BACKSTAGE IN A CHILLY MANCHESTER, England, dressing room, Corey Taylor rubs his newly shaven head and takes a long drag off of one of the afternoon's many cigarettes. "I don't know," he says, his eyes narrowing slyly. "Should I tell you about 'ceiling-fan night'?"
The Stone Sour frontman takes another puff, then chuckles to himself. "Yeah," he finally says, blue eyes twinkling mischievously. "Let me tell you about 'ceiling-fan night.'" To millions of Slipknot fans around the world, Corey Taylor is #8, the dead-skin-mask-wearing singer who serves as the emotive vocal focal point for the 'Knot's goat-wrenching brand of sonic chaos. To Stone Sour's smaller — but equally intense and steadily growing — fan base, Corey Taylor is a down-to-earth rock-and-roll performer who attacks the stage with a Rollins-like ferocity, yet can also hush the crowd with a tender acoustic ballad. But to a certain segment of the Des Moines, Iowa, community where he grew up, Corey Taylor will always be known as "Ceiling-Fan Guy."
The nickname, it seems, stems from a notorious party that took place one memorably debauched weekend back in the mid-Nineties, when Taylor and about 200 other misfit Des Moines teens invaded the mansion of a wealthy friend whose parents were out of town. Already thoroughly wasted on Jägermeister and cheap beer, Taylor found himself propositioned by two girls, who invited him upstairs for a ménage-a-trois.
"So let me set the scene for you," offers Taylor, recalling the incident with obvious relish. "We're up in this bedroom. I have two thighs on my face, and a girl on my crotch. They're making out, and it kicks ass. Life is great, right? All of a sudden, my best friend Denny Harvey and a posse of about 30 guys bum-rush the bedroom door. The girls immediately dive under the covers, but me being me, I don't give a fuck. I jump out of bed, take the condom off and throw it at the crowd. They're all like, 'Augh!'"
Standing on the bed and sizing up the crowd of uninvited revelers, Taylor decided that the situation called for nothing less than a really grand gesture. "I'm gonna bounce off the bed and stagedive into the crowd — and basically just shove everyone out of the room," he recalls thinking.
Unfortunately, in his still-inebriated state, Taylor failed to notice the ceiling fan whirring powerfully above the bed. Before you can say "Vic Morrow," the fan's hefty blades had smacked him three times across the face, leaving him dazed on the floor with two bloody facial gashes, two black eyes and a bruise on the tip of his nose.
"I'm laying on my back going, Fuck, what happened? and the whole room is screaming with laughter," he remembers. "The thing that sucked was I had to play a show the next day, and most of the people who were there were at the party. The ongoing joke for years afterwards was, 'Oh, Corey, be careful, there's a ceiling fan in here!' And I would just go, 'Ah, if only you knew,'" he laughs. "Because two days later, I finished that threesome!"
While it's just one of several dozen colorful and hilarious stories from his misspent youth, "ceiling-fan night" is perhaps the archetypal Corey Taylor tale. Not only does it contain booze, sex and reckless abandon — recurring themes in quite a few of Taylor's personal adventures from the past two decades — but it also conveys the unmistakable impression of a man who was born to perform. Whether standing naked in front of a doorway full of gawkers or rocking out in front of thousands of screaming kids, Taylor has always been the consummate showman.
"I'm loud. I'm boisterous," he admits. "I want people to have a good time when they're with me. I love that, you know?"
The element of persistence in the story — taking the stage despite a freshly mutilated face; seeing his first threesome through to its, er, logical conclusion — is also instructive. Though he's blessed with undeniable talent, Taylor's stubborn refusal to admit defeat under any circumstances has probably been as important to his success as his impressive performing, songwriting or vocal abilities. It's a trait that's helped him survive an unstable and impoverished childhood, a deeply troubled adolescence marked by drug abuse, suicide attempts and homelessness, and the soul-crushing aspects of the music industry. "I was always the kid who saw more on the horizon than what was in front of me," is how he puts it.
Rags-to-riches stories have long been a showbiz cliché, of course, but Taylor has put his own spin on the tale by achieving success with two vastly different bands, more or less at the same time. Viewed by many as a Slipknot side project upon the release of their self-titled 2002 debut, Stone Sour — whose membership also includes Slipknot guitarist Jim Root, guitarist Josh Rand, bassist Sean Economaki and drummer Roy Mayorga (who joined the band in 2006, when Joel Ekman left to spend more time with his family) — have long since established themselves as a potent musical and commercial force. The band's hotly anticipated second release, Come What(ever) May, debuted in the Billboard Top 5 when it was released last August; the contemplative "Through Glass," the album's lead-off single, stayed at the top of the Modern Rock chart for seven weeks. With U.S. sales already past the 500,000 mark, Come What(ever) May continues to gather steam at home and abroad, thanks in part to the new single, "Sillyworld," and the politically charged video that accompanies it.
"People aren't looking at it as a 'side project' anymore," enthuses Taylor. "Nobody's been yelling for 'Duality' on this tour."
By now, most fans know that Stone Sour existed years before Slipknot were formed, and that 'Knot founders Joey Jordison, Paul Gray and Shawn "Clown" Crahan cherry- picked Taylor (and later Root) from Stone Sour in the late Nineties, as part of their mission to pack their band's lineup with the best players and performers in the Des Moines area. Less well known is how Stone Sour have provided Taylor with direction, stability and fellowship at times in his life when he was deeply in need of all three.
"Slipknot is like a family reunion — it's good to see those people, but you can't wait to get away from them," Taylor explains. "It's the tension between the nine of us that helps us make the music. Because we don't get along, and I'll be the first to fucking admit it. People keep wanting me to candy-coat it like we're some fucking fraternity that lives together when we're at home. That's not what happens. We love each other but we also stay the fuck away from each other, you know?
"Stone Sour is such the antithesis of Slipknot," he continues. "We love hanging out together. If tension fuels Slipknot, cohesiveness is what fuels the creativity in this band, and it's been like that since day one."
It doesn't take a shrink to recognize that Corey Taylor experienced little in the way of cohesiveness or stability during his formative years. His father was already out of the picture by December 8th, 1973, when Corey was born at what he describes as "the ghetto hospital in Des Moines." Poor and with little in the way of job prospects, Corey's mother essentially raised him and his younger sister on the road. "I had more backseats than bedrooms, let's put it that way," says Taylor. "By the time I was 15, I'd already lived in 25 states."
The family somehow always ended up moving back to Iowa, but the constant sense of dislocation left a deep impression on young Corey's psyche. In 1983, when he was 9, his mom and her then-boyfriend packed the kids and all their belongings into two cars and briefly relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "They were trying to get jobs as security guards at Burt Reynolds' ranch," Taylor explains. "One of the cars broke down somewhere in Georgia, so we had to put everyone in the other car. Three-fourths of my possessions and three-fourths of my sister's possessions got left in the car by the side of the road. I never saw any of it again."
The age of 9 was also when Taylor was bitten by the performance bug for the first time, thanks to an impromptu concert at his cousin's house. "My cousin was about four or five years older than I was," he remembers. "We were listening to Journey, the Frontiers album, and I started singing along with 'Separate Ways.' My cousin freaks out, calls all the family into the living room, stands me in a corner, and goes, 'Corey's going to sing for everybody!' I was stunned. I must have been crimson, you know? But she dropped the needle on the record, I stood in that corner, and I sang every fucking note of 'Separate Ways.' It was the first song I ever sang to an audience. They hooted and hollered, and it left an impression on me."
Taylor's early musical education involved stints playing baritone and tuba in school band — "I've got five or six blue ribbons for playing tuba," he says proudly — but it didn't last. "By ninth grade I was into drugs," he explains, "and I was teaching myself the guitar, because I wanted to write songs, and I just could not write the songs I wanted to write on a fucking tuba. It was really hard to teach myself guitar, because I didn't know anything about chords. I would tune the guitar to an open chord, and I'd just one-finger that shit. That's how I started writing songs. And then the drugs got worse, and I kind of put that away."
By now, Taylor was living with his mother in a trailer park outside of Waterloo, Iowa, about a hundred miles from Des Moines. The situation was less than idyllic. "The River Forest Trailer Park — I can remember living in four different trailers in that place," he says. "It was right next to a dike by the river, and there was a forest, and me and my friends would go back there and just get ripped. At a place like that, there's only two things to do, really: You take drugs, and you fuck. That's where I learned the 'positive' side of chugging Robitussin. That's where I learned how to get more coke for less money. Crank was just starting, back in those days, and I was a total speed freak and really into coke.
"I remember waking up one morning in a dumpster," he continues. "This is all conjecture on my part, because I lost a couple of days, but I think I OD'd at a party. And instead of taking me to the hospital, they took me somewhere and dumped me in a trash can, thinking I was dead. So I come to, I've got no shoes on, I've got no T-shirt, I've got blood on my face. I'm 12 miles from my house, and I proceeded to walk from there. The whole way home, I was like, I've gotta get outta here. I was 15."
Immediately following his ninth-grade year in Waterloo, Taylor moved into his grandmother's house in Des Moines. He spent the summer quitting cocaine cold turkey and renewing his acquaintance with the guitar. Though he was certainly happier in Des Moines than he'd been anywhere else — "I've always been drawn there, and I've always felt peace there" — he consistently butted heads with his equally strong-willed grandmother, who threw him out of the house on several occasions. "I spent a lot of time on the streets," he says. "I remember walking up and down Park Avenue on the south side of Des Moines, with a trash bag full of clothes and a 20-ouncer of Mountain Dew and a cigarette, just killing enough time until I could beg a floor to squat on from a friend. I still tried to go to school on top of that, but because my life was so gnarly, I just couldn't get it together."
It was during this period that Taylor met Sean Economaki. Though their initial encounter was tense — Taylor was dating a girl who had previously gone out with Economaki — the two eventually became extremely close, bonding over their shared love of music. "Sean played guitar and wrote songs, and he introduced me to the world of four-track recording," says Taylor. The two jammed for a while in a band called Bloodfest, then drifted apart as Taylor's life once again began to lose focus. "I had dropped out of high school by then and was spending a lot of time with some gnarly people," he explains. "I was drinking a lot, just going out and doing whatever."
About a year later, Economaki made an unexpected visit to Taylor's house. "He and his friend Todd Smith were putting a band together, and they had everybody but a singer, and Sean thought of me," says Taylor. "If it hadn't been for that, man, I don't know how long it would have taken me to get into music. Now that I think about it, Sean was really the catalyst for me being where I am today."
Their band, an Eighties-style pop-metal outfit called Kriminal Mischief, also featured Josh Rand on bass. Kriminal Mischief didn't last, but Economaki, Rand and Taylor developed a deep musical and personal bond that remains in place to this day. Then Taylor was introduced to Denny Harvey, another homeless kid with musical ambitions. "Denny and I sat down and talked forever that night," Taylor recalls. "He was jamming with Joel [Ekman, who would become Stone Sour's drummer] and needed a singer. I sat down with an acoustic guitar and played them some of the stuff that I'd written, and they were just fuckin' blown away. I was like, 'Really? You really like this?'
"I started hanging out with that whole crew and felt I nally found a family — the people that I'd been looking for. The mifits of the misfits. The creative fuckers — the people who didn't think in two dimensions. It literally saved me. And that was really the catalyst for what became Stone Sour."
Named for a repulsive cocktail of whisky, orange juice and sour mix, Stone Sour went through a number of lineup permutations (most of them including Ekman and Economaki) between 1992 and 1997, when — frustrated by the band's lack of success beyond the Des Moines club scene — Taylor finally left to join Slipknot. But when Slipknot finished their Iowa tour in 2002, a reconstituted Stone Sour began to take shape. "I was on the verge of quitting Slipknot, because it just wasn't fun," Taylor explains. "I was so miserable, and there were so many people working for us that were fucking us in the ass. It just wasn't worth it anymore." Desperate to find some musical solace, Taylor decided to form a band with Rand. Though initially based around a four-track project they'd been doing over the years called Superego, the band slowly assumed a more familiar sound and feel as Ekman, Economaki and Root all eventually joined up. When Superego and two other prospective band names turned out to be already taken, Taylor took it as a sign. "I just called everybody up and said, 'Look, call a spade a spade — this is fucking Stone Sour, OK?
"It's kind of strange," he reflects, "because the whole reason that I joined Slipknot in the first place was the same reason I came back to Stone Sour — it was because I wanted to do something different. I think there's definitely an expectation now with Slipknot. It's maybe a little more broad because of [Slipknot's 2004 album] Vol. 3, but it's still very much a metal band. With this band, we kind of came out of the gate and said, 'We're going to be diverse. We're going to do whatever the fuck we want.'"
Though he says he feels no conflict fronting the two bands, it's clear that Taylor is a happier man when he's fronting Stone Sour. Without his mask and coveralls, Taylor is free to go out every night and soak up the adulation of his audience, and free to give it right back, as well.
"I love impromptu, I love extemporaneous, I love spontaneous. That's why I interact with the crowd as much as I do," he says. "I talk shit to them, I joke with them. I humanize myself. In Slipknot, I've caught some shit from other guys in the band sometimes for being too funny onstage. With this band, I can be myself and just do my thing, which is why I fucking love it."
It's nearly time to start warming up for Stone Sour's Manchester show, so Taylor stubs out his cigarette and takes a hearty swig of cold water. "It's been a fucking weird life so far," he laughs. "I've been all over the place, I've seen so many fucking things, I've done so many things. I've loved and hated so many people ... And there's still so much I want to do. I feel like I have to continue to strive for everything and fight for everything and just leave my mark. I want to make music that stands the test of time.
"I go back to Waterloo, and it's the same fucking people there, just 20 years older," he continues. "And that's sad to me, because they didn't get out. They didn't fucking make it. I made it. It's something that drives me to never settle for where I'm at, to always be looking for new ground to break, new ground to conquer. I grew up in a trailer park eating mayonnaise sandwiches, and I'm still hungry. I don't think I'll ever not be hungry."
UPDATE: In April 2017, we asked Corey Taylor to look back on this cover story and share his thoughts 10 years later: "I wasn't sure how people were going to take [the story], you know?" he said. "Where it was just me on my own, but it seemed like the interest was there. I think that was one of the first times that I had done a solo piece that was more about me than anything else. So I was also self-conscious about coming off as that stuffy, asshole singer who just wanted to talk about himself." He laughed. "I've never had a problem talking about other shit, but when it comes to talking about things that are Corey-centric, I tend to get a little weird."