Welcome to Chapeltown: Corey Taylor and clown delve into the beginning of 'The End' with Slipknot’s ‘barnburner’
Every night on the Knotfest Roadshow tour that has been crossing the US this fall, Corey asks the audience if they’ve seen Slipknot before. On some nights there is a muted response – there are lots of new maggots out there. They don’t know where to look, like deer caught in headlights. Corey can see it all over their faces – ‘sensory overload,’ as he describes it. For other fans, the shows are a return to some kind of normality. Accordingly, Slipknot are treating the concerts as a celebration. It feels like the beginning again.
For over twenty years, Slipknot were the only people they knew who really cared about masks. Times change. Slipknot respects other people's choices. But when it comes to themselves, they hold each other to a gold standard: they pour out everything onstage each night.
‘In Slipknot, we make up our own rules for ourselves,’ clown tells me on a call from backstage in Rogers, Arkansas. ‘And one of the rules is: you're not getting out of it.’
In spring 2020, Slipknot returned from the European leg of a world tour supporting 2019’s ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ album. At the airport in Los Angeles, clown told Corey he’d see him in Japan for the next stage. He was planning on taking a short holiday in Las Vegas. He wanted to cool off after seven months of touring and spend time with his wife – his family had had an extraordinarily tough year.
‘We’re not going to go to Japan,’ Corey told him. clown doesn’t engage with the news. He didn't know the storm was coming. He prefers a good conspiracy theory. ‘That's because it makes me smile. Gives me hope that reality is more than taxes and stop signs,’ he tells me with a mischievous look in his eye.
clown went to Las Vegas, but he soon retreated home. The borders closed, and the world stopped. He disappeared into his garden.
‘I just lost it,' he says. 'It was the best thing that happened to me in a long time. I grew this big sunflower for my daughter who passed away. A giant Russian Mammoth sunflower, and I built my whole garden around her and her memory.’
Slipknot have tangled with world-changing events before. A couple of weeks after the release of ‘Iowa’ in 2001, the planes hit the two towers. When it happened, Corey was home packing for the eerily-titled Pledge of Allegiance tour. 9/11 was initially a localised disaster, but the reverberations were vast.
This time, in 2020, it was already a global pandemic. Still, Corey hoped it would last six months and then they could pick up touring. But it took until the Rocklahoma festival in September this year before Slipknot played live again.
For Slipknot, it was a strange (maybe even welcome) predicament. The curtailment of the 2020 tour was an unexpected blessing. The band was really happy with ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ and the good feeling carried them forward during the downtime. Touring is arduous. Grinding around the world can lead to a degree of complacency. Complacency can breed resentment. The pandemic stopped that happening.
‘It didn't stifle our feelings or optimism about it. If anything, the good side of it was that it made us miss it,’ says Corey, on a call with me the day after the Rogers show.
They still wanted to chase ‘We Are Not Your Kind’, to see how those songs could be fully realised live. But time was passing by fast. Before long, clown started to rally the troops together.
‘clown and the guys started thinking about working on new music and putting stuff together,’ says Corey. ‘So while I was doing ‘CMFT’
‘I feel like the searching ends here,’ clown says of the new songs they have written. ‘I feel like some really big things happened on this one. And I feel like they were… not missing links... but maybe they were the last assignments that we had to complete for ourselves.’
Working with producer Joe Barresi this time out, clown wanted to exploit ‘the Slipknot gene’. Slipknot is data overload – nine 'gentlemen' (his words) competing, butting heads like rams, and coming at you at full force. The search for the Slipknot sound never ends.
In clown’s view their albums are 'masterpieces you hang on different walls.’ But this new material ends ‘the eras of searching for ourselves’. He finally feels he has fully explored Slipknot’s traits as a band, the alchemy at its centre: ‘It's way beyond Slipknot, it's more like god music.’
‘It's very... it's sort of scary to me,’ says clown, suddenly darkening. ‘It's very sad. And yet it's not sad. I don't think there's anything sad in it. But it comes off as sad to me.’
There definitely is something sorrowful about new song ‘The Chapeltown Rag’. It is brimming with incandescent rage, but has sadness at its centre. Even by Slipknot’s standards, in Corey's words, 'it’s a punisher, man.'
Chapeltown is a suburb of the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England. In the mid to late 1970s, it was the stalking ground of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Chapeltown was a picture of inner-city dereliction and decay. As Gordon Burn writes in his extraordinary book about the Ripper, ‘Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son’, its places of worship had been converted into dens of iniquity, ‘where drugs, jewellery and sexual favours were indiscriminately bartered, wrangled over, sometimes even bought and sold.’
Sutcliffe's first murder victim was Wilma McCann. A milkman found her body on the Prince Philip playing fields in Chapeltown at 7.41am on the morning of 30th October 1975. Corey learned about the area and its dark past in a documentary about the Yorkshire Ripper on Netflix. After he completed it, the algorithm recommended him another serial killer documentary, and then another. He was being led down a pathway, and it got him thinking.
‘At that moment, everything was just kind of steering towards violence, or a history of violence,’ says Corey. ‘And it was just such a weird echo of social media. And the fact that social media tries to steer you towards violence or steer you towards the most toxic thing – the most toxic moment. So I looked at it from that standpoint.’
"The Chapeltown Rag", if it existed as a newspaper, would be full of the gnarliest things going on in the world, and the nastiest things people were saying.
The lead detective in the Yorkshire Ripper investigation, George Oldfield, pursued a mistaken hypothesis that the Ripper was only targeting prostitutes and ‘fallen’ women. The media ran with it: the Ripper investigation soon became about the moral behaviour and lives of the victims, rather than the criminality of the murderer. Tragically, that is a song as old as time. There was also the intransigence of the investigators themselves when they started mistakenly pursuing someone who called in pretending to be the killer.
‘They wasted all this time,’ sighs Corey. ‘All this money, all these resources – all because they refused to be wrong. Now what does that sound like in this day and age?’
The song documents what happens when the distortions of mass media circulate within the echo chambers of social media. It’s frightening, it’s disheartening, and no-one seems to be able to stop what’s happening. ‘You can only recognize I’m afraid,’ Corey screams. This is the vulnerability at the heart of the song, which is otherwise full of righteous admonishment.
'It's classic Slipknot,' says Corey. 'And it's frenetic. But lyrically, it's coming from a point of talking about the various manipulations that can happen when social media meets media itself. And the different ways that these manipulations can try to pull us in different directions, in the fact that we're all becoming addicts to it, which is very, very dangerous.'
Corey stopped personally using all his social media two years ago because it had become so damaging and addictive to him. Now, he doesn’t even know the passwords: ‘It's such a different animal, social media – because there's really nothing social about it.’
‘We don’t deny what is wrong,’ Corey roars during the song’s frenetic pre-chorus, a blood-rush of blast beats. The chorus itself is surprising, a result of Corey experimenting with vocal approaches he had never taken before: ‘I wasn't even sure if that part was going to be the chorus, to be honest. But I just love the way that the chord progression lent itself this weird, chromatic, minor vibe to it, which I had never really done before. I played with it on “Vermilion” years ago, but I had never really given it a little more aggression. The harmony that I created for it was just so fucking weird as well that it just gives it that slight dissonant vibe, but it’s also very, very melodic and hummable.’
Anything goes on this new Slipknot material. To Corey, it represents freedom: ‘Writing, and pulling yourself out of trying to keep it in some sort of structure, allows you to just fucking rip the scab off and let the wound be what it is. Then obviously, the big breakdown at the end where it just fucking goes off the rails is is so heavy, dude.’
He’s right. The finale breakdown is enormous. It encapsulates all the anger and fear when the one god Corey respects – the truth – is being stabbed and mutilated. Objective truth has become a martyr: ‘When everything is God online/Nothing is,’ he thunders at the song's conclusion.
clown likes to insinuate musical ideas and watch others take it to extremes. On that blasting pre-chorus section of “The Chapeltown Rag”, he describes the effect of the percussion as like ringing a bell to bring the audience to attention. He has enjoyed unleashing Tortilla Man on this piece, using rototom drums in its introduction, similarly to how he experimented with octobans on “Sarcastrophe” from ‘.5: The Gray Chapter’. It’s not all keg hits on the downbeat for the clown – there are alternate rhythms here, and a whole dynamic hinterland to explore.
‘I really don't want to be the one to tell about his accomplishments,’ clown says about Tortilla Man. ‘But let's just say that he's a very skilled musician, on a high, high level. It's really cool to watch someone who has spent their whole life dedicated to music as hardcore as he has, to watch them just explore their brain on a professional album.’
Similarly, V-Man is all over “The Chapeltown Rag”. His bass weaves and occasionally pops above the mix, cutting a pathway through the barrage. The guitar parts are dizzyingly complex, shapeshifting in increments as they tear into the fabric of the song. It even begins with a sampled breakbeat, as DJ Sid takes us all the way back to "Eyeless".
‘I miss writing with my brother Paul,’ says clown. ‘But because he's no longer here I have a new brother
When it comes to his writing, Corey has found a new way to work. He looked back at the lyrics to ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ and realised he had exhausted that train of thought – writing about his personal journey. He accepts he is no longer the person he was. That acceptance has liberated him to approach the new Slipknot songs with what he calls a ‘universal’ perspective. He can write about the crisis of truth, the evils of social media, and the tragedies of the opioid crisis: ‘From a personal standpoint, I'm probably in the best place of my life. So it made more sense: to spin my viewpoint outward instead of inward.’
Conversely, clown has another, new philosophy: ‘gotta go inward or get the fuck out’.
‘I had to admit to myself that I was more of a performer than a musician in the band, in the concept of Slipknot,’ he tells me. ‘Because I don't get to use my right foot – currently – or my left foot – currently. But what that did for me, was it helped me get a deeper understanding of what I'm actually trying to do. And what I believe I've done is created something that will never be created again, which is Number Six, the clown in the band Slipknot.’
Years ago, when Slipknot was playing in Indiana, clown visited the circus next to the venue. He wanted to take photos of the elephants for his wife. He almost got eaten by a lion in the process (that’s another story). There, he encountered two clowns, as you might expect at a circus. He invited them to watch the Slipknot show that night at the side of the stage.
In his words, he ‘danced way different back then’, figuratively and literally. He came offstage and asked the clowns what they thought. They were honest – they had come to ‘dethrone’ him, to chastise him for acting the part of the clown. They had been to clown school and paid their dues. Instead, they told clown they would give him good money to learn some of his moves.
In clown's words, ‘they noticed my pain’. They saw the projection – the reason why Slipknot wore masks in the first place. clown’s therapist likes to tell him he is only really himself when he’s wearing his mask. They recognised in clown that he has drawn from the innovation of Joseph Grimaldi, the Regency-era clown from London's theatre district, and taken it to its logical extreme.
Onstage with Slipknot, he is the clown who documents 21st-century psychic meltdown. In his words, he has been ‘ruthless’ for twenty years. But now he has really had to ‘drill into my own consciousness of art’ – what it actually means to be the clown – like at no other time in the band’s history.
‘I'm really honing in my art of what I am, before I exit this fucking thing,’ says clown. ‘And I'm gonna leave and have left, hopefully, my legacy. But I'm so connected to it right now that I think some of the biggest things that I'm saying and doing are only happening right now. I feel like the egg is broken. And I've arrived. It's all about throwing shapes.’
So how does clown see himself evolving? He certainly shares some of Corey’s reservations about the online world. But perversely, what scares him draws him further in: ‘I'm transcending from reality to digital. Because that's also what's going on, man. I'm worried that we're all going to be in a space pretty soon – we're gonna live this way – metaverses and crypto. Coding: I read something ten years ago from some of the top people that said, if you didn't know how to code in the future, you wouldn't know how to express yourself. I read that ten years ago. And, you know, I worry about that.'
‘I think very soon there's even going to be more than anybody probably ever wanted of clowns,’ he continues, cryptically. ‘The more clowns, the merrier.’
clown confesses to embarrassment that he would ever try to get more attention than some of the other musicians in the band. Especially in view of who they have lost. When I recently spoke to Brann Dailor about Mastodon’s new album, I asked him about former Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, who died in July. Dailor showed me a box of Joey’s in-ear monitors that he had on his bedside table. He went on to explain how he feels he is raising his drumming game live in tribute to Joey.
I ask clown if he ever thinks about Joey onstage.
‘Well, see, the old clown would have made sure that you weren't allowed to ask those questions,’ he says. ‘But the new clown who's focused in on... not redemption or salvation or any of that horseshit... I'm fucking human like everyone else: I'm on a life trip. And what I can tell you is that yeah, man, I'm greatly stricken.’
He’s been hallucinating Joey’s image onstage. The visions don’t come when he is playing. It is between songs, when he sometimes sees Joey sitting up there on the drum stool. During one of the early dates on this tour, he grabbed his tech, ‘Do you see that?!’ Current drummer Jay can be taking a sip of water, or breathing heavily after a song, and suddenly he's Joey. Next thing clown has ‘fucking completely bugged out’.
Perhaps it’s not surprising. Jay adored Joey’s playing. Joey was the first person to show Jay the devil horns, clown tells me. The first time Jay heard an explosion was at a Slipknot show. It makes sense clown would see Joey up there in his successor. The same happened with Paul: clown would suddenly see his face in the audience or in the security team, and find himself in tears.
For clown, “The Heretic Anthem” has taken on a whole different character. clown doesn’t have a lot to do during the song. On our call, he mimics doing a bored version of the ‘666’ shout-man part. But now the song is on fire: ‘I’ve never rocked out to “The Heretic Anthem” like I do,' he says.
"The Heretic Anthem" is Joey’s song, with knowing tributes to other performers in it – particularly Slayer’s “Angel of Death” drum break. But now it's a tribute itself to Joey. clown brought up the song's increased intensity with Jim after one gig. clown asked Jim if it was because the mix of the song was better in his in-ear monitors. Then he realised he was simply open to the song and Joey’s energy in a way he hadn’t been before.
‘It's been tough,’ says Corey when I ask him the same question about Joey. ‘You know, with Joey there was so much... you know, he was such a complicated guy. Probably one of the most talented people I've ever met. Maybe one of the most tortured. When I think about the good things, the tough things get in, and it's still taking me time to process. But the things I do remember, there were so many good times, so many great fucking shows with him and just so many good memories of creating music with him. That's the stuff that I'm really trying to focus on.’
Ultimately, Slipknot built something bigger than themselves, from the days when they were playing just for each other in clown’s basement. Today, “The Chapeltown Rag” is the sound of a band crushing it: a band that has found a new sense of self – a cohesive multiplicity of selves – in the whirlwind of global crisis.
‘It's actually really cool, to be honest,’ says Corey. ‘We're in such a great headspace lately. And again, I don't know if it's because we felt like we were taking everything for granted. And getting it back has made us come together even stronger as a band, or whatever. But we're all getting along so well. It feels like it did when we first started touring. When we first started touring, we were really tight and we all did everything together. Then obviously, as time went on, our personalities got bigger and our addictions got bigger. We all pulled apart in a lot of different ways and it was hard to get back to that. But now, it almost feels like it's come full circle.’
The last year has contained hard lessons – lessons Slipknot didn’t want to learn. You can lose time. You can lose people. There is only your ability to take action.
“The Chapeltown Rag” and Slipknot’s other new songs are, in clown’s words, ‘a hello, and a goodbye to everything we were’. He speaks about an off-the-chain Slipknot where ‘we're making the rules, man – the fucking art is endless’.
That promises something electrifying and terrifying at the same time: Slipknot Unbound. Their farewell on this tour will take place at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles on Friday 5th November. Slipknot will say goodbye to the better angels of their nature as they unleash the devils of "The Chapeltown Rag", playing it live for the very first time.
Slipknot has told Los Angeles – and those watching the livestream around the world – to prepare for hell.
For 18 long months, we've all been living with intense darkness. But now, a new era is upon us. Nothing in this life is guaranteed. Let's dance in the light of the fire while we've got the chance.