The Saturday Interview

Slipknot: ‘Gun culture in America is a cult’

Exclusive: Corey Taylor and Clown open up to Roisin O’Connor about their new album ‘We Are Not Your Kind’, the impact of Taylor’s divorce, and why Boris Johnson is ‘the British Trump’

Saturday 10 August 2019 08:00 BST
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There are too many f**king guns in America,” says Corey Taylor. “I could walk outside right now and find a gun within minutes. There’s a very toxic gun culture here, it’s a cult, and it worries me.”

Two days after the Slipknot frontman says this, a man walks into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, during one of the busiest times of the day, and starts shooting – 22 people lose their lives and more than two dozen are injured. The next day, in Dayton, Ohio, a man opens fire at the entrance of a local bar. He kills nine people, and injures 27.

Listen back to them and Taylor’s comments feel eerie after the horrific events of that weekend – even more so given that the conversation later turns to how authority figures try to pin the blame on popular culture. Slipknot, whose music has been linked to violent incidents in the past, including a samurai sword attack at a South African school in 2008 that left one student dead and three people seriously injured, understand this all too well. And lo and behold, right after the US shootings, President Trump announces that “violent video games” are to blame… despite having no evidence.

“Music is an easy target because [people in authority] don’t understand it,” Taylor says. “There’s a complete lack of effort to try to understand it, and a lack of willingness to take any portion of the blame for these events.

“If you’re looking for a certain kind of rhetoric, whether it’s hating black people or gay people or whatever, there are thousands of sites with people posting about it,” he continues. “We’re seeing the repercussions of a failure to address that. They still wanna blame the f**kng music, and it’s been happening since the Sixties to ‘85 with Tipper Gore…” (Gore, the former second lady, was a prime mover in the fight to have parental advisory stickers placed on albums in the US.) Taylor pauses, takes a breath. “Just get the f**k out of my face with that s**t!

Horror show: Corey Taylor onstage with Slipknot (Getty)

Slipknot formed in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1995, and over the years the band has experienced significant line-up changes. Percussionist Shawn Crahan (Clown) is the only founding member in the current band, which always consists of nine members. The heavy metal legends are currently touring in support of their first album in five years, We Are Not Your Kind, and clearly having a lot of fun doing it. But it was recorded as Taylor was still reeling from the end of his second marriage, to Stephanie Luby, in 2017. The couple were together eight years.

As a result, it’s one of the band’s heaviest records in years, to the point that it has drawn comparisons with their notorious 2001 album Iowa, for which Taylor performed the title track naked while covered in his own vomit and cutting himself. Meanwhile producer Ross Robinson had broken his back in a dirt bike accident but came back in to work the next day, where he sat at the desk, screaming in agony. To think the recording process for this album was in any way similar makes you glad you weren’t in the studio with them.

“I was going through a lot in my personal life for this record,” Taylor says. “I’d just left a very toxic relationship, and I was dealing with the repercussions of that… not only feeling completely ravaged, but also having to reevaluate who I was.”

The divorce, along with returning to therapy, helped him to realise that he was sitting on a considerable amount of rage and pain that he had to let go of. Recording a new Slipknot album provided the outlet he needed.

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“I went into the studio to do the demos and I just f**king unleashed,” he recalls. “To the point where it changed our approach when we went back in to record the album. It was so obvious that this was going to be different, because we were hitting old touchstones, but there was an excitement and an urgency in the music that we hadn’t had in a long time. It inspired me to go for that old attack in my voice, where I sound completely unhinged.”

“Corey is my favourite singer on the planet,” Clown tells me later, “because he’s able to take what he’s going through in his life and twist it so we can make it our own. It’s much better when everyone feels like they have some common ground.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about heavy metal – particularly a band like Slipknot, with their terrifying masks and relentless, thundering sound – is that they’re scary people. Speaking with them proves otherwise: Taylor and Clown are friendly – dare I say cheerful – over the phone; Taylor laughs uproariously when I refer to his self-confessed “horrible” attempt at an English voice on new single “Solway Firth” as “Cockney screamo”. Their attitude towards the band is one of a family that extends to the fans, fondly known as “Maggots”, where no one is judged for their gender, skin colour or sexuality. And they appear to share a brotherly affection for one another – as Taylor’s interview reaches its end, he instructs me to tell Clown that he’s a “s**thead”, with all the childish glee of a younger sibling.

“Yeah, we’re really scary,” Taylor says now, dripping sarcasm. “The reality is, we all look out for each other, including the fans. If you come to a metal show, you have each other’s backs.”

It’s one of the reasons the new album was titled We Are Not Your Kind, to capture that duality of otherness and community. It’s also what Clown wanted to portray in the video for “Unsainted”, where he gathered up a group of fans who thought they were filming something for the 20th anniversary of the band’s self-titled debut album.

“We have something great with our fans,” Clown says. “Just watching them while I was directing, I wished I could be there when each one of them saw the video for the first time. After 20 years you can become really jaded by this whole racket. Everybody was so down on us, you know? Like they were waiting for us to trip up so they could point the finger and laugh. And 20 years later we’re still doing what we do.”

He’ll be 50 next month – an age he never thought he’d reach. “And I sure as hell didn’t think I’d still be in a hard rock band,” he says. “I don’t know if we’re doing it better but we’re definitely evolving. And it’s nice to see everybody relax a little bit on us, after all that time.”

“It’s a good problem to have,” Taylor thinks, of the band’s longevity. “You hit 20 years and you’re just as big if not bigger than you were, things aren’t slowing down.”

Behind the mask: Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor (Getty)

Then again, getting things to change can be tough – even if it’s the small stuff. “I’ve always wanted to tour Europe when it’s not cold,” Clown gripes. “But we always go in February, so I can’t walk around Greece and Italy and London and not be freezing my ass off. My whole career in Europe has been in winter. It’s the same bulls**t.”

In a recent interview with Kerrang!, Taylor claimed he had been made to feel like a villain over the past few years, which you hear him address on the single “Unsainted”. “I’m just weathering a rough patch/ Another villain with an itch to scratch,“ he roars. ”Denial is the darkest when you live in a hole/ Why does the hell make you feel so cold?”

This sense of being under siege was mirrored by what was happening in his marriage: “In this relationship, I was made to feel like I was disposable,” he says. “Like I was only there to be taken advantage of. I felt belittled, my importance was completely ridiculed. But I also had people relying on me, so there was all this pressure.

“While that’s all going on, I’m suffering from clickbait syndrome, where you do one interview and it turns into 27,“ he says, exasperated. ”And I swear to God, it was like people were turning on me, and everything was being taken out of context. It looked like I was going around doing all these f**king interviews and just running my mouth. There was someone who said there was no one in music they despise more than me,” he adds, sounding genuinely hurt, even now. “It was a cold realisation to feel that hatred, especially when as a frontman and an entertainer you just want people to enjoy themselves.”

While there are no explicit references to the state of the world on this new album, Taylor pays plenty of attention to politics in the US and the UK, claiming he “f**king called it” before Trump was put in office.

“I caught so much hell for that,” he says, “because people thought I was trying to stir up s**t. I was like, ‘this is gonna get way worse before it gets better. Next year I’m going to vote like everybody else, and hopefully we won’t have another four years of that f**king douchenozzle.”

He compares the way Trump uses rhetoric to Boris Johnson, and finds similarities in the way they were written about in the months before they came to power.

“Boris Johnson is very much your Trump,” he says. “I’ve watched Boris for 15 years, and he has never been someone that people have taken seriously – even when he was mayor of London.” He heaves a sigh. “And now he’s the f**king prime minister.”

There was a period during the recording of 2014 Grammy-nominated album .5: The Gray Chapter where the band found themselves questioning whether they wanted to continue. It was the first record the band had made without original bassist and founder member Paul Gray (the album’s title is a tribute to him), following his death from an accidental morphine overdose in 2010. It was also the first since original drummer Joey Jordison was fired from the group, in December 2013.

The band were still healing when it came to recording The Gray Chapter, which Taylor describes as a more sombre experience than anything they’d done before or since. “It’s been a weird 10 years,” he acknowledges. “We started out with such hope, with Volume 3 (2004) and then All Hope Is Gone (2008) speaks for itself really, doesn’t it? That was a dark time for the band… we were doing everything we could but also kind of tearing ourselves apart. It was issue after issue, so it was almost amazing that we made The Gray Chapter.”

Taylor is in a far better place now than when he first stepped in the studio for We Are Not Your Kind; newly engaged to Alicia Dove of the rock’n’roll performance troupe Cherry Bombs. He also has a brand new mask designed by Tom Savini, renowned for his makeup and special effects work in George A Romero films, including Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow. Revealing each member’s new mask has become a tradition for Slipknot fans, causing a frenzy comparable to the unveiling of the new James Bond cast.

“I think it’s because we built that culture into what we were doing and it’s kept us from getting stale – we’re constantly reinventing ourselves,” Taylor suggests. “I wanted my mask to look like something that was built in somebody’s basement… maybe with ill intentions. Like in Nightmare on Elm Street, where Freddy is putting so much care and craftmanship into his mask.”

I say it reminds me more of the synthetic rubber mask from The Skin I Live In, the 2011 Spanish psychological thriller starring Antonio Banderas. This makes Taylor recall how, after unveiling this new look, a fan got in touch to say how they had worn a similar mask while recovering from third-degree burns, and felt stronger from seeing their idol look like them.

“Then the mask took on an even deeper meaning,” Taylor says. “Like, you can ridicule me for the way I look, but there’s nothing you can say that’s tougher than what I’ve been through.”

Clown, who directs the band’s videos and designed the current set for the live tour, explains: “There’s less hiding of the truth now. On ‘Unsainted’, I broke it down until realising it needed to be just about the masks. But we also wanted to take people on a journey to another place, and more than just a handful of emotions.”

Mirror man: Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan in his new mask

His own mask, which has been some form of clown face since the band’s beginning, is now a kind of futuristic version with a mirrored surface. He calls it “Fashion”, and says he wanted to find a way to have fans and himself be the same, “because they’re always looking at me, and I’m always looking at them”.

If you held the mask in your hands, he reveals, you’d see scars and wrinkles engraved into the surface: “I’ve always had a problem with the way we judge one another for our appearances – wrinkles, weight, the colour of your skin… so this mask has the things that make us human. It’s not perfect. And that’s the way that I think life really is.”

We Are Not Your Kind is out now

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