Slipknot’s Clown: “You Have No Idea What’s Coming Next… But It’s Biblical”
Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan is sat in his truck. He’s not going anywhere in particular; he’s simply parked outside his house in Des Moines, Iowa. “No-one bothers me here,” the 49-year-old explains, matter-of-factly, of his unusual choice of location for today’s interview. But it’s actually the least surprising decision Slipknot’s legendary percussionist has made recently. As he’ll emphasise and elaborate on many times across our near-two-hour conversation, the Clown that Kerrang! encounters today has drastically reformed from the man who changed the face of metal when he and his eight masked bandmates and brothers exploded into life some 20 years prior.
Pondering the future and who he wants to be in later life (“I’m gonna be 50 soon – and I know that’s redundant and I know people are over that: ‘Midlife crisis, blah, blah, blah…’” he grumbles), Clown has given himself a total overhaul in the years following Slipknot’s last album, .5: The Gray Chapter. “I’ve dropped one… two… three… four sizes in my coveralls,” he counts proudly. “I like to work on my core, and that’s what Slipknot is. If you wanna survive a Slipknot show, you’ve got to have your core in line – because you will be required to utilise it. So I’m trying to strengthen my core, and working out towards that. It’s going really well. I’m a much smaller Clown now.”
This new, more, er, compact musician is also undergoing something of a facial makeover with his new Slipknot masks, which he affectionately refers to as his “children”. Not that we’re allowed to take a peek at them just yet – the big reveal is still to come. “I posted a photo on Instagram of my children, but they had garbage bags over their heads so you couldn’t see them,” Clown smiles. “They’re doing good – they’ve had their hair sewn on now, and both hair is the same, which is interesting. My wife doesn’t like the new masks – I’ll just let the whole world know that. She’s not feeling it at all (laughs). But when I sewed the hair on, she liked it better.”
Mrs Clown, says her husband, views Slipknot in the same way the rest of the world seemingly does. “Everybody is just brainwashed to go, ‘Hey, I want OG Clown! Hey, I want the red coveralls!’ Arghhhhhh!” he jokes. “I grow up. I’m a year older every year, so fuck it. It changes. My wife is like everybody else and likes the brilliant idea of 1998 Slipknot: in your face, fuck you, middle finger pressed up against your forehead, ‘We are the ’Knot, we do what we want when we want.’ She’s stuck in that. I get it all day: ‘You gonna wear the red coveralls?’ ‘I don’t know, I have no idea!’”
We won’t ask about the coveralls, then. But what we will dive into is Slipknot’s new album – due to arrive later this year – the band’s past, present and future, and why Clown’s more than happy to have gone “soft”…
So, Clown, we haven’t seen your mask yet, but we do have the first new Slipknot music in four years: All Out Life. The single broke your own YouTube record and got 4 million views in a day. Were you expecting a reaction like that, or do you ever get nervous that you’re going to come back after a time period away and people aren’t interested?
“What would I think if people moved on?! (Laughs) That’s awesome. It’s reality, right? It happens to people all the time – bands, genres… I get it. But it’s not on Slipknot’s clock. We’re not a band – we’re a culture. Last time we spoke [last October, to announce Slipknot’s headlining of Download 2019], I hysterically started laughing and saying, ‘You don’t know anything, do you?’ And then bam: a couple of weeks later arrives All Out Life. I knew that, and you did not. You have no idea what’s coming next. I mean, you answered your own question: 4 million people in a day, and I think it’s up to 16 million now. Does it sound like people are gonna move on? I. Don’t. Think. So.”
You come across as so confident, but isn’t there even the tiniest worry?
“Here’s where I have it. For the people around me, they don’t want to come up with shit – they don’t want to be tied to time and numbers and ideas, because they need a scapegoat. And I’ve always been the fucking scapegoat. But I’ve liked being the scapegoat. Go ahead: everyone blame me. I don’t care anymore. That’s where I get my confidence from, because I’ve had to be confident, and I’ve had to walk in with a clear picture of what we’re doing. I absolutely freak out about what it is I’m doing. But I wouldn’t say that I’m worried, because in art, in my opinion, you have to be confident, otherwise you’ll never commit. [Producer] Rick Rubin told me once that one of my greatest gifts was that I knew how to commit.”
All Out Life was initially teased via a new social media app, designed to discourage people from the attachment to their phones. Is that something you implement in your own day-to-day life, too?
“Oh yeah, I’m done. I’ve seen all I need to see and I’ve heard all I need to hear. I’ve seen the facts and the health issues. But it’s not going anywhere. I’ll partake in little amounts, just like putting salt and pepper on potatoes. But I’m not gonna fucking run my life on it. There’s a big world out there, and I get up and go outside every day, breathing in real air. It lets me know that there’s a life out there – even if it’s cold. I don’t like to go to dinner with people who are on their phone, and I let them know right away. But it doesn’t matter how I wanna live, because it’s only gonna start fucking this world over more. It’s gonna take everybody’s money without even taking your credit card out of your wallet – you’re going to have more money in the internet than you will in your mortgage. I like all those things so I’m not talking shit on them, but you wanna come to dinner with me? Turn your fucking phone off.”
If you were growing up in today’s world, and experiencing this phone culture from a much younger age, would you still be outside breathing in the real air, or sat inside playing Candy Crush?
“Well… I don’t know. I would hope that my soul and my spirit would allow me to get out. But I have children that were born into it, and it’s so easy for them that they don’t see it being a problem. Like, one of my sons will send away for Slipknot shirts. He’s like, ‘Fuck your merch company. I have money and a phone and an Amazon account – bam.’ I’m gonna be honest with you: they get it done quicker than I do (laughs). And that’s not a slam on anyone – that’s just the fucking truth. It’s way faster than I could even think. I love that my 14-year-old son is the one who’s gonna drive me around in the spaceship one day because I’m gonna be too old to learn the technology. I’m cool with where the world’s going, but I’m just not gonna partake. And I’m not grumpy about it.”
You’ve recently said the new Slipknot album is themed on ‘evil vs good’. Is that in broader terms, or is it aimed in any specific direction?
“I don’t say things that aren’t aimed directly at you. I guess right now you can see a little laser pointing on your forehead for that question. I can only speak for myself, but let me tell you, this one’s biblical. This is the oldest tale of all. Is there any specific one thing? No, because Slipknot is a unit and a group effort that projects ideas. I can only speak for myself, but just look at what’s already out, and apply it to the statement, ‘We are not your kind.’ And if you don’t like me, then just get away from me. Get the fuck away, or I’ll make you get the fuck away.”
How different is your own perspective from the rest of the guys in Slipknot these days?
“There’s no changing this band. It’s amazing, and it’s a lifestyle that only the nine of us – even the two new members [drummer Jay Weinberg and bassist Alex ‘V-Man’ Venturella] – know. Let me give you a quick story on the reality of Slipknot: Chris Fehn, number three, and Jay Weinberg, numberless, were killing time in a bus. We were talking about a space shuttle to Mars. Chris and I were being the way we are, and the story was being told with a lot of anxiety of what it would entail to go to Mars: how many hours, days, months it would take. It was intense, and we were just laughing, because we’re intense people. Chris and I were making the trip to Mars worse and worse for ourselves, and while we were doing it, we were like, ‘I’m still in. I’m still going to Mars, even though I can’t have Kentucky Fried Chicken.’ After about 15 minutes, we look at Jay, and we’re like, ‘You going to Mars?’ He looks at me dead in the face and goes, ‘Not with this band.’ (Laughs) That is fucking Slipknot.”
So nothing at all has changed?
“Nothing. But you start losing parents, and unfortunately people’s relationships come and go – whether that’s friendships, or relatives, whatever. We’re not young men anymore. But we’re not old men, either. And it would be a tragedy if we hadn’t learned from the beautiful journey that we’ve been on for 20 years. I think intellectually, spiritually, mentally and physically we’ve changed – all the normal things that happen to humans have happened to us. But as far as what Slipknot is? I think it’s probably more intense now than it was in 1998. You know, ’98 was a chemical reaction, and all the chemicals were reacting through rock’n’roll. Now the chemical bond has been made and established. It’s not going anywhere. And I’m just doing the best I can now. It feels weird to me to say that it’s more dangerous or that it’s better, because that just feels cocky – and I know that that’s pretty weird to hear from me. But I’ve had a lot of loss in my life, and a lot of heartache lately. And none of it feels good. And if I’m going through it then I have to assume that the person down the street is, too. Hopefully they’re not, and they’re having a good day. But that’s where I’ve changed. But the Clown is the Clown, and he’s bigger than me – let’s not play fucking games. He’s this thing. It’s fortunate and unfortunate (laughs).”
Do you ever feel like people have the wrong perception of the Clown? You’ve acted in the past like you don’t give a fuck, but you say you’ve changed, and you’re very lovely to speak to now…
“(Laughs) Well, that is sort of a trick question, isn’t it?! Listen: I’m human. And I don’t want to dive too much into this, but there’s a lot of reasons why I’ve changed. There’s more reasons than I have time for, and I wouldn’t want to just blatantly get into it and then all of a sudden it only partially comes out. But what everyone needs to know is that I’ve changed, and I feel so good in life. I’ve learned so much about myself and the people around me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Joey [Jordison, Slipknot’s founding drummer who departed the band in 2013], but I’ve really never even spoken about him, ever. And here’s the deal: we’re gonna pick up on this [in coming interviews]. But I’ve taken a lot of time to look at myself through your eyes, and how I’ve chosen to be around people, and how my actions have turned out. I’m not proud, but I’m not going to take anything back, either – I can’t change what was. I just feel like I’ve changed a lot for the better, and I really look at life differently.”
Could you have seen yourself calming down and changing your attitude when Slipknot first started out 20 years ago?
“The old me would feel like you’re trying to say that I’ve gone soft! But the new me is kinda like, ‘You can think what you want.’ And I also know that now I prefer to be softer. There’s a time and a place for everything. But no-one needs to feel the way I feel. I’ve been severely depressed with my anger, and my inability to feel, and to not be able to process life’s curveballs. It would really hurt me to think that there was a Clown 20 years ago that wasn’t hoping for peace for himself. It’s just the human condition, isn’t it? There’s no manual, and you have all these things you have to break through. I call it ‘being within the curbs’. You go down the road and there’s curbs, and the curbs help you stay in the road. If you hit them, they bounce your car and you’re like, ‘Fuck!’, and you have to get back in the lane. That’s why I drive a big old truck – I drive above those curbs. That’s kind of a lame way of explaining it, but I’m just trying to process life the way you are. But what’s different now is that I’m more aware of your presence.”
So how do you cope with the unpredictability of life?
“Thank you for asking. This is really a human question. I have an interesting way of doing it… I’ll get on the phone with my manager and I’ll say to him: ‘If you knew what I was dealing with today, you would just shit your pants.’ I always say that if I started writing this stuff down, and I literally had the brave heart to give it to the world to read, people would think I’m making it up. Even today, something that I’m dealing with, that I’ve been dealing with for the last year and a half, was in such a bizarre way that you wouldn’t even believe it if I told you. That’s a lot of the reason why I’ve changed: because I’ve realised that you could have the same bizarre shit happening to you, too. So I don’t write it down, and I throw it out of my brain. If I wrote it down, I could read it all back and go, ‘Oh my God, this would be a bestseller!’ But that’s what keeps me from writing it down: not letting it be the headline. By saying out loud, ‘I should write this shit down,’ it makes me smile and realise, ‘That’s exactly what I’m not going to do.’ Because I’m going to get through it. I don’t need to write shit down and make money off a book. No – it’s my life and my duty. Get up and get on with it.”
It must be hard to just keep it contained within yourself, though?
“It always has been. I haven’t been the type of person who’s reached out a lot. But there’s a lot of reasons for that. I mean, just look around. Everybody’s got something. I guess I just always felt like somebody was trying to take what I wanted away, and that kind of behaviour was destructive. I’ve always been on a destructive path – and that’s probably where I’m going to end up. But, I don’t know… my eyes are open. I’m someone that you wanna have dinner with now! Maybe I used to make it like you don’t wanna have dinner with me, but I believe now, and I know in my heart, that I’m someone you should have dinner with. I haven’t changed that thing within Clown – I’m an artist and I’m there. But all kinds of people change. Andy Warhol had his changes, I’m sure Jimi Hendrix had his changes, and John Lennon sure as hell had his. I just use these people because we recognise them, you know? And I know that my mom and dad changed.”
Those are some pretty iconic names. Do you see yourself as an icon?
“Oh, jeez… I think the people that are closest to me would tell you that I don’t want to take credit, and I’m really embarrassed by attention – well, the wrong attention. I have a hard time being recognised, I guess, for my abilities. When you watch someone get to, like, Michael Jordan’s level, you’re just like, ‘Wow.’ I’m not saying I’m Michael Jordan by any stretch (laughs), but what I’m saying is some of the things I do are natural. Like, when you watch him, you see that it’s natural that he can just jump that high. Some of the things that Clown does just come really easy to me, so the attention feels weird. I was just born for this, and I want to share art. I know what the definition of iconic is, but I don’t know if I am. I mean… when I see myself in a Clown mask next to all those other iconic guys, I can say, ‘Yeah, I’m iconic.’ Because I see Corey Taylor and go, ‘That motherfucker is iconic! Look at him!’ I guess if I’m standing next to him and I see myself in that OG Clown mask in those red coveralls (laughs), then yeah, it’s pretty iconic. I try my best to do things for all of us that are relevant and pertinent to today. And I feel like that’s where the most euphoria is – it’s like sex to me. I love watching people feel the art and be moved by it.”
What is the proudest achievement of your life?
“Jesus… How do you answer that?! I’m gonna give you an answer that applies to many things. I don’t know everything, but I don’t want to know everything. I don’t care about conspiracies, and government, and I don’t care about any of that. I know for a fact that I decided to take life on, and because I did, I was able to meet my soulmate, and we were able to make children. I was able to step up and say what I wanted to do for real in this world, and it came true. When people ask me what it’s like to receive my dream, I don’t know how to answer that, because I don’t know any different. I think my number one achievement is knowing that I was aware that I was in a thing called life. If life ends tomorrow, I don’t think I robbed myself. That’s the best I can do, but it’s a stupid answer because it doesn’t really answer anything (laughs).”
In the latest episode of our podcast Inside Track, metalcore’s biggest bands reveal how their sound ended nu-metal’s reign.
The Oscar-nominated composer talks about writing the game-changing music behind The Nightmare Before Christmas.