Slipknot's Early Years: The Twisted, DIY Origins of a Metal Juggernaut | Revolver

Slipknot's Early Years: The Twisted, DIY Origins of a Metal Juggernaut

Before Corey Taylor, there were dead birds, duct tape and self-released album 'Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat.'
sk-register.jpg, David Peterson
Slipknot, (from left) Anders Colsefni, Craig Jones, Shawn "Clown" Crahan, Joey Jordison, Josh Brainard, Paul Gray and Mick Tompson, as they appeared in Des Moines, Iowa, newspaper 'The Register,' 1997
photograph by David Peterson

This article was originally published in December 2011.

Slipknot's self-titled debut album detonated like a dirty bomb when it dropped in 1999. Who were these masked mad men and where had they come from, seemingly out of nowhere? Of course, the answer was Iowa, and like most bands that "make it overnight," they had in fact been kicking around the local circuit for years, grinding it out, perfecting their vision, collecting scars and paying their dues. Formed in 1995 by percussionist Shawn Crahan, drummer Joey Jordison and bassist Paul Gray, the group would go through a number of different lineups and looks, self-release a highly limited album Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat., huff dead birds and lock each other in boxes, before enlisting a singer and porn-store employee named Corey Taylor as their frontman. The rest, as they say, is motherfucking history. Study up.


COREY TAYLOR Des Moines [Slipknot's hometown in Iowa] was very incestuous. Everyone knew each other because there weren't many places for bands to play and we'd all end up opening for one another. So it was friendly, but it was also really competitive because we all wanted to blow everyone else away.

ANDERS COLSEFNI (ORIGINAL SLIPKNOT VOCALIST) [Bassist] Paul Gray moved from Los Angeles to Des Moines in 1989 and I was one of the first people he met. He overheard me telling one of the teachers at Woody's Drum & Music Shop that I needed a bass player. He said, "What kind of music do you do?" I said, "A lot of covers, but we are writing originals, too. Slayer to Kiss." He said, "I can play bass," and grabbed a right-handed bass off the wall, flipped it over to left-handed, and played "Got the Time" by Anthrax. I said, "My name is Andy!" and that's when I met the most influential friend and musician I've ever known. I was 17 and [playing drums] in my band, Vexx, which started out kinda cheesy, but Paul joined and pushed us in a heavier direction.

JIM ROOT I went to high school with Paul's brother Tony. We'd go to this gnarly little skate park and watch Vexx play. You could tell Paul was really talented.

COLSEFNI Vexx evolved into Inveigh Catharsis. At the time, Shawn [Crahan] was in another band, Heads on the Wall, that played shows with us. That's how we met. Out of sheer boredom, and not having much crowd response, we would jam and experiment. Then Josh went and joined Modifidious with Joey [Jordison] and that left Paul and I. That's when I decided to switch over to vocals and start growling. So Paul and I put together the death-metal band Body Pit. [Over time, the band also featured original Slipknot guitarist Donnie Steele and current guitarist Mick Thomson]. That lasted about two years.

SHAWN "CLOWN" CRAHAN Slipknot started out of tragedy. My uncle was the victim of a gang initiation. They shot him through the windshield, and when he got out to run, they shot him in the back and killed him. It was just pointless. When that happened, I started thinking that life was a little too random and unforgiving, and it started making me think about my art and what I had inside and what I needed to say. I had a furniture business at the time, but I just went home and said, "Honey, I need to start a new band." We were really poor, but she was supportive. She said, "That'll probably be really good for you."

PAUL GRAY The basic idea of Slipknot started in '92, and we didn't have a name or nothing. We just knew we wanted to do something with extra percussion.

CRAHAN Paul just had a way about him that was different. I was really attracted to his writing. It had "scratch" — that's what I called it. It tickled my brain. So I'd come over and play drums with him. We were at his mom's house and we were in the basement drinking beer, just getting crazy, and playing these songs. Then I reached out to Andy, who had a death-growl voice that slays to this day, and he was a really big part of the birth of Slipknot, what we were in the beginning.

anders.jpg, Anders Colsefni
Anders Colsefni with Slipknot
courtesy of Anders Colsefni

JOEY JORDISON Modifidious was my first real band. I played live percussion and Craig [Jones, Slipknot sampler] played guitar. Our first show was December 1st, 1991 opening for Jim's band Atomic Opera, and they were pretty much the shit at that time. But I had so much fucking fire within myself, I was like, I'm gonna beat those guys no matter fuckin' what. Instant war. I was still a sophomore in high school. From then on, Modifidious started getting really big. We were selling out shows in Des Moines. Josh Brainard [the guitarist on most of Slipknot's 1999 self-titled album], was in Vexx and Inveigh Catharsis and was our singer as well.

TAYLOR I would see Atomic Opera and be transfixed, so I was stoked when Jim joined [Taylor's band] Stone Sour, which started before Slipknot. I played with them from late '91 to the summer of '97, when I joined Slipknot. But I already knew Joey, Craig, and Josh because Stone Sour did a lot of shows with Modifidious.

ROOT I used to buy tacos from Corey when he worked at Taco Time years and years ago. He always seemed like a really quiet guy, and I thought he was a bit of a "mogulater," which is a term we have for people who look like people but live like animals. Atomic Opera fell apart because it had been together since I was 16 and it just got old. So in 1985, I started jamming with [Stone Sour bassist] Shawn Economaki, and he said, "Why don't you come over and hear what Corey and I have been doing with Stone Sour?" I'd heard some of their stuff on local radio before, and it wasn't anything I was really into. It was real ballady over-melodic rock and roll — they sounded almost like Tesla.

CRAHAN I liked playing drums in the band, but the truth is, I always knew they were going to call Joey to play drums. It was part of the plan. I was molding this sickness. I was like the sun on the water boiling the shit.

JORDISON The first time I met Shawn was when my band Modifidious played with his old band, Heads on the Wall, and Atomic Opera. Shawn was kicking over his high-hat stand, pissed as shit. And I was like, I wanna be in a band with that guy for some reason. I don't know why, but I do. After Modifidious broke up, I was talking to Paul about doing something and he said, "Come see what me and Shawn are working on." I went over and they played me four songs. The first song was "Slipknot," which we rewrote and turned into "(Sic)" [off the band's self-titled album]. From the second they played that, I knew they would be the biggest fucking band ever. And I said to myself, I'm gonna either join this band or I'm gonna destroy it.

COLSEFNI The masks came into the picture when I was helping Shawn move from one house to another. We were in the basement and he picked up the original clown mask. He used to like to hang it on the front of his drum set when Heads on the Wall played shows. He put it on and I went, "Dude, that looks crazy" so he wore it to the next practice.

GRAY He would not take it off the whole time. At first, it pissed us off. You try to talk to him and he's got this clown mask on. You couldn't even see if he was serious. We were trying to talk about band shit, and we went, "Dude, please take that fuckin' thing off." And he'd sit there and laugh. After a while we're like, "Man, that is actually kind of creepy."

COLSEFNI Shawn and I were making samples for "Killers Are Quiet" [off Slipknot's 1996 album, Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat.], and I wrapped him all up in duct tape. I got his hands stuck in it and wrapped it all around his head and face, got him all mangled up. And he looked really twisted and distorted. It just looked gross. We mic'd me ripping the tape off him. In "Killers Are Quiet," there's that sound of the tape being ripped off his skin and he goes, "Unnnggggh!" I decided that instead of wearing a mask and having something in the way of my singing, I'd distort my features with electrical tape. We played our first show on April 4th, 1996, and Shawn and I were the only ones that wore something. And after that, Joey said, "If you guys are gonna do that, we all need to do it."

GRAY So we had this show coming up and we were like, "Let's all get masks and we'll throw them on and no one will know who we are." We got dressed at Shawn's house, which was a few blocks away, went to the show, walked through the crowd, jumped onstage, started playing, got done, and walked right back through the crowd. Then we came back in our normal clothes, and we could get actual opinions on the band and find out if people liked us or hated us, and no one would know that the dudes they were talking to were in the band.

JORDISON The first mask I had was an original pale-white kabuki mask. One Halloween when I was about eight years old, I came home from school and my mother popped around the corner with that mask on and a long robe and scared the living fuck out of me. It's always stuck with me. So I had to use that for my mask.

GRAY A first show was booked but we didn't have any actual name. We had done a show as Meld, but nobody liked that so we didn't use it again. But the first song we wrote was called "Slipknot." The name rolled off the tongue pretty easily so we used it.

TAYLOR I was at the very first Slipknot show with my best friend Denny. It was me and about 20 other people, and this crazy circus walks from the outside through the crowd up on the stage. It was so ominous and inspiring, and as much love as I had for Stone Sour, I remember thinking, Some day I'm gonna sing for this band.



Self-financed and self-released, the first Slipknot recording is an ambitious, if schizophrenic, blend of midpaced thrash riffs, heavily syncopated beats, and blasts of funk, jazz, rap, and eerie experimental rock. Colsefini, while quite able, lacks Taylor's range and tone, and within three years, Gray, Jordison, and Crahan would be the only band members from the Mate lineup still in Slipknot.

GRAY We decided to get a CD out there, which was crazy because we had only done a couple shows. We went into the studio and it took forever to make. It was expensive and we were working our assess off to pay for it. Andy and I were doing concrete. We borrowed a lot of money from Shawn's wife because she had a real job. The album, Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat., was a pain in the ass. We did it in was the middle of winter and we were driving through all this snow to get to the studio. The producer, Sean McMahon, was super Christian and in turmoil because he thought we were Satanic. We were there all the time. We'd sleep in the studio and constantly watch porn and videos of people killing themselves or getting killed. McMahon would walk in while this stuff was on the TV, stand there for a couple minutes and then have a mental breakdown and lock himself in the bathroom for a few hours. We were getting charged for him to sit in there and cry. He ended up getting Donnie [Steele] to quit because he got him believing that what we were doing was evil.

COLSEFNI Donnie quit because he felt it was in conflict with his beliefs as a Christian. Religion was always a really weird topic in Slipknot. I grew up with a mother who was a Born Again, and if I ever brought it up for shits and grins, the guys got really uncomfortable.

GRAY We called up Mick, who had been in Body Pit, and he was stoked. He joined right after we finished Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat.

JORDISON Back then, Slipknot was more of an experiment and everything was a work in progress. That record was a little elementary even though it's got great musicianship on it and we had the right ideas. The cover of Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. is me naked in this cage contraption that Shawn welded together. It's 20 degrees out and I'm in the middle of a fucking cornfield freezing to death. And in the picture you can see my foot looks like a goddamn devil hoof. That wasn't intended, but we saw it and went, "Fuck, we're onto something!" It was all about misery, and you know what? We thrive on that. During rehearsals for that album, Shawn was hitting his keg with a metal pipe and it broke in half and flipped over and hit me in the head and cracked my head open. I started bleeding everywhere, but I finished the song. And then I said, "Uh, I think I gotta go." Without blood and pain, there is no Slipknot. There were times when Shawn put me in a fucking wooden box, and sat me in front of the stage, and I would be in there for, like, three hours just waiting to play. And then I would come out and mayhem would just fucking ensue.

CRAHAN We had a huge, devoted following. I bought a bar because we got banned from playing everywhere else. We were too nuts and everyone was scared of us. It was Des Moines, Iowa, remember. We used sparks onstage and I'm jumping off stages into garbage cans and knocking people out and hanging people with rope. It was our crowd and we were in control.

COLSEFNI Shawn had a noose and he'd jump in the crowd and wrap it around people's heads. But you've gotta keep in mind, we didn't have thousands of people in front of us. It was more like dozens. Slipknot shows in Des Moines were rarely huge events. Usually, between 20 and 200 people showed up, just whoever was there to be uncomfortable around us and unnerved by what was going on.

CRAHAN I came up with the name "Maggots" for our fans. Someone gave me a dead bird and I put it in a jar and watched the maggots come and I studied them. We used to huff this bird before we played and — just death, man. I can't explain it to you unless you inhale it into your lungs. There's just this sickness, and we'd walk onstage with that and go out of our minds. Offstage, I'd watch this jar and I'd see the maggots grow and they'd die in the liquid and didn't get to be flies. Then I was watching the fans one day and they were all pushed together. Once in a while, one of them would get on top. And I was like, Wow. Maggots burrow themselves straight up and down like that and they eat, and when they're done, they fall on top and they literally roll to the back. So I was like, Maggots, you feed off of us. One day you will get wings and you will go, "Slipknot got me through some of the hardest times in my life. It will always be right here, but I don't need it anymore because it helped me get through and now I'm stable."

GRAY We got kind of a wake-up call when we were in a Battle of the Bands hosted by the local radio station. We went up against Stone Sour and we won. Show-wise, we blew them away, but Corey's fuckin' voice was killer. We read back what the judges wrote and they raved about our performance and music. The only negative thing they wrote was about Andy. He could sing death metal, but he would try to sing, too, and it sounded horrible. So we kinda knew something had to change. Shawn and Joey talked about trying out Corey, and at first I was against it because Corey would sing all the time in Stone Sour and I didn't know he had a rough voice also. I didn't want to lose that aspect.

JORDISON Corey used to work in a porn store. Me, Mick, and Shawn came in one night and circled the DVDs and looked at them. Corey was almost ready to piss his fuckin' pants. He thought we were there to beat him up since he was in Stone Sour. Finally we went up to him and said, "All right, man. Straight-up. You wanna join Slipknot?" He dropped the newspaper he had been reading. And he said, "I'll give it a try."

TAYLOR I know there's a big legend about how they threatened to kick my ass if I didn't join the band. It's completely untrue. They were so nervous, it was fucking adorable. There was Clown and he had this whole thing where he went, "Hey, you know… I'm just gonna be straight-up with you… We want you to join the band…" He was constantly moving around, couldn't stand still. And Joey was mumbling something and Mick was going, "Look, man. I just wanna make it. I want to do whatever we gotta do to make it." And I was like, Holy shit. I was still doing Stone Sour and I was very devoted to that band. So I said, "Well, gimme a little time to think about it," but in the back of my head, I knew.

JORDISON We went into the studio with Corey and the very first song he did was "Me Inside" [off Slipknot's self-titled album]. Me and Shawn were sitting there and Corey was nervous as shit. But he went in there and just transformed. Once he hit that first chorus, I turned to Shawn and said, "If we don't get this guy, we're gonna have to kill him."

GRAY They brought me the recording of "Me Inside" at work and I was like, "Holy shit, I can't believe that's even the same song!" It really took us from where we were a really big local band to, "You know what? I know we're gonna get a record deal now." And it was definitely Corey's vocals that changed it.

ROOT I was pissed at Corey when he joined Slipknot. Shit was going really well for Stone Sour, so I really couldn't understand why he'd leave. And I wasn't a fan of Slipknot. I had seen a few of their shows, but I'd leave early 'cause I wasn't into it. But I understood that they were getting a record deal and I understood there were some things going on that were more than what was happening with Stone Sour. So at that point I couldn't hold it against him. I went over to his house and we had a one on one talk. While he was sleeping, I jumped into bed with him and his girlfriend and said, "Hey man, whatever you want to do is cool. If you need to do this then I back you on it." At that point, me and Shawn Economaki started a band called Deadfront. And I vowed to the guys in Deadfront that I would never join Slipknot if they called me because at that time Slipknot was kind of breaking up other bands to put themselves together. Of course, I never thought they'd call me, anyway.

COLSEFNI Right before Corey came in, there were no feelings of negativity in my mind at all. We were constantly in the studio re-recording things or putting something else down for Roadrunner [Records, the label Slipknot would sign to], trying to seal that deal. I was walking on clouds. It wasn't until after I came back from a long weekend vacation with my family that I found out that, without ever talking to me, they had Corey come in and record over a bunch of my vocal tracks. Mostly, it was a slap in the face because we hadn't even discussed it. Apparently, they'd been discussing it when I wasn't around, but I was completely shocked. I was like, "Wow. Just out of the blue? No advance warning? Nothing?" It really corroded at my interior for the next couple of months. It was extremely difficult for me.

TAYLOR My first practice was weird. It was the first taste I'd ever had of being in an environment where there were no limits. I could do anything and sing in any style. But at the same time, I hadn't read the lyrics yet and I'm singing a lot of Andy's stuff because I hadn't written anything yet. But somehow I felt comfortable just going for it and letting rip. We were slamming, throwing down. I looked over and Clown was beating himself in the head with sticks. It was a strange but good entrance into that world.

GRAY The plan was to keep Andy in the band, too, and have him play percussion and scream the heavier stuff. We did one show like that and it was good. Then during the second show, Andy announced onstage that he was going to quit the band after the show.

COLSEFNI We built this band in my basement. My family put up with people running around in masks for a couple of years. My kids were scared half to death. So yeah, I felt slighted. The promised me all sorts of stuff, but I could tell they were trying to keep me smiling and going along with them. They said we would have a 50/50 split on vocals and that they just wanted a frontman to go out there and be charismatic. I was fine with that, but after a couple months it was a 90/10 split. I was occasionally yelling something behind Corey. It felt like everybody was trying to push me out. Eventually, I got over it. I'm the one who quit. They didn't fire me.

CRAHAN I'm not upset saying Andy doesn't belong. He didn't evolve. But we were all scared to death. Corey was scared to death leaving Stone Sour, who gave us our second ever show. I was scared to death because I didn't know what would happen next. But I was also hurting. Andy was my bro. And Corey Taylor's like, "Screw this. C'mon guys. Lets go downstairs and write a new song. I'm tired of learning your songs." So we went downstairs and wrote "Spit It Out" [off Slipknot's self-titled album]. That's the song we got signed from. The fuckin' bulldozer was going, there was a maniac driving it.

TAYLOR I started recording, redoing [Andy's] vocals and did 14 songs in three days. I'd spend six, seven hours a day screaming, barking, singing, and fucking killing myself to the point where I had no voice, and we'd have a show in four days.

COLSEFNI That recording is the [unreleased Slipknot demo album] Crowz thing that everybody talks about. That's Corey singing my parts before he rewrote 'em. Nobody has this particular thing except for myself and my webmaster. Corey doesn't even have it yet. I have to get it to him, actually. But for anyone on the internet trading what they think is Crowz. That's not Crowz.

TAYLOR My first show with the band was on the hottest day of the year in Des Moines. I was in a full priest's outfit with a frock coat and this crazy skull makeup that my ex-girlfriend spent two hours putting on me. I had liquid latex "X"s over my eyes and mouth. And within three minutes, it all melted. Clown came up to me after and said, "Dude, check this out." He took this crash-test dummy mask and flipped it inside-out and it looked so gnarly. I still have it but it's so completely wrecked. It was not meant for that much puke and blood and snot and sweat. It started to melt on Ozzfest '99 and was being held together by duct tape when I finally retired it. Now just a puddle of goo on this weird Styrofoam head.

CHRIS FEHN Paul got my band Shed a gig opening for Slipknot. Then I heard Slipknot had just signed a record deal and I thought, Here's my chance to get the fuck out of Iowa. So I went up to Shawn at the show and said, "Hey, if you need a roadie or a drum tech, I'm ready to go." He blew me off. [But eventually] I got a phone call saying, "Do you still want to be a drum tech?" And I said, "Hell yeah." So Shawn went, "Well, why don't you come to my house tomorrow night and we'll talk about it." I showed up and he said, "So you wanna be a drum tech, huh? Well, what do you think about trying out for the band?" I started rehearsals with them the next day. During my first show with the band, I shoved everything off the bar, kicked everyone's drinks over, and pushed a huge espresso machine off the counter and it exploded like a bomb. The cops were trying to arrest me afterwards and I had to hide.