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Stone Sour, Slipknot and the Value of Taking Chances: A Chat with Corey Taylor
For the past two decades, Corey Taylor has been the ringleader of the metal band Slipknot. He’s also, even before Slipknot, been the lead singer of the hard-rock band Stone Sour — and he’s also published three books to date as well.
In 2016, he began hosting a Beats 1 radio program titled A Series of Bleeps. He’s done some acting, too.
Simply put, the man’s always working.
With Stone Sour ramping up for a huge year in 2017 with an ambitious new album in the works, Rock Cellar was fortunate enough to grab some one-on-one time with Taylor at the recent NAMM Show in Anaheim, California for a career-spanning interview about his bands, his upbringing, his books, songwriting, the current political climate and the value of taking risks.
Enjoy the introspective and candid chat below.
Rock Cellar Magazine: How do you sing like that and still have a voice?
Corey Taylor: People ask me that all the time and I have no fucking clue, to be honest. I really don’t know. It just comes naturally. The thing I’ve noticed is when people try to do something that’s destructive, or if they force it and sing incorrectly, you can tell. And it blows people out constantly. I’ve just been really, really lucky to develop a way of singing that is just very natural for me. Especially just going back and forth between the heavy and the melodic.
I’ll tell you what, quitting smoking definitely helped. It has made my stamina so much better, the quality so much better…it’s pretty great.
I honestly don’t know, though, and the funny thing is that if I tried to think about doing it, I can’t do it. It sounds really fake. I just have to let it happen.
What’s it like having been the main focal point, or the face, so to speak, of Slipknot over the years?
Corey Taylor: It’s a pain in the ass sometimes. It is what it is. It’s that old adage, “Be careful what you wish for,” you know? But at the same time, it’s something I’m very proud of. That’s a responsibility I take very seriously. I know I have a tendency to run off at the mouth a lot, speak my own opinion. However, I’d like to think that what I say represents what the band is about, for the most part. Just when it comes to freedom of expression, freedom of choice, freedom of speech … bringing people together. So, knowing that, it makes my job really easy because it’s just me being me.
A lot of people don’t understand the weirdness that happens. I deal with a lot of the dark side of stuff. I have stalkers, stuff like that. You just kind of have to roll with it, you can’t let it take away from what you do.
With the good comes the bad, but honestly I wouldn’t trade anything.
I remember when I was 14-15 or so and Slipknot was just coming out, I was like, “Oh my god this is the coolest shit ever.”
Corey Taylor: (laughs)
And I remember maybe in Hit Parader or one of those magazines, a headline saying that you guys never intended to reveal your true identities. You always wanted to just be the numbers on your jumpsuits. Was that real, or was it just part of the hype?
Corey Taylor: That was very much a way of our thinking, to be honest. Everything that we did on the first album was a reaction to what was going on in the music industry. Everybody was so concerned about being pretty, or cool, and we were like, “Screw that. Here’s this mask.”
Everybody was concerned about fashion. “Screw that, here are these jumpsuits.”
Everybody’s concerned about namedropping. “Screw that. Here’s a number,” you know? Everything was so punk rock in a lot of ways that it wasn’t until later when we really discovered that … we had made that statement, but now we can start to creep out and show a little more of ourselves. And for better or worse, it was good and it was bad but it certainly wasn’t something that we wanted to feel contrived. I think that made it easier for us to step away from, because it wasn’t just a gimmick, we really truly believed it.
And as the albums went on – I was listening to The Subliminal Verses last night for the first time in a few years — and the song “The Nameless” came on, the one that starts all crazy and then goes into the melodic, “I never wanted anybody more …” part. I was like, “OK, I see where the not sticking to the formula comes in here.”
Corey Taylor: Yeah, that’s a crazy tune.
And then with Stone Sour, I was just chatting with your drummer, Roy, and he was saying how this new album is “next-level” for what you guys have done before, which is interesting since Stone Sour’s previous albums were already pretty different from each other.
Corey Taylor: I think it comes down to that discovery. Exploring the stuff that you’ve never done before. Taking chances. And not just taking chances because you can, taking chances because you’re interested in it. That’s a totally different energy, and for us writing songs you never want to write something that you don’t want to fuckin’ play, you know? The whole point of us getting together is because we really enjoy playing together and we really enjoy the songs that we bring in.
We enjoy what we bring to the table in terms of making those songs better, so … yeah, man, this new album is our best material. And I can say that having written a large chunk of the stuff we’ve done before. It’s mind-blowing to me. There’s some stuff on this album that people are gonna go … it’s going to change the way they’re going to look at this band. And that — THAT is what you get when you risk, when you really, truly, honestly try to go and explore different stuff, not just because you can, but because you want to.
— Rock Cellar Magazine (@RockCellarMag) January 22, 2017
That’s probably the most intriguing way to hype a new record, so we’ll see how it sounds. Is the album done, or are you still writing songs?
Corey Taylor: No, everything’s written. We’re just recording it now. We spent the last year or so demoing stuff, really whittling away the stuff that spoke to us, so we went to the studio already prepared. That’s one of the reasons we decided to do it live, especially for the drums and the bass, since everything goes together so well. You find those little moments where it’s that natural ear candy that makes you say, “Oooh, that was cool, let’s try that again.”
It doesn’t feel cut and pasted. It doesn’t feel beat detected, auto-corrected, all that bullshit. This album feels alive. It’s gonna be a whole different ballgame when it comes out, so for me it’s exciting that the new way is the old way, you know? It’s fuckin’ weird.
One band that’s always done things that way is Rx Bandits, from Long Beach.
Corey Taylor: Yeah, yeah.
They started out as a ska band on Drive-Thru Records for a while but then they were like, “No…” and they record their albums live, and for years they’ve been really unique with the music they’ve put out. It’s the same aesthetic, doing it your own way like that.
Corey Taylor: And that’s the thing, when you love what you do … people make it harder than it should be. It’s not, man. It’s fuckin’ playing music. It’s what you wanted to do — at least it’s what you say you wanted to do — since you were a kid. And you get five like-minded dudes in one room … first of all, there are fuckin’ jokes, all the time. We’ve laughed every day.
Second of all, when you’re excited and you’re jamming with stuff, there’s a dullness that happens when you’re not into it. For us, putting all this stuff together we were listening to it going, “Fuck, this is such good stuff.” And then going to the studio we were beating the demos that we had. To us, that’s feeding everything that’s going to come after it.
You mentioned back when you were a kid, wanting to be a musician. You had some rough times back in the day, as you’ve covered in your books.
Did you think back then that you’d ever get to the point where you’d go to something like the NAMM Show and meet a kid who has your handwritten lyrics that you wrote on his arm tattooed onto him?
Corey Taylor: No. God no. That wasn’t even close. For me, when I was kid you dream about it. You hope, but you never think it’s gonna happen.
I had dreams that I’d be the next David Lee Roth, but I’m certainly not as cool as he is.
The great thing about life is when you get little bit of luck, a little bit of talent and you bust your ass and you work — you get exactly what you needed.
So for me, I wouldn’t change a fuckin’ thing. Even the shit I went through as a kid, in my life, all the struggles I’ve dealt with, it’s all prepared me for today.
To regret any of that is to say that you regret the person that you are now and I’m the first to tell people that I’m the luckiest person on the planet. I’m still trying to figure out how the fuck I got away with all this.
I’m that guy. And then you talk to people and they’re like, “What are you talking about? You’re this, you’re that…” and I just don’t see myself that way. Just love the process.
I love going in and making an album and then I love the first six months of touring and after that I’m bored. I want to go back in and make another album.
So for us, staying out there is more for the fans than anything else, trying to make the best show for them since they deserve it.
I haven’t been to a Knotfest but those seem like exactly what you’re talking about.
Corey Taylor: They’re pretty crazy, man, and I’d love to take a lot more credit than I’m given, but I can’t. That’s Clown (Shawn Crahan), man. He curates a lot of it — we also have a lot of people that we work with who spend night and day putting that together, whether it’s our management or production companies we partner with, they’ve helped us achieve something really cool. I’m just the face for it, which … it is what it is, but I will never take more credit for that than I’m given. It’s a very collaborative effort.
It seems like a huge undertaking.
Corey Taylor: It really is, man. Again: don’t do anything that you’re not feeling.
What’s the most exciting aspect or event involved with being in one of your bands on the road that you’d want to talk about?
Corey Taylor: For me, the thing that I love is when I’m caught off-guard. The joy of the audience, when you start a tune … when you put a set list together, you’re like, “OK, we hope they’re gonna like this, this and this, but let’s fill this in with stuff we want to do.” And there’s always that moment when you’re going to start a tune, a deeper cut, and you don’t know what the crowd’s reaction’s going to be.
But you play it, and the fucking pop that comes out of the audience makes you go, “Oh, well alright!”
It happens every time. I did this when I was doing my solo acoustic shows and I dusted off “Taciturn” from House of Gold & Bones Part 1 and the second I started it the whole fuckin’ place lost their shit. I was like, “OK so I guess this was a good idea.”
That’s what it’s all about, man, especially in a live situation. You want to feel that because it’s gonna make your performance that much more important. And for me, you feed off that.
Speaking of being caught off-guard, I thought I was the only person in the United States that knew of Robbie Williams, let alone was a fan, and then I saw that you wrote a song for him? That’s wild.
Corey Taylor: (laughs) I did, yeah. It was so weird. I just love his singing, I love his sense of humor. To this day, “Angels” is such a beautiful song.
So I write songs all the time, and I put them in the bank, basically. I just wrote this song and it felt like a Robbie Williams song. I could totally hear him standing on a stage, belting it out for people. He’s never heard it, it never got to him, but … I was like, “Man, it’d be really cool to one day have him listen to this.” I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, but yeah.
He used to live in Los Angeles to get away from the craziness of the U.K. and the attention he always gets, but now he’s back in England.
Corey Taylor: That’s funny, too, because the whole reason he moved to L.A. was he hadn’t been big here yet. He wanted to sit in the background a little bit, but then he moves back because it was a little too quiet. It’s like, “what are you doing, dude?” (laughs)
At the NAMM Show this weekend, RockCellarMagazine.com has a booth in Hall D. A woman came by from the YouRock Foundation, and —
Corey Taylor: Yeah!
What can you say about YouRock and your involvement with the organization, since you’ve done a lot with them over the years?
Corey Taylor: YouRock is essentially a foundation that fights teen suicide, depression, and it tries to encourage people to get help in a very positive way. I’ve done a couple of different videos and things with YouRock because I believe in that.
When you’re a teenager suffering from depression, especially clinical depression, it’s very hard to deal with.
It seems like no one understands, no one can relate, no one feels what you’re feeling.
No one sees or thinks the way you think.
So for me, it was very important to show people that you’re not alone.
It’s temporary; it’s something you can help whether with therapy or with medication, or just by staying strong.
And that to me is a very important message, because in this day and age it can be very confusing. One person’s help is another person’s hurt.
One person shows empathy, another is cutting that person down for whatever reason.
You've got friends here. I'm sure everything will be alright. https://t.co/RgIbqr6FsA
— HAPPY B-DAY EVERYONE (@CoreyTaylorRock) January 31, 2017
For me, it’s about being decent. I know I have a lot of young fans and they can relate to that, so sharing my story with them, sharing my issues and the things that I went through … if that saves one person, then that is not wasted time. That is not wasted energy. That’s why I do that stuff.
— HAPPY B-DAY EVERYONE (@CoreyTaylorRock) February 4, 2017
Like that younger kid in the TOOL shirt that snuck a photo with you at the Stone Sour signing an hour ago, kids like him — a younger audience matters.
Corey Taylor: Exactly. It takes five seconds to be a good person to somebody, especially to fans. And I’ve definitely had moments where I snap off because I’m in a bad mood, in a hurry or am just being an asshole, or maybe I’m hangry. I’m human. However, I pull it together because it’s important to them. If you can have them walk away going, “fuck, that was awesome!” they’ll be a fan for life.
And that’s how you stick around for going on what, 18 years? It’s insane.
For anybody unaware about who you are, they might just think, “Oh, the guy from Slipknot is probably just some angry metal dude” but then on your Twitter page you’re wishing people happy birthday, being really cool and responsive to fans.
Your personality is very open there, which leads to another question: explain #Thumbcats.
Corey Taylor: (yells) THUMBCATS! Well, you’ve got thumbs, you’ve got cats…you’ve got Thumbcats. It started as this stupid, stupid inside joke. Me and Christian from Stone Sour, we were doing an acoustic show in London and we were both jet-lagged, going nuts, really, and we were hanging out. We do an impression of someone (I’m not going to say who), but we do it back and forth and it just came out of this joke. That morphed into us trying to pitch this idea for Thumbcats, and I just started putting it on Instagram and Twitter and people are like, “What the hell is this? What’s going on?”
It’s just stupid shit, really, and for me it’s better because I know so many celebrities hide … or they feel safer behind that façade. I could never do that. I couldn’t put on a persona and then walk among people or feel like I need that shield to block me. Yes, it can be overwhelming at times but I would much rather be myself and share that with people. Just this dumb humor that doesn’t make any sense but will make you laugh for 45 minutes in a London hotel room, you know? It’s stuff like that that — and the great thing is, you’re finding all of these like-minded people on social media that maybe weren’t fans before but are now like, “That was pretty funny, what’s he do? Oh, he’s that guy?”
— HAPPY B-DAY EVERYONE (@CoreyTaylorRock) January 23, 2017
It’s proving a point that no one person is one-sided. Everyone has different facets, and I’ve always said that. Yes, I can be very goofy but it doesn’t mean that I’m not an angry guy. To pretend that people are either one thing or another is selling people short and I think if we all thought about that a little more, the world would be in a different place than it is right now.
I’m very liberal-minded. (asks friend nearby) What do we say, Stubbs? “Fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” yeah.
I am torn because I understand the recent protests, but I also don’t understand these people who were rioting. There’s a part of me that wants to believe the myth that they were hired. Wants to believe the myth that there are these people that just show up to create chaos because they enjoy riots. I don’t want to believe that people are this fuckin’ asinine, you know?
So I’ve really pulled back. I was very, very loquacious about my disdain for “the Cheeto,” but now I don’t want to be lumped in with those people. There’s nothing more destructive than having your message be looked at as hypocritical because of what other people are doing. So I’m torn right now, which is weird because I’m writing a book about this. This whole situation. And it’s going to be a weird couple of years, but maybe that’s why I’m here. To remind people, “Hold on. Nothing’s black or white. There’s a lot more to this than you realize. Let’s figure it out.”
Let’s just say I found myself a little further behind with this book because I had to start over after he won, however, it is what it is. In a lot of ways, it’s going to be a better book because of that. We’ll see what happens.
I’ve read a little bit of your Seven Deadly Sins book, and it’s pretty good.
Corey Taylor: Yeah, that was definitely my starter book, but I definitely feel like I’ve gotten better at it as the time has gone on. But the cool thing is, it’s made me really think about doing different kinds of books. I’ve done the stream of consciousness, I know I’ve got a couple of novels I want to try my hand at, but I don’t know if I’ll be good at it. I’ve got a story, I just need to sit down and do it. But there’s some stuff … I have a book about Shawn Crahan that I want to do because he has … let’s just say a certain way with the English language, that has to be heard to be believed. So I want to make this coffee table book, since I’ve been keeping track of the things he’s said over the years and let him do the artwork. I’ll put all of these expressions together and then go from there.
People are hitting me up to do a cookbook, too, because I love to cook. Which could be really cool, you know?
You could wind up with your own Food Network show!
Corey Taylor: Trust me, you don’t need that in your life. It’d be just four different ways to make pasta. (laughs)
But yeah, I’ve still got a lot of stuff that I want to do.
March 4, 2021
February 15, 2021