Slipknot are still one of the biggest bands on the planet. Twenty five years in, and they remain unmatched amongst their peers when it comes to their power, influence or sheer size. But beautiful? This we’ve gotta hear.
Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Jonathan Weiner, Anthony Scanga.
Slipknot are a ferocious force of nature that have spent the last 25 years challenging the culture of metal with disgustingly heavy music. Their fans are called maggots, while their music tackles the darker recesses of life. They’re a lot of things to a lot of people, but you’d be hard-pressed to call anything about them beautiful.
But that’s precisely how founding member, percussionist, and visual artist Clown says it felt when he first realised that Slipknot was bigger than the nine angry individuals making the sort of heavy metal that would perfectly soundtrack the end of the world. The band were in Indianapolis when their self-titled debut album was released in 1999 as part of the travelling Ozzfest. Before they’d taken to the stage to perform their pre-midday slot, Clown and drummer Joey Jordison met a couple of fans who’d already been to the local record store to buy a copy. “We just looked at each other, and we had tears in our eyes,” admits Clown. “We couldn’t believe it. I saw this kid, and suddenly I knew who we were speaking to with our art. It was a beautiful feeling. Ever since then, it’s been us and the maggots.”
Fast forward to today, and Slipknot are comfortably one of the biggest, most influential heavy metal bands in the world. They’ve survived nu-metal, endured countless waves of panic about the death of guitar music and continued to push themselves to new places. “There are no rules anymore,” says Clown. Next year Slipknot return to headline Download Festival alongside Bring Me The Horizon and Metallica. Their own travelling Knotfest has dates in Chile, Brazil, Australia and Japan. Still, that relationship between the band and their fans remains the backbone of everything Slipknot is.
Speaking to Upset from his home, Clown admits that he’s been up since 4:50am adding to his various Metaverse projects. “I want to be the liaison for a younger generation. I want to introduce them to Slipknot,” he says, always eager to expand the community. Earlier this week and back in the real world, he took part in a signing for the band’s No.9 Whiskey when a little girl approached him alongside her parents. “She just wanted to draw a picture of us, so she sat there and drew me and Michael [Pfaff, aka Tortilla Man],” explains Clown with a smile. “I was pretty pissed that she kept it for herself, though.” Maggots regularly share paintings, band tattoos and song covers online, while most Slipknot shows are full of homemade t-shirts, boiler suits and masks. For a band that made their name championing destruction, Slipknot have become a force for creation.
“Slipknot invokes this kind of spirituality through the vibration of artistic expression,” explains Clown. “People are compelled to be creative around Slipknot. It’s a big part of what we do.”
Formed in Iowa in 1995 from the ashes of various other bands, Slipknot first broke through in 2001 with their second album, ‘Iowa’, and its nihilistic, parent-provoking anthem ‘People = Shit’. Their chaotic onstage antics included huffing the fumes of dead animals while various physical injuries accompanied the drink, drugs and self-destruction. It’s all become the stuff of legend as the masked nine-piece offered pure, unfiltered rage to a post-9/11 world.
A lot has changed in the years since. Founding members Paul Gray and Joey Jordison have both passed away, while percussionist Chris Fehn left the group in 2019. Rock’s gone from being one of the most exciting forms of musical rebellion to being a genre anchored by nostalgia before a TikTok-fuelled resurgence. Meanwhile, Slipknot’s new album ‘The End, So Far’ sees them tackle the apparent death of empathy, the negative impacts of social media, love, loss, remorse, the power of community and other people’s expectations about the band.
We’re speaking a month after Slipknot released ‘The End, So Far’, and it became their third record to top the UK Official Albums Chart after ‘Iowa’ and 2019’s ‘We Are Not Your Kind’. “I was over it about six months ago,” admits Clown, preoccupied with what comes next. “It’s way too early to be discussing it now, though,” he says before reassuring us that our hair looks fine. It was meant to be an audio-only Zoom, but when has Clown ever played by the rules?
Back to the release of ‘The End, So Far’ and Clown explains how he “doesn’t really enjoy watching everyone scurry around” and isn’t happy that today’s interview only went ahead once management deemed “there was something they thought we needed to talk about.” (Did we mention the band are playing Download Festival?) “You’d think that people would just call me up to talk about the dream, instead of needing to talk about something with a barcode and a price tag.” He sighs. “I guess you can’t have one without the other.”
“I’m just glad that the bomb has dropped and everyone is chewing the fat from the bone and hissing at each other,” he continues of ‘The End, So Far. “You have the obvious ‘why can’t you make another ‘Iowa’’ response, and the less obvious ‘this is the greatest album of all time’.” Clown’s not keen on either. “You can’t pit Slipknot albums against each other,” he says before adding that people need to give acts like Black Sabbath the respect they deserve. “*One* of the greatest albums though…well, maybe,” he adds with a smirk.
Clown really starts enjoying new albums when there are enough new songs in the set. “When I can see that the maggots have digested the new material enough that it compels their soul, that’s when it’s fun for me. Honestly, that’s why I still do what I do,” Clown continues. “To share that real experience with other people.”
Clown did enjoy recording ‘The End, So Far’ at Henson Studios, though. “I was born on Jim Henson’s birthday,” he says. “He made The Muppets, and I started Slipknot, so that felt relevant.”
What was less fun, was writing the damn thing. “You’ve got nine guys with extreme personalities, and none of us are alike,” says Clown. “As you can imagine, nothing we write is the same. Everyone lives in different states. Everyone’s either getting married and having kids, or staying not married. Some people love to write every day. Some don’t. Honestly, it’s a shit show.”
Clown explains that the main reason writing Slipknot albums are a shit show is because “we’re all just so out of our minds with art. I didn’t have a lot of fun writing with the guys this time around,” he continues. The most fruitful collaborations came with newer members Alex Venturella and Pfaff. Clown doesn’t care about how long they’ve been part of Slipknot, though. “They’re in the band. They stepped up.”
Clown knows he pisses the other members of Slipknot off. “I have a lot of voices, and the only way to shut them up is by being creative, so I’m just constantly moving, often without direction or guidance. I’m diseased with art.”
“I’m not trying to start stuff,” he adds, the headlines about drama within the band already flashing through his mind. “I only bring this up because I hate it if some people aren’t happy.” He says his honesty about the process is for “the new artists who give a shit about their future. You just do your best to do your best.”
He goes on to say that everyone gave 190% and that he “loves” the new album. “I’m not releasing anything that’s no good. There are some supernova things going on in there for the spirituality of the band.”
“Most people just want to know about the masks or what touring is like, though. Blah, blah, blah. I understand why, but there’s a deeper, serious thing going on with Slipknot and what we’ve chosen to do,” he adds. Brooding album opener ‘Adderall’ sees him play drums, letting him channel the pain of losing his 22-year-old daughter to a drug overdose back in 2019. “That was a big, spiritual thing for me.”
‘The End, So Far’ is the last album of Slipknot’s contract with Roadrunner, which they signed back in 1999. “If my parents were still alive, they’d be really happy that I’d completed a financial contract,” says Clown. “It does feel like the end of an era because so much has changed.” Elsewhere he’s spoken about finally being free but today, admits that they might resign with Roadrunner, Warner Bros or “whoever wants to work with Slipknot.”
“There’s no hate, and I have no vendetta against the system,” he continues. “I signed a contract for somebody to sell albums, and that’s what they’ve done.” He views the last two decades almost as a trial run, with “massive amounts of money being thrown my way to learn. It feels like the end of our PhD. Now it’s time to apply it to real life. We really get to ask ourselves what the next part of the dream is now. That is a hard question. It can’t be 1999 again. It can’t be 2001. It can’t even be last year. Now, we have to ask how we take the dream and times it by two.”
He talks about all the places that have never got to see Slipknot perform live before, mentioning the vast amount of audio and visual stuff that he’s collected over the years that have never been released before. “I’ve probably got the first couple of hundred shows on tape. There’s so much for museums and movies,” he teases. “We’ll always do audio, but I want to be more visual as well.”
There’s also the lost project ‘Look Outside Your Window’. Originally recorded alongside 2009’s ‘All Hope Is Gone’ by Corey Taylor, Jim Root, Sid Wilson and Clown, it focused more on experimentation than gruelling aggression. There have been talks of releasing it ever since, most recently during the second half of the touring cycle for ‘We Are Not Your Kind’, but COVID scuppered that. “It’s an amazing body of work. You will never hear another Corey Taylor like this. The music and the words… it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life,” says Clown, who wants to make sure the project gets its own time to shine rather than being a half-hearted release.
“We wouldn’t want Slipknot to hurt ‘Look Outside Your Window’, and we wouldn’t want ‘Look Outside Your Window’ to be a little irritation to Slipknot. Why? Because it’s beautiful God art and people deserve it. The good news is that six months from now, April Fool’s Day 2023, we’re off the label. There are no plans to immediately release something, and we haven’t talked about it, but I would imagine it’ll probably come very soon afterwards. There’s nothing else to do, and it’s ready to go. It’ll be worth the wait,” he promises.
Still, for all the excitement about the future, Clown sees ‘The End, So Far’ as a defiant middle finger. “Kiss my ass and get out of my fucking way,” he shouts. “Doom and gloom has always been a part of Slipknot; it’s like a parasite. Before I was Clown, I was always called The Dark Cloud, or The Virus, so of course I love something like ‘The End, So Far’,” which leans heavily into spiritual and actual apocalypses.
“We’re still relevant,” he beams, which is no easy feat for a band like Slipknot. “We’re still having fun, but I’m more dangerous now in a meditative state than I ever was flying off the rails,” he continues, hitting a stride. “We’re still here, after 25 years of touring the world, selling some albums, and nobody’s got shit on us.”
Growing up, Clown would listen to the music of the 70s with his mum, from The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Rod Stewart to The Doors. As an “MTV baby” though, he went on to discover Kiss, AC/DC and Iron Maiden on his own, which opened the door to the likes of Killdozer, Mudhoney and other SubPop bands. “My dad told me he didn’t understand or like the music I was listening to, but if I was going to make music myself, I needed to learn about who invented it.” The pair went to see Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, John Mellencamp, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles and BB King perform. “I’m from the elite,” explains Clown of his musical background. “Growing up, it felt like you either went to college or you started a band. I started a pretty big one,” he grins.
That background in music is why Clown believes Slipknot create what they create. “We leave no rock unturned, and we go anywhere we want because we love music, but it’s got to be under that Slipknot name. I feel like this album is special because I really do feel like we’ve done everything now. We’ve gone down every road, from a ballad to a grindcore song.
“People can talk about genre bullshit all they want, but I feel like we’ve explored all the hemispheres in our minds on this record. It wasn’t deliberate; it just worked out that way.”
Throughout their career, Slipknot have championed the next generation of metal. Support bills for headline runs and Knotfest lineups always feel fresh and exciting, while over the pandemic, the band created a platform for new bands via The Pulse Of The Maggots livestreams.
“I think we always wanted to do better than what had come before us, if we could,” explains Clown. “It’s not about money; it’s not about ego. It’s not about anything other than being able to facilitate things. We were very fortunate early in our careers to play Reading & Leeds. Right away, I was like, ‘Holy shit, American kids are just completely missing out’.”
Clown’s very much up for a return to Reading & Leeds (the band haven’t played since 2002, after being forced to cancel their 2008 slot due to Joey breaking his ankle) or even a debut at Glastonbury. “I’ll open. I’ll go on at midnight. Bring them all on, but it’s got to be right for the kids.”
Over the past couple of years, it feels like the wider world has slowly come around to the idea of Slipknot being an important rock band, rather than a group of mask-wearing hooligans. Does Clown feel like the band are finally getting the respect they deserve?
“We just never got respect, and that was hard,” says Clown. “There were always naysayers, and I get it. I probably should never have been allowed in this business because I’m just a fucking clown. I’m just an art guy whose best friend happened to be a metal guy, but here I am. I love to play, I love to connect to people, and there’s no competition anymore. We’re the best of the best of the best, in our own mind. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. Get the fuck out of our way, right?”
That lack of respect “used to really matter to me,” says Clown. “But it just led to jealousy and envy, which would then turn into anger. Then you’d start getting angry about other things, like money, because money is what creates ego and respect. I refuse to chase that. I refuse to demand respect. I let go of all that,” he admits. “Respect means someone on the other end of it, needing it. I don’t know if I need it in Slipknot.”
So what changed? “This isn’t the answer you want to hear, but I’m going to be real. We lost our daughter, and nothing else matters now, man. Anything that was relevant, was no longer relevant. Demanding respect, needing respect, acknowledging respect, none of that shit is important.”
“My head is not in the clouds. My feet are buried in the sand. I’m just trying to live the real journey of life now,” he continues, being so open because “it’ll help the maggots with loss. It’ll help the culture to be honest about something that is very real.”
For 25 years now, Slipknot have been a vessel for pure, unfiltered emotion. They take pain, anger, and confusion and channel it towards community and creation.
“I’m trying to keep it real. I’m trying to make a real connection. I’m trying to get closer to the fans. I’m trying to give it all away.”
“We’re not scared,” explains Clown. “We’re not frightened to express all the colours. We’ve all let it out. When you can show others that you’re willing to cut yourself open and share, they’re compelled to do the same,” he continues. “We have an extreme trust with our culture. There’s this wonderful give-and-take relationship, and it’s beautiful.” There’s that word again. “But for us, it’s just medication. All of the albums are medication.” ■
Slipknot’s album ‘The End, So Far’ is out now. Download Festival takes place from 8th-11th June 2023.