Songwriter Interviews

Chris Fehn of Slipknot

by Carl Wiser

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Chris Fehn is a percussionist for Slipknot, an Iowa band that has sold millions of albums and gets nominated every year or so in the Best Metal Performance category, an award they won in 2001. On stage, they wear matching jumpsuits and extravagant masks, and their performances are extremely demanding.

Chris is a big guy with a lot of energy and a strong presence - even without his mask, he'll be the first guy you notice in a room. He swears that he doesn't read the stuff people write about Slipknot, and we believe him; he's much more likely to be playing golf or making music than quibbling with critics.

Slipknot has plenty of detractors but legions of fans. It's not for everyone, but it makes a lot more sense if you understand what goes into these songs and what message the guys are trying to convey. As Chris points out, the world needs Slipknot.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Can you tell me how you guys do the writing?

Chris Fehn: Well, everybody has an opinion, and can write anything. But there are some major players, like Joey and Paul and Mick and Jim, and Cory writes 95% of the lyrics. So that's pretty much the core. As far as the rest of us, we kind of just add our little flavors in there after the song's starting to come together. And then we think, "Oh, that would be cool to put a percussion part there," or "Hey, Sid, let's throw some DJ on this part," and stuff like that.

Songfacts: And this is all in the studio that this happens together?

Chris: No, a lot of the guys do it on their time off. They'll come up with stuff and then bring it to a few other guys and get the basic skeleton of the song down. But we do write a lot in the studio, too, to be honest with you. I mean, this band's got so many guys, and stuff comes from weird places all the time.

Songfacts: What do you think of the song "Vermilion"?

Chris: I'm kind of funny with music, it's just such a huge part of my life that I kind of morph everything into what it means to me. It doesn't matter if it's Slipknot, or if it's Steely Dan, I like to make songs personal to me. You know, Vermilion is a city in Canada where my grandma is from. So, I like to make music my own.

Songfacts: So the song "Wait And Bleed." Is there anything you can tell me about that tune, about how you guys put it together, or what it was like having a song that people reacted to so strongly?

Chris: It was just a basic song. We didn't know it was going to be that popular. The funny thing is the record label, especially new guys at the record label, were coming around when we started getting big, and they're like, "Oh, the next record you can write like three 'Wait And Bleeds.'" And we're just like, You are an idiot. Therefore, we don't do that. But obviously the band, believe it or not, we have so much control over what we do that we don't write anything for money, we don't write anything for popularity, we have to like it first. And it's just a song that we liked, and it just so happened that it got on the radio and got the attention that we didn't expect.

Songfacts: Do you ever get sick of playing any of these songs?

Chris: I don't. Sometimes I'll be playing live, and I'm not feeling good that night, or just burned out or whatever, and I'll be like, "Oh my God, I've got like 10 songs left to go," and you know, it's so high energy. And then the song starts, and I'm like, "Dude, that's bad." Like, that song's fuckin' bad ass. I'm just a big fan of the band. Which is kind of cool to be a fan of the band that you're in, instead of just getting a paycheck and not really getting into it. I can't help but get into the music. It's just so rad.

Songfacts: Do you know what the song "Surfacing" is about?

Chris: "Surfacing"… yeah. It basically encompasses everything. Kind of encompasses the attitude of the band and the attitude of how we feel about life: Don't judge me. Everything that you think that you know about the world, and about Slipknot, and about your own life, might not be the case. Like if I was thinking, Oh, Carl is this and Carl is that, well, you're not, you know. So I think it's just openmindedness and just be cool.

Songfacts: Were you guys surprised that this whole thing worked?

Chris: I wasn't. The songs are just too good, and the players are just too good. It was like it was meant to be. And then when you throw in our stage presence and the things that we do on top of that, it was just kind of like a no-brainer that this band is gonna be as big as it was, to me. I mean, we'd still be doing it if it wasn't. I just knew it from the beginning, that this band was going to be something special, and the world needed something like this.

Songfacts: It's interesting that you said the songs are so good, because I think that a lot of people don't give credit that you guys create these songs, and this is where they start. What are some examples of the songs that you think are really strong Slipknot songs?

Chris: I think, in a different way – because I'm so close to the band – like, the song "Scissors" off of the first record is sick, man. It's just so incredibly nightmarish and such an awesome song to play live, that it's just so... Oh my God, I'm getting excited right now.

Songfacts: Do you remember how that song came together?

Chris: I got in the band I'd say a month or two before we recorded the first record. And all the songs on the first record had been written before I was in the band. So I don't know how that song came together. But I know that it's the shit.

Songfacts: Do you know what's going on at the end of that song?

Chris: I do. And it's for the fans to figure out on their own. (laughs)

Songfacts: What's one of the other songs that you think is one of these really strong Slipknot songs?

Chris: Well, I think the song "Iowa," I just like the dark, heavy make-you-think-about-stuff songs. I love "Eeyore," and the classics too, "Spit It Out." I can't believe I just said "classics," like we're old. Like, "Spit It Out," "People = S--t," I mean, when you bust into "People = Shit," I want to destroy. I cannot help it. But it's always nice to just hear the weird ones.

Songfacts: What does "People = Shit" mean to you?

Chris: Sometimes when I drive around my humble little city that I live in, and I see people not letting you merge into traffic, and just the hustle and bustle of all these goats running around the city, it just makes me sick. And people trying to keep up with the Joneses, that attitude, you know. Maxing out your credit card so you can have stuff that means nothing. But there's so many great people in the world, don't get me wrong. I don't drive around all jaded like that. But sometimes I just get that feeling when I look at society as a whole, my god, what a gyp. But that's where metal and music came in for me, it gave me that escape away from not wanting to be part of the norm.

Songfacts: I guess everybody must feel like that at some time or another. If you don't there's probably something wrong with you.

Chris: Probably.

Songfacts: Was "Spit It Out" about a radio station in particular?

Chris: That was another song that was written before I was in the band. But I've heard that there was some animosity between a local radio station and Slipknot, and Slipknot was the only band in Iowa that was really doing anything, it seemed like. And so people gotta talk shit. It's just like a try and destroy something because you're afraid of what it's going to be, type situation. But obviously now that's unstoppable. So I think everything's worked out.

Songfacts: And "sic" came from an earlier song, didn't it?

(screeching of car horn)

Chris: See? There's somebody right there that's getting all hectic that somebody was backing out. (laughing)

Songfacts: Even in Iowa that happens.

Chris: That song was called "Slipknot" at the beginning. It had some guitar solos in there that got X'd out and I think it was a little slower back in the day. You know, "dun dun, dun dun dun, dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun." And then it got sped up. And I don't remember if Ross Robinson did that or if we did it or what, but that's kind of a slight Chris history of that song.

Songfacts: What are some of the tunes that you guys play as a band that you think, This is something that nobody else can do? If there is a Slipknot cover band somewhere, they're never gonna sound like this.

Chris: They couldn't do any of it. They really couldn't. I mean, there's so much individuality within the nine guys. There's actually a Slipknot cover band that I've went and seen, and it's just never gonna be the same. There's too many intricacies that people don't hear, I think, when they just try and learn the songs. And then when you get all the stuff on, and then you have to play it live, and you're into your sixth song, and those guys are sucking wind, it just doesn't come out that way. It doesn't come out like the magic of the '90s.

Songfacts: Are there any subtleties that people might not pick up because they're kind of distracted by the performance aspect of everything?

Chris: Everybody's such a good player that if you were to watch it live, I think you would have to really be not caught up in the moment, and really pay attention to things that Jim does on the guitar. Like, there's a lot of extra little slides and a lot of the harmonics that he'll pull out just to keep it interesting for him. And I love it, he's in my in-ears, and I play the songs so much, it'd be like I would know if something was different. If I had one of my golf clubs and I'd look down at it, I would fully know right away when somebody else might not. It'd be cool to get like a really good system and have kids put on headphones and just really investigate what's going on.

Songfacts: Are there any songs that you play live very differently from the studio versions?

Chris: No. We try and keep it as accurate as possible, for sure. Yeah, we don't play to DAT tapes, or we don't lip synch or anything.

Songfacts: And does it vary much, the different arrangements, night after night? I'm trying to get how much of it is just what you feel like playing that night and how much of it is doing a very polished show night after night.

Chris: Yeah, the only thing is now, like the arena shows, since we have the videos behind us and everything, it's pretty structured now, because there's a lot of timing things involved that have to be done, and a lot of lighting schemes that are programmed, because there's so many different lights going on, and I don't think a guy could just do it by hand and remember it all. But then the only thing that would ever change the set list is a time factor. So like, if we play at a festival somewhere and they only wanted us to play for an hour, we would have to cut stuff off. It's getting more difficult, because this will be our fourth record that we're going to start doing. So it's hard to get rid of songs that we've always been playing. Because obviously we'd like to play 'em all. But, that can't be done right now. So that's the only time it really changes. Once we figure it out, we know. And then Joey has to be able to pace himself, he just can't start off with certain songs that would just burn you out. So, he needs to get loose on a couple of songs.

Songfacts: What are the songs that burn you out the most?

Chris: Oh, I'd say, like "Get This," or "Eeyore," because it's just such thrash metal. There's just like the headbanging so fast and it's so exciting. But, you know, they all burn me out on the first couple of shows, but then once the metal neck goes away, we're good to go.

Songfacts: What's it like making your videos? And are there any in particular that you had a really interesting experience on?

Chris: The video that we did for "Spit It Out," Ice-T showed up, so it was rad, dude. We got to meet Ice-T, and he hung out on the video shoot and everything, and took pictures with us. That's the coolest thing. Otherwise, they suck, dude. It's so boring. Like, you play the song a million times, you know, and you can barely hear it through these stupid little monitors they give you. It's just such a long, drawn-out day that it's tough. So videos blow.

Songfacts: Yeah, if people only knew what went into that kind of stuff.

Chris: Yeah, it's crazy. But I mean, the one where the kids showed up was awesome, you know, because they were there. And then in I think it was "My Plague," we had all the goats. That was pretty fun. I'd never been surrounded by 50 goats before.

Songfacts: What was the one where all the kids showed up?

Chris: That was "Duality."

Songfacts: Do you remember how they got all those kids?

Chris: Yeah, they had an audition I think at some hotel in Des Moines, and the kids lined up. It was funny, because there were people that totally weren't into the band but just wanted to go down there and see if they could get into the video and stuff. And they're like, "No, dude, get outta here." But that was cool. I guess some kids flew in from Europe and got in the video.

Songfacts: The only thing I have left for you is if there's anything you'd like people to know about the band that is like a common misconception or something. If you could just tell somebody, "Look, here's what you really need to know about Slipknot."

Chris: What you really need to know about Slipknot is how much we love the band, and how bad ass our fans are. People think that they're not good people, and I went through that when I was a kid, because I wore Slayer shirts to junior high school and stuff. And people were just like, "What's that hat," and "you're just an idiot," this and that. And our fans are the bomb. When I talk to them, you wouldn't even believe what they're into, man. Some of them are getting their masters degrees, some of them are like me, like electricians and painters and stuff. So, these are the kids that run the world, and people need to recognize that. It's not the kid that has everything given to him. I just think that metal fans in general just have a passion for life that a lot of people don't get.

We spoke with Chris on November 19, 2007
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Comments: 20

  • Andrew from FloridaSlipknot is the best metal band ever
  • Ronny L Pate Jr from Hillister Texas I just got to say that DUALITY!!!!! Is still my number one song above all other's song.I play it all through out the week every week since y'all came out it.simply put in my opinion IT'S ONE BAD ASS MF SONG!!!!
  • Chris Fehn Is Awesome from Columbia City Indiana Ever since I was introduced to the band, Chris has always been my favorite. I also like Shawn (Clown) because how crazy he always is.
  • Jack Miller from Ft. Mitchell, KyThis band is so cool. The interview with Chris rocked, and I'd love to hear more from Slipknot soon.
  • I<3chrisfehn from Des Moines I do loads of sketches of u in my spare time, and i really wanna meet u! i listen to slipknot a lot and that was a cool interveiw by the wayy <3 xx
  • Brenda Garcia from -missourl MoChris I'd like to say that you guys are awesome I love your music! The song that I love is spit it out, and I wish I can go to your concerts!
  • Daniel Davel from EmpamgeniCris if u need a new song i have some lyriks that would sound awsome with corry singing/sceaming it
  • Josh from Isle Of WightI LOVE you guys dont stop making your songs without them I will die
  • Chloe Conger from Norman Park, GeorgiaSlipknot is awesome. Not just slipknot in general but just about all metal. When i do my art, painting, drawing, sculpting, etc..., i always balsts some metal slipknot or anything. i completely loose myself and i dont know who i am anymore, and my art comes out all weird and crazy... kinda= of like a still explosion on canvas or paper. But yeah i love slipknot. People in my town are against it, but i say F*** you i love them.
  • Holly Faith Morel from Tennesseomg chris i love you so so so much i will always love you
  • The-goat from WinnipegWooooooo!Chris Fehn! I always love reading and watching your interviews. I just wish I could have went to one of your concerts...:( but anyways, I loved your music and i grew up listening to you guys. You f--king rock!
  • Matt from Pittsburgh, PaHey chris you are a really awesome percussionist and great back up vocals and did you do that insane barking in one of your songs i forget...
  • AnonymousChris ur an awesome percussionist and great backup vocals! Slipknot is the Greatest Band the world has ever known. Left Behind ROCKZ!!
  • Anonymouswow this was a reely good interveiw :P i went to a slipknot concert (my first concert) and it was great haha and i figured out i have the same birthday as u chris! :P Febuary 24 <3
  • Maggot Till The Endhahaha i know what happens after "scissors". But I dont want to give it away. But to who-ever is reading this coment, trust me, its worth looking up!
  • AnonymousI just want to say I have 2 grandsons and 3 kids of my own. I listen to whatever music the kids bring into the house. They don't commit crimes, they go to school, college, and are good respectful kids, I'm proud of them. They took me to see Slipknot and Korn in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in May. I haven't been to a concert like that in a long time. I felt 20 years old again!!! Chris I am so glad you encourage kids to be themselves and enjoy what they enjoy without letting the ridicule of the narrow minded people affect them. We hope to see you again soon.

    Rockin gramma
  • Franinteressantes interview .. gibt viele info´s über die songs und die denkweise der band etc. pp. ... es wäre jedoch interessant zu lesen, wie die anderen bandmitglieder darüber denken ...
  • Candaceyeah! chris fehn is my favorite band memeber. he is so awesome on stage when i was at ozz fest! and he seems like a cool person off stage... he is hott too :)~
  • AnonymousChris is my favorite member. and the mask is insanely awesome!!!!!
  • Anonymouswooooooh! slipknot

    this gives a lot of info about the songs thnx :D
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