Slipknot’s Clown: “The future is bright and confusing, and uncertain and scary and beautiful”

Kerrang! sits down with The Nine’s founding mastermind Clown in search of where he and Slipknot are at, where they’re going, and why everyone – not least himself – should be scared…

Slipknot’s Clown: “The future is bright and confusing, and uncertain and scary and beautiful”
Sam Coare
Anthony Scanga, Jonathan Weiner

“What’s keeping me up at night? Man…”

Clown reiterates Kerrang!’s opening question to himself, toying with it like a cat would a cornered mouse, rolling it over his tongue as the cogs of his mind begin to whirr, processing the myriad thoughts and feelings it conjures up.

The 53-year-old is sat behind a bank of computer screens at his Florida home, proudly-greying hair tied back, dressed in a black polo shirt wide open at the neck in a manner that speaks to the day’s humidity. He likes the feel of the warmth of the sun on his face down here, even if he could do without the tourists peering through his windows (not because they know they might catch a glimpse of heavy metal royalty, you understand, but because of the architectural interest people take in his property).

“Lately I’ve been feeling very, very nostalgic,” he begins. “It’s spooky, almost, the memories I’m having, of being a child. Very, very unusual memories. Maybe the way it made me feel when I rode my BMX bike. Where I’ve come from, where I’ve been…

“You know, life never seems to disappoint with the amount and the array of challenges. Every morning I wake up, usually before eight o’clock, getting hit with turmoil. It’s turmoil filled with potential, though, just like the beginning days [of Slipknot]. So there’s no negativity here. It’s just that life has a different feeling because it’s called ‘reality’. It’s called ‘truth’. I embrace it. But life certainly presents a lot more challenges as you get older, and time is something that is not replaceable. It’s not something you can buy; it’s a commodity that’s running out.”

He pats the dog – “my bro right here” – sat at his feet, whining due to its recent relegation from being centre of Clown’s attention upon Kerrang! showing up. “The space I’m in right now is not a very comfortable space. Not this space,” he clarifies, gesturing around him, “this space is genuinely amazing. But this space” – he taps the side of his head, once, twice, thrice – “this space has always been a problem…”

There is no simple answer to our opening gambit, which suits Clown just fine, because he’s not a man for giving simple answers anyway. “I don’t do a lot of these anymore” – he means interviews, though to interview Clown is less about the strategic dance of question-and-answer conversation in search of insight and revelation, and more about joining the man born Michael Shawn Crahan in a guided visit, at great length and depth, through his mind’s many corners and its even greater amount of shadows. Navigating that is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for someone in a hurry.

“We have a responsibility to talk about the truth, and not to just talk to sell tickets. Damn, man, those are tickets to my life,” he says. “I stopped talking a while back because it felt like I was a mumble-jumble talker, artistic schizophrenic, and I felt that people didn’t want to listen to me, or would paraphrase me, misinterpret me. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to speak about where I’m at, and what the future is.”

Both of those topics are what’s brought Clown and Kerrang! together today, which is convenient, as both are weighing heavily on his shoulders. It’s early March and, following our conversation, Clown will pack his bags for Indonesia to begin the long trek – 26 more live shows, including, most notably, a fifth headlining appearance at Download Festival in June – towards what he deems to be “the end of this cycle”.

By ‘cycle’, he most definitely means that of last year’s The End, So Far album. He too means that of its predecessor, We Are Not Your Kind; the two albums inseparable in the mind of their creator, given the impact of the COVID pandemic and the amorphous years that followed, in which one was abruptly curtailed and the other surprisingly birthed. By his own admission, they were incredibly challenging times for even a band of Slipknot’s size.

“I was preparing to make a video for the song Spiders [from We Are Not Your Kind] when Corey Taylor calls me up and tells me about this thing called COVID,” explains the man who admits to not turning on his television, ever. “And boom! We chose to use that time to try to write and, at the end of it, have something that would also help us justify getting back on the road. So it was very confusing to know where we even were. Were we in We Are Not Your Kind? Were we moving towards something else?”

The End, So Far’s critical acclaim arrived in spite of a troubled creation. COVID restrictions required a writing process of isolation and long-distance attempts at collaboration. Jim Root, for so long a key songwriter, struggled to find inspiration during a bout of depression, then struggled to connect with the material that initially, he claimed, “[didn’t] sound like Slipknot to me”. A lack of pre-production meant the band entered the studio with producer Joe Barresi with ideas not so much fully-formed as half-baked. Corey Taylor would record his vocals in an entirely different city.

And as for Clown, “The End, So Far is, like, a ‘great big’ that has happened…” he offers, obliquely. “What does that mean? That just means that like all albums, it’s very controversial with us. It starts, begins and ends with us. And you know, you’re either happy or not. And I think a lot of the guys are probably more unhappy than happy.”

But by ‘cycle’, Clown is also referring to the bigger picture at play with Slipknot: the end of the seven-album deal with longtime label Roadrunner Records signed in 1998. Contractual obligation it may ultimately be, but it has been a relationship that has spanned and framed the band’s near-entire existence. Its completion holds a great deal of significance for Clown.

“The snake has reached the end of its tail,” he says. “We’re at the end of a journey, which means a new journey begins, which means more work, more dreaming… And I’m here for all of that.

“But people got the wrong idea about me and labels,” he detours, referring to past comments that were, if we’re being generous, at best cold to their former partners. “We may go back and have the same sort of deal. But when you get to these crossroads, you’ve got to be smart, you’ve got to evolve, that’s all.”

The past few years have also brought an unimaginable pain. “I’ve been forced onto the grief train, and honestly, I am not dealing with it very well,” he will candidly admit.

In May 2019, Clown lost his daughter, Gabrielle, aged 22. “When you lose a child, it stops you dead in your tracks,” he says with evident sorrow. Two years later, in July 2021, former ’Knot drummer Joey Jordison died in his sleep. At 46, he was nearly six years Clown’s junior. “That has really done a number on me,” he sighs. Coupled with the passing of Paul Gray in 2010, Clown is still – and perhaps always will – trying to come to terms with being the only founding member of Slipknot alive.

“I’ve lost both my parents, a daughter, and both my partners that I started this band with,” he says. “Joey kicked my ass every day. And I’ve learned that we fought for the same thing. We fought, but we fought for the same thing.”

With Download in view, it’s easy to understand quite why a return this year holds even more poignancy. Slipknot’s previous appearance saw Clown standing on the Donington stage just weeks after the loss of Gabrielle.

“I didn’t know if I was gonna make it,” he recalls. “I’d only recently lost [Gabrielle], and I just didn’t know how the fans were going to treat me, man. I knew they were gonna treat me with love. I knew that – open arms, nothing but love, I knew that. I just didn’t know if it was going to be too much love. You know, I just didn’t know if I was going to fucking be able to say thank you, thank you, thank you continuously over and over and over… It was a very fragile moment.”

It is little wonder, then, that the Clown of right now is not the Clown of yesterday. “I feel like I’m taking a much more different approach to every day that I live,” he says. “I’m a much more spiritual man. I find my art is more honest and truthful if I allow myself to recognise who I am more. The thing I’ve been fighting the most is the Clown. My therapist says that I only tell the truth when I’m wearing the mask. I’ll leave you to be the judge of that.

“What’s keeping me up at night?” he asks once more. “Time. Am I always going to be up at night now? Man, time is doing a number on me right now. Time is really, really fucking with my head.”

What all of this means for the future, well, that remains a work in progress. But it’s the work that excites Clown, that motivates him, that pushes him to step once more unto the breach and into the “war” of Slipknot.

“My heart and soul is dedicated to my life in Slipknot,” he says. “And I can’t get out of it, man. You know, I’m fucked. You go down with the ship. I’m that guy. But I have absolutely no idea what the future holds. And that’s because, on record, word for word, I am not in control of anything in this life, let alone Slipknot. Give me a fucking break. Never been in control. Don’t want to be in control. It’s not my band. It’s never been my band. It’s always been our band.”

What Clown can attest to is his desire to pause, reflect and move forward, even if “time off feels a little unnatural at this point in life; it’s time on that seems more appropriate.” Following the 26 shows – that number burrowed into his mind’s eye and repeated frequently – when Slipknot step offstage in Ohio in the dog days of July, they will do just that. Corey Taylor will turn his attentions to his next solo album, CMF2. The eight others will catch their breath and patch up their bodies.

“My intention, and my wisdom says, that I would like to reflect, I would like to get to know my guys the way I knew them, I would like to understand where we are by planting our feet in the sand,” Clown says. “It matters to me what they want. Corey has a lot to say about it. Jim’s got a lot to say about it. Mick [Thomson], Sid [Wilson], Craig [Jones], the new guys… everyone’s got an opinion, not just me. I’d like to continue the wonderful culture of Slipknot in a manner that we see fit, and that is doable, reasonable and truthful.”

And so Clown will continue to think. He’ll think on what the future of Slipknot’s output will be. “Honestly, man, I don’t think we ever really wanted to make albums,” he says. “We did that to get signed to a label, because where I’m from, having a record label support you was important for validation, in business and in art. It’s the way it rolled.” Perhaps that thinking will also finally include the release of the ‘lost’ Look Outside Your Window album.

Hell, perhaps Clown will even be able to afford himself the time to make the movie he has written.

He’ll think on what the future of Slipknot’s live show will be, too.

“The only god we’ve ever known is to get on the road, play our music and tour,” he begins. “I always wanted that salvation in my day. Growing up in an alcoholic family, music was the gift that helped me get out. But I can promise you that we won’t tour like we used to, because if we keep pushing like we used to, I don’t think we’ll be able to keep up.”

Clown doesn’t want anyone to be alarmed by those words. Closing some doors simply allows for the opening of others. “I can see smaller venues, with more dates,” he suggests. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had seven days in New York City or London or anywhere, at a reasonably sized venue, and played every album in its entirety – with intros, outfits, production and everything from that time period? That could be cool. There are some songs we’ve never played live. Places we’ve never been. That’s unacceptable!”

There is the impact and toll of that life to think on, too. Clown points to his left bicep, once torn in two onstage.

“This arm is 25 per cent less [than the other],” he explains. “It’s called your bicep because you have these cords that hold that muscle in place. And I ripped them. The muscle rolled up. People vomited when they saw it. You can’t repair a rubber band when it snaps. What I’m saying is, I am not the Six Billion Dollar Man. And Sid, he’s gonna get mad at me for saying this, but his body is three times worse than mine.

“The future is bright and confusing, and uncertain and scary and beautiful,” Clown ponders. “There is no finalisation of Slipknot, you know? We’re in it to win it.”

And what does winning look like to Slipknot in 2023?

“I’ve already won, bro,” comes the reply. “I won before I ever even got here. It’s never been better than the day it was in the basement. It’s never been better than that. Not a day. I’m so lucky. We’re so lucky. Very lucky people. Very lucky band. We have worked for and deserve everything we have, but we’re also lucky. To play something like Download for the fifth time, we’re truly blessed. Because to be coming back again, it’s only because the people demand it. Whenever I get down in this business, I remind myself that it’s the fans that will ultimately dictate things. But whether we’ll get to do it ever again after this year, I just don’t know. God, let’s think about that. Five years from now, fucking 2028, I’ll be 58 years old. My mom passed away at 58. Alzheimer’s, dementia and about 175 pinprick strokes…”

He shakes his head.

“That’s where I’m at, brother. That’s what you’re talking about. That’s what we’re looking at: the reality. Time is short. Time is running out. Time is all over me. It’s a commodity. And for the first time I understand what it means. And it’s sunk in. It’s running out. There is no more of it, in my case.”

“Can I ask you a question now?” Clown says at one point. “And if I ask you this, will you print it?”

Ninety minutes have passed since we sat down. “Ask away,” we reply.

“I’ll leave that up to you, but this is the question: would the people of Download demand to see Slipknot still if I wasn’t in the band? I, Clown, am not in the band anymore. Do the people demand it? Tell me the truth, now. Don’t think about it.”

And so we do, without thinking about it. We tell the man staring blankly at us that yes, we believe they would, because Slipknot is bigger than him; bigger than anyone, with the greatest of respects to those he once shared a stage with, to those he has lost who he never will again, and to those that may do so long after he is here. People come for the entity that is Slipknot, not because of who is individually behind each mask. They don’t, frankly, come to see Clown.

And then we look at the man absorbing those blunt words and wonder whether we maybe should have thought about it.

After a beat that feels like a minute, Clown speaks, very pointedly.

“I want to thank you very much for saying that. Because in my life that I’ve dedicated to the wonderful thought process known as Slipknot, that I’ve shared with so many wonderful people, I believe that it is an entity. And quite frankly, I used to be made fun of by my own band members for using that word. I’d be like, ‘Slipknot is an entity, and if you don’t know it, it’s going to be. It’s going to encompass your thoughts, your feelings, goosebumps, your blood.’

“I saw it very early. I saw kids carving the name into their arms, and I would strongly tell them, ‘Don’t do that.’ And they were like, ‘It encompasses me. It’s my life. It has nothing to do with you, Clown. It has nothing to do with the cut, or the letters.’ And I’m like, ‘I understand, because I’m part of it.’”

And then his mind switches back the present, and the immediate challenges of tomorrow, and the increasingly rapid march of time.

“I too believe that if the Clown was not onstage, after these 26 shows, that Slipknot would go on,” he says. “Now, I am gonna be there! I’m just saying that when I walk out onstage every night, I’m gonna go, ‘Wow, can I be here?’ I’m scared. But that’s what Slipknot has been from day one. You’d better be scared, too.”

A mischievous, carnival grin, his first of our meeting, creeps across his face.

“And that’s why we love it!”

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