SID WILSON and ROSS ROBINSON on revisiting intensity of early SLIPKNOT with new band SWOLLEN TEETH | Revolver

SID WILSON and ROSS ROBINSON on revisiting intensity of early SLIPKNOT with new band SWOLLEN TEETH

'Knot DJ and "Godfather of Nu-Metal" explain involvement with mysterious nu-core upstarts
swollen teeth 2023 PROMO IG, Instagram @swollenteeth
courtesy of Instagram @swollenteeth

Slipknot DJ Sid Wilson and producer Ross Robinson are two of nu-metal's chief architects. Wilson injected Slipknot's music with scritch-scratching samples and skittering jungle beats, and quickly earned a reputation as the madest madman onstage during the band's scorched-earth live shows. Robinson was the guy responsible for wrangling those nine crazy Iowans together in the studio to channel all their anger, chaos, pain and passion into Slipknot's groundbreaking first two albums, Slipknot and Iowa. Oh yeah, and he also produced Korn's first two albums and Sepultura's Roots, among other genre-defining records.

So when those two guys are both so utterly amazed by a new band that they describe them as uncanny torchbearers of early Slipknot — a band who forever changed the sonic, visual and spiritual DNA of heavy music — then you know you better be paying the fuck attention. That band is Swollen Teeth, a group of four masked, anonymous musicians — Megaa, Sun, Skutch and HOG — who formally announced their existence today (January 25th) with their debut single, "SWOLLENTEETH."

The track is one of five songs on an upcoming self-titled EP (out April 26th) that was produced by Wilson at his gigantic farm studio out in Iowa, intentionally mirroring the iconic Indigo Ranch studio compound in Malibu where Slipknot recorded their first two albums with Robinson behind the boards. "I've been an apprentice to Ross, closely studying this craft," Wilson says of his approach to stepping into the producer's role.

He also serves as a creative director of sorts, giving the band pointed advice on how to present themselves and build up hype before people even get a chance to hear their music. For instance, when the band suggested they dribble out a song to feed prospective fans years before the EP arrived, Wilson instructed Swollen Teeth to do the opposite: "Make them starve for it."

As if the connection between Slipknot and Swollen Teeth couldn't be any tighter, the EP is being released on Blowed Out records, a new label that Robinson's kickstarting with Ghostemane mastermind Eric Whitney and former SideOneDummy Records owner Bill Armstrong.

"When I was involved with Slipknot, the version of the band back then is very similar to what this is," Robinson says of Swollen Teeth's energy. "My favorite version. It rings hunger, like the rawness of the beginning of Slipknot. It's just very, very hungry."

While this new song is the first interaction most people will have with Swollen Teeth, the band have actually been around, humming just beneath the surface, for several years. Despite not releasing any music, the cryptic collective have played several live shows, and eagle-eyed Slipknot sleuths have seen enough to speculate that Swollen Teeth is actually a side project of Wilson's.

That may or may not be the case — we can't say for sure. So far, the band are refusing to reveal their identities or even officially speak a single word aloud about their music or their mission. Instead, Wilson and Robinson (who also contributed a few minor production tweaks to the EP) stepped forward to sing the band's praises and tell the world what they're all about.

Throughout an extensive conversation, the two long-time friends spoke about the rigorous "bootcamp" Wilson put them through in the studio, why they're so intensely reminiscent of old-school Slipknot, Robinson's new label venture, and much more.

ross robinson PROMO 2023, Becky DiGiglio
Ross Robinson and friend
photograph by Becky DiGiglio

I just found these guys on Instagram. I'm a hound dog for music, and waves. I just study everything that everyone's doing. I check out what the waves are, and I do my own equations by adding and multiplying all these different groups and sounds together, so that I can see ahead of the curve and see what the next thing is going to happen. Because I have a really good knack for seeing what the evolution of things is going to be.

That being said, I've never seen what the next evolution of Slipknot was going to be. I hadn't seen another metal band that really got it, who understood what needed to be done to get a vibe and a product like what we had when we first came out.

And when I came across these guys, it was like a snake bit me. I could feel it running through my veins and I was like, What the fuck is this? It was a mix of emotions. There was excitement, but there was also jealousy in there. Like, who are these guys, and what gives them the right? There was excitement, too. Like, whoa, I'm going to hear something new and different.

So then I sent something like, "What you're doing? I got an eye on you." And then we just started talking back and forth. I started talking with Megaa a lot.

Yeah, he's a singer.

ROSS ROBINSON He's the high singer.

WILSON He's the leader of the band and he's the DJ. So that was also really appealing to me. Me being a DJ in a nine-piece metal band, and doing everything I can throughout our career to make sure people knew there was a DJ in the band. [In Swollen Teeth], the singer has his turntables in the middle of the stage. He's the center of attention. I was like, Wow, this is crazy.

So yeah, I just kept helping develop them, giving them pointers and things they needed to do. And it finally got to the point where I was like, "Now you guys are ready."

One thing I don't like is when people, for lack of a better way to describe it, blow their wad. Especially with the attention span of people these days. So it's like, how do you tease them, but then keep them interested over a long period of time? Which was something that [Slipknot was] really good at by using our website.

Obviously things are different now with social media, but back in the day when Flash was first hitting the internet, we had the most advanced Flash website you could find. Tons of Easter eggs, but you couldn't listen to any of the music. There were just all these little teasers, and images of the band and all this stuff.

By the time we actually got out and started playing shows, people were just so hungry to see what was going on. And these were the things that I saw [Swollen Teeth] doing. So it sparked that old flame inside of me. I watched them for a minute to make sure it wasn't just a fluke or something. And I was like, "No, these guys really get it." I got really excited about it. They came out to ... I got a farm, it's like a 120-acre farm. I call it the School of Ross Bootcamp.

Swollen Teeth band 2023 UNCROPPED, Hallway
Swollen Teeth
photograph by Hallway

 Kind of. Musical pushups, for sure. It's funny you said that. After we got what songs we wanted to work on, I had them start playing one over and over again. And I just had a flag and and a digital tablet. And every time there was something I didn't like or I wanted to change, I'd hold the flag up in the air and they'd all have to stop playing.

And then a lot of the time I'd just say, "Again, from the beginning." So they had no idea what I was thinking. I'd make them play it over and over again like that, until they'd finally, eventually, get to a certain spot and I'd have 10 changes for them.

So it just got to the point where they had to play the song from beginning to end three times in a row, with all the new changes, before I'd let them move onto the next song. We did that with all the songs and kept adding a song. So eventually they had to go through all the songs and play them all three times in a row. If there was one little mistake, they had to start over.

By the time we got done with pre-production, it was such a part of them and they were just so ravenous. They were animals, you know what I mean? They were just such a mix of emotions — upset, but also thirsty for it to keep evolving. 

And at School of Ross Bootcamp, it's straight-up what [Slipknot] had to go through. And I didn't even put them through it at the level that Ross put us through. So yeah, all of that happened. We got done recording everything, and I got rough mixes done. And then Ross came to Des Moines.

ROBINSON Yeah, I came out there for Joey [Jordison, late Slipknot drummer]'s remembrance. And…

sid wilson new mask CROP, Twitter @slipknot
Sid Wilson, in Slipknot, 2022
courtesy of Twitter @slipknot

Yeah, it was heavy. And so Sid showed me where he did the drums in the corner of the indoor pool, and has this incredible echo chamber. And then the room where he did the vocals, and where he did guitars, and talking about the stories of the songs and what he was having them do. It was so passionate.

The band, Sid, and the guys helping record, they were all on their own island without knowing what's going to happen. It was so reminiscent to Indigo Ranch with the original Slipknot dudes, where the contract wasn't signed yet. They came out with no money. They're like, "Fuck it. We want to record." I'm like, "Come on out."

People may not know this about Sid, but out of all the dudes I've recorded vocals [for] in that band, Sid was the high bar of emotion and openness. Actually, when he did the vocals for "People = Shit" I was like, Oh, we need to re-record all the vocals on the album because the bar was raised.

Then throughout the time we were together during those early Slipknot records, Sid was so inquisitive. I would need to be in the control room, here or there, and he would capture me and just ask me questions. "Then what? Why?" And I was just like, "Oh my God, I need to get away because I need to go over here," but he was so passionate.

We were all meant to be together. It was obvious. Then with the Joey thing, coming out to Des Moines and seeing Sid's place, and it's like, Fuck man. It was very similar to Indigo Ranch. Just the vibe, the insects, everything was just incredible. Isolation. Total isolation.

Sid played the [Swollen Teeth] rough mixes for me, and I was sitting there out on the porch and I'm like, "Oh my God, I'm getting chills in my body." I was tired, and we were hanging, and it was emotional, and the chills happened. The fire was there. I'm just like, Oh, fuck.

I was recording with Ghostmane, and his DJ gave him an MP3 of a band. He came in the next day and said, "Ah, Ross, you should do this band," and he played it, and I was like, "Oh, fuck." This was a different band, this band called Omerta. I called my friend Bill Armstrong, and he just sold SideOneDummy. We're really good friends, and the flow is insane.

I go, "Dude, let's put this out." He goes, "Fuck yeah." The next day, I come into the studio, I go to Eric of Ghostemane. I go, "Dude, do you want to start a label with us? My friend Bill is down." He's like, "Oh my god, that's a box I've always wanted to check. Let's fucking do it." Bill comes in, and we have a meeting that just went completely incredible.

We were setting up a label for Omerta, but all our distribution wasn't totally set up yet. We're like, "Well, what should we call the label?" And Eric goes, "Well, kids describe my sound as 'blowed out.'" I'm like, "That's it." So the label's called Blowed Out.

WILSON Like a blowed out speaker

ROBINSON Yeah, it's improper English, it's childish, it's fucked up. It's perfect for me. I love it.

So I'm back to Des Moines with Sid on the porch. I'm like, "Alright, I'm going to play this for Bill and Eric." Basically, we finally get it together, everybody hears it, and we're just like, "Fuck yeah, let's do it." Then the band wanted to self-release, just throw it on the internet with no label or anything. I'm like, "Dude, let's put it on Blowed Out."

WILSON Because we were ready to rock no matter what happened. I told [Swollen Teeth], "I'm going to produce you guys no matter what. Don't worry about it. Just if you can get here, I'll take care of the rest." It's similar to what Ross did with us because nobody wanted to fuck with us. Nobody wanted us.

ROBINSON Isn't that crazy?

WILSON None of the labels wanted us. Roadrunner didn't even want us. It was crazy. People did not want to mess with us. They said we're too dangerous and a risk and all this stuff, and I was like, "Well, I'm producing them no matter what. I don't care." Similar type of shit.

ROBINSON It's so similar. Sid sent me the files and I comped a bunch of different vocal tracks that were in the takes and comped some guitar stuff and did some sonic shit to whatevers.

WILSON The magic on it.

ROBINSON Just without touching the integrity of it.

WILSON That's the other thing. We always have to be a fan of what we're doing. It's not about a paycheck. It's not about finding the next thing. It's the fact that we feel something when we listen to it. It moves us.

ROBINSON The Ross, Sid, Eric, Bill vibe that we have together and the bands, the passion is God. It's just fucking passion, and with Swollen Teeth, the masks, and with Sid doing it, being a mask guy and me being a supporter of that ... I found that it's the opposite of identity and personalities. That's why Sid and I are doing these interviews. Because who fucking cares who the personality is? It's that invisible thing in the music that needs to speak.

There was one thing that happened in Korn that bummed me out. In the beginning, Jonathan [Davis] would never talk between songs and there was such a spooky mystery. Like, what the fuck? He's so ugh, and he's not saying anything. Who? What? I was like, "Oh, yeah. It's fucking so cool, man." Then he started doing like, "Hey everybody, what fuck's going?" I'm like, "No!"

I mean, he's a great frontman. He's great at everything he does, but the mystery, ugh. Give me mystery, man.

WILSON It's always like that in the beginning with those kinds of bands. But Corey never used to say anything until we got out of Des Moines. But before, there would just be sampling and weird things happening.

ROBINSON It's terror. It's full-on terror. [Swollen Teeth] could be a group of Asian girls from South Korea. Are they? They look like guys, but are they from South Korea? Or are they from Iraq? Are they? I don't know. Are they from Pittsburgh? I don't know. You don't get to know.

WILSON That's when the rumors start happening. People are like, "I heard they all live in a little house together in the basement." Do they? I don't know.

ROBINSON I went to see them play in New York and the managers wanted me to sign an NDA.

They just didn't want me to let people know that they weren't South Korean chicks.

WILSON Yeah. Their identities or where they're from.

ROBINSON Any of it. Yeah. I mean, I didn't sign one. Everything was cool, but this is how cool they are. They threw a mask to me, one of those ski mask things, and said, "You have to wear this while we play. We don't want anybody to know that we're connected to anything." I'm just like, "Fuck yeah."

They didn't want a multi-platinum record producer at their show. They wanted a masked dude, which I thought was fucking killer. It was so cool.

WILSON They make everybody do it. The manager, anyone. Anyone that's there that's part of the family has to conceal their identity. They show up and you don't see them until it's time for them to play. They're not even in the dressing room. They literally pull up in an SUV or van all blacked-out. They come up, they got security with them. The security look like a SWAT team and they take them up and they're onstage with them the whole show.

Yes. Especially how they roll in. I got to see Slipknot [when I met] them in Iowa. It was so awesome, but the place was completely slammed and they came in from outside the front and everybody was watching the stage and they came in from behind, punching.

Joey was on Mick's shoulders kicking people in the head. It was so fucking awesome. And with these guys, they have some gnarly, prison-guard-looking dudes with their shit on. And it's got that similar like, Oh shit, is somebody going to die?

WILSON It changes the whole [vibe] when they walk in the room, you feel it. It's like a weighted blanket.

I wouldn't say I've been searching for anyone, but I was definitely waiting for someone to get it right. You know what I mean?

No offense to any other band out there that wear masks and perform ... Just because I like one masked band doesn't mean I'm going to like the other. One of the big things I like about them is there's a lot of groups out there that have things they do, and not to call what some bands do a gimmick, but it's theatric. You know what I mean? They're acting and putting on some kind of thought-out show.

But with these guys, and what was true with us, is that the live show isn't planned. You fall into a rhythm naturally, after however many shows of what your body wants to make you do and how you're being moved by the music, but none of it's planned. We're not like choreographing stuff going, "You need to do this here, or you need to do that there." We just happen to be wearing masks.

ROBINSON The mask is freedom. To be the deepest part of your expression that you wouldn't be able to do otherwise with the facial mask that we were born with, that we've learned to identify. I'm Ross Robinson, I believe this and this and this and this. Where with Slipknot and with Swollen Teeth, that thing is, "I'm nothing. I'm unlimited. I don't believe in anything." Therefore, there's no box.

ROBINSON Well, I had a golden retriever [when I] made Iowa, he passed away, and then six months later I got another golden retriever, Carl. The Iowa dog was my soulmate, and then I get the next golden retriever, Carl, he's my soulmate. They're the same dog, but completely different personalities. I feel like in that golden retriever strain, you know one, you know them all in their special breed.

These guys, especially with Sid's direction and his lifer, ruthless mentality of "Fuck it. I know what I am. I know what I'm here to do. I know what you are" — you can't fail. There's no fail in Sid's cells, and these guys match that, but they were infused with an extra level of confidence through [Sid's] direction that is so beautiful. I mean, it's inspiring to me. I'm like, "Oh, yeah. Fuck yeah." Oh my god. There is no failure.

I got Sid on the phone with Bill Armstrong and when we hung up, he was so blown away by Sid's undying passion. Just like, oh my God, anything that guy does is, I'm in. I believe, so yeah. I was so proud to hear what a great job Sid did with the production. The tones are really good, the performances are all there. It's raw as fuck like I love, there's a pulse inside the music ... They're all connected and that comes with that anguish and that crazy process he put them through. So cool.

Absolutely. Yeah, I'm already on to produce the next project. So we've already compiled maybe 20 songs. You won't be getting 20 songs, but we're going to go through all that and grab what we think we need for the next thing.

It's like, you think the first stuff's good? Wait till they drop some more on. Because they're only getting better at their craft.