Exclusive Interview: Slipknot’s Shawn "Clown" Crahan Discusses the 10th Anniversary of 'Iowa'
About a month before the terrorist attacks of September 11, Slipknot released their sophomore effort, named simply after their homestate: Iowa. The album saw Des Moines’s nine-headed masked wrecking crew taking their crushing brand of strung-out hate metal to new levels of brutality and disillusionment, with songs like “Disasterpiece,” “Left Behind,” and “I Am Hated” standing as disgusted tributes to the undeniable horrors of the world. Indeed, through Iowa, the band was expressing a sentiment that the rest of the country seemed to realize when the tragic events of 9/11 occurred: Nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred. Never has been. You just didn’t want to see it.
Now, to celebrate its 10th birthday, Iowa is being reissued on November 1 in a remastered and deluxe format. But 10 years is no joke, and Slipknot have not survived it unchanged, given their two subsequent follow-up albums and the recent death of bassist Paul Gray. When I contact the band’s percussionist, visual artist, and creative mouthpiece Shawn Crahan, AKA No. 6, AKA Clown, he is in his basement lab. “I’ll say this,” he says, “that we’ve talked to a lot of fans, and Iowa has always by far been their favorite album.”
REVOLVER It’s 2001, and you’ve just wrapped up the recording of Iowa. Where’s your head at? Where’s the band at?
CLOWN Extreme anger, and the need to pummel. Pummel one’s self, pummel the world for taking what was ours away. When you’re blowing up the way we were blowing up…the band got taken away from us. For obvious reasons, for money. And when the band got taken away from us, we knew that we had succeeded in spreading the disease to the world and infecting everyone. So Iowa was a threat. We made it a threat to ourselves and a direct threat to the world about just who we are, and it doesn’t matter what you want, or what you think you’re going to get, we made it what we want when we wanted however we wanted. So by the time that record was done… I just remember fights, people ready to do back-flips offstage, ready to set people on fire, just ready to kick the shit out of the entire world. If you go back yourself to that time period--I don’t want to talk about it that much because it hurts, and I don’t have the direct knowledge or the authority to go too deep into it because I didn’t directly suffer from it--but there was a giant tragedy that happened during 2001, and we were on tour for three months before that singing songs like “People = Shit,” and people were just staring at us like, "What the fuck is your problem?" And it’s like, ‘Take a look at the person next to you. Shit isn’t right." It was the most painful time of our career. There were certain people in the band who I didn’t look directly in the eye the whole time we were recording. There was no fun to have. There was just pain and living that darkness and loving it. That was the high. People were trying to lead us down a road we were never going to go down, and we were just biding our time, waiting to sever all the snake heads. Eventually, it happened. That’s what the third record was, was the backlash of Iowa. When people call me up about Vol. 3, there’s going to be a lot of talk about Iowa, because that’s what Vol. 3 was, was a reaction to Iowa.
Are there songs on the album that best embody this pummeling, ugly state you guys were in?
Well, there’s something on Iowa that, in my opinion, had never happened before and hasn’t happened since. We were in my basement, and we were recording “Skin Ticket,” and at the end of the song, it crescendos, but while it’s crescendo-ing, it’s falling apart in a structured way. We were taking some chances with that song—chances with ourselves. And I remember being in my basement and playing that song, and just disappearing, everyone moving forward and moving up, everyone being in a different spaces, everyone moving in the same direction but moving in their own way…but it was so natural that I didn’t need to think about it. My eyes rolled back into my head, and I remember letting this thing that we are, this Slipknot thing, take over. I love all the songs on that record, and I’ve got something to say about all of them, but that song in particular let me know, "Wow, we are onto some serious shit. If this is where we are now, just think of what will come in the future, where we will be able to go." We played two shows—I think it was Vegas, and House of Blues, I don’t know, I don’t fucking remember—and we brought that song in to soundcheck, and it was all right, a little disjointed. We’re always bitching about soundcheck. But then we played that fucker live, and the same shit happened—we disappeared. That’s why it’s on the live record—we caught it. "Zero is zero is nothing but zero." What an amazing song.
Ten years on, do you ever throw Iowa on, just to listen to it?
People might be surprised by this, or offended by this, but…for me, I live Slipknot every day. I do things for Slipknot every day. I’m doing things today for tomorrow. So I like to let the past creep up on me, so that it’s special. It’s kind of like Shuffle on your iTunes—you put it on, and an old track comes on and you think, Wow, I forgot how awesome a track that is, and it makes you happy. That’s what I do with all our albums. When you play as intensely as we do live, you need a break, especially with how many songs we play and how many songs we’ll never play. I just don’t really go back. So it happens sometimes—“Metabolic” comes on, and I’m like, "Fuck, remember this?!" The last time I listened to the record was the day Paul died. And I’m not just saying that to say that. The only way I could collect myself… We had already been dealing with it for hours and hours… We had all gotten together at Corey’s house, for hours and hours…and…my brain just wasn’t my brain anymore. I remember coming downstairs, and it was just my youngest son and my oldest boy, and I took my youngest boy somewhere, so he wouldn’t be around me. And I went downstairs and I played Iowa, and the other records… I had already cried more than I could cry, and my brain was just…I didn’t know what to do! So I put on the record and listening to songs from Iowa… That’s his album. He was such a part of that. And I remember my son coming downstairs, and seeing me listening to our music, and just turning around and leaving.
You’re always gaining new, younger fans. So if a 13-year-old kid wanted to get into Iowa, what would you say to him about it? How would you pass it on?
The way I see it, I’d have to put it in context of reality. In reality, I’m a rogue, I’m a hermit, I’m an old magician living in his basement, so the chances of me talking to someone are pretty slim. When we wrote the third and fourth records, we had different people coming to the shows, and we were moving steadily away from the people coming to the shows for the first and second records. But they were able to make the first record double platinum. So even those people coming to hear “Vermillion” and “Vermilion Pt. 2” are going back to check out the first two records. Obviously, this is a reissue of Iowa, it’s a remaster of the album, you’re getting the live album, you’re getting a movie I’ve made about that time in our lives. So I went and redid all the artwork, the cover and whatnot…sort of a parallel being of where we are now. Ten years ago was 10 years ago, but this is now. So I had to create something as, maybe "disturbing" is the wrong word, but dangerous as that cover, but for the modern day. Ten years when that album came out, things were different. You know that chrome on the [original] cover? We can’t do that anymore, it’s too expensive. Same with the individual band portraits on the inside. So I had to recreate it, and make sacrifices, to have people today feel something. They’re going to get it, they’re going to feel it, they’re going to go, "Ugh!" But hopefully this package will bring them in and remind them of what was. The only thing I can do is show it through art. I don’t think I have the words to say what it is. I mean, I’m old. Ten years ago—I’m 32 then, I’m 42 now. So how can I say it? I have to give them this new package and say, "Hey, you want to know Iowa? Look into this. How’s it feel? Feels threatening? All right, cool."