Slipknot Cover Story
Down an endless corridor painted in the uniform colour of schools and hospitals worldwide that can probably only be achieved by mixing pigeon shit with dandruff. Security check. Turn left along another equally unattractive corridor… no wait. Turn right. Go back and ask the humourless security bloke who’s already forgotten your encounter of ten seconds ago and wants to see passes again. Left it is. Past a million uninviting little rooms marked ‘production’, ‘catering’, etc. Another security check. Another corridor. Repeat until mildly irritated. Try not to think about Spinal Tap.
Aside from being owned by the Faithful Central Bible Church, an irony that’s missed by no one, The Forum in Los Angeles is no different to any of the other faceless arenas that litter the country and backstage there is a pervasive air of routine, boredom even. Of course, it’s still a big deal to sell the place out: this is, after all, where the likes of Metallica and AC/DC play when they come to town. But ever since the Lakers basketball team relocated from here in 1999 the area has been in decline and now, like most arenas, it’s slap bang in the middle of somewhere you’d rather not be and too far away from anywhere you might want to go. It doesn’t help that the room set aside for interviews today looks like a police interrogation room with just a table and a couple of crappy chairs to offset the crumbling paint, the walls vibrating through other people’s soundchecks like someone’s getting a beating next door. Given that Slipknot started
touring for their latest album ‘All Hope Is Gone’ almost a year ago, the novelty is wearing thin.
“I’m so not even on this tour anymore,” admits frontman Corey Taylor, chain smoking and flicking his ash into a spent paper coffee cup. “We’re at the tail end of six weeks right now. Six weeks of doing anything is a pain in the ass, but six weeks of doing this is like being stabbed in the eyes for six weeks. If the shows weren’t so fucking incredible I’d probably be worse, but leave it to this band to be bigger than they were ten years ago. I can’t figure it out! Almost all the shows are sold out and I’m like “really?”
Ten years ago Slipknot were arguably the most ferocious live band on the planet, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that they wouldn’t be able to maintain such an incredible pace forever. Turntablist Sid Wilson and percussionist Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan would flip a coin each night to determine who got a punch in the face on stage. Band members would set themselves on fire. Bones were broken and blood was shed. Indeed, on the first night of last years Mayhem tour, Sid back-flipped off stage and broke both his heels, completing the remainder of the tour in a wheelchair and, once again, proving that his lift doesn’t go to the top floor.
“Oh you nailed it there!” laughs Corey. “He definitely doesn’t have all the cheese on his cracker! Fucking idiot! He still walks with a cane! He’s the youngest guy in the band and he walks like he’s fifty! I’m like “what the fuck are you doing?” But that’s part of the charm of this band.”
Today however, Sid’s cheeseless crackers notwithstanding, Slipknot are a different band. They had to become a different band. The question is whether they like what they have become. Older readers may recall the friction in the Metallica camp when the ‘Black Album’ propelled them into the mainstream, some more willingly than others. Lars Ulrich was lapping it up, doing coke with Guns N Roses every night, while James Hetfield increasingly shunned the limelight, often appearing confused, even disgusted, by their own success. Kirk Hammett and then-bassist Jason Newstead may as well have been session musicians. Take that tension and multiply it by nine.
“It’s fucking weird, man,” ponders Corey. “It’s evolved into something that I never thought I would see. It’s still underground even though we had number one album. We’re still the black sheep of the musical family and yet we’re able to sell out places like this. The potency of it hasn’t gone anywhere, but it’s definitely a different band. And today, because I’m in a foul fucking mood, I’m trying to figure out if that’s good or bad. Seriously! You get to the point where it’s like “what are we doing?”
It should be pointed out that part of the reason for Taylor’s vitriol today is his ongoing love/hate relationship with Los Angeles. Engaged to be married in October, he has a house here for work purposes and because his fiancé is “kinda from here”, but otherwise hates the place, preferring to be back home in Iowa in the rare moments of downtime. He’s also none too keen on the Forum’s aforementioned owners, venting considerable spleen on the “hypocritical cunts who’ll let the heathens in when they bring you money!”
That aside, there are deeper underlying reasons for Taylor’s discontent, namely, it seems, that old chestnut ‘musical differences’.
“There are still some hangers in the band who are like “we can’t do this or that” and I’m like “why not?”’ sighs Taylor. “If we’re gonna cross over then let’s do it! But even though we’ve had incredible success there are still certain hardcore people in the band that feel like we can’t play certain songs live, like ‘Circle’ or ‘Vermillion Pt 2‘ or ‘Snuff’. Fucking grow up! If we’re not gonna play them live then we shouldn’t put them on the album. For me it’s a constant struggle of waiting for people to evolve, but then again it’s that tension that makes the band what it is. Some days it’s easier to live with than others. There are days when I’m incredibly grateful that we still get to do this and then there’s days like today when I’m a piss poor cynical bastard! And I hate being like this.”
Even beneath his current dark cloud, it must be said that Taylor is outgoing, funny and a lot smarter than he’s given credit for (he’s fluent enough in several languages that he can control pretty much any audience worldwide). He looks healthy too. Gone is the pudge from excess drinking a few years ago and along with going through an unpleasant divorce, he’s rid himself of the “douche bags and clingers” who pretended to be his friend, particularly the one who was staying at Corey’s house and was caught going through his private e-mails.
“It’s definitely made me more tentative,” he confesses. “There’s a thicker wall…which sucks because I’m an extroverted guy and I love hanging out with people.”
But still, if rock music needs an ambassador, someone who can stir things up without alienating the genre, then it could do (and has done) a lot worse than Corey Taylor, and you get the feeling that he’s okay with that and getting used to it.
“I’m definitely more recognized now than I was, but I’m not locking my door or pulling a J-Lo and renting limos to go half a block,” he shrugs. “It’s a double edged sword because you want people to recognize you, but then you act like a twat when they ask for your autograph. I’m just as human as everybody else so I have my moments when I’m a total fucking asshole, but even then I’ll take time. The thing that you have to realize is if you wanna be in this industry then you’ve gotta work and if I can get more work by being more visible then, fuck it, why not? And at the same time, if you do it right you can still be yourself and have the kind of success that I’ve always hoped for.”
If the exact opposite can be said of anyone, then it can be said of the next person to enter the room: Shawn Crahan, husband of 16 years with four kids, whose hobbies include painting and fishing. Better known simply as The Clown, a dangerous mental case who prowls the fringes of the rock industry like a shark circling it’s prey.
“You were supposed to go first douche bag!” hoots Corey when he arrives. Clown retorts with something the tape doesn’t catch.
“You know what?” responds Corey. “I am a rock star, but I turned up on time!”
It’s difficult to tell whether it’s said in jest, but before there’s time to find out Clown takes a seat and makes his feelings crystal clear.
“People always challenge me a lot with what I say,” he snarls, “so I’m getting my words a little more direct and to the point. It’s simple: I hate touring! I hate everything to do with it! I hate this fucking room that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in 20 years, I hate the catering, I hate all the jackasses hanging around and all the kiss ass, suck dick, bullshit that goes with getting to do one thing, which is the only reason I do it…to play live! I play live because I have pain that is unidentifiable to anybody else but myself and the release comes through live performances.”
Yeah, presumably going nuts on stage in front of 16,000 people gives you quite the adrenaline rush!
“It’s more that,” says Clown, having calmed a little (only a little, mind) from his initial tirade. “I go to a spiritual place. I find myself babbling under my mask and I’ll sing the words as loud as I can even though people can’t even see my lips move, but I’m not singing for all of them, I’m singing for me. I’m up here playing for me and currently that still feels great! But I don’t like anything about touring. Nothing! I never knew any of this was going to exist, but the payoff with my spirituality every night is still what I require.”
As therapy goes, letting loose with Slipknot every night must be pretty good stress relief, not least because, as the Clown, Crahan has carte blanche to do whatever the fuck he wants up there.
“Yeah and a lot of people don’t know that,” says Clown, with a hint of a smile like it’s got lost and turned up on the wrong face. “I mean no disrespect here, but I’m not even a metalhead and I can take credit for starting one of the biggest metal bands ever! I like that. That goes hand in hand with designing my own position in the band: I am the Clown and I do what ever the fuck I want! These guys can play their blast beats and heavy ass guitar and I’ll take a piss. I ‘ll go outside and enjoy the moon for a minute for parallel experience and that’s the way I designed it for myself. I’m the fucking Clown and I’ve been the Clown since I was born, it just took my whole life to put this together that way I need to to deal with this sentence known as life. I don’t have any problems that are more important or any different from anybody else, it’s just how I handle it for myself with this concept known as Slipknot. And on top of that,
accidentally, I made a career out of it. And it’s the career that I fucking hate! I’m blessed, but it was never part of the thinking. The thinking was, “I’m outside this door and if you don’t let me in I’m gonna fucking kick it in with eight other guys and there’s nothing you can do about it!” And he we are still. And I fucking hate it! Come and see the monotony of making my art!”
Crahan is not here to make friends. Of the 16,000 people here tonight he says he’ll connect with “less than a dozen” and if he could he’d just turn up for the show without speaking to anyone.
“It’s not personal,” he adds. “It’s just that in some ways I didn’t ask for all this.”
Can the Clown really afford to be numb?
“Oh I’m so fucking numb, man,” he sighs. “I’m so over this, but I love Slipknot. Did I wanna be the biggest thing in the world? Of course! I don’t know any other way of thinking. But people are like ‘what do you think about having a number one album?” Fuck you! I left my kids ten years ago and I left my wife with Crohns disease and I was number one then and I was number one every day after that, kicking the world’s ass to achieve something for myself and my family. I was number one ten years ago and our shows were better ten years ago. Now it’s five dressing rooms and five busses and first class tickets and fucking blah blah. It’s so much bigger than me and that’s why so many people think I’m full of shit because I still try to adhere to some kind of realism behind what this all is. And it ain’t the cover of fucking magazine or a fucking record and it certainly isn’t fucking Roadrunner or MTV or any of that shit.”
It’s difficult not to empathize. As good as Slipknot are, their intensity has been unavoidably diluted by their success and although Corey insists that Slipknot shows are “like the World Series of Poker…they’re always be the nuts!”, there are no ‘maggots’ lurking in the parking lot before the show, scaring the crap out of passes by, just regular rock fans come to see the big show. Asked if there are any real ‘maggots’ left, Clown looks genuinely hurt.
“Barely,” he says. “It’s bigger than them now too and that’s sad.”
In case you were in any doubt, Clown is one of the band members who refuses to play the ‘ballads’ live. That said, in the last few weeks he’s declined two kids who wanted to “flip for punches”.
“I’m not the guy I was ten years ago and if I was I’d be dead,” he says simply. “Am I scared? Fuck no. I’ve taken so many punches to the face that it’s like being in a war…no I retract that, it’s not even close, but it’s my own personal hell that I’ve created for myself. This kid hands me a quarter and called me right out, like “let’s go fuckface!” I had to decline because if I lost and he smacked me up, I would vomit on myself, I might shatter because I’m not that guy any more. I would probably just cry for hours. I’m out and I can’t explain it. All night long he just kept looking at me like I need to stand up and let him smack me. But what if I win? What am I gonna do? Give him a hug?”
So…ten years after exploding onto the music business like a well placed nailbomb, the nine-headed insane asylum that is Slipknot is very different thing to what it once was. The ‘all for one’ gang mentality remains, the feeling that if you fuck with one of them then you fuck with all of them, but nowadays you’d have to round them all up first. And while Clown’s puffy knuckles and scarred face attest to the fact that he’d probably be first in, the air of menace when dealing with the band has gone. It’s not threatening backstage anymore like it was.
“Yeah it was, but everyone wants different things,” says Clown almost apologetically. “If I could be king I’d start locking the motherfuckers up again like baboons in dark cages, but what are you gonna do? Either way I don’t give a fuck. Stay out of the Clown’s way! I speak the truth, I’m not scared of anybody and I don’t give a shit what anybody thinks about me. I’m not in this for the money or the fame and I don’t give a shit if we’re headlining or going on first, never did, never will. What scares me is I’m getting the furthest away from it, every day further and further away. And, quite frankly, I like it. I don’t care. I’m not scared of any of these fuckers. They can all have their rock star parties, but I’m the guy that says “oh you wanna come to the show? Fuck off! I don’t like your band. Never did and never will.” If it was up to me they’d sit with all the kids whose parents are divorced and who go through
life with no money, scrounging up 30 bucks to go to an overpriced metal show.”
Does Clown have a clear idea what he’s going to do with the second half of his life?
“Oh yeah, definitely,” he says. “I’m gonna disappear. I’m going to escape with my wife and kids and when I leave there will be no reunion with the Clown and no one going “rock’s great legends, let’s put some fucked up thing on VH1”. When I’m out, I’m out and I’ll take that to my fucking grave. I don’t know how much of a place I have in this any more. The pieces are only as good as the whole, I know that, and I might be the Clown, but what the fuck’s that really? I don’t know my place and I don’t care. I’m just doing as much as I can and trying to give back as much as I can before it’s done, because it will be done; it could be ten years or tomorrow, but it will end and I know that better than anyone.”
We can’t expect to see Slipknot’s 30th anniversary show then?
“No,” says Clown, plain and simple. “I’m doing the ten year anniversary thing right now and I’m like ‘fuck it all!’ You wanna make money off ten years? Fuck you! Did you walk in my piss soaked shoes every night? No, so why should you even make a dollar? This is still real, but how real? I don’t know.”
And with that the Clown stomps off down those endless corridors to do another ‘meet and greet’ with people he neither wants to meet or greet. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll connect with someone today. Probably not. Either way he’ll still take a piss on stage.