very often, but that ... it really felt good to hear back because it’s such a heavy tune for me. Again, it’s thinking that people are going to react one way but seeing the complete opposite. That’s the metaphor for this band.” (laughs)
Well, speaking of writing songs like “Snuff” for the new album. When you then go back and dust off tunes from the first record, what goes through your mind when you go back to those early songs?
“It’s strange, man. I was thinking about that last night when we were rehearsing and doing ‘Me Inside.’ That’s actually the first song that I recorded with the band, before we got signed. When I first joined the band, it was a make-or-break situation of whether or not I was going to be in the band. They had no idea what I was going to do. All I had was the music and I wrote basically everything that wound up on the album. So, I walked into the studio and had Clown and Joey staring at me through the window of the vocal booth. I’m nervous to begin with and I thought they were gonna kick my ass if it sucked. I went in there and I just went for it and they loved it. They flipped out. That was a beginning of a wonderful hatred. (laughs) So, rehearsing that on stage, Joey and I kind of locked eyes and said, ‘This was the first one’ and I went, ‘I know, right?’ That was literally 12 years ago. It’s been an insane ride. There’s a lot of history that goes through my head when I sing those songs. I’d say ‘Wait and Bleed’ is my least favorite song that we have. It’s good, but it just showed the potential of what we had. The kids love it. But I remember we wrote that the day after we wrote ‘Spit it Out.’ All those memories go through my head when we play that stuff — going from the basement to headlining a major arena. Stranger things have never happened. (laughs)”
Have those songs transformed at all? Obviously, you have 10 years of experience under your belts now.
“It’s a little more ... obviously, we approach them from a little more mature level. We tighten it up as much as we can. It’s like listening to Metallica play ‘Creeping Death’ these days. There’s a different vibe to it, but it’s still a great song.”
This is my only question about it — do you think people read into, or put too much emphasis on, the masks?
“I think everybody is different. Everyone’s opinion is different, even when they agree. (laughs) I think it just depends where your logic lies. I think when it comes down to it, if you dig ‘em you dig ‘em and if you don’t, you don’t. For us, it’s always been more about the art than about anything else. Obviously, we come off as a very theatrical band because we go there and those masks help us go there. At the same time, it’s a piece of the puzzle. It’s not the only piece. It’s part of several pieces. They keep evolving with this band and if they didn’t, it would just be another band that couldn’t figure it out. For us, it’s just been a part of the story.”
I would imagine that there has to be a completely different energy for you singing with Slipknot than singing with Stone Sour.
“Oh yeah, absolutely. With this band, it’s so frenetic. I’ve never hurt more in my life than on a Slipknot tour.”
Yeah, I’ve read a list of some of the injuries ...
“Right? Good Lord! The first show of the Mayhem festival, Sid breaks both feet! I was like, ‘Dude! Are you kidding me?!’ It’s ridiculous. There’s a physicality that comes with this band, but there’s also a mindset of invincibility that really comes with it. You’re standing up for the unspoken icons and personalities in the world. You’re also kind of touching matches to a part of the psyche that a lot of people don’t like to admit that we all have. It’s definitely an experience. Stone Sour is much more approachable. It’s the human side of it. There’s a soul there that’s completely different than the soul of this band. I get thorough enjoyment from both. There’s a fulfillment that anybody in the world can understand. It feels great.”
You’re talking about these two different sides and now there are stories coming out about you working on a solo album. What kind of outlet will that provide that you can’t get with the other two groups?
“It’s basically the songwriting side of me. A lot of the stuff that I write is the bastard child of the Foo Fighters, Social Distortion and The Replacements. That’s the kind of stuff — good Midwestern rock. Huge choruses, a lot of open-chord electric jam songs. That’s kind of where my heart’s been. When I started writing songs when I was 12, that’s where my heart was. I never went for the riff as much as I went for the song. That’s where it’s at for me. If and when it sees the light of day, it’s going to add a whole new dimension of how people look at me, and that’s fine. You can have an opinion of me all you want, just don’t write me off, because I’m not going anywhere.”
I’ll be interested to hear how that turns out.
“I’m hoping it turns out great. I’m hoping people dig it. At the end of the day, it’s an album I need to make for my head and my heart. I don’t give a fuck if it sells three copies. For me, it’s about making it and moving on.”
I read in an interview, too, about a book deal. Is that something you can talk about?
“Actually, that’s very funny. We were talking about that not five minutes before you called. I know I’ve got a couple books in me that I want to write. There’s some interest on a couple people’s parts. I’d probably do a life story, so far, first. Then maybe an opinion one. I know it’s an area that I’ve always wanted to get into. Again, I don’t care if I make dollar one, it’s just something I want to do for myself. I’ve always kind of prided myself on my writing ability and it’s something I want to share with the world. If I make five bucks and a pack of smokes, I’ll be completely ecstatic.”(laughs)
How do you avoid getting burned out doing all of this?
“It comes from the heart. I don’t look at it as commodity. I look at it as expression. I think that’s where a lot of these business folk in this industry burn themselves out. They get their fingers in a lot of different areas to make a quick buck, but it’s sad. It’s watered down. There’s no soul in it. All you need to do is listen to that crappy Chris Cornell-Timberland song, and that’s all you need to know. You show me where the soul is in that piece of shit. For me, it’s passion. Straight up, I am led by passion. I had a radio DJ ask me today — as articulate as I can be — if I would ever run for politics. I laughed my ass off. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I am way too opinionated and controversial. I lead from the heart. That’s all I know how to do. If I give my opinion about something that’s merely my opinion and how I feel about it. How the hell would I be able to keep one foot in each kind of grave in a House committee meaning. I’d stand up and call bullshit from moment one. I couldn’t do it. That’s gotta be the fuel for anything that’s worthwhile. Anything that’s worth doing is passion. As long as I have that, man, I’m gonna do things my way ... and fuck anybody that doesn’t like it.”
Last question for you. I talked with you a few years ago, right after you recorded Vol. 3. Your opinion at that time was kind of a wait-and-see attitude — you were gonna tour, do another Stone Sour album and then who knows. Now, you’re doing the tour, you’re going to do a solo album — have you thought past that?
“Well, man, I’m at the point where I’m constantly thinking five years down the road. I’ve got a lot of things in the fire. I just built a studio back home, that I’m probably gonna start producing and recording bands out of, in Des Moines. I’m looking to start an imprint and do some loose a&r stuff and produce bands from the Midwest or more obscure spots where most people don’t want to go, but where often the most talent is. I’m getting my foot into writing songs for other bands and getting into some of that. I figure I can’t do any worse than some of the crap that’s on the radio right now. I got a lot of things that I’m getting into that wouldn’t be about any of the bands that I’m in. I’ve got one thing that ... may be ... very interesting. I’m not gonna say anything right now, but it would be very, very cool. It would mean getting together with some legends and doing some really cool shit. Recording and possibly doing some live shows. We’ll see what happens.”
So, as far as Stone Sour and Slipknot?
“Oh, me and Clown have already been plotting the next, great Slipknot assault. It’s gonna be a multimedia thing. It’ll include something ground-breaking. I’m also thinking about the next Stone Sour album. Right now, I’m thinking about which album to record first — solo album, Stone Sour or both at the same time, which I could totally do. Right now, I’m just playing it by ear and finding time to take my son to school and pick him up from school. Maybe get Disneyland in there, you know?”
Maybe you’ll get some sleep in there, too.
“I’ll sleep when everybody shuts their clocks off. That’s the way it is.”
Corey, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.
“No worries, man. It was a good conversation.”
Always a pleasure talking with you.
“We’ll see you when we get down there.”
Slipknot will perform at Bojangles Coliseum on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. with Coheed and Cambria and Trivium. Tickets are $38 and $45.