Almost six long years have passed since Slipknot released "All Hope Is Gone." The band headed out on the road to promote the album and toured for a year from 2008 through 2009. They then took a hiatus to refocus, recharge the batteries and regroup - no pun intended - but it was at that point the wheels really fell off. In truth, the group had begun to self-destruct during the recording of "Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)" all the way back in 2003. "I really loved making that record 'cause we were pretty unified as a band," says guitarist Jim Root. "But we were going through some managerial crap and people were starting to get spun out and losing focus a little bit."
Flash forward to May 24, 2010 when bassist Paul Gray is found dead in his hotel room. And in December 2013, drummer Joey Jordison exits the band. All of these things represented stone walls through which the band was forced to knock down before moving forward. They've obliterated every obstacle in their way and have finally reentered the studio to work on their fifth record.
Guitarist Jim Root has been writing like a madman and says he has tapped into new ways of expressing himself musically. Though he has been fiendishly composing, Root also found time to shoot a DVD for Fret 12 called "Jim Root: the Sound and the Story."
Here, we use some of that content as a jumping off point for the conversation.
UG: The new "The Sound and the Story" DVD was very cool. There was a lot of sincerity there.
JR: I am what I am and I'm lucky to be doing what I'm doing and I have fun doing it still.
Being a guitar player in a rock and roll band is the greatest gig in the world.
Our worst days at work are better that most people's best days for the nine-to-fivers. Sometimes you get mad or a little bitchy or aggro or whatever. You can complain but nobody will listen.
On the DVD, you talked about how much the Beatles meant to you. Did you ever play Beatles songs in cover bands?
You know what? I never have because by the time I really started learning how to play guitar, I was really into like Anthrax, Megadeth, Overkill and bands like that. That was kind of my thing. I've honestly never learned a Beatles song in its entirety. I've learned little pieces here and there but it's just one of those things I never have sat down and done. One of these days when I get some free time, I might just wrap my brain around some Beatles stuff.
What did you love about the Beatles?
Their songwriting is pretty phenomenal. Even if it's just simple pop songs, the arrangements were amazing and the experimentation was amazing. The Beatles kind of invented everything we do in rock and roll from feedback to clichés like "in the dead of the night" (referencing Paul McCartney's lyric in "Blackbird") and all that stuff (laughs). Building louder amps and they kind of did it all especially studio experimentation.
The Beatles pioneered just about every recording technique.
Bands like Radiohead and Blur probably (owe a lot to the Beatles). I mean eventually there would have been an experimental phase but these guys were taking EMI and Abbey Road Studios (and doing different things). If EMI said, "You have to put a 4050 mic six inches from the speaker and that's what it is," every band would do that. They were like, "Hey George (Martin), what happens if we put this mic right on the speaker? What happens if we crank these compressors up really loud?" They were just kind of like the pioneers of "Let's go outside of the box."
Were any of those other early British bands on your radar?
Yeah, what would happen was my parents worked very weird hours and they had this enormous vinyl collection. If I was out of school - at the time my aunt and my cousins were kind of babysitting me - my dad would get off work at seven in the morning and pick me up and take me back to the house. So I'd be awake the rest of the day while he was gonna crash out and my mom kind of worked weird hours too and she wasn't around.
So you started digging through the albums?
I would throw on the Who Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy or the Beatles and records like that. Or Black Sabbath's "Master of Reality." Everything from It's a Beautiful Day to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Seger and all these iconic classic rock bands. I think that's still my favorite genre of music.
I think so, yeah, because I'm so fond of that. I find myself if I'm driving around in my car and I put on a metal station for a while, I'll just kind of get sick of it. The next thing I know I'm listening to classic vinyl. There's such great songwriting and for me it's all about the song and not trying to write a riff that's gonna blow everybody's mind. Or a blast beat that's so fast that no other drummer would ever be able to keep up with it or any kind of shit like that.
There are bands more concerned with playing 16th notes at insane speeds than writing good melodies.
It's all about the song and the way it makes you feel. You can layer two or three different guitar tracks and that can make a completely different sound that might make you think it's one guitar doing it. The Beatles were kind of pioneers with that. Then there's just some really emotional music from a lot of bands like that. Led Zeppelin even. I don't know - my spectrum of music is so wide and I listen to everything from Entombed to Portishead.
How did you make that jump from the Beatles and the Who to Anthrax and Overkill?
You start kind of developing your own tastes. Even though I still liked those songs, I didn't really realize I still liked that music when I was turning into an aggro teenager and pissed off at everything and everything sucks. So what better way to kind of get those feelings and aggressions out but listening to "Killing Is My Business ... and Business Is Good!" Songs like that - you know what I mean?
Obviously Megadeth and those types of bands were infinitely more intense than the Beatles.
It was a progression. I lived in Des Moines, Iowa and it was hard to find new music. There was no Internet and everything was word of mouth. I would never be the kind of guy to do this but I would have friends who would go search for vinyl or new bands based on just the album artwork and not knowing anything about it.
What kind of music did your friends find?
They would end up with everything from bands like Riot and Onslaught and Running Wild and stuff like that to Anthrax, Overkill, Megadeth and Metallica. But my progression was I started listening to "Stay Hungry" by Twisted Sister and "Out of the Cellar" by Ratt and stuff like that.
You were a fan of those 1980s hair metal bands?
I was never really into the whole hair metal thing - I was into the more guitar-driven sort of rock. That stuff started turning a little glammy for my taste. If I'm gonna listen to glam rock and roll, I'm gonna listen to "Ziggy Stardust" or something like that. New York Dolls and stuff like that is glam for me and not Poison - know what I mean, hah hah hah?
By the time you started playing in early bands like Atomic Opera, the music was already pretty heavy.
It was melodic thrash metal basically. I mean a lot of people say our earlier stuff sounded a lot like Flotsam and Jetsam. Flotsam was definitely an influence and I mean "No Place for Disgrace" was one of my favorite records.
You gravitated towards guitar playing that was fast and loud?
Yeah, fast, loud, intricate but still melodic. I didn't really get so deep into the rhythmic guitar playing until later on when I started realizing, "Oh shit, you can do so much more with the guitar rather than just putting chord progressions together that just follow scales" and things like that. It's taken me a while to kinda open my eyes to experimenting with guitar (laughs).
I have a stray cat that showed up at my house and he's near me and talking to me. One of the things that kind of opened me up to that was listening to bands like the Chili Peppers and just kind of listening to (John) Frusciante's guitar work. I was really late to the game and the Brit Pop movement around the Blur and Radiohead and the early records - Radiohead's "OK Computer" and Blur's "13" and stuff like that.
Were you listening to those types of bands when you joined Slipknot in 1999?
After kind of being signed and working with Ross Robinson (producer) and him kind of pushing us away from playing guitar solos, the guitar became more of a percussive instrument rather than a melodic instrument in a lot of ways. So for me as a guitar player, I'm trying to find a delicate balance and it's maybe it's part of my personality - I'm a Libra so I like to have balance in everything. You can't be all one way or all the other way - I kind of like to split things right down the middle.
What is that balance as a musician you're trying to find?
Now I'm trying to figure out the balance for me as a guitar player and a songwriter - to make the guitar as a percussive, experimental yet melodic and intricate instrument.
In many ways then you've had to develop your own unique guitar vocabulary to play guitar in Slipknot and to some extent, Stone Sour.
Absolutely and like I said it's a delicate balance. It's good for me because it always keeps me thinking and it never gets stale and I never get into a rut.
You're constantly looking for new ways to express yourself as a guitar player?
Yeah. I've just recently in the past month started writing music for a new Slipknot record. The way I'm approaching my guitar playing and my songwriting is so outside of the box from how I ever have before.
In what ways is your approach to guitar different?
I'm actually doing full arrangements, which normally I wouldn't do. I'd just do bits and pieces and maybe throw together a three-minute arrangement and by the time it gets to Slipknot, it will get chopped up and moved around and cut and this and that. But everything seems to be kind of on fire with my writing (laughs triumphantly) right now and I'm kind of surprising myself a little bit.
That's the place where every songwriter wants to be.
Even if I don't have an idea, I can get a line going or a noise going or a drum beat going. What I try to do is play a guitar you wouldn't normally play or a bass and then that kind of unlocks your brain to kind of go, "Oh well, I'm normally following this pattern or this shape when I'm writing. But this is making me go outside of that pattern and because I'm going outside of that pattern, I'm gonna have to sit here for half-an-hour and really work out where this is going."
What was that like recording the first Slipknot record?
I did "Me Inside" and "Purity."
Were you nervous? Exhilarated?
Man, there was so much going on at that time. When Clown and Joey called me up to join Slipknot - of course I said no the first time they called - I did some soul searching and talked to a buddy of mine at a Deadfront (Root's pre-Slipknot band) show. I kinda came to the conclusion that I needed to do this.
You thought about the opportunity you might be letting get away?
Well, within a week I quit my job and was over at Sid's house rehearsing every night with them. And a week after I quit my job, I was in Mick (Thompson)'s BMW - he had some old '80s BMW - and we're driving to LA. To go to Malibu to work with Indigo Ranch with Ross Robinson. So it was such a whirlwind. Literally a week before I was screen printing t-shirts and I wasn't even able to give my boss a two-week notice. I was like, "Look, I'm gonna be in L. A. And you know the whole time I've been working here I've been trying to make it as a guitar player and a songwriter and all that stuff. Sorry but I gotta go." So a week after screen printing t-shirts, here I am at Indigo Ranch.
What was the schedule when you arrive?
I wasn't just learning the songs we have to record but I'm also learning the rest of the songs in the set. There was a lot of woodshedding for me and it was a lot of sitting up in the Chateau where my bedroom was and playing along to the CD and working out parts. Then trying to still think about being creative for the songs we had yet to record. It was such a whirlwind but I guess I must work pretty good because when the pressure's on I just put my nose down and sink my head into it and get in it.
Did you have to sort of reinterpret the guitar parts Josh Brainard had already recorded on the Slipknot album?
Yeah, I guess. I'm not really sure who had tracked on the record before I got there but I was learning all the Josh Brainard parts from the first record.
It probably wasn't the easiest task in the world learning all those guitar parts.
No, not really. It was my first introduction to thinking outside of the box like we were talking about before. That was my first introduction to Ross Robinson's percussive-yet-intricate guitar playing. You listen to that record and think, "Well these guitar parts sound relatively simple." But it's the nuance and the touch that goes into playing a lot of those riffs and if it doesn't have that feel it just doesn't sound right.
You really were challenged as a guitar player?
There's a lot of down picking and a lot of chromatic riffing and a lot of notes that just go really fast around each other. It took me a while to kind of wrap my brain around - well not really a while - but it took me a while to figure out the thought process of it and then apply it and pull it off.
You were playing a Telecaster from the beginning - were you a fan of Telly players?
Like I said, man, I'm a classic rock fan. I'm very, very into legendary things and for me Fender Stratocasters and Fender Telecasters and Gibson Les Pauls, these are all legendary guitars. There's a reason people gravitate towards that. And yeah, I could play a Schecter or I could play an ESP or an Ibanez but for me that's not (classic rock). When you look at Tom Petty playing a blond Telecaster, it's just such an iconic thing. Or Pete Townshend. For me image is a lot and when I was young and impressionable, those guitars left an imprint in my mind that was just so iconic and godlike. To me there is no other guitar and if I wasn't playin' Telecasters, Strats and Jazzmasters, I'd probably be playing a Flying V.
What did it feel like when Fender issued a Jim Root Signature Telecaster in 2007?
Very cool. I remember Alex (Perez) bringing me a custom shop catalog and I was in the custom shop section of it and this was before my Signature came out. When we were doing the "Subliminal Verses" actually and we had taken a picture at the soundboard at the Laurel (Canyon) house and I think I had a Flat Head at the time. Then I got a copy of that custom shop catalog and I realized, "Jesus, I'm in this catalog with Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour and Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton."
Was that kind of mindblowing?
Those guys were the benchmarks - those guys were the real rockstars and those guys were the real songwriters and experimenters. And those guys really forged the way for guys like me to be able to do what we're doin' today. Without that passion I guess you could say or emotion or work ethic, where would we be? You know what I mean?
It's so encouraging to hear you talk so positively about the classic rock guitar players.
It's pretty mindblowing that some goofy Iowa kid can now be in a catalog with guys that were so influential. And not just in music but to culture and art and everything. I'm blessed, man. What can I say?
Were you listening to later players like Dave Murray and Adrian Smith?
Yeah, you bring up Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Jesus, talk about influential, amazing guitar players. You know it's funny too because I had somebody once tell me, "You can't play a Strat in metal" and I'm like thinking to myself, "So what Iron Maiden isn't metal?"
For amps you're running Orange, which is another curious beast.
You know me, man. I gotta be outside of the box. At the time I gravitated towards Orange, I think everybody was playing PRS and Rectifiers. I've played every amp out there and there's a lot of amazing amps out there. Diezel makes incredible amplifiers and Rivera makes incredible amplifiers. But there was just something about the sound of an Orange through an Orange cabinet that had that classic, British midrangey bark. It's indicative of bands like Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy.
Sabbath even used Orange way back in the day.
By the time you record "Iowa," are you completely comfortable with the Slipknot process?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Because we had a year of touring underneath our belt and pretty arduous touring - Coal Chamber tour, European tours and Ozzfest was out of the way. Not being a part of the music business and not knowing how it really worked, we got off tour from the first album cycle and within three days Paul's calling me up and saying, "You need to come over to my brother's house - me and Joey are over here and we've got to write the next record."
And I'm like, "Man, we haven't even been home for a day." Then we started working on the "Iowa" record. And I was like, "OK, so I guess this is how it's gonna be." It's gonna be no rest for the wicked and full on all the time and you have to be. You can't really let your guard down or get lazy. You have to be thinking about your next move while you're making a move of your own.
You pulled in Rick Rubin for the "Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)." What was that like?
Umm, I thought it was great, man. I really loved making that record 'cause we were pretty unified as a band. Even though people were kind of falling into dark places in their personal lives, as a band we were all living together in the Houdini Mansion on Laurel Canyon in L. A.
You thought Slipknot was really pulling in one direction during that period?
It was a good experience because we were really able to work as a band. And that to me was the last record we worked as an entire band on.
Why do you feel that way?
"All Hope Is Gone" was really spread out. It was people not showing up at the studio 'til well into the evening and other guys wanting to track with nobody else around. Even though sonically it's a great record, it's probably the most split up we've ever been and that's probably the reason it sounds or the songs sound the way it sounds.
It feels good going into this next record?
It's time to get back to the organicness of Slipknot because we lost some of that on All Hope Is Gone.
So the song ideas you're bringing to Slipknot for this new album are much more elaborate than what you'd presented on earlier records?
It is. It may not necessarily be a very elaborate riff I'm bringing in but the thought process that got to that riff, there's a lot behind that. I might write something that's extremely hard to play and I'm really having a hard time getting it down but that thought process will make me keep refining it so I can get to a bridge or a pre-chorus or a vamp. I might end up simplifying that riff exponentially even though it's starting out as something really difficult to play. But for the song and the thought process, I might have to back up and go, "You know what? Even though there's 30 notes in this four bar measure, I can bring it down to 15 notes and it still has the melody and it's more impacting and more emotional." For me it's all about the emotion.
Corey had described the new album as falling stylistically between "Iowa" and "Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)." Would you agree?
Kinda. I mean it's a little bit too early to tell because right now I have about eight arrangements I'm working on and I haven't heard anything about what Corey's gonna do vocally. You know what I mean? We've been bouncing ideas with each other through email and stuff like that and until the rest of the band gets their hands on it, it's gonna be hard to figure out what it's gonna end up sounding like.
These arrangements you're working on now won't become Slipknot songs until the entire band has provided input?
Like I said I've got these seven or eight arrangements, which are basically full songs without vocals and without the rest of the band on 'em. But once Mick (Thomson, guitar) starts putting his flavor into it it might be like, "You know what? Now that you're doing this over that riff, we should change that riff underneath it to follow more what you're playing." Or if Clown hits a drum at a certain time, it might mean we need to accent something a little bit differently. Or Corey could come in and go, "Man, I really like this part but you only did it for two measures as a vamp. I'd like to make that the chorus." Everything's still kind of subject to change. I can sit here and I can write a hundred songs but until there's vocals on 'em, it's just an arrangement.
Have the other members of Slipknot heard these arrangements?
Luckily I've been able to get these arrangements to most of the other guys in the band and everybody's kind of freaking out and kind of stoked about it all. So it's like, "Holy shit."
On any given record, there can be four or five or more different writers whereas most bands have one or two. How does that work?
Well, it is that way too. There's a lot of songwriters but sometimes you can have too many cooks in the kitchen.
When there's so many people trying to put their ideas in, it can really slow the process up. So for me it's better to get the ball rolling and come in with full arrangements and have complete ideas. That way it's easier to dissect everything because you have a starting point. Now we have written songs as an entire band and those are some of the best songs that we've written. Like "The Nameless" and things like that. 'Cause there's something that happens when we get the energy going. As long as we can maintain focus and get through the arrangement process then it works really well. But given the circumstances of what we're going through with our time constraints and the fact we haven't done an album for almost six years, (it's better to work this way).
Why hasn't there been an album since 2008's "All Hope Is Gone?"
Well, there's a lot of reasons. We lost Paul right before Stone Sour started touring on Audio Secrecy and we didn't know really what was gonna happen with Slipknot. Then we did a month long tour in Europe without Paul. We brought Donnie (Steele) in to play bass and we realized, "We can do it - we can do this. That's step one - touring." You know what I mean? We can go out and we can play Slipknot music without Paul.
Which must have felt reassuring but painful at the same time.
It was bittersweet but it felt really good. Corey and I always wanted to do back-to-back album cycles with Stone Sour and it just so happened we wrote a double record ("House of Gold & Bones" - Part 1 and Part 2). You know what I mean? So it extended that process a little longer and I think in some ways we kind of wore out our welcome. To me it's the greatest album we've done and it's definitely my favorite piece of work in our career that we've done.
What did you mean when you said you wore out your welcome?
I got the sense when we were on tour that we were just kind of beating it to death. It seemed to me like the album cycle had run its course and to me it was really time. To me the writing was on the wall.
Time for what?
All the signs pointed to, "It's time for Slipknot and it's time to overcome the hurdle of writing a record without Paul."
Certainly that was the toughest hurdle facing the band.
For me ... (Jim pauses momentarily and laughs) ... it's really weird and you might think I'm crazy but Paul has been with me throughout this writing process I just started up again. In the sense when earlier I was talking about thinking outside of the box and approaching riffs in a certain way. Normally when I would write a song in the past, the first thing that came out of my head I would throw that arrangement down and that would be it. The only way it would change is if Corey wanted to change the arrangement a little bit like in "Say You'll Haunt Me," "Digital (Did You Tell)," "Sulfur" and things like that.
As you mentioned, that process has now completely changed?
Now I've realized that when I was sitting here in my garage where I work on music and putting these arrangements together. I noticed instead of just recording the first thing that pops out of my head and coming up with the next part, I'm like working the part out. And exploring the fretboard of the guitar and going, "Is there someplace else I could play it that might sound a little bit different? Is there another inversion of the chord that might sound better?" It dawned on me while I was doing that - "I never did that." But when I would write with Paul, Paul would do that.
That's very cool.
Paul would sit there and work out every inversion and every possible notation on the fretboard. Obviously there's only eight notes but those eight notes are all over the fretboard and that can help you come up with melody lines on a different part of the fretboard. Inverted chords that might sound thicker or more dreamy or whatever it is rather than just laying down power chords.
When I stepped back and kind of realized what I was doing, I was like, "F--k, Paul's here helping me do this (laughs) and I never did that before."
Paul was a big part of Slipknot's creative process?
He would just explore every aspect of what an arrangement could be. I don't know if you've ever watched Subliminal but there's a scene in there where him and I are in his bedroom at the Houdini Mansion (Rick Rubin's recording studio in Laurel Canyon, CA) working out "Vermillion Pt. 2" and kinda writing that together. That's a lot of how Paul and I would write together. I'd go over to his house and he'd have a bunch of arrangements already written and I wouldn't know anything about 'em because I was out on tour with Stone Sour. So for me it's sitting down with Paul and learning everything he wrote and then it's helping him with the arrangements and me coming up with other ideas.
That sounds like a collaboration in the truest sense of the word.
That only happened three or four times on the three or four records since Stone Sour started touring. But it had such an impact on me that I'm carrying it through now.
Obviously those moments writing with Paul Grey were important to you.
It's almost like clarity - you know what I mean? It's like, "Holy shit. It's so clear to me what needs to happen. And it's so clear with the thought process and the writing process and how it needs to happen." It's like a year ago there might have been a lot of fear in me going into writing a Slipknot record. That might have been a pretty daunting challenge. But now the way I'm looking at it is like it's meant to be this way. And I'm kinda destined to be that guy that's stepping in to push the ball farther down the field so to speak. You know what I mean?
Have you brought in a new bass player for this upcoming album?
We've got Donnie and he was the original guitar player of Slipknot before Slipknot had a record deal. Mick replaced him for whatever reason and this was way before I was ever in the band. Donnie was writing music with Paul when Paul passed.
Music for Slipknot?
No, they were gonna put out a death metal or speed metal or maybe even a thrash record. Donnie is "Iowa" and he is "Slipknot" - he was a part of Slipknot before Slipknot got signed. And something that a lot of people might not know about Donnie is when he was offered the position to come out and play Paul's parts behind the stage and all that stuff, he went to Paul's mom's house and asked for her blessing.
That takes a lot of courage and shows a lot of respect.
He went to Paul's brother's house, Gummo, and asked him what he thought about it all. That's pretty gracious and a lot of people that wouldn't even occur to 'em. They'd be like, "I got this gig and I'm gonna be playin' onstage with Slipknot." But Donnie had the foresight and the heart to be like, "You know what? Before I do this I'm gonna go speak to Paul's mother about it and see what she thinks."
Paul's mother was OK with it?
She hugged Donnie and said, "I can't think of anybody else that should be doing it." And that to me is real. And shit, to me everything has got to be real and it's got to be true with everything you do. Otherwise people will see right through it. And that's about as true as it can get.
Joey Jordison has left the band - how will that impact the recording of this new album?
Umm, I'm not really sure how it is. Obviously that crosses your mind and it's like, "Well sh-t, what are we gonna do now?" But like I said before, I'm pretty fearless on what's happening in the Slipknot world right now and I've been spending a lot of time with Clown and Corey working out these arrangements.
At this point in the writing process, you're not really thinking about that?
We have more communication within the band right now than I think we ever have. There's been numerous guys sitting at a table and actually talking to each other, which is crazy.
Out of these bad moments some positive things have happened?
Everything happens for a reason and I think this is just another chapter in the book. And who's to say what the future holds? I don't know and I haven't spoken to Joey so I don't know what's going on in his mind or how he feels about things. But I wish him all the best and good luck with Scar the Martyr and maybe our paths will cross again one day.
Slipknot has been out on a lot of tours and played with a lot of bands - any of them stick in your mind?
You know there are but I kind of stay out of that and I really don't learn about them until we happen to be on tour with 'em. I'm not the type of guy who goes out and searches out music. And for whatever reason, I don't know why that is. I'm so deeply passionate about music it never occurs to me to go hit up iTunes and look for something new. When we go out on tour with a band, I'm usually late to the game when it comes to exploring and finding new music. I mean sh-t, I didn't find and start listening to Blur and Radiohead until they were almost halfway through their careers.
At this point the plan is to finish the album and hit the road again?
Yep, I'm writing my ass off. I'm gonna spend Christmas writing music and I'm probably gonna pack up my truck and a bunch of my guitars and gear and I'm gonna basically move into a studio in L. A. Very, very early in January. And head down - it's time to work and it's long overdue.
From your comments in our conversation, it sounds like this next Slipknot record will be charged with a lot of feelings.
I've got a lot of anger and a lot of sad emotion and it all will come out one way or another. And I've got enough motorcycle riding to satisfy me right now. You know what I mean?
Play all the good notes, Jim.
Hah hah hah hah hah. I will do my best. Have a good one.
Interview by Steven Rosen