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In Memory of Slipknot Bassist Paul Gray

Slipknot Bassist Paul Gray

Lurking behind a black mutant mask with crossbars locking his mouth in a silent scream, Paul Gray — the Slipknot bassist, who was found dead in a hotel in Urbandale, Iowa yesterday at the age of 38 — was an onstage spectacle, part of a nine-piece puzzle that throbbed with the malignancy of a single, psychopathic unit. His bass lines were tight and dense, though mingled with two distorted guitars, a drum kit, two percussionists, a DJ, sampler and commanding vocals, there wasn’t much room for flash or flair. Instead, Gray anchored the rhythms while everyone around him swirled like the outer rim of a turbulent tornado.

“I knew his bass playing from Slipknot and Unida before we met and thought he had such a talent for tone and staying in the pocket — a sometimes rare thing in the metal world,” 3 Inches of Blood guitarist Shane Clark told Noisecreep. “He was an amazing songwriter and a friend to many; my thoughts are with his family and friends at this very sad time.”

“He was a great musician, an underrated songwriter and a truly warm soul underneath the evil mask he rocked onstage,” Shadows Fall frontman Brian Fair told MTV News. “This is a huge loss to the metal world. He will be missed deeply.”

Watch the May 25 Press Conference

An autopsy conducted today revealed no cause of death, Urbandale police told the Des Moines Register. Police said there was no sign of foul play and Gray had been dead for several hours before his body was discovered. Police are awaiting the results of toxicology tests, which could take up to four to six weeks to come back. Gray is survived by his pregnant wife Brenna, who is expecting their first child in September, and his mother, who placed the call to the hotel requesting they check her son’s room.

What many people don’t know about Gray is that he was one of the co-founders of Slipknot, along with percussionist Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan, and was also one of the main writers of the group, one of the most influential and innovative metal bands of the past decade. In a press conference in Des Moines, Iowa on Tuesday evening, Crahan said, “It’s very important that everybody outside of us understands that Paul Gray was the essence of Slipknot. Paul Gray was there from the very, very beginning. And none of us would be on the path that we’re on right now in life or have the sorts of lives that we have without him.”

Crahan added that in addition to Gray’s musical and creative contributions, he was a warm, kind-hearted man who called for unity in times of discord. “Paul loved the fans,” Crahan said. “He was the kind of person in the band that really wanted everybody in the band to get along and just concentrate on the band. So he was a really great friend and a great person. He’s going to be sadly missed and the world is going to be a different place without him.”

During the conference, everyone in Slipknot was given the opportunity to speak, along with Paul’s widow Brenna Paul. Some members were too crushed to talk, others were choked up but still managed to utter words of praise out. Slipknot may have had moments in the past where the members were at each others’ throats, but everyone at the press conference table was unified in their grief and supported their fellow musicians. As guitarist Jim Root spoke, vocalist Corey Taylor put his arm around his back and grabbed his forearm in support. “To Paul, my brother. We’ll greatly miss you. And we’ll get through it,” Root said. “You will be missed and thank you to all the fans who made him who he was and made Slipknot who they are today. And he will be missed.”

While all of the musicians were devastated by the loss of their friend and band mate, drummer Joey Jordison sounded the most broken up. “I’d just like to say that I miss my brother so much. This is very hard for me now. I just want to say that I love you Paul, very much,” he said on the verge of tears. “You’ll be sorely missed by the world over. God bless, and thank you for all the great times that we had together. I love you so much.”

The last person to speak at the press conference was Gray’s widow Brenna Paul, who said simply, “Paul was my husband, he was an amazing person, and I just want people to remember him for just that, and his daughter will remember him the way he was.”

After the conference, Taylor thanked the press and the band walked out without taking questions — probably because there are no answers to be found at the moment.

At the time of his death, Gray seemed to be in good spirits and didn’t even seem upset that Slipknot was going on a yearlong hiatus and his bandmates were engaging in other projects. He was pleased that vocalist Corey Taylor and guitarist James Root were returning to Stone Sour, drummer Joey Jordison was playing with Rob Zombie and Crahan had taken the drum seat and recorded an album with his new alternative group Dirty Little Rabbits.

And Gray was happy to be joining the supergroup Hail! following the departure of Dave Ellefson, who had returned to his original band, Megadeth. Hail! also features vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens (ex-Judas Priest, ex-Iced Earth), guitarist Andreas Kisser and drummer Paul Bostaph (ex-Slayer, Testament).

“This is going to be amazing,” wrote Gray in a statement. “After I heard the news about David reuniting with Megadeth, I touched base with Andreas and everything fell into place pretty immediately. I was excited about what they were doing and their whole attitude is just cool, old-school camaraderie and fun, and I wanted to share that with them. Fortunately, I had this window of time available as Slipknot are on break, so the timing worked perfectly. These guys have been through it all and they represent true metal brotherhood. I like that and I’m glad to now be a part of it. I can’t wait; I wish we’d leave tomorrow. These shows are going to kick ass.”

Gray had previously played with Kisser on the tracks ‘Baptized in the Redemption’ and ‘The Enemy’ for the album ‘Roadrunner United: The All-Star Sessions,’ a collaboration to celebrate the label’s 25th anniversary.

His death is all the more tragic considering the fact that, after years of strife, animosity and self-immolation, the members of Slipknot seemed to have made peace with one another and Gray seemed to have a lot to look forward to in life, including the birth of his first child. In December 2009, Gray enthusiastically posted on his MySpace that his wife was pregnant. “I am the happiest man on the face of the Earth — literally! This has been the best Christmas I have ever had!”

Gray was born in Los Angeles and later moved with his family to Des Moines. There, he played in a variety of bands, including Body Pit, Vexx, Inveigh Catharsi and Anal Blast, an extreme metal satire group that also featured Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison and vocalist and Midwest metal promoter Don Decker, who died last year at age 41.

“Joey and I started that band with Don,” Gray told me in 2008 during an interview for Revolver. “I did one little tour with them. I played 20-some shows, but the first demo they actually had — I recorded that.”

In 1992, Gray hooked up with Crahan, who played drums, and the two started jamming with Crahan’s friend, vocalist Anders Colsefini. But shortly after they began, Gray moved back to California to be with his girlfriend and the project was put on hold. “That relationship didn’t work out,” Gray said. “So Shawn was like, ‘You wanna come back and do this?’ So I told the chick I was leaving, got on a plane and went back to Iowa.”

After deciding they wanted the band to be heavily rhythmic, Crahan moved over to percussion and Gray brought in Jordison, whose band Modifidious had just broken up, to sit behind the kit. They wrote some material, including ‘Slipknot,’ which evolved into the song ‘(sic).’ Soon after, they landed their first gig.

“We had a show booked and we didn’t have any actual name. But we had this song ‘Slipknot,’” Gray said. “It was the first song we had ever started working on even before Joey was in the band. So it had been around and it rolled off the tongue pretty easy. We needed a name, so we used it.”

After just a few gigs, Slipknot decided to start working on their debut CD. The band borrowed money from Crahan’s wife, who also helped sew their first costumes. Gray and Colsefini took jobs laying down concrete to help pay for the studio time, about $200 an hour. In 1995, the band — which by then also featured guitarists Josh Brainard (ex-Modifidious) and Donnie Steele (ex-Body Pit) — emerged with their demo, ‘Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat,’ a chaotic hybrid of metal, rap and industrial that hinted at their future greatness.

Steele left for religious reasons and was replaced by Mick Thompson, and sampler Craig Jones was brought in to further flesh out the band’s sound. The self-released demo was popular locally, and Slipknot toured throughout the Midwest. But Colsefini didn’t have the vocal range they needed, a fact they discovered when they entered a local battle of the bands and competed against Stone Sour, which featured vocalist Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root. Slipknot won the competition but decided it was time for a lineup change.

“Show-wise, we blew them away, but Corey’s f—in’ voice was killer,” Gray said. “The judges raved about our performance and music. The only negative thing they would say was about our vocalist. He could sing death metal, but he would try to sing, too, and it just sounded horrible.”

Slipknot asked Colsefini if he would step down from the mike and become a background vocalist and second percussionist. He refused and quit the band, and Slipknot lured Taylor away from Stone Sour, hired DJ Sid Wilson and percussionist Chris Fehn, and started working on their first album as a nine-piece. In no time, Taylor had retracked the vocals for ‘Me Inside’ and the band recorded the new song ‘Spit It Out,’ which earned them a deal with Roadrunner Records in 1997.

The group entered a Los Angeles studio with Ross Robinson (Korn, Limp Bizkit) to record their self-titled debut. Toward the end of the session, Brainard quit and Slipknot hired Root, who had also been playing in the band Death Front. Root tracked new versions of ‘Spit It Out’ and ‘Purity,’ and the band submitted the record to their label.

‘Slipknot’ came out in June 1999, and the band immediately created a stir with its visceral sonic assault, grisly masks and matching coveralls. They toured with Coal Chamber and Machine Head, but their big break came when they played the second stage of Ozzfest. At the same time, they were blowing up at radio with ‘Spit It Out’ and the more melodic ‘Wait and Bleed,’ which was nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 2001 Grammy Awards.

Fehn said that at first Slipknot had a strict no-drugs policy, but that after they toured Europe for their first album, all bets were off. By the time they re-entered the studio with Robinson in 2001 to record the follow-up, some of the members were partying excessively and were barely getting along. Crahan, Taylor and Root have described those months as the group’s ‘dark days,’ but Gray said he wasn’t too unhappy. “It’s funny, man, ’cause I wasn’t really in that bad of a headspace,” he said. “I started doing lines [of cocaine] all the time and writing music doing lines. But I thought everything was cool.”

Slipknot’s second album, the brutal, uncompromising ‘Iowa,’ came out at the end of August, but just as it started building up steam 9/11 happened, and the mainstream media temporarily distanced itself from violent, aggressive forms of entertainment. Slipknot returned to the road and toured exhaustively, but by then, the musicians were locking horns and barely speaking. Although the tour was successful, Slipknot were miserable and when it finally ended, they went their separate ways, not knowing if they’d even get back together. During that time, Taylor and Root re-formed Stone Sour, Crahan started the band To My Surprise, and Gray became depressed and delved heavily into drugs.

“Back then I was pissed,” he told me for Revolver. “I thought, ‘F—, we should be working on Slipknot.’ During the downtime, I played with Unida and just jammed with friends. I didn’t do much of anything. A lot of drinking, some drugs — some really heavy drugs. Heroin. I was shooting speedballs every day. And then pills. I was on everything, man. In the beginning, I kind of had my s— under control, but after a while, no. I became an addict.”

In June 2003, Gray missed a traffic signal and got into a car accident. When police searched his vehicle, they found cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The bassist was arrested, then released. Slipknot finally started working on their third album in 2003, which they recorded with legendary producer Rick Rubin (Slayer, Danzig, Johnny Cash). At the time, the band was completely dysfunctional. Taylor was a raging alcoholic and Gray had become a full-blown junkie.

“I wrote a bunch of stuff [for 'Vol. 3'] — like I do every record — but I would spend half the time in the bathroom [shooting up],” Gray said. “I’d be trying to play, and I’d fall out of my chair a couple times and fall asleep in the middle of tracking a song. There was a lot of depression going on. I wasn’t mad at anybody, but everyone else was, and I felt, ‘Oh, f—, my family is falling apart.’ Halfway through the record, the band had an intervention on me and I ended up going to rehab.”

While Gray was clean for a little while, as soon as Slipknot returned to the road, he returned to his old habits. “I just knew too many people and I started using a lot again on and off,” he said. “I had some near-death experiences — nothing I’m gonna go into any detail about — but I definitely pushed it to the very end. Finally, I got left in rehab at the end of the arena tour with Shadows Fall and Lamb of God and missed the last six shows. Then afterwards, well, idle hands do the devil’s work.”

When Gray met his wife, Brenna Paul, she gave him an ultimatum: clean up or break up. So, the couple moved from Los Angeles back to Iowa and Gray saw a substance abuse therapist. As of summer 2008, he said he had been clean for two years.

Slipknot seemed to be a more mature, better adjusted outfit when they got together to start writing ‘All Hope Is Gone.’ Taylor had stopped drinking and Gray was still clean. “It was more fun for me because I was actually f—ing coherent,” Gray said. “It was a good experience for us and I think it just came out a good album.”

‘All Hope Is Gone,’ which was produced by Dave Fortman (Mudvayne, Evanescence), came out on Aug. 20, 2008 and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. The good vibes seemed to continue throughout the tour cycle. Slipknot headlined the first Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest and played North American tours with Coheed and Cambria, Trivium, DevilDriver, 3 Inches of Blood, All that Remains and Deftones. Some shows on the tour were canceled due to health problems suffered by Jordison, but Slipknot played the majority of the shows on the nine-leg tour. The band’s last gig together was Halloween 2009 in Las Vegas with Vision of Disorder.

It’s too early to tell whether Slipknot will stay together or disband in the wake of Gray’s death.

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