Corey Taylor Gets Heavy
The perennial mouth that roared did not disappoint when dishing on depression, suicide, conspiracies, intra-band politics and his eclectic new solo album, CMF2Photo by Pamela Littky Music Features Corey Taylor
For anyone who’s followed Corey Taylor since he first roared into mass consciousness as the masked frontman of Slipknot in the late ‘90s, it won’t come as a surprise that he still has a lot to say. Never one to mince words, Taylor has always matched his ire with a penchant for stinging observation and opinions that are as well-considered as they are pointed. Over the years, he’s also shown us that there are myriad facets to his creativity—whether it’s the unrestrained fury of Slipknot, the more traditional hard-rock leanings of his band Stone Sour or his various detours into folk-country, classic rock, hair metal hip hop and punk. With his latest solo outing CMF2, however, Taylor indulges all his streams of inspiration at once. As one gets acclimated to the whiplash going from one song to the next, what emerges is a picture of an artist whose songwriting has been the common thread all along.
And, while Taylor isn’t quite old enough to draw comparisons to Robert De Niro’s iconic monologue at the start of Raging Bull, he’s now at the point where we can picture him getting there, especially as his perspective continues to grow more seasoned by maturity. With his usual mix of frankness, humor and thoughtfulness, Taylor spoke to Paste at length shortly before the new album’s release.
Paste Magazine: The new album starts out in familiar territory and then takes a sharp turn all of a sudden. You’ve talked recently about how contrast is very important to you at this stage in your career. Can you talk about that?
Corey Taylor: I suffer from a compulsion to write music. I always have. Since I was 12 years old, my whole journey has been to write the next song, the perfect song, the perfect lyric. That’s been the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do. Performing—everything else—is secondary to that. Having something start out in my head and then watching it blossom into something [finished], for me that’s the whole point of doing this. The only limits are your imagination. To me, it just makes sense to go in and make an album that takes you on a journey that doesn’t feel like the first floor of a fuckin’ apartment building—with the same rooms, the same level, the same fuckin’ furnishings, the same fuckin’ bullshit. Like it or not, I’m gonna take you on a ride.
PM: What’s new here is the juxtaposition. It’s not like you’re just throwing everything at the wall. It’s like the transitions between the songs are also composed, if that makes sense.
CT: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
PM: And I wouldn’t say it’s quite like “listening to this new album is like going through your record collection,” but—
CT: Well, I can see where you’re going with that, though. This is definitely the first time I’ve worn it on my sleeve so much. I’ve always been a proponent of listening to a wide array of music. I’ve always been someone that goes “Don’t just listen to metal. Don’t just listen to pop. Don’t just listen to punk.” I’ve said that since day one because it’s a reflection of my own tastes, but maybe this is the first time I’m actually putting my money where my mouth is. With Slipknot, obviously there’s a certain stylistic umbrella that kind of goes without saying. We’ve kind of become a genre unto ourselves, which is rad. With Stone Sour, there was a little more wiggle room, but we played between the sticks—very much so. With this band, I’ve taken all gloves and filters off. If I want to sit down and write a piano song that sounds like U2 meets Kings Of Leon, I’m gonna fuckin’ do it. When Stone Sour first started, not only was I playing guitar constantly, but I was also the lead guitarist and main writer. Honestly, one of the reasons why I was very adamant about starting my solo thing is that there was a weird misconception around who was writing what for what band.
Maybe this is where my ego comes into play, but I felt like I wasn’t getting the credit for the things I was actually writing. With Stone Sour, it was fairly obvious, but there were a lot of songs that I wrote that people thought [guitarists] Jim [Root] or Josh [Rand] wrote where that wasn’t the case at all. And then, with Slipknot, there was a lot of stuff that either wouldn’t have been written without me, or that I wrote that other people gave [themselves] credit [for]. As someone who takes great pride in sitting down and creating something from nothing—just from my imagination—that stuck in my craw. I’ve never shied away from giving credit to the people who deserve it. I’ve never taken credit for anything that I didn’t do, and I’ve always been the first to shine the spotlight on anybody else. I don’t necessarily get that in return. So this, for me, is setting the record straight and changing the narrative. Showing people that, “Oh yeah, he does write heavy shit. And country shit. And acoustic shit. And piano shit. And rock shit. Hardcore shit”—the gamut.
PM: How early in life did you start to focus and develop your work ethic?
CT: It probably started when I was about 19. That’s when I re-dedicated myself to music. It was when I started going out of my way to start a band, instead of being the guy that joined bands. That was the first year that I felt really confident in my guitar playing, and being able to play technically. That was the year that we first put Stone Sour together, which would’ve been—
CT: Yeah, ‘92—right before my 20th birthday. I was actually homeless at the time. But it was cool because I was homeless but the guys in the band actually chipped in and got me a hotel room. That was my first sense of brotherhood and community, and also like “Okay, I can bring something into this that these guys have never had before,” which was clarity, a musical voice, and the [motivation] to take this even further than they’d wanted to. That was the first year where I really felt confidence in my skills as a guitar player.
PM: In the intro to your book America 51, you talk about how, at the moment the 2016 presidential election was decided, you deleted the original manuscript. Obviously, at that point, you couldn’t approach the book from the same angle, but how common is that for you to just chuck something you’ve been working on?
CT: It’s something that I’ve only gotten comfortable with very recently. You have to be 100% happy with what you’re doing. There have been things in the past that I’ve created that, in retrospect, I wish I could go back and change. But you can go back before you put something out. It’s like, “Listen, if you’re not feeling it, don’t rush it.” That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t put out a new book in a while. Because I haven’t really found what I want to talk about yet. I definitely want to make sure that when I do talk about [whatever I’m going to talk about], I can follow those trails to the natural conclusion of where I want to go. There’s no urgency. If I start something and I’m not into it, I just wipe it out and start over. [Laughs.]
But you have to be very sure of yourself. You can’t be scared of a lack of content, or a lack of being able to provide content. You can’t be scared of holding yourself back until you really find those natural conclusions. But, because of that, it’s actually made me a lot more confident in the things that I do put out for the world to see. Even if I do look back and go, “God, I wish I could’ve done that differently,” it’s like, “You know what? I took it as far as I could go in the moment, and now it belongs to the world.”
PM: Just so you know, I’m a lifelong metalhead. But, even compared to some of the heaviest bands one can think of, there’s an extremity of rage to those first few Slipknot records that makes me wonder: for a band that was achieving that kind of adrenaline onstage, how did you cope? How did you adjust and regulate when you walked offstage?
CT: It’s a good question, man. It’s one of the reasons why I really struggled with addictions early on. I’ve been a person of addiction my whole life, for whatever reason. And, when we first hit, having to walk into that level of rage every night [took a toll]. I mean, fuck, we toured like a band that had never toured before, and we did it for probably a solid four years straight before we pulled ourselves off the road and said, “We need to fuckin’ figure this out.” It’s one of those things where you have to mature enough to be able to realize you have to rein it in. Before that, we were just blown away that we were actually getting to do this. I don’t think we really thought about the repercussions. We didn’t think about how the darkness can compound and accumulate and get to the point where it will start to pull you down if you don’t find a positive pressure valve to tap to be able to let that go. And nobody walked us through it. At the time, there were forces that were just kind of taking advantage of the fact that we were this force of nature that could make money for them. So nobody was that worried about our state of mind or state of being—our mental health, basically.
It wasn’t until we signed with the management company that would eventually become 5B [Artist Management]—which has been our management company for 20 years now—that we had anyone looking out for us. That was right around the time that we started to kind of put our pieces together and build a foundation over this abyss that we were constantly hanging over. I mean, it was dark, dude. There were some nights where I couldn’t get off the hotel floor because I was so, either chemically fucked-up or mentally just gone. I didn’t want to go there. There was a reason that we’d put it on an album: so I didn’t have to deal with it again. And here I am every night having to walk through it. So the peace that I’ve had to make with that is the fact that I let it off the chain and then I rein it in. I’ve built my life around something other than that anger. I’ve decided to be a person who lives his life, not somebody who survived it.
You can sit and wallow in the pain of your trauma and your abuse and your addictions. You can either do that, or you can be proactive and fight as hard as you can. Now, I know there are people who fight as hard as they can, and they don’t win. But the point is, they fight. They don’t let that backstory become the only definition of who they are.
PM: So, for the new record—we can hear some of the things that get you lit up now, but it’s like a wiser kind of agitation.
CT: You’re not wrong. In the beginning, it was almost like scream therapy. I was trying to be poetic, but at the same time it wasn’t so important what I was saying as much as how I was saying it. Now, it’s so much more important what I’m saying. That’s the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself a long time ago. Because that’s where I started, and that’s kind of where I’ve come back around to: wanting to write and be artistic, poetic, emotional and prolific. Those are my four goals. So I dip my toes into these things that I’ve dealt with my whole life, but it’s taken-on more of an urgency, especially in the last few years. So on this album, I’m talking about my previous divorce to my previous dealings with abuse. There’s songs about my wife now, and I’m talking about friends I’ve had over the years who just take, so they’re not really friends to begin with. There’s a litany of subjects. Depression, for example, is something I’ve really strived to communicate to people. Because the more they can understand how depression affects me, maybe it’ll help them figure out how it affects them and be able to maneuver these things a little easier. Especially physical depression, which is so hard to describe to people, and yet it’s something that’s almost as debilitating as any type of addiction that I’ve ever experienced.
PM: It just hit me before talking to you that Slipknot’s Iowa is kind of like the Straight Outta Compton of the part of the country you’re from. It put a place on the pop-culture map by opening a door into an underbelly that people from elsewhere wouldn’t have known about. You traveled a lot as a kid, and you wrote a book on America. What have you learned about the US from traveling around—both within the country and outside of it?
CT: Growing up on the road, whether moving around or touring, I’ve seen that the country has changed a lot over the years. People have changed a lot. The things that used to define certain parts of the country have changed a lot. The thing that I’ve noticed now is that, because the internet and technology have made the world smaller, people are trying to make things more exaggerated or important than they actually are. There’s that really awful problem we have right now of conspirituality. Everyone wants to be special, so they dive down every conspiracy-theory wormhole that they can in order to feel like they’re in the know, like they’re onto something that not a lot of people know about.
Your QAnons, your celebrities-eating-babies bullshit—all of that psycho shit that is tying a lot of the country together, which is a fucking issue. The fact that people are actually even giving oxygen to any of this shit, and it’s becoming even more prevalent, even more mainstream, even more accepted amongst people who reportedly used to be fuckin’ very smart, is scary. So that’s the thing that I’ve discovered: Crazy is running rampant. And not just in certain parts of the country. I know a lot of elitists want to think that it’s only sequestered to little pockets here and there. No—it’s fucking everywhere. Now, it makes me put my head on a swivel to worry about where the fuck the crazy’s coming from. Because now, I have no clue, man. And that’s scary.
PM: Sean [Crahan, Slipknot co-founder] still lives in Des Moines, and you still keep up roots there despite all your mixed feelings. Can you talk about that?
CT: I think there’s always going to be a part of us that feels like we’re from Iowa, no matter where we live. I’ve lived in Vegas now for the last fifteen years, and for the longest time I had a house in Iowa and a house here. I only just in the last couple of years sold the house in Iowa. Griffin [Taylor’s son] is older, he’d moved out, and my grandmother had passed away. So there was really no reason for me to keep a house there. Now I just go and visit friends. That being said, I still consider myself a guy from Iowa, even though I moved around a lot. I never felt connected to anywhere more than I did to Des Moines, Iowa because it was the place where I found all the people like me. It was the place where, creatively, I grew up. I moved around a lot when I was in my twenties trying to find a better place to start my craft, to start my musical career. I tried doing it in Denver, Kansas City, Omaha—we went all over the place trying to make it. Everywhere we went, nowhere was as creative, as driven or as crazy as Des Moines fuckin’ Iowa. Everywhere I went felt two-dimensional, like there was no passion, man. There was nothing that compared to the psychoses that drove everybody from Des Moines. That’s one of the reasons why Slipknot is what it is. We still have that fiery heart. It’s not the original nine anymore, but that spirit is still there. That’s the connection I still have to Iowa, and for a lot of the people I keep in touch with there.
PM: I’m surprised to hear you don’t relate more to how people in quote-unquote “flyover country” have feelings of resentment about being viewed that way.
CT: I mean, we did. But at the same time, for example, all the bands who I’m friends with now, they would always say they’d come through Des Moines and it would be the craziest fuckin’ show. When you talk about flyover states, everybody talks about the mainstream idea—the picture, the American Gothic fuckin’ bullshit. That everybody in Iowa has a farm, a cow and a sister they fuck. That was the joke for the longest time. Or that South Park episode where everything was five years behind. “Ooh, let’s go see the man frozen in time.” We took exception to that, but we also knew that one of those fuckin’ people could hold a candle to us when it came to taking music to the extreme and taking life to the extreme. We were okay with that.
We grew up in this culture where everybody looked at Iowa as this raging Republican state, and yet the underbelly—especially in the bigger cities—was very… I’m not gonna say liberal, but it was very progressive. All of us were against the conservative Christian bullshit. And that hasn’t changed. We may have Midwestern values, but our idea of what is right and wrong is clearly in [contradiction with] the controlling state government that’s [in power] right now. It’s actually way more liberal than people think. Iowa is nominally a purple state, for the most part. It all kind of depends on which way the country is shifting. If you look at the Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump years, it was very much in lockstep with the popular vote. It’s always been overlooked as a pulse-check for the state of the country, both politically and socially. But we never really worried about being a punchline because we knew that the people saying that have such two-dimensional fuckin’ thinking that we didn’t even give it any air.
PM: When you try to imagine what it’s like to be a young person today, what do you think you’d be angry about?
CT: Oh, Christ—obviously the politics of the day. I’ve always been more in the middle, and the rampant conservatism bothers me. It’s feeling very much like the ‘80s right now. I mean, this is actually making the ‘80s feel [tame by comparison], for fuck’s sake. Not only is it one extreme or another, but I find myself at odds with both sides of what’s happening. There’s a reason why the conservatives call the liberals pedophiles: because they got tired of being called Nazis by the liberals. Once you kind of figure out what each side is trying to do, you can see through this shit. And yet, here we are with all of these people who are voting against their best interests for the better part of 40 fuckin’ years now and wondering why nothing’s gotten better. Every time their “team” wins, nothing gets better for them. And they haven’t sat down to figure out why. That’s what I would be pissed off about.
PM: Where do things stand with you and Slipknot?
CT: Oh, we’re good. [Pauses, laughs.] We’re always up and down. We’re brothers, but we’re not always the best of friends. There’s a push and pull that comes with being in this band. I haven’t blatantly said that I was going to leave or whatever, but what I have said is that, physically, I just don’t know how much longer I can do it. Between my spinal surgery, my knee surgery—a litany of health issues that I’ve had over the years—it’s getting harder and harder to do it. Because I throw myself into the performance, when I come offstage and all of a sudden the adrenaline peels away, I’m left just beat to shit. [Laughs.] It’s getting harder for me to maintain that. It could be five years, it could be ten, but there’s definitely a shelf life for how hard I can go. And if that’s the case, I don’t want to be the guy walking—or hobbling—around onstage trying to be the guy who he was 40 years before that. And the guys know that. And we all share that same feeling. It’s one of the reasons why we try to evolve. But it’s almost always still in that same realm. We can’t help ourselves. We’re fucked! But we’re definitely looking at our own mortality now.
PM: Your new song “Post-Traumatic Blues,” touches, if only in passing, on PTSD. But you’ve been open about attempts to take your own life on multiple occasions, even fairly recently.
PM: Where are you with these struggles, and is there anything else on the record that you’re trying to get across that you would want to draw attention to?
CT: We pretty much covered it all. Right now, the demons are at bay. I’m actually in a pretty decent place in my life and in my heart. Right now I’m married to a woman who surprises me every day with her capacity for understanding. My kids are doing really, really well and I’m getting to spend a lot of time with them. That’s something I’d hoped to do in the past, but it’s taken this long to get to the point where I can call my own schedule, write it myself and be like, “No, I’m taking a month off to be with my kids. I’m going to hang out and do my thing.” My bands are doing really well; I’m able to write a lot of music; I’ve got some more cool opportunities coming down the pike—I’m in a really good place. Now, will that last forever? I don’t know. There are definitely times when I’m in a great spot and my physical depression hits. And then I just have to ride it out. There’s no way to control it, unless I go on meds. But, for me, the risk of losing my creativity is far worse than just riding-out a physical lapse, which I’ve done. Luckily, I’m surrounded by people who understand. Because I’ve been able to explain to them that it’s not triggered, really, by anything. It just happens. And once people understand that, that support can be there for you.
PM: For people who don’t know what it’s like, how is it that people with that type of depression stay productive?
CT: A lot of it comes down to working while you’re manic. There’s a reason why I have bursts of creativity and trying to get shit down. Because I know, if I get caught up and ahead of the curve, when that feeling hits me, I don’t have to worry about having to rise to it. I can hit pause and kind of wait for that blanket to get lifted off of me. It’s just working ahead of time and making sure you almost have a surplus. That’s why I try to work as quickly as possible. If people need things from me, and there’s even a huge window, I try to get it done immediately. Because you just don’t know what you’re going to feel like in a month. I try to work the curve to my advantage. And then, when it comes time for me to have to give-in to that physical depression, I can. My support system understands that, so they kind of keep work at bay while I ride it out.
Physical depression is very much like having an out-of-body experience. You have no energy and you can’t really think. It’s just a deadening of everything. I’ve always described it as: it’s like wandering around the earth wrapped in six wet blankets and trying to function. Everything feels heavy. Conversation feels heavy. You can’t muster the energy to do anything. There have been times where I’ve laid on the floor for hours because I just don’t want to get up. I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to feel anything. I don’t want to be me. I can’t be anything. That’s what physical depression is in a nutshell. It’s so much more than that, but that’s the only real way to introduce people to what it’s like to feel that coming on. It’s like you have two gigantic hands that are moving-in towards you. You know they’re coming, and at some point they’re going to wrap around you for a time.
Luckily for me, it only lasts about four or five days. So I’m able to kind of put things off for a minute. Once I get back on my feet, it’s like “Okay, let’s do this now.” Obviously, when I was fucked up, it took longer. But the lapses have gotten smaller and smaller. If I know it’s coming, I let everybody know and then I can allow myself to deal with it. And even if I’m the road, I can fight through it enough to get what I need to do done—i.e: the shows and press—because I know that it’s temporary. Knowing in your head that it’s temporary definitely helps. So it’s just a matter of being prepared and allowing yourself to feel it. Because if you try and repress it, it will come back twofold and threefold. It will engulf you and fuck your life enough. You have to be brave enough to just be able to embrace it and know that it’s just a part of who you are and just go on.
Saby Reyes-Kulkarni is a longtime contributor at Paste. He believes that a music journalist’s job is to guide readers to their own impressions of the music. You can find him on Twitter and Substack at feedbackdef.substack.