Saturday Conversation: Corey Taylor On New Music, Alice In Chains

Slipknot and Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor admits he wasn’t sure he was going to make a follow up to his successful 2020 solo album, CMFT. But after the positive reception to the collection, Taylor is back with the just released (September 15) CMFT.

The sterling record covers the wide range of Taylor’s talents and musical tastes, from the country-tinged “Breath of Fresh Smoke” and the beautiful “Sorry Me” to the aggressive “Post Traumatic Blues.”

I spoke at length with Taylor about the new record, influences such as Nirvana and Alice In Chains, facing his demons, fatherhood and more.

Steve Baltin: Congratulations on the record. I love the diversity of it. So for you talk about the mix. Were all these songs written in a concentrated period or was it spread out over time?

Corey Taylor: No, it was definitely spread out over time. You mentioned “Breath of Fresh Smoke.” That song I wrote, God 17 years ago, and, demoed it. I’ve demoed it four times and it’s just been one of those songs that I’ve always had. And I very nearly put it on CMFT. But I was like, “I’m going to hold onto this. I got something special for this.” And I was also trying to see where the solo band was going to go, to, you know, to see just how far I could push them as well. So once I had a better idea of what I could get away with from a solo sense, I was like, “Okay, now I can really start bringing in some of the stuff that I’ve been looking forward to. “Breath of Fresh Smoke” I wrote in 2006; “Beyond,” I wrote the first version of that in 2006, “Midnight” was a song that I had recorded way back in 2002. So, some of this spans the spectrum of time. But also then there’s new stuff like, “Sorry Me.” That was literally the last song I wrote for the album. And I wrote it two weeks before we went into the studio. So I’d been toying with it and I knew that I needed to sit down and work it out. Because I knew it could be something really special. So yeah, man, there are little bits and bobs here that go all the way back. And I’ve been able to consolidate them while I’m also trying to push the boundaries. I’m also trying to show the world that all of this stuff can live on the same album. You have to listen to it with the right kind of ears to vibe it. But so many people are so hell bent on an album isn’t an album unless it sounds like the same fucking song over and over and over again. That I just, I’m just like, man, fuck that. Even if I only sell three of these damn things, I’m gonna make sure that this album represents something that I represent.

Baltin: That’s so funny though, because I’m sure you, like me, grew up with the idea that on an album nothing sounded like each other.

Taylor: Exactly.

Baltin: You think about a [David] Bowie record..

Taylor: [Led] Zeppelin.

Baltin: Are there a couple of albums that really stand out for you in terms of that diversity? No two songs on a Zeppelin record sounded the same. That was the whole point, was you could have “Stairway To Heaven” and “Rock and Roll,” or you could have “10 Years Gone” and “Kashmir” on the same record.

Taylor: Oh, man. I think about everything from the first Damned album to, honestly, Mötley Crüe Too Fast For Love. You listen to that album as crazy and as sloppy and as angst-y as that album is, every song is special. “Live Wire” doesn’t sound anything like “On With The Show.” “Piece of Your Action” doesn’t sound anything like “Public Enemy #1.” All my favorite albums really ran the gambit. You look at [Metallica] Master of Puppets as a perfect example. To me, that is the quintessential perfect heavy metal album because it has elements of everything. It has the fast thrashy stuff that we knew that we loved from Kill ‘Em All. But it also has these moments of real experimentation and these bold, heavy pieces, like “The Thing That Should Not Be,” which you’re just like, “What in the f**k is that?” So, stuff like that. Obviously outside of the heavy metal realm stuff like [Prince] Purple Rain, which to me is the perfect blend of rock and funk and soul, and yet really just a strong angst to it. There was real pain in that. So I think that’s what it kind of comes down to, it doesn’t really matter where you go musically. If the emotion is there and the belief is there, and that honesty, I think you can get away with murder musically and that’s kind of where I’ve been. There’s a reason why my s**t doesn’t sound the same. And I’ve tried to really create something new every time because that’s where my passion is. And the songs have to be good. That’s the strong thing. You can’t just be different for different’s sake. If the songs suck, then nobody’s going to give a s**t anyway.

Baltin: So when you go back now and hear CMF2, is there a through line for you on this record?

Taylor: The way I look at CMFT was, it was kind of a collection of things that I’d had over the years. There was really no rhyme or reason. It was just like, “Okay, if I never get to record these songs, this is my opportunity.” I wasn’t sure how it was going to be received, and I wasn’t sure if I would even make a second one. So when that album was received as well as it was, it didn’t take off, but people liked the songs and whatnot, it, gave me the courage to go, “Okay, let’s really figure this out now.” So I guess the through line for a lot of this album would be just dealing with the demons that I’ve always dealt with. Obviously, my struggles with depression, dealing with PTSD from the various attacks of abuse over the years, or my struggles with addiction, there’s a real journey there. Whether it’s contemplative or outright, trying to work things ahead. Take a song like “Talk Sick,” which is very much about the dark side of a relationship that’s gone really bad, and trying to make peace with the fact that you allowed that to happen to yourself for years. So there are definitely different things that I’m talking about. Obviously a song like “Midnight” is about depression, but it’s about those quiet moments when you’re trying to figure out how to maneuver depression. You’re not sinking to the depths, but you just want to get in your f**king car and drive. It’s just certain moments like that. So I guess if it was anything, the through line would be the ups and downs of being human and having reactive emotions.

Baltin: Are there those albums that speak to you when you think about growing up and dealing with demons or depression or now from the standpoint of writing about that stuff that you look to as sort of inspiration? Like a John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band is one of the greatest albums of all time to me.

Taylor: Yeah, and he was so ahead of his time when it came to that stuff because he was kind of dealing with the same things. He had so many demons and a real distrust for anyone outside of his circle. So he didn’t really know how to make amends with himself. Obviously he was thrust into a spotlight. None of us can even f**king fathom at such a young age. I don’t know, man, there are certain albums that I tend to gravitate towards, like the first Alice In Chains album, which to me shows where they were going instead of where they were coming from. There’s moments of where they were coming from, obviously like I know something and some stuff like that that was left over from the Diamond Lie days. But with that album, man, it taught me that you could write a great song and you could make it so f**king catchy and get stuck in your head. And yet it would be about some of the darkest s**t that you’ve ever dealt with. I know a lot of people in that era tend to give Nirvana most of the credit, and I love Nirvana. They’re one of my favorite bands. But, Alice, I don’t think they get enough credit for just how instrumental they were in creating almost a genre into themselves with the way they wrote, the way they manipulated majors and minors and the way they were able to really incorporate all of their demons. So, Dirt, for me, the first time I really sat down and listened to that, I immediately wanted to learn how to play every song on that album, because it was just so poignant to me. And he was talking about things that I could identify with that nobody else really wanted to talk about. And if they did, they wanted to kind of deify it, they wanted to romanticize it, and yet they were like, “No, this isn’t something to be f**ked, this is something to be hopefully helped with.” But by that time, they were so far down. So I think that album really is kind of a touchstone for me as far as the warts and all approach to kind of just showing the world for better or for worse, just how dark it can go. And really having no tether, no filter and really no tint on the windshield, man.

Baltin: Are there influences you hear in this record?

Taylor: A little bit. With my band, they’re so good that it really doesn’t surprise me of anything that comes to mind, ’cause when it comes to the songwriting, I write the meat of it, and then I have them come in and we’ll all start with the arrangement, the riffs. But then I let them go off, I let them off the chain, and then they just start compiling stuff and putting rad layers and elements to it, which then inspires me as far as like ear candy and stuff goes. So, when I look at this album, there’s so many. There are so many different vibes on it that it’s hard to pick one or two bands that you can feel the camaraderie there. Obviously, there are some greats. There are vibes that could go anywhere from old school Pennywise to the old Alice Cooper Band. There’s obviously the punk element, but at the same time, there’s real bombastic kind of ’80s, glam rock stuff that I’ve unashamedly leaned into ’cause I don’t give a f**k. You just never know where that inspiration is going to come from. You look at a song like “We Are The Rest,” which, to me, I wanted that to be like my Ramones’ “Teenage Lobotomy,” kind of that big crowd chant to get everybody going. But then in the middle, there’s a moment where I do a little tip of the hat to Operation Ivy, where, in that middle bit out of nowhere they just break it down and he just starts rapping. So that was my way of showing my hand as far as influences go. It runs the gamut.

Baltin: You covered songs that go 20 years back in your career. So, these things change. You write something 15 years ago, now you have this whole life experience you bring to it. So were there lyrical things on there that really surprise you or that you had a different appreciation for?

Taylor: That’s a good question. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing, but it’s definitely refreshing to see that my point of view on certain stuff emotionally hadn’t changed a lot [laughter]. I’m pushing 50, but at the same time, maybe it’s my understanding that was always ahead of its time. Instead of me feeling like I’m a little more stunted than most people. I’m not sure, I’m not, I haven’t really figured that part out. But the way I look at darkness in general has always had a kind of a matter of fact feeling to it. And I don’t know if that’s because of the trauma that I dealt with when I was younger. I don’t know if it’s because of the places that I’ve allowed myself to go to because of my various addictions over the years, or just the s**t that’s going to happen to me. I just have a very nonchalant way of picking apart real forms of darkness and making it make sense. Even as far back as a song like “Midnight,” which I changed very little. Musically, we just took it to the next level. But those lyrics stayed the same. So, the fact that I can relate to something that I wrote 20 years ago and have it be as poignant to me today as it was then, maybe that just means that I have made peace with it in a weird way. I’ve made peace with the s**t that has f**ked with me my whole life. But then at the same time, I’ve also drawn a line in the proverbial sand where I’m just like, “I’m not going to pass this on. I need to keep this in and talk about it and help people make sense of certain s**t in their lives and make sure that it doesn’t come near my kids.” And as a father, you have to do that. You have to look at the things that happened to you and go, “Okay, how do I make sure that this s**t doesn’t manifest and how do I guarantee that their life doesn’t end up the way mine was?”

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