May 2001: A Revolver reporter is being led through the catacombs of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the nine members of Slipknot have convened to shoot their cameo appearance in John McTiernan's remake of the 1970s sci-fi classic Rollerball. The reporter has never previously met or spoken to the masked metal assault unit from Des Moines, Iowa, but he's filled with a bit of trepidation; after all, since the release of 1999's Slipknot, the band has developed a reputation for being sullen and difficult, if not downright nasty, with members of the press.
So when the reporter is introduced to 'Knot bassist Paul Gray, he's more than a little taken aback. Instead of the "Pig" mask he's typically pictured in, Gray's face is covered with a wide-eyed smile, like that of a kid who can't wait to meet Santa Clause. And instead of a stream of attitudinous invective, Gray greets the reporter with a hearty handshake and a gregarious cry of, "Hey, do you like hockey?"
Gray, as it turns out, is a massive hockey fan, and he proceeds to excitedly talk the reporter's ear off about how much he loves the sport, and how geeked he is to be filming in the home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild. Within five minutes, he singlehandedly obliterates all of the reporter's preconceived notions about who, and what, Slipknot are.
"Oh man, that's totally Paul," laughs Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor, when listening to the reporter's story nine years later. "He was always just one of those dudes that you could just sit down and talk to. I mean, he was so fucking open and ready to bro down."
"Yeah, he loved hockey," seconds drummer Joey Jordison. "He knew everything about it. It warms my heart to hear that story — that rules!"
From 1995, when he first founded the band with percussionist/conceptualist Shawn "Clown" Crahan, to May 24, 2010 — when his career and life were ended by an accidental overdose of morphine and fentanyl — Gray was the warm, beating heart of Slipknot, an immensely talented musician whose limitless enthusiasm anchored the often-fractious band, just like his bass playing and songwriting drove their dark and aggressive music. His passing left a gaping hole in the group, and as well as in the lives of those who knew and loved him, including Gray's widow Brenna, who was six months pregnant with their daughter October at the time of his passing.
While Gray's untimely death was indeed tragic, his existence was far from it. For this exclusive Revolver feature, Taylor, Jordison, Crahan, Brenna Gray, and 'Knot percussionist Chris Fehn — none of whom have gone on record at length about Gray since he passed — look back at his life, his music, and his legacy.
REVOLVER What did Paul Gray mean to Slipknot?
COREY TAYLOR He was the heart and soul of the band. He really was. He was a bigger part than anyone realizes. He was kind of like the "shadow chancellor," you know what I'm saying? He was the guy in the background; he wasn't the guy who was vying for all the attention. He really had such a fucking passion for music; it really got you excited. When you heard stuff that he wrote, you were like, "Holy shit, man, where the fuck is this coming from?" It was beautiful; it was brutal and aggressive. And yet it was as melodic as shit. He was a fucking badass player, but he didn't need to show it off. He would go for the strength of the music or the strength of the song.
CHRIS FEHN He was so metal [laughs]. That's how I was growing up, and a lot of us were. The heavier the better — if the album cover was evil, I bought it, and he was that way, too. He had such a huge knowledge of bands and members of bands, which obviously shaped Slipknot in a way. He had a huge mental catalogue of stuff I've never even heard of. And I really loved that about him.
TAYLOR Paul was very much a child of the early thrash and the early American hardcore. I mean, he was originally from California, so he growing up, he got to see those shows. He got to see fucking Suicidal Tendencies playing in a friend's garage; he got to see Slayer in the clubs; he got to see fucking all these bands, man, Minor Threat, Black Flag … But musically, I couldn't tell you a dude who went further beyond his influences than Paul. The stuff that he would write was so…I never throw the word "innovative" around, but he was so innovative when it came to music.
SHAWN CRAHAN I remember one day, shortly after he and I started Slipknot, he was like, "You know, you're not really into all this stuff that I listen to and whatever, but I got something for you." So he puts in a tape, and it's ["Killing in the Name"] by Rage Against the Machine, and he puts it right to the part that's like, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" At that time I hadn't been exposed to anything like that; I didn't know music could do that. I was still stuck on Van Halen and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. But when he did that, he unlocked my art all the way. He turned the key, and then I was able to hang with where he was going with music. Our music was always based around getting the anger out, and getting salvation out of playing music. I wouldn't be who I am right now as an artist, unless he would've helped me unlock who I was. He did that for me, and I am so grateful.
JOEY JORDISON Paul played with his heart. That's his biggest strength. Even if he was sick or ill or something, he went out full force. And every time we went onstage, we would give each the horns before I would count off "(Sic)" or "Surfacing" or "People=Shit," or any of those songs … We looked each other in the eyes every time. That's one of the fondest memories I have of him. It's, like, looking in his eyes, it was pretty much him giving me the cue to count the song off. 'Cause I won't count the song off till I look into Paul's eyes.
BRENNA GRAY Paul wrote all the time. Joey and him would get together before anyone else would get together, and — unfortunately for me — that happened in our basement. [Laughs] They would get together and start writing, and things were flying off my mantle, and Grammys breaking… But he always had a bass or a guitar in his hand at every time of day. There was never a point of time where he wasn't writing.
JORDISON He was very determined, and he knew exactly what he wanted. We would argue about certain parts — "No, it should be this way!" "No, fuck you, it needs to be this way!" And then every time, once we got it right, we knew it was right. We never settled for shit; it was never "good enough." I used to sit and watch that guy sit and play the same goddamn thing, the same riff, for, like, 30 minutes to 40 minutes, until he was sure it was right. It pissed me off at the time, but looking back I smile about it.
What did Slipknot mean to Paul?
TAYLOR He would eat and breathe Slipknot, 24/7. He was so fucking proud of this band. He was always the guy who could get us all together. I mean, he was the glue. He was able to cut through the bullshit and talk to somebody, without worrying about if someone was going to get fucking butt hurt or not.
FEHN It was the most important thing to him in his life, definitely. When we were off tour, he missed it the most, I think. He was Slipknot. I don't think he understood not doing it. I think that guy could've toured every day his whole life. He was just that that emotionally invested. He'd fight for the band, and if someone was getting a little wussy about, he'd let you know.
JORDISON Even when a tour was getting bad, he always made it happier. Even if he was exhausted or tired, you'd never know it because he always brought a smile on everyone's face. Every time. We would be like, "Oh man, we're exhausted, and we've got to rock in about an hour and a half … Let's go see Paul!" [Laughs]
BRENNA To be honest with you, he listened a lot to himself. He would get into his car, or my car, and he would have Slipknot in [the CD player]. It was kind of funny, that was the big joke — but he was just so excited and so proud of his music. I never heard him yell or scream or get mad [at anyone in the band]. I mean, as frustrating as it can be on tour, he was always just laidback and happy to be there. Happy to be with his brothers, and just happy to be making music.
CRAHAN When we would get together, it seemed like the rest of us had reservations, and we'd have all these problems. But Paul Gray would just be ear-to-ear grin like, "We're back together and it's on! The family's back together!"
What's a song that really sums up Paul's contribution to Slipknot?
TAYLOR The first time I heard "Vermillion," I had fucking chills. That was really the song that got me excited about Vol. 3 — and this is, like, hearing it in just demo form, with him and Joey jamming. It made me go, This could go very well. This could be something very, very special.
CRAHAN When he wrote "Vermillion," you know, you felt his pain. You felt struggle, you felt hard times. And you couldn't help but just be floored — like, this is so much pain and so much love in just one little area. That really did it for me.
JORDISON "Gehenna" [off all All Hope is Gone]. That's one song that I wrote with him, but I didn't write any music in that song, I just played drums. He wrote that whole song, and there was such an essence about it that was so odd; the way his eyes were looking at his guitar, and the way he was writing it when we were playing together, it was almost scary. I was speechless watching him write this song. He had something going on in his mind, and I was like, "OK, I need to back off — I can't touch this." And if you listen to that song, you can tell that there's heartfelt pain in that.
FEHN All [Slipknot] music kind of means something to me in different ways, but there's a record by someone else that always reminds me of him. We were in Europe on our first tour there, and we played every shithole you could imagine. We weren't making any money, it was a long way from home, it was a long tour; it finally just got really dark for me and I was so sad, and he knew it. And he came into the bus one night and could tell I was bummed out. I didn't want to show any weakness — I didn't want anybody to think I couldn't hack it — but he knew. "Have you ever heard of the band Portishead?" he asked me. And I was like, "No." "Sit down with me and listen to this with me," he said, and we did. And he saved my sanity, without a doubt, just by doing that. That's how intuitive and cool he was. He just knew that that's what I needed.
Paul had a pretty painful and tumultuous childhood. How much of that impacted his life and his work?
BRENNA I think that was the cause of the majority 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. 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 to talk about it 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. I wish there was more I could've done. I tried to get him into counseling. But when they're not ready to do that, you can't push somebody. 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.
TAYLOR Yeah, we would talk about it. But it was something that was … unless you knew the back-story, he wasn't gonna bring it up too much. He was definitely a guy who had his eyes more on the path in front of him than what was behind him. I mean, he was a guy who went through some serious shit. And for him to be that optimistic and that positive was … it was fucking enlightening. I didn't have the best of childhoods either, and you run the risk of dwelling in that a lot. And he just refused to do that, especially when he was around other people; he would point his eyes in the direction of what was going to be, instead of what already happened. You knew there was darkness in his past, but he wasn't going to let it fuck with his sunshine. That was one of his biggest strengths. He was just so fucking … wide open. And those kinds of people only come around so often.
CRAHAN He grew up in Venice Beach, in California, on the street. He was homeless, struggled with stuff. And I was this spoiled rotten kid, went to private school … but when we met, it was like we were the exact same people but from completely different backgrounds. It was like magic, you know, and we got really close really fast. Paul recognized my art, and I recognized his music. And he was developing a style that spoke to my anger and my angst and to where I was in my life, which was that I needed to get out, and I needed to do something. And his whole life was building up to getting out and removing himself from his heartache.
Would Paul want Slipknot to continue without him?
TAYLOR I think so. It's a hard question. The only appropriate answer is, of course, he'd want it to go on. But at the same time, I know Paul, and he would want to be in it. I can see us playing shows, but the future of writing music is still foggy for me because of what a huge fucking contributor he was. It won't sound the same, so, to me, it won't feel the same. So will the band play again? For him, yes, in his spirit. But will we make new music together? I don't know yet. I don't know if I'm ready to do that yet. I'm still dealing with these memories. I'm still dealing with this loss. It's a fucking huge loss for me. I'm doing my best, but…it's hard.
FEHN I've gone back and forth with that in my mind. But I think he knows how much it means to fans and how important we are to a lot of people. He would be pissed off to know that we broke up because of him. [Laughs] Somehow, he would do everything in the spiritual world to get us back together, whatever that would be.
CRAHAN Everything in my life happens for a reason, and as weird as it might sound, the band will go on because of Paul Gray. That's how powerful of a person he was. We'll get back together because of Paul Gray. And we'll continue to be Slipknot because of him; we're going to continue to be a family for him. But there's no replacing him. There's no bringing back what he contributed to the band. It will never be the same without him.
What is Paul's legacy?
TAYLOR He was one of the only original people that I've ever had the privilege of knowing, of working with, of being his friend. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about and I don't fuckin' miss him like crazy. It's like Hunter S Thompson said: He was "one of god's own prototypes." He was just too real sometimes. And the way that he could make a fucking room light up is rare. The beautiful thing is, his daughter October has that quality. She's only a couple months old, but there are moments where she looks just like her father, and it's the most beautiful fucking thing I've ever seen. So that's the legacy. One of the legacies. He was the most gifted composer of songs I'd ever heard. He was the most beautiful person to be around, especially if he was in a good mood. [Laughs] His life was so big that he passed a lot of it on to his daughter. And it's going to be wonderful to see that come out of her, to see him in her again.
BRENNA He left the best gift anybody could have ever left me. I mean, I have this amazing daughter that is such a huge part of him, and I couldn't be more grateful. And the tragic events that have passed, yeah, it's awful and horrible and I'm just very sad about it. But I look at her and I see him. That's just a really, really good feeling. And I don't want people to judge him for the mistake that he made. He wasn't just a drug addict. That was a little part of his life he couldn't overcome. He was a great guy, a great musician, a great husband, a great friend, a great brother, a great son. And I just want people to know that. I don't want people to look at him and be like, "Oh god, typical drug addict." If people can learn anything from this, it's that addiction is a sickness. We talked about it many times, and he just wanted to be done with it. But it's a lifelong disease; even if he stayed clean for the rest of his life, he'd still have the disease. I've been working with the organization MusicCares, and and if they can get my story out there, as hard as it is to tell…if one person can save their life with my husband losing his, that's what matters.
JORDISON My friends are what matters, and I've lost my best friend. But the thing is, he's still sitting with me right now. And I feel him every day, and I talk to him every day. I just want to say thanks to all the Slipknot fans for the support of our bands, and Paul and his daughter and Brenna. Thank you for all your patience and support. But the thing is, everyone can put a smile on their face, because every song you hear from Slipknot, he's right there with you. He's right there at all times.
CRAHAN I want to say in print: Paul Gray, I love you, and I miss you. If there was no Paul Gray, there would be no Slipknot. He worked hard and he struggled, but he worked through it and he found enough love and enough passion in his life to absolutely 100-percent pull himself out of whatever gutter he was in. He is proof to kids everywhere: No matter how much you struggle, no matter what happens to your parents, no matter if you live on the street, or in the gutter, or you have no money, or you were in a gang and you had to get out, or this or that, it makes no difference. You can fucking make it, and you can make something known, something like Slipknot. He's living proof of that.