From the Archive: Mick Thomson, Corey Taylor, Paul Grey and Jim Root Discuss the Dark, Brutal World of Slipknot
"Of course our look gets us noticed," says 7, the band's lead guitarist. "But it's not as contrived as all that. We started wearing masks and coveralls before we ever thought we'd have any success, before we were officially Slipknot. We would have worn them even if we never left our practice space."
For Slipknot, the masks are shields for the members to hide behind, as well as windows into each player's personality. "With the mask, you can be the self you can't be under normal circumstances," says 7. "In real life, I'm pretty shy and introverted. But just because I'm sitting quietly in a crowd doesn't mean that I don't want to jump up and smash heads in with a baseball bat. So I take that thing that's inside me and bring it out when I'm onstage. The mask lets me do that." 8 backs him up.
"I've always felt that the mask is what I look like on the inside. It's the face of my pain and anger. "Plus," he adds with a rueful grin, "my mask hurts. It's tight, and it's hot behind it. But after a few minutes, the pain goes away. The pain is like a switch: it turns me into what I am onstage -- the voice of the monster. When you put nine lunatics onstage, you're not getting Raggedy Ann."
Nor are you getting much in the way of humanity. For an audience member, Slipknot becomes a collection of automatons, making it easy for fans to imbue the group with their own fears and hates.
"We're almost like comic book characters -- I won't deny it," says 7. "In many ways, we become -- at least to these kids -- superhuman. At the same time, we don't have to deal with all the rock-star bullshit that goes along with this business. I don't worry about makeup except for the black stuff I wear under the mask; there's no prettying up for photographers. We're the 'anti-image,' and that's something else that the kids can relate to. Everyone, when they're 15 or so, feels like an outcast. None of us look like the supermodels being shoved down the public's throats. We bring that to the very front. We push your face in it."
Of course, a bunch of guys running around in Halloween masks and coveralls tend to stand out in a crowd, and not always for the better. On one occasion, while on their way to an in-store signing, the band members pulled into a shopping mall parking lot to change into their costumes. “All of a sudden, these cops show up," says 4. "It turns out we were right in front of a jewelry store, and the security guard thought we were there to rob the place. At one point, we were sitting in the van, and the cops were all around us, with their guns drawn. 6 asked if he could take off his clown mask. One of the cops said, 'Sure. If you have a gun, I'll just shoot you through the door.'
"It was tense for a while, but we sorted it out. We even signed some autographs for them."
Des Moines, Iowa, isn't exactly a hotbed for successful music acts. Even the guys from Slipknot can't think of one band that's managed to make it out of the city.
"No band from Des Moines has ever done a goddamned thing," says 7. "If it weren't for Slipknot, I'd probably be up in a clock tower with a rifle right now. This band saved us all."
At the very least, it saved them from years of dead-end club dates and college frat parties. Slipknot formed five years ago when the band's members -- lead guitarist Mick Thomson (7), guitarist Jim Root (4), bassist Paul Gray (2), vocalist Corey Taylor (8), DJ Sid Wilson (0), sampling/media mixer Craig Jones (5), percussionists Chris Fehn (3) and Shawn Crahan (6) and drummer Joey Jordison (1) -- gathered to jam out some music.
"We were all friends and just decided to play together," Thomson explains. "We never thought it would go further than that. Everyone always talks about the 'rock and roll dream.' But I never had that dream -- I'm not delusional. I've always felt like only the acts producing dog shit ever make it to the top. Those of us slogging it out in the trenches -- especially those with talent -- never even get heard.''
The Des Moines metal scene was an incestuous musical environment to say the least. The members of Slipknot had all been involved in various projects together. As their individual bands fell apart, the like-minded musicians were soon drawn together by their common desire to try something new.
"Mick and I played in a death metal band before Slipknot,'' says Gray. "And Shawn and I used to do some jamming together. Back then -- almost seven years ago -- we were a lot more percussion oriented. Over time, our sound evolved into what it is today."
For Taylor, joining the band was almost preordained. Des Moines' music scene was split down the middle, with Slipknot drawing half the fans while Taylor's band, Stone Sour, pulled in the rest. "I was at the very first Slipknot show, when they had their original singer," says Taylor. "I knew I would sing for them; it was only a matter of time." When Slipknot's original singer departed, Taylor auditioned to replace him and brought with him lyrics to a song the group had written. "That was when we knew it would work," says Taylor. When Slipknot needed a second guitarist, it was Taylor who called in his friend Root to take the job.