Joey Jordison: “I honestly would not change a f***ing thing. I’m happy where I’m at”
The metal legend returns
A lot can happen in 90 minutes on the football pitch. They say that a week is a long time in politics. So, five years must be an absolute eternity in the music industry, right?
Incredibly, it has been almost half a decade since Joey Jordison last graced the cover of Rhythm magazine and, yes an awful lot has transpired in that time.
Back then, in the summer of 2013, Joey was taking some downtime from Slipknot and was working on his Scar The Martyr project; but all was not well. Joey had been battling acute transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder that causes an inflammation of the spinal cord. It is a devastating, paralysing condition which left Joey without the use of his legs.
Somehow, the embattled drummer managed to first play through the pain barrier and then, thanks to an extensive series of treatments, surgeries and rehabilitation, he went on to make a full recovery.
But, in the midst of all of this he was hit with another hammer blow. In December 2013, it was announced that Slipknot and Joey had parted ways. The band that Jordison had co-founded back in 1995 and had helped turn into the biggest heavy metal band of their generation, would be forging on without him.
For some, this devastating combination of physical, personal and professional turmoil would have spelled the end. For Joey, it seems to have only spurred him to return all the stronger.
When we spoke with the affable sticksman earlier this year, he already had enough plans on the table to fill 2018 and beyond. After shelving the Scar The Martyr project in 2016, Joey launched not one, but two new bands – the industrial-tinged metal outfit Vimic and the full-on black metal assault that is Sinsaenum.
Both bands have been ridiculously busy of late, with Sinsaenum dropping three EPs and an album (with work well underway on a follow-up) within 18 months and Vimic about to release their debut, Open Your Omen.
Join us as we reflect on the recovery, rebirth and triumphant return of the man who many pin as the finest heavy metal drummer of his generation. Ladies and gentleman, please welcome back Mr Joey Jordison.
Joey, we’re speaking right at the start of 2018, what does the year hold for you?
“Vimic has just re-signed to a different label, Sinsaenum’s record is just coming out. I’ve got a new kit being made for me by Pearl, that is absolutely killer. It’s a custom kit and I don’t want to give too much away right now but it looks rad. Pearl always comes through and makes me something killer.
"I’ve got my new black coated Paiste cymbals. I’ve switched to Evans heads and they are taking care of me very well. I’ve got some new ProMark sticks coming out. I’ve got a new partnership with Roland as well. With Sinsaenum we just did another record. A lot is happening.”
Vimic seems to be project that is close to your heart, is it important for you to get that record out?
“It is close to my heart. It is important for me to get it out. It has been hard because we had to switch labels a bunch. That’s never easy on anybody. As far as getting it out, it will happen when it happens; I just hope everyone likes it.
"The thing is that we recorded a whole other record [as well as debut album Open Your Omen] with Vimic. I hope to get that re-established in the studio. It’s all demo-ed right now and I want to get that out there as well."
What gear were you using in the studio for the Open Your Omen sessions?
“I’m always Pearl, dude. I only use Paiste as well. I pretty much use the same stuff live that I use in the studio. I don’t like the feel to change too much. If it’s something that I’m comfortable with then I like to use that.
"It’s like driving your own car. If you go on tour and have to drive another car it always feels weird. I like my kit to always feel exactly the way that I like it. I’ve been using Pearl for so long, ever since I was a kid. Same thing with Paiste. They have both taken such great care of me and I can’t thank them enough.”
Have you changed things up at all gear-wise down the years, or have you preferred to remain consistent with your set-up?
“It is exactly the same kit in terms of sizes that I have always used. I haven’t changed a thing. It’s 8”x7”, 10”x8”, 12”x10”, 13”x11”, 16”x16”, 18”x18”, 14”x14” and 22”x18” kicks.”
Is that just a case of, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?’
“Pearl has taken such good care of me. It has been my dream company ever since I was a kid. That is my home. When you’re comfortable with something, it’s like you wouldn’t want to sleep in someone else’s bed [laughs].”
You have some new custom Paiste cymbals as well. Was that a collaboration between yourself and Paiste?
“It was a collaboration. Paiste had a huge part in constructing these cymbals. We worked together on them. When I worked with Ministry, when I was in Korn, and, of course, Slipknot, Paiste has always worked with me.
"I always like to come up with something that is unique and represents the company super well. Everyone has to create a sketch at some point and once you do and you give it to Paiste, they always deliver.”
Back from the brink
So, it looks like you’re in the midst of an incredibly busy period. But if we look back a few years to when you were in the thick of fighting your illness…
“Man, to cover all of this we’d need to talk for three days; and that would just be the start. I first noticed something was wrong when I got done doing the Murderdolls tour in 2010. I came home and I was wiped out.
"I had to go back to Slipknot, which was great and it was awesome to be working, but man, I don’t know how to explain this to people. It is what it is. I got sick, and everyone gets sick, that’s just normal. But I thought, ‘What in the eff is happening?’ The next thing I knew my legs just failed. It scared me to death, man.
"I’ve got to jump forward because it would take forever to talk about this, but it is this condition called transverse myelitis and it can cripple people for life. I got over it. I don’t know how, but I did. I had my lady and my doctors and all of my trainers in the gym, without them, man, they are like angels walking around on Earth who got me through all of it.
"Some day I will release all of the photos that I have from that time so I can show people exactly what I went through. Everyone goes through hard times and stuff like that. But, I’m back, I’m strong and everything is cool.”
You first began to feel ill in 2010, but you were not diagnosed with transverse myelitis until a long time after that. How did you get through that period before being diagnosed?
“Positivity, man. Positivity, music and family. That was pretty much it, that was what got me through it. You’ve got to look at what the end goal is. There was no way that I was not going to perform anymore, there was no way that I was not going to play drums anymore. When you have that kind of feeling in your heart, nothing can break you.”
Was the thought ever put out there during this period that you might not physically be able to play drums again?
“No one ever said that to me. I don’t think they ever wanted me to think that. But of course I thought that myself. When it happened, it freaked me out. But man, I got over it. That was a long time ago and now I’m all about Vimic, Sinsaenum and moving forward to the future. Today, I feel totally fine and healthy.”
Did you learn a lot about yourself during that period of illness and recovery?
“I think that no matter how old you get, you are always learning about yourself. That is day by day, year by year. No one on this Earth will completely know ourselves until we go to the other side. But yeah, I learned a lot about myself. I came out of the other end all the better for it.”
It seems like you really recovered by throwing yourself into work and back into projects – particularly Vimic and Sinsaenum
“Totally, man. I can’t let anything beat me. Otherwise, I would have just given up. You can’t give up in life, you just can’t do it, no matter what it is that is going on.”
After your rehabilitation, did your playing undergo a major readjustment when you first got back behind the kit? Were there long-lasting physical effects that made you alter the way that you play?
“That’s a really good question. After all of the rehabilitation, all of the hospital stuff and everything me and my lady went through with the trainers and everything and going to the gym, when I finally got back, I could play again [just like before], I could record albums again and it really made me appreciate life a little bit more. I met a lot of people who still haven’t come out of this. You’ve got to appreciate everything. I know that doesn’t sound very metal [laughs]. It’s weird for me to talk about this stuff because I don’t really like talking about it. I just want the fans to know that I’m fine and I have two bands and new records coming out. I actually have to go do the next Sinsaenum record soon as well.”
Vimic and Sinsaenum were officially announced within a few weeks of each other - which came first?
“It’s kind of funny, Sinsaenum actually came about a long time ago. I think it was around 2008; that was when the idea was born. Me and Fred [Leclercq, giutar] were talking about doing a death metal/black metal project. A lot of bands talk about that but then they go to bed and move on with their lives and it never comes to fruition. With Sinsaenum, it is a full-on project. Same thing with Vimic, when I was talking to Jed Simon our guitar player and [singer] Kalen [Chase], it was the same thing. If I don’t keep moving and keep my heart in the right place as far as music goes, then what is the point? S*** man, when you have something: respect it. That’s all I can say, really.”
The bands are at different ends of the metal spectrum - does that allow you to channel different sides to your playing?
“Yeah, it’s cool. Vimic is kind of on the thrash side but with a little bit more of a rock ’n’ roll and industrial side. Of course, Sinsaenum speaks for itself. It’s a death metal project and the songs are amazing. I’m going over there to track another record in a few days.”
There must be some insane chemistry within Sinsaenum, as you guys have been incredibly prolific to date, with three EPs and an album released since 2016 and another in the works
“There is. A long time ago, well not that long ago, but when Slipknot and Dragonforce toured together, that was how Sinsaenum started, it was just me and Fred hanging out. You always talk on the road with other bands about how you should do a side project one day and it never happens. Well, this time it happened. “
'Everyone is their own person, especially when it comes to music...'
We’ve mentioned that Vimic is close to your heart; has that band also been a cathartic experience for you after everything that has happened from your illness and the split with Slipknot?
“It hasn’t necessarily been cathartic, it has been troublesome here and there as all bands are. That is nothing to do with any of the band members though; it is more to do with things behind the scenes. But the band is fine.”
As you’re about to head back into the studio, how has your approach to recording drums changed down the years, if at all?
“I think all musicians, when they have been doing this a long time, there comes a point where it is not all about you. It’s not all about your playing and how you can do all of your flash. You do need to do that but you always need to look out for other people.
"A lot of bands, and a lot of band members, and I am not talking anyone down here, I would never do that, but I have seen through the years that egos can get in the way.
"You’ve got to stick as a team. The team will always win, you’ve got to stick together. If you stick together then there is nothing that is impossible.”
Do you need that feeling in a band? Do you need that kind of camaraderie?
“You absolutely need that. All of the members in Vimic and Sinsaenum, they all respect each other. Going a long way back - this is pre-Slipknot I’m talking about here - sometimes people are only about themselves.
"It has to be a team effort or else it isn’t going to work. It’s like a soccer team [laughs]. You can’t just have one guy out for themselves. That just won’t work.”
Can fans detect if that bond within a band is missing when it comes to the live show?
“I think so. Fans are looking for a certain vibe, a certain emotion and a certain feeling. When you release a song or an album and you go to perform that album and it’s not up to par and fans have spent money on a ticket and things aren’t completely where they’re supposed to be, regardless of whether anyone is sick or not, fans are not stupid, they know. You’ve got to be really careful.”
Coming back to Vimic – when you were in the studio recording Open Your Omen, how nailed down were your drum parts? Did you allow yourself some room for manoeuvre and improvising in the studio?
“In Vimic, we all live in different parts of the country, and it actually the same thing with Sinsaenum because I live in Iowa and everyone else is in different places. So, when we’re creating something it is kind of over the internet and on computers and your cell phone.
"With Sinsaenum, I track everything just like it is supposed to be. I don’t improvise all that much except for some fills and cymbal hits and stuff like that. It is pretty much spot on like it is supposed to be. With Vimic, I mess around a lot. I change stuff all the time. I change riffs all the time. It’s kind of like a push and pull thing.”
How about when you play live, do you have any freedom in that regard?
“With something like Sinsaenum, no not really. That has to be completely spot on because of the speed that I’m playing at. It needs to be spot on because of the textures. Vimic does give me a little bit more of a jazz feel. I did the same thing in Slipknot. I would change some things here and there. But not too much, I might just slightly change a fill here and there.
"I like doing that, I actually love doing it. I love having that freedom and be avant-garde and not to change the song or anything but I know that the fill will be the same but maybe I’ll use this tom instead of this tom. I’m not going to use this crash, I’m going to use that crash.
"I don’t like to be too robotic, especially in Vimic and I never was in Slipknot either. It’s the same thing as when I was in Murderdolls. The guitar parts were always slightly improvised with guitar scrapes and the leads were always slightly different. That is what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be. Rock ‘n’ roll shouldn’t be mechanical.”
You’re now 25+ years into a career in which you have established yourself as one of the most influential drummers of your generation. At this point, who influences you?
“I’m still influenced by the older guys. You have to be. I call it my safety zone [laughs]. I love new bands and all of the drummers are awesome, there’s not one bad drummer out there. But when it comes to listening to something that I love and a drummer that I will feel happy listening to, I always go for the classics.
"I love tonnes of metal and I listen to a lot, everything under the sun. But when it comes to my favourite drummers I always go to the ones who inspired me to do what I do.”
Who would you choose as your ultimate drum influences?
Make it a handful if that makes it easier…
“[Laughs] Do you know how hard that is? Are we talking jazz? Rock? Metal? Thrash? Black metal? My main influences still to this day are Keith Moon, John Bonham, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa. Those are my four. Without those four I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.
"Now, there are tonnes more guys though. Without Lars Ulrich I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. Same with Dave Lombardo and Charlie Benante – the big four of trash are my heroes. I also have to mention this guy who I think rules and it gets me away a little from classic rock and black metal, Dale Crover from The Melvins. That dude rules. He is one of my favourite drummers of all time. If I had to pick a band to listen to for the rest of my life it would be The Melvins.”
Those are some guys who have influenced you, but you yourself have influenced an entire generation of drummers. Do you hear your influence when you listen to modern metal?
“No, I don’t. That is too egotistical. I would never listen to music like that. I have never thought, ‘Hey, that sounds like me.’ Everyone is their own person, especially when it comes to music.
"You get a record deal that you have worked so hard for or a record release, I never listen for anything like whether someone sounds like me. If someone comes up and tells me that I have influenced them through the years, I hear that from some young bands, that warms my heart. But I never listen for anything like that, dude. That would be stupid and arrogant.”
Joey's Pearl/Paiste rig
You’re a prolific songwriter in your own right and a multi instrumentalist. When you’re working on new ideas do you tend to start with guitar, or will you ever start with drums and build things up from a beat?
“I always start, if it is my project, I always start with guitar. If it is a project that isn’t mine then of course I go to the drums first. But if it is my creation then I don’t even mess with drums at all, not until the song is constructed.
"I will play along with it a little bit and I might go back and forth between guitar and drums as I construct the song, but when it comes to my own music I always start on guitar. I have never constructed anything on drums from the ground up.”
What is a typical day like for you in terms of your practice schedule?
“Pretty much I play through songs. Right now I am practising Vimic and Sinsaenum constantly. But when it comes to having fun, I have to keep my chops up in different areas so I play a lot of different stuff but my favourite thing to do is to just play along to some classic rock.
"I love playing along to Led Zeppelin and The Who, The Stones, that stuff is fun and it is relaxing. After you do all of the rehearsal for all of these extreme bands all day long and you go through your history of music, which is something that I still do, you need to just have some fun.”
Is it easy to forget sometimes that this is supposed to be fun?!
“It’s like when people go up for jam sessions. Even if they total screw it up, they don’t care. They are up there and they get to play and that’s it. I love seeing the expression on people’s faces because that is what music is supposed to be about.
"We’ve got to create music and we’ve got to be spot on, but at the same time that is a lot of stress, it really is. But, you know what? I’ll take that stress every time. Let’s go!”
You’re getting one hell of a workout with some of the BPMs with your work with Sinsaenum. Is keeping those speed chops up something that you continually have to work at or is that locked into muscle memory at this point in your career?
“It’s a little bit of both. I don’t care who you are, it can be slow, a sludge band, a rock band, whatever it is that you’re doing, you have got to practise. That’s just normal, and I still do as well. But a lot of the speed playing is muscle memory, for sure.
"If right now I got called down to a studio in an emergency for a band that had lost their drummer and they were screwed, and if they were my friends rather than a bunch of people I don’t know, then I would totally go down and help out. I would have to listen to the parts a few times and then it would just come out.”
You mentioned earlier some of the bands that you have played with down the years, Slipknot, Korn, Ministry, you even sat in with Metallica. If you could get behind the kit with any band for one night, who would it be?
Would that be a little double drumming with Dale?
“Oh yeah! I’ll replace Coady [Willis, second Melvins drummer] for one day. But, that dude rules, man. I would love to sit down with Dale. Beyond the Melvins, Mr Bungle is one of my all-time favourite bands.
"It would be just awesome to sit down with Mr Bungle and play their first album front to back with them. I would do that and be like, ‘Ok guys, thank you for that gift, that was awesome.’ I could go down a long, long list of bands that I’d love to do that with but those are the first two.”
Looking back on your career, if you could go back to the beginning and give yourself once piece of advice, what would you say?
“You know what, man, that is a great question because it is almost impossible in this industry because as long as you are in this industry there will be mistakes made all over the place, no matter how good you are or how sober you are. Everyone else that you are dealing with in this business, they are always going to do something that screws you over a little bit.
"That sucks because music isn’t supposed to be like that. But if I could go back and change something…man, I wouldn’t change a thing. I honestly would not change a f***ing thing. I’m happy where I’m at. I am where I am supposed to be right now.”
The Slipknot fanbase has remained fiercely loyal to you since your split with the band. It must be humbling to have an army of followers as strong as that…
“It is so humbling. I don’t take anything for granted. When I got diagnosed with that BS transverse myelitis, that stuff is no joke. What I went through really is not anyone’s business but it needs to be seen and spoken about.
"But the fact that after everything that has happened that those Slipknot fans are still there for me, that means so much and I love them very much. I want them to know that I will never leave their side. I will always be there for them, no matter what.”
Does that loyalty make your split from Slipknot all the more disappointing?
“You know what, it really is none of my business. I just stick to my side and I am just concentrating on Vimic and Sinsaenum. I’m not really concerned with Slipknot right now.
"Sometimes in life you reconcile, sometimes you never reconcile, but the thing is that I now have other fish to fry and things to do. I love those guys very much, there is not a piece in my hatred in my heart towards any of them, I love them.”
But, you’re certainly not sat around waiting for the call from Slipknot…
“Dave Lombardo was out of Slayer for a long time and then he came back and ruled it better than ever before. Maybe some day, who knows? But right now, I’ve got other stuff to do.”