Photo: Rachel Moore
The Wild Feathers
Quarantine Diaries: The Wild Feathers' Ben Dumas Is Checking Twitter For Good News & Staying In Touch With Friends
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, GRAMMY.com reached out to musicians to see how they were spending their days off the road—hear from the Nashville-based drummer today
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, GRAMMY.com reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, Ben Dumas, the drummer of Nashville band the Wild Feathers, shares his reflections on quarantine and the pandemic. Their latest album, Medium Rarities, is out now.
They say to take it one day at a time. Seems simple, but how do you take it when it's all just one long day that lasts for weeks? Or months? What if this long, singular day lasts for years or what if that's just how it will always be now?
When I lay in bed in the morning after waking, I try my hardest to resist the urge to open Twitter to check the news; hoping for some kind of positive message from somewhere that will indicate that all this will turn around and end soon. My wife is always out of the bed before me because she is able to do her job from home. I'll get up and make us coffee and something to eat to make myself seem useful. My life normally consists of me making a living touring the country playing music most days and nights of the year, so it's difficult to know what to do (and not feel guilty) stuck at the house nonstop while my wife works her ass off from her computer on our kitchen table that's now her work desk. It's difficult to know how to contribute.
I'll check Twitter again looking for answers, and of course there are none there. I'll set up a makeshift home gym in our living room and we will both do some exercises. I make lunch. I check Twitter—no answers.
It's really important to keep your mind (and heart) occupied. There's an endless tide of worry that will come and go. (Will my parents be okay if they get it? Will I have a job again? Will the world kindly and bravely work together to get through this?) So I spend the afternoons taking the dogs on walks, reading and texting friends and family (and maybe checking Twitter). They all tell me they are hanging in there and doing the best they can. Same here. The friends that live just a few miles away feel as far away as the friends that live on the other side of the country. But it's great hearing from them.
Maybe later on in the evening we will all get on a video group chat and get hammered and laugh about shit. (Maybe someday soon we'll all get hammered together in person and laugh about the times when we had to do it over a video group chat.) They ask about when I'll be touring again and I say my guess is as good as theirs, but I'm hopeful it will be soon. They don't know when they will be back at work either. I'll check Twitter again to see if there's anything new that I need to know. Shockingly, there is not.
Going to the grocery store is the absolute worst. (I feel very confident now that whoever coined the term "avoid it like the plague" was, in fact, living during a plague.) Shuffling through the aisles trying to find decent stuff that hasn't already sold out and trying to dodge all the mask-less open-mouth breathers who don't seem to give a shit about decency and the safety of others.
Say what you will about the legitimacy of this whole thing and crazy socio-political agendas, but you're not helping anyone by railing against compassion for your fellow humans with whom you share this planet. There was a period of time where masks were not as readily available. Stores everywhere were sold out. The first one I wore was one that my wife fashioned out of my favorite Georgia Bulldogs bandana and two elastic hair-ties. I will never forget her putting it on and smiling, being humorously proud of and chuckling at the silly little mask she crafted. She's always my beacon of positivity, an inspirational happy-go-lucky ray of fing sunshine. Seeing her smile underneath it gravely pulled on my heartstrings and cut me with a pang of solemnity at the realization that this is what it has come to—we are going to have to wear these masks in public and we might as well fing try to smile underneath them.
I'm really trying to elevate my cooking game. Incredibly, my wife isn't completely bored with every dish I make for dinner—yet. How many bottles of wine do we have left? Let's have another glass then. I check Twitter to see if there's anything new (Vaccine? Are the numbers good or bad? When will I be able to play music in person for people? How are other countries handling it? Does our government give a shit about us?). There are obviously no answers on Twitter. Nor are there any in the news. Maybe there are no answers to any of those questions anywhere. But eventually you learn that that's OK. The answers you do need are out there if you can let yourself find them, however. The answers are in another glass of wine with your quarantine partner, or yet another beer with the friends on the video chat. The answer is in trying to make the same spinach salad for lunch for the sixth day in a row seem like the culinary event of the year. The answer is on the walk with your dog or by yourself. It's in that smile underneath the mask.
I'm tired of hearing the term "unprecedented times." If that's what this is, then it's time for us to set the new precedent of understanding, sympathy and love. There's something to be said for sacrifice and compassion, and the rest is mundane details that we can engineer into wonder and excitement. And I suppose that's how we will deal with all this—together. Out of all the days we have ever had, today was—one of them? And like my dad always says, tomorrow's just another day.
Sincerely, my fellow reader, whoever you are, thank you for reading. I'm going to check Twitter now.
Photo: Fred Morledge
How Las Vegas Became A Punk Rock Epicenter: From When We Were Young To The Double Down Saloon
Viva Punk Vegas! It might have seemed unthinkable a decade ago, but Sin City is "the most punk city in the U.S." GRAMMY.com spoke with a variety of hardcore and legendary punks about the voracious vibe in Vegas that lends itself to punk spirit.
These days, what happens in Vegas, slays in Vegas when it comes to the harder side of music.
It might have seemed unthinkable a decade ago, but as Fat Mike of NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords has been putting out there for a while now, Sin City is basically "the most punk city in the U.S." at the moment. Some might find this statement debatable, but Vegas has long attracted subculture-driven gatherings, from Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekend to the all-metal Psycho Las Vegas to the mixed bag that was Las Rageous. The latest slate of huge punk and punk-adjacent music events (from Punk Rock Bowling and When We Were Young to the just-announced new lineup of Sick New World 2024) back his claim even further.
Mike’s own Punk Rock Museum, which opened in April of this year, has cemented the city’s alternative music cred — even as it’s still best known for gambling, clubbing, and gorging at buffets.
In fact, A lot of the audacious new activity is centered away from the big casinos and in the downtown area and arts district of what is known as "old Vegas." Just outside of the tourist-trappy, Times Square-like Fremont Experience, there’s a vibrant live music scene anchored by a few key clubs, and an ever-growing slate of fests.
Attendees at 2022's When We Were Young Festival┃Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic
Live Nation’s second annual When We Were Young Festival brought out a largely Millennial crowd to see headliners Green Day and blink-182 this past weekend, alongside over two dozen more recognizable openers from emo/pop-punk's heyday. Tickets sold so well when it was first announced, that a second day was added to the schedule.
Green Day didn’t stop with their fest gigs; the band played a "not-so-secret" pop-up show last Thursday night at one of the most popular venues in town for punk, alternative and heavy music: Fremont Country Club, just blocks from festival grounds. The show served as a warm-up gig as well as an announcement by Billie Joe Armstrong: His band will join Smashing Pumpkins, Rancid, and others for a 2024 stadium tour. The band also debuted a timely new track, "The American Dream Is Killing Me."
"People who like punk and other heavy music want to be in a club environment like ours, not a big casino," says Carlos "Big Daddy" Adley, owner of Fremont Country Club and its adjacent music space Backstage Bar & Grill. Both have become live music hotspots not unlike the ones Adley and his wife/partner Ava Berman ran in Los Angeles before they moved to Vegas over a decade ago.
"Fremont East," as the neighborhood is called, will soon see a boutique hotel from the pair. Like everything they do, it will have a rock n’ roll edge that hopes to draw both visitors and locals.
Outside Fremont Country Club┃Photo: Fred Morledge
The duo told GRAMMY.com that a visit to Double Down Saloon, Sin City’s widely-recognized original punk bar and music dive was what first inspired them to come to Vegas and get into the nightlife business there. Double Down has been slinging booze (like Bacon Martinis and "Ass Juice" served in a ceramic toilet bowl mug) and booking live punk sounds since it opened back in 1992.
"It's kind of a stepping stone for a lot of bands," says Cameron Morat, a punk musician and photographer, who also works with the Punk Rock Museum as curator of its rockstar-led tour guide program. "People always assume that Vegas is just the strip, but that's only like four miles long. There's a lot more of the ‘‘other city.’ There are people who are just into music and into going to local shows who don't ever go to the main strip."
In addition to the Double Down, Morat says Vegas has always had a history of throwing local punk shows at spaces like the Huntridge Theater, which is currently being remodeled and set to re-open soon for local live music. He also points to The Usual Place as a venue popular with local punk and rock bands now, and The Dive Bar — a favorite with the mohawk, patched-up battle vest scene, featuring heavy music seven nights a week, including a night promoted by his partner Masuimi Max called Vegas Chaos.
Cameron Morat┃Photo: Kristina Markovich
While glitzy stage shows from legacy artists and mega-pop hit makers like Usher, Elton John, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga still get the most media attention, raucous local shows are starting to factor into a new generation’s vacation planning, too.
"There’s a really good scene here," Morat proclaims. "It's funny because a lot of people, the sort of gatekeepers of punk, ask ‘why is the punk museum in Vegas?’ But it is a punk city, and not just because you've got all the local bands and the venues."
Morat, whose own band Soldiers of Destruction, plays around town on occasion, also notes other acts such as Gob Patrol, Suburban Resistance, and Inframundo as having fierce local followings. He says there’s a certain voracious vibe in Vegas that lends itself to punk rock creation, performance and attitude. "A lot of the anger from punk rock — like the disparity of wealth, for instance, is here," he says. "Five minutes down the road, you've got people throwing away a million on the roll of a dice. But you've also got people who are doing like three jobs just trying to pay their rent."
Over at the Punk Rock Museum, Morat, who moved from Los Angeles to Vegas about seven years ago, is keeping busy booking big-name guests to share inspirations and war stories, both weekly, and specifically timed with whatever big festival or event happens to be in town. He says he wants to feature artists that might not be thought of as traditional punk rock, but who have relevant backgrounds and stories to share.
"A lot of these people have punk history the public doesn’t know about," he says. "I think if we just stick to a very small well of people, it's going to get pretty boring. So I'm trying to open it up for a bigger cross-section."
Imagery from "Black Punk Now" | Ed Marshall
The museum is already showing the breadth of punk rock’s influence on music in general. During WWWY, the museum held events tied to its new exhibit "Black Punk Now," curated by James Spooner, director of the 2003 documentary Afro-Punk. As Spooner spoke about the film’s 20th anniversary and his new book of Black punk authors, musicians playing the weekend’s festivities from Sum 41, MxPx, Bayside, Less Than Jake came through to talk too. Warped Tour’s Kevin Lyman and Fat Mike himself also took part in the museum’s new after-dark guided tour series.
Bringing in a wider audience and a new generation of rebellious kids who seek to channel their angst and energy into music is part of what the museum — and, it seems, the myriad of events in Las Vegas these days — is all about. Despite what some punk rock purists and gatekeepers might say, the inclusion of tangent bands and scenes is in the original punk spirit. He’ll be booking guests tied to next year’s Sick New World, the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly bash and even EDC in the future (electronic bangers are not unlike hardcore ones and even Moby was a punk before he became a DJ).
"I think that the museum is great for the punk scene here," he adds. "People will literally come to town just to see the museum, and then if there's a band playing in town in the evening, they'll go. So it's broadening the support for all the bands, local and touring. Some punk bands used to skip Vegas completely on their tours, but not anymore."
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: David McClister
Megan Moroney's Big Year: The "Tennessee Orange" Country Star Details The Most Meaningful Moments Of Her "Crazy" Career
With her second headlining tour underway, Megan Moroney reminisces about her whirlwind breakout year, including an Opry debut and a No. 1 smash.
Just last summer, Megan Moroney had never even played a show. Fourteen months later, she's headlining a sold-out tour.
The country singer/songwriter kicked off The Lucky Tour on Sept. 20 in New York City, with 22 dates sprinkled throughout the fall until wrapping in her native Georgia on Dec. 10. Though her first headlining tour was in April, The Lucky Tour is an indication of where her stardom is headed — bigger and busier.
"My whole life is completely different now," Moroney says. "Everything is happening, and I'm on the road 24/7. Last year, I would put out a song and I'd play shows a couple weeks at a time and then have some time off, but we're planning so far ahead now. It's a lot of work, but it's what I want to do."
Moroney's rapidly growing success was first fueled by the lovestruck, college football-themed hit "Tennessee Orange," but she's kept the momentum going with her debut album, Lucky. While her country-pop stylings are right in line with the genre's mainstream stars, Moroney's witty, strong-willed songwriting and husky voice feel like the makings of a superstar.
Moroney's staying power has already been proven from what she's achieved in 2023: "Tennessee Orange" hit No. 1 on the Country Aircheck/Mediabase Country Airplay chart in June, won Moroney her first award in April (CMT Breakthrough Female Video Of The Year), and earned her both New Artist Of The Year and Song Of The Year nominations for the 2023 CMA Awards, to name a few.
But even for a girl who went from never touring to having a No. 1 song in just over a year, Moroney insists that she hasn't lost sight of her purpose.
"I try to just take things a day at a time. I have random goals, but I try not to put too much pressure on myself for specific goals," Moroney adds. "It's how I got to 'Tennessee Orange' — if I just keep my head down and keep working hard, good things will happen."
Before Moroney appears at the GRAMMY Museum for a SPOTLIGHT series event on Oct. 10, hear from the singer about six of her most memorable career milestones she's reached — so far.
Making Her Grand Ole Opry Debut — February 11, 2023
I was in the studio, we were tracking "Kansas Anymore." And I look over, and Jamey Johnson walks in. I figured he was maybe recording and just coming to say hi, because our tour with him had ended not too long before that. And he's like, "Hey, I got somebody on FaceTime."
He had Deana Carter on the phone, and Deana was like, "How would you like to make your Grand Ole Opry debut?" Obviously I completely freaked out.
Then the day of, I had my family come in. It was just a very overwhelming feeling. I remember during soundcheck, when I stepped into the circle, I just started crying. And I was like, Why am I crying? [Laughs.] Like, I knew it was a really big deal, but I definitely didn't plan on crying.
And that's why, when I made my debut, I tried not to talk too much. I was like, "And this is my song." Because I knew if I talked too much, I would just cry, and I was like, I don't want to do that at the Opry.
I had played bigger venues before, but there's just something about playing the Opry the first time where I was so nervous. Right before I get on stage, Vince Gill introduced himself to me, and I was like, Oh, perfect. He's watching, so don't screw up!
I played "Hair Salon" and "Tennessee Orange." It was great. I noticed a lot of people came there just for me — I can always tell, too, because everyone has Tennessee stuff on. And it was very cool to have my family there. And a bunch of my friends also showed up.
I think they said there was a standing ovation, but I was offstage at that point. I didn't get to see it, but heard about it. [Laughs.]
Winning Her First Award — April 2, 2023
I was terrified. Public speaking is scary to start with, but also being on television, I was so nervous. And I remember my publicist being like, "You know if you do win, you need to at least sort of have an idea of what you're going to say." And I was just like, "I'm not going to prepare a speech, I'm not gonna win."
I just remember walking off stage and I was like, Did I just speak English? I completely blacked out. I had no idea what I said. I called my mom and I was like, "Hopefully I did not embarrass myself." But obviously, it was very cool to win an award for the music video.
The CMTs were the first award show that I attended as an artist. [At] the CMA Awards in November, I was just a host on the red carpet, interviewing other artists. I fortunately got a ticket to the CMA Awards, but I was like, you know, in the back.
It was just crazy. Shania Twain is sitting near me, Megan Thee Stallion is in front of me — I'm just like, What? I was already like, This is crazy, I don't need to win. I'm having a great time. I don't know how to give a speech, I'm not well-spoken. Like, I literally write songs about my boyfriend — now I have to go give a speech? [Laughs.]
It's just crazy and hard to believe that it's happening. It feels great, obviously, because I feel like Nashville has been supportive and they see the work that I'm doing and they look at it for what it is and how I wanted it to be received. Making a fan base is one thing, but to also have the support of Nashville, like, "We see what you're doing, and we're recognizing it," it's really cool.
Releasing Her Debut Album — May 5, 2023
The night album came out was the first night of the Brooks & Dunn tour.
We were in Kansas City and I had my team there, and some of my Columbia [Records] people showed up from New York to surprise me. It was so crazy to finally have it out because it had been on my phone for so long. You spend so many hours and put your heart into these songs, and then it comes out, and you're like, Okay, now what?
One [reaction] that meant a lot to me was Olivia Rodrigo DMing me and saying that she loves the songs. I had posted her "vampire" song on my story, and I tagged her, and she responded and was like, "Oh my gosh, your songwriting is so inspiring!" That was really cool, definitely a standout moment of my album coming out.
Overall — I also try not to look at negative things — my fans, they've been receiving it the way that I hoped they would. Like, no one took "Sleep On My Side" too seriously, and "I'm Not Pretty" is not supposed to be a bitchy song; it's supposed to be more of a confident anthem.
"Girl In The Mirror," I've been able to see at live shows [that] that one is having the most impact on my fans. And I think it does have the most important message of all the songs on the whole record. Girls bring signs to my shows that say "You made me love the girl in the mirror." There's little girls that are, like, 7 years old with shirts that say, "You can't love the boy more than the girl in the mirror." It's hitting all age groups.
I think [with] music, you have to say something, or what's the point? It doesn't matter what you're trying to say, but it needs to do something for people. That song definitely helped me writing it, and I've seen it help my fans. One of my favorite moments in the live show is everyone singing it with me — and I don't ask them to sing it with me. Everyone's just screaming it. I have songs like that from other artists that I feel that way about, so it's cool to have fans connect with that song.
Playing CMA Fest With Her Brother — June 11, 2023
Last year, I got to play CMA Fest for the first time, and I played it with my brother because, honestly, he did it for free. [Laughs.] We were on one of the smallest stages, if not the smallest, in the Music City Center. It's basically the stage that people only showed up because they wanted air conditioning, because it was one of the only indoor stages.
Then this year, when CMA Fest came around again, I got to play the Riverfront Stage and Nissan Stadium, and I invited my brother back. Last year, we were like, "We're gonna make this tradition, because that was fun." And then this year, I found out I was playing the stadium, and I was like, "Well, we said it was a tradition. You've never played a stadium and neither have I, but we're going to do this together." So my brother and I played Nissan Stadium together — we did "I'm Not Pretty" and "Tennessee Orange."
He was playing guitar and singing harmonies. Him and my dad kind of taught me how to play guitar. So we grew up playing together, but now he's an attorney, so he has, like, a legit job and can't just quit to tour with me, even though I would love that.
The whole thing was special. He texted me a couple of days after when he was back home, and he was like, "Did we really just play in a stadium?"
I've been used to touring and playing in front of people. So I was definitely nervous, but it was manageable. But for him, I'm like, "You have a normal job. I don't know how you just went out in front of that many people and just played."
That's up there as the most meaningful moments of this year. Just to watch the videos and see my face and his face in Nissan stadium. I'm like, What is this? We used to post videos of us on Instagram together in our living room, and I just never would have thought that we would be in a stadium together.
Earning A No. 1 Song With "Tennessee Orange" — June 20, 2023
When I wrote this song, I was happy with it. I was like, This is different than anything I've written because it's kind of a love song and I'm not good at writing those. But I was [also] like, I wrote this song that I can relate to, but like I don't even know if people in like, California, or someone that doesn't care about [college] football are even going to understand..
When the fall came around and it was about to be football season, and an opportunity with Spotify came, we were like, Well, we've got this football song. I definitely didn't write it and was like, This is gonna be the one.
When I announced that it was coming out, which was probably like two weeks before, I started promoting it on TikTok. When I posted the initial video, people were making it a trend to show their significant other and they were like, "I met somebody" [with] cute pictures behind the sound. And I teased the bridge and everyone was making TikToks to that. So it was blowing up before the song actually came out.
The night it went No. 1 was actually the last day of the Brooks & Dunn tour, so it was really just an exciting day in general. We really did not know if it was gonna go No. 1 — I had to mentally prepare myself to not be No. 1, because I didn't want to upset myself too much. The radio team was honest in the fact that there's huge songs that we're competing against.
We really didn't know for sure until 3 a.m. when it actually was official. I was exhausted because we'd been on this run. So at midnight, I went to sleep, and I was like, "Y'all wake me up at 3 if it goes number one. If I don't get woken up, I'm just gonna not talk to anyone tomorrow." [Laughs.]
My team and my band came in my room on the bus with orange wigs on, and they scared the life out of me. Then the next day, we went to Broadway to celebrate. I got to hear an artist singing my song on Broadway for the first time — that was really cool, because I remember moving to Nashville and being like, "Wow, if someone is playing a cover of your song on Broadway, you've made it."
I got on stage with her — I was a little intoxicated. [Laughs.] I posted a TikTok video of it. That was a fun day.
Headlining A Sold-Out Tour — Sept. 20 to December 10, 2023
We're literally going from New York to California and everywhere in between. The more headlining shows I play, I feel like the crazier and more passionate my fans get. They show up in handmade merch, and they'll dress like me. So I feel like the fall tour will be even more crazy, because it seems to just be getting crazier.
I love opening because you can make new fans, but when everyone is there for you, it's definitely a different sense of comfortability. My first headlining show was in Georgia, it was in Statesboro. So my family got to be there too. And "Girl In The Mirror" came out a couple of hours before that, and they sang "Girl In The Mirror" back to me. It was the first time I heard them chanting my name. I was just like, This is absurd.
One part of the show that I think I'll always have on my headliners is where I play a couple of songs where it's just me and a guitar. And I like doing that because when I'm writing a song, it's usually just me and a guitar. So I like to recreate that environment for my fans.
One show that really sticks out is a show that I played recently at the Iowa State Fair. I think there were 6,000 people there for me. They were singing every single song — like, the least-streamed song on the album is "Sad Songs For Sad People," and they screamed every word of that.
To have that many people who care about my music will always beat every other moment, because [I know] what I'm doing is connecting with people. It makes me want to keep creating the same kind of music that does that for people.
Photo: Pamela Littky
Corey Taylor Finds Home Within Exploration On 'CMF2': "This Is The Closest To The Real Me That I've Been"
Amid his latest solo tour, Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor details to GRAMMY.com how his second solo album expanded on his multifaceted musical universe — and helped him find himself in the process.
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.