In the mid-‘90s three members of Des Moines metal band the Pale Ones – bassist Paul Gray, percussionist Shawn Crahan and drummer Joey Jordison – weren’t convinced about the direction that their band was moving in. They wanted to do something bigger, bolder, more intense. Something theatrical. Something bold.
That something bold turned into the nine-member behemoth Slipknot, whose mix of abrasive down-tuned metal and use of costumes and custom masks found an immediate audience in the US. The band was infamously fractious, with plenty of side projects, internal ructions and the occasional hiatus, but for a decade and a half they appeared as an unassailable unit. That is, until May 24, 2010 when Gray was found dead in an Iowa hotel room from an accidental overdose.
Since then the band weathered the inevitable questions about whether or not they would continue, but the announcement of a forthcoming album and several tours in 2011 (with original guitarist Donnie Steele taking bass duties on stage) would seem to have confirmed the band’s future.
Or perhaps not.
For Crahan, better known to fans as Clown (or #6), the loss of his friend is still painfully raw. “I hear all this shit all the time about how Paul wanted us to go on,” he spits. “Well, cool. Maybe I don’t wanna go on without him, you know? Maybe all the things we haven’t done yet that he’s not gonna get to do, maybe I don’t wanna do them without him.”
Without pausing for breath, he continues. “And it’s hard for me because I’m also a father and he was having a baby and I have a very hard time thinking that he was in love, he was married, he knew he was having a baby, and they were real close and he just never got to see his child. And you know, that one little thing right there is bigger than my participation in anything I could continue to do. And it’s difficult you know, obviously. I’m still in a grieving period. Still very confused.”
It must have been especially painful getting up on stage without him. “You know what? I was very angry that it was so easy to do it without him. And I knew why it was easy, and it’s because we built a fucking machine. We did this together, the band can go on without me or without somebody else – we’re a culture, man. We’re one of the most intense things in the world in the form of art and it’s supposed to be able to survive – so the spirit of the band is that we don’t know anything else and we gotta go on. And I play for blood, man. It’s who I am, with or without him. So it’s frustrating because I wanted it to be hard and it wasn’t.”
Speaking a couple of days later, Jordison (aka Superball, or #1) sighs heavily at the mention of Gray. “You know, everybody’s going to say, ‘Oh, he’s my best friend, he’s this, he’s that,’ trying to pull this ‘I had the upper hand on how important Paul was to me,’ and all that shit. And quite frankly, I’m fuckin’ sick of it. I mean, we did the two tours [without him], let him rest. It’s really starting to piss me off. I mean, everyone knows how important he was to Slipknot, all of us, but this has been a while now – can we move on? We all know he’ll never leave us, but it’s starting to get on my nerves.”
“Losing Paul was harder than losing my parents ‘cause I always knew they were gonna die,” Crahan continues. “And I learn so much about Paul every day, that it’s hard to live. Why didn’t I go up to his room that day just watch a movie and get some room service or have a couple of good laughs? Well, I’ll tell you why, because we were too busy concentrating on being the greatest band in the world.”
He pauses, choking up a little. “But now I know what I have to do with my other members now – see, I’m learning now. I need time: I can’t just go out and apply these things that I’m only figuring out now. Everybody is just dealing with it in their own way and it might take some people years and some people might already be over it – I don’t know, and I don’t really care. And some people need a lot of time.”
“The band has to move on,” Jordison shrugs. “He’ll always be with us, and all the songs that he wrote will be played forever, his legend will live on – but I’m kinda sick of people draining his name almost for the sake of emotion. I’d like for my friend to be able to rest, that’s all.”
Well, Crahan clearly feels…
“Look, I’m not directing this at anyone in the band,” he snaps. “It’s horrible and we’ll have to live with it until the day we die, but the fact is that we got to know Paul and we got to write with him. So even if he passed at an early age, we had that time that we got to spend with him, and all the recordings and all the tours and all of the fun times that we had. Life’s short and you never know how short it is. You just strike while the iron’s hot and get the most out of life. And he got the most out of life. He had a great time doing it!”
His voice rises with frustration. “Everyone knows there was no-one more important to the band, writing-wise, and no-one was a better friend to me than Paul, but enough with the shit, OK? It’s starting to become sickening to me. Let. The. Guy. Rest.”
Jordison is determined to see the band enter the next phase. “I’m in the studio right now doing a drum track. Life’s good and I’m looking forward to getting down to Australia, for sure. I’ve got thirty-something songs now, hopefully some will be Slipknot songs, or not, but they’ve turned out great. I’m proud of ‘em, so either way they’ll see the light of day somewhere.”
So the new material’s strong?
“I can only speak for myself, but I know it isn’t garbage, I’ll tell you that. I don’t know where these songs are gonna go, but I think we really need to get together and hash this out, timing wise and all that, but I’m just plugging away. But this stuff I’ve come up with, it’s really good – and it’s definitely Slipknot. But if you look at it, every one of our records is different. You look at the first one, then you look at Iowa and it’s even heavier, and then we kinda throw you a curveball with Vol. 3, with this Pink Floyd-esque meets industrial influence, and All Hope Is Gone, there’s something different again.”
His voice rises with excitement. “And I think people are starting to realise that. We know when it clicks and when it’s right, and if people aren’t feeling it, if it’s not sticking up the hair on their backs or they’re not trying to hide their smile when we’re playing a song, it ain’t worth it. And I can say that I can attribute a lot of our success to that – and also a lot of our internal bullshit and fighting that pisses me off.”
So is the band as dysfunctional as previous reports have suggested? “Look, if people want to think that we’re at each other’s throats all the time, if that makes ‘em happy, I’m totally cool with that. What I can say is that three-piece bands that are successful break up and can’t even handle it. We’re triple that, and we’re all still together. Who else can say that?”
“I don’t care if someone’s got thirty fucking songs written,” Crahan declares. “We need time. I mean… look, write the songs, please, let’s write nine hundred songs! But when it’s time, it’s gonna be heavy. Cause everyone will have learned what they need to learn.”
And what has Crahan learned? “I’ve learned that I’m done wasting time. I wanna do the things I wanna do, you know?”
What sort of things? “Like, I chose to get a vasectomy.”
That’s the sort of thing that you’ve actively wanted to do? “This might not even be appropriate, but my wife and I, we have four kids,” he explains. “We’re older now, and we just thought it would be very sad to get pregnant when we’re old and then not be there for that child like we’ve been for the younger ones.”
Oh. Well… congratulations? “Thanks, but I had it almost a year ago. But I’ve been putting off giving the specimen [of semen, to test that the operation was successful for a long time. And my wife was just mad as hell at me about it, so I did that two days ago.”
And the result was, um, a positive one? Or actually, negative would be better, right?
He laughs. “That was just something in life that was hard for me to do. It was kind of embarrassing and I’m a very modest, shy, keep-to-myself person and it was tough. But we had to know for sure it worked, and the lady called me up today and she said ‘Hi, we’re the vasectomy people,’ and I said ‘How you doing, what’s the score?’ And she laughed, and she’s like, ‘Um, the score is zero.’ And we both just started laughing,” he laughs. “I know, that’s a weird and stupid story. But you see? I’m getting it done, man. I’m getting on with my fucking life.”
Their obvious differences aside, both men are united on one thing: whatever the band does next will be brutal.
“There are different textures and different horizons that we want to explore,” Jordison enthuses. “Even if you hate the band I think with all the stuff we’ve built up, people will be like ‘I’m not the biggest Slipknot fan in the world, but I gotta hear this fuckin’ record!’ Almost just out of morbid curiosity, you know? I mean, we’re not famous famous, but you know, we’re quite a successful band. Especially coming from Iowa, especially given how heavy we actually are – which is completely underrated by a lot critics. We like to be hated just as much as loved, because when it comes down to it, you flip a coin 100 times, it’s probably going to come up 50 tails and 50 heads: 50 percent will love you, 50 percent are gonna hate you.”
And the people in the middle?
“The people in the middle can fuck off,” he growls. “And people who used to write us off, after all these years they’ve revisited it and been like ‘Man, now I start to get it!’ Because we were always a little bit ahead of our time – and we still are. And that’s our goal with the next record: we don’t have to prove anything to anyone, we just have to prove something to ourselves.”
Without missing a beat, he continues. “It’s weird: I’ll watch videos of us, like I saw one of us at Sonnisphere, and it almost doesn’t seem like that’s us – it’s like someone else’s music, in a weird way, if that makes any sense at all,” he laughs. “It’s like ‘Wow – we did that?’ It’s weird that we’re able to think we can affect that many people, and it’s a really odd thing to watch.
“We’re not a band, we’re a culture,” Crahan insists.
“And I’m proud of what we’ve done,” Jordison adds. “Every mishap, every triumph, every argument, every hug, every punch in the face, every arrest, whatever it is that’s involved Slipknot so far, I wouldn’t change any
“Slipknot is gonna go to another level,” Crahan declares. “I’m scared to death of what’s next.”
Iowa: 10th Anniversary Edition
is out now on Roadrunner.