For most people, being fifty means a few things, chiefly among them being burned out, washed up, and looking towards retirement. Shawn Crahan is not “most people.” The 50-year-old Slipknot founder—who topped the Billboard 200 chart for the third time this summer—refuses to stop creating art at a relentless pace. “I’ve got a warehouse studio that has more work than anybody can handle at the moment” he tells me. He’s just finished touring for the year, and now, all he wants to talk about is what he’s going to make next.
Crahan is the same convention-defying legend he was 24 years ago, when he started the band. Behind the dark and mysterious character he plays onstage, he’s genuinely warm. He’s incredibly focused on his craft, still humble, and still a little naive (self-described). Besides music, he makes photographs, movies, and a little bit of everything else. “Every day, I wake up, I walk outside and look around and just go ‘what the fuck is really going on?’” he says. His voice crackles through the phone, gravelly from 24 years of yelling over pyrotechnics, ten foot tall drums, and tens of thousands of fans.
If loud, angry music that scared your parents was the salve for your anxiety filled teenage years, you might know Crahan better as Clown, Slipknot’s percussionist. At a time when bands like Bad Brains, Slayer, and countless others unleashed their energy and fury at the fucked up world around them, Slipknot was the most energetic and furious of them all. (I still remember the first time I listened to Iowa as barely even a teenager and feeling like I had either just jumped out of a plane, or was being dragged behind a car—maybe a little bit of both.)
Crahan has been the band’s driving creative force from the very beginning, way back in 1995. Everything that is recognizably Slipknot—masks straight out of a nightmare, the Jason Vorhees-adjacent jumpsuits, the demonic album covers—that’s all Crahan.
Despite—or perhaps because of—the concerns of hand-wringing parents, Slipknot has enjoyed countless world tours, millions of albums sold, and six whole studio albums.
Crahan and Slipknot were the godfathers of early-aughts metal, continually defying expectations. They were taking risks like mixing DJ scratching and fast, heavy, distorted metal when other bands were more interested in playing it safe and by the numbers. Musical decisions Slipknot made paved the way for not just modern metal music, but for an entire industry of musicians willing to go against the grain. Even modern rap music is not immune to the influences of 2000’s metal. Hell, Lil Uzi Vert wore cyber-goth pants to this year’s Grammys, and Rihanna once said Slipknot was her favorite band.
But Crahan is humble about Slipknot’s legacy. “I don’t really entertain the Internet that much” he says. “Sometimes I’ll be like, ‘Do you think this project here is inspired by my band?’ and people will be like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ It still blows me away every time!” He laughs.
Today, Slipknot are just as relevant as ever—their latest album, We Are Not Your Kind, debuted at Number One in August, and the band’s massively successful shows still draw crowds 20,000 strong. To have a career as long and fruitful as Crahan’s in no small feat, so GQ sat down with him to talk about his artistic process, inspirations, and what he wants for his future.
GQ: Before I ask you anything, I wanted to tell you that a shirt I bought with the Iowa album cover art on it was actually the first piece of clothing I had to hide from my parents.