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Exclusive: Embracing life with THE BLACK DOTS OF DEATH – a conversation with M. SHAWN CRAHAN (SLIPKNOT)

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clownprofileOne of the most daunting tasks for any artist is the inevitable media rounds prior to the release of an album. Pre-release interviews, conversations – whatever you want to call them – tend to be boring for all involved, a necessary evil in order to reach the unfamiliar… the new ears… the uninformed. After all, exposing your album to existing listeners is easy.

But what if your new album wasn’t just an album, but a piece of a multi-layered puzzle rooted in the fragile state of one’s own mortality? What if the entire thing is a reaction to the way the world is working right now? For M. SHAWN CRAHAN, the answer to that is THE BLACK DOTS OF DEATH, and he’s not making the rounds to promote an albumEVER SINCE WE WERE CHILDREN is a matter of life and death.

Those that read my internet ramblings on a regular basis have learned something over the past year that those around me are all too familiar with: I’m brutally honest and completely blunt in my opinion, regardless of who may disagree, or who may take offense.  When I first heard a couple tracks from the BLACK DOTS OF DEATH (BDOD from here), I was unimpressed – but as I noted in the same article, I was willing to give the full album a chance. Having now experienced the record in full, I can tell you that it’s an intriguing collection of sound, and as such, I had to get in touch with Crahan himself.

This past Friday, I caught up with #6 himself – the man that many know as Clown from SLIPKNOT to gain a little more insight into the BDOD…

bdod125 contestZAHN: A lot of people seem to be wondering how many collaborators are involved in The Black Dots of Death…

CLOWN: Currently, it’s just my partner and I, along with a third person, but I have a complete band of six. But, it starts with me and it ends with me. We have a very unique way of recording that’s not the fundamental way that I was brought up on in the Slipknot world. We employ all-analog along with all the systems that I’ve learned, but we have a unique way of writing the songs. It usually begins with me holding the seed, and then it gets passed along to our vocalist, and then to the third person. There’s the three of us, but as of now there’s three others. So, the songs go down the wormhole and then end with me on the drums. It’s a way of writing that I’ve discovered and have been working on, and perfecting over the years. It creates the best possible product that I want. It’s not necessarily what the world needs or wants, but it’s what I want.

babyfaceLike Slipknot in the early days, there is a sense of question…

ZAHN: There seems to be an air of mystery surrounding the others that you’ve been working with. Was that the initial intent?

CLOWN: Well, I’m just really fucking fed up with the “right here, right now.” I mean, I don’t even have a real phone in my house.

ZAHN: Nor do I.

Anyone that has experienced an iPhone run through AT&T (myself included) can relate to Crahan’s thoughts on cell phones…

CLOWN: I have to walk around and get calls dropped all day. I’ve broken my iPhone, and it would be easier to talk to people in Finland than it would be to talk on a cell phone. I’m getting back to where… I’m 41 years old and used to go to these “midnight madness” sales to pick up CD’s, and I’d just pray to God that the store would have enough that I’d be one of the lucky ones to get what I went there for.

ZAHN: Me too.

evil empireCLOWN: I think the last CD that I did that for was RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE’s EVIL EMPIRE, but I didn’t make the midnight thing, so I had to get it the next morning. Luckily, they had it – but that was the last time that I really sought out music to buy like that. The mystery is a waiting game.

ZAHN: I lived in Iowa for four years. If Co-Op Tapes and Records rings a bell, I attended several midnight releases at those stores. The wait was part of the allure, and it would be nice if we could recapture that.

CLOWN: Everyone wants to Twitter and know what the hell you’re doing at all times. I could go on Twitter right now and tell people that “I’m taking a piss” and it would go right over everyone’s heads and they’d want to know what I’m doing two seconds later. It’s just not the world I come from. It’s not that I’m old, but a lot of these kids need to understand that the internet is not responsible. It’s going to start getting very responsible, as it starts to – how do I say it? – get divided. It’s going to break off into different areas and you’ll have to pay for full access. It’s going to be different levels of service, and you’re just not going to have the full access and freedom that you have now. The ‘net has been up long enough and has been studied to the point that people know how to make money off of it. The internet is going to change a lot in the next five years, and it won’t be what we know right now – which is an “instant gratification” world.

You can go to iTunes and pick the songs that you want to buy. When I was a kid, you waited to go buy a band’s album, then you took it home and held it in your hands. You wondered “why” the album cover was the album cover. You wondered “why” this song was after that song, and why a song was chosen to be first or last. It all meant something. Now people just go on iTunes and say “this song sucks,” and “that song sucks,” and “oh, this one’s pretty cool so I’ll buy it.” That’s very discouraging as an artist.

I may love the song that everybody hates. What that does to my mind is… it starts fucking with it. I start to question “do I need to write more songs like this?” Sometimes it starts forcing change, but let me say – change is good.

As for that mystery you mentioned, you and I, and the rest of the world have time to wait. We can wait for information to be delivered as it’s needed. I’m trying to employ a system where you don’t need it all right now. You are going to get it though. My website started rolling out two days ago in little pieces…

ZAHN: I’ve been watching it. The heads have been appearing in their jars one day at a time as a slow rollout.

CLOWN: Yeah, it’s a seven-piece puzzle. If you were one of the lucky ones, you logged on the first night and saw the first thing. Then on the second night, you came back for another. It goes up until the 29th when the record comes out. Then, on the 29th you’ll have both the record and the website at your disposal. A week after the record comes out, the first video will be released and the first official single will arrive. So, for at least three weeks you’ll have beautiful artwork (in my opinion) and music – things to look forward to, and things to put together.

I’m not trying to be mean, but I’m trying to reassure people that while the music industry may be down and out, the love and need for music is up. Yes, I employ the Twitter and Facebook and things that have changed since I first got into all of this, but it all comes back full circle. For example, people that I’ve pre-ordered our album have gotten a phone call from me. The first thing I do is let them know how thankful, and grateful I am that they took the time to purchase something, especially in this horrible economic time throughout the world. I thank them for purchasing something that they can’t hold right now. That’s a gift that I hope everyone can experience, not just for my band. If you believe in something that much that you’re willing to wait for it, then that’s how you make change. That’s how you solve disaster and tragedy. That’s how we solve our problems – by knowing that there is work involved.

There’s work involved with buying a CD before you can have it. Giving away your money – money that you’ve worked hard for – and knowing that it’s going to take awhile, that’s the first step. Some of these kids have been waiting a few months already, and they are going to get the CD and hopefully it was worth waiting for to them. All of this other stuff like Twitter and Facebook is all right here, right now. “What are you doing now? What are you doing now? What are you doing now?” – well, maybe I’m doing nothing. I’m not against social networking, as I partake in all of it. I just want to teach the kids that we all just need to slooooooow down a little bit and take a good look at what they’re involving themselves in. They need to take care of themselves and be responsible. We’re starting to hear stories of people getting murdered over fights on Facebook and stuff, and we need to pull back. You’ve got a mystery, but it’s not a game. It’s a choice.

ZAHN: I appreciate hearing you say all of that, because I agree with all of it. Obviously, we have to employ all of the same tools like Facebook, Twitter, etc – I hated both at first, but without them we can’t survive right now and that’s terrible.

A lot of artists have only themselves to blame for putting too much out there too early.

ZAHN: On the surface, it would seem that the BDOD came together very quickly, but after listening to it, there’s seems to have been a lot more time involved.

CLOWN: It’s been over a year in the making, but there were elements that were missing.

[Shawn pauses]

Real quick, my last four years have been hell. I’ve lost my Dad, I’ve lost my Mom, and I’ve lost the first of my best friends. I have many best friends – well, not that many, but a handful – and I lost the very first, and the very best, that being Paul Gray, the bassist of Slipknot. He died last May, um, 24th I believe. I try not to remember the date of anybody’s death, but would rather recall when they would’ve been older. Anyway, when I turned 40, I did an art show and realized that neither of my parents would be able to attend, and that affected me greatly because they were the ones that pushed me toward the arts, and neither would be there to enjoy it. Paul Gray was there, and if I would have known that he was going to pass away…

clowngunI’m 41 now, it’s been a year, and you are feeling the truth inside the record. The BDOD are full circle for Shawn Crahan, the Clown, whatever I am. It’s a rebirth for me.

I’ve been involved with numerous other projects that are more developed around “growing up in the 70’s.” More pop, more Beatles, more songwriting like that. I’ve felt that I’m already in one of the biggest metal bands in the world, so why would I ever want to go out and “be metal” or something that that. The last straw for me to get moving happened with another friend of mine. He was eight months younger than I was and in perfect shape – I’m not in the best of shape – my friend had a stroke. When I found out that my friend had a stroke, and that I’m eight months older and I don’t always take the best care of myself, it was like someone took a small hatchet and struck me in the back of the head.

After about five weeks of rehabilitation, he called me.

Within the first couple of sentences he told me that one thing he has learned from his experiences is that if there’s anything you want to do, go do it today because you never know when tomorrow will never come. That hit me. So I started organizing. I was taking time to get the Black Dots right, because I’ve rushed into things before and done things that haven’t worked. Usually, what I would do is get the band down into the basement and perfect the music. Then I’d perfect what we’re doing to do live. I’m an expert at that. This time, I wanted the art and the concept. I wanted to do what I wanted to do and leave no alleys unexplored. I’d been in the dark forest and I knew how to get out – so I reentered the dark forest, and now I’m very angry, and anger is energy. I’m way more spiritual now that I was in ’99, so these days the music is less physical, and more spiritual and intellectual.

I am more dangerous now, then I have ever been in my entire life.

I wanted to make sure that this music felt like I feel. It’s not a threat. I have purposely put psychosis audio into the mix. That means I put audible frequencies that you can hear, along with inaudible frequencies that you can’t hear, but when mixed together your brain can pick up on things I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to hear people say that they were listening to this in the car or something, and they just turn it off and say “I can’t listen to this right now because it’s making me anxious. I don’t want this to become a full-blown panic attack, because it’s making me stressed, and I just can’t listen to it.”

That’s where we’re at right now, and it took over a year to get it right. I’ve already got the next two albums written – my parts. Not all the vocals and instrumentation, but the seeds are there, and the seeds are violent. I’ve always said that I am the action, plus the reaction, equals the result – and I’ve never had that formula work better for me than it is right now with the DOD.

I’m 41, and my Grandpa died when he was in his late 60’s, my Dad died when he was in his mid-60’s. I’m 41, do the fucking math… if it can be done today, I’m doing it. I’m letting everyone know that I don’t care who you are, you’re not getting in my way. I’m not following your rules, and I’m making the music that I want to make, and I’m going to be the drummer that I’ve always wanted to be behind the kit. There’s people that see me as this “bat-toting clown,” and I am – it’s a position that I created for myself that’s way over people’s heads. People will never understand what Slipknot is about. It’s an anomaly that’s way over their heads and they’ll never tear it apart, and they’ll never comprehend it. Slipknot was designed that way, and I helped to design it. This is personal. This is me. And this is all the different genres of music that I’ve always wanted to put together at once without it being too much of one thing. There’s a lot of hurt, there’s a lot of pain, and there’s a lot of anger. Our energy is not to be taken lightly, and the BDOD believe that what you say will be held against you. If you’re not with us, you’re against us, and that’s just the way it is.

ZAHN: Those are very powerful statements.

CLOWN: Not to be morbid with you, but you could go out tonight, get in the car, and a drunk driver could smash right into you.

ZAHN: I tell my wife that every week, so nothing morbid taken.

CLOWN: I always have to say that to put it into perspective. A lot of people have responded by saying “Look at this asshole… Why would he say something like that to me?”

ZAHN: Because it’s true.

CLOWN: Yes, because it could happen to any one of us. But if you have your eyes open and are ready for it, then it won’t happen to you. That’s why it took time do do all of this, but it took my friend having a stroke to put that final hatchet in my head to get it finished.

I just want to invite everyone to join the forum at our official site, and take a look at the member map. It’s growing, and I want to get to know everyone and know where they’re from. Come, join our community and be with us as we build our new culture.


Shawn passes the mallet to his daughter…

EVER SINCE WE WERE CHILDREN will be released tomorrow, March 29, 2011 through Rocket Science Ventures, Sopra Evil Records, and 5B. Visit www.theblackdotsofdeath.com/ to immerse yourself.

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