INTERVIEW: Stone Sour’s Jim Root
Jim Root is one of the most versatile guitarists in rock. He gets to explore the darkest corners of metal – thrash, death, grind – in Slipknot, and he stretches out even further in Stone Sour. The band was formed in 1992 by future Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor –Root joined in 1995 – and after a four-year hiatus it was reactivated in 2002, quickly establishing huge critical and fan acclaim. The new Stone Sour album, Audio Secrecy, was produced by Nick Raskulinecz [Alice In Chains' Black Gives Way To Blue, Deftones'Diamond Eyes, Rush's Snakes & Arrows], and is released by Roadrunner in September (September 3 in Australia and Germany, September 6 in the UK, and September 9 in the US).
I understand you and Josh Rand recorded most of your guitar parts at the same time?
Yeah, about 90% of the songs were recorded at the same time. We record what we call ‘stripes,’ which is basically the entire band with the exception of [drummer] Roy Mayorga, playing to a click track. Then Roy can play along to these tracks and play around them. He kind of pushes and pulls around the click track a little bit anyways. We wanted a polished but still live-feeling record. When me and Josh started tracking live next to each other it was cool because we would kind of lock in with each other a little bit tighter rather than me going first and then him trying to lock in with the way I play or vice versa. You can hear everything that’s going on, I play a little bit more like him, he plays a little bit more like me, and it’s all very organic.
I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, a lot of the bands I’ve interviewed have gone back to more traditional ways of doing things – making an actual recording rather than a production.
And that’s the thing that freaked me out a little bit when we were working with [producer] Dave Fortman. I saw him and his engineer cutting and pasting stuff and I just about fucking freaked out! ‘What are you doing!?! No, we’re not doing that!’ I’m a guitar player. That means I play guitar, you know what I mean? You’re not going to get one good round take of a measure then stretch it out over eight bars, you know what I mean? That’s not how we’re doing this.
Nick Raskulinecz has produced a great albums for Alice In Chains and Deftones lately, and he did Stone Sour’s last album, Come What(ever) May. What’s he like to work with?
Nick, he’s cool, man. I’ve worked with a few different producers and Nick’s like a combination of a few different guys. He’s not like ‘my way or the highway.’ He’s very hands on. He’s very involved with everything from the beginning until the end. Sometimes he can be a little disorganised, but it’s rock and roll, you know what I mean, we’re not punching a clock. We just figure out what we’re gonna do that day. He’s a little bit like Ross [Robinson] in the fact that he gets you pumped up and he gets you excited about what you’re doing, and he’s a little bit like [Rick] Rubin in that he’s a little bit precise and if shit isn’t sounding good we’ll go back and do it and do it until it does. And he’s really involved with pre-production too, which is a cool thing, especially for us because we don’t have a whole lot of time for that type of stuff. Corey and I are juggling Slipknot and Stone Sour so it’s basically right off the road and into the studio.
So your approach to guitar in Stone Sour – obviously you have a lot of room to throw in different styles and things.
I kinda get to do a lot of everything in both bands. I don’t really go into a record with a certain goal, like I’m going to do this, or I’m going to play this certain way. I just live in the moment as it comes, and it’s a lot more natural and organic. If there’s a tune we’re working on that someone else has written, I like to approach that song – like, I’ll learn that song in preproduction, obviously – but when it comes to laying different guitar tracks and coming up with different melody lines and stuff, I like to hit that on the spur of the moment, because usually what happens is, nine out of ten times, the first thing you come up with right off the top of your head ends up being the best thing. And then you’re chasing that the rest of the time. You can always take that first thing, as long as it’s been captured on the computer – I was going to say tape but you don’t use that any more! As long as it’s captured and it’s there, even if there’s a clam or a bad not you can be like, ‘That’s the vibe of what it is,’ and you can build on it from there. To me that’s where the most natural and hookiest stuff comes from.
I notice that too. If I improvise a solo it’s always way better than if I try to write it.
I’m the same way too. I never write solos out. I’ll have a general idea of what I want to do: I’ll have a melody line hummed out in my head, and I’ll have to find it on the fretboard, and I’ll just go from there. Nick hates that. He wants everyone to write everything out, and Josh is that way. He’s a writer. I’ll ad lib my solos live. To me that’s a little bit more edgy and punk rock and flying by the seat of your pants, and it keeps people wondering. For me it’s a million times more interesting than watching a guitar player that plays a solo note for note like it is on the record. Unless you’re going to see a band like Dream Theater or something like that.
Plus you always surprise yourself, like, ‘Hey, I’m better than I thought!’
It’s true, man! The more you play and the longer you’ve been touring and the longer you’ve been playing the songs, the more fluid you become – I call it liquid. You don’t even think what you’re doing, it just flows out as soon as something pops into your head. It’s almost like the Force takes over! Something will pop into your head a nanosecond before you’re going to play it or before the beat happens. You just find yourself doing it. That’s a great feeling. I love that feeling, man. It’s second to none. To me that’s way more interesting than ‘Here’s your solo, it starts on the 22nd fret and you’re going to do this arpeggio, and the third, and blah blah blah.” I like to change the shapes up a little bit, y’know? Or throw a delay on. Fuck it! (Laughs).
That was something I was going to ask about a little later, actually: the MXR Carbon Copy analog delay you use. I have one and I love it.
I have two of those in my rack right now, on the same pedalboard. I’ve got one set a little bit faster than the other one. I love those pedals, man. When we’re with Slipknot, at the beginning of the set I’d come up while the intro tape is rolling and I’d play with the rate and it would repeat all over itself and you’d get some really cool sounds. And it’s never the same thing twice.
I like to use it as a dirty reverb kind of sound.
Yeah you can do that, you can get really good rockabilly sounds out of it. It’s just a great pedal, and it doesn’t colour the tone. There are so many of those pedals out there, the analog delay pedals, that make everything a little bit leaner-sounding. The Carbon Copy sounds very analog, and it’s a cool little green pedal. It’s awesome.
I’ll tell you what, man, it’s a big honour, you know what I mean? In a million years… I mean, I put off doing a signature model for so long because there are so many things I wanted to achieve out of a guitar and it really took me eight or nine years to troubleshoot guitars. I went through a few different companies, then I kinda went back to what I learned to play on as a kid which was Charvels. I went through the PRS thing, I tried Jacksons for a while, and they’re all great guitars, but there are so many different things that I wanted to achieve with a signature model. I wanted it to be a workhorse live, and very road-ready, something that’ll stand up to months and months – if not years and years – of being on the road. For instance, my number one Tele that I use on stage is the number one prototype, the white one. It has an ebony board on it. That thing, I’ve had on tour with me since [Stone Sour's] Come What(ever) May and it looks like it’s a 30-year-old guitar, and it’s the best sounding one. It’s all over the [Slipknot] All Hope Is Gone record. It’s all over this new Audio Secrecy record, and it’s our sound guy’s favourite guitar because it’s got such a rich, thick, bold sound to it. But I wanted them to be a workhorse live and I also wanted them to be a tone machine in the studio. I really wanted to record with them and that’s why I chose mahogany. That’s the wood. Over the years, the more records we did, I found a lot of the guitars we would pick, me and producers or me and first engineers, whether it’s Ross Robinson or Greg Fidelman or even Nick, we would always go to Gibsons and mahogany guitars, so I’m like, ‘Okay, so why don’t we do a mahogany guitar with a rock maple neck?’ And I’m on the fence between maple and ebony – I love the feel of both of them. Different days I like the feel of different ones. So Fender was cool enough to let me do two different colours and give you the option of a maple board on one and an ebony board on the other. I wasn’t really able to make up my mind, but now that I’ve had the guitars for a few years and I’ve been touring with them for quite a while, and even the Strats, I’m starting to favour the darker boards, the ebonys and rosewoods. If you see me playing a guitar that should have a maple board on it but it’s got an ebony board, that’s why: I’ve had the guitar tech swap the necks on them.
They’re very stripped down and refined guitars – they’re so simple but there must have been a lot of work to getting them to be that simple.
There really was. Honestly,there was a good six or so years of going back and forth between Charvel and Fender, and I even took the Flathead, and that was the basis of what the model was going to be: it was going to be based on the Custom Shop Flathead. And that’s what they were trying to push me towards in the beginning, and then the Charvels came out and I started to play those, because they were the USA San Dimas’s just like the ones I used to play when I was 13 or 14. They’re really cool guitars and I used them for the Subliminal Verses tour, but when it came time to design one, I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right. I crawled on my hands and knees back to Alex at Fender and said ‘Please, just let me do a Tele. Please, please, please,’ and he was like, ‘Okay, but it’s probably not going to be a Custom Shop model with the specs that you want. It’s probably going to have to be a Mexican one to keep the price down.’ My big thing at the time was to keep it under $1,000, which was extremely hard to do. Now they’re well above that which is a shame, but I did everything in my power to keep it around a thousand. I definitely wanted it to be something that anybody who wanted a good quality guitar could get their hands on, and I didn’t want to load it up with tribal S’s, number fours, or SS logos from Stone Sour, or bleeding-eye angels or whatever. I wanted it to be a little bit ambiguous. If you’re playing one, you wouldn’t really know it’s my model.
Last thing before our time is up is, you guys are coming down to Australia for the Soundwave festival – that’s going to be pretty kickass.
Any chance we get to come to Australia, especially a tour like Soundwave! We did the Big Day Out a few years back, and that was one of the funnest tours we’ve ever done. Everyone on the tour called it the Big Day Off because it’s three days off, play a show, then three days off. And Australia’s such a friendly place, everybody is so awesome and everybody just wanted to have a great time and good fun. It’s a pleasure to be coming back down there and I hope we do more than just Soundwave.
And Soundwave’s really overtaken the Big Day Out these last few years, especially for heavier music. This one’s got Slayer, Iron Maiden, Primus, Slash, Queens of the Stone Age…
It’s going to be killer.
Thanks to Roadrunner Records Australia