“For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.” -Albert Camus
Depending on one’s definition of “sin,” Corey Taylor has sinned much in the same way that Julia Child has prepared a few meals. In a sense, Taylor has approached life’s forbidden pleasures with the same relish and fearlessness that he brings to his music- each sin an exquisite opportunity to savor the limitless pleasures offered by every moment. The multi-platinum musician, father and best-selling author has, at the age of 37, inked a tattoo on mankind that will endure long after he has shuffled off his mortal coil. With his literary debut, Seven Deadly Sins: Settling the Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good (Da Capo Press, 2011), Corey Taylor delivers a unique spin on the rock star biography, foregoing the strip-mined territory of the rock and roll tell-all and instead incorporating tales of his excesses into an articulate, thought-provoking examination of sin, morality and the search for purpose.
Taylor introduced himself to the world when he was barely twenty years old, fronting the Iowa behemoth known as Slipknot. Slipknot endures as one of the most recognizable bands in history due to the nightmare-inducing masks worn by the band during their live shows. Far from a jokey shock rock band, Slipknot have administered some of the most bruising and poignant hard rock in the past twenty years, with a nine-man lineup that deliver an aggressive and uniquely rhythmic metal assault. Having sold north of fourteen million albums, the band has survived lineup changes, side projects and the recent death of founding member Paul Gray from an accidental overdose. The band reeled from the emotionally battering news, but regrouped to close this year’s Sonisphere music festival in front of 60,000 exuberant devotees who sat through lashing rain to experience the most hotly-anticipated show of the summer.
Taylor has additionally earned massive critical and commercial success with his band Stone Sour, and with a four-octave range, he remains one of rock’s most powerful vocalists.
But as his fans know, there is far more to Corey Taylor than a rage-fueled multi-platinum musician. He is also a proud father, a voracious reader and a massively popular author. For ten years he has contributed a monthly column to British rock magazine Rock Sounds in which he offers personal stories and discerning social commentary that give voice to his fascination with history, politics and philosophy.
With his new book, he combines his own life experiences with an intriguing examination of the seven deadly sins, which he suggests are more aptly-named “the seven petty sins,” due to their relative harmlessness. Each chapter confronts one of the sins, with Taylor using his own triumphs and misadventures as springboards for discussing greater social implications. His style is intimate and conversational, as if you’re the last two standing after a long night out and he’s sharing his deepest beliefs over the last cigarette of the evening. By laying out his personal experiences as precursors to his views, it is easy to follow him to his conclusions, which are grounded in principles of respect, courtesy and compassion.
Seven Deadly Sins is an exploration of balance and moderation where he postulates that these “sins” all begin as useful aims, only taking on a counter-productive direction when they exceed the demands of a given situation. One man’s greed, for example, might drive him to develop a cure for cancer in a quest to profit from the sales of that cure. The book isn’t so much an attempt to ascertain where virtue ends and sin begins, but a call for cooperation, tolerance and unbridled, full-contact philanthropy. He avoids sounding preachy and overbearing with loads of humor, colorful analogies and of course, some riveting stories of life in the fast lane.
The most exciting aspect to this book is that it proposes solutions, which is far more audacious than lazily pointing out the world’s many dysfunctions. Also, Taylor drops some fairly explosive bombs in the form of personal revelations that are sure to shed a new light on his entire body of work.
The reception to the book has been overwhelmingly positive and as he wrapped up a successful book tour (which included acoustic performances at each stop), Slipknot summer dates and the day to day responsibilities of being a dad, I had the opportunity to chat with him about his new book, the process of writing, and the sublime pleasure of being pissed on in a bathtub.
Joe Daly: Let’s just get into it- you’re in a whirlwind right now.
Corey Taylor: Yeah, yeah… you ain’t kidding. (laughs)
Let’s start with the book. What was behind the timing of it? Why now?
It wasn’t anything that was calculated. I mean, the book took a very short time to write but we’ve been putting this together for awhile, you know, as far back as maybe two years. So it was something that I’d known for a long time that I always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’m a huge reader and I’ve been writing a monthly column for a magazine in England.
Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been doing that since 2001, so I’ve been doing that for a long time and the opportunity came up to get a book deal together and the cool thing was that nobody really knew what would happen. Nobody really knew if it would do anything or if I would even be good at it. So I just kind of did my thing, you know? I don’t think it was any kind of orchestrated thing. Everything happens for a reason and at the right time. I guess I’m kind of lucky that it came out when it did.
Something that’s really unique with your book that’s unlike other rock biographies and books by musicians is that you actually wrote yours, without assistance from a ghost writer or co-author. What was that experience like?
It wasn’t that hard, you know? (laughs) I wrote it when we were recording (Stone Sour’s 2010 album) Audio Secrecy. So I would spend all day in the studio and then go back to the house and write all night. It came together really quick. To me it was nothing more than just writing a really really long column, you know? I knew the things that I wanted to say, I knew how I wanted to see the book laid out, and after that you just fill in the blanks, basically.
From a literary standpoint, it was just a lot of math. It was very weird, but I never got stuck. If I ever felt like I hit the end of my point, I would walk away from it for awhile. I would only write when I got excited and it seemed like in the core time of writing it, I was always excited.
Did you find yourself going back and editing a lot? A lot of writers get caught up in the editing process and it slows them down.
No, no… there was very little editing, to be honest. What you read was pretty much exactly what I wrote, with the exception of changing a sentence here or there, or maybe changing a turn of phrase. And of course there were legal reasons (laughs).
Legal reasons? For editing?
Yeah, nobody wanted me to get in trouble or getting sued or anything, but I was like, “Bring it on! Who cares,” you know? But they were like, “No, no it’s your first book and it would be really bad if someone came at you right out of the gate,” so I was like, “Of course… whatever…”
So I changed a few things here and there, but it’s 99.9% exactly how I wrote it.
Yeah, I’m really proud of that. The only real editing we did was making sure that the photos worked in the right spots and making sure that the acknowledgements had everybody that I wanted to thank. So yeah, the book itself is pretty much untouched.
I’m going to namecheck Mayhem here. You kick the book off with a Grand Declaration of War.
Right on page one you say “I want a revolution in wood pulp.” Did you succeed? How are you going to know if that happened?
Oh… I don’t know. (laughs) I probably won’t see it in my generation, let’s put it that way. I’ll let the young ‘uns pick up on it. I mean, if you’re not shaking things up, if you’re not throwing stones at the bear, how are you going to know when you get clawed?
At the end of the day, I think that too many people are too satisfied with the way things are. They’re too ready to accept what is, rather than asking, “well, what could be? What could we have? What can we do? What should we do?” I think these are questions that not enough people are asking. They’re not asking the right questions because when they do ask questions, they tow the party line by going green, or being Republicans, God forbid…
You know, I ask more questions about how can we be better people towards each other, than worrying about the planet or worrying about this or that… There’s a bigger issue and it’s (the question) why are we so ugly towards each other? Why are we so horrible to each other? Not everyone, but most people. I worry about that. I’ve seen it coming for a long time. If you go back in history and you look at the way we’ve been, it hasn’t always been this way and that worries me, man. It worries me for my kids, it worries me for the kids of fans that I have, and even the fans that I have now. It worries me and I don’t like it.So anything I can do to get people thinking and get people reevaluating why they do the things they do is a responsibility I’m willing to take on.
In one of your recent Rock Sounds columns you actually challenged the readers by asking them to ask themselves “what are you doing to make this world better for someone other than yourself?”
Are people surprised to hear that kind of challenge from you?
I’m sure they are. Well, let me rephrase that- my fans are not, but other people are. Let’s put it that way, because this is something I’ve been talking to the fans about for a long time. It’s not enough to just get through life, you know. If you’re not putting something back, then you’re just taking up space. If you’re not doing something to not only help yourself but to help other people, then you’re in the way.
I live by an adage that’s very simple, but it’s actually quite appropriate in this day and age. The old manager for the Oakland Athletics, Connie Mack, said “there’s room for gentlemen in every profession.” Basically there’s room in every profession to be courteous and to be a good person and that’s the way I live my life. I don’t care about selfish, egotistical histrionics. I don’t care about wearing a meat suit to the Grammys and trying to draw attention to myself. I don’t care about these things. I care about making good music, being a good person, and taking care of my people. And that’s something that’s very foreign in my industry. But that’s fine. If it makes me kind of the guy on the outside looking in, so be it. But I’m not gonna change who I am just to get a better spot at the awards ceremony. I think if more people thought like that then maybe, just maybe we could be a little better off, you know?
It might introduce some new perspectives to readers, at the very least.
Yeah, well, there are also stories in my book about chicks pissing on me (page 47), so I don’t think it’s going to change too many people’s minds… (laughs)
I was going to ask you about that… Did you have any apprehensions…
No… of course not… I’d had a couple of cocktails at the time, so it was pretty much all go, no quit.
Honestly, people ask me about this all the time and I say “no, there was nothing sexual about it.” Well, at least the first part, you know? It was truly a sociological study. “How far can I push this whole thing? How far can I push this fame thing? Can I get normal people to commit acts that are really weird and absurd?” And by God, it worked. (laughing again) People are up for doing pretty much anything if you phrase it right. If you put it out there right, you know? And um… yeah. It’s very weird.
There are a lot of bold proclamations in your book, but there’s also a great deal of humor, irony, and quite a few winks to the reader. Who are your literary influences?
Well, to be honest, I grew up reading mostly fiction but then as I got older I really started to get into non-fiction. I mean, Hunter S. Thompson is obviously a huge influence on me, right down to the homage on the cover of the book. You know, everybody quotes Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail is a fantastic book. In a lot of ways, it’s almost crazier than Vegas. The Great Shark Hunt,” and things like that. As I was getting older, I was reading things like that, I was reading the Beats, I was reading everyone from Burroughs to Kerouac and just devouring all those books.
Even reading Frank Zappa… at the end of the day, my favorite writers haven’t always written books. I’m talking about comedians and whatnot. I’ve always been a huge fan of comedians who really push the boundaries. Everyone from Lenny Bruce and George Carlin to Bill Hicks, one of my favorite comedians. Those are the guys that I really took my social commentary approach from, and who I took my political cues from, if you will. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized the influence that they had on me where I basically just don’t give a shit. If you’re worried about saying something, just blurt it out and get it out of the way, you know? And that’s the way I look at things.
Let’s talk about the book tour? Pretty big difference from a Slipknot tour. How have the signings been?
It’s been great, man. The great thing about my fans is that they’re all really, really good people. I mean, there’s always the odd man out who’s a little bit crazy, obviously, like some guy who wants to give me a cow’s heart in a box. (laughs) And…
Wait- did that really happen?
Not at the signings, but at shows and whatnot. There’s always a hint of crazy in there, but for the most part the feedback I’ve got from bookstore owners has been that my fans are some of the kindest, most respectful people. They’re just really excited. They’re excited to be there, they’re excited to be a part of it. And that makes me feel really good about what I’m doing and what I’m saying. I’ve always been very very ready to go above and beyond for them. I’m the guy who’ll stop and sign things and take pictures for everybody. So to see them come out in droves like they have been has been insane. I’ve been doing a lot of special stuff at these book signings. I’ll do a reading, and then I’ll do a Q&A and then I’ll play some acoustic songs, so it’s really like a show in a lot of ways. People have been walking away saying, “Man, that was one of the best times I’ve ever had…”
So the book tour was great and we’re planning another in the winter, right around when the paperback comes out. It’s weird man, I’m learning so much about the book industry. Stuff I never would have known in a million years. You know, like the “publishing date” and stuff like that, where it’s basically “publisher’s week,” not “publisher’s date.” And then, you know, how quick the turnover is for a paperback to come out and whether or not to do an audiobook and whatnot. It’s very weird.
Are you going to do an audiobook?
Now I am. The publisher wasn’t originally interested. They were like, “well, with these types of books they don’t do well.” And then the fans really came out of the woodwork. I was getting a question at every signing- “When’s the audiobook coming out?” “When are you putting an audiobook out,” etc.Finally (the publisher said) “whatever you want… whatever you want, please do it. Go ahead- you record it and we’ll get it out there. We’ll make sure it happens…” I said, “see, if you’d have just listened to me in the first place, (laughs)we’d have had this out already.”
I won’t want to jump the gun, but now that you’ve got this book under your belt… well really, while you’re still digesting it, have you thought about another book? Are we going to see another book sometime?
Oh yeah. Oh yeah, I mean, I’ve already got… somewhere between “sado” and “masochist” is Corey Taylor. I’m already thinking of like four new books that I could potentially write. I’ve got one that I’ve already written the first chapter for …
Well, I’m probably two thousand words from being done with the chapter, and I sent it in like, six months ago. My agent was like “Ok, just settle down, alright? The first book isn’t even out yet. We have no idea what it’s gonna do.” As soon as the book came out, it started blowing up. Then my agent was calling me asking, “Hey, you still got that chapter? You gotta start talking about this…”
I was like, “Oh, for Chrissakes…” So yeah, I’m definitely thinking about writing more books, and I’ve got a lot more that I wanna say and wanna do and hopefully people enjoy those as much as I do.
Well, your book is now officially a best seller (on July 27, the book landed at number 26 on the New York Times‘ Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list), so if that’s any gauge, people will be pretty excited.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when, if it crosses over. A lot of people who are buying it now are fans of Slipknot and Stone Sour. I wonder what’s going to happen when people who have never heard of me before start picking it up. If that happens, then I’m almost nervous. But then again, screw ‘em.
That’s an interesting point, because I talked about this in a column a couple months ago. I was in an airport in Boston and in a bookstore there- a high traffic bookstore in an international airport, there was a table in the middle of the floor of pretty much just rock bios. So I think that something’s going on, where people are now interested in what musicians have to say beyond the songs. Yours stands apart from those not just because you wrote yours, but because you’re still in your ascendency, unlike some of the other guys who feel like they’re looking for 15 more minutes.
Well the thing is, that’s one of the reasons that I didn’t want to make it a tell-all and I didn’t want to make it a memoir. I wanted to make it something that I would want to read. I have a hard time picking up life stories, especially books that haven’t been written by the person that it’s about. There are handful of them that I’ll read, but for the most part I like reading the words from the person it’s actually about. I wanna hear it from the horse’s mouth. I’m 37 you know, I’m not done yet. If I was going to write a book, I wasn’t going to make it the same tawdry life story kind of peek back… I mean, Tim Tebow wrote one for Chrissakes… are you kidding me? He’s what, he’s 24? Yeah , you’ve peaked. Yeah, good for you. Peaking at 24. You might as well be in high school, for Chrissakes…
And I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make it interesting. I wanted to tell stories, but at the same time, I wanted to have a point, you know? So hopefully people can see that. Hopefully people can pick up on the difference.
Before we wrap up, I’d like to finish with a few Either/Or questions, so I’ll just give you two choices and you pick one. Sound good?
Oh yeah, cool. Go ahead.
OK, Sabbath or Zeppelin?
Ohhh… one of those either/ors…Huh. Um… just for the mood I’m in today, Sabbath.
Christmas or Halloween?
Oh, Halloween, by far.
Wrath or Lust?
(laughs) I’ll say wrath, because lust gets me in too much trouble.
Books or magazines
Um… depends on the magazine, so I’ll say books.
Last one- Elvis or Johnny Cash?
Ohhh, man… You know what, you can’t fuck with The King, but I gotta go with Johnny Cash.
The Man in Black…
Oh yeah. I mean, you wanna talk about a dude who started all this. If Elvis created rock and roll, if Elvis is the king of rock and roll, than by all means, Johnny Cash should be counted as the king of country, punk, and heavy metal. “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die…” Are you kidding me? He’s the man. He is the man.
Thanks for your time, Corey.
Thanks, man. It was my pleasure.