Interview: Slipknot (#2, Paul Gray)
Mon, 18 Aug 2008 06:35:29
Slipknot bassist Paul Gray has got a big smile on his face right now. He's sitting backstage before a massive show in Atlanta, and he's simply thrilled at the moment. He quickly exclaims, "It's been an amazing journey. I feel like my life has come full circle from when this band started until now. I'm just thankful that I've gotten to meet all the cool people that I've met, and that I get to do this every night. Fuck, I get to play music. I'd pay every dollar I had just to do this." Even though Slipknot proclaims All Hope Is Gone with their new record, things are looking brighter than ever for the metallic juggernaut. They've crafted their best album to date; it's equally eviscerating and entrancing, and it was made in record time. Gray's always been at the eye of Slipknot's creative storm. His riffs and bass lines have driven some of the band's most memorable output, and All Hope Is Gone is no exception. In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect, Gray discussed the new album, Slipknot's philosophy, what real metal is and why the world needs them.
All Hope Is Gone feels like a step up from Vol. 3. It's simultaneously more heavy and brutal than your previous records, but it's still Slipknot. Would you say that's the case?
It's definitely a sign of us maturing. We never let anyone guide us or tell us what to do, but, this time, we went right for what we were feeling. That's why we have songs like "Snuff" and "All Hope Is Gone" on the same album. It's still a Slipknot record. Corey's vocals and melodies are incredible. He's got a great voice. We were like, "Why the fuck are we not utilizing it as much as we could be?" He can scream, and everybody can do that, but Corey can actually sing his ass off too. We felt like we needed to utilize this even more than we did in the past. With his vocals, Corey did what he felt and what he wanted to do. Everybody in this band has been playing forever. We know what we're doing. We threw caution to the wind, and we wrote this record for us. We recorded in Iowa, and we had no one bothering us while we were in the studio. We had none of the fucking L.A. people in our ear. The record label wasn't coming out there saying, "We need a single" or "We need a song that's like this." We didn't have any of that shit. We got to do our own thing. We were left alone, and the record came out great because of it. I think it's our best. It's definitely the most well-rounded and most cohesive record we've done.
Everything sounds more intense. The music's gotten more intricate and technically advanced, but you're playing with just as much passion and anger as you were on the first record.
Definitely! In terms of technicality, we've been playing for a really long time. I've been playing bass for well over 20 years. It's the same with Jim [Root] and Mick [Thomson] [Guitars]. Joey [Jordison]'s been doing the same thing too, on drums. We definitely stepped it up technically. The record just came together naturally. It was such an easy step from Vol. 3. It came from our hearts. We just let it go. A couple of those guitar riffs are from 1991. They stretch back to my old bands. It's funny how you can take a riff that old and play it now, and people will actually be into it now [laughs], as opposed to back then.
With previous records, the songs have gestated with you and Joey writing and demoing together early on. Is that how this album started?
Yeah, it started that way. Jim and Corey [Taylor, vocals] were on the road doing Stone Sour, but they were writing too. When we came back, Corey had a notebook the size of Homer's The Odyssey [Laughs]. It was just filled with ideas for lyrics. It was 1000 pages of words. He wrote his ass off! Jim had lots of guitar riffs. Joey and I had gotten together and started demo-ing stuff. Once the band fully came back, we used those demos as a place to start. Everyone had ideas, and they brought those ideas to the table. Nobody held anything back, and I think that's why the record came out so good.
The first song, "Gematria," is quite a way to kick things off. Stretching around the seven-minute mark, it's almost like a journey in and of itself.
Oh yeah, it definitely is! The beginning of that song is what I was talking about. That riff was written in like 1990 [Laughs]. Everyone is always like, "Hey, we need a song to be this length." We didn't have anybody out there to tell us what they think we need to do. We were totally free of everything. Getting to go home every night and sleep in our own beds really had a positive affect on our attitudes too. That made it really easy to put out this record. We just jammed and got it done.
While recording at home, you're also more in touch with Iowa's essence as it relates to the band.
Definitely, yes. We were on a farm about 40 miles outside of Des Moines. You feel Iowa when you're out there. You'd hear a cow in the middle of the night. At least for me, it was amazing. The previous albums were all done in L.A. I love L.A. I was born and raised in L.A. The whole industry's out there. Everyone has an opinion that they want heard. We didn't have to hear any of that shit, dude. If anyone wanted to hear the music, they'd have to drive 40 miles out to the middle of fucking nowhere and find a farm with no name to come and see what we were doing [Laughs]. We got to sit there and do what we wanted without anyone's input. Then the record label got to hear it. They weren't flying in every four weeks, checking on what we'd done. It was done, and they loved it. I love it too, and I think it's the best record that we've done by far.
This is like the Apocalypse Now of metal records. You were free in the jungle to do whatever you wanted.
[Laughs] That's the thing. We never wanted to paint ourselves into a corner. We never thought, "We did a blast beat once, now we've got to do it every song" or "We have to be fuckin' death metal, thrash or whatever." We never wanted to lump ourselves into one of those categories. If we want to do a Prince cover, we'll do a Prince cover. You know what I mean? [Laughs] I'm not saying that we will, but I'm just using it as an example. We're always going to do what we want and not worry about what anyone else thinks. We are a band, and we have to keep the fans pleased to a certain extent. We play the music we like, and hopefully the fans like it too.
You're also communicating more, and you're more in tune with each other. With Vol. 3, you guys had to rebuild communication again.
Oh yeah. During the self-titled record, we went in the studio, recorded the album and then toured for two years straight. Then we went right back in the studio, did Iowa and we immediately jumped back on the road. After that, we were on the road for another year and a half. After about a year of side projects, we went back to Slipknot. We were all frustrated with each other. I think after being packed in a bus, driving around the world and doing the same thing every night, we just got burnt. After going through all that, you don't want to listen to anybody else. We had this schedule that was grueling, and a lot of us couldn't take it anymore. When we went to do Vol. 3, we weren't in the best of headspaces, but Rick Rubin actually sat us down and got us talking again. There were things we were angry at each other about. We realized that we weren't sick of each other though; we were sick of everything else on the outside. Vol. 3 came out, and it was a fucking great record. However, this time around, we knew how to give each other space and let people do what they wanted to do. We still want to be in this and be happy. People have other things that they're into, and they need their space. We finally realized that if Slipknot wants to continue to be a band, we've got to work with each other on a personal level too. Everyone just needs room. Slipknot will always still be there.
On Vol. 3, communication's broken at the beginning of the album, and then you've opened up the channels and everyone's come together at the end. On All Hope Is Gone, you're making a statement that you're a team and you're here to stay. Even though "All Hope Is Gone" and the world is so messed up, you still have this release and this music.
Definitely, you said it perfectly. We finally know how to nurture everyone's personalities. People are different. We've learned how each other reacts to certain things, and we've learned how to respect each other's boundaries. Dude, having that time and respect made us tighter than ever. We were able to say, "If you can't make it to practice tonight, it's not a big deal. Go spend it with your family. We'll get together tomorrow," instead of saying, "Fuck, we needed to do it today!" That's how we used to be. We've loosened up on that, letting everyone live his life outside of this band. It absolutely made the band tighter. We're closer. You can definitely tell on the album. Now when we're playing live, it's on again. We have that spark that we had when we came out. It's back like that, and it's tenfold. We're playing harder than ever, and it's great. It's been drama-free. It's just awesome!
You guys need that release that Slipknot gives as much as the fans need it.
I definitely need it! I know there are kids that need it. I couldn't tell you how many emails and letters I get from kids thanking us for being the band that's gotten them through their hard times in life. Kids have said that they would've killed themselves if they didn't have our band. Fuck man, it's the same thing with me. If it weren't for this band, I don't know exactly where I'd be at either. Slipknot has definitely been something that we've loved and hated, but it's something we've always needed. It's a really good time now.
Songs like "Sulfur" and "Wherein Lies Continue" sound so different. It's amazing to see your evolution.
You don't want to write the same fucking record over and over again. That would be boring, pathetic and not really challenging to us at all. If it's not going to challenge us, there's no point in doing it. We might as well go do different bands or whatever. We laid out what we were feeling. That's why we have songs like "Dead Memories" alongside "All Hope Is Gone." They're completely opposite songs. The album goes in so many different directions, but it's all still Slipknot. It still sounds like Slipknot, it still feels like Slipknot, and, when you put it on, you know it's Slipknot. That's why I'm really proud of this record. I'm proud of the way everybody performed and worked on it. The funny thing is, this is the quickest record we've ever put together. We started writing it at the end of last year. It came together quicker than any record we've ever done. Even though it's been four years since the last record came out, this one came together easily.
“Slipknot has definitely been something that we've loved and hated, but it's something we've always needed.”
The record flows like a movie from one song to the next, and you want to see what comes next.
Thanks dude, that's a really great compliment. We didn't set out to do any specific thing; we just let it come out. It's awesome that you took that out of it, and I hope that people get that out of it too. I have All Hope Is Gone in my CD player [Laughs]! I listen the shit out of it!
It's the perfect time for this record to come out. The fans have been waiting, and this whole genre needs a good kick in the teeth.
It definitely needs a kick in the teeth. It went from rap-metal to, "Hey, I'm an emo kid with a lame haircut and skinny jeans" [Laughs]. These days, it seems like everybody listened to At The Drive-In and decided that they were going to be in a metal band at the same time. Every fucking band's doing that. I love death metal, and I love black metal. I won't say anything bad about that shit. As far as bands in our scene, I haven't bought a new record in a long time. I listen to my old Slayer records or my old David Bowie records. Of the newer bands that are out, I can't think of many that I'm into. I think Job for a Cowboy fucking rules. Those dudes are pretty awesome. I liked Behemoth's last record. It's weird because Slipknot's at the level now where it became cool not to like Slipknot. We got a little bit of backlash. Kids that are 16 or 17 will say we're "Nu Metal." These kids try to tell me what true metal is when I was at the fuckin' Powerslave concert in 1984. They weren't even born yet! [Laughs] I don't care. Dude, I know metal. I'm 36-years-old, I've been in metal bands for 23 years. I was doing Metallica and Slayer covers when I was 13. I've paid my dues, and I've paid my respects to the metal gods for that shit. I'm not going to be told by some teenybopper motherfucker that we're "Mall metal" when I know what the fuck we're doing. People can say whatever they want, but when we play, we're playing in front of 20,000 people every night. Slipknot's bigger than ever. I'm so fucking proud and happy to be in this band. I'm so thankful for the fans that have stuck by us through all these years. We have the most loyal fans in the world, and we're gaining new ones every day. If any detractors can do it better, they should start a band and write a record, man. I'll buy it from them [Laughs].
Slipknot initially mixed a death metal technicality with a personal lyrical style that kids could identify with en masse. Typically, music this heavy doesn't have lyrics like that. It's one thing that's always been so brilliant about the band.
We all come from thrash and death metal backgrounds. Everything Corey writes is from the heart; it's his own catharsis. He's letting everything out that he's been through. He puts it down on paper, and a lot of kids can identify with what he writes. He wasn't like, "Hey, kids could get into this." He writes this way because he actually needs to let go of it. It's stuff that he's letting out so he can feel better. Kids do latch onto that, man. Life is the same for everybody. You're born. You grow up. You go to school. You get a job. Then you meet whoever you're going to meet and you start some kind of family life. Then you die. There's a lot of horrible shit that happens in between all that. We just talk about it. All of the bullshit in between is what drags you down and holds you back. If you hold onto that bullshit, keep it inside and fucking let it take over, it'll eat you up. We put that on record, and we get it out there. It helps us get through to the next day. If some kid hears it, can identify with it, and it helps him from hurting himself or someone else, then that's it. Even if the music just stops that kid from crying or makes him stoked for the day, then we've won, and that's all we've ever wanted to do.