Interview with M. Shawn “Clown” Crahan from Slipknot: Feeding The Maggots

*This post was originally published as the cover story of The Aquarian Weekly, Vol. 2-672 (Aug. 8, 2012).

Maggots will soon infest the universe. They’ll make critical, world-changing decisions and run the world. But there’s no need to fear, as this scenario hardly involves insects—instead, the show will be run by the generation of fans that ensued in support of the metal miracle that is Slipknot, who lovingly refers to their followers as “maggots.”Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 2.36.59 PM

With five albums, four live DVDs and a Grammy win under their belt, Slipknot are an undeniable force in metal music. Founded in 1995 in Des Moines, Iowa by percussionist M. Shawn “Clown” Crahan and the late bassist Paul “Pig” Gray, the band debuted with a whopping nine members: lead vocalist Corey Taylor, DJ Sid Wilson, drummer Joey Jordison, custom percussionist and backup vocalist Chris Fehn, guitarists Jim Root and Mick Thomson, and media sampler Craig Jones.

This summer, Slipknot toured the country with metal cohorts Anthrax, Asking Alexandria, As I Lay Dying, Motörhead and Slayer (just to name a few), and will be at the PNC Bank Arts Center on Wednesday, Aug. 8. They’ll wrap things up by hosting the first ever Knotfest, a carnival-inspired festival Aug. 17-18 in Iowa and Minnesota. The event is a celebration of the Slipknot repertoire, featuring amusement park rides, fire breathers and stilt walkers, among other antics.

The Knotfest bill is a testament to the band’s network of pals, including Deftones, Dethklok, Serj Tankian, Cannibal Corpse, The Urge and Dillinger Escape Plan.

Knotfest is a full circle celebration of the Slipknot live experience—a surge of sensory overload. As veterans of Ozzfest, Slipknot has come up in the festival scene, jumping status from an unknown act to a main stage co-headliner. Taking a cue from brethren who have started their own festivals, like Korn’s Family Values and Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution tours, it’s a natural progression for Slipknot to take its theatric thoroughness to their own main stage.

In a world where metal is generally construed as “noisy,” those who truly appreciate music highly regard Slipknot for their ability to draw on every single sub genre of metal to create innovative, insightful works. Taylor’s vocal versatility and the overall core musicians in Slipknot are strong enough to act as a standalone, but the advanced percussion and DJ integration break the boundaries of metal for limitless potential.

Slipknot ushered in a new wave of sound. While the band’s 1999 self-titled debut certainly channels influences from bands emerging during the same time period, the record maximizes metal by fusing together melodic vocals, gutsy guitar riffs and progressive percussion. These elements, coupled with a sporadic, taunting turntable, are the innovations that set Slipknot into a class of their own, skyrocketing their popularity and massive appeal.

From the get-go the band has demonstrated their sophistication, silencing the naysayers who insisted they were mere miscreants with masks. Fully aware of their rare musical chemistry and collaborative capabilities, Slipknot branded a new sound and new band. They were concise and calculated about every move along the way to the top. They tapped the coolest kids on the production block, Ross Robinson and Rick Rubin, to harness and refine the power of their unique sound.

Even during their early recording period, they initiated more innovate production methods, as drummer Jordison and producer Robinson mastered the entire first album with analog equipment rather than using digital formats.

The band’s debut album peaked at number 51 on the Billboard 200, and subsequently was certified double platinum in the U.S., making it the band’s best selling album.

Slipknot weathered a tumultuous year following the release of their 2001 sophomore effort, Iowa. While the record validated their positioning in the industry and ensued a cult-like following, the band went on hiatus and several members initiated side projects: Taylor with Stone Sour, Jordison with the Murderdolls, Wilson went solo as DJ Starscream, and Crahan started To My Surprise. Crahan also was one of the producers on 40 Below Summer’s debut LP.

Time apart gave the guys perspective, and when they reconvened in 2003 they upped the ante by calling on producer Rubin to record Vol. 3 (The Subliminal Verses) at The Mansion in Los Angeles, California. The following year the album was released and the band earned the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for the song “Before I Forget.”

In 2008, the band released their fourth album, All Hope Is Gone, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. This would be the final work completed with founding bassist Gray, who was found dead in an Iowa hotel room in May 2010. The band, though conflicted, ultimately decided to honor the legacy of Slipknot and continue making music. While the band has not made any formal announcements to replace Gray, former guitarist Donnie Steele is acting as the band’s touring bassist, playing behind Jordison on stage.

Uniquely positioned to continue to call their own shots, Slipknot will forever be embossed in music pop culture. Even if they don’t make music, people will buy their shirts and memorabilia and know their name. While they’ve become a commodity of sorts, definitively displaying their superior stage presence with masks and madness, their music will forever support the hype. And co-founder Clown is content with that.

“Where I’m at now at my age, I don’t care if it ends tomorrow,” he says. “No one will ever take the fact that I co-founded this band Slipknot, and no one ever in life will ever be able to take away that I’m the Clown. And because of that, I can honestly say we’re the best band in the world. My band against your band, any fucking day. Does that mean I don’t have respect for some of the greatest bands? Of course I do—I have utter respect. But my band against your band any day.”

Clown plays catch up the day after the band reserved a theater in Cincinnati to watchThe Dark Knight Rises with the other bands on the tour. “We took in some pizza…we do that sometimes, while we’re out on tour,” he explains, as he preps for a show. “But ultimately, we just don’t hang out. There’s just no need. We need the space—mentally, physically and spiritually. When we come out here on tour it’s 190 percent on. It [requires] a lot of different mentalities to keep this kind of dynamic going.”

Two of Clown’s four children are on tour with him, working as a camera assistant and set cart. While he emphasizes the band’s laser focus on the impact of their live show, his time at home is all about his family and wife of 19 years.

The longevity of Slipknot hinges on their onstage dynamic—the binding glue that keeps the unit together. It’s an enigmatic process but their unparalleled, admirable respect for one another helps them stay committed and connected to each other, their fans, and deliver a stellar show.

“Kids want to go see a rock show,” he says. “We want to pull everybody in. It’s difficult because we have our favorite songs. You want to keep the show moving, though—you want it to make sense and the looks in people’s eyes when the beginning of a song starts, that’s what matters. That’s what’s most important. So we cater to that a little bit. We’ve got our surprises here and there. There’s more than a handful of songs that need to be played so it’s not all just commercial, those songs are a way of life,” he says of the tracks “Surfacing” and “Sic.”

Clown says composing the setlist gets more fun with each record. “You want to be obscure and give fans something they’re not able to get a hold of. You give them something everyone can sing, including the guys behind the mask. Let’s have fun and let’s get fucking crazy!”

While monetary measures, like multi-platinum selling status and Grammy nods, solidify the significance of Slipknot, these accolades are mere mementos to Clown. “I’m one guy in the band that’s not about how many tickets we’ve sold or upfront [with] what city we’re in, or what time it is. I don’t live by those standards. I live by the church of the knot, the alter of the knot, the sermon of the knot, the congregation of the knot.”

That said, Clown doesn’t doubt that Slipknot has already earned a spot in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. “It takes 25 years [to be considered] so I’m sure by then there’s going to be somebody from the band still alive. Slipknot will definitely be inducted—I don’t think there will be any question. You can’t deny us.”

And if there’s anyone who does want to deny Slipknot, they can take it up with the mountain of maggots who, according to Clown, will forever be the driving force that illuminates the mindset of Slipknot.

“By [the time we’re up for consideration] it’ll be all our people voting on that shit, anyway,” he says confidently. “The older generation will be gone. That’s what I try to remind people. You can only keep your thumb down on us so long, but you only have so many more years you’re going to be alive. Any old fart that wants to mess with me, cool. I’m counting down your days, brother. I got kids out there—hundreds of thousands of kids—they’re all going to be mayors and doctors and psychologists one day. Slipknot is going to have been a part of their growing up. We’re going to be taken care of.”

 

Slipknot will be at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ, on Aug. 8. For more information about the show or to stream Knotfest live, go to slipknot1.com.

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