Slipknot guitarist Mick Thompson
Here’s a vintage interview with Slipknot guitarist Mick Thomson, conducted in 2006 for the Voliminal DVD:
Maggots, rejoice! Slipknot, the nine-man masked monstrosity from Des Moines, Iowa, whose three official albums and countless tours have reinvigorated hard music in recent years, will return.
Meanwhile, with singer Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root touring their side project, Stone Sour, their label, Roadrunner, has put out Voliminal: Inside the Nine, a two-disc DVD set that includes interviews, videos and live footage.
The centerpiece, though, is a 90-minute film on the band’s two-year tour in support of their last album, 2004′s Vol. 3 (The Subliminal Verses), put together by percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan. Unlike 2002′s slick Disasterpieces DVD, which saw the band’s blistering live show captured by 30 cameras in an entertaining but relatively orthodox way, Crahan’s Voliminal film is a surreal mindfuck culled from hundreds of hours of video shot by band members and their associates. We do see Slipknot perform, but the splintered narrative is more about capturing the world of Slipknot on tour, from arty black & white shots of half-naked groupies to band hi-jinks, harsh words and overflowing toilets.
With Crahan unavailable due to an unnamed personal situation, I spoke to guitarist Mick Thompson by phone about touring, Jägermeister, and the future of Slipknot.
Q: I know Voliminal was put together by Clown, but what involvement did you and the rest of the band have with the project?
Well, the video basically is a big collection of all sorts of things shot by many different people over the couple of years that we were out on the road. There’s a little tiny bit of footage that predates the Subliminal Verses tour — there’s a couple of little quick clips of older stuff — but there were some things that we didn’t actually want to miss out on. It’s not like an all-career encompassing thing, it’s just mainly from the last record on. It’s just an interesting sort of chronicle and view of how that all works.
Q: Did you collectively sign-off on it? I assume you trusted Shawn to do right by the band.
Yeah. All of our tapes that we had we turned over towards the project, and you can’t have fucking nine people cooking. And that’s an area Shawn likes and has an interesting approach towards so it was a fairly easy and natural [decision] to let Shawn steer that. Of course we got to see little samples here and there and shit, and we threw in our two cents and whatever. But for the most part I think — and I’m sure the rest of us do — Shawn did a great job. There really wasn’t any fucking with it after the fact. What he came up with was basically what we rolled with.
Q: What do you think of Shawn’s film? Is it an accurate depiction of what Slipknot is like on the road?
Yeah. A lot of the things are left out. If it was to be an accurate representation of our day, it would have to be more boring. Because that’s a lot of the shit on the road – it’s like feast or famine. You’re either having an amazing time or, like, no time at all. There’s a lot of waiting and sitting around your hotel. You’re up two hours before lobby call and you sit around watching TV with nothing to do because you have nothing to do until 2 pm. So you wake up at noon. That kind of aspect. We’re sitting in line waiting for something, waiting in an airport. I mean there’s little bits of that, waiting at the airport, but our flight’s cancelled, it’s four hours later and you’re trying to find something to do and you sit around the terminal with your thumb up your ass.
Q: How difficult is it to keep yourself amused on tour?
It’s different for everybody. Because we all have different thresholds of how much boredom you can accept before you lose your shit. That’s where the hi-jinks come in, that’s where stupid, prank-like things kind of enter into it. You just have to keep yourself amused.
Q: Who are the instigators in the band?
It depends. Depends on where everybody is on that day. Some people reach their breaking point and act out sooner than others. We all have different personalities so different things come out in different ways.
Q: I interviewed Corey a few months ago for Stone Sour and he felt the last Slipknot tour went on too long. Do you feel the same way?
I don’t think so. The whole key to staying on the road is just to take breaks. If you’re hammered too hard at the end of one tour and you pick up another one immediately without any kind of break between, that starts to get old. If we’re the kind of band that can just walk on stage in whatever fucking clothes we’re wearing, stand in one spot and bob your head, play and then walk off stage, it would be a whole different fuckin’ thing.
But there is so much involved with us just to get on stage it becomes much more of a chore, and the stage show… I mean obviously we’re very physical, and it kicks your ass. And over a period of time it really wears you down. If we were a band where I would walk out, stand in front of my monitors and never leave that tiny area the whole show, which is 90% of any live music you’ll ever see, then it would be a walk in the park, but it’s not. It’s fuckin’ brutal what we do. We’ve been doing it a long time, but it takes its toll on your body. That shit hurts.
So I can see Corey saying that, especially because he’s the one that’s got to sing. I mean, all I have to do is make my hands do something. If my body hurts, that’s cool as long as I can make my hands do what they need to do, but him being the voice it’s obviously harder on him physically to give that level of energy in a show and be singing at the same time I’m sure it takes something extra out of him.
We all have our different limits, we all have our different ideas about what too much is. But as long as we have adequate breaks, give us three weeks to a month every month or two, we can stay on the road forever. But if you have an extended tour, it really kicks your ass.
Q: How about off tour? What are you working on these days?
Um, dinner? [laughs] I’m working on being lazy and just enjoying life. It’s like when we work that’s all we do. So when we’re off, to me, it’s like I’m off. I mean obviously I play my guitar and I write stuff, whatever, but not very seriously. I just kind of save that shit up until we start to get together again, and then I hit it.
Q: On the DVD, the energy created by Slipknot live seems to come at least partly from the members egging each other on to greater and greater acts of both destruction and musicianship. How important are your bandmates to making you perform better on stage?
Everything can be inspiring. It’s very personal for me, and just walking out and having anyone look at you… To me, I have to give the best I have and everything that I am. Otherwise I would be shortchanging the people in the crowd.
So it comes down to a pride thing. I don’t ever want to have a better show than I had today. I don’t want to go, ‘Oh, today was alright, but two days ago I was a lot better’. I would feel like I’m ripping people off.
That’s kind of my motivation, but then again we’re all different. A lot of that you can see is between Sid [Wilson, turntables] and Clown. If Clown’s kind of down, maybe sick, whatever, Sid’s kind of going nuts, maybe more than the day before. Certainly you can see how that will pick him up once the show gets started. We all have our days. We all take inspiration from different things. Corey can be particularly good-sounding one night, or Joey [Jordison, drums] can have… For the most part we play the same things but drum fills will change here and there. Sometimes a little thing like that, like a drum fill – the crowd wouldn’t even notice that it was different – is different just in the way it hits, will spark something and I’ll even get more into it. There’s fuel for that everywhere you look, and it’s always different on every night.
Q: There’s a lot of Jägermeister consumed in Voliminal. How important is Jäger to a successful Slipknot tour?
Well, it depends on who you’re talking to. It’s dinner for Craig [Jones, samples/keyboards]. Craigermeister! I think it ended up in the movie; Craig’s tattoo is a Craigermeister tattoo.
Q: Oh, I didn’t notice that.
Yeah, I think there’s a shot of it, and it ended up making the final cut. Next time you see it, pay attention. I’m pretty sure it made the cut. It was in the edit I saw. Yeah, he swears by the shit. I’m mostly a vodka guy myself, but those nights where people are handing out Jäger after the show… Yeah, I end up feeling shitty the next day because I usually take it a little too far. But they’re amazingly fun nights. We always end up having a lot of fun, but if fuckin’ hurts!
Q: I find Jäger is a clean drunk.
Drinking that by itself? Because I’ve never just been Jäger drunk. I’ve never just drunk Jäger and that’s my buzz. I’m a vodka guy. So the vodka on our rider is for me. So I’m drinking that all night, and towards the end of the night is when I start having all these Jäger shots shoved at me. If we drink three-fourths of a bottle of Grey Goose and then you have three or four shots of Jäger on top of that, you’re going to feel kind of rough. But if it’s a hell of a lot of fun when you do it. No, you you forget that. Two days later you find yourself doing it again, and you’re like, ‘What the…? Didn’t I learn anything from the way I felt two days ago?’ It ends up being a lot of fun. It passes the time. I mean, after the show, bus call is two [a.m.]. What else am I going to do?
Q: All the band members appear unmasked in the DVD interviews. Was that a big decision?
No, there was fighting. [laughs] When we originally filmed it, everything was going to be blurred out. And I think it was Shawn who made the observation that it would be a bit of a robbery for holding back. You can see people with their responses, and you can actually see the humanity there; a way of expressing yourself that if you just simply had it blurred out is gone. And we were like, you know, maybe it’s time to throw that out there in giving something additional. And also it just helps you understand everyone as people more, I think. We’re all pretty different so you can really see that. I think that comes across much better than just having our faces blanked out.
So at first I was like ‘no, no, let’s roll with our original shit’, and then I thought about it more I’m like, ‘you know what? That makes perfect sense’. There’s a couple people didn’t want that.
It’s just another aspect. Over the years, little bits here and there have been revealed. It isn’t like there’s any set plan to eventually be unmasked. It’s not paving the way for something. And there’s been much talk about it on the Internet, on fan sites and shit. Like with our ‘Before I Forget’ video [where the band performs unmasked but is only every glimpsed obliquely]. Like ‘are they teasing us?’ No, we weren’t. It was just a different aspect, doing something a little bit different. It’s not part of a masterplan or anything.
Q: Was there any concern that the anonymity the masks provide would be compromised?
Well, of course, but it’s already been compromised. You see Corey on the cover of a magazine with Stone Sour without his mask on, it’s compromised. At that point you go, ‘Well, let’s see. We’ve got a few people that are exposed’. Obviously keeping some other people under wraps, Craig especially.
It’s fun. It’s awesome because everywhere we go, me and Craig a lot of times on the road, we’ll go out, find something to eat or whatever, and nobody ever bothers Craig. He loves that. So it’ll be funny once we start touring to see how that’s changed. Maybe Craig will finally be outed. He was one of the last. Him and Chris [Fehn, percussion] are basically the only ones who weren’t really seen.
At a point where nearly half of your band has been seen in magazines without their shit on, it’s like ‘well, what the fuck are we doing?’ And especially because it does show more personality, we’re like ‘let’s just roll with that’. Still, I don’t think there’s going to be any magic lost. We’re still going to be delivering what we do. In fact, every album we add something to what we are, and I think the show is added to also. It should be no different this next time.
Q: In his DVD interview, Corey describes Slipknot as akin to having cysts removed from your body: it’s a painful experience but necessary, and it feels great afterwards. How much of the Slipknot experience is pain and how much of it is pleasure?
Oh, there’s a lot of pain. There’s plenty of fucking pain. Every show hurts, like, a lot. And then you hurt later. There’s nobody in the band who hasn’t suffered injuries. I’ve had my back all fucked up a few times, I’ve taken out a knee, twisting it. Not to the level that Chris did, tearing his ACL on stage; to be in a brace, to be on crutches. There were some shows we played where Chris was on crutches instead of being on the sidelines or going home until he was better he was on the stage on crutches. It was pretty funny. I wanted to get him one of those Stephen Hawking wheelchairs to futz around with the mouth control thing. I thought that would be kind of hot, but we didn’t make that happen.
Clown’s been hurt several times, in addition to just ongoing, lingering pain. Smacking his head on his drums, splitting his head open. Multiple times in the emergency room to get stitches. Sid’s done the same shit. Paul’s [Gray, bass] taken his knees out. Jim’s [Root, guitar] hurt his back really bad and had knee problems. I’m sure Corey’s throat can’t feel very good. It really takes its toll.
However, the reward… We’ll never stop giving the level that we do because, in the end… My own personal motivation is pride. I couldn’t go out and give less than I’ve ever given before. At that point, it’s like ‘take me out in the field and shoot me’. It’s like a race horse with a broken leg kind of thing. Well, game over. So I will always deliver on that level. Because I have to. Pride’s a motherfucker for me. I can’t get wounded like that. And we’re all very proud. We’re all different, but I think that underlying pride is there for all of us. So that’s a motivator in itself.
The most amazing thing in the world is to have your name on a marquee and people come up to pay money to see your show, they’re wearing your shirts. To see the look in people’s eyes when you walk out on stage, it doesn’t matter how you’ve felt all day long, it doesn’t matter if you thought the dressing room was too warm, stupid shit like that. You’re like, ‘What the fuck was wrong with me an hour ago when I was pissed off about something?’ Now I get on stage and I see this and none of that matters. It brings you back and grounds you pretty well. There’s all of that. It’s so amazing. Pain? What?
Q: Is that pride a distinctly middle American value?
It very well could be. Those are the things you don’t really realize. Because the location does factor in a lot to your sort of moral fibre, whether you want it to or not.
I know lots of people who live in very religious Southern towns, they can be fairly rebellious but still have that aspect to them, growing up there, and it’s just conditioning. I think that could sort of be the case.
We’re not pussies. Even the most pussy of us isn’t a pussy. In the face of any kind of adversity, we just kind of fuckin’ put our heads down and plow forward. I can only speak for myself on that. If there’s anything fazing me, I have to conquer it. There is no defeat. You just can’t do that. We’re basically all of that same kind of mind.
Q: Are you in Slipknot withdrawal yet? Are you yearning to get back to the band?
I love my time off, but yeah. Within about a month of being off, you’d give anything to be back. That’s what I was talking about with touring. I can sustain touring for the rest of my life, as long as we have three weeks, a month off every couple of months. You just need that time to let your body recover, kind of heal everything. Any kind of bullshit that you had before, any kind of issues you’ve made peace with it, and you’re ready to go back out and do it again. I love being lazy and sitting around and having fun — whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it. I think it’s much better to be touring.
Q: What is the state of the band at the moment? Do you have plans to get together again?
Yeah. There was a plan before we even got off tour a year ago. Yeah, we’re going to give it a year and a half, two years tops — kind of a little bit of a cushion there — to maybe let those guys, like Corey and Jim, maybe take a little bit of a breather if they need it when they’re done.
It’s like last time they went straight from them doing their thing right back with us and then recording and touring for two years. So they didn’t get any kind of a break really. And then again that’s your decision, and you have to understand that. If I was touring straight through, I wouldn’t expect too much because that’s whatever. Slipknot is the band and anything else outside of that is whatever you want to do with it, but we all understand that our band is king and everything else kind of falls around it. Not to take anything away from anything, but there is one central focus in all of our lives, and that’s what it is and that’s what really matters. I’ve talked to Joey, talked to Paul a little bit here and there, and we’ll informally start getting together here and there in the next few months. Just casually working different things out, let people get done with what they’re doing and show up and whatever, sort of mix that stuff in then really get rolling, getting very serious. I find that a lot of our best ideas come when things are very light-hearted and there’s no pressure. So just casually getting together I think will be pretty productive.
Q: The demands on your time from travelling, photoshoots, interviews and just waiting I imagine are pretty exhausting. How much of whatever tension the band endures comes from outside the band as opposed to inside?
We have an amazing freedom, really. We don’t have much in the way of pressure. We’re not a pop act so our label doesn’t dictate our every move. It’s not like ‘okay, now you have to do this’. Like ‘yeah, okay, whatever’. We have our own kind of schedule. We all fuck around a lot. If we want to deliver a record in whatever time frame we’ll do that in that time frame. There’s a lot of freedom in what we do anyway. There’s never really been any pressure. The only pressure we had, and it wasn’t even really much, was with Iowa. We kind of jumped back in a little earlier than we were originally intending to.
You can’t force art. That’s an approach that we have. You have to be very open and free and casual about what you’re doing. You can’t go, ‘Okay, motherfucker, paint a picture right now! Make it great. I’m looking over your shoulder. Now paint something awesome!’ Art doesn’t work like that, it has to flow. That’s what I mean. Screwing around, casually getting together… I’m sure we’ll come up with ideas that’ll end up being key on the next album anyway. You’ve got to have fun. I mean, music is fun, and it should always be fun. It should never just be a business.
Q: Vol. 3 was better received than Iowa both critically and commercially. Did it feel like a comeback record?
We had more time. We pretty much had as much time as we wanted on Iowa anyway. We got back together writing for Iowa a little sooner than we had initially planned to, and then we had studio time set. It wasn’t like a big rush or anything.
And also it was a much darker album than our first one, much more than our third one. Every time – well, unless you’re fabricating everything you do and it’s a contrived bunch of shit, which ours isn’t – we don’t ever enter with a game plan. We just start writing and whatever music comes out, comes out.
So our second record… Our first album had been written over a period of years. We all live in our own respective homes here in town. Our lives aren’t turned upside down, we’re not surrounded by shitty people who are stealing our money, shitty hangers-on and all the sort of scum that you meet in the music industry. So we go through our entire first album cycle with all that negative music industry shit — at least from my standpoint, I hate that shit. So I was much darker, darker than I even was before.
Things sour you. Being on tour with different bands, the bullshit that you end up putting up with, former management that’s fuckin’ cancerous to your existence. Shit like that, and also having to be together as long as we were on the same bus. We couldn’t afford multiple buses at the time. We’re all in each other’s faces for the first time ever. You have to deal with all of that. You have to deal with fame all of a sudden. Everyone reacts differently to fame and shit.
So you’ve got ego that starts changing… People’s personalities start changing. I mean, there’s so much going on. I think you’ll notice a lot of bands’ second record… If they had much success on their first album, their second record is a little darker than their first one. There’s a lot of bands go that way, and it’s just the psychology of it. That was part of it with us. Different people are changing in different ways, and that was kind of evident with what you heard. We didn’t give a fuck about commercial success and we still don’t. Our most recent record did very well commercially and continues to do so, but that wasn’t the idea. Like Iowa, the idea was we do whatever the hell we want to and that’s our record. Vol. 3, we do whatever the hell we want to and that’s our record.
Q: I assume you’re not looking forward to putting the mask back on.
Oh, fuck yeah! It’s so amazing to do that. I did an appearance at the NAMM show last year after being off for several months – it was at the end of January – and it’s just such an amazing feeling going out, signing shit, and people, their reactions you get. And I did a clinic tour for Ibanez over the summer, just a two-week thing across the US in a few select cities.
Putting on the fuckin’ warpaint again and walking out in front of people is just the most amazing feeling. Who would have ever imagined? And it’s such an amazing rush.
So those are just little tastes, and that’s nothing compared to walking on stage in a giant room with an amp that’s so fucking loud that it liquefies your bowels — and it often does liquify my bowels in case you’re wondering. That is good low end, my friend. It’s amazing and I can’t wait to do it again.