HYBRID THEORY: COREY TAYLOR DISCUSSES HIS AMBITION TO BECOME METAL’S BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
Armed with a renewed perspective and resounding positivity, the heavy music icon further asserts his rank as a tried and true singer/songwriter on solo record two.
Over the years, as a musician, Corey Taylor has had many faces. He’s had just as many masks. These have been literal and figurative, professional and personal.
He came face-to-face with a mini-legion of Coreys on the set of the music video of his recent single, “Beyond”. There were incarnations of Taylor in Slipknot, Stone Sour, and even the variety of out-there suits he wore to present the Kerrang! Awards alongside Scott Ian in the 2010s.
In the behind-the-scenes video of the shoot, the Coreys advance towards him, part Zombie horde, part “Army of Me”, to quote the Björk song. There’s delight in Taylor’s eyes, but also something deeper, as he processes these versions of himself walking in his direction.
‘I’ve lived so many different lives in this life,’ Taylor tells me over Zoom, at the tail-end of two grueling days of publicity. ‘Every time I would look at a certain version, I would be taken back to that moment that I was wearing that [outfit]. I could see certain shows. I could feel certain songs that I performed in those. It was cool to put it into perspective.’
When Taylor performs, he morphs into a different incarnation of himself. He’s done it throughout his career. There was the raging alcoholic of the Iowa era. The large holes in his mask were voids where negativity seemed to be sucked in, and then projected out. Then there’s the rapidfire, semi-stand up comedy of his acoustic shows – lighthearted, fan-centred and stripped bare.
On CMF2, his new solo album, the diversity of its songs show every dimension of his personality. But something has changed. The masks of old have been dropped. It’s an overwhelmingly positive move that suffuses the thirteen songs with manic relish, often pure joy. It sounds like the happiest album he’s ever made.
‘I mean, there are definitely some elements where I’m delving into some darker shades, but you’re absolutely right,’ agrees Taylor. ‘When you’re having as much fun as we were in the studio, I think that’s unintentionally or subliminally going to creep into the vibe.’
The exceptions on the album prove the rule. Penultimate track, “All I Want Is Hate”, has as much bounce as hard-charging bite. Taylor summarises it as having a ‘satirical, cynical bent’, borne out in its cheeky reworking of the coda to The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”.
Taylor describes album closer “Dead Flies” as an ‘expansive opus’. It has overtones of the solo work of Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell (its title probably a sly reference to AIC EP, Jar of Flies). The song concerns hypocrisy and betrayal in general – though it relates to one particular person in Taylor’s life. That person dropped their mask for good one day, confirming rumours that had circulated around them for years. Taylor gave them the benefit of the doubt, until doubt couldn’t cover for them any longer.
‘In a general sense, it’s about people who come into your life who provide nothing, and all they do is take,’ says Taylor. ‘And once you see them for who they are, that honestly washes away all of the illusions. And you leave them behind, and the only thing that they’ll be left with in the end is the dead flies that litter their feet.’
‘Don’t point the finger with the hand that played the part in murder,’ Taylor bitterly sings on the track.
‘There were sadly real-life opportunities that allowed him to show me his true self,’ Taylor says of the subject of the song. ‘I was left brokenhearted, man, it was really a bum-out. Writing that song was really hard. Because when I write a song, it’s a way for me to process the things that have happened in my life. And once I’ve processed them, I move on.’
The process – the work – is at the heart of a balanced self. Even the roared bridge section, and final exultant chorus, leave a different emotion. As throughout the album, what resonates from the music is confessional, uplifting and emotionally open.
‘All of my songs are supposed to have that,’ he says. ‘Every song I’ve ever written is supposed to have that silver lining at the end. It’s supposed to have that light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve always put it there because it’s backing up things that I’ve said since day one. Which is: it’s all temporary. Everything that you go through is temporary. Something may feel permanent. But it’s not. The weight of something, no matter how negative it is, is only there as long as you want to keep it there. So you just have to ride things out. You can really feel that on this album.’
Whether it’s the Pennywise influence on “We Are The Rest”, Guns N’ Roses-isms of “Talk Sick”, or the Irish country folk (as Taylor describes it) of “Breath Of Fresh Smoke”, this is an album of ‘genre mashups’ – hybrids – across the song sequence and within the songs themselves. This musical version of hopscotch points to a refreshed attitude to Taylor’s creativity: ‘I really decided to approach everything with a certain amount of joy.’
‘Because I’ve been able to do that, it’s created almost this new dynamic of music for me,’ he continues. ‘Where it’s not all dark, and it’s not all light. It’s like stacking plates in your cupboard. And you’re looking at it and everything just fits.’
The truth is, Taylor has kept his shadow side very close. So close that it’s foregrounded in Slipknot, as if it seeps through Taylor and materialises in his grotesque masks. It was there on “(sic)” on Slipknot’s self-titled album (‘You can’t kill me ‘cause I’m already inside you’). And it has remained all the way through to “Acidic” on The End So Far (‘The grimace behind me, I’m always aligned with my selves’).
Taylor used to struggle with normal life – the simplest day-to-day things. When he was younger, ‘nothing made sense’. His battles with addiction have been well documented. He smiles wryly that he’s not been the easiest person to live with. At the same time, he has achieved extraordinary things and been at the pinnacle of his profession in Slipknot.
‘I never gave myself credit for the things that I was good at; the things that I did have a grasp on,’ he says. ‘And I never let myself enjoy a lot in my life. I’m in such a different place in my life, where I’ve – for all intents and purposes – stopped really giving a shit what anyone thinks about me personally.’
Taylor loves the music he makes with his solo band, and has a new understanding of Slipknot. He has a family that he wants to spend more time with and a healthier attitude to work, reflected in the steadier working state of Slipknot: ‘I know I have to work, but I don’t think I’m gonna work nearly as much as I’ve done in the past.’
The man who roared ‘I haven’t smiled in years’ at the end of Slipknot’s “Solway Firth” only four years ago, when We Are Not Your Kind was released, has changed. As performatively miserable as that sounded then, CMF2 is genuinely, vigorously accepting of Taylor’s emotional slings and arrows.
‘To me it’s a whole new take on life,’ he says. ‘There was always one foot in the depression for me. I don’t know if I did it intentionally or if it was just something I was used to – that I felt had to be there. Fuck that, dude.’
The new album both confirms and confronts expectations. For CMFT, released in October 2020, the pressure was off. No-one knew what to expect of it, least of all Taylor. The pace set after the success of that first solo outing, Taylor expects to crush it this time out.
‘There’s a lot of energy,’ he confirms. ‘There’s a lot of excitement: a lot of emotion and anticipation about this album that the first one didn’t have. Largely because the first one was just kind of like, let’s see what happens. This album is very much: OK, we’ve got our heels against the wall. We’re about to sprint. This is where we’re going. And we’re going to fucking haul ass while we do it.’
That doesn’t make it about people pleasing. All of Taylor’s albums have seen him tell a story of some sort, apart from CMFT. The story there, if any, was the lack of overarching narrative in its variety. He compiled songs written and developed in different times and places over the years. Taylor describes CMF2 being born of ‘positive reticence’. He can lean into the elements of his career people expect – heavy yet melodic, acoustic and electric. At the same time, it upends audience expectations.
‘You’re allowing yourself the freedom to do exciting things,’ says Taylor. ‘Not really giving a shit what the audience thinks, before you play it for them. That’s the most important thing, because it allows you to cut them out of the process. You can do your thing, and then share it with them.’
Some of the material on the album is twenty years old. Taylor wrote the drum rhythm and opening riff of “Post Traumatic Blues” around the time of Iowa. He couldn’t find a place for it on that album, but in writing the new record he ‘stripped it to the studs’.
The song barrels along with that trademark Slipknot aggression, then swerves into punkier rock ‘n’ roll territory with licks and harmonies that bring to mind Norwegian crew Kvelertak. Opening out to a huge chorus it plants its feet in FM rock radio territory. It’s a whirligig of a song that stands for the album in microcosm – all the dimensions of Taylor’s musical personality are evident, with some surprising new twists.
‘Challenging the listener, but doing it in a way where the music feels familiar, and they want to sing along with the song. That was my biggest challenge,’ Taylor says of the track.
With a North American tour upcoming, and dates in the Autumn in the UK and Europe – now with two whole solo albums to draw from – begs the question of what he’s going to play live. At the time we speak, he’s already been ‘toiling’ on the setlist for three weeks.
When it comes to Slipknot and Stone Sour, if he had a strong hand in the writing and/or arranging of the song, Taylor sees it as his ‘proprietary right’ to play it. For example, he wrote “Song #3” and “Through Glass” for Stone Sour, and co-wrote and arranged “Absolute Zero”. With Stone Sour guitarist Christian Martucci in his solo band, he points to the song “Fabuless” as one they co-wrote together.
Taylor is keen that his solo shows are eclectic and spontaneous. If that means dialling back the Stone Sour and Slipknot material, so be it. He wants to keep the guardians of setlist.fm guessing. It’s going to be a lot of work and he’s uncertain he can pull it off. But I sense it’s this challenge that excites him the most – part of proving he is a solo artist in the vein of his heroes.
‘I want to get to a point where me and the guys roll into a venue and we go, Okay, let’s rehearse a little bit, let’s see where we’re at,’ explains Taylor. ‘And then we start from fucking scratch, man, and just go, alright, what do we want to play tonight? We’re going to have the usual suspects, but what are we going to throw at them to really fuck with their heads?! That’s my dream, it’s what I’ve done perennially with my acoustic shows.’
I wonder how much this is a response to a repetitiveness creeping into Slipknot’s shows in recent years. This summer they made a conscious effort to switch things up, throwing tracks such as “Purity”, “Eyeless”, “Liberate” and “Snuff” back into the mix. But spontaneity isn’t easy with the size of the live Slipknot roadshow.
‘You’re kind of a slave to the production,’ says Taylor. ‘You have this rolling army with you, where you have a whole section that’s handling this, you have a whole other section of people who are handling that. There’s a fucking battalion of people where their whole thing is to make sure that the kabuki [the giant sheet concealing the stage] is taken care of and out of the fucking way. So it very much is a rolling village, and then add to the fact that we’re three times bigger than the usual band, and it’s just a fucking circus for God’s sakes.’
Slipknot added “Yen” from The End So Far to this summer’s live shows, otherwise new material has been rather sparse.
‘The set can be quite rigid,’ Taylor says. ‘We don’t usually get a lot of time to rehearse or try new things. And honestly, there weren’t a lot of requests for us to play a ton of new material.’
As Slipknot approaches a quarter of a century since the release of the self-titled album, Taylor seems keenly aware of legacy.
‘It’s the first time I’m really getting a taste of how long I’ve truly been doing it,’ he confesses. ‘And the impact that I’ve had, and the fact that I’m allowing myself to be kinda proud of what I’ve done.’
At the same time, Taylor has restlessly and frequently redefined himself during his career. Stone Sour released their debut album the week after Slipknot played an era-defining post-Iowa set at the legendary Reading Festival in August 2002. It’s almost as if with his solo work, Taylor is actively slipping out of the clutches of any attempt to ossify his place in history.
He gave CMF2 to a cynical, ‘crotchety’, seen-it-all-before record industry friend. They came back to him to say that this was his ‘David Lee Roth’ moment. The friend told Taylor he’d no longer be ‘the guy from Slipknot’ but that Slipknot would be known as the band that featured him. That was perhaps a mind-fuck too far, but welcome feedback for the even bigger mission he has set himself.
For Taylor, the ultimate goal with CMF2 is to establish himself as a singer-songwriter. With that moniker, he believes, comes the licence to explore any topic he chooses in any musical mode. To write songs in ways he’d never considered before.
Forget David Lee Roth (he laughs he hasn’t the physicality to be Roth anymore): ‘My whole goal is to be the Bruce Springsteen of my genre,’ says Taylor. Duff McKagan made the comparison recently and it seems to have stuck with Taylor.
‘When anybody says singer-songwriter, they immediately think of Springsteen, or they think of Ray LaMontagne’ he continues. ‘They never consider the fact that maybe people in heavier bands are singer-songwriters, you know? They write heavy shit, and then they sing it while they play it. You know, it’s the misconception that you can’t be that if you’re playing heavy music, and that’s what I’m maybe trying to dissuade or disprove, basically.’
In this way, a personal mission becomes about being a figurehead for heavy music as a whole. Rather than run away from the genre with the diversity of his solo material, he wants to carry it with him.
Take album opener, “The Box”. Its prominent mandolin and crescendoing atmospherics reminded me of the Led Zeppelin classic “The Battle of Evermore”.
‘Only when you’re dying you’ll ever really know/Because all the eyes are smiling/Take a breath/Enjoy the show’, Taylor gnomically sings.
It has a timeless quality that reaches back to the greats. And it points forward to what’s about to unfurl on the album, like a ‘stranglehold’, as he puts it.
‘It was literally the first thing I wrote,’ says Taylor. ‘I never played mandolin before I bought one on the road while we were out with Slipknot. I was sitting in the front lounge of the bus waiting for my wife. She had run to the store to grab something. I just started playing that riff. And I mean, it just fucking wrote itself. I was like, well, there’s the intro to the album!’
A mandolin-led epic-in-miniature composed on Slipknot’s tour bus tells you everything you need to know about CMF2’s capacity to surprise and delight. Whether Taylor achieves his lofty aims remains to be seen – in the meantime we can revel in his efforts.
The mask is off. Enjoy the show.
Taylor is currently on his extensive North American headlining tour with Wargasm, Oxymorrons and Luna Aura. The run includes several festival appearances including upcoming spots at Louder Than Life and a set at Aftershock in Sacramento this October.
Closing out the year, Taylor will then make his live return to Europe and the UK to showcase live selections from CMF2. This November, Taylor will headline a succession of live dates touching down in the UK, France, Germany and The Netherlands in an especially anticipated succession of tour stops.
A full list of live dates can be found below.
Tickets can be purchased – HERE
CMF2 lands September 15th via Taylor’s own label, Decibel Cooper.
Pre-order the album – HERE
Corey Taylor CMF2 U.S. Tour Dates
w/ support from Wargasm, Oxymorrons & Luna Aura on select dates
9/13 – Boston, MA – House of Blues *
9/15 – Wallingford, CT – The Dome at Oakdale **
9/16 – Huntington, NY – The Paramount **
9/18 – North Myrtle Beach, SC – House of Blues **
9/19 – Orlando, FL – House of Blues **
9/21 – Huntsville, AL – Mars Music Hall **
9/22 – Louisville, KY – Kentucky Exposition Center (Louder Than Life) ***
9/24 – Houston, TX – House of Blues **
9/25 – Dallas, TX – House of Blues **
9/27 – Albuquerque, NM – Revel **
9/28 – Tempe, AZ – Marquee Theatre **
9/29 – Henderson, NV – The Dollar Loan Center ***
10/1 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues **
10/3 – Riverside, CA – Riverside Municipal Auditorium **
10/5 – Los Angeles, CA – The Wiltern **
10/7 – Sacramento, CA – Discovery Park (Aftershock Festival) ***
* w/ Wargasm & Oxymorrons
** w/ Wargasm & Luna Aura
*** Festival / Radio show
Corey Taylor CMF2 European Tour Dates
8/11 – UK, Leeds | O2 Academy Leeds
9/11 – UK, Wolverhampton | Wolves Civic
11/11 – UK, Manchester | Manchester Academy
12/11 – UK, Glasgow | O2 Academy Glasgow
14/11 – UK, London | Eventim Apollo
19/11 – France, Paris | Le Trianon
20/11 – Germany, Cologne | Palladium
22/11 – Germany, Berlin | Verti Music Hall
24/11 – The Netherlands, Tilburg | Tilburg 013