Slipknot’s Jim Root: "I think about quitting the band every day"
The guitarist of Rihanna’s favourite band muses on UFOs, grief and whether Billie Eilish is the biggest rockstar in 2020.
Photography Alexandria Crahan-Conway
Slipknot was founded in Iowa in 1995. Soon enough, the iconic nine-strong metal band were a favourite of every misunderstood teen outsider. The Grammy award-winning group had not just provided an outlet but created a whole culture, uniting a community of like-minded people the world over. With a focus on acceptance, inclusivity and standing up for yourself, the appeal of Slipknot endures to this day, with their fandom still welcoming in new generations of “maggots” including, it recently transpired, i-D cover star Rihanna.
For the uninitiated (not sure how you missed this tbh) Slipknot are the stuff of nightmares, performing in an ever-evolving array of masks that have included burnt faces, post-operative clowns, phallic-nosed gimps, jesters, Japanese kabuki, nail-filled crash helmets and skull-shaped gas masks. Fun! Now six albums deep -- their latest studio effort, We Are Not Your Kind, hit the top spot in the US charts on release in 2019 -- the band are on yet another world tour, taking their famously chaotic live show to the people.
As you might expect for a band whose career has spanned 25 years already, members have come and gone -- some under sadder circumstances than others -- but a core few have remained. Impossibly tall guitarist Jim Root (#4 back in the early years, when they had numbers instead of names) has been there almost every step of the way.
An hour before he’s due on stage at their sold out O2 arena show, we join Jim in a tiny, sterile box room backstage. The conversation gets real personal, real fast.
Hi Jim. Are you in a good mood today?
I’m kind of just in a mood... I’m a moody person. I’ve never been to a doctor or anything like that, but I’m either on a really elevated high or just blah. And there’s really no in between.
So you’d describe yourself as quite an extreme person?
I think so, yeah. But I think you kind of have to be, doing this for 20 years. It indoctrinates you into that. You’re on stage, you’re “King Shit of Shit Mountain” with all these people screaming and singing your lyrics back to you while you’re playing your riffs. But then you come off stage and go to your dressing room and it’s like… here I am, by myself, again. It’s extreme, what we do. You have to compartmentalise, which I’m not good at.
Slipknot played a key part in getting a lot of people through their difficult teenage years. Who had that role in your life?
During that rebellious “my parents are old, they suck” period, I was a metalhead so I was influenced by Anthrax, Megadeth, Racer X and anything that was guitar-led. When you’re young and you’re that full of anger, you just want this fast, aggressive, intricate guitar playing. Then I realised that David Gilmour and John Frusciante were saying more with one note than a lot of these guys are with 16 notes. I’m a Libra so I’m horribly lazy, and it’s like, I could sit down and practise getting to that level of guitar playing, but what’s the point? To me, it’s more about melody and striking an emotion.
Totally fair enough. You’re 48 now. How old do you feel?
Mentally, about 15 or 16. Physically, I feel about 70. There’s a theory about recovering addicts that says after they get help, they start to evolve mentally and emotionally from when they started their habit. So if you started self-medicating at the age of 17, but you don’t figure it out until you’re 32… you’ll still have the mentality of a 17-year-old. That’s kind of similar to touring. I started touring at the age of 27, so I think my mentality right now must actually be around that point. I’m thinking that maybe I need to start figuring some shit out, you know? I put all the family stuff off because I knew I’d be gone; relationships and friendships suffer, and it’s hard to be away. It’s like living two different lives.
Do you ever feel like quitting the band and running away to live in a forest?
What does your version of that fantasy look like?
I’ve actually been looking for acreages. My only problem is that I don’t want to isolate myself any more than I already have. That’s kind of a scary thought. I’ve got some very close friends where I live now, and I don’t want to leave that behind. And because I put off the family thing, when I go home, I’m left to my own devices. I can wake up, be creative and make art and write music if I want; or I can get on a motorcycle and take a trip; or I can just be a lazy bastard and play Xbox or PS4 all day, which is usually what I do. But then I beat myself up for it. It’s like, come on, I woke up at 2pm today and now it’s four in the morning and I’m still playing Call of Duty: what is wrong with me? Maybe it’s a Midwestern guilt thing.
Perhaps. Who do you consider to be the biggest rockstar in the world right now?
Right now? I couldn’t even begin to tell you. There are probably some of the most amazing artists out there that you’ve never heard of because they’re buried so deep in the internet that you can’t find them. But then, I keep seeing Billie Eilish everywhere… I’ve never listened to any of her music but people keep telling me I’d like it. I do definitely tend to listen to dark, minor, dissonant music, even when it comes to pop.
What movie would you say We Are Not Your Kind would be a good soundtrack for?
I’m really into sci-fi, so Event Horizon or 2001: A Space Odyssey would be awesome.
Slipknot have long been considered shocking. Is there anything, in music or otherwise, that you still consider to be shocking today?
So when I was in junior high, the Jane's Addiction album Nothing Shocking was out. And he’s talking about how television has all these images and that nothing’s shocking anymore. Then the internet came and ran with that and now it’s like the Wild West; you can literally watch people being decapitated. If you want to go down that wormhole, it’s there, and it’s real. For me though, it’s the unseen that’s shocking. The supernatural and the surreal are more frightening than an axe or a knife. You know what the outcome is going to be if there’s this nine foot character with somebody’s skin on their face chasing you with a chainsaw. But waking up in the middle of the night and seeing a giant translucent image hovering above you that you can’t really make out... that’s more terrifying.
Wow, yeah. Have you had some kind of supernatural experience then?
No, but I always look for UFOs when I’m driving through the desert. There’s got to be a planet that’s evolved as much as us if not more. They probably think we’re still a bunch of monkeys throwing shit at each other.
Talking of skin masks, do you feel more confident with or without your mask?
100% with it. There’s something that happens when you put that mask on and you’re up with the other eight guys that’s totally uninhibiting. There are certain things that I’d never do without the mask on. It’s like a shield, a barrier. Like, this is a character, it isn’t really me. It’s Halloween every day for us, where we can live out those fantasies that maybe people are a little bit too shy to go for usually. It pulls that chain off of me.
Important question: can you actually tie a slipknot?
Um, I could probably tie a really sloppy one that wouldn’t function.
Do you remember your dreams?
I’m sort of going through… not a bad break-up, but I’m in a toxic relationship that I’m exiting. I’m kind of ghosting someone right now. It’s just very unhealthy. I don’t wish anything bad or malicious on this person, I just want them to get better and be happy with themselves. So I’ve been having a lot of bizarre dreams about deceased people lately. Paul [Slipknot's former bassist and founding member, who died in 2010] has been showing up in my dreams a lot.
That must be hard.
It’s a little bit weird; maybe I haven’t fully grieved Paul being gone, maybe I shoved that somewhere deep down inside. But in the dream, he had come back to life. He had passed on but he was alive and with his wife, his widow, and they were in this blue sports car. He was typical old Paul, but he was a reanimation of himself, like a zombie. So it stirs up a bunch of weird emotions and I’m thinking that maybe it ties into the situation I’m in now. Because I know there’s a person inside there, but I think they have some narcissistic, possibly sociopathic tendencies. Maybe that’s what that dream meant… because it’s Paul but it’s not really Paul, you know?
It’s strange dreaming about loved ones who have passed away. There’s something comforting about it, but it’s also disturbing. Dreams are weird, man.
It could even be another life that we’re living in our subconscious. It could be an alternate reality, you know? Like, do we ever really sleep or is it just another thing we don’t remember? Previous lives, things like that. Maybe it’s all like they say in True Detective… time is a flat circle and everything we’ve ever done, we’ll do over and over again. How many times are we gonna do this? We’ve had this interview before. We’re gonna keep having it over and over for eternity.