Monte Conner is a three-decade music industry veteran who signed Slipknot, the aggressive Iowa hard rock band whose cofounder, drummer Joey Jordison, died on Tuesday, to Roadrunner Records in 1998. He is currently VP of A&R at Nuclear Blast Records.
Slipknot cofounder and drummer Joey Jordison was one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Fans know him for his explosive, no-holds-barred drumming style, but most don’t realize he was also a gifted songwriter, arranger and guitarist who understood the art of crafting huge choruses and hooks. Along with the band’s bassist, Paul Gray (who died in 2010), Joey wrote the majority of the band’s music, with vocalist Corey Taylor adding the unforgettable lyrics that would resonate with and speak to the “Maggots,” as the band called their fans. Tying it all together was percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan, Slipknot’s creative leader and the one behind the band’s concept and image. Those songs impacted music far the beyond the metal world; they reached the masses and will live on as anthems for the ages.
As senior VP of A&R for Roadrunner Records, the band first came onto my radar in late 1997, as bands often do, from right within the label’s walls. In this case it was via our Midwest regional radio rep, John Kuliak, who was tipped off to the band by Sophia John, one of his contacts at KKDM-FM, a station in Slipknot’s hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. After seeing the band live and calling me to rave about what he had witnessed, John put me in contact with Sophia, who regularly sent me new demos (two songs at time, coming a few weeks apart) for several months. During this time, Corey Taylor replaced the band’s original singer, Anders Colsefini.
Finally, in early 1998, I received the demo for “Spit It Out” — and heard what I’d needed to hear. It was the first track they’d written that contained all the elements that ultimately would define Slipknot and put them on the map: It was raw, seething, emotional, explosive, creative, guttural and beautiful all at the same time, and completely untethered from tradition. It did not fit any genre of metal, but seemed to take the best elements from the entire metal palette and combine them all into an utterly unique, multi-dimensional beast. And it was all driven by the foundation of Joey’s over-the-top, manic drumming style. Everything had coalesced and it felt like all the planets had finally aligned — I saw the band’s true potential and knew I had to sign them.
I flew out to a showcase gig they’d set up for me and one other label, in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s McCormick Auditorium, on April 4, 1998, opening for alt-pop singer Sister Soleil. What an odd and sterile place, not to mention a strange pairing, to be seeing Slipknot for the very first time. (This was long before the advent of YouTube and I don’t recall being sent a live video, although I had seen photos of the band.)
I met Joey and the rest of the members for the first time just before the show. I will never forget how they lined up to meet me, one by one, as if they were rank-and-file soldiers meeting an officer — deadly serious, like they were going into battle. They were wearing their standard coveralls but not their masks — they wanted to look me in the eyes. They wanted to be on Roadrunner and this was the most important gig of their lives to date.
If I remember correctly, they were only an eight-piece at the time and one of the characters was different (this was before Chris Fehn, with his unforgettable long-nosed mask, had joined; they had a different character that they called “The Baby”). When they took the stage in their trademark uniforms and creepy masks, they looked like a dangerously psychotic gang or militia. And that night, they delivered an incomparably aggressive and chaotic physical-endurance set. That night, the Slipknot we all know today was already fully formed.
But as wild as the spectacle was, most importantly they had the music to back it up, not to mention Taylor, an incredible frontman who could actually sing these beautiful melodies. That night, it was actually their music that spoke to me, even more than the spectacle I was seeing. I saw what they could become, and how truly huge they could be if given the means to take their songs and their show to a wider level. In fact, that night I could actually picture the day that their individual masks could be marketed and sold to fans as collectibles (or even as Halloween costumes). That day would come even sooner than I could have ever expected.
I went backstage to hang with the band, and after a few minutes, Joey immediately pulled me aside. He not only had a vast knowledge of extreme and underground heavy metal, but he was an encyclopedia on all things Roadrunner Records. He wanted to talk about Deicide, Obituary, Suffocation, Sepultura and all his favorite bands on the label, and hear some insider stories. He knew as much about Roadrunner’s roster and history as I did, if not more — and I’d been with the label since 1987. I could also tell that as much as he genuinely wanted to talk about those bands, he was also trying to impress me… and he certainly did. In all of my A&R travels I had never experienced a musician who was so plugged into and knowledgeable about the label and even my career. He and his bandmates were about to change not just my life, but the entire trajectory of Roadrunner Records and the music world.
Just over a year later, in June of 1999, thousands of people would see the magic that I saw on that night when Slipknot stole the show at the travelling Ozzfest Festival, performing before seasoned metal acts like Fear Factory, Deftones and Slayer. It was so much fun to see veteran metalheads with their jaws hanging open, not believing what they were seeing and hearing. And it was just the beginning.
Joey was a truly groundbreaking character who will be sorely missed by metal fans worldwide. I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of his all-too-short but seismic journey.