Celebrity Skin: Corey Taylor - Slipknot

Published: 17 September, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 216, September, 2012

The mask-wearing frontman of heavy metal super group, Slipknot, is not necessarily the person you’d expect to be proudly sporting a David Bowie tattoo, barely being able to sit still when passionately discussing literature or getting chocked up when asked about the loss of a dear friend and band mate, which just proves he’s one rare creature. Time to bow down to the one and only Mr. Corey Taylor.

Joining him backstage at one of North America’s premiere metal festivals, Heavy MTL, in Montreal, Canada, it takes all of about five seconds for this journalist to realize that with the amount of stories Taylor has to share, and the animated, captivating manner in which he does so, it’s best to just shut up, listen and pray that some of that Taylor magic rubs off on you.

Following a brief apology about his black make-up, uniform and the mask draped across his knee, something he’d admittedly prefer to do without five hours before show time, it begins.

“To me, any time you see a fucking ‘Best Of’ album, it means that band is kind of tapped. The label came to us with it, like, ‘Yeah, we’d love to put out a greatest hits,’” he says about Slipknot’s latest release, Antennas to Hell, putting on his best corporate America voice.

“We were like, ‘Pump the breaks, kid, what the fuck are you talking about?’ We weren’t gonna put something out that didn’t make sense for us, so we approached it very much as just a compilation, something that would represent the Paul Gray years in a lot of ways. Once we wrapped our heads around that side of it, it made more sense, then it was like, okay, we can play with this, it doesn’t have to be just a bunch of fucking radio hits and bullshit, like, ‘Hey! Look at us! We’ve got these hits! Hey!’ We were able to do something really cool and conceptual, really make it more about the artistic side of everything rather than just press a fucking disc and get it out there.”

Following the tragic passing of songwriter and bassist, Paul Gray, back in 2010, the band was at a standstill, unsure of how to proceed. And although they’re now in the midst of their healing process, Taylor admits it may be a few years before new material is released. “In my mind, it still makes sense to take those baby steps and wait a little. We’re all starting to kind of talk about music, but for me, this album is too important because it’ll be the first one without Paul, who was the glue of this band and such a powerful musical force. I don’t wanna become the band that just phones it in. That’s one of my pure terrors in life.

“If we’re gonna move forward, we have to do it together, it can’t just be a couple of guys running the writing sessions and I think everybody’s really cool with that, but it’s still gonna be very strange going into a studio without him.”

In the meantime, the road has been a big help, reinstating strength and their love for the craft, their fans and each other.

“This band was very fractious for a very long time, and then when Paul died there was a point when I wasn’t even sure if we’d ever play another show,” says Taylor. “It wasn’t until we all started talking about it and realized that we’ve got each other to help each other through this, the fans don’t, so it very quickly became apparent that we should at least go out and let the fans, if this is it, celebrate Paul with us.

“The kind of cool thing that happened was we all really came together as a band again, as a family. We’re all joking around again like we used to – if people only realized what fucking dorks we are… it’s really the funniest shit. If we just put a hidden camera up while we’re getting ready, some of the buffoonery that goes on, it makes a locker room look like a fucking tea party, let’s put it that way.”

Masked Crusaders

“All of a sudden, I blacked out for the last two songs,” Taylor recalls about his recent health scare due to an overheated stage. “I was convinced that we’d had to cut the show early and when my wife told me that we finished the show, I was like, ‘You gotta be shitting me!’ I’ve had moments where that stuff has kind of happened, but I’ve been able to come back into it, luckily on beat where the singing’s supposed to come in, but that was intense. Everybody turned into big brother mode too, like, ‘You gotta hydrate! You gotta eat!’ and I’m like, ‘Jesus, fuckin’ settle down.’

“I think the show kind of ghosts in and out of organised and disorganised chaos. There have been times where it’s just going great and then all of a sudden a keg comes flying across the stage and I’m like, ‘I didn’t fucking know that was gonna happen!’ I call it the Live from Hell set because if you look at the stage, it just looks like we’re playing the devil’s waiting room.”

A big part of their live show’s unique appeal – and the cause of some rather odd and uncomfortable side effects – is all the custom-designed masks.

“I start having ideas for masks during the writing process and I get this visual of what the music is making me feel like. Like with this guy,” says Taylor, picking his mask up off his lap, “I just wanted to make it something so striking and yet so devoid of humanity. I just wanted to strip it all away in a large part – I hate to fucking say it – because of all the pretty boy shit I was getting during the Stone Sour tour. Everybody’s like, ‘He’s very cute!’ and all these girls are showing up and I’m like, ‘What the fuck is going on here?!’

“It was very odd for me, so I was just like, ‘Alright, mother fuckers!’ I just wanted to go as far the other way as possible; and it has seriously become one of my favorite masks. It’s hard to fucking see through, but I wanted to take away the eyes, I wanted to take away the cheekbones and the bullshit, I just wanted to make it something very hard to look at for too long, especially when it’s live where I can just give the people a little extra ‘Fuck you, what the shit is going on?’” he says, eerily tilting his head.

But sacrifices do need to be made to achieve such a brilliant effect. “Not to get gross, but there are some very strange fluids that come out of my face during a show that I’ve never experienced before, and I’m just now kind of starting to make peace with it,” says Taylor. “The shit doesn’t even come out of me when I’m doing Stone Sour, it’s a wholly different weirdness – it’s the Slipknot juice! I can’t even stand myself when I get off stage. I cannot get out of this shit fast enough. I’m like, ‘You need to get the fuck out of my way, this needs to go!’” he laughs.

Tailored Ink

“Some of them are pretty piecemeal, but others are pretty sweet,” says Taylor, rolling up his sleeves. “Heath Ledger as Joker was actually the first one that Shane Munce did for me on the Mayhem Festival in 2008, and it’s still to this day just so fucking righteous. A lot of people thought it was a photo transfer. After that I had him do Bowie. I love Bowie, because to me, he represents what you can do with music if you give yourself in to just doing whatever comes to mind.”

Munce’s latest addition is a portrait of Johnny Deep as Hunter S. Thompson, which, as Taylor puts it, is “still pretty chewy”.

“Thompson is one of my favorite writers. Being a writer I just try to aspire to find my own voice and be as original as I can be, but also entertaining, and really kind of just shuffle off any bonds that might hold me back from speaking my mind.”

Then there’s his Paul Booth chest piece, “which is probably the most important because if my tattoos were a map, this would be the key… the legend. All of my stuff is based around not only my personality, but my views on being civilised animals, basically. We are all of us a little bit dark and a little bit light, so the sun and moon, it’s a fairly dark piece, but it really ties everything together.

“Paul Booth, his black and white work is really killer, so of course I threw a curve ball on him and got him to do colour, which he really hadn’t done before. We were out on Tattoo the Earth together in 2000 and I was like, ‘If I’m gonna have another opportunity, I don’t know when the fuck that’s gonna be.’ The color has kind of faded over the years, but I think that kind of adds a little bit more character to it. Everybody asks me, ‘You gonna touch it up?’ and I’m like, ‘Fuck no!’ The chest area sucks, man. Especially for me, there’s nothing there, it’s all bone and then you feel it all through your arms and oh, it sucks so bad. So I’m like, you know what, one and done, we’re fine here.

“The one I’m most proud of right now is Paul that I got when I was on NY Ink; Tim Hendricks did it and it came out so well. I basically came in with a photo and that number two and he put it together right next to my griffin tattoo – my son’s name is Griffin and this is kind of the leg that I’m gonna dedicate to my kids, so I figured he fits on there too.

“I go through huge bouts where I don’t even wanna hear about tattoos, I don’t wanna sit through the fuckin’ bullshit ’cause I can usually do about three-and-a-half hours and then I start to wanna punch somebody and going to a dark fucking place.

“Paul took about five hours, and by the time Hendricks was going back in on the shit, that was the worst thing ever. I can take the virgin territory, it’s when you go back into the shit you’ve already conquered that fucks with my head.”

Rock on the Side

“With Slipknot there’s almost an unhinging that happens that is very freeing in a lot of ways; with Stone Sour there’s more structure, there’s more stability,” Taylor explains about his other musical project, the band he founded long before joining Slipknot, which disbanded, reunited, and is now releasing its fourth album, House of Gold & Bones – Part 1, on October 23, with Part 2 following next year.

“It’s the best music we’ve ever done, bar none. It’s very dark, there are some heavy moments on this, but there are also some beautiful passages. It really is a concept album where everything kind of flows into each other, but there are those brief rest bits where you catch your breath and absorb everything.
“The story that I wrote for it will feature heavily and I’m actually in the works right now to make a comic book for it. I don’t want it to be too comic book-y, if that makes sense. Like taking the storytelling of V for Vendetta and the artistry that you see in a lot of Neil Gaiman’s stuff and just kind of putting that together.”

Watching his face light up, even with all that black make-up on, it’s not hard to tell Taylor’s a man of many interests, writing being one of his greatest.

“This is the universe throwing me a little extra; never in a million years would I have thought I’d be able to do something like this. It’s like getting to write my book. I was so fucking excited. I’m like, ‘I’m writing a book!’” he says in a voice overflowing with glee, typing vigorously in the air. “I turn it in and I’m like, ‘People like my book! I’m gonna write another one!’

“So I’m working on book two now, it’s fucking crazy. People are like, ‘Why didn’t you write a book before?’ Because it wasn’t time. Things come to you when they’re meant to, but at the same time, it just shows you the work that I’ve put in over the years. I’m very proud of that. I wasn’t ever just handed anything.”

Slipknot’s Antennas to Hell is available in stores and on iTunes now. Stone Sour’s House of Gold & Bones – Part 1 will be released October 23.



Text & Photography: Barbara Pavone