Paul Gray Remembered: Outtakes From Our Brenna Gray Interview
Four years ago today, Slipknot bassist Paul Gray died. In remembrance of him, his wife Brenna Gray (pictured left), granted us her first interview since his death for Revolver’s January/February “Fallen Heroes” issue (available here). She had so many great stories about her husband, we couldn’t fit them in the magazine. So, with the deepest respect, enjoy some of Brenna’s heart-felt memories of Paul below.
REVOLVER How did you meet Paul?
BRENNA GRAY We met through a mutual friend. He was working with a band called Reggie and the Full Effect. He was writing with them. And I used to work for Reggie and the Full Effect. I used to tour with them. James, the singer, was just a good friend of Paul and myself. And he introduced Paul and I to each other. And I was getting ready to move out of my house in North Hollywood and needed somewhere to move. And Paul was getting ready to move back to Iowa, and needed to sublet his place. And I said, “Oh dude, I’ll totally take over.” ’Cause his payments were the same as mine, and he never went back to Iowa. He never left. [Laughs]
Was it awkward?
No, we were just…he was busy and I was busy. So it was just typical roommates. When we were home, we’d just hang out. I had my really good friend Veronica, who’s still my friend, so me and her lived there. So it was kind of a little cramped ’cause we didn’t expect to have a third person. But he was there, but no, it wasn’t awkward. We were all really good, good friends. It was just awesome. We got along. I think we were, like, roommates for a good six months before I actually started dating him. But it was kind of funny ’cause she was always like, “I thought he was going home.” And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know.” And the only thing he asked for was, “Can I come and stay here when I was on tour?” And I was like, “Yeah, of course. It’s your house. I don’t own it.” But we were friends. It was really cool. It’s not like I just met him at a show or anything like that.
Were you even a fan of Slipknot?
No, and it wasn’t that I didn’t like the band. I just never listened to them. I was like, “Oh, cool, Halloween costumes. I’m not into it.” That was my whole kind of shutting down and not giving it a chance. But that was before I watched that movie, Voliminal. It was right before it came out in theaters. I was just like, “Oh, God, I don’t want to watch this.” And he was like, “Why?” And I was just like, “I’m not a fan.” You know, I just kind of had this assumption about it myself. And he was just like, “Really? Wait a minute.” Once I watched it, I was kind of like, “Wow, you guys are really amazing.” I mean, I really had no idea about any of it. So it was kind of funny. He was just like, “I’m awesome and so is my band. You don’t know about this?” And I was like, “No.”
The first time I ever saw them play live was after we had already gotten married, for the All Hope Is Gone cycle. ’Cause he had already been off tour when we had started dating. It was exciting. I was definitely stoked. I had no idea what it was all about before I was actually in front of it.
Would he write at home?
Yeah, he wrote all the time. He would also go and practice at hotels a lot. And he was getting ready to restart his old band, Body Pit, right before he died. And that’s what he was practicing. He was totally working on that at home, and I was pregnant. So I kind of told him to take it elsewhere because he would set up at a volume of 10, practicing ’til 4 in the morning. So at that point, you know, I’m four-months pregnant, exhausted, not feeling good, throwing up all over the place. Honestly the last thing I wanted to hear was him and the other bandmate just making a loud noise in my house when I was trying to sleep.
Was he generally a positive person at home?
Absolutely, he was. Of course I’ve seen him stressed and upset and unhappy, but, no matter what, he was always happy, even if he was having a bad day. He wouldn’t bring his shit home with him. And of course we would talk about what was bothering him, but he always had a smile. And he was just always happy. And it’s really hard to say that about a lot of people, but he was. And he just had this huge heart. And he made everybody smile, even if a person met him for 30 seconds. He definitely made an impact on people very quickly. It wasn’t, like, months or weeks you had to get to know him. It was, like, the second that you were in a room with him, he made you feel like you’ve known him forever.
It’s funny, when All Hope Is Gone came out, we went out to Best Buy and he bought $2,000 worth of the CD. And then he just handed them all out to the employees, just gave it to them. And he did the same thing with Voliminal—that’s just how he was. We would go to Walmart and somebody would recognize him and he’d go in his car and he’d get the CD out of his car and sign it and give it to them. It was because he wanted to do it. He didn’t feel like he had to or people were bothering him. It was because he wanted to. Which was awesome. I’ve never seen someone so compassionate about people, just regular people and fans. He was just amazing with every soul I’ve ever seen him around.
How was his health when you met? Was he clean?
No. He wasn’t doing very well at all. And I really had no idea because I had never been in a situation like that. I knew something was wrong, but I just didn’t know. And of course I was forewarned by friends, but I loved him. And as soon as I did realize what was going on, we moved back to Iowa. Well, I came to Iowa. I never lived here before. I just got him out of the situation and just decided, “You know what, this isn’t working for me, and I know I want to be with you, but I can’t sit here and watch you do this to yourself. And when you’re living in Hollywood, there’s just so much bad shit.” And it just really was not conducive to his health, and I just made the decision to pack all of our shit up and just leave. And as soon as we came here, it was like day and night. I mean, he did great. He was awesome. And he worked really hard on his sobriety, and he did really good. And I think it was just getting him out of the “toxic city,” as they say out there, and I know it’s such a cliché, but that’s exactly what it was. I mean, I personally didn’t want to move—that was my home—but at the same time, I knew that’s what had to be done. And you make sacrifices for the people you care about. And for me, him living was way more important than leaving somewhere I was comfortable at. And I settled into Iowa fine. Of course, there’s not much around here. But we were happy, and he was happy, and he was healthy. To me, that was worth everything. I felt like if he stayed out there, he would have perished way sooner. I felt like I had a matter of weeks. That’s how bad it was. It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. I don’t regret for a second leaving Hollywood. Ever.
Paul carried a lot of heavy emotional baggage from childhood. Did he talk about that?
Yeah, I think that was the majority of a lot of his problems with his addictions. His father committed suicide when he was a child. And his father also was an addict. And I think that just weighs a lot on your shoulders. I mean, he looked up to his dad. He had a really shitty childhood, moving here to there, here to there. A death of a father, or a death of any family member is not easy. I never pushed him beyond to talk about because it was such a burden to him. And I don’t know if he was embarrassed or just sad. But he would talk about it and get really upset. And I think a lot of that did contribute to his problem. I don’t know. I wish there was more I could’ve done. I tried to get him into counseling and to talk about it. But when they’re not ready to do that, you can’t push somebody. So I never pushed him. I let him talk about it on his own terms, but he was never like, “Wow, my life was like this so I’m bitter.” Or anything like that. He was always very optimistic and dealt with the cards that life dealt him.
When did he start slipping again?
You know, I couldn’t tell you. He was great. It was kind of like the old saying, “Idle hands do the devil’s work.” And I think I kind of started noticing after the cycle, after the tour was over, which was Halloween, their last show in Vegas. He was fine, and I got pregnant right before Christmas, and he was just so happy. I mean, I’d never seen him more happy, honestly. But I wouldn’t say I really noticed anything until six weeks prior to his death. And I knew something was going on, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Because he would be fine one day, and the next he wouldn’t. So I was kind of unsure, like, Hmm, something’s not adding up here. And it wasn’t ’til that Saturday that I realized what was going on when I found things in my home. Then he passed away that Sunday. So I really had no time to really make a move. That Saturday I said, “Hey, we need to do something. We need to fix this.” And he agreed, and he was getting ready to go out on tour with [metal cover-band supergroup] Hail. And he said, “I’ll go get help after I come back from this tour.” And I just said, “You’re not going.” And I called his manager, and I said, “You need to cancel this tour. He’s not going.” And I just think it was a little too late. I think there’s nothing anyone could have done. And it’s just a big shock because I don’t think any of us really knew this time. I mean, he played a good game. And it just happened so quickly that it was literally a blink of the eye. I had no idea. No idea. And once we found out he had a really bad heart disease, I mean…he was sick and none of us knew about it. None of us knew about it. And I think that was the most upsetting thing to me was that I didn’t knew. ’Cause I always knew, and I always brought him back when things were starting to take a turn. But this time I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tell you what led him to do it. What was going on in his life? I have no idea, no clue.
Just the demon of addiction.
It is, and a lot of people don’t understand it. People are so cruel. I try not to feed into it, but I read so many awful things on the internet. And it’s just like people don’t understand it. And if they can learn anything from this, it’s that it is a sickness. And he didn’t do this on purpose. And he would have never ever put himself in this situation if he knew this was going to happen. I mean, you and I can say, “Of course something like this can happen.” But we’re not addicts. If I can let anybody know and learn from this, that’s what I want to do. ’Cause people don’t get it, and it’s sad ’cause so many people are having their lives taken by it.
There should be a lot more compassion.
Right. I guess I can kind of understand, but they’re just so close-minded. They’re like, “Oh, typical rock star who has money and fame and a wife and a child on the way. Why would you do something like this?” If he could control it, he would. I’ve had talks with him over the years, and he just wanted to be done with it. But it’s a life-long disease, that even if he stays clean for the rest of his life, he’d still have the disease. I mean, it was a full-time job for him. He had to completely rearrange his life and it’s hard. It’s really hard. And people just don’t want to get it. They’re close-minded, and they can just fuck off in my book.
How are you going to teach her about her dad, how he was and his music?
Oh geez, well, that’s easy. The good thing about her dad is we have the internet and videos. She can watch him at any point, and I’m having Clown make a video for her, just for her, where it’s dad unmasked and dad masked. I don’t want her to just think of dad as this great musician. I mean, yeah, he was, but he was also a normal human being. I don’t want her to have the pressure of, Well, my dad was huge rock star and that’s all I know. I mean, I’m just going to tell her everything I knew about him, which is all the good. How he made me smile, and how he had a huge heart. “He was so excited for you to come.” And she has a lot to live through with him. I mean, she’s surrounded by him. I have her whole room decorated with pictures of him. She’s going to know who her dad was even though he’s not here. That doesn’t worry me at all.
Do you see him in her?
Yeah, I mean, it’s almost scary. She went through this phase where she looked just like him. Like, identical. Like, Holy crap, kid. You are scaring me. And now she’s just coming into her little character. She’s a really good mixture of both, but she has a lot of features of him. And she has his smile. She has these huge dimples. When she smiles, it’s just like, Yep that’s Paul right there. When she sleeps, she sleeps with her hand on her face. And Paul would do that all the time, and it just cracks me up. It’s just really cool to see so much of her dad in her. It makes me really happy. I mean, it makes me sad he’s not here, but he is. He knows what’s going on, and I’m a strong believer that he’s watching down on all of us and he’s watching his baby girl grow, and it’s a great thing. She’s great. I couldn’t be more happier with her.
Interview by Dan Epstein. Paul Gray photo by Paul Brown.