A Conversation Between Aaron Lewis of Staind and Corey Taylor of Stone Sour and Slipknot about "It Takes A Community"
Wed, 27 Jul 2011 15:45:23
Aaron Lewis of Staind and Corey Taylor of Stone Sour and Slipknot have a lot in common.
Staind dropped their proper debut, Dysfunction, in 1999 a few months before Slipknot would release their self-titled first offering. Immediately, Lewis and Taylor left indelible marks on the musical landscape. Their bands became multi-platinum sensations, and they spearheaded heavy music's evolution in the 21st century.
However, the two are also not confined to one project. Lewis recently dropped his chart-topping solo EP, Town Line, and established himself as a presence in country music. He also never leaves the road, playing solo acoustic shows in every nook and cranny of the country. In between promoting Town Line, he sang his soul out on Staind's self-titled seventh masterpiece due out September 13. On Staind, Lewis opens up with a fierce intensity that's going to be remembered forever.
Meanwhile, Taylor recently released his mind-blowing, brilliant literary debut Seven Deadly Sins: Settling the Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good and continues to captivate listeners with Stone Sour. The group's latest opus Audio Secrecy was a sonic tour de force and one of the best albums of 2010. Taylor has also been traversing the country doing book readings and solo acoustic performances, further branching out.
Where Lewis and Taylor really connect is their creative processes. Neither of them is afraid to tell the truth, and it's why they've deservedly become modern icons. They're also probably the coolest dads on the planet…
"I'm at T.J. Maxx looking for bargains with the family," smiles Lewis while roving around the department store alongside his kids.
Speaking to Lewis from his Iowa home, Taylor chuckles, "I just made lunch for my son, and now he's downstairs with all of his friends destroying my basement. I guess we're all having a rock 'n' roll afternoon!"
The two will be coming together for another "rock 'n' roll afternoon" very soon. Taylor will join Lewis for his annual It Takes A Community benefit show, now in its second year. After his daughter's elementary school closed because of budget cuts, Lewis started the foundation in order to keep the school open through donations. This year the 2-day show hits The Pines Theater at Look Park in Northampton, MA on Friday, August 19 and Saturday, August 20 at The Pines Theater at Look Park in Northampton, MA. Friday, the bill features Rhett Akins, Frank Hannon of Tesla, and Alexa Carter. Meanwhile, Saturday's lineup is rounded out by Taylor, Tesla, Lo-Pro, and Otan Vargas. [Get tickets here!
In order to discuss the benefit show, Aaron Lewis and Corey Taylor got together for a very special exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino. They talk about the importance of giving back, the artists that really affected them, songwriting, playing bowling alleys and nursing homes, and so much more…
Aaron, how did you assemble the lineup for the It Takes A Community concert this year? Did you always know that you wanted Corey on the bill?
Aaron Lewis: Corey and I did a New Year's Eve show together in Florida this past year. It went very well, and I wanted to get him involved in this show.
Did you guys know each other before that show?
Aaron Lewis: Yeah, unfortunately [Laughs].
Corey Taylor: I've been putting up with Lewis's ass for a long time [Laughs].
Aaron Lewis: He's been talking shit about me in the press for 13 years now [Laughs].
Corey Taylor: That wasn't you! That was somebody else!.
Aaron Lewis: We've really come up through it all together. It's been pretty much the same timeframe and schedules—everything—for both of us.
Corey Taylor: We've done some radio shows together, but I don't think we've ever done a whole tour together.
Aaron Lewis:Right, it's always been festivals and stuff like that.
Corey Taylor: Plus, we've both had the opportunity to jam with one of our favorite bands, Alice In Chains, which is awesome!
You both work extremely hard and still find the time to give back through shows like this.
Corey Taylor: I've always been of the mindset that whatever you can do, you should do. It's not all parties in this business. There's a certain amount of luck and karma that comes with it. For me, it only makes sense to try and contribute a little bit where I can and help out if I ever get the opportunity. Going back to how this came about, Aaron and I were talking about it on New Year's Eve. I knew it was something that I would be very into. Obviously being a father, if something happened to the school my son was at, I would be just as passionate about trying to help it. It just made so much sense to help get the word out and, if possible, raise a little money.
Aaron Lewis: You're helping, pal…
Corey Taylor: I'm doing my best! This shows a whole different side of what we do. We have the ability to help people when the chips are down. That's all I'm trying to do.
Is the ultimate way for you to give back via music? You get the opportunity to use what you're known for in a positive way.
Aaron Lewis: Well, it's what I've got. You try to look at life, see what you've got to work with, and you do the best with it. One of the things that I have to work with is the fact that I can put on a show and raise money. It's a no-brainer. I've been given so much in my career and my life. When I get the opportunity to give back, I feel like the right thing to do is seize it.
You've both been extremely influential and inspirational to millions of fans. Which artists affected or inspired you the most as kids?
Aaron Lewis: Corey mentioned one earlier that was huge for me—Alice in Chains. Layne Staley's lyrics were massive. However, music that hit me hard like that and helped didn't really come around until Korn. The first Korn record flattened me.
Corey Taylor: Yeah!
Aaron Lewis: I cried like a little bitch the first time I heard "Daddy". That record really touched me in a way that no record ever had to be quite honest with you.
Corey Taylor: That was a huge album. People don't realize how impactful that album was for a lot of fans.
Aaron Lewis: Holy shit, yeah!
Corey Taylor: People forget how big that album was when it first hit and how much it changed.
Aaron Lewis: It totally changed the game. It changed what was acceptable as lyrical content. It changed how deep and dark you could go with your lyrics at full-on face value without even trying to use any sort of imagery or metaphorical writing. It was raw, brutal, honest, in-your-face, and no-holds-barred, like nothing before it. It paved the way for people like me and Corey to say what we say. It really kicked the doors wide open for us. Before that, it was The Cure. However, the music didn't do it for me the way the lyrics did. Some of Robert Smith's lyrics are unbelievable on a level of how I write or Corey writes. We're very personal, exposing, and brutally introspective. Surprisingly, Robert Smith was very much that way.
Corey Taylor: He didn't try to paint a pretty picture.
Aaron Lewis: Not at all!
Corey Taylor: The music almost removed how dark the lyrics were. I think that was one of the beautiful things about The Cure. They were deceptively dark. Unless you were a true fan, you didn't really get to the bottom of what he was trying to say. Growing up, I was obviously into thrash and hardcore punk. It wasn't until I started writing songs that I began tapping into different influences. Obviously, there's stuff like Johnny Cash, which I listened to with my mom or my grandmother. That was something that moved me. There was the music I liked, and then there was the music that inspired me. Alice In Chains was definitely one of those bands. It was a matter of trying to find my own voice and figure everything out.
Both Staind and Slipknot are hopeful in a subtle way. There's a catharsis to the music, and you're both examples that no matter how tough things get, you can still succeed and persevere.
Corey Taylor: Definitely, that's something I've tried to put out there as much as possible. It's not all bleak. There are a lot of kids that go through some heavy shit in their lives. That's something I can relate to. I can still remember. In my lyrics, I always try to make sure people understand there's a very positive way out of it. Everything is temporary. If you can get through that, you'll be a stronger person for it. That's the underlying message that I've tried to say to the fans.
Aaron Lewis: I also think both Corey and I will take 100 percent responsibility and stand behind every single thing we've said over the years.
Corey Taylor: Absolutely!
Aaron Lewis: There are definitely artists out there who abuse the ability to write lyrics and put out a message to their fans. I'm pretty sure both of us will claim and accept full responsibility for anything we've said over the years lyrically.
Corey, just as a side note, this new Staind record is incredible. It's a monster…
Corey Taylor: I can't wait to hear it!
Neither of you hold anything back, and that's why the music connects.
Aaron Lewis: Not being able to hold back gets me in trouble sometimes [Laughs].
Corey Taylor: That's the risk you take though. Why half-ass anything? If you're going to go all the way with something, don't pull back at the last second. People can honestly see right through it. You and I wear it. We let it all hang out regardless if it's going to look glamorous or feel pretty. Neither one of us is trying to do anything like that.
Aaron Lewis: It comes from the dirty corners of both of our psyches and creative brains. When it's time to write lyrics, we clean out the closet, so to speak. We're not afraid to bare the darkest reaches of our souls.
Corey Taylor: I think that's why we're still here, man.
Aaron Lewis: I think you're right.
Corey Taylor: For better or worse, it's why we're still able to do it and have people who look forward to hearing the things we have to say. It's not canned, contrived, or pre-approved by a panel somewhere in an office in Los Angeles. It's reality. We either live it or we think it. To me, it's not only the best gift we can have, it's the best gift we can give to everyone.
Aaron Lewis: It's pretty cool how that works.
Corey Taylor: You hope people are listening. You hope they understand and they do what they can with it.
No matter how much you grow, as evidenced by Staind and Audio Secrecy, you're both still able to release the demons when you need to.
Aaron Lewis: I have to! It's a necessity. I've got to get it out somehow.
Aaron, you really pushed yourself harder than ever on this new Staind album.
Aaron Lewis: It was born from the biggest ball of stress and aggravation. We were very lucky that we were in the process of making a heavy record in the time frame that we were. Everything just lent itself for me to be at wit's end.
Did you capture that heavy emotion similarly for All Hope Is Gone and Audio Secrecy, Corey?
Corey Taylor: A little bit…Like Aaron said, it's cleaning out the closet. Whether I want to admit it or not, I end up carrying a lot of baggage around with me until I write it down. In between All Hope Is Gone and Audio Secrecy, there was a lot going on in my life that I hadn't really embraced or talked about. To be able to write down and scream that into the microphone definitely helped me work it out and put it in perspective. That way, I could get a handle on it. I'll probably never make an album like Audio Secrecy again. I'll probably never make another album like Iowa or All Hope Is Gone again either. I'm constantly looking towards the future to figure out what needs to be said next. It's reactionary music. I've been lucky enough to make a couple albums that tell where I've been.
Aaron Lewis: Each record has been a snapshot of my life, for sure. You try to be honest with what you're putting into lyrics. When that happens, a lot of times it'll be a snapshot of that moment.
When did you first discover heavy music?
Corey Taylor: Obviously, The Big Four—Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax—really was my first taste. I was like, "Holy shit, this is real". It was the first music that I could feel. I'd grown up listening to hard rock from my mom and various babysitters. When I discovered Metallica, Anthrax, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden, it was concussive. It was so in-your-face that I naturally gravitated towards it. From that moment on, I was a serious metal head.
Aaron Lewis: I think I was eight-years-old. It's funny that you said your babysitter because my babysitter gave me a handful of musical compilations [Laughs]. It was Kiss' Destroyer and Alive II on vinyl and AC/DC's Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Back in Black and Pink Floyd's The Wall on 8-track [Laughs]. Those 8-tracks stopped working long before I got sick of listening to them. In my childhood during the younger days, it was Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Jr., Hank Williams, Sr., and music that my grandfather was listening to. I spent all of my summers at his house until he passed away. That was my early exposure. My dad was big into folk music. He'd listen to Gordon Lightfoot and artists along those lines. It was outside influences for heavy music like friends. I remember the first time I listened to Use Your Illusion I and II at my friend Mark's house and Appetite for Destruction when all of those albums came out. There was Megadeth, Metal Church, and Overkill too. Of course, as you hit high school, it's cool to listen to classic rock like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix. I had a pretty average and normal introduction to all facets of music. I had a really musical household too. My dad had a band and he played out by himself. There was band practice at my house all the time, and there were always instruments lying around. I was playing guitar by the time I was seven-years-old. There was no lack of musical inspiration around me growing up.
Does being a father inspire music?
Aaron Lewis: There have been a couple songs over the years that have been inspired by fatherhood or having kids. For me, that's a positive thing in my life. I don't tend to write about positive things in my life very often. Town Line is the first time I've really put together a collection of songs that were more of a positive expression than a negative one. Usually, songs over the years have been my way of getting things off my chest. Things that make me happy aren't things I have to get off my chest.
Corey Taylor: You tend to hold on to those a little tighter. The thing that's inspired me about being a dad is just to make sure my kids see what's possible. I want them to see, no matter what, if they put their minds to something, they work, they have talent, and they're passionate, they can achieve anything in life. For me, it's important to show them the positive sides of everything I do, whether it's singing or performing. The dark stuff will come later. It goes hand-in-hand with becoming a teenager and figuring out yourself and what you want to do. I want to show my son that I work really hard and it pays off in the end with having a house, a car, and money for food. It's important that he sees if he puts his mind to something, he can accomplish it.
You're both examples that if you're willing to work hard, you can have anything.
Aaron Lewis: I think that you're right in that statement. The decks were stacked against the both us from word, "Go". Neither one of us are pop sensations. Neither one of us are really mass marketable. We're both proof that hard work, diligence, and perseverance can accomplish anything you want.
Corey Taylor: Don't sell yourself short, Aaron…talent…you write amazing songs, and you sing your ass off when you play them.
Aaron Lewis: Thank you, bud, I appreciate that.
Corey Taylor: You're very welcome! That's something which is sorely missed in this industry. There's about 5 percent of this industry that's actually like myself and Aaron where we write our own music and we can perform and play for people. A lot of it is pre-processed and auto-tuned mechanical music. We're the last bastion of real songwriters and singers. We can do it in the studio and live. To me, that's important. I hope I inspire people to do it like that in the next round of artists. Being able to play your stuff is a lost art. Too many people are too busy wearing headband microphones so they can be hands-free to do their dance moves, but it doesn't matter anyway because they're not singing. They're lip-synching to a track. It's kind of pathetic…
Aaron Lewis: It happens in rock 'n' roll too. There are bands out there that will have full-on Pro Tools tracks playing behind them. If the band stopped going through the motions on stage, nothing would change; the song would keep playing.
Corey Taylor: At that point, you might as well be the band from Chuck E. Cheese's [Laughs].
Aaron Lewis: Right!
Corey Taylor: You might as well have a bunch of animatronics up there going through the motions. It's shocking how many bands are doing that these days.
How do you balance all of your respective projects?
Aaron Lewis: Very carefully.
Corey Taylor: It's a matter of priorities. You focus on whatever is in front of you. There's a lot of work that goes into doing all of that. When you're on stage with that band, you go with that. When you're on stage doing an acoustic thing, you do that. It's a matter of shifting focus and making sure your head and your heart are in that moment. There's always time for the other stuff.
Aaron Lewis: I couldn't agree more.
Was playing acoustic the starting point for you both?
Aaron Lewis: It was definitely the starting point for me. I played these solo shows long before I ever met any of the guys in Staind or played with a band period. I was eighteen with a fake ID to get into these bars so I could play them in the first place.
Corey Taylor: I was writing songs in my basement and playing shows with a friend of mine in an acoustic duo before Stone Sour was thought of or Slipknot was even a twinkle in Clown's eye. The first gig I did was an acoustic show in front of 20 people for two bucks a head.
Aaron Lewis: I think I've got you beat on my first gig.
Corey Taylor: Yeah?
Aaron Lewis: It was with my dad. It was at the Rockingham County Nursing Home for a bunch of elderly people confined to a nursing home at this point in their lives.
Corey Taylor: Yeah, you've got me beat. Mine was at a bowling alley.
Aaron Lewis: [Laughs] I played "All Shook Up" by Elvis, and three people stood up out of their wheelchairs at the end and gave me a standing ovation.
Corey Taylor: [Laughs] It was the music that raised them.
Aaron Lewis: I'm kidding [Laughs]. I didn't get anybody to stand up out of their wheelchair. That was an embellishment.
Does playing acoustic allow for lyrics to stand out more?
Aaron Lewis: Absolutely, there's nothing to distract you from the lyrical content when there's so little musically going on. I've always felt the acoustic performance for the lyrics to shine.
Corey Taylor: There's something to be said about a song that can be stripped of everything and brought down to its basic elements—just a voice and a guitar. There's something really raw about that. You want to talk about emotion. If you can't convey something like that, there's no starting point. That's the foundation of everything I write and Aaron writes. If you can't feel the emotion in that, there's nowhere for you to go as far as you trying to convey how you feel. It's really the lyrics. When you can break everything down and play it with just a guitar and your voice, that's the core.
Or you can break down a song by someone else too, which you both excel at. Aaron, "Time After Time" has never sounded better.
Aaron Lewis: [Laughs]
Corey Taylor: Or me and Aaron's rendition of "Ebony and Ivory"…
Aaron Lewis: That's historical right there.
Corey Taylor: It really is.
Was any of that rehearsed?
Aaron Lewis: If you call half-assed running it once during sound check "rehearsed" [Laughs]…
Corey Taylor: Or two seconds in a hotel room…
Aaron Lewis: We sang through one verse and were like, "Yeah, we've got this!" Then we moved on to the next thing [Laughs]. We're consummate professionals.
When are you guys going to tour the whole country together?
Aaron Lewis: It's just a matter of all the stars aligning so we get a time frame that's available to both of us to do it.
Corey Taylor: I'm totally down! When that happens, people are going to lose their minds.
Do you remember the first time you saw each other play?
Aaron Lewis: I don't remember the show, but I saw Slipknot and I was completely blown away by the magnitude of aggression. It really redefined heavy aggressive music in a manner that had never been fucking witnessed before.
Corey Taylor: Wow, thanks…I remember we did a radio show with Staind. I remember being very jealous of how good you were—especially you [Laughs].The songs you were able to write and your ability to balance the heavy and melodic stuff really hit me. I'll be honest, that was a lot of the reason I wanted to bring back Stone Sour. Here was this band that could do everything. I was like, "I can fucking do that and I want to!" In a lot of ways, Aaron and Staind inspired me to branch out and put Stone Sour back together and be able to write songs that have the heavy and melodic elements. I wasn't contributing a lot musically to Slipknot. I knew I had songs I wanted to write. Staind kind of kicked me in the ass to think, "If you're going to do it, do it now." You inspired me to get my shit together and start writing music and playing like that again.
Aaron Lewis: Thank you brother!
Corey Taylor: I love you, man!
Follow Aaron Lewis on Twitter here!
Follow Corey Taylor on Twitter here!
Visit the Staind site here! Pre-order the album here!
Enter this contest by Staind and Indaba Music to submit your own guitar solo for "Not Again" here!
Visit Corey Taylor's official site here! This is Stone Sour's site here! Visit Slipknot's official site here!
Watch Aaron Lewis perform "75" acoustically here!
See our review of "Not Again" from Staind here!
See our review of "Eyes Wide Open" from Staind here!
See our preview of the entire new album here!
Watch an exclusive video interview with Aaron here!
Check out our exclusive Rogue on Rogue interview between Corey Taylor and Wes Craven here!
See our review of Corey Taylor's Los Angeles book reading here!
Photo Credit: Corey Soria of Bloodline Photography