Slipknot are releasing their first-ever compilation, Antennas to Hell, tomorrow, and we thought it was a perfect time to get frontman Corey Taylor to look back at his career as the band's singer and lyricist. His words have provided strength to so many fans of the band throughout the years—how does he feel about some of these songs, years later? Do they retain the same meaning for him that they did when he wrote them? How does it feel to perform lyrics, night after night, that were inspired by deeply painful memories from his childhood and youth? He answered all these questions and more in this exclusive interview. Enjoy!
How were the songs chosen for Antennas to Hell? Did everyone vote? Were there songs you wanted on there that didn’t make it?
It was kind of an easy jump, to be honest. We basically just looked at our set list [laughs]. At this point, we’re kind of the band that’s got the best of both worlds. We’ve got these ‘radio hits,’ and then we’ve got songs the fans have made hits, the anthems. It really took no time at all to get those together, and it’s a good problem to have. And trust me, this band shudders at the thought of calling something a ‘greatest hits’ or a ‘best of.’ To us, it was just a compilation to a, celebrate the fact that our fans have been with us since Day One, and b, to basically celebrate what we call the Paul years. To pay respect to that, to the years that we had Paul, and everything we built together. That’s why we went kind of above and beyond with the packaging, and putting the extra content in there, and just making sure that people didn’t just get another tired best-of. If Slipknot’s gonna do a compilation, we’re gonna do a Slipknot compilation.
You perform behind a mask, so do you write Slipknot lyrics as that character in some ways? Are lyrics for Slipknot qualitatively different from lyrics for Stone Sour?
That’s a good question. I don’t know, per se. First off, there’s no playing a character when you’re trying to tap into something as gnarly and unhinged as Slipknot. You’re tapping a valve that you have within you—you either feel these things, or you don’t. You’ve either lived through this pain, or you haven’t. There’s no way to make this stuff up. So for me, it’s basically letting that part of me off the leash a little bit. Cause I’ve got a very, very dark side to my history, my personality, my creativity, my infatuations, basically. And Slipknot allows me to let those go and indulge them, but then pull them back. Stone Sour, there’s a hint of that there, but with Stone Sour, it’s much more mellow. It’s a different kind of passion. There’s definitely a little more light in Stone Sour than with Slipknot, although they both have very positive messages at the end of the day. And that’s where it becomes important. So when I put the mask on for Slipknot, it’s actually revealing that side of me that I keep in check, that I keep a little closer to the chest, because if I just let that guy go, oh, God, it’s messy. It’d be really bad. So for me, it’s a very positive way of working out some serious issues. And over the years I’ve been able to let go of a lot of stuff and figure a lot of stuff out.
What would you say is the most personal song in the Slipknot catalog, for you?
Hm. Oh, man, there’s a lot. ‘Snuff’ is up there. ‘Snuff’ is one of those songs that’s so heavy in such a different way, that’s gonna resound with a lot of people for a very long time. ‘Eyeless’ is up there, just for the fact that I was dealing with pseudo-intellectual psychiatric meddling, basically—people trying to tell me that my issues were manufactured, or it was some kind of disorder that makes me feel the way I do, and it’s like, really? There’s a lot of deep shit going on in a lot of the music, especially in the first phase of our career; the self-titled and Iowa were really just scream therapy sessions for me. But then, once we got to Vol. 3, the lyrics and the content changed. It was more about trying to figure out what’s next than trying to let go of what had happened in the past. So I think each song represents a stepping stone, getting me to where I am today. Maybe on any given day, one of the songs could mean a completely different thing. But you kind of have to take it as a whole, you can’t pick it apart.
Now, you’re saying the early songs were therapy for you, but there’s eight other guys to contend with. Have you ever written a lyric that other bandmembers told you they couldn’t stand behind?
You know, the interesting thing is that the guys have always really had my back. They’ve really given me carte blanche to get whatever I need to off my chest. Clown and Joey go out of their way to let me know that they support whatever I’m saying, no matter what. It feels good to know that your bros have your back when it comes to that. I’ve had the guys in the band come up to me individually and tell me what their favorite lyrics are. So it’s a trust thing. They trust where I’m coming from with these lyrics. They trust that my heart’s in the right place and I’m really trying to help people instead of hurt people, and that just gives you so much confidence as a singer and a writer that you can explore so many different things. I’ve been really lucky.
Are there any songs that, when you sing them today, in 2012, you think, “Wow, I was really 25 years old when I wrote that?”
Not really, man. I’ve always been really—the great thing about the way I write is, I don’t put anything out there until it’s done done. There’s maybe a handful of lines here and there I wish I could have maybe explored a little further, and maybe I just kind of went with what was on the top of my head, but you’ve gotta stand behind it. And I can’t think of one song or one line or one chorus that I can’t say I support. I can listen to recordings and hear how young I sound, and I’m like, “Whoa, Jesus, what’s up, 12-year-old?” But for the most part, the lyrics have really—I think they’ve held up really well. I never want to feel dated when I’m writing something, so I really try to make it as timeless as possible.
At the same time, because of the personal nature of your lyrics, are there songs that when you sing them, take you back to the time and place that inspired them?
Oh, yeah. Every night, man. Every night is pain. You basically look down at the set list and you have to cue that up, you have to tap into that, and there’s nothing easy about it. It’s really hard sometimes. But at the same time, it’s important. It doesn’t lessen so much as it gets easier to handle. It’s one of those things where, the more together you feel in your mind, the more you can handle those memories. The thing I had to learn a few years ago is that at some point you have to stop being just a survivor and start living, or you’re not going to have anything. You’re not going to get any joy out of anything, because you’re just trying to get through it. And once I figured that out, it became a lot easier to deal with those memories, to let them out and share them. When I look into the audience, I see so many people who I think can relate to that, and more than likely in a much darker sense, because kids today have it so much worse than I did.
Yeah, plus there’s the idea that you sort of balance the pain you’re writing about with the whole “being in a rock band is awesome” thing.
Yeah [laughs]. And that’s my personality coming out. It can’t all be doom and gloom. It can’t all be about the bad shit. I mean, at the end of the day I’m the luckiest fucker on the planet. I’m in two huge bands, I get to make any kind of music I want, I get to play in front of thousands of my friends, I mean, what the hell do I have to bitch about? I may get stressed out and stretch myself thin because I’m working too hard, but really, I have no complaints, man. It’s still pretty crazy that we get to do this. You know? I mean, you wanna talk about betting on a dark horse with the longest odds—we made it, and I’ll never look that gift horse in the mouth.
I remember seeing you guys at Roseland in 1999, with Coal Chamber, Machine Head and Amen. And I said to a friend of mine, “This band is gonna own the world in a year.” Because I’d never seen anything like it.
Oh yeah, the crazy thing about that is, that was basically the last tour that we opened for anyone, because nobody else would take us out. We had three days off between Ozzfest '99 and the Coal Chamber tour, and as soon as the Coal Chamber tour ended, we went home, and we were like, “Wait a minute—nobody else wants to take us out?” [laughs] So we basically had to learn how to book ourselves. We had to learn how to put all this stuff together. We had to learn how to do all this crap, and it was a great education. That’s how much it meant to us, the idea that no one’s going to control our destiny just because they fear what we have to provide.
Slipknot's Antennas To Hell is available everywhere July 24, but you can pre-order it now on iTunes or grab the deluxe three-disc version (which includes a DVD featuring every one of the band's videos, and more) from the Roadrunner webstore!