Album review: Corey Taylor – CMF2
Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor assuredly takes his solo work to the next level on commanding second album.
Corey Taylor has to show us something on his phone. He’s in the middle of explaining how he wrote his second solo album, CMF2, and there’s a song on there called We Are The Rest – a punky, boisterous number that sounds a bit like Rancid. He’s got “the idea” for it here, somewhere in his mobile. After a moment of frowning, fiddling and muttered cursing, he finds what he’s after.
‘Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo. Guitar stop. Drum beat keeps going. Bass driving. Vocals. Doo doo doo.’
This is Corey, humming the riff to himself like Beavis and Butt-Head, scatting possible vocal lines, giving himself instructions, while in the background clicking his fingers in the absence of a real metronome.
He had to get it all down as fast as possible. He wasn’t at home or anywhere with a guitar to hand, so this beatboxing was the best he could manage. Weirdly, it doesn’t actually sound a million miles from the finished thing, and he nods at our Rancid comparison, saying he’d been listening to a lot of frontman Tim Armstrong’s old band Operation Ivy at the time. But even more weirdly…
“Dude, I dreamt the whole song. That’s me getting it out of my head and down as a note before it disappeared,” he grins. “I was in LA, and I was doing press and whatnot. And I fell asleep and I dreamt this song. In the dream I was playing it live with the guys. I hadn't written it yet. So I woke up and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ I went home, picked the guitar up, wrote all the music that day, and then listened back to it and wrote the lyrics. But it all came from that little thing. I do that all the time – it’s crazy.”
Corey should probably be asleep right now. At 2pm on a hot afternoon one Sunday in August, he’s been up and at it since before Kerrang! went to bed last night. Starting in Philadelphia, he’s flown to England, arrived at Channel 4 at cock-crow to appear on weekend cooking and chat jamboree Sunday Brunch where he “ate so fucking much”, managed not to swear, and “fucking butchered” pom-poms he and his fellow guests were making.
“That was fucking embarrassing. I cut it in the wrong place and fucked it up,” he laughs. “I was doing that with Myles Kane, who was on playing. Oh, and we started a fake hip-hop band together called Peekaboo. I don't know what it sounds like. But it's gonna be amazing. There's an exclusive, Kerrang!.”
Post-Brunch, he’s bounced across London, and now he’s here, at Kerrang!'s exclusive playback of CMF2 where fans can hear the album weeks before its release, arriving unaware that the man himself would be here to introduce things and hang out. Tonight and tomorrow are stacked as well. It’s affected his usual energetic flow by all of about 10 per cent.
“I booked a flight and literally hit the ground hauling ass,” he laughs, settling into a leather armchair in the building’s game room. “I think that's the only reason like I'm not passed out right now – I'm just running on sheer adrenaline and prayer.”
This is how Corey does things when it’s his name above the door – impulsive, quick, sleeves-rolled-up-and-getting-on-with-it. The music for CMF2 was demoed and in shape fast, even taking into account getting together with the band to hammer things out properly and add their own flourishes before going in to record it. When we remark that, judging by the progress from the studio on Instagram it seemed like they powered through in barely a fortnight, he grins and nods.
“Every day we were finishing a song. I mean, to the point where it was just like, ‘Well, what do we do now?’” he says. “You’d sit around and get bored. We killed it in half the time that I thought it was going to take us to do the entire album.”
CMF2 isn’t a record that sounds like it was made in one frenzied, punky run to the end, though. There are bits that do that, but it’s got many other faces, too. Talk Sick sounds like Use Your Illusion-era Guns N’ Roses. It opens with a mellow, Zeppelin-ish, almost folky build up on The Box. One track, Breath Of Fresh Smoke, is a brooding ballad, written over a decade ago, but never with the proper shoes to make it run properly until now.
When we tell him it seems like a very ’70s studio vibe, with songs well-drilled and laid down live, but with a big butterfly net ready to catch ideas that come up on the fly, Corey nods in agreement, also suggesting inspiration from Foo Fighters’ sprawling, double-disc In Your Honour album, with a heavy half and a mellower, largely acoustic one. The songs are the songs, then you can do what you like with them.
“The thing that I've always tried to do, whether it's Slipknot, Stone Sour, this thing, anything that I've done, I've always wanted it to have that vibe of the ’70s where anything was possible,” he says. “There was no such thing as 'follow the genre'. There was no such thing as stay in your lane musically. [Bands would] just fucking record it and [they] just went in. And if you wrote a killer song, it didn't matter what it fucking sounded like, you had a killer song.
“There was never a day where we went more than five takes. I mean, we really fucking nailed it quick. We’d lay something down really quick, and we’d go, ‘Okay, we're not just going to move on right away. Let's layer this, let's add those third guitar parts, let's fuck around with a theremin. And if we want to let's put an eight-string bass on this part, let's really go there.’ But it's because we had already captured the meat of the song all at once.”
This is, obviously, Corey wearing a very different mask than he does in Slipknot. Though themselves not a band afraid to flex their creative tentacles and explore what they can do, the main currency in which they deal remains hard and gun-metal grey. The Slipknot machine moves at a much bigger, heftier gait, the considerations of being one of the biggest metal bands in the world not exactly streamlined by the herding of nine cats.
And, obviously, a break to do your own thing becomes desirable. And one might expect some sort of line like, ‘Slipknot is a war, this is a party.’ The way Corey actually expresses the difference between being part of a Premier League team and being your own man – other than “writing all the music, producing, all the press, scheduling, making sure everybody's paid, selling the tickets” – is actually far simpler at its centre. As a songwriter, it scratches the artistic itch and gives Corey a place to put stuff, meaning when the time comes to bring things to Slipknot’s table, he will be more focused on Slipknot material, rather than putting every idea in.
“Because I'm able to do this, I'm able to take the pressure off me as a songwriter going into Slipknot,” he says. “I can actually listen to the stuff that Jim and Mick [Root and Thomson, guitar] and everybody comes up with, and not have to worry about, ‘Okay, I need to write something to keep up and be sure that I'm represented as well.’ Since I have this, that takes the impetus off me having to feel like I need to do that.
“It was a real source of contention for me for a while, because I would bring stuff to the table and it would invariably kind of be… not thrown away… but there were times where it felt like it wasn't even regarded. It's tough, but at the same time, because I have this, I can listen to the music and go, ‘Okay, this is what I can do lyrically. This is what I can do vocally...’”
Take, then, Breath Of Fresh Smoke. It’s a song Corey’s had in the drawer since 2006, and one that he calls “one of my favourites that I’ve ever written”. With what he names as a vaguely Irish undertone, and looking at the peculiar geography of love through a thoughtful lens, it’s not something one imagines sitting flush in the ’Knot, or even Stone Sour. Hence the wait for a proper vehicle. Here, it can exist as its own thing, and the man who also authored the immortal line, ‘I wanna slit your throat and fuck the wound’ needn't be unafraid to show himself in a more graceful light. It’s something that comes up often in CMF2.
“I have more clubs in the bag than I've allowed myself to really rely on in the past,” he says. “There have been so many different challenges for me as a songwriter that to rise to the challenge means getting out of that comfort zone. Or [it means] leaning into something that I've wanted to talk about, or a point of view that I've wanted to represent, and maybe I just have never had the chance to. With Slipknot, it's still very much that scream therapy, and I think I've always needed that, for whatever reason, but this is so much more nuanced. And because of that, I appreciate it just as much as I do Slipknot.”
As a lyricist, it’s a different thing when you’re bringing words to the table than, say, riffs. Is it more comfortable when you’re the one who has final say, because they’re your songs, rather than a collective thing like Slipknot?
“I don't have to feel like people who I'm in a band with are going to judge me harshly, or maybe try to talk me out of writing a certain thing here and there, which I've definitely had in the past,” he replies. “It's hard, because, you know, I've never tried to limit anybody creatively, I've always pushed them to do whatever will work with it. There have been a handful of times where various people who I have been in a band with have gone, ‘You know, maybe you shouldn't write about that’ because it doesn't fit something. And I'm like, ‘What the fuck? What are you talking about?!’
“So for me, having carte blanche definitely lends a sense of satisfaction, honesty, and the fact that I can be, I don't want to say ‘saccharine’, but definitely a little more romantically-leant. It doesn't have to be a sad break-up song, it can be a fucking rejoicing, amazing relationship song. It's something that I want to celebrate. My wife and I have a great relationship, and I'm gonna fucking write songs about her. I love the fact that I can lean into that, and I can show that positive side.”
The cover of CMF2 features, in the vein of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a whole load of Coreys dotted about. The meaning is fairly self-evident, he’s more than one thing, but talking to Corey today another thought occurs.
In December, he’ll be blowing out the candles on his 50th birthday cake. At 25, he was recording Slipknot’s debut album. The man sat with us today, near-enough a lifetime hence, remains the big, charismatic, motormouthed kid at the back of the classroom he was, with the same self-deprecating, almost-British sense of humour – “What do I think people think of me? Besides being a wanker?” – but he’s also far more settled and centred. He does still get angry about a great many things, but he knows the difference between the things it's justified to be angry and, and when he's just being "an old man yelling at the moon for being too bright". Not having a drink in 17 years has played a huge part (as has keeping his Great Big Mouth off of social media), but there’s also what he says boils down to having his shit together and being on top of things instead of letting them do the same to him.
Reaching for an obvious one, then: what would 25-year-old Corey in that young, hungry new Slipknot, make of you making a record like this? And going on normal TV and watching your mouth and behaving yourself?
“That's a very good question. I think my older self would have been too nervous, or self-conscious to go and do it,” he says. “I remember doing Top Of The Pops to play [Stone Sour single] Bother, and being so fucking nervous that I had to slam Jack and Cokes just to settle myself. So by the time I got on camera, I was, (adopts slurring, drunk voice). I've missed a lot of moments like that, because I didn't allow myself to be in the moment.
“I don't know if I would have necessarily been annoyed about it as a young kid, as I would have been intimidated,” he continues. “When I was younger, I still was trying to figure out what all of this is, and it wasn't until after I quit drinking that I was able to become honest with myself and really look at what it is – which is temporary, for the most part. So you either take advantage of what you've got going on now, and embrace it and live in that moment, or you watch it fade away. I would probably have swore a lot, and they would have escorted me off the premises.”
When I first interviewed you about 20 years ago, I could have fully imagined that. You seem wiser, though, without getting quiet and boring – you seem just as jazzed about music as you did then. It’d be very easy for you to just do Slipknot, without the hassle parts that come with making and touring a record, yet here we are…
“Maybe it's because I'm a glutton!” he laughs. “I mean, listen, I'm the first one to admit that my ego is quite large when it comes to wanting to do more things, and not necessarily for the attention but because I just love making music. I love making music and I love entertaining people. But there's also that part of me that goes, ‘What are you doing? Why do you keep starting projects at this age? Knowing that you have to go out and fucking tour this motherfucker?’
“The answer is because I still want to do it. Something that’s given me pause in recent times, especially with the fact that I’m getting older, and physically, it's hard for me to tour anything, let alone Slipknot – but I don't want to stop yet. I still want to take advantage of the fact that there's still a load of people who love the new music that I make, you know, and I mean, even with Slipknot, dude, it still blows me away that our audience is the size of that it is, and then we're able to fucking sell all these places. And we still feel like a modern band. There's no legacy vibe to it yet. I appreciate that so much.”
At one point in our conversation, Corey says that having a solo outlet will be part of his life “forever, for the duration” now. Listening to CMF2, and hearing the genuine, infectious enthusiasm with which he talks about it – and, indeed, about how it helps reload him for Slipknot so that he can “go into things with them completely selflessly” – is to see a side of a man finding new ways to be fulfilled. When asked what this looks like, long-term, he ponders for a moment, before hitting on an idea of two other men who’ve kept it going because, really, they can’t help themselves.
“My whole goal is to take the idea of Ozzy and the idea of Bruce Springsteen and stick them together,” he beams. “That, to me, is kind of my ultimate. That's my end game.”
And there we go. Older, wiser, creatively motivated and finding ways to balance the pressures of being in one of the world’s biggest metal bands, even if he can’t make a pom-pom, Corey Taylor is happy. Actually, it sounds like he’s living the dream.
CMF2 is released September 15 via Decibel Cooper / BMG
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