Q & A With Corey Taylor

He achieved worldwide fame as the masked madman fronting the belligerent metal band Slipknot, but Corey Taylor (a.k.a. #8) first sang for the melodic hard rock band Stone Sour, which went on hiatus when he joined the insane Iowan headbangers. He resurrected his original project in 2002, and during the last eight years has bared his true self as an artist to release three albums of heavy yet accessible tunage that embraces classic rock, post-grunge, and metal influences. Stone Sour’s tasty third album, Audio Secrecy, allowed Taylor to show his soul and voice in ways that the more aggro Slipknot does not. Yet like the yin and yang tattoos adorning his skin, the singer’s work in both groups is complementary and shows us different aspects of his world. Hang on for the wild ride that is Corey Taylor’s life.

INKED: Heavy metal is like therapy, and both Slipknot and Stone Sour allow you to exorcise different types of demons. What happens when #8 takes off the mask and Corey emerges?

COREY TAYLOR: For me, the therapy comes from just being able to let a lot of that rage out. If you grew up anything like I did—with a lot of living hand to mouth, growing up with a brutal childhood, a brutal school experience—it was tough being the poor kid who moved around a lot. Because of that I developed that extroverted personality where I had to fit in really quick. I would do anything for a laugh, but at the same time, I still remember a lot of that shit that I had to swallow, so to speak, because I was also the weakest kid. I became the focus of a lot of other people’s frustrations, whether it was the people I was living with or the people I was going to school with. When I first joined Slipknot, it was a great way for me to focus and really let it out. Over the years I’ve been able to work out and let go of a lot of stuff because of it. So now when it’s just me, I think #8 and Corey have merged. We’ve found this cool common ground that I’m completely okay with. It’s made me a better person to be able to accept the fact that I went through a lot of shit, did a lot of shit, and was still able to be a good person. I didn’t get wrapped up in some kind of crazy, clichéd, egomaniacal selfish, fuckfest.

I’m still very grounded. I think that’s because I never forgot why I do this. It’s always been more expression than anything else, and now I can let that out in a healthy way and not get wrapped up in too much angst, self-loathing, and self-pity. If you hang around too long and get stuck in that one-trick-pony moment, that’s what can happen. You can get wrapped up in a lot of your “self” stuff, and it’s ugly. Nobody wants to hear that. It’s self-aggrandizing and masturbatory. To me it makes more sense to stay in the moment and do it for the reasons that you’re feeling in that moment. I am going to be 37 in December. I don’t want to be bitching about stuff that I did in high school when I’m 50. I really don’t. I’ll play the old songs and love them and remember where I was when I was in that moment, but you’ve got to break new ground. You’ve got to be constantly challenging yourself. I want to be in this for the long haul, and if that means I play the same stuff over and over and over, that’s fine, but I want people to embrace the new stuff as well. Luckily I’ve got an audience that loves it.
The second Stone Sour album came out after you became sober and dealt with a lot of serious issues, including suicidal thoughts. In contrast to your work with Slipknot, it was very reflective. On this new album, are you looking for redemption?

Maybe. Honestly, [certain] songs were written with specific relationships in mind. It’s interesting that you talk about redemption because for the last few years I’ve really been trying to find that balance between the appropriate amount of selfishness—because we all deal with it—and also trying to have that heart that’s big enough to take care of the people who matter. I’ve really come into my own skin as far as being a father and being a husband but also dealing with the issues that doomed my first marriage. You can only blame someone else for so long before you realize that you have your own damn issues and need to figure it out for yourself. That’s where a lot of that comes from, trying to figure out how to walk that line between doing something cool with your life and living a dream that you’ve wanted to do since you were 13 years old, and also being a good person and taking care of your family and friends and really just being a strong man.

Some people think rehab programs in this country treat addicts as victims, rather than teaching them to be responsible and accountable for battling their addictions. How do you feel about that?

You have to accept the responsibility at some point. When I quit drinking, I did it for reasons that I wanted to figure out. I knew that there was a problem, and I didn’t know if I was necessarily an alcoholic or was just a binge drinker who was afraid to face his own issues. I quit drinking for three years, and in the time I got married and divorced. I slowly started to realize that I was in the place that I didn’t want to be. I was a person that I didn’t want to be. I think it was that moment of clarity that everybody talks about. Once I did it, it was almost like relearning my whole life. I was walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. I knew I wanted to stand on morality and just be a stronger man, and once I really started doing that, it became maybe even addictive.

It wasn’t like I didn’t have slips where I made a wrong decision, but you have to make the wrong ones sometimes to learn to make the right ones. It was exciting, and I’ve continued that to this day. Every once in a while I’ll have a drink, but it’s not a huge thing now because I don’t have that darkness in my life. Honestly, I’ve gotten to the point in my age, and I hate to date myself, but I had one cocktail the other night and I was like, “Holy shit, I just want to go to bed.” [Laughs.] It was ridiculous. People talk about every day as a gift, and it’s true. Every moment I get to spend with my kids is a gift. Every moment I still get to do my music and have it be embraced by as many people as it has is a gift. I’ve been very, very positive the last four years, and I never want to let go of that. I look at everything with new eyes and just say to myself, “Man, can you believe this little douchebag kid from Iowa got here?” I’m stoked about it.

I know if all of this went away for me, if the notoriety and fame and the opportunities went away, I would still be making music. I would never walk away from the one thing I was always really good at. I would never walk away from it because I get such a great satisfaction from just sitting on the couch and playing guitar or playing songs for my son. It’s not just a business for me, it’s not just a career for me. It’s part of who I am. It’s what has slowly shaped me to do what I do, and I’ve spent a lot of time doing it. I couldn’t even imagine just walking away.
You have some pretty intense ink on your body, like your chest piece that’s half sinister skeleton moon, half angelic sun. What inspired you to get that?

Everything I have is kind of a yin-yang thing. I’ve always been fascinated by the multifaceted nature of humans. I’ve never believed in absolute evil or absolute good. I think they all exist on a sphere, and we’re constantly turning. Without getting too fucking hippie or esoteric, that’s where a lot of this artwork comes from. I have “dogma” and “truth” tattooed on the inside of my arms because I feel like we’re all constantly struggling against it. The truth is the truth, and dogma are the little rules and regulations that take away from the truth. We’re constantly fighting to figure things out. That’s the kind of message I want to say with a lot of my ink, that this whole journey is just a road map. We’re all going to make bad decisions, we’re all going to make good decisions. But how do you maneuver through life when you know you’re constantly being tested on a daily basis? It comes from that strong groundwork. You have to have a good sense of who you are to begin with. If you don’t, then you run the risk of making mistakes over and over and over again.

You have the number 8 tattooed on the back of your neck, an obvious Slipknot reference. But you also have this image of a panther adjacent to Jean Valjean’s prison number.

There’s a panther clawing its way up my back, and I have “24601” going down my spine. [Les Misérables protagonist] Jean Valjean is one of my favorite characters in literature, and I draw a lot of inspiration from that. Here’s a person who started his life out on a really misunderstood path, and then, after a moment of charity, a moment of kindness, he decided to devote his life to doing well for others. I could’ve gone down a darker path, I could’ve done a lot of things, and because I believed in the greater good I decided to do that. It’s been much more enriching than anything else.

You also have a couple of women inked on you, one on each arm, and you’ve got a griffin on your leg. I assume that was done because it’s your son’s name?

Yes. I gave my left leg to the kids, and I haven’t finished it yet. My oldest daughter’s name is Angeline, so I want to get an angel next to the griffin. My ex-wife’s daughter, who I’m still really close to, her name is Aravis, as in Princess Aravis from the Narnia books. So I’ll probably get a princess. And with any other kids I may have, I’ll start crawling it up the leg. I’m Irish, so I want a lot of kids, and I’m not going to stop until I’ve got a whole brood that I can eventually teach “MMMBop” to and send out on the club circuit.

That will horrify other kids. Exactly.

Years ago, Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison recalled how you and the band were mistakenly identified as jewelry thieves by police. Do you remember how that went down?

Let me set the scene for you. We were doing an in-store right in-between Ozzfest and the Coal Chamber tour, our first and second tours. We had this crazy in-store set up, and we drove from Des Moines to Chicago to get there. We were running late because people in the band couldn’t get their shit together to get to the vans on time, so we were hauling ass to get there. We get to Chicago, pull in behind this strip mall and have no idea that there is a jewelry store there. So imagine this dude who worked at the jewelry store standing outside and having a cigarette as two cargo vans pull in. Dudes jump out and start getting into coveralls and masks with black makeup. Now, I would’ve called the cops, man. I would’ve been freaking out.

We were across the street from the store where we were going to be doing the signing. We all jump into one van, drive across the street, and then five or six of Chicago’s finest pull up on either side of us, and they all get out with their hands on their guns going, “Shut the engine off and show us your hands.” It was the funniest thing I had ever seen. We should’ve been freaking out but, dude, we were laughing so hard it was insane. This dude was drawing down on Clown, and Clown was saying, “Okay, man, I’m just going to take my mask off.” And the cop was like, “That’s okay, I’ll just shoot you through the door.” To us that was the funniest thing we’d ever heard. We were like, “Are you kidding me?” It wasn’t until after the signing and driving home that we were like, “Holy shit, we almost died.” It was insane, and then the cops came and ran security for the in-store signing. It was insane, dude. They’re just watching all these kids come through. We’re signing autographs, and they’re laughing [and wondering] what the hell is going on here. This was before anybody had even heard of us.
After all these years, what do you think your fans would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m pretty open about everything, almost to severity. I don’t think they’d be surprised by anything that I do. I’m not afraid to make myself look like a fool for the benefit of an audience. I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I just did a show with Camp Freddy; it’s a celebrity cover band, basically. They heard I was going to be in Vegas, and they were doing a show for this weird pajama party, so there were all these swanky douchebags in faux silk pajamas out in the audience with all these chicks stuffed into lingerie. I come walking out in Spiderman pajamas that are probably six sizes too small for me because I don’t give a shit. I will do whatever it takes to entertain an audience. I think that’s why I’ve been so honest over the years. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I could be brutally honest doing whatever I want, and I expect the fans to look at me and go, “Well, it’s Corey. That makes total fucking sense.”

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