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How Paul Gray's Death Shaped Slipknot's New Album

13 October 2014 | 1:23 pm | Jim Root

Slipknot guitarist Jim Root takes us through the LP track by track

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Slipknot guitarist Jim Root takes The Music through their new album, .5: The Gray Chapter, track by track:

XIX

That’s a song that Clown [Shawn Crahan, percussion] wrote. It’s basically a song that he had in his head from when we were at Paul’s funeral and it’s kind of like the music that was running through his head when we were carrying Paul in his casket because we were all – the band were all – his pall bearers. So he got all that feeling out in that tune and then Corey [Taylor, vocals] added vocals to it and it’s a pretty cool little piece. It’s very ambient.

Sarcastrophe

That song was a little bit of a struggle because in the arrangement that I had (from my garage) it didn’t really seem to jive with how Corey wanted to arrange it vocally and we had to keep going back and re-arranging that song and sort of re-thinking the way it was put together, but it ended up coming together really nice. We thought the riffs and the parts in the song were really great but it just didn’t seem like it had a good flow to it. So we tried a few different things and that’s what we ended up with and I think it’s pretty good now. It’s one of the barn-burners on the record and one of my favourite ones, y’know.

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"It’s kind of like the music that was running through his head when we were carrying Paul in his casket..."

I think that’s an actual term ['sarcastrophe'] – Corey explained it – I can’t remember exactly how he explained it. But I think it’s like when you answer somebody with a sarcastic statement or you put something sarcastic at the end of a sentence. And that may not be exactly what that is but as far as like the lyrical content and the song titles I’m not going to be too much of a help on some of that stuff.


AOV

Acquiring… something… violence I think is what it means? I’d have to listen to the lyrics again I haven’t listened to this stuff since we recorded it [laughs]. That was another one that I demoed in my garage and it sort of kind of a thrash riff based around it and it goes into a kind of sludgy verse line. But the recording of that one was about getting the drummer on page with that and he was really stoked to try to dive into that one and kind of a fast [mimics sound - m’but m’but] beat and then that one has a really interesting breakdown in the middle. I wanted to do a middle eight that didn’t necessarily have a guitar solo, I thought maybe it could be a vocal breakdown for Corey. I ended up with this really sort of ethereal, very layered guitar sound, almost like 180 degrees different from what the rest of the song is. It just seemed to work and I’ve never heard a song that combines all the different elements in that way before so I wanted to do my best to try to bring that together for the record.

When I demoed that in my garage I played the bass on it, I did like this Roger Waters–y [Pink Floyd] guitar solo over that little bit and I really dug that. With this album, we’re really keeping Paul in mind with everything and I thought there should be something that showcased the bass guitar at some point so that was kind of it.

The Devil In I

Obviously the video is a big metaphor for us getting rid of our old way of life I guess and the way we were and moving on to a sort of new Slipknot renaissance, I guess you could say. So us killing ourselves off is the metaphor for us getting rid of our older personas, and the song itself, that was a song that I demo-ed and put the arrangement together for in my garage and it was one that me and Greg [Fidelman, producer] struggled with the arrangement. It didn’t really change from what I had on my demo and Corey came to the table with a great vocal line and he had a great vocal melody for it and it was just too good to not do anything with but at the same time it just seemed very repetitive and like it needed more parts but I couldn’t think of what else to do. I was too attached to it and couldn’t see another direction for it to go, plus it was already pretty long the way it was so we cut a lot out of that song.

"Us killing ourselves off is the metaphor for us getting rid of our older personas..."

 

I think the vocals really lift that song and make it something special. And the lyrics too, Corey is very metaphorical in his lyrics. So I’m not sure what Corey’s singing about but I can definitely correlate it to things that are happening and current events in my life and that’s one of the things that makes Corey one of the greatest vocalists on earth – his plays on words and metaphors and his vocal melodies. The kid’s got talent! He really can do it all, he can do very fast scat-type rapping, he can sing very melodically, he can growl and scream and that’s rare, there’s not a lot of guys that can do that. I’d put him in the Danny Elfman [composer] category and Mike Patton [Faith No More] sort of world because those guys really do it all.

Killpop

I honestly couldn’t tell you what Killpop is about but to me it’s probably about… a woman [laughs]. I don’t know what woman and I don’t know what this woman’s gone through in her life but it obviously wasn’t something fun or emotionally stimulating. That’s another one of my favourite songs. To me Slipknot has a few different styles of music that we do. We have the sort of ‘in your face’ aggressive stuff and then we have the mid-tempo rock kind of duality vibe songs and then we have the songs like Gently [from the album IOWA] or Vermillion [from the album Volume 3 – The Subliminal Verses] or Prosthetics [from Slipknot’s self-titled album] and it sort of fits in that world a little bit… Maybe a bit of an evolution from that sort of stuff, those are my favourite Slipknot songs. And just overall that piece and another song we’ll talk about later are two of my favourite songs on the record just as far as like sitting back and ‘vibe-ing’ out and listening to it. There’s a lot of songs like that on this record; even The Devil In I [second track released from .5: The Gray Chapter] is like that song to me – the more you listen to it the more it grows on you.

I don’t think it really grabs a hold of you at a first listen – but maybe that’s because I can’t look at it objectively, I’m so attached to everything. I’m the kind of guy that once I’ve finished a record, I don’t ever listen to it again. The only time I listen to it is if I have to re-learn a song that we’re going to throw into the set we haven’t played for a long time [laughs]. Like okay, it’s done. The therapy’s done. The world can have it now – it’s out of my hands!


Skeptik

From what I know that song – Corey has told me that that one is actually about Paul. He hasn’t elaborated on that in any way so you’d probably have to go to him for more insight or maybe he won’t ever give it. But as far as musically, that’s another arrangement that I put together in my garage and, y’know, there’s a few of these arrangements that didn’t really change a whole lot and we actually even used some of the stuff from my demos in the garage. This song, we just instantly knew that it was probably going to be on the record. It was basically let’s just put it together, let’s get the drummer up to speed and figure out what he’s going to play and then let’s just record it – just pretty straight forward on that one. There are [raw elements] and some of it was a trick because y’know, the new bass player and all that and us working with Fidelman [the producer]. And Fidelman had his own ideas on who should play bass on what songs and we weren’t sure what we were going to do. Mick [Thomson, guitars] had an idea that he wanted me and him to play bass on the whole record and nobody should play bass on the record.

And my mentality was, if we’re going to move on and have a guy, then he needs to play on the whole record was the way I was looking at it and also I was looking at it from a logistical standpoint too. Like, I want to concentrate on the arrangements and actually playing guitar and layering guitars. I don’t want to think about having to play bass because that’s just going to be more time out from guitar I have to spend and I didn’t really want to do that so it ended up being about an even split. The guy that played bass ended up playing about seven or eight songs on the record and I ended up playing the rest. Fidelman wanted me to play on certain songs because he understood the way Paul played bass, because he worked with him in the past. And he understood that most of these songs I had written and a lot of them I had written with Paul in mind because I used to write with Paul. He thought it was more fitting that I would catch the vibe of the song a bit better like Paul would.

Lech

Lech is a song that Corey brought in and what can I say other than just re-interpreting what Corey did guitar-wise. Just adding the drums to it and layering and putting it together, it didn’t really change much from Corey’s demo. It’s a fucking killer song and I have no idea what the lyrics are about [laughs].

Goodbye

That fits in the Gently [from the album IOWA] kind of world, the next two songs are songs that Corey wrote so we’ve got three in a row in the middle of the album that Corey brought to the table. But I love the ambience of Goodbye. I get to get really ‘Radiohead’ with my guitar playing and pretend that I’m Johnny Greenwood [Radiohead guitarist] or something. You know what I mean? It makes you think outside of the box from a quote unquote standard metal guitar player and you get to search for more ambient sounds. That song’s pretty organic too. The bass that’s on that record is actually the bass that Corey played on the demo. We just left it because it had a kind of vibe to it. There’s no sense in trying to beat it.

Nomadic

The tail end of Goodbye went into Nomadic and that’s a killer song too and another song that Corey wrote. Interesting guitar – I mean the way Corey approaches guitar – because he can play guitar but he’s not necessarily a ‘learned guitar player’. I mean none of us really are. But it’s interesting to sort of interpret the way he approaches guitar because it makes me think about guitar playing a little bit differently. So it’s always fun to do and that was a good one too for the drummer to wrap his brain around and just dive into, y’know? I mean it’s fun, just straight layering.

The One That Kills The Least

I think that’s the first demo song that I started working on in my garage and it’s another one of those that fits in the Duality [from Volume 3 – The Subliminal Verses] world – the mid-tempo rock metal kind of stuff that we do. I think it’s cool; it’s one of those songs where we get to do our melodic bits and Corey gets to sing a little bit more and stuff like that.


Custer

I don’t know what the metaphor is for (laughs) I really don’t know what he means by that unless Custer has a meaning that I’m not aware of. Maybe it’s in the urban dictionary or something, I don’t know. That’s a cool one. There’s two songs on the record that came from a jam I did with the drummer in the first studio that we went to. We were in a little studio in Hollywood called Sound Factory before we moved into Sunset Sound and me and the drummer did a couple of different jams that lasted like an hour and when we did those jams we just grabbed bits and pieces from those jams and threw arrangements of songs together and that song was born from one of those jams.

"I get to get really ‘Radiohead’ with my guitar playing and pretend that I’m Johnny Greenwood [Radiohead guitarist] or something."

Be Prepared For Hell

From the mind of Clown! We had two studios when we were at Sunset Sound. And Studio 3 was just like this open studio for anybody to go in and use their circuitry or pump organs or play percussion or just bang around on a guitar so that’s one of the songs that came from Studio 3!

The Negative One

The Negative One [first track released from the album] is the second song that came from the jam that we did with the drummer so I guess that’s the product of me jamming with a guy and trying to put a song together out of what we jammed with!

If Rain Is What You Want

Another one that came from Studio 3 and it started with the sort of bendy guitar riff [mimics sound] and we had a bunch of great bits but we didn’t really have a direction for it and then Corey wrote lyrics for it and it just really kind of seemed to really take on a life of its own. Corey wanted a middle bit that was – not a transition – but like a key change. It’s something different to happen in the middle so I just went over there very quickly and wrote the middle section that happens with all the lyrics in the middle bit where it sort of takes off and lifts and then it turned into what it did. And to me, that’s one of my favourite songs on the record too because it’s very organic and it’s got some ‘triad–y’, out of the box kind of guitar playing in it.

.5: The Gray Chapter is out Friday 17 October through Roadrunner/Warner