Corey Taylor: After 20 years in Slipknot we are all beat up
Q+A: As metal band kick off on European tour, lead singer talks about new album and changing music scene
Corey Taylor of Slipknot performs at The 3Arena Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Kieran Frost/Redferns
Slipknot’s status as one of the biggest rock bands on the planet was confirmed when their sixth studio album We Are Not Your Kind released in August last year went to number one in many countries across the world. They began the first leg of their European tour in the 3Arena in Dublin on Tuesday night. Here is what lead singer Corey Taylor had to say about Trump, the media and life with Slipknot.
Your new album is entitled We Are Not Your Kind. Who are the “we” and who are the “your” you are referring to in the title?
That’s kind of the beautiful thing. It can mean us. It can mean our fans. It can really relate to anybody in a way. As weird as this sounds, one of our central messages has always, if not inclusion, unity, (been about) bringing people together. When we were growing up it was always the thrash dudes versus the punk dudes versus the rock dudes. We didn’t subscribe to any of that coming from Iowa. We just grew up listening to anything. Nothing was off-limits. That, one way or another, ended up in our approach to music and in our approach to getting people on the same page as a tribe as it were. The first beginnings was trying to build our base. In the beginning it was about getting fans so that’s where We Are Not Your Kind came from. It was reinforcing that idea we had since the beginning. It was you were either with us or you were not. And that’s fine not to be with us, but, if you are, there is an infinite world of possibility. That really set the tone for the music and where we were going with it.
We Are Not Your Kind was your first number one album in Ireland. It also topped a lot of charts in the world including the Billboard 200 and the UK album charts. Were you surprised at its success?
Twenty years on, it’s not an easy feat. Nobody is going to listen to a bunch of crusty metal dudes. Honestly, it takes me about 10 minutes to get out of bed in the morning. It’s because of 20 years in Slipknot that we are all beat up. If we got a top five, I’d be happy. There are people who tour all the time and don’t have number one albums. When it really blew up all over the place, it really surprised us. Right around the same time, it was very close to our first album (self-titled and released in 1999) coming out 20 years ago. We were sitting on the bus on the way to Ozzfest and we did 25,000 albums in the first week. That was incredible. We thought, that’s going to be the peak of it, but we were proven well wrong. It’s because we are constantly reminded that our fans have been with us, it’s a gift. They are constantly surprising us. It was damn cool to wake up to that news. It’s also a reflection of the fact that we put our money where our mouth is. We are constantly trying to outdo ourselves, evolve and the fans have no problem staying with us.
Is that loyalty peculiar to Slipknot or is it because there is loyalty to metal bands in general?
I think that is fair to say. At the same time, there are fickle folk as well. From the older generation, there are certain genres or styles that people don’t want to cross into. It’s such territorial bulls**t. It’s to do with the fact that newer generations are a little more open-minded. The older dudes listening to metal, it took me years to get into other styles. When I was young, I wanted it pissed and I wanted it fast. Then you really start getting into things like Saxon and Deep Purple. As I have been getting older, my tastes have become more refined. But I think kids now, because of the access they have to music, come out with a refined sense. For them those walls are being brought down. Because metal is such a generational thing, people stick longer at it.
Your fans who were teenagers or in their early 20s when your debut album came out are now middle-aged. Are they still coming to your shows?
Absolutely, but they are in the seats now! They are not in the pit! I don’t blame them. I haven’t been in a mosh pit since 1997. It’s insane. They are bringing their kids and their kids go in the pit. They get it. I have run into a bunch of fathers and mothers who come to meet and greet with their kids. The fathers are just so nervous. It’s great to watch them watch their kids and know that they are passing it down. They recognise that same passion.
How has the heavy metal scene changed since you were a teenager?
The music is always evolving. The perception of what heavy metal is has changed a little because there was always that stigma, wasn’t there? That metal was that knuckle-dragger music when, in fact, we were the smartest people in the room. It feels good to have that validation! There is so much access now. We had to hunt it out. We were definitely the ones in the dirt-bin trying to find everything. Because there is so much access at people’s fingertips, the hybrids are becoming more and more interesting. Somebody told me the other day that there is a computer programme that takes random notes and throws them together. What kind of mental s**t is that? That’s what is going to take heavy metal into the next generation. That same technology, the access, is a double-edged sword because now it is harder and harder for metal bands to make a living unless you get to a certain point. It is one of the reasons we take the bands out on the road with us. You have to foist the next generation to have another generation of headliners. If you don’t help the younger bands, who the hell is going to do it when you are done? I’m certainly not going to do another 30 years of this!
The model of music has changed since when you started out. There isn’t the same revenues from record sales. As a successful band, could you survive just on your royalties from streaming sales?
You could if the streaming system wasn’t set up the way it is. You are being paid less than pennies. In the United States they have passed the legislation (the Music Modernisation Act 2018) but it is being appealed. I am hoping that it will be struck down. If the streaming systems paid more online with how publishing in radio pays - people could make a living. I have had friends of mine who have had to retire and they are popular bands because they can’t make a living. Mid-card bands and lower, it is hard for them. It almost pays better to play the local pub and do the door deal. You make more money doing that than making an album. Labels don’t take the same chances but they are taking the lion’s share of the money because of the way it is set up. Until the artist is paid fairly, it is going to be a constant f**king battle. I saw this coming years ago. I haven’t got a problem with streaming. I have got a problem with how these streaming services rip off the artist and I’ll say that until the day I die.
Give us an example. What’s the going rate for a million streams?
The lowest rate is YouTube. A million streams on YouTube is 0.04 per cent of a penny. On a million streams you get $400 and that’s just me doing s***ty math in my head. People can’t live on that and there’s not a lot of people who get these numbers. The majority of this goes to the record label anyway. The streaming services are not willing to pay the talents who write the songs and makes the music and yet they are sitting on billions of dollars. They are buying whole blocks of buildings and then taking over floors in there and yet they don’t want to pay the people who made the money for them. It’s insane. It’s tough all over in a lot of ways. Something has to change. I don’t know what that will be.
Do you think Metallica had a point when they sued Napster all those years ago?
Absolutely they did. Even the Unabomber had a point. I’m not saying those people should have died. What he said was that technology was going to be the ruin of a lot of people’s lives whether it be social media or people using technology to invade countries. It’s out of control. There are no checks or balances.
You’ve written a book, America 51, in which you are very critical of how social media is distorting public opinion. Do you think it is coarsening the public debate about so many issues?
Social media to me sounds like the New York Stock Exchange in a million different languages. Everyone is screaming over the top of each other. Nobody is listening to a goddamn word anybody is saying and yet people are even more incensed when people don’t hear it. It’s becoming a place barren of empathy, a place barren of common sense. It has become a place where my opinion matters and no one else’s does. So f**k you if you don’t agree with me and f**k you if you don’t listen to me. It’s out of control.
You quit social media. Why?
I have been off social media for six months. It’s been brilliant. I don’t miss it at all. Here’s the thing. It made me go back and read the news again. I read the news everyday. It’s not like I’m not up to speed with everything, but now I’m not getting s***ty reactions to news stories. I’m not barraged by a bunch of memes in reaction to a news story here or there. Now I’m getting the story itself and I can form my own opinion. I can talk to people face-to-face about it. I can’t tell you how tired I am of people being incensed about something. That’s all news stories are now. It’s everyone looking for a reason to be mad. I’m tired of people being mad.
You have spoken in the past about suffering from depression. Has your mental health improved from being off social media?
Absolutely. There was a few years when I was dealing with some s**t right around the end of my last marriage. The fallout from that marriage had forced me into social media, burrowing into a place where people wanted to make me feel better about things because it was bad in my house. I was really ensconced in social media for a while to the point where, when I came up for air, I had gotten to the point where the people on social media were my real friends and my real friends weren’t’t. It was because my real life had become so unhappy. When I got out of that situation, I took a long look at where I had gone to. It took me a long time to extricate myself from it and now, a year ago, I made the change. I have somebody who runs my social media for me and that’s all it should be. From social media, from my point of view, you don’t know who is trying to talk to you, who they are and what they want from you. When you don’t give them attention, they turn on you. I have had to deal with some serious s**t because of that. It’s called cybertrolling. In a lot of ways it really is stalking. It’s the darker side of fame that people don’t want to talk about. It’s everybody from me to Chrissy Teigen. It’s really got to the point that it is a dogpile. If you don’t give them the right kind of response, they will come after you in the dirtiest ways creating different accounts under different names. That to me is enough not to ever go on social media again. It brings out the worst in people. It is social mania. It’s ridiculous.
Slipknot are from Iowa - a state that is going to be the forefront again in the US presidential election. You were not happy when Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Will he be elected again?
I’d love to say no. My predictions were way off. Hillary Clinton was going to lose to anybody because there were more people who disliked her than liked her. People haven’t liked Hillary Clinton for more than 20 years. You can relate to Trump because he is such a bumbling moron. A lot of people relate to him that’s why they voted for him. There is something that the Democrats haven’t learned that the Republicans learned a long time ago. That is getting your base to vote no matter who the person is. Democrats haven’t learned that because they think they are smarter than everyone else. There are people who said they would never vote for Hillary Clinton though they knew the spectre of Trump was there. Trump’s their fault too. People refusing to see what needs to be done is why we get Trump. Whoever the nominee is, whether it be Sanders, Biden or Warren, no matter who it is, if all the Democrats don’t get on the same page as one and vote for those people - it’s four more years of Trump. The thing that will keep Trump in check is if the Senate is flipped. If the Democrats can flip the Senate, it will at least keep Trump in check for the next four years.
You’ve been critical of liberal Hollywood types. What’s your beef with them?
My beef with them is that they have turned everything into outrage. It’s kind of the same beef that a lot of comedians have right now where there is no latitude, no sense of irony. Everything is taken at face value, taken out of context to the point where everything is offensive. When everything is offensive, nothing is offensive. That’s the problem. That’s why people like Trump are getting away with it. People get incensed every day at the same level for everything and it’s just a f**king bass tone of white noise that is permeating everything in American culture right now. It’s the reason why nobody is taking the impeachment seriously. They are incensed when people say something as a joke that may be off colour. It’s exhausting.
Do you think coming from a rural state like Iowa that you have a better understanding of people who are conservative?
No question. I grew up blue collar especially from Iowa. Iowa notoriously is a blue state. The only reason it went to Trump is because he promised to bring money into the agricultural sector and look what happened there. He ruined their economy when he went to war with China. If he thinks he can walk away with those votes again, he is sorely mistaken.
You have a series of Knotfest festivals coming up in Europe (Knotfest UK, August 22nd, Milton Keynes) and the Knotfest at Sea (August 10th to 14th) from Barcelona to Naples. What is the thinking behind those events?
Knotfest at Sea started as a joke because everybody and their mom has a cruise these days. Our manager came to us and said, “what do you think?”. I fully out loud laughed at him. He said, “what if we do it in Europe?” I liked the fact that it was Mediterranean. I liked the fact that we could offer different things on the cruise. I like the fact that I could do a solo acoustic thing. I like the fact that we get to pick the fans who come with us. In a way the joke was on me. It’s one more ways for us to grow the brand. Knotfest is something we dreamed about on the Iowa tour (2001-2002). We didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes to get us where we are today. Coming from Iowa, this is not the way we work. Knotfest UK is something people were asking us about six or seven years ago. We are finally able to work it out with the people we were working with for years.
Slipknot’s new album We Are Not Your Kind is out on Roadrunner Records. Details of Knotfest UK can be found at knotfestuk.com