This article was originally published in December 2011.
In 1998, with a new label deal and a big-name producer, Ross Robinson (Korn, Sepultura), Iowan nine-piece Slipknot set about creating their self-titled Roadrunner Records debut. They barely had money for food, and the stress and strain of band life wore on them (guitarist Josh Brainard would quit in the middle of the recording process), but driven by their passion for their music, they made a modern classic: an album that fuses nu-metal catchiness and extreme-metal cacophony on mosh-pit anthems like "(Sic)," "Eyeless," "Spit It Out," "Wait and Bleed" and "Surfacing." It took them to the brink — but it also won them a legion of diehard Maggots for life.
MONTE CONNOR (SENIOR V.P. OF A&R, ROADRUNNER RECORDS) Slipknot had sent me several demos, but I hadn't yet heard that magical song. Then that moment came when I got "Spit It Out," which was the first thing I heard with Corey. And that exact demo version is on the record.
CORY BRENNAN (SLIPKNOT MANAGER) Before I managed Slipknot, I worked at Roadrunner. Monte pulled me into their first meeting with the band, and Clown shook my hand and said, "How does it feel to meet your first platinum artist?" And he did that to everybody, including the president and owner of the company. Then the three of them sat there and told us how they were gonna, one day, have hydraulic drums that they would weld themselves, which would go 15 feet in the air and turn upside-down, and how they were gonna be the biggest band in the world. Everything he said they'd do came true.
COREY TAYLOR We started to get into band concepts like the coveralls. The night we talked about doing it, we were on Clown's back porch. He would wear coveralls covered with paint. And him and Joey were like, "We should all start wearing those just as a uniform and put the bar code on them." We owned the bar code because we had actually bought it for Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. That's when the numbers started coming up. We were like, "Fuck our names, fuck the bullshit. Let's go by numbers." I immediately shot my hand up and said, "I'm No. 8." It was perfect because there were eight people in the band — this was before Sid joined — and eight has always been my lucky number. I was born on the eighth of December. I used to count everything by eights. I had OCD when I was a kid and when I walked, I was obsessed with even numbers but eight most of all. Because I was right-handed, all of my even steps would have to fall on my right foot and all of my odd steps would have to fall on my left foot. And I would count them in my head, and if I fucked up and shuffled my feet, I would freeze until I reset my mind. Even now, if I'm ever sitting somewhere and just hanging out, you can always see me tapping my thumb from one finger to another, counting the segments on my fingers, one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. I do that constantly.
SID WILSON They had seen my DJ crew, the Soundproof Coalition, at a festival in Des Moines. I didn't even know who Slipknot was. They asked me to come to practice a year later. At first, not everyone was totally feeling it 100 percent. They liked what I was doing but they were worried what metal fans were gonna think of Slipknot having a DJ. But I quickly sold them on the idea. I went to their next show as a fan. I knew that during "Tattered and Torn," Clown would go into the pit and wrap kids up with the microphone cord and drag them across the floor. People would usually run when they saw him coming, but at that show, I saw him and instinctively went for it. He was thinking, I'm gonna show this motherfucking new Jack what's up with our band. So he came after me, but before he could get to me, I was on his ass like a fucking Jedi Knight. I grabbed him by the head while he was still on the stage. I counted to five and headbutted him on six, which is his number. He fell down on his fucking ass. It almost knocked him out. He went back to Joey and said, "I don't care what anybody in the fucking band says, that dude's in." From the moment I joined, there was chaos. Once at practice, Clown and Joey had been arguing, and Clown literally plowed through Joey's whole drumset and threw it clear across the practice room. I started unplugging my turntables because I was like, These are the only decks I got. Don't fuckin' break them!
TAYLOR We had this bootleg videotape that we had named "Sex, Death, and Mayhem," which had crazy animation, porn scenes, and real-life death on film. We decided to use it to add some visuals to our Halloween shows. We put up two gigantic old-school televisions and we ran a VCR to it from the front of the house. We spliced together an hour of footage that culminated with the suicide of Bud Dwyer, [the Pennsylvanian state treasurer who was convicted of accepting a bribe and shot himself in the head during a televised press conference]. We looped the footage, and at the end of "Scissors," there's Bud Dwyer popping himself over and over. Not only did we loop the suicide, we slowed it down. We lost half of our fans after that show. I had a friend who, still to this day, will not talk to me. She looked at me straight in the face and said, "This is disgusting, this is not gonna go anywhere. You are wasting your fucking life. And quite frankly, because you backed that decision, you are not the person I thought you were."
PAUL GRAY [Slipknot's then-manager] Sophia John asked us, "If you could have anybody hear you, who would it be?" and we said, "Ross Robinson." So she sent him our demo, and Ross agreed to come out and see us. And once you get one label guy to come in, everybody says, "I don't want to miss the train." So, every week we had somebody checking us out. We were going out to dinner with these fucking A&R people, and it fuckin' sucked. The only person who was actually honest and real was Ross. He was doing an imprint with Roadrunner so we signed this deal with them.
TAYLOR We were stoked, but nervous as shit. We looked up to Ross. At the time, there was nobody hotter. And Ross wasn't afraid to twist the limits. He came to a practice and then to one of our shows, and he really understood us. But we had no idea how we were going to get to his studio in California. We didn't have a deal at the time. We had no money. It took us three days to get there because we drove everything ourselves. Fehn hadn't been in the band too long, so we made him lease a truck just to haul our shit in a trailer. But the trailer was so heavy it would fishtail violently if you got up over 50 miles an hour.
JOEY JORDISON Ross is the most intense person I've ever met in my life besides the nine of us. We were out for blood and Ross saw that in us. I would track my drums and we would all be headbanging, throwing our headphones off, punching the fucking walls. He would take potted plants and throw them at me while I was playing and I'd have to duck them. He made Chris Fehn drink two gallons of water to where he was totally bloated and on the verge of throwing up just to get a mic'd mallet sound out of his stomach that he liked.
GRAY Ross wanted it to come across like how we played live, so, as we were standing there playing riffs, he would push us and knock the guitars out of our hands and yell, "You can play that shit harder!" Next thing you know, we're moving around and playing our asses off and that's how we got the aggression on that first album.
TAYLOR I've never screamed or sang like that in my life. Ross pushed me every day to the point where, by the end, I was literally broken completely in half and wide open and bawling and I couldn't stop crying. I was throwing up all over the fucking place. At one point, the vocal booth smelled so bad. We did all the basic tracks in two days.
MICK THOMSON It was a nightmarish hell to do that fucking record. You have all these people scattered in the same fucking place, and we didn't have enough beds so we were all stacked on top of each other. We had no money, no real food. A frozen pizza and whatever grocery store macaroni and cheese was about the extent of our dining back then. Unless everyone tried being respectful of other people — keeping the noise down, cleaning up after themselves — you're gonna have problems. And we've got people who don't do that. Well, of course, we're gonna freak out. You can't be stuck in that small of a space 24 hours a day, on the side of the mountain for months without wanting to start stabbing people.
SHAWN "CLOWN" CRAHAN I wound up being the guy who would take people on drives. Ross would say, "Hey, there's too many people in here, we can't get anything done. Clown, why don't you take people down to Melrose?" So, for me, [turns thumbs down and makes raspberry noise]. I'm all over the record, but I didn't have a say in anything. See, I'm an art guy. I'd go, "Lemme throw this mic on the drums." And Ross'd go, "Well, Clown, you can't put a mic that's used for guitar frequencies on a bass drum." "Well, why not, you dumbass? Put it on there and shut up. Let's see." But that didn't happen. They don't take time for me. So I loved it all, but I got nothing out of it.
JORDISON While we were there, Josh [Brainard] got lonely and didn't know if he wanted to deal with what lay ahead, so he quit. So we called Jim [Root] and we were like, "Hey, man, would you like to join?"
JIM ROOT A year after I made a promise to my former band Deadfront that I would never join Slipknot, they called me to replace Josh. I told them no because of my vow. Then I reconsidered. I went from playing weekend gigs and working from 6 in the morning until 6 at night silkscreening T-shirts to going to Malibu to record [the two songs Brainard hadn't recorded, "Me Inside" and "Purity"]. I didn't have time to think about whether or not I felt comfortable or fit in — and part of the thing with Slipknot was not feeling comfortable, anyways.
JORDISON I mixed the first record with Ross and there was one night where I was staying there, I knocked one of the pillows off that I was sleeping on and it fell onto the space heater. Next thing I know, I'm smelling something and I jumped up. I almost burned [the recording studio] Indigo Ranch completely down. The whole thing was filled with smoke and flames. We had to literally take fire extinguishers all over the place and open all the windows. It took about a week to get the smell out.
TAYLOR After we did the album, we came back to Des Moines and sat for six fucking months while they were getting the art and the packaging together. That whole time I was back at work at the porn shop going, Fuck, was it real? I don't even know. And then we got the offer for Ozzfest, which was going to be the world's first taste of us.
WILSON We did a warm-up show for Ozzfest, and right before "Eeyore," I did two good head-butts into Clown's beer keg, then the lights went out, my knees buckled, and I hit the floor. When the lights went back on, I couldn't get up and blood was gushing down my face and pouring out of the mask. Our security guy got me backstage to our dressing room and I looked in the mirror. The wound was wide open and I could see my skull, but there was a song coming up that I had parts for, so I put a towel on my head and strapped the mask on tight to try to stop the bleeding. Then, when I go back out there, Clown's giving me this look that says, "You look like a fucking idiot." So, he punches me in the head right in the gaping wound. I pushed him away and crawled over to Corey because he had never beat on me. But he grabbed my head and banged it on the floor to the beat of the music. I went to the hospital after the show and got 16 stitches.
ROOT My second show with Slipknot was Ozzfest. In West Palm Beach, Florida. I didn't know if my mask was gonna work because I had just made my jester's mask. I was new to everything — monitor systems, being onstage with nine different guys, and I had drums coming at me from all angles. It was a real sensory overload at the time. It was just so weird because all of a sudden I was thrown into this lifestyle that is so different from what you think it's gonna be. And all of a sudden we're on tour with System of a Down, and there's Ozzy and there's Tony Iommi and shit, there's Rob Zombie! You're seeing these people you've only seen in print or on television, and all of a sudden here they all are and they're talking to me? It's surreal. All of a sudden you throw in all these fans yelling and screaming at you and people jumping and bouncing in the moshpits. It was nerve-racking and scary.
CHRIS FEHN It was really weird. I felt really frazzled all the time. I felt like if I fucked up live, they were gonna go, "You're going home." I didn't understand where everything was at, so I really had to work really fucking hard. I remember we got to play the main stage once every two weeks. The sound was so bad up there, I couldn't even understand what was going on, and Paul laid into me after the show. I was like, Oh, my God. I'm done. They're sending me home. But that's just how militant we were. We didn't talk to other bands. Someone once organized a pick-up football game with all the second-stage bands, and we didn't go play. We sat on the bus and made sure nobody from our group was associating with other bands.
TAYLOR There were a lot of times when it was so hot and I'd been raging so hard that I'd throw up in my mask and have to eat the puke because there was nowhere to spit it. Also, I broke my mouth so many times coming up too hard on the mic. I went from having to swallow blood to puking and having to swallow that. We got through Ozzfest and it was like, "OK, now what?" Then we got on the Coal Chamber tour and there was all this buzz.
GRAY On the Coal Chamber tour, the shows would sell out every night, but as soon as we were done, half that crowd would be done. Coal Chamber tried to get us off that tour. But Sharon Osbourne, who was their manager at the time, said, "Slipknot are the only reason the fucking tour's selling any tickets. You can't kick them off."
JORDISON People think we're egotistical. I don't give a shit. The fact is no one fucking kills themselves like Slipknot. No one. Not even fucking close. Before the show, I don't talk to anyone. I sit there and fucking prepare for something. I don't know what the hell is going to happen. When we were touring with Coal Chamber, I took all my lighter fluid and poured it all over my drums and took a match and fucking lit it. I did it almost every night. And one night I caught on fire. I got third degree burns right up the side of my chest, which you can actually see. But Sid and Shawn would light each other on fire on purpose.
GRAY Back in the day, we had a problem with this band from Cleveland called Mushroomhead. They had masks, too. And when we came to Cleveland, we were ready for some shit. And there were about 20 kids in the crowd that were Mushroomhead fans that were whipping batteries at us. Me and Jim jumped offstage and took our masks off and started swinging at people at the end of one song. When we were done with that set, everything came off and we went straight through the crowd to try to find those people and we ended up finding those dudes and we threw down. One of the guys in our crew got maced by the cops and arrested.
WILSON I never got hurt fighting, but I broke two ribs on my left side jumping off a balcony in Germany. It was our first time playing there so they didn't know what we do. I don't think they actually expected me to jump off a balcony seat. And when I jumped, the crowd kind of parted and watched me go down. My ribs hit the floor first and my left arm was behind my head. I didn't know they were broken. I just knew they were hurt. So I kept doing the shows every night. [Eventually] it was hurting real bad so they made me go to the hospital. And they said, "Oh, your ribs are broken. You have to lay down in bed for weeks and heal." And I said, "I can't. I've got shows to play. So give me a rib brace." And I had a brace and a back support underneath it. I wrapped that up and they gave me some inhalers to help me breathe better.
JORDISON Even though Ross had done our first record, we thought we were just going to be a cult band. As extreme and odd as our music was and the way we looked and performed, we thought we'd just have a limited following. We didn't know it was going to blow up. Halfway through the tour, we're at 200,000 records and we're dumbfounded. Then in February the next year we were presented a gold record. We're like, What the fuck?! Next thing you know, end of the tour, we got a platinum record.
GRAY We were so focused that when we were first out on the road we were pretty straight-laced. Some of us drank a little bit and there were some girls we slept with. I think the craziest groupie I ever met was this girl who wound up on our bus. We went into the back lounge and started messing around. Everybody else was in their bunks sleeping. So we're going at it and then all of a sudden she tells me to hit her. And I said, "What? No." So she fuckin' punches me in the face. Then she says again, "Hit me." And I'm like, "No, I ain't gonna hit you." And she kept fucking punching me if I wouldn't hit her. Finally, after getting hit in the fucking face 10 times, I said, "Seriously, I will fucking hit you if you do it again." So she hit me again and I fucking slapped her, which is totally what she wanted me to do. She was screaming and it turned into this full-on Wrestlemania back there with us fighting and getting it on. When it was all done, it was, like, 4 in the morning, and I'm trying to get her off the bus, and everyone's sitting there in the front lounge clapping. It was definitely a walk of shame.
WILSON I got into a lot of crazy drugs in high school. When I was 15, I could have opened up my backpack and sold you any type of drug your could think of. If you've seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, their briefcase full of stuff was child's play compared to what I was doing. When I was 17, doctors said I would have heart failure within a week if I kept it up. I was eventually able to quit, so when the first album was blowing up, I'd go out and have some drinks with the guys, but I left all that heavy shit behind. It's bad news for anybody.
FEHN We had a no drugs policy for years and then when we went got to Europe and went to Amsterdam we said, "OK, you can do a little something if you want to." And that opened the door for a little here, a little there. And then we all had to go through, "OK, everything's fine. The doors are open. Do whatever you want." And that kind of fucked us up for a while.
ROOT All of a sudden when you're in this lifestyle, you can show up to work fucked up. Nobody's gonna tell you any different because everybody's working for you and it's handed to you and sometimes people expect it. So the indulgences are there, and I partook. I was in a really bad spot for the first four or five years of us touring. I was really depraved and did some fucked-up shit and hurt people and I could be a horrible person. It starts out as fun partying. "Woo hoo! This is all great." And then, all of a sudden, it turns into medication. You have to do it to deal with this lifestyle because you're constantly away from your family and your friends — if you even have any left after being away from them for so long.
GRAY One night we were in Cincinnati and Chris had been drinking all day. Chris didn't really drink [so he was wasted]. He's out of his bunk in the middle of the night to take a piss and he thinks his bunk is the bathroom. He whips out his dick, lifts his mattress like it was the toilet seat, and just started pissing, and it all starts dripping down on Sid, who's below him. Sid starts screaming, "What the fuck. What the fuck! What the fuck!" He smelled it and tasted it, and he's like, "It's fuckin' piss!"
FEHN We had been drinking full glasses of rum, so I had no idea what was happening. I woke up with Sid yelling, "You pissed in my bunk!" And I said, "I did not. Shut the fuck up." But I totally did. Before I die, I have to let Sid piss on me.
TAYLOR We were together every day for two-and-a-half years on that first album cycle — from recording to touring. I think we had a month off in total. When you're with eight other people that long, you start to hate each other. And there was a lot of pressure going from opening to headlining, which we were forced into doing because no one wanted to take us on the road, so what else were we gonna do? All we wanted to do was destroy and we got to the end of [the cycle] and we were so smoked, but we had to basically turn around and go straight in and do Iowa.