"I’ve seen the Tortilla Guy hashtag when I’m going through my IG and all of that and I think it’s pretty funny." - Jim Root.
The new era of Slipknot is underway, and they're set to release their sixth studio album 'We Are Not Your Kind' this coming Friday through Roadrunner Records.
Ahead of 'We Are Not Your Kind' hitting streaming services on Friday, we caught up with Slipknot guitarist Jim Root to talk through the recording process, being a part of such a big machine, and the identity of that illusive 'Tortilla Man'.
Looking back on the road into the record - what was your mentality going into ‘We Are Not Your Kind’? After a somewhat bumpy ride, did you feel like you had something more to prove again?
Says Jim: “I mean, you kind of feel that way every time you work on a record - or at least I do! There were definitely some different circumstances this time, since ‘…The Gray Chapter’, but I still feel like… there’s this search, there’s this thing you do. Kind of like when I look at The Beatles’ career: they were always searching for the answer to something, no matter what it was. It’s like there’s a key somewhere to writing the perfect song or album, and I don’t know where it is. I don’t know if anyone does, but we’re all trying to find it, like the search for the Holy Grail. That’s kind of how I looked at this record: ‘This isn’t good enough, we’ve gotta be better’. We spent so much time and work on this. We started working on arrangements when we were still touring on ‘…The Gray Chapter’.”
How different was the atmosphere within the band through this process? You’ve spoken before about how on previous records, a lot of it was pieced together remotely…
“The biggest difference probably was the literal way it was tracked, doing it as a band. With the creative process, I think time was an essential factor. Because we had time… so if I threw an arrangement together in my garage or jammed on something with Jay [Weinberg, drums], or collaborated with Clown [percussion] on something, we had time to add things to it and make it something new, and then step away from it and work on other things, go back with fresh ears and go, ‘Okay, I’m hearing it differently now. It’s kind of silly like this, let’s change this or that’. It was definitely organic in that it came from a place of being like, ‘Gotta do better, gotta be more melodic, gotta be more technical’, you know what I mean? There was this passionate fire there, wanting to push further and do better.”
Did it help to draw back from the big picture of Slipknot – the business, the culture around it – and go back to the core of some people in a room making music?
“For sure, that’s what I try to do. Clown handles so much business with the band, deals so much with the vision, and he’s one of the last founding members left. He understands this band on levels and dimensions that even I, after twenty-something years of being in Slipknot, have trouble wrapping my head around!
"I try to just stick with the music side of things, you know. I’m trying to hone a skill, instead of being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, trying to focus on being a better songwriter - which is hard to do! That’s one of the benefits of having nine guys in the band. Some people might see it as a curse, but I look at it as a blessing, that you’ve got nine different opinions and ways of looking at things. If I got stumped on something, Mick [Thompson, guitar] or Sid [Wilson, DJ] or Corey [Taylor, vocals] or Clown, any number of those guys would come and go ‘Oh, I’m hearing this in it’, and put something on it that made me hear it differently.”
Speaking of Corey, how did you find the process of working with him on this record? You parted ways with Stone Sour back in 2014, so people might assume there’s been some residual strain there. But has it been helpful to have this environment to hash things out in and rebuild those bridges, and to be able put all of your energy into Slipknot for this record?
“One hundred per cent. I didn’t realise these things at the time, and I truly do believe that everything happens for a reason, whether it’s the universe or fate or whatever. I’m not saying that there’s not hard work there, putting yourself in places and making things better for yourself, but… I was spreading myself thin, not giving 100 per cent to either band, and that was a source of discontent for me. Sometimes you don’t realise at the time that you’re burning the candle at both ends, and it affects you. It was making me miserable, and it was making the other guys miserable because I was fucking miserable!
"But [parting ways with Stone Sour] was kind of a blessing in disguise, because now I’m able to focus on Slipknot. For Corey, juggling two bands, being in it all the time, that may be his thing - but before, when I was on tour with Slipknot I wasn’t able to write with Stone Sour, and vice versa. I just had to kind of pepper bits of my flavour here and there.
"Now, I get to make these arrangements, layer them and get them to a point where they sound like songs before I present them to the rest of the guys to work on them, and make them as good as they can be. It’s a lot of fun, I’m having a lot of fun and I’m able to collaborate with our producers on a level I was never able to before. I really enjoy it, the studio now is one of my favourite places to be, I absolutely love it. And Corey and I, we can bro down and joke around, laugh and shit now. It’s not just like, ‘Oh fuck, what’s Jim pissed about today?’”
Obviously this process hasn’t been without its ups and downs, especially with recent line-up changes, and as ever with Slipknot, people have strong opinions about everything you put out. How do you react to that as a band at this point? Would it even be Slipknot if there wasn’t something for you to push back against?
“It would be hard to find that fire without it, you know? Let’s face it - as humans we’re all kind of messed up and we’re always going to be. There’s always going to be something that’s not right or going wrong for you, whether that’s socially or physically, or within your own personal life. You can wish that it was different, but it’s out of your control. There’s always that ‘thing’, and luckily we have a Corey, who is pretty in tune with those emotions and able to vent them out in a way that’s sort of relatable for all of us. He might be talking about something that’s very personal, but he’s so talented and can phrase things so poetically and metaphorically that anybody can relate to it.
"We tend to be fascinated with the darkness that’s inherently within us as humans, for whatever reason. If you’re depressed or sad you’re going to listen to depressing or sad music to pull you out of it, which is kind of ironic. It’s part of human nature. But within all of this seeming darkness, the dark things that Corey sings about, there’s a lot of hope in there too: endeavouring to persevere, getting over it and moving on. This is a way to purge demons.”
What have been the most challenging parts of the ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ era for you, to date?
“The hardest thing about this record was, we had two-plus years to arrange the music and dig deep into the demos, but when it came time to actually record, we had half the time to actually track it. Our producer was talking to the label about this recently, and he was like, ‘You know, they worked really hard to get this done, in less time than they usually would, and that’s not something you should take lightly’. One of the craziest things about this band is, we can not speak to each other for a couple of years, each working on whatever we’re working on, and then we come together and focus on something, and it’ll fall together really quickly. Even if it’s just something like playing certain songs live, we’re all very passionate about what we do, we don’t want to go out and embarrass ourselves, although sometimes we do! It’s that drive to be the best that you can possibly be, we just are that way.”
Did the pressure ever take a toll along the way?
“Early on in this process, when I was going out to LA and working with Jay, putting real drums on the demos I had written, I was driving home and talking to Clown while listening to some of the demos. And I was like, ‘I don’t know what we have here. I don’t think we have it’. At the time we had seven or eight arrangements demoed, and I thought that maybe one was good enough to be on the record. And Clown was like, ‘No dude, you don’t understand. What we have here is great, and it’s going to be great.’ He was that affirming entity who was making me not want to throw my hands up and just start over. And he was right, because most of those arrangements made the record.”
After all that, how validating has it been to come out and play to some enormous crowds across the world, with more set to follow when you tour Europe next year?
“It’s cool man, I feel like we’re extremely lucky to have this entity that we have. It’s a once in a lifetime thing, it doesn’t really happen for a lot of bands - even the ones who get signed and do a bunch of cool stuff. Whether it’s hard work or dumb luck, whatever combination of the two and the stars just aligning, we have this culture that’s happened around the band. I’m starting to realise it now. Being so attached to everything we do, I can’t look at anything objectively: we go out and play these huge shows and I’m like, ‘Fuck, my coveralls are fitting weird’, or ‘My monitor’s not right’, you’re so in the moment of trying to figure out what it is in that moment that the grand scheme, the big picture, sometimes escapes me, and I don’t think about it. In some ways it’s good that I don’t, because if I was really able to wrap my brain around what this is… it might freak me out.”
How do you feel the experiences of the last couple years have affected the feeling and relationships within the band? Does going through those struggles bring you closer together?
“For sure. A big part of it is just maturing - you learn to let go of a lot of the petty, egotistical bullshit that you have when you’re younger, and realise that we’re all just trying to do the best we can, and we’re all on the same team. I still feel like there are things to achieve, that we need to work harder because there’s another level we can get to. With that drive and that passion… the minute that you become complacent, or your ego gets so large and you feel like you can do no wrong, you buy into the idea that ‘We are great, we are this and that’, that’s awful for bands. There has to be a degree of humility.
"We all have that drive to be better in different ways. We argue and fight, but you’ve got to realise, the fighting means that we want the best, not just for the band, but for each other. I’m an only child, so these guys literally are the closest thing I’ve had to brothers, and I know what that feels like after 20 years of touring. We might fight about some shit and argue and complain about some shit, but we all have each other’s backs. We’d kill for each other, and though we might not talk on the phone every day or go out to breakfast - some of us do, some of us don’t, we go through cycles - there’s that deep love that we have for each other. Because after spending so much time together… I don’t know what I’d do without these guys.”
There’s been a lot of speculation around your new percussionist ‘Tortilla Man’, online, and it’s kind of taken on a life of it’s own. How are you finding that on the inside?
“I’m actually surprised that nobody has sussed out who it is yet, but nobody has. And in this day and age of social media, with phones and cameras everywhere, that’s kinda interesting. I’ve seen the Tortilla Guy hashtag when I’m going through my IG and all of that and I think it’s pretty funny. It’s weird because I’ve met this guy before, I know who he is, but he’s really kind of elusive, even around our camp. I’ve had some people tell me, ‘Don’t tell us who he is, we’re having fun trying to figure it out!’ So I’m gonna keep my mouth shut about all of that and see what happens. Eventually someday someone’s going to figure it out…”
Slipknot's new album 'We Are Not Your Kind' is set for release August 09 through Roadrunner Records.