Slipknot are a platinum-selling metal band from Des Moines, Iowa (a feat in its own right), infamous for tossing feces (their own), drinking urine (also their own), lighting one another on fire and breaking one another’s bones in concert. Their collective injury list reads like that of a professional hockey team and will certainly increase during this summer’s Tattoo the Earth Tour, commencing in mid-July. Their devoted fans, many of whom beat themselves to a pulp in homage to the band, aren’t safe either: At England’s Wolverhampton Civic Hall, a female fan was hospitalized with head and suspected spinal injuries after a flying Slipknot (DJ Sid Wilson, Number o) dived into the crowd from a thirty-foot balcony and landed on her. A near-riot occurred in Oklahoma City when the band refused to play after sixty fans with tickets were forced to leave a dangerously oversold theater. But there is a far more terrifying and telling fact about Slipknot: When drummer and founding member Joey Jordison (a.k.a. Number 1, the Spooky Kabuki) is off tour, his mom still makes him mow the lawn. “I run the lawn, I don’t mow the lawn,” he points out. “Just truckin’, man. I run it as fast as possible.”
Slipknot have been together for five years and have nine members, all of whom wear creepy masks and bar-coded coveralls, and refer to themselves numerically. The roster: Wilson, drummer Jordison, bassist Paul Gray (Number 2), drummer Chris Fehn (Number 3), guitarist Jim Root (Number 4), sampler Craig Jones (Number 5), drummer Shawn Crahan (Number 6), guitarist Mick Thomson (Number 7) and singer Corey Taylor (Number 8).
To Slipknot, their masks represent what their music does to their insides — body and soul. The coveralls and numbers are an effort to annihilate the individual, emphasize the group and, most important, scare the shit out of people. Slipknot make music that sounds like Ministry without synths, Slayer with a groove and Marilyn Manson if he were actually angry. With nine members thrashing at breakneck speed, Slipknot are the first death-metal jam band — substituting noodly improvisation for technical precision. Individually, the members are hardworking, down-home Iowa boys, full of Midwestern humble pie — so much so that, even in full creep-out mode, they can’t stop being polite. “Here’s my original Clown mask. The only person I let wear it is my little boy,” says Crahan, a.k.a. the Clown, at one point. He then adds, thoughtfully, “You can smell it if you want, though.”
By giving their inner monsters free rein, Slipknot have tapped the sweat-inducing nightmare of every PTA mom: Inside America’s cherubic youth lurk pissed-off droogies ready for a bit of the ultraviolence. Onstage, Slipknot lead by example, pummeling one another when the mood strikes. “I’m famous for hitting myself in the face and beating the shit out of myself,” Crahan says in his loud, husky voice. “Every show, I’ve got a kid out there who’s hitting himself just like me. His knuckles are bloody, his eyes are black. I’ll look in his eyes and see that he’s in some other place. It’s a heavy-duty responsibility.”
On their second album — Slipknot, which has been lodged on the Billboard 200 for forty-five weeks — their lyrics are freedom-fighting, nihilistic fare: “Fuck it all, fuck this world, fuck everything that you stand for/Don’t belong, don’t exist, don’t give a shit! Don’t ever judge me” (“Surfacing”); “Fuck this shit, I’m sick of it/You’re going down, this is a war!” (“Sic”). Their songs are a blanket indictment of everything that ever crossed them.
Few of the members’ parents are divorced, and, with the exception of a dark period or two, all have led wholesome American lives. The nine are also full of an all-consuming rage that they can hardly put a finger on. Listen in:
Crahan: I have a beautiful wife, I have three healthy children. I’m happy, man. But when I’m onstage, it’s fuckin’ on. I’ll kill people. Fuck it. I will look into the eye of the abyss every day of my life, because my time here? It’s nothing, man.
Jordison: I’m in this band because of everything that I hate about everything in the world.
Thompson: A lot of times I get out onstage and I don’t even want to play. I want to throw my guitar off and fucking knock people’s teeth out. And playing doesn’t get it out at all. I mean, what doesn’t get me pissed? If it doesn’t involve peace, quiet and total serenity, it makes me mad.
Fehn: I’m mad at myself. I’m mad at life on the road — it sucks. But if there weren’t music, there’d be a lot more murders. I mean, what if Barry Manilow was the only thing out there?
Wilson: I’m at war with myself onstage every night. Sometimes that scares me. I’ll catch myself, like, “What am I doing?”
Gray: If I didn’t have this band, I’d be sitting in L.A., all fuckin’ drugged and drunk — just a fuckin’ bum.
Jones: Everything makes me mad. Life sucks. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be going out and killing people — just like the other guys in the band.
Root: I’m a moody person. Everybody has issues. And new issues always come along.
Taylor: There’s this loud roar in my head. And when I put my mask on, I’m opening myself up to it. Our shows are how I push through this haze that I try to keep under control during the day. I’ll never be done finding stuff to scream about.
Slipknot are the vision of Crahan, who is far and away the most disturbed of the crew — he harbors, after all, an affinity for clowns. He has a fire-and-brimstone conviction about the band’s mission to “spread the sickness.” Many of his monologues are also fit for The X-Files: “I analyze everything. Those planes that go up and leave smoke trails? What are those? How come they always make an X? Are they a focal point for something? I’m really into the pyramids and Egyptian philosophy, Orion’s belt. They found that where our pyramids are, there’s, like, a matching Sphinx head on Mars. And there’s a dark spot on one of the moons of Jupiter or Venus or something that we can’t see, but it’s a mass, and it looks like it’s in the same spot.”
The thirty-year-old former welder and married father of three is the oldest Knotter (the others are in their early to midtwenties). With his mask off, Crahan is no less intense. He’s jovial enough, but his twinkling, pale-blue eyes whisper “helter-skelter.” He is bearded and stocky, with big hands and short hair, which is currently sporting a leopard-print dye job courtesy of his wife, Chantal. He has a pierced eyebrow, and his forehead is scarred from head-butting his drum kit, which includes a bashed-up beer keg. You believe him when he says that he will come find you if you cross him (something he says often).
There is a den-mother element to Crahan: He relishes the flurry of phone calls from band mates in the hours leading up to rehearsal. “OK, we’ve got to do this, everyone needs to be on time; everyone is meeting at my house,” he’ll say. “Look, I know you’ve got shit to take care of, so do I. We need to take care of this shit, too.” When he’s home, Crahan acts something like a summer-camp counselor arranging activities for his kids. He seems like the kind of guy who still really enjoys kickball. But maybe it’s just the kicking.
“What’s that fucking rattle?” he shouts. We’re driving his weathered gray Maxima around Des Moines as he points out the landmarks in Slipknot’s history. The car, like Crahan himself, exudes the sickly-sweet smell of rotting peaches — a side effect of wearing the same fifteen-year-old latex mask under hot lights every night for weeks at a time. “It’s got to be a fucking mudflap,” he says. “I’m going to destroy its whole being. I tore all of them out, but the noise is still there.” His drum tech, Sa-Tone (that’s say-tone), a massive man with dyed blond hair and much metal hanging from his lips and nose, says that it might be a tire rod. Sa-Tone, it should be noted, got his job because of his unique digestive skills. “I told him, ‘Drink this piss,’ ” Crahan says. “He’s like, ‘How much?’ I give him a hundred bucks, he downs the piss. Then he’s like, ‘Another seventy-five dollars to puke and re-drink it?’ Sure. He rolfs, re-drinks it — ‘See you guys later.’ That’s why he works for Clown.”
Crahan points to a small house in a lower-middle-class neighborhood. “I had my welding shop in the garage, and I’d make these big cages and sculptures, and bring them out here to spray-paint them,” he says, standing in the driveway. “I started thinking about a band while I was welding, and one day I turned to my wife and said, ‘I’m starting a band. It’s going to be really big.’ ”
Crahan approached Gray, whom he knew from the local speed-metal scene. Gray is soft-spoken, short-haired, sports a few lip rings. Currently he calls a Des Moines Holiday Inn home. He and Crahan began jamming, eventually bringing in Gray’s former schoolmate Jordison. The oldest of three, Jordison grew up locally. His parents divorced when he was young, and he’s been drumming since he was three. “He’d just sit on the floor and bang on pots and pans,” says his mother, Jackie. “I thought he had a heck of a beat for a little, tiny kid.” Jordison, who says (perk up, goths) that as a teen he dressed and embalmed the dead for his stepfather’s undertaking business, has a beard, blue eyes and a pierced eyebrow. He’s five feet four and fond of wearing a hooded sweat shirt that reads “Little People Kill People.”
These three began practicing in earnest in ’93. Crahan’s father, a real estate developer, paid Shawn $100 to tear some carpet out of a pet store. Crahan used it to soundproof his parents’ basement. “It was from this pet store that had moved out of one of his malls,” Crahan recalls. “We hung it up here, and we noticed it really smelled, because so many puppies and kittens had leaked on it. After four hours of practice, there would be this virus in the air from our sweat and all that piss. I believe we’ve had that sickness from day one. I started to look forward to that smell.”
They practiced six days a week for six hours a day. New members came and went until the lineup was solidified, in 1995, with the addition of guitarists Jim Root and Mick Thomson and with Craig Jones’ move from guitar to sampling. Jones, the band’s Harpo, generally prefers not to speak to the press, or to anyone much at all. “It’s easier not to,” he explains. “You don’t incriminate yourself that way.”
The band further expanded its sound, adding Wilson and a third drummer, Chris Fehn, an Iron Maiden-loving former college-football kicker whose mom is an organist in one of Des Moines’ larger Catholic churches. “I think the message the band is trying to get around to kids is good, you know,” says Fehn’s father, Gerry. “I’ve been to three of their concerts now, and the kids’ reaction is unique. I’m fifty-five, and when I went to concerts, it was like, you know, Lionel Richie, the Temptations.” Fehn is the one who wears the mask with the long nose. Underneath his phallic vizard, he is the most wholesome of the bunch: handsome, with blue eyes and buzzed brown hair. He is also an avid fly fisherman.
The last to join was growling vocalist Corey Taylor. Taylor, who writes most of the lyrics, has a lot to howl about. “My mom was professionally unemployed,” he says. “I never knew my dad. He bailed before I was born. Once, we were homeless for two weeks in Fort Lauderdale. We were right at the spot where they filmed Where the Boys Are — my mom told me that while we were sitting there.” In his early teens, he had problems with speed and hallucinogens — “to the point that I almost died,” he says. At eighteen, Taylor dropped out of high school and got his GED. “They don’t teach you shit in school,” he says. “You only learn what you want to learn. I constantly got into fights with teachers — I even threw a desk at one: Mr. Raines. I was just having a bad fucking day. I missed him, but it got me kicked out for three days. He wasn’t the same to me after that.”
Taylor, who used to write “romantic shit called, like, ‘Call My Name,’ ” was working the graveyard shift in a porn store and holding down lead vocals in a band when the Knotters approached him. “Man, let me tell you, working at a porn shop was a great job,” he says. “I miss it sometimes. That’s where I did my best writing. I could throw on Mighty Hermaphrodite; it’d be cool. Once you’ve jacked off, like, three times, you can really focus.”
Mom, anyone home?” Crahan asks, opening the door to his parents’ modest suburban house. The kitchen cabinets are being repainted; large Yes-meet-the-Moody Blues-type paintings hang in several rooms. The band recorded the demos that would become its current album in the basement. Now it’s filled with old chairs, tables and some broken Fisher-Price play sets. It is so small that the Knotters were literally banging heads. “We’re a family, and there’s no better way to express your inner demons than being stuck in a small room,” Crahan says. A side room, once a dirty red brick, now painted white, was the band’s office. “We’d bring journalists here, and we’d be there with nothing but candles and dirt on the floor,” he says. “I’d answer the door in my mask, and the guys were in here humming these Gregorian chants, playing acoustic guitars with two strings, banging bottles on the floor. The reporters would be shitting their pants, but by the end of it they were fuckin’ down with us.”
At the top of the stairway to the basement is a watercolor that Crahan did as a child. It’s a black-and-green smear with a runny red blotch in the center. It looks like what will happen if he continues to wear the same mask. ” ‘Dude’ — that’s what I call him.” Crahan says. “He sleeps with me every night. He used to be flesh colored. Now he’s all leathery. He’s shrinking, too, man, and he secretes oil. I wipe him off, and it comes right back.” It is pointed out that smearing Dude with his feces may have something to do with it, but Crahan doesn’t seem to hear.
Crahan: Slipped vertebrae, broken ribs and knuckles, a gash requiring twelve stitches in his forehead, lacerations on his head.
Taylor: Blue, hairless patch on his right leg from being lit on fire.
Jones: Broken big toe (squashed under Crahan’s fifty-gallon oil drum).
Fehn: Shinsplints, bruises and a chronically sore neck.
Gray: Cuts and bruises.
Thomson: Severe back problems.
Root: Cuts and bruises.
Jordison: Severely lacerated shin from pulling his drum set on top of himself, broken and scarred knuckles, concussion and stitches from a flying pipe (thrown by Crahan).
Wilson: Third-degree burns on his legs from lighting himself on fire, two broken ribs, cuts, bruises.
Crahan lives in a tasteful two-bedroom home. In the driveway is a beat-up Mercedes 190 with a Tool sticker on the window and no lock on the trunk. “That thing’s a piece of shit — it never worked right,” he says. On the porch is a case of football eyeblack that the members wear on their ears and around their eyes.
Inside, a Persian carpet (his wife’s choice) decorates the living room’s dark wood floors. On a table, pictures of his kids sit alongside a large black-and-white shot of Crahan onstage, leaning into a throng of kids. “I don’t go to shows anymore,” says his wife, Chantal, a slim, pretty blonde. When she did go, she brought their children, each in shooting-range earmuffs. Crahan likes to keep his mask in Chantal’s underwear drawer when she’ll let him. “It smelled so bad,” she says. “I told him to get it out of there. And out of the room.” Visitors to the band’s tour bus agreed. “We kept the masks in a drawer on the bus,” says Gray. “But people kept stopping by and leaving because it reeked so bad.” (The masks now travel with the instruments.)
Crahan picked up the drums as a kid — a psychologist’s suggestion to his parents as a way for him to channel his aggression. Playing didn’t stop him from lighting them on fire while playing along with Alex Van Halen. Now he takes a more organic approach, opting for shit over fire. During the band’s 1999 European tour, “he’d put his shit in, like, a Snapple bottle and leave it on the speaker during the set,” says guitarist Root. “Then he’d smear it all over his drums and himself and Mick’s back and, I think, mine, too. It just reeked — I was dry-heaving while we played. I mean, it was summer in Madrid — the last thing you need is a fat guy’s hot, cooking shit rubbed on you.”
Slipknot will depart for a brief Canadian tour tomorrow. They have been off for two weeks for the first time in months. Some members can’t deal with the lack of activity: Gray, Root and Thomson spent their first week in Los Angeles hanging with their friends. After touring the world, the prospect of returning to Des Moines, a city of less than 200,000 whose downtown is about twenty blocks long, is as strange as their joining the McCaughey septuplets, Cloris Leachman and Elijah Wood in the ranks of famous Des Moinesians. It’s not surprising that thrash bands and crystal-meth labs abound here.
Tonight, after a quick stop at the local Kum & Go for forty-four-ounce sodas, Slipknot rehearse in an electrical-parts warehouse whose slogan is More Power to Ya! It’s cold, drafty, full of wire coils and forklifts, and there’s a strange brown golf cart tricked out to look like a Rolls-Royce. Wilson comes in wearing a Slayer T-shirt, a Harley Davidson hat, Topsiders and a tan pony-hair vest. “Look!” he shouts. “My dog died: I had to make a coat out of him!”
Wilson walks over to Crahan’s drum set and scratches one of a few brown stains on the drum skin. “Poop,” he says, sniffing his finger. Crahan grunts. The band begins the set it’s been playing for months — starting with the blistering dirge “Sic” — and starts moving in time, jumping up and down, managing to play the part of both band and audience simultaneously. Taylor’s eyes roll back, and he wanders about aimlessly between verses. The muscles in his neck strain, and his face reddens, rendering him far scarier than his mask. At the end of the song, he bends over and repeatedly spits up something between phlegm and vomit. “Can you keep that lung butter in the bucket, please?” asks Thomson, gesturing to a pile of spit perilously close to his toe.
Slipknot start working on “People=Shit,” the planned first single for their next album. It begins with Fehn and Taylor barking the title in tandem, followed by a powerful bass-drum orgy among the three drummers. They work out a break where Wilson will scratch. He executes the equivalent of a speed-metal solo on his turntable when everyone is listening, but during the run-through he continually misses it. “Pretty good, dude!” Root says, pointing at him and laughing demonically. Wilson takes a bathroom break. “We should call him DJ Lead Paint in His Crib,” says Thomson.
As they pack up their equipment, Crahan lays out the band’s simple plan for the future. “World domination,” he says. ” ‘N Sync has the fastest-selling album in history — 2.5 million records in a week. That’s 2.5 million completely oblivious people! How do I go out and deprogram all of them? What do these people need so badly in their hearts? They’re turning to false prophets, man. They’re not dealing with their real emotions.”
Along the way, Slipknot intend to rip up the rock scene a bit, too. “Everyone is trying to push the envelope,” Crahan declares. “Slipknot is the envelope, and now it’s up to other people to push it.” That is, as long as they’re pushing, not copying. “We can be copied, but we cannot be duplicated,” he says. “I met a kid in New Orleans, and he told me all about his band. They had nine members, OK. Then he tells me they wear masks, too — all right. Then he says that he wears a clown mask. I kinda had to control myself. I got this killer instinct for a minute, like, ‘Clown … must … destroy other Clown.’ “
There is one fella Slipknot wouldn’t mind destroying. “At some of Limp Bizkit’s shows, Fred Durst said that our fans are fat and ugly,” Taylor spits. “So many people think their shit don’t stink, but they’re the ones laying the worst turds of all.” Fehn puts it more succinctly: “We haven’t run into that guy, but when we do, it’s on.”
Crahan, like the other members, spends a few hours after every show meeting fans: “I’m the fat, ugly kid that sat in the back at the Kiss concert, who never got to meet the band, who worked all week to get the ticket, who had to fuckin’ kiss everybody’s ass to get a ride to go to the show and fuckin’ just worshipped it. If kids want to talk to us, we talk to ’em — for hours, man. They need money for food? I’ve seen Joey give kids twenty-five dollars to get something to eat. I mean, we wouldn’t even be here without them.” It’s clear enough, watching Slipknot rehearse, that they are the band’s biggest fans — as moved by the music as the kids in homemade masks at every show. It wasn’t long ago that these nine Iowans were just faces in the crowd. And when they’re not onstage, they still are.