Q&A: Clown of Slipknot on Mayhem, the Memory of Paul Gray, Teddy Bears and Love

Slipknot!

Slipknot’s founding member Michael Shawn Crahan—better known as Clown, or #6—became famous by wearing creepy leather zipper masks and bloody clown noses onstage. “Sweet” would probably not be the first word you’d use to describe him, but in truth, the Slipknot drummer is ALL about peace and love. He adores his wife, loves his family, his music, Slipknot’s fans, and STILL gets sentimental over the death of his friend and bandmate. If we didn’t know better, we’d think he was wearing tie-dye underneath all those costumes. We caught up with Crahan at the Seattle leg of the Mayhem Festival, and this is what we talked about.

This is your second time headlining Mayhem—you guys played at the first one five years ago. What’s different?
For us nothing, it’s just chill. As far as the festival goes, it just keep getting better. It’s designed around the people playing, and [the organizers] keep it really comfortable. Because when you leave home and leave your family, it’s really nice to come out here and enjoy this family.

What’s been your best experience so far?
Fuckin’ off-roading a golf cart down a motorcycle trail in LA. I had this golf cart five-foot in the air!

And the worst?
I lost my wallet at the start of the festival—I lost everything. It was a very personal wallet that my wife got me from Italy. I had a coin from Stonehenge, pictures of my kids, a credit card, two debit cards, all my medical insurance, car insurance, I had three lucky dollar bills. So the day after I lose it, I try to cancel my card and [the bank] said someone used it in a lingerie store at 2:30 a.m. for $23. And then I get a call from someone saying they found it, and everything’s on it, so the guy who had it had to have used it. So I’m going to give him a chance to come clean. I’ll tell him, give me $100 and I won’t press charges. I have some good karma here. It’s been a rough three days. But we’re having a blast, the band’s killing it and the crowd’s so much fun.

That’s cute, you’re upset because you lost the wallet your wife got you! For a guy who founded Slipknot you’re pretty sentimental. You’re so sweet to your wife on your Facebook page, too.
Thank you. I am kind of like typecast as looking pretty mean; I’m big, I have a goatee, pretty rough around the edges. It’s getting better though, as I’m getting older, I’m getting more distinguished, which is what I hoped I’d always be, like a big teddy bear. I kind of am that way. Without sounding corny, I like to help. It’s easy to hate, it’s easy to lie and steal, but it’s almost impossible to love, so I make that my priority. It’s easy to make the wrong decisions so I try to make the right decisions.

Knotfest, your first festival ever, will launch in Iowa in August. Talk a little bit about that—I read it was going to be a “dark festival experience.”
It’s something we’ve wanted to do forever. In the early days of the band, we did Ozzfest and one tour and that was that. We couldn’t get on any bills. [Organizers] could never make it work because there were nine of us, so we just started headlining our own shows. Then Metallica took us out, and we started get on some festivals. We’ve headlined every single European festival—you name it—and we always thought they were great because their festivals would last four days, and one night it would be metal, another hip-hop, another pop . . . We thought it would be great if we could make our own festival with our own thought process. We just want to do what we want to do with things that we think should be brought to rock n’ roll. [At Knotfest] you’re going to get assaulted. You’re going to walk in and smell like Slipknot all weekend long.

We’ve had a tragedy with Paul [Gray, Slipknot's bassist who passed away in 2010] and we’ve been trying to figure that out . . . it’s just bringing more than just the band. We’re bringing the band’s ideas.

Is the lineup made up of bands you like the most?
There’s a lot of bands that we’d like to play but it all depends on availability. But the bands that are with us, we love. It’s really important for us. There’s new bands we feel people should see. Then there’s old friends; the Urge is one of the first bands that gave Slipknot a chance before we were signed. They’re greatly different from us and our music, but we brought them back because they’re our bros. We were opening for them when we were unsigned and now they’re opening for us. It’s all family.

What pushed you forward after Paul’s death?
What drove us … I think just the fact that our fans are so important to us. When it first happened, we didn’t know what to think or feel. I started the band with Paul and it’s hard to think of going on without him; I still have a lot of goals. But there’s always just going to be nine members. He’s #2, that was his number, and he’ll never not be with us. We’ll always be nine forever. If we ever decide to get another bass player we’ll worry about it then, but he won’t have a number. There’s only nine.

Do you wish Paul could’ve seen Knotfest?
He was a big contributor to that thought process. That’s why we’re doing it in Iowa first. He’s from Venice [Beach, Calif.]  so he got to see all those bands growing up like Slayer. In Iowa, if a big band skips Des Moines or another big city, we’d have to drive to Chicago or Minneapolis to watch them. So now, it’s not revenge or anything but hey, we’re doing Knotfest and you can only see it in Iowa for the first one. We checked ticket sales and a lot of them are from Chicago so that’s cool. If you love music you’re driven to go where  you need to go to see what you need to see. If you want to go see Knotfest, you have to get in your car and drive, and that’s what we did growing up.

What about the new album?
We’ve been gone for a while; by this time we would’ve already had another album out, but because of Paul we’re taking our time. I was happy to convince the label to do the upcoming album which is not really a “best-of,” I hate that term. Maybe the closest I’ll get as a description is it’s kind of a compilation album. I needed time to work on the artwork . . . but it’s the sort of album you gotta ponder and conceptualize with your friends. It’s four albums over 12 years and you’re hearing it all together—it’s a different listening experience.

How do you do your other projects? You have a movie company with Corey Taylor [singer].
It’s called Living Breathing Things, and we did it because I want to do other things after we’re done touring. I want to act and direct; I’m writing our own script. The way Corey and I look at movies is kind of the same. so we’re a great team.

What’s your first movie about?
I’d rather not say. We’re on the second thought process of it, and things change. I will say this: Everything we’re going to do is pretty much a psychological thriller.

'The Apocalyptic Nightmare Journey' by M. Shawn Crahan, available on Amazon.com.

Your book of Polaroid photography, Apocalyptic Nightmare Journey, just came out as well. You take photos of everything, using digital cameras and Instagram. Why did you choose to make a Polaroid book?
Basically when I first got in our career, rock photographers would take our photos on medium format (120 mm) film and they’d put a Polaroid back on a medium format camera to test the lighting. It would take a minute to develop and I got obsessed with the instant gratification of it.

It was a time when I was noticed I was getting down on myself because I didn’t have formal education so I said I’d get myself master’s thesis going in Polaroid photography. It ended up being like a four-year degree, master’s and Ph.D. in Polaroid photography.
I scraped up every dollar that I didn’t have and bought this camera. And this guy who took our photo for Rolling Stone mentored me and he said I gotta learn f-stops and all that. At least four of my earliest photos are in the book.

The cover is one of the earliest Polaroids I’ve ever taken. The book has taken 11 years to make. There’s more than 5000 pictures and a foreword from Metallica’s Lars Ulrich.

After all these years what the book is basically about is this: I have Polaroids I’ve microwaved, peed on, ripped in half, squeezed so the chemicals would develop the picture again like a double exposure. That need for instant gratification took me on a path of perfect imperfectionism. I took this word perfect and deconstructed it by destroying Polaroids. The action is take the photo, reaction is destroying it, and the result is originality. So I’d be holding something that not even I can recreate ever, and that’s perfect. It is completely original, unto itself that’s basically what I would’ve turned in at school for a thesis. People think they’re Photoshopped but they’re just manipulated. And that’s just my thing.

How did you get Lars Ulrich to do the foreword?
I’ve known Lars for a long time, and when I sent him all my pictures, he said I’m really busy but once I get all your stuff I want to write something spontaneous. I chose him because:

1. He’s an artist.
2. He loves art.
3. He collects art.
4. He’s a peer.
5. He’s a mentor of sorts.
6. He’s a fucking legend.
7. What he wrote brought me to tears.

—Lilledeshan Bose