Unmasked: An Interview With Slipknot’s Corey Taylor

Heavy metal nine-piece Slipknot have won over tons of metalheads with their sonic intensity and live sets.

Now the mask-wearing madmen are teaming up with Black Sabbath to throw the monster of all metal festivals when Ozzfest Meets Knotfest at San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA on September 24 & 25.

We got a chance to catch up with Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor to discuss all the details – plus get the inside scoop on the group’s live show, his recent emergency spinal surgery, and his surprising love of soul singers like Prince and Lionel Richie. But, if there’s one thing we learned from talking to him, it’s that there’s a lot going on under Corey Taylor’s mask.

Thank you, Denver. [?: @stratihov]

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Ticketmaster: You joined Slipknot a couple years after the band formed. How did you first get involved with the group?

Corey: For the most part, we all knew each other, because we all grew up in the scene. We played gigs together in different variations: my band would open for Joey (Jordison’s) band, and we would all play with Clown (Crahan’s) band. I had actually moved to Denver for about six months to try my hand at starting a band out there, because I was convinced I was never going to make it big in Des Moines – ironically. I came back and all the sudden there was this Des Moines supergroup called Slipknot that was happening with all of these people that I knew. I remember going to their first show and being blown away. Stone Sour and Slipknot did some shows together and then one thing led to another. I don’t know if it was just mutual respect, but those guys approached me about joining the band and after some consideration, I decided to take the gig.

Ticketmaster: How were those early days? What was it like playing your first live shows together?

Corey: It was chaos man. You get those good vibes when you know you’re onto something, just that raw, palpable vibe that you get when you’re in the room and you’re making some crazy stuff happen. But for me it was also a learning experience. I was so used to being the guy in the band that had the ideas, and now I was a part of this brain trust where you could bounce ideas off of people and really flesh stuff out. It was much less the frontman-driven vehicle and more about the collective, which I really found appealing at the time. It was “all for one and one for all,” and we were ready to musketeer across the country.

Ticketmaster: How has the live show evolved during your 17 years in the band?

Corey: It’s always a reflection of where we are in our lives. Obviously the first five years were pretty brutal, just because we were young and nuts, full of all the crazy stuff that tends to kill people after a while. The next five was a renaissance for us, trying different things and dabbling with different kinds of staging and production. Especially as the band got bigger and bigger. And then the last five, after dealing with the loss of Paul [Gray] and splitting ways with Joe, we had to figure out who we were as a band again – and the staging reflected that. So, for the first year and a half it was very much fire, pyro, and all that crazy stuff. But then we went for a more technological, visual, electronic vibe. We have a giant video screen and each song that we play has different video content that Clown programmed. We upped our lighting package to keep it as visual as possible. Plus, with this band, you could come to twelve different shows and watch a different band member, and you’d get a different show each time.

Ticketmaster: Crowds feed off the chaotic energy the group brings to the stage. How do you amp yourselves up before shows?

Corey: The cool thing about this band is that we’ve always thrown our energy in the pot for each other. We get each other ready for the show, we walk around, we talk to each other, we hug, and then we get in a big huddle before the show. That really brings us together and puts us on the same page. As far as when we get on stage, our dedication to what we do has never changed. Even as we’ve gotten older and we’ve broken more and more parts of our bodies [laughs], it’s still second nature to us. We dedicate ourselves to absolutely trying to be the best live band – and just the best band period – that we can be.

Ticketmaster: What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened during a live show?

Corey: Oh, God. You’ve gotta remember, this is a band that used to set each other on fire with lighter fluid [laughs]. Like, it wasn’t anything that you would see on the set of a movie, this was just us being dumb and nuts. We’ve always been a little out of it, we’ve always been a lot crazy, we’ve always been very physical. As the years have gone by, it’s kind of changed. It seems like for every iteration of us, something new happens. But the last couple years has been more about making sure we’re all on the same page and going for it.

Ticketmaster: What does your mask symbolize about you and how has your mask changed over time?

⑧ // #hammerknot

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Corey: When we first started out, the mask was the visual representation of who I was on the inside. Because when it comes to making Slipknot music and art and everything in between – that mask was the person that had been begging to get out. Over the years it’s changed a lot visually. It comes from a different stand point, and it’s come to represent different phases of my life.

This one that I’m wearing now has two layers, so it’s a mask behind a mask. It signifies the person behind the mask, who’s also behind that mask. It deals with layers and it deals with what we choose to show the world while we’re still dealing with something, even if we might possibly be lying to ourselves. It has to do with levels of honesty, which are completely different from levels of fact.

Corey Taylor of Slipknot
Corey Taylor of Slipknot

Ticketmaster: Have you ever had any wardrobe malfunctions with the masks?

Corey: Oh, yeah! And they usually always happen to me. We were on the Iowa cycle and we were playing Ozzfest 2001, and we’re in the middle of one of the biggest thunderstorms that could possibly be going on. We were under a shell at one of the big amphitheaters, but the wind is blowing so hard that it’s blowing the rain right into our faces. Well, my mask at the time was made of foam rubber, so it slowly started to absorb all of that rain until it weighed about as much as a bowling ball. Then, one of my buckles broke. I’m slamming, I’m headbanging, I’m having a great time, and all the sudden the mask comes flying off. It was so slow-motion. I stopped and just slowly picked it back up and put it back on my head. I had to run behind the set and have someone staple my mask back together so I could finish the show. And that’s not even including the crotches ripping out of our coveralls or anything else that’s gone wrong.

Ticketmaster: You guys played Ozzfest in 1999 right when things were taking off for you. What was that first big break like?

Corey: It was an interesting time for me, because I had fried my voice right before we went on tour and I had to go on absolute vocal rest for two months. That’s how bad it was. But I remember having the best time of my life. There’s something to be said about working your ass off trying to get to that point where you can reach for your dreams, and then your dreams become reality. For us, everything we had done up to that point was all about getting our foot in the door. We knew that for people to take us seriously and to get where we wanted to go, we were going to have to work three times as hard as the next guy.

And Ozzfest gave us a hell of an opportunity. They were so good to us. The whole Osbourne family was so great. I got to be really good friends with Jack on that tour, and I got to know his parents really well. Ozzy hugged me, which to me was like being christened. It was a big deal: I met Sabbath, I met Black Sabbath. And they looked at me like a peer. One of the first songs I ever sang was “Paranoid,” so I might as well have been knighted by the Queen, for God’s sake.

Ticketmaster: Knotfest is teaming up with Ozzfest this year. How does it feel to be part of what could be the biggest metal concert of all time?

Corey: It’s pretty rad. I try not to think about it too much because I don’t want to jinx it. I just look at it as an opportunity to pay that respect back. We take respect very seriously, and we always try to pay our debts back and help out people who helped us. So partnering up with Ozzfest was a no-brainer for us. It made so much sense and it was such a great idea that we were just excited to get it going.

Ticketmaster: You’re sharing the mainstage with huge bands like Black Sabbath, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. How have they influenced you? What’s it like to play with some of your heroes?

Corey: It’s pretty easy to say that without those bands there’d be no Slipknot. Our parents listened to Sabbath, Zeppelin, and all that stuff, but then our generation’s movement was obviously The Big Four of Thrash (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax). It’s something that I don’t take lightly, because I grew up listening to those bands. And the fact that some of them are opening for me, I don’t let that go to my head because it would be disrespectful. I feel like we’re paying them back, because if it wasn’t for those bands, I wouldn’t be doing this. Maybe when the time comes and there’s a huge band that I’m opening for that I influenced, hopefully that energy comes back. That’s how I think about it and that’s the only way that I can really feel comfortable with it.

Ticketmaster: Are there any cities you’ve never played before that you’re excited to check out on the road? Any places you’re excited to get back to?

Corey: I have to say yes to both. It’s sounding like we’re going to get an opportunity to play Taiwan, which is big for us. We’ve always been anathema in certain areas of Asia. There’s a handful of places there that I would love to play, and I know that we’re talking about possibly doing a show in China. But they’re still so wary of us, and rightly so.

Everywhere we’ve been there are so many damn cities that I love to play. In America alone, every coast – every time zone – has at least 10 cities that I love to play. We’ve been very fortunate to avoid the curse of some bands that are smaller in certain territories. We’ve been able to take it over everywhere. Anytime we show up to a place, whether it’s Australia or Arizona, it’s massive. That is such a testament to the work ethic and the talent and the creativity that we’ve put into this band. So, the place that I’m really looking forward to playing is the next city, because that’s really where it’s at for us.

Ticketmaster: What was the last show you saw as a fan that absolutely blew you away? And it doesn’t have to be metal.

Corey: My wife works in management, so we don’t really go to a lot of shows, because we’re almost always on the road. But there have been a couple of times where we just say, “Screw it, we’re getting dressed up and we’re going out.” One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen was when we saw Lionel Richie at The Colosseum in Vegas. We have a house there and happened to be in town on one of his two-week runs. We were losing our minds. From his performance to the audience participation, the laughter – it was just such a great vibe. It made me very, very envious, and I was like, “Man, I can’t wait to get back on the road!” Sometimes, you’ll go see bands play and you can just tell – I shudder to say “going through the motions” – but you can just tell that something’s off. But it’s very refreshing to see an artist that after all those years, he still puts on a show. And I will go and see him again no matter where he’s playing.

Ticketmaster: You were at First Avenue in Minnesota the night that Prince passed away, and you opened the show with “Purple Rain.” What was the energy like, playing such an elegiac song in a venue that helped establish him as an artist? Also, what did Prince mean to you as an artist and performer?

Live from Minneapolis #Prince

Posted by Corey Taylor on Thursday, April 21, 2016

Corey: Coming from the Midwest, there were a handful of heroes that you had, and Prince was one of them. He was one of those guys that busted his ass in the Midwest and was able to write his own ticket. One of the greatest artists ever. Huge influence on me. It was very strange and surreal waking up in Minneapolis and hearing the news, letting all that sink in. It was like, “Christ, we’re playing First Avenue tonight.” It was heavy. Some of the people who worked for him were actually working for me that night, so it was intense. My show starts in a completely different way: I come out and I talk for about an hour, and then I play for an hour and a half. But it wouldn’t have seemed right doing that. So, I decided to show my respect right out of the gate. I walked on the stage and you could tell the audience was hurting, almost like they were all holding their breath. And as soon as they recognized the song, they let it go. That was the whole reason to play that song and let them sing it – just to cry with them. It was really heavy, and that’s all I can say about it.

Ticketmaster: You also just had emergency spinal surgery. What’s it been like getting back on the road and into the action of your live concerts after that kind of injury?

Corey: In typical fashion, I probably hit the road a little quicker than I should have. I had spinal surgery and we postponed the first three weeks of the tour. That was it. There’s a lot of things that I wish I had done differently. I can trace this back to an injury that I had back in ’99, and I wish I’d gotten things checked out then – it would have saved me the trouble now. But capricious youth, hindsight’s 20/20, any other old saying you want to apply to it.

But it’s also a lesson in where I am. There’s all these things that I’m used to doing that I’ve had to fight off. No headbanging, no jumping off crazy s#*t. I really had to rein it in and also entertain the audience. The thing that I can say, is that I’m really happy that I quit smoking before any of this stuff even happened, because my voice is stronger than it has been in God knows how long. That’s one of the things that I’m leaning on most, and my vocal development has allowed me to loosen up and entertain the audience in a different way. It’s still exciting, it’s still a lot of fun, it’s still powerful – it’s just different. And the guys have all rallied around me and had my back when I needed them, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Ticketmaster: Finally, is there anything that you’d like to say to longtime fans? For “Maggots” that have already gone to dozens of shows, what feels new this time around?

Corey: It’s a great set this time around. It’s a little longer and I think it represents all the different eras that we’ve gone through. We’ve been able to use our history and make it something new. Instead of looking in a rearview mirror, it’s feels like we’re looking out the windshield at what’s to come. I think that’s why people are really gravitating towards this, because it doesn’t feel like a “greatest hits” set. It feels like we’re just hitting our stride. For a band that’s been around 17 years, that’s a hell of a feeling.

Almost time, maggots. slipknot1.com/events

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