Jim Root: « We’re Slipknot and we’ll do whatever the fuck we want, because we’re Slipknot. »

Eagerly awaited, and hotly debated before it was even released, Slipknot’s new album will finally be available on October 20th. This is the first record in six years for the band, and the very first without two of their historic members, bassist Paul Gray (who passed away tragically on May 24th, 2010) and drummer Joey Jordison (who less tragically “did not leave Slipknot” but was still shown the door last December). The nine musicians – or is it seven? Or is it nine again? Anyway, the musicians from Des Moines have overcome their ordeals, even if the road ahead is still long, as guitarist Jim Root seems to suggest several times in the following interview.

Jim Root is one of the key people behind this opus, entitled .5: The Gray Chapter, in memory of the late bassist, whose presence remains palpable. Root remained true to the band and was deeply involved in the composition of the new songs, which seems to have cost him his place in Stone Sour. Some light still needs to be shed on that subject, but he does talk about it at length towards the end of the interview. Before that, though, the guitarist talks about Slipknot’s fifth album (or the sixth, if you consider Made. Feed. Kill. Repeat as a proper record), of which everyone in the band is very proud. And never mind the malcontent, whom he just brushes aside after answering the criticism regarding the melodiousness of Corey Taylor’s singing. It was also a good opportunity to ask a few questions after the band’s two newbies, although #4 seems to have fun trying to hide their identities.

« Paul’s gonna be present in everything that we do. […] I absolutely feel like Paul was helping me put these arrangements together. »

Radio Metal: You were one of the main composers for this new Slipknot album. Since it comes six years after the previous one, after a big tragedy for the band and the departure of an important member, it brought a lot of anticipation and anxiety from the fans. Did you feel like having a big weight on your back?

Jim Root (guitar): No. [Chuckles] Oddly enough I really didn’t feel any pressure at all when I started putting together the arrangements for this record. I didn’t feel any sense of that sort of weight or pressure until now, now that I’m doing interviews, it’s out of my hands and it’s going to be out there for everyone soon enough. Now is kind of when that sort of stuff sinks in for me but, you know, it’s ok because I don’t really mind. I mean, the album’s important to me personally and emotionally. Between me and a couple of the other members of the band, it’s our favorite record that we’ve done to date. Regardless of what anybody else thinks about it, I like it. And that’s kind of really what’s the most important thing for me.

How did you know what musical direction you guys had to take?

We didn’t. I had no idea which way to go. I think that as long as you do everything from the heart, do everything real and for the sake of what the band is, what we attained to be, how we want to evolve and for the legacy of Paul, I just did what I thought should be done naturally. That’s kind of as deep as it went, you know. [Chuckles]

The album is called .5: The Gray Chapter. How much of Paul Gray is there actually in this album? I mean musically but also in terms of soul, of memories, of emotions, etc.

Paul’s gonna be present in everything that we do. As far as how we speak about him, his legacy and things like that, as far as how much of Paul is on this record, that’s more of a lyrical thing and you have to ask Corey about that because he’s a very metaphorical lyricist. I think there are quite a few songs that deal with the band and our relationship with Paul… Not just that, but also other current events that are relevant to what we do in this band. But like I said, he’s so metaphorical that you can take any sort of meaning out of most of the words that he writes and you can sort of attribute that to something you might personally be going through in your own life.

But were you, yourself, as a composer, inspired by Paul Gray in some way or another?

Absolutely. I absolutely feel like Paul was helping me put these arrangements together. I mean, the way I approached arrangements and songwriting on this record, I’ve never done before. The only thing I can attribute to that is that I learned it from Paul and I never really used what he had taught me until now, because I had always been working with him on our previous records. So this time, with him being absent, I was able to… It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks one day, I never would have went this deep in the arrangements of the songs before and I kind of realized that I was doing that because that’s what Paul would do, that’s what we would do when we were together working on an idea.

Should this “chapter” be seen as a closing chapter in the previous era of the band or as an opening chapter for a new era?

[Laughs] I don’t really know! I mean, this band is such an anomaly that you never know… I always approach each album cycle that we do as the last one that we might do. It seems to me that there’s a lot more reasons for us to continue than there are reasons for us not to continue. Having said that, that’s how I feel about things. I don’t know how Corey thinks about things, I don’t know how Shawn Crahan thinks about things, I don’t know how Mick or Chris or any of the other guys feel about continuing on. I would prefer to continue on than to throw all of our hard work away and take all of the stuff that we learned from Paul and not attribute it to his legacy. I think it’d be an extreme waste of everything that we’ve been through for the past fifteen years.

Would you consider this album as sort of therapeutic in some ways?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean that’s the reason why it took us so long to do another record. Our healing process started with us touring to see if we could continue on as a band. The way that we did that was by starting to tour first. We got to the point where we learned we could do that, we could tour, we could play, we could do everything that we did, and the next logical step in that evolution is to do a record.

Did you guys talk about all this during the process?

No, we don’t really talk about that stuff until we get together, you know. This will be more of an evolution that continues to happen as we tour and spend more time together. We’re still overcoming things and when we were in the studio, we were together but we were so focused on the work that our main objective was to get these arrangements together, get them on tape and make them as good as we can make them. Now that that process is done and we’re getting ready to go out on the road, we’ll have enough down time while we’re out there to have these conversations come more to the forefront.

« [About Corey Taylor] He’s always been a melodic singer. He’s gifted enough to do it all. So why wouldn’t he do it all, if he’s able to do it all? That seems extremely close minded. »

The album begins with a long introduction with lots of tension called “XIX”. What does it represent?

“XIX” was a song that Clown wrote and he had the music in his head… You know, we were pallbearers at Paul’s funeral and when we were walking with Paul to take him to his final resting place, this was sort of the theme music that Clown had rolling around in his head. He needed to get that out there and this is how he got it out there. That’s sort of the philosophy behind that song.

There’s a ballad called “Goodbye” that seems to be a goodbye to Paul Gray. How did you approach this sensitive exercise?

You know, you write for the song and you write to make the song as best as you can make it. Having said that, that song is a song that Corey wrote: it came from his mind and his heart. It’s a little closer to him I’m sure. For me it’s more of a musical thing and I have to express my feelings through my guitar playing. Corey has put together a really great song that I was able to actually add to. It’s tough man, there’s always gonna be healing, there’s always gonna be something to work through, something to try to make better. I mean, that’s how you evolve as a band and that’s how you try to continue on as a band. I think as long as we have reasons to do so we will continue to do so.

Could it be because it was a little bit personal to Corey that it’s the track eight or am I just over analyzing the tracklist?

[Laughs] I could be. I mean, Clown and Corey put the running order of the album together. Clown thinks about everything when he does that sort of things. He doesn’t just think about: “This song’s fast and this song’s slow, so we need to put them back to back” or “This song sounds a lot like that song so we need to separate them on the record.” He goes into lyrical content, into the beat per minute, into the tuning, the number of… Maybe the fact that it’s number eight means something. I don’t know. Definitely it was something that was probably thought about, I’m sure.

This album is quite moody. It features some very classic and angry Slipknot songs that will delight the early fans, but also some songs that really go forward artistically, with a dark and mellow feel too. Does this represent the duality of feelings that you guys had in you?

Absolutely. I mean, we’re a pretty complex band at the end of the day. There’s a bunch of different guys and a bunch of different personalities. You can’t really put the same songs out over and over again. For the sake of not becoming bored and not boring your audience, you always have to kind of keep evolving in everything that you’re doing. It’s about trying to find a balance in that evolution and not becoming so far removed from what we are as a band, from what we started to do as a band or what made us what we are as a band. If you’re not careful you can get too far removed from what made you what you are, and that’s not our intent to get that far away from it. But at the same time you need to move on and to evolve. If people want to hear songs that are on the Iowa record, well, they have the Iowa record to listen to, or the self titled release. I mean, those albums are out there for everyone to enjoy for the rest of time. Let’s see what else we can do and if it works, let’s keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll go back to old habbits I suppose.

One of the critics we’ve often seen concerning the single « The Devil In I » is the fact that there are some very catchy melodies with Corey singing in clean voice and many people thought it was too close to Stone Sour. What would you say to those who think that Stone Sour is projecting too big of a shadow on Slipknot now?

I would tell those critics to go back and listen to the melody line in “Wait And Bleed” and in “My Plague”. Corey’s a melodic singer. He’s always been a melodic singer. He’s gifted enough to do it all. So why wouldn’t he do it all, if he’s able to do it all? That seems extremely close minded. Whether if certain things are gonna have a relationship to other things: yeah, it’s the same person. You can’t really necessarily change who you are as a person. But if they think it’s too overly melodic or too extremely pussy or anything like that, then really all they need to do is to listen to “Snuff” or “Dead Memories” or, like I said before, “My Plague”, even “Duality” or the melody line in “Wait And Bleed” – that’s pretty melodic! [Laughs] I think that they have an invalid argument or they don’t really know the band, because they haven’t listened to the band. They might have heard the band but they haven’t really listened to the band. And another thing that I can say to these critics is: we’re Slipknot and we’ll do whatever the fuck we want, because we’re Slipknot. Listen to our first record: “fuck it all, fuck this world, fuck everything that you stand for.” “Don’t judge me”, that’s a huge thing. So whatever, they can pass the judgment they want, we’re still gonna continue to do what we do and try to evolve as a band.

« In order to have a couple of new guys come in, they’re gonna have to work for it a little bit like we had to work for it in the past. »

One of the things that is striking on this album is the importance of the drums and the bass, as much in the mix as in the music itself. Does this come from a great implication of the new drummer and bass player?

Yeah, they played on the record and these parts are parts of the songs. So you’ll have to be able to hear those parts on the album. When Metallica did And Justice For All they sort of buried the bass in the mix and, even though it’s a classic record and a great record, I think the album suffered because you can’t hear any bass other than in the guitars. You know, if you’re moving on, you’ve got to move on in every sense of the way. By hiding things in the mix we’d only be hurting ourselves and the people that are listening to the record. Bass and drums are important parts of records. You need those elements of the record to kind of hold down the fort. And we have good enough players doing those parts that should be heard.

How did they get hired?

We put an ad up in Hollywood. We went to Guitar Center to put an ad up and see who would answer it. No, I’m just kidding [Laughs]. We knew the drummer; we had a lot of mutual friends and on whim we sort of got together with him at Dave Grohl’s studio and jammed, him not knowing anything about why he was there. He played through about twenty or twenty four songs and we could have played a show that night if we needed to. The bass thing was a little bit trickier: we were on the fence about what to do and how to approach it. It’s still sort of a learning curve on what we’re doing. Donnie Steele obviously came in and helped us in the studio. He wasn’t really up to par on everything that we were doing, so we brought a couple of other people in. And it just didn’t seem to really work out with the other people that we were bringing in. I had a friend of mine that out of the blue sent me a random text message – I hadn’t talked to him for a while -, and I was like: “Wait a minute, let’s see if this can work!” [Laughs] You know what I mean? So we brought him out and it seemed to work. Right now everything seems to be working rather well. It’s not broken right now, so there’s no reason to question anything. We’re just gonna go head and move forward.

Both players wear the same masks, does this mean they’re not fully considered as integrated into the band, that they’re not yet considered as permanent members of Slipknot?

You can look at that as a metaphor for them having to sort of work their way and find their own identity within the band. I think that’s a little bit more where that’s coming from. We’ve all been through a lot together as a band and we paid a lot of deuce together coming up, so in order to have a couple of new guys come in, they’re gonna have to work for it a little bit like we had to work for it in the past.

Their names have somewhat been revealed by pretty trustful deductions these past days, although there’s been no official statement from the band. So what do you think about all this guessing game that’s been going on on the internet?

All this what? The guessing game? [Laughs] I think it’s interesting. We’re in the day and age of the internet where there can’t be any anonymity, really, anymore. Eventually people will find out who the people that are with us now are. I’d rather let them introduce themselves, rather than make some sort of big statement. That’s not to say that maybe Corey have already said it or even Clown or somebody else may say it. For me it’s when it comes time, when we’re out on the road all together and somebody’s doing press and they wanna ask who that is playing the bass guitar over in the corner, who that is on the drums that they hear on the other room, they’ll maybe go ask them. [Chuckles]

So can’t you confirm to me that the new drummer and bass player are Jay Weinberg and Alessandro Venturella?

Alessandro Venturella… What kind of name is that? [Laughs] Alessandro Venturella… I am neither going to not confirm nor deny that. [Laughs]

You guys have unveiled your new masks. We see the changes in how they look, but has there actually been an evolution in how comfortable and convenient they are for you to wear compared to the beginnings of the band?

You know, they’ve never been that uncomfortable and that inconvenient. For me, the masks, it’s more the thought of putting the mask on rather than actually having the mask on, if you know what I mean. Once the mask is on, I don’t even realize that I’m wearing it [chuckles]. It’s an evolutionary process and I was more concerned about the writing and the recording of the music. I didn’t really think about the mask thing so much. I don’t like changing my mask that much, I like to keep it pretty close to what it’s always been, just maybe do variations of it, small little evolutions of it. There are some other guys in the band that like to drastically change theirs so that it’s way different from what they previously had. I don’t want to go that far because I think it’s important to be able to recognize some semblance of what that member is or represent, at least from a fan standpoint. Now it’s not to say that if we do another record, something happens and completely changes my mind on how my image is in the band and how I wanna be perceived in the band, I might start from scratch and do one completely new. But for now, I just wanna do, like I said, slight changes and slight variations.

What can we expect from the band in the live setting for the future?

We’re building a whole new stage set. We’re gonna migrate our pyro and our lighting into the stage set that we’re building. It’s been a long time. I mean, we haven’t had a new stage set built since the Subliminal Verses. That’s the main kind of new thing. As far as anything else, that’s all. There’s gonna be an evolution as we move forward, tour and learn more about ourselves [chuckles].

« I’m assuming that there are people in [Stone Sour] that didn’t want to see a Slipknot album cycle happen because they wanted to continue doing what they were doing. »

On another subject, you were pretty much fired from Stone Sour at the end of last year. Hasn’t this tarnished your relationship with Corey Taylor?

It definitely added a new dynamic to my relationship with Corey Taylor, that’s for sure. I think if anything, it’s probably made me and Corey a little bit closer. If anything is tarnished, it’s my relationship with other people that are still remaining members of Stone Sour. I haven’t even spoken with those guys since they conspired and made their choice, which is fine because it doesn’t really affect me that much right now, other than the fact that I had a lot of blood in the game, I cared a lot about that band. I cared more about that band than how much money that band was making. I cared about the music and what we were doing as a band. And I think that’s part of the reason why we had disagreements, because I think there are other people in that band that cared more about money than what the band was doing artistically. So, having said that, it was probably in everybody’s best interest that I’m not a part of it anymore.

But what were the concrete reasons for your departure?

I don’t know. You’d have to ask the conspirators of the band what that is, because I still don’t know what the reason is. None of them have the balls to pick up a phone and call me. The only thing I can think of is somebody who’s only concerned about money and wants to continue to keep a Stone Sour tour going when there should be a Slipknot album cycle happening, and it’s probably somebody who thinks: “Well, if I get rid of this member, then I’ll get more publishing money and I’ll get more merch money…” Since I haven’t spoken about it with anybody, other than Corey, that’s the only kind of conclusion that I can draw from it. Me and Corey are doing great, we have a great relationship and it’s probably only gonna get better as the [Slipknot] album cycle goes on. I honestly am still in the dark on that one too, so it’d be interesting to know… But then again, those guys don’t really think things through very well. Maybe they didn’t think it through, maybe they were just like: “We need to keep touring and Jim doesn’t want to tour, so fuck it, we’ll fire him!” Maybe it was just that dumb. [Chuckes]

But Corey Taylor is also both in Slipknot and Stone Sour, so what made the difference, why did they have a problem with you being in both bands and not with Corey?

Hum, I don’t know, because they probably can’t have a career without Corey, I would have to assume, you know [chuckles]. I mean, if they lose Corey from Stone Sour, then that’s it, Stone Sour’s done. I’m just a guitar player; I’m not the voice of the band, so to speak, even though I brought a lot to the table songwriting wise and guitar playing wise. I suppose it’s easy to find somebody to come in and try to play my parts, it’ll never sound the same but it’s a lot harder to replace somebody like Corey than it is, I suppose, to replace a guitar player.

You recently said that it all worked out « for the better » because you weren’t « really happy » with Stone Sour anymore. What were you unhappy of in Stone Sour?

Just a lot of things; a lot of decisions that were being made or that weren’t being made as a full band. Nothing was really ever decided on as a full band, it was just a bunch of individuals trying to put their way forward. You fought on things, with three guys who want one thing one way and one guy who want it a different way, and then, all of a sudden, it’s one guy’s way instead of how everybody voted it… It was so many different things. You know, politics is a huge, deep, kind of scary thing, but at the end of the day, essentially, a Slipknot album’s process needed to start happening. I’m assuming that there are people in that other band that didn’t want to see a Slipknot album cycle happen because they wanted to continue doing what they were doing. So the Slipknot album process kept getting pushed back and pushed back and pushed back and… It got to the point where it just couldn’t get pushed back anymore, we had to move on and start. You know, you make plans as a band and people go against those plans and change their minds, and then, all of a sudden, you’re left with sort of being told that things are gonna happen a certain way. You just have to deal with it and be happy about it or… or not! [Chuckles] For me it was important to get back to Slipknot and I think everybody knew that that needed to happen. Maybe that didn’t make certain people happy. Maybe they were upset that things were gonna have to happen as they’d always happen in the past.

Has this actually allowed you to maybe use a little bit of that anger that you had from being fired from the band into the Slipknot album?

Maybe a little bit but I had already written most of these songs before. The worst news that I had, was that they were gonna do a tour without me. And that’s when I started focusing on writing the Slipknot record. So the big knife in the back didn’t happen until we’d already been out working on preproduction, working with the new drummer, working with the producer, right before the rest of the band came out. Corey had to go do this tour with Stone Sour before he came out to work on this record. I don’t know man, there are so many different variables and, like I said, none of them ever decided to reach out to tell me what their mentality was [chuckles] or why it was happening. They’d probably say it was something like I was unhappy or I was complaining or whatever, but I’m not the only one…

Interview conducted by phone on September, 24th 2014 by Spaceman.
Transcription and introduction : Spaceman.

Slipknot official website : www.slipknot1.com.

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