Solo albums by famous lead singers can be dicey gambits. They can offer an artist a fresh musical pulpit, or they could divide the group that made them famous. Luckily for Corey Taylor, his solo endeavors haven't interfered with his main metal mission.
With CMFT and CMF2 — the latter of which arrives Sept. 15 — Taylor crafted legitimately interesting albums that also suit the odyssey of his multiple musical personalities. Best known for fronting the GRAMMY-winning metal band Slipknot, Taylor's masked persona has allowed him to vent rambunctious energy on and off stage; his original group, Stone Sour, saw Taylor explore more melodic heavy rock avenues. While his solo work is somewhat aligned with the music that made him famous, it's another animal altogether.
Taylor first began performing solo acoustic shows in late 2011, nearly a decade before 2020's CMFT. The shows completely shed any musical assumptions people would associate with the singer, as he covered songs he wouldn't normally do with his other bands and gave people a look into his true multifaceted identity. His solo performances also included various spoken word segments with spontaneous comedy bits, a nod to his literary instincts (to date, he's authored four books and a comic book series).
CMF2 continues to bring the unexpected. While many of its 13 tracks are heavy, they also span wider genre influences, notably '70s and '80s classic rock sounds. Tracks like "Post Traumatic Blues" and "All I Want Is Hate" bristle with intense electric energy and the acoustic ballad "Sorry Me" taps into introspective territory; the bluesy "Breath of Fresh Smoke" resides between the two sonically, building from a gentle first half into a spirited electric guitar solo at its center. "Dead Flies" closes the album by invoking '90s hard rock vibes – ultimately proving that there's really no rock style Taylor can't tackle.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Taylor in the midst of his recent tour with his solo band to discuss the new album, his artistic progress over the last 30 years, and how his solo ventures are a good way for him to transition into other musical adventures.
While your label is promoting the heavier tracks like "Beyond" from CMF2, there's a bit more nuance here than on your first album, which had some mellower moments.
Absolutely. This is the only way I've been able to describe it — the first album was "I've got all these tunes, let's just see if anybody likes them." There was really no plan, there was really no focus. I'd never really had the opportunity to present the songs that I've written over the years to see if people even like these things.
Once I realized that the audience was there for my songwriting — not the band, not the aesthetic of anything, just me writing as an artist — then we could lean into this. Now I can tap into stuff that I really want to do and really try to focus this album and make it a journey.
What I've tried to do with every album that I'm involved with, whether I'm producing or not, is to make it feel like I'm taking people somewhere, and hopefully bring them back. So on this album, the nuances are overstated. The heavies feel heavy, the quiets still quiet. The contemplative nature is still there, but the songs are just really, really good.
What's the most personal song on the new album for you?
Oh man, that's tricky. There's so many different sides to me on this album. It's a toss up between "Post Traumatic Blues" and "Sorry Me." Just from a strictly selfish point of view.
If I was talking about the more optimistic, almost romantic side, "Starmate," "Beyond," "Someday I'll Change Your Mind" — songs that I've written for my wife — that stuff brings that whole other side out of me. But when it comes to just those moments of contemplation and really dealing with those darker moments that depression affords me, "Sorry Me" is definitely one of those things where you're just sitting there and feel dog-piled by the mistakes that you've made in your life. You know it's not something that you're doing, it's the depression pulling those out of you. It's pulling those memories out to almost weigh you down even more, and fighting your way through that to get back to the surface of that ocean is tough.
"Sorry Me" is almost like that moment where you have to forgive yourself for the mistakes that you've made in your life and realize that time is moving on. And if you don't allow yourself a little levity, then you're just going to be carrying around a million tons of bricks for the rest of your life.
A lot of your lyrics, metaphorically, go into a place of trying to find home. Not home within your house, but home within yourself.
You're absolutely right. I spent so many years on the road when I was a kid that I had no real sense of what a home was. The only real home I knew was my grandmother's house. That was the only place I felt safe. It was the only place where, when I got there, I felt like I didn't have to worry about what was going to happen to me. It was the only house in the world where I felt like I could just be myself.
As I've gotten older, my home that I have now is that. I didn't really have that over the years, even when I was living by myself — maybe because I wasn't comfortable with myself. I was still finding myself. But my home now is definitely the place where I can take that deep breath and feel okay with it.
So, musically, maybe that's where my journey is still going, and maybe that's one of the reasons why I enjoy writing in so many different genres. I've never felt like there's one genre that feels like home. I'm constantly exploring different things. Then again, maybe it's just music in general that feels like home. So why can't I explore all of these different genres? Because I feel really comfortable. There's a flip side of that coin that I've never really considered before.
Your acoustic sets show another side of you, and you get to pull out unusual covers. You have a rowdy crowd, but they're willing to indulge you. Do you think because of the way you can embody these different styles, you've been able to pull in a lot of metal fans who might not normally be along for the ride?
I think so. I've definitely inspired a sort of trust because of just how many years I've been doing it now, and the fact that anything I do has really showed that it comes from the heart. It doesn't come from any other place other than this really true, honest place. I've never written music just to write music. I've written music because I wanted to write that type of music, I wanted to play that type of music. And, to me, that's the best way to try to ensure that the audience is going to show up and listen. The second you throw them for a loop and it's not honest, they're going to be like, "Nope, we're never trusting you again."
I've never known anything other than to be completely honest musically. So you're right — when it comes to the acoustic shows, there would be the handful of metal dudes [coming who were], like, the closeted metal fan who loves softer stuff but never wanted to admit it before. "If it's not Slayer, it's not heavy!"
It's those guys [who are] singing [the Slipknot ballad] "Snuff" the loudest. When you have something that touches people like that, man, it doesn't matter genre-wise.
I think that's one of the reasons why I've come to be this solo artist because, to me, the songs are what matter. A good song transcends a genre. It will transcend your gatekeeping for a certain type of music, and it will make you go, "You're going to enjoy this whether you like it or not. You just need to get over yourself."
In the "Beyond" video, I see that Corey is learning to do some lead guitar work.
Well, I'm finally sharing it, anyway. A lot of people don't know this, but when I started Stone Sour back in '92, I played rhythm and lead while singing. It was largely because everybody that we tried out just wasn't good enough, and that was the story of my life, really.
When I first started playing music, it was almost a catch-22. I was always better than the drummer that we had in the band. And when I was playing drums, I was always better than the singer that we had in the band. It was one of those instances where it was either s— or get off the pot. I had to pick one. Finally I was like, I'd rather sing. I feel really good when I sing. Not that I don't love playing drums, and I still play drums. But I would rather sing because, to me, the challenge is finding those ways to emote and do those things.
The same with guitar playing. I didn't necessarily want to be the lead guitar player, but at the same time, I've got these songs that I really love and nobody's playing them the way I want them to be played. So I have to do that. Then once I discovered people like Jim Root and all the other people that I've been blessed to work with, I've been able to give up that.
But when I demoed "Beyond" and I wrote that solo, it was one of the coolest solos I'd ever written. It's short, it's concise, it's melodic, it's got a hook of its own. I knew that if we recorded it I wanted to be the one to do it. It's just one of my favorite solos which is one of the reasons why it's the one that I do on the album.
You also play mandolin on the album, and you say your piano playing has been getting better. It's not often you see a lead singer as a multi-instrumentalist or soloist.
I guess it's because I just love writing music. I love writing songs, period, and to me, the best way to be able to write different kinds of songs is to learn to play different types of instruments. Because I learned by ear, I'm pretty adept at getting good fairly quickly. It takes me a minute. And obviously, I'm not going to go out and perform with the London Philharmonic, but at the same time getting to learn chords on the piano, or learning different tunings on the mandolin, is a lot of fun. It helps me explore stuff to the point where if I want to write something now in any genre, or any style, I can pull the Wurlitzer out on this and lay down a Doobie Brothers kind of thing and just have fun with it. That, to me, is the exciting part of learning different instruments.
You've done a lot of guest appearances and collabs over the years— everyone from Korn to Apocalyptica to comedian/voice actor Tom Kenny. What's been the most challenging?
That's a good question. I've been really lucky in the fact that everything that I've done I've been very adept at and really taken to it. Some of these genres [I've worked in] I'm already a fan, so I already have a taste of it. I will say the most nervous I ever was, and this is true, was getting up with Tom and doing the "SpongeBob Theme Song". It was so rad and we had so much fun doing it. Tom is such a sweetheart of a person, and I don't even think he realizes what a fan I have been of him for years. When we were making the very first Slipknot album, we watched Mr. Show with Bob and David every day. We had all of the episodes on videocassette, and we would watch them at the end of every night and just laugh hysterically. I just think he's one of the funniest people on the planet. Not only do I love him from that, but my son was a massive SpongeBob fan, so his voice has literally been in my life for over 25 years. It's cool to be able to have that moment now, and hopefully we'll have some more because he's like, "We have to stay in touch." And I'm like, "Oh God, this is gonna get fun now."
You've got a couple of "secret" guest musicians on this album. Duff McKagan wrote some notes for the promo materials. So is he one of them? Or are we being left to guess?
Actually, no. He sadly didn't. I would have loved to have had Duff, and maybe I'll do it on the third album. But there were two real people who played on the album, one of which was Fred Mandel. He provided the Hammond work. Roger Manning was on there and did this incredible key work on stuff like "We Are The Rest." But the two other names are actually pseudonyms for me. Richard Manitoba was one of my hotel aliases that I used in the past.
Handsome Dick Manitoba from the Dictators!
Yeah, yeah. That's where I got it from because I was a massive Dictators fan when I was a kid, and then Pebbly Jack Glasscock was a baseball player from the 1940s. That has been my email name for years.
The reason why I was almost forced to use those is because [producer] Jay Ruston refused to not credit me on the album for all of the stuff that I had played. I didn't want my list of musical credits to look like, "Oh, look, he's just got to have credit for everything." And he was just like, "We've got to put something on here." I was like, "God dammit." So I gave him those aliases. And he ran with it.
The song "The Rest Of Us" talks about the effects of PTSD and the prolonged impostor syndrome hanging over your life. For people who don't understand that — because you've had all this success, you've done all these great things — what do you think keeps that imposter syndrome lingering for you despite your achievements?
That's a good question. Maybe unresolved issues from my childhood, the stuff that I've never had the chance to explore with a therapist because there's always so many crazy things going on in my current life. That's at the bottom of the list because it just doesn't have priority.
I don't know, maybe it's because of the things that were done to me and the things that were said to me — not just when I was younger, but from prior relationships. I had a bad habit of getting together with people who didn't like the fact that I was really good at what I did, and that I was in demand. So it would consciously or unconsciously come out in the abuse that they would pile on me, and it definitely takes a toll. When you have people who don't try to inspire you to be yourself, it will make you feel like you didn't earn the things that you've earned. It's something I still struggle with.
I know people hear that, and they go, "Are you out of your mind?" Maybe I am a little bit. But it's tough when you're paraded and told that you're not any good for so many years, or that you don't deserve anything, or you're not even responsible for the things that you've earned. All you can do is try to work it out in therapy. Then once you get to the point where you're a little stronger in your life, you go, "I'm not going to allow that in my life anymore. I want to surround myself with people who appreciate me." And that's just it.
Luckily, I'm in a wonderful marriage now. We inspire each other, and we push each other to be the very best. And that leads to inspiring my kids to do that. So I'm slowly but surely giving up the ghost on that. But it's something that maybe will still haunt me until I'm towards the end of my career. Who knows?
You've talked about the fact that, with Slipknot, you can only can keep up this pace for so long. That sounds like a smart idea for you to transition into exploring other things, and still have that audience and be you, without people expecting you to jump on stage with a mask and go crazy for two hours.
Right. As a performer you physically want to rise to that occasion. The only thing that holds us back in performance is age, and I'm lucky that I'm healthy enough that I can still go at a certain level. But I know I can't continue that forever. The guys in Slipknot also know that, and that's something that we're talking about very honestly. "What do we do?" "What does the next level of Slipknot look like?"
We're looking at it from an artistic point of view. How do we make it still seem frenetic and off the chain, but also something that we can deal with from a strength point of view? It'll be interesting to see where that challenge takes us.
It also allows me to be able to do stuff like this solo thing. It's high-energy right now, but when it gets to the point where I want to tame it down a little bit, I have songs that I can lean into and let them do the heavy lifting for me.
This is probably the closest to the real me as a performer that I've been in my whole career. Because obviously with Slipknot, it's really one side of the genre. With Stone Sour, I was being held back because of certain people in the band. But with this, there are no limitations, and I can do music carte blanche as far as genre goes and performance goes. I have a band that can play anything, which is just criminal. It's really, really cool. I'm just really fortunate to be in the place where I am right now.
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