Shawn “Clown” Crahan is best known as one of the percussionists in the metal megalith that is Slipknot. But Crahan carries a rich drumming background into his new project, the Black Dots of Death.
by Billy Brennan
The orchestrated chaos of “the Clown” is a beloved part of Slipknot to countless “maggots,” the moniker embraced by the band’s fans. But Shawn Crahan is an artist much deeper than what many see on the surface of his most renowned endeavor. Besides being half of Slipknot’s percussion duo—banging on setups Crahan originally designed—he is a photographer, cinematographer, sculptor, and not least of all a drummer.
“As a kid,” Crahan says, “I was diagnosed with an overactive imagination, I had chronic insomnia, and I’ve always had anger issues. The doctors suggested medication and drugs, but my mom gave me Dr. Seuss books and children’s books on art. Finally, a doctor suggested to her some kind of artistic outlet—like a musical instrument—and before she even finished the sentence, I was like, ‘Drums!’ I was inspired by guys like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich as well as John Bonham, Keith Moon, Peter Criss, Alex Van Halen—Van Halen’s Fair Warning was a huge influence on me. Within two weeks, my first drumkit was set on fire and I was like, ‘Goodnight Des Moines!’” [laughs].
With the Black Dots of Death, drumming once again takes the forefront as an outlet for Crahan’s art as well as his views on life, death, and the world around him. When discussing the motivation behind the project, Crahan goes back to 2009 and his fortieth birthday. “I had an art show—I promised myself I wouldn’t have some cliché mid-life thing with black balloons and everything…even though there were black balloons [laughs]—with some of my photography, paintings, and sculpture, as well as other artists. My parents had passed and I was thinking about all that I had done and that they don’t get to be here to appreciate it. It got me thinking about death and loss—and death was always a theme I’ve been obsessed with, even as a kid. Not in some morbid way, but just the idea of contemplating ‘nothingness’ and the inevitability of it.
“Paul [Gray, Slipknot bassist] was at the show. He loved my art—not just music, though he was always bugging me about side projects and probably would’ve been the bassist for the Black Dots. Then, Paul passed and soon after another one of my best friends—someone who I would always talk to and who would inspire me to keep pushing further—had a stroke. It hit me like an axe to the back of my skull. You’re almost prepared for when your parents die, but I was completely unprepared for this. I was older than both of these guys, and having all that happen was sort of my mid-life moment. I had to really step back and look at myself.
“I’m a very spiritual person—not religious in the sense of a denomination—and that comes out in my drumming. It’s a very primal/tribal thing—I spit, stare, scream, talk to myself, and just hit hard. I slice cymbals like some kung fu thing where I visualize swinging through the cymbal and it immediately reforms when I play. You know those safety-zones that surround F-16 fighter jets when they’re powering up? It’s like that around my kit: Your fate is in your own hands, and if you get too close, you’ll get sucked in.
“I’ve also always been an angry soul. But I use that anger in a positive nature, and it really comes to fruition with the Black Dots. I channel that anger and the certainty of death into the band. The moral is that we’re all special, but we take life for granted. We bitch about trivial things, but last time I checked, it’s your life and you can change it.
“My biggest priority now is to celebrate Paul’s life and his love for music and the fans. Without Paul there would be no Slipknot and I would not be the artist I am now.
“After Slipknot, it’s all Black Dots. I want to bring the music and the message to the world. My friend who had a stroke—and thankfully he has fully recovered—called me soon after, and he put it best: If there’s something you can do today, do it, because tomorrow may never come.”