Corey Taylor: "You can’t experience joy unless you know what real sadness feels like"

Think you know Corey Taylor? The Great Big Mouth’s debut solo album – “The missing piece of a puzzle” – is a celebration of life, and one that shows him in a whole new light… ​

Corey Taylor: "You can’t experience joy unless you know what real sadness feels like"
Emily Carter
Ashley Osborn

It came to Corey Taylor in a dream. As he dozed through the night after a show on Slipknot’s most recent European tour, the frontman’s brain played out an initially familiar scenario that he had experienced thousands of times before: he was standing onstage, leading a chant in front of a typically enraptured audience. No big deal, right? But then things got more “bizarre”. In this particular vision, Corey wasn’t performing with Slipknot, nor with his ‘other’ band, Stone Sour. He was there as a solo artist. Stranger still was the fact that he was running through a track that didn’t actually exist in real life, to a crowd who sung along and knew every single word.

“I woke up and was like, ‘What the fuck was that?!’” Corey chuckles today as he animatedly details his post-dream reaction. Scrunching his face up into a confused frown, his eyes dart quickly left and right, as if he’s trying to work out a complicated maths equation. He remembers the scramble to get out of bed and write everything down about this as-yet-untitled song, before mapping out the music on an acoustic guitar. Corey then filmed himself presenting this somewhat rushed, early idea, and sent the video to a group of friends and bandmates with whom he was – at some point in the distant future – planning to record an album.

Fast-forward to now. This dream track goes by the name Meine Lux, and will appear on Corey’s soon-to-be-released debut solo record, CMFT.

There are similarly fortuitous stories behind many songs on the album (the title of which comes from an abbreviation Corey was affectionately given by friends back in school: “It was ‘CT’, and then it was, ‘C-mother-fucking-T’, and then it was just, ‘CMFT – whaddup!’” he jokes of how the nickname developed). As the frontman casually lounges around his Nevada home after a hectic morning of dad and husband duties, he reflects on three decades of songwriting that has all led up to this point. And that really is no exaggeration: CMFT kicks off with the fired-up rock’n’roll of HWY 666, the first two verses of which he’d penned when he was in 10th grade.

For years, the question of, ‘When are you going to make a solo album?’ has followed Corey around. The 46-year-old has been performing shows under his own name since 2009, covering songs by his bands as well as some of the many artists he’s enjoyed as a lifelong fan of rock and metal, from Alice In Chains to Pearl Jam. But a packed schedule between Slipknot, Stone Sour, writing books and the occasional acting gig has ostensibly prevented one of the busiest men in music from ever being able to give a solo project his full attention. As Corey began to construct a “huge batch” of material that boasted an altogether different “spirit” to that of his day job, though, he mentally jotted down ‘2021’ as the year to finally put these pieces together.

And then, of course, COVID-19 struck. Finding himself with a gaping stretch of free time after Slipknot’s touring plans were scrapped, he was hit by a lightbulb moment: get the solo album done now.

“I put the word out, probably about a month before we actually ended up going in [to the studio], because it just started as a conversation with my manager,” Corey explains. “I said, ‘Well, maybe I should just do the album now.’ And he knew how good the songs were, and he was like, ‘You know what? There’s nothing else going on. Let’s just see if we can even do it.’”

Making the best of a bad situation, then, and simultaneously realising that he was now “gagging” to commit these ideas to tape, the frontman enlisted the help of those pals he’d sent Meine Lux to several months prior: guitarists Zach Throne and Stone Sour’s Christian Martucci, bassist Jason Christopher, and drummer Dustin Robert. Then, they began to formulate a plan.

“It was tricky, because everything was closed, and we had to be smart,” Corey begins. “But I just told everybody to social distance and quarantine for two weeks, and make sure that they were all good and safe, healthy, everything. We avoided any of the trappings of COVID, and really tried to keep ourselves from being exposed to anything like that.”

The five of them decamped to Kevin Churko’s Hideout studio in Las Vegas, recruiting producer Jay Ruston to help realise Corey’s vision. And, across the span of two-and-a-half-weeks, the band birthed a whopping 25 songs – the 13 that make up CMFT, plus six covers and six acoustic versions of their original material to save as B-sides. All the while, they had an absolute blast.

“There were long days, but it wasn’t exhausting at all,” Corey smiles. “We all are such dorks that we were cracking each other up. There was no debate, we just knew what we wanted to do and did it. I don’t want to say it was ‘fate’, because that’s not the right word, but it was almost kismet: it just made sense for this to be the way that it was. There’s an explosive energy to it that feels so infectious. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

An average day began with the guys rolling in to the studio around midday, drinking coffee, hanging out and “talking shit” for an hour or so first. Then, they’d start to jam to “knock the rust off”, before tackling the actual songs. They opted for a live recording, with “99 per cent” of what you’ll hear on CMFT captured just as it was played. It was a loose, light-hearted and, most importantly, uplifting process that was immensely beneficial to Corey and his bandmates.

“I love what I’ve done in the past, I love the projects that I’ve been attached to, but this, honestly, was probably the most enjoyable album that I’ve done since the first Slipknot album,” he enthuses. “There was such a sense of, ‘We’re doing it together.’ I hadn’t felt anything like that for a really long time, man. People grow apart, relationships become fractious… people stop liking each other sometimes, in certain bands, you know? But with this, it was totally different, because we were all friends before that. We just happened to all play together, and then we formed a band around that friendship, and it all really galvanised it.

“This has definitely made me appreciate making music again, let’s put it that way.”

It has reached the point in our conversation where Corey Taylor is jokingly pretending to rip his shirt open. Ever the enthusiastic interviewee, the frontman tugs at his blue top and re-enacts one of his favourite memories from recording CMFT. This gesture even has a name: ‘The Angus Moment’.​

It happened during the recording of Halfway Down, the full-length’s groovy, thumping fifth track and homage to the Bon Scott era of AC/DC. Not only was it the most “fun” song to put together, Corey would even go as far as to channel guitar hero Angus Young from back in the day, mimicking what it would be like if he were onstage with the Aussie hard-rock legends.

“I would always act like I was taking my shirt off like Angus does in the middle of the show,” grins Corey. “The real struggle was to make sure that we weren’t laughing out loud, and you could pick it up in the mics! You can hear us all over the place, which is funny.”

‘The Angus Moment’ also acutely points to just how influenced Corey was on CMFT by his (perhaps not widely known) influences. The singer describes the record as his personal “tip of the cap” to the many artists who have made him who he is, with the liner notes even listing some such inspirations: from Van Halen’s wild frontman David Lee Roth, to legendary singer-songwriter Prince, to alt.metal titan and Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton, to LA rapper Ice Cube, to punk-rock vocalist and guitarist Stiv Bators. It’s a delicate, touching acknowledgement that Corey plans to continue in every solo album going forward, too.

“It’s like a web, with all of these little strands coming down to my little point, and then my point kind of spreads it out,” he explains. “It’s me reminding people that our music does have a history, and it’s a very rich history. And if we forget that history just because we’re trying to carve out a niche for ourselves, then we’re disrespecting the very people who helped create this genre in the first place. And not only this genre, but all of the genres that are referenced – and there are many.”

"Halfway Down was our homage to AC/DC"

Corey Taylor

As well as very deliberately avoiding the more metal leanings of Slipknot and Stone Sour (“If you’re gonna do something solo-wise, get away from the beaten path that you’re known for…”), these genre-spanning influences are significantly “much more demonstrative” of Corey’s preferred songwriting style.

“It’s looking for the story, looking for the big moments, and really just trying to get people to sing along,” he notes. “That’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. And it seems like all my heroes have either done it purposefully, or inadvertently.”

As well as quite blatantly being the truest reflection of who he is as a musician, paying a close ear to CMFT will also give fans an idea of to what the young Corey Taylor would spend his days binge-listening: Mötley Crüe, Slade, Rose Tattoo, the Charlie Daniels Band, and – of course – AC/DC.

“I feel like the stuff that I’ve done in the past has never been indicative of the bands that I grew up listening to,” he ponders. “I wasn’t able to really wear my influences on my sleeve the way a lot of other bands have been able to. And that’s not a bad thing; maybe I was just waiting for this time to do it.”

Such a lengthy gestation period has resulted in what is a wide-ranging but strikingly cohesive record. Yes, there’s a hell of a lot of rock’n’roll and hard rock to be delved into, but there’s also subtle jazz throughout The Maria Fire, hardcore punk (with a healthy dose of comedic charm) in the excellently-titled European Tour Bus Bathroom Song, and ’80s New York hip-hop in lead single CMFT Must Be Stopped, which features two of Corey’s prior collaborators, Kid Bookie and Tech N9ne. It’s also packed with what the frontman playfully refers to as ‘junk food’ choruses, because they’re “so good that they’re fattening; there’s gotta be sugar in it somewhere!”

“All of those things were recorded with the exact same instruments and amps,” Corey says, proudly. “We’d change guitars out here and there, but it was all done the same way, and built from that foundation. And hopefully that’s almost like a subliminal nod to the fact that all of these genres can live together if they’re done right.”

Indeed, ‘genre’ is an interesting topic of conversation with Corey. The musician had previously labelled modern rock music “nutless” in a 2019 interview with Kerrang!, and today amusingly complains about folk-rock that “sounds like a fucking Dove soap commercial”.

“It’s really safe and fucking weak, and it feels like there’s no attitude,” he laments. “There’s nothing that’s offending people’s sensibilities, and that’s what rock is supposed to do sometimes. That’s not to say that there are aren’t good fucking bands out there doing it, but it just seems like the types of music that are really getting all the attention are the safe bands, and I hate anything safe.”

Though Corey doesn’t expect CMFT alone to change the status quo (“I’m not going to assume that album is going to shake things up to the point where people are emulating us”), he does want to remind those of a more edgy disposition of one key message: “This isn’t exactly an anti-‘genre is dead’ kind of vibe, and it’s fine that genre is dead, but rock is still fucking awesome, so get over yourselves.”

Ask Corey Taylor what he hopes people take away from CMFT and his answer is just two words: “A smile.”​

On top of revitalising his passion for making music, Corey hopes to lift people’s spirits – and not just because it’s what the world undoubtedly needs right now, but because this charismatic, infectious brand of rock’n’roll has clearly had the same effect on his own psyche.

“I really want people to listen to this album and go, ‘Fuck, that was a good time,’” he beams. “I want people to listen to this album and go, ‘God dammit, I cannot wait to see these guys live.’ That, to me, is the best sign that an album has really worked: when people will go, ‘God, can you imagine what this is going to sound like when we see it live?’ That’s the best compliment you can really have.”

Nevertheless, he admits to being “a little terrified” when it comes to listeners hearing what he’s offering here; after all, he’s used to sharing the burden of nerves with his bandmates in Slipknot and Stone Sour.

“I was talking to my wife about this the other day – I was like, ‘Fuck! There’s nobody for me to hide behind!’” he laughs. “It’s easy to take risks when you have the benefit of a well-established name – and by that, I mean the bands that I’ve been in for 20 years. But I also feel like I’ve earned the right to put something out there and throw people for a loop – not only with the things that I’ve done with both bands, but the guest spots that I’ve done with several bands: everybody from Tonight Alive to Zakk Wylde to Tech N9ne. I mean, I’ve really spread out, in a cool way. I’ve never sequestered myself to one corner of the genre; I’ve never allowed myself to be painted into a corner. And, I think because of that, people’s minds are a lot more open when they hear that I’m putting something out. They’re gonna come into it with this mindset of, ‘Okay, I don’t know what the fuck I’m about to hear – this should be interesting.’ I think by doing that, that really sets the tone for your career.”

And ‘career’ is the perfect word in this instance. With enough material for a further two solo releases already, Corey looks brightly ahead to the fact that his “future’s not set anymore”, and that going “with the flow” might just be the way to… well, go, when it comes to his work life.

“I’m not gonna waste time being unhappy,” he asserts. “I’m gonna take advantage of the fact that I’m still around, and I still get to make music. I’m really gonna do it in a way where I can enjoy it.”

"I've really gotten back to my old self again"

Corey Taylor

After the well-publicised darkness that has plagued Corey for not just the past few years, but for vast swathes of his entire life, you couldn’t blame him. It was there for all to hear on Slipknot’s 2019 LP We Are Not Your Kind, operating as a “purge” for the frontman to try to let his demons go.

“I think that’s what’s so special about [CMFT]: you can feel the real release of joy and happiness, and that kind of frenetic energy that comes with just being so fucking stoked you can’t stand it, you know?” he considers. “If I hadn’t done We Are Not Your Kind [first], it wouldn’t have that kind of energy.”

Ultimately, CMFT is the altogether less serious side of the coin that is so rarely played out within Corey’s music. Sure, we’ve witnessed his outspoken hilarity onstage, through books and on social media – but never before has it been so blatant within the context of an album. It will tell you a lot about his character.

“People give me shit for being this loquacious goofball – in interviews, and in real life and whatnot,” he says. “But then I’m this very dark artist when it comes to a lot of my music. And yet people are like, ‘Well, how can you be one and the other?’ I feel like this album fills in a blank there; it ties those two sides together. You can’t have darkness without the light; you can’t experience joy unless you know what real sadness feels like; you can’t know that you’ve won unless you’ve lost… a lot.

“And that’s what this is: this is me coming back up to the surface and realising that I’m in a really good fuckin’ place,” Corey concludes. “I feel like this is kind of the missing piece of a puzzle.”

CMFT is out on October 2 via Roadrunner Records – get your copy here.

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