There comes a point in every band’s life when they start to long for something more. For some it’s an orchestral collaboration. For others it’s an elaborate narrative stage show. Maybe a film of some kind. Something that extends the creativity of the band beyond the regular album-tour-album-tour cycle. For Stone Sour that moment has come, and it’s manifested itself in the form of House Of Gold and Bones [Roadrunner], a two-part concept album and comic book project being portioned out over an extended timeframe. Musically it’s a logical progression from 2010’s brilliant Audio Secrecy but the project finds the band exploring even heavier territory, further narrowing the gap between Stone Sour and Slipknot, the band that shares two of its members (vocalist Corey Taylor and guitarist James Root). I caught up with Taylor and guitarist Josh Rand after the band’s Soundwave festival sideshow with Linkin Park.
That was an awesome set. As a musician myself, I know it can be hard to turn on the ‘extravert’ thing in order to perform. I think we’re all kind of introverted in a way… how do you command a room like that?
Taylor: It’s always been like that – I don’t think there’s a lot of introvert to me! I’m pretty much turned up all the way all the time. I know sometimes that can be annoying so I try to dial it back, but doing a show like this, especially opening for Linkin Park, we couldn’t be further away as far as bands, so we need a reaction. We know we’re gonna have some fans out there, but at the same time you’re winning over new fans and you’ve got to basically fuckin’ show them exactly what you’re about, y’know? And the great thing about this band is, on the three shows we’ve done we’ve never played the same set. So we’ve really tried to go above and beyond and to show all these fans that there’s so much more to us than meets the eye. And I love a challenge! I love the challenge of getting out there and fuckin’ working that room into a frenzy. Especially people who weren’t really expecting it. So for me it’s just about doing what you do.
The new album has a different, darker feel compared to Part One. If the first one was A New Hope, this is your The Empire Strikes Back.
Taylor: I said the same thing in the studio! Musically we had the songs there, at least in demo form. We had a rough idea of how we wanted to arrange it and whatnot, but once we got into the studio everything elevated to the point where we had a whole new monster on our hands. And I’ll let Josh elaborate on it a little bit more but the guitar playing is some of the best we’ve ever had, some of the most complex. It really shows off Josh and Jim in a way that we’ve never really been able to do before. I’m ecstatic. Honestly, it’s my favourite album of the two. But at the same time, the last couple songs, there’s some Return of the Jedi in there. Everything is tied up in a nice little parcel.
So Josh, what went into this one from a guitarist’s perspective?
Rand: It was a lot of work! A lot of work. Long hours. One of the things Jim and myself have done, actually since Come What Ever May, is we actually track the rhythm guitars together. So for us it’s about capturing the moments and not necessarily being perfect. It’s making us and also whoever produces us, and the engineers, use our ears and not our eyes. With that it’s always challenging, because instead of one of us playing it perfect and then the other matching it, I can play it perfect and Jim can play it perfect, then one of us will fuck it all up and we’ll have to go back and start all over, which can be really fustrating! But I think the end result is a lot cooler. It can be frustrating at the same time. There’s not many duos who can track like that, or could. We take pride in that. Even some of the greatest twin guitar bands probably don’t track like we do. Often one of the guys does all of the rhythm guitars to make sure that they’re all lined up. So really, from the aspect of recording it didn’t really change that much for us compared to what we’ve done in the past – it was just a hell of a lot more songs!
There seems to be a more cinematic feel to this one. In terms of the overdubs and textures, how did you approach it?
Rand: I think the biggest thing this time around was cutting Roy [Mayorga, drums] loose on the synthesisers and keyboards, which we hadn’t done on the previous records, and which adds a layer to the stuff that we haven’t had. And just trying a lot of different stuff. We had boxes of different pedals and Dave was like, “We’re trying all the pedals,” which got us doing some crazy stuff. I mean, the Gravesend clean guitars, I don’t even know what the chain is. [Taylor laughs]. You could rip my pedalboard apart and I couldn’t even figure out how to put it back together! It’s got like seven different things for this weird clean guitar. But I think Roy’s synth and keyboard stuff has really helped to elevate all the songs.
Taylor: Plus the songs themselves, especially on Part Two, have much more of a narrative in them, whereas Part One sets it nicely and it still feels like a great hard rock/heavy metal album, whereas Part Two has more of a story and a score to it, and it compliments Part One in that you’re set up for it, and now here’s where it’s going. It’s a great launching spot. We kinda had to reign Roy in, man. He had some serious creative shit going on on some of these songs, and we’d say “Okay, we’re gonna take away three fourths of this.” Because he could do it all fuckin’ day, y’know. But a lot of that stuff… Red City is one of my favourite songs on the album and that was all Roy. He really put that together and then we basically arranged it, these guys added the heaviness to it, but essentially not a lot changed from the demo as far as the sampling goes. But we really tried to go for that vibe that was on the demo.”
There are a few moments on the album that have a slight bluesy feel, especially Gravesend. Is that part of your background?
Um… maybe just in my approach to the singing or whatever. With Gravesend, that was a song that Josh had for a very long time, going back to 2002 I think, but we had never really had the time to work things out. And when Josh brought it back in I came up with the chorus for it and it added a really cool kind of push and pull to it that really tied it all back together without going too far off the heavy deep end. I wanted the character to stay what it was but at the same time to have that resolve there. So especially on the chorus there’s a little bit of that, but that’s just because it’s my natural singing.
So what are you guys using guitar-wise?
Taylor: I’m a Gibson guy. I’ve been a Gibson fan since I was a kid, and especially the Les Paul. I just love the body style, I love the sound that comes out of it, and it’s one of those rare guitars that sounds great whether you’re just plugging right in or if you’re chaining it through a bunch of pedals. I just love the sound of it.
And they have great mirror-poseability, which helps!
Taylor: Exactly! I mean, I don’t think they’ll ever sort out the G-string tuning issue, but having said that, I don’t give a shit, y’know? It’s just the guitar that I naturally gravitate towards. They get a great sound. Especially Jim’s tech that I share, he was able to get some really great tone out of the 800s I’m using. Just between that and the Les Pauls I’ve got, all I’m using is a distortion pedal.
Why don’t you play the Ibanez Talman any more?
Taylor: Even though I was an Ibanez guy for a while, I kinda let that go because for a time I didn’t want to have an endorsement. So there were a couple of years where I just didn’t have an endorsement and I just played whatever I wanted. I naturally went to Les Pauls and eventually Gibson picked me up.
Rand: I’m using the Ibanez S series. I’m still using the Ibanez SA Customs for the most part. I’m trying to get used to the S, because they discontinued the SA. We’ll just have to see. I’m so used to the SA Custom Shop stuff, to bounce to the Prestiges right now is kind of weird for me. I did leave Ibanez briefly for PRS, and when I came back one of the reasons I left PRS was because I was so comfortable with my SAs! (laughs). Right now I’m using pretty much everything they make. I play the RG, the Satriani, Gilbert and Vai stuff, all that stuff is at home. So I play pretty much whatever’s under their umbrella.
Do you ever delve into 7- and 8-string guitars?
Rand: I’ve had ’em, I just …I have no use for them. I really don’t. I haven’t messed with an 8-string. I wanted Ibanez to send me one, just to try out, because it’s so over-the-top.
Rand: Just to mess with. I But for what we do I don’t ever see any use for it.
Corey, how much playing do you do?
Taylor: I play a lot, actually. Usually I’m just playing acoustic – I’ve got a couple of Gibson Hummingbirds that I write a lot on. So if the kids are at school and I’m sitting there drinking coffee, I’m constantly dicking around on fuckin’ acoustic, y’know?. A lot of the stuff that I write, I end up playing rhythm on, which allows Jim and Josh to do a lot of cool layering stuff. And then there’s a song like Sadist where I only played chords on the chorus – I backed up what he was doing – and it helped the movement of the song and didn’t make it so open. We wanted to make sure that there was still something driving it along, so I came in and played on that. So I played a lot between the two albums, but really just kinda rhythm stuff. Especially on Part Two. I played on Uncanny Valley, I played on The Conflagration… I played piano on a couple of songs as well. But other than that, there was so much good guitar shit going on that I said ‘I’ll down dow the rhythm but there’s not so much for me to do!’
So what’s the future of this project? Will we ever see the whole thing on stage, Operation Mindcrime 1 & 2-style?
Taylor: Y’know, it’s funny. We’re planning something pretty big for 2014, knock on wood, where we do two nights in one venue, specifically theatres, and we play Part One in its entirety the first night, maybe a mixed-bag encore, and then the next night Part Two in its entirety and a mixed-bag encore. A lot of stage shit going on, probably some video screens and whatnot, things reacting to certain things. Yeah, I mean, that’s kinda the big idea right now: to do something bigger than anything we’ve ever done before, and film a lot of the shows and pick the best night and put that out as part of a comprehensive DVD set. We’re marching towards that, but we’re still a very practical band. We want to make sure that we get to do what we want to do, but at the same time we’ve got families and stuff. We can’t just wipe our ass with money like a lot of fuckin’ bands do. But we’re trying to make it work. I just sat down yesterday and was designing how I can see the set, and I’m writing down how we see the videos and shit. So if we get to pull it off it’ll be probably the coolest thing we’ve ever done. We’re so excited about Part Two coming out, especially with the comic coming out about a week after the album drops. So everything’s really building in momentum. We’re excited for everybody to hear it…
The comic is such a killer idea. Four part series?
Taylor: Four part mini series, yeah. [Order House of Gold and Bones issue #1 from Amazon]
And you’ve delved into writing before.
Taylor: And my second book is coming out this summer, June, July… when I was writing the short story I was thinking “this’d make a kickass comic,” and I mentioned it in the studio. I said “It’d be kickass to try and do something with this.” Of course, me opening my bigass mouth created more fuckin’ work for myself, but a few companies kind of danced around it before Dark Horse pushed their way to the front and said “We get it. We’d love to do this. Let us help you do it.” So they hooked me up with a great cover artist and a great illustrator and they really held my hand through the whole project. I actually just saw the first issue of the comic on my computer – which takes away a little bit of the fun of it – but i saw the first issue all put together. It looks so fucking killer. I didn’t even get to show the guys yet. That’s how fucking cool it is. So being a fan I’m just geeking the fuck out. I’m just like, “Aaaargh!” So I’m really excited, y’know? And I’ve heard tell that it’s one of the most pre-ordered comics that’s out there right now, so that’s kinda cool. So if it sucks, I apologise!
So did that play into the process of recording? Did you have artwork to play off of, the way Brian Eno would walk into a David Bowie session and say “Okay, today you guys are these characters in this location…”
Taylor: No. I’d explain to the guys were in the story it would be, but for the most part we were just trying to make sure the songs could speak for themselves in a lot of ways. Because the only way this was going to work for us was if you could listen to it in a linear fashion, but then you could still listen to the songs separately and get something enriching out of it. So for us it was more about figuring out how certain songs would flow into each other, the sequence of the album itself, and just making sure we were doing everything we could to make this the biggest thing we’ve ever done.
House of Gold and Bones Part 2 is out now. Thanks to Roadrunner Records Australia.