Slipknot’s Jay Weinberg
Story by Patrick Berkery
Photos by Alex Solca
When we last spoke with the drummer, in 2009, he’d recently proven his skills by filling in for his father on tour with Bruce Springsteen, slaying it night after night. Today Max’s kid is very much his own man, and here he describes his two-year (and counting) tour of duty replacing one of metal’s most revered practitioners in a band that courts danger on a nightly basis.
Ten-year-old Jay Weinberg would have his head explode if he knew his future self would grace the cover of MD billed as “Slipknot’s Jay Weinberg.” Weinberg grew up an obsessed superfan of the band he now plays with, characterizing himself as “one of those little dudes up against the barrier in the front at shows, posters on the wall, chomping at the bit for the new album, hoping it would leak early—all that stuff.” And he’s got the pictures on his iPhone to prove it: as a preteen dressed in full Slipknot gear for Halloween, plus a few shots backstage wearing the Slipknot mask while posing with the group he cites as his gateway to music.
“They were the band that made me fall in love with music,” Weinberg says. “Not even just heavy metal, but music, period. I was all about hockey as a kid. My parents raised me on the Who, Dylan, the Stones, the Band, and my dad’s stuff, obviously. But it was when my dad brought me to see Slipknot when I was ten years old that I was just hook, line, and sinker: This is going to be my life.”
Jay’s dad, of course, is Max Weinberg, longtime drummer with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and the former bandleader for Conan O’Brien on the comedian’s long-running Late Night program and short-lived stint as host of The Tonight Show. The first time I sat down face to face with Jay, in an Asbury Park, New Jersey, coffee shop in the summer of 2009, the then-eighteen-year-old college freshman had just wrapped a pummeling set with his hardcore band, the Reveling, and was discussing the particulars of his current temp job: subbing for his dad in the E Street Band on its spring and summer tour. “A lot of it is homing in on what Bruce wants,” Jay said that day. “He’s very emotive, and he really brings out what he wants from you. He knows what he wants, so you know what he wants. And you’ve got to have a pretty large palette of drum styles. You’ve got to play like Keith Moon here, Bernard Purdie there.”
Watching Weinberg pound the daylights out of his four-piece kit that afternoon, it was clear he had the chops and feel to handle a gig of such magnitude. He was a swarm of rhythm—punctuating flashy fills with halting breaks and powering the noisy band with a sense of groove not unlike his old man’s. Just as important, in conversation I sensed a level-headedness and work ethic that would serve him well in a field where things don’t always work out. (For evidence, see his post-Bruce tenures with the New York City hardcore vets Madball and the alt-punk group Against Me!)
Now it’s 2016 and we’re meeting up again, this time in a four-star Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, to discuss Jay’s gig with Slipknot and all the challenges the demanding job entails. And I do mean all. Like playing drums to some of the most aggressive music imaginable while wearing a mask made of burlap, latex, and rubber. Weinberg has brought the mask with him from his current home in Nashville, and he pulls it from his travel bag just after a waitress takes our drink order. “This is my guy that I have to deal with every day,” he says with equal parts pride and dread, as he passes it under the table. “It’s sterile, but it’s hardly ever been cleaned.”
As I take the mask I realize that Weinberg’s not kidding about the “hardly ever been cleaned” part. Wow. Imagine the inside of a long-distance runner’s shorts after a 5K on a ninety-degree day, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the olfactory situation Weinberg is contending with when he’s shredding his way through “Eyeless” or “Duality,” not to mention the other obstacles the mask presents, like a complete lack of peripheral vision and its not-insignificant weightiness.
“It’s a total pain in the ass,” Weinberg admits. “It’s totally restrictive. You can’t breathe. You can hardly see. You’ve got hot breath coming back at you. But once you have it on, you just get into that mode that makes you lose all your inhibitions. It’s like this inner person takes over and you just totally lose yourself in it.”
Though he’s not officially “in” the band or a “member” of Slipknot yet (more on that nebulous designation later), this formality hasn’t prevented Weinberg from making a palpable difference in the band’s sound since signing on in late 2013 after the departure of founding member Joey Jordison. The metal veterans sound reinvigorated by the more pocket-focused approach Jay brings to the bottom end on .5: The Gray Chapter, their first album since 2008’s All Hope Is Gone. Where Jordison tended to go off the rails to explore the spaces outside the pocket—with consistently scorched-earth results—Weinberg keeps a vice grip on the nine-piece band’s sonic assault. Trademark Slipknot chaos still reigns on songs like “Custer” and “The Negative One,” but there’s a newfound sense of tension and tightness in the music. If you’ve seen the band live with Weinberg (or watched his GoPro drum-cam videos on the band’s app or YouTube), you know he’s bringing the same approach to the older material as well.
“They didn’t want a copycat, so I needed to play it in my own way; I can’t play it any other way,” Weinberg stresses. “I had to apply my thing—playing in the pocket—and my taste to the band. I want us all to be able to head-bang all the way through a song and know where the 1 is. And knowing that, we can pull off some really crazy music.”
Notice that Weinberg says “us” and “we” in regard to himself and Slipknot. Did ten-year-old Jay ever dare to dream such a day would come? “I think, like every kid that grows up with musical heroes does, I probably played the scenario of putting on a mask and playing on stage with Slipknot over in my head millions of times,” he explains. “But never in even the wildest of those dreams did I think it would become a reality. I mean, really, it’s a ‘no times in a lifetime’ opportunity; this sort of thing just doesn’t happen.”
Except that it did. And that opportunity came at a time in Jay’s life when he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do. And that’s where our conversation begins.
MD: What were you up to when you got the call to audition for Slipknot?
Jay: I was just about to graduate college. [Weinberg has a degree in business from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.] Musically, I had all these little projects I was working on, but nothing I was really sinking my teeth into or touring much with. I was actively looking for a job. I tried to get one at a local record store where I was living in Hoboken and couldn’t—they hired someone who knew nothing about music! I was even talking to a family friend who runs a business incubator about the possibility of doing that. I have a huge passion for design and marketing.
But I was at my desk one day studying for finals when I got a phone call from Slipknot’s manager, Cory Brennan, who had managed Against Me! for the last two weeks I was in the band. He’s like, “Can you get out to L.A. on Monday?” This was Thursday. He says, “I can’t tell you what it’s for. But I have something happening that I think you’d be good for, and I think you’d enjoy this. Can you just trust me and get out here for something on Monday?” Coincidentally, I already had some shows set up in southern California later that next week with one of the hardcore bands I play with, Hesitation Wounds, so I said, “Um, okay.”
MD: Did you have any inkling what it might be for?
Jay: None. I’m running scenarios in my head: Okay, what band could this possibly be? Maybe it’s for another manager friend of his? There’s no way in hell it’s Slipknot…. I figured the best thing would be to not overthink it. They weren’t expecting me to prepare anything, so I should just go in with an open mind. But I called him the next day and said, “Look, I know you can’t tell me who it’s for, but is there anything you could tell me that would help me prepare?” I wanted to come in and blow the doors off and be the guy they want. He says, “All right,” and he gets very quiet. I think he went in another room. He says, “You know I manage a band, and there’s changes happening with the band with the guy that’s been playing drums with them. When I asked the guys about a possible replacement, I brought up your name and they thought it was a really cool idea. I talked to five of the guys and they’d like to meet with you. They all think it would be really cool to at least talk to you and play with you. That’s all I can give you.” I said, “All right, I can get with that.”
MD: What were your emotions as all this was taking place? Were you psyched for the opportunity but conflicted because it was coming at the expense of Joey?
Jay: Really, my mind was blown. Like, What is happening? I had no clue there were any problems with Joey. But when I showed up to jam with the guys, I immediately had to tell myself, You’re here to do this. You’re here because they’re interested in you. So don’t worry about anything else. I think it was Mick [Thomson, guitar], Jim [Root, guitar], Corey [Taylor, vocals], and Clown [Shawn Crahan, percussion] there. I’d just set up the drums. And Clown came up to me—he’s known me since I was a ten-year-old kid coming to the shows, and we’ve always had a great rapport—and he was very frank with me. He said, “This is one of the worst days of my life. We’re going through some shit. But you’re here, and you’re family. We’re going to start this long process and we’d like to give you a shot. So, do you know any songs?” So we played “Duality,” then “Before I Forget.” And the vibe in the room, which was solemn at first, immediately turned around.
MD: These aren’t songs a drummer can just sit down behind a kit, cold, and dominate. Were your double-kick chops at least up to snuff?
Jay: Yeah, whenever I’m practicing, I’m always doing crazy double-kick stuff. I was literally drawing on muscle memory from when I was fourteen years old. I was giving myself a pep talk internally: All right, they gave you no time to prepare, so they’re not expecting this to be note-for-note perfect. But if I show the attitude of Slipknot—which I know, having grown up in that community and having loved that band so intensely over the years—I can somehow manage to jam my pinkie into the door and get called back as they audition a whole bunch of other guys.
So we play these couple songs and they’re like, “Do you know anything else?” And I’m like, “Yeah, how about ‘Heretic’? How about ‘Disasterpiece’? How about ‘Wait and Bleed’?” And we’re going—really playing and sweating, like it’s a show. Then they say, “What else do you want to play?” And I said, “Get This,” which is a B-side from the first record. And as soon as I said that, Clown went into hyperdrive: “This dude’s calling out B-sides—he gets it.” We played twenty-something songs. It would have been rough, but we could’ve played a show that night.
MD: How long was it until they asked you back?
Jay: Not long at all. They went in another room to talk among themselves. And I can hear them talking. I’m hearing, “Travis Barker…Travis Barker.” And I’m like, Whoa, they’re auditioning some heavy hitters! But it turns out that they just wanted to see about getting into his studio; he’s got a place in the Valley.
Then they ask me how long I’m in town for and if I want to go to a little studio to work on some new material. So the next day we’re at Travis’s studio. And I’m dorking out, having been a fan of Travis for years, and I’m listening to Slipknot demos. But I’m just trying to be as professional as I can and do the best job I can.
Jim had programmed some drums to these rough-sketch demos. No vocals. He said, “Go in that room, learn these, and come out and go….” That is for real just the Slipknot way. I learned them in about thirty minutes. One became “Sarcastrophe” off the record. The other song we worked on became “The Burden,” which was a B-side.
So we jam on this stuff and everybody’s head-banging in the control room, telling me, “Go crazy, do crazy fills.” I was playing to Jim’s guitars, to a click. So we’re listening back and we’re all sitting in the courtyard of Travis’s studio, and that’s when the announcement went live that Slipknot was going to be parting ways with Joey Jordison.
It was a really heavy moment to be there when that went out into the world. Now it’s public. The air in the room was very heavy but also really optimistic. Because this is a cool platform for what could become a new record, a new vibe. We noticed pretty quickly that my style and Joey’s style are very different. But with the direction the band was going, they knew I could get the Slipknot vibe on drums and bring my own experience. It was simultaneously this moment of them parting with a brother they’d built something so incredible with, but also you’ve got this twenty-three-year-old kid who’s here and dying to prove something.
MD: You’re suddenly immersed in the Slipknot world, but you’ve got these Hesitation Wounds gigs looming.
Jay: We just kept playing. We spent two or three days honing these demos at Travis’s, then I left to go do the first gig with Hesitation Wounds, in Anaheim. And the first day I jammed with the Slipknot guys, I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement, so I couldn’t tell those dudes about any of this. I had to tell the Slipknot guys, “I want to be here, but I have this obligation.” And I think they respected that, that I didn’t blow off my band. And I barely just made the show. I said, “I’ll tell you in a year—this will all make sense.” As I was walking out the door at Travis’s, Clown pulled me aside and said, “If you want this gig, if you’re willing to show us how far you’re willing to go for this, we’re not going to talk to anybody else. You’re the guy. Go play the shows, go back home, enjoy the holidays. And in the new year, we’re going to make a record.”
MD: Once you got on with recording the album in earnest, what was your mindset? Was there an urge not to rock the boat as the new guy and just give them what you thought they wanted? Or were you consciously trying to bring them new drumming concepts and push the band forward? And is the superfan in your subconscious saying You’d better bring the heat?
Jay: It’s all those things. I had to tell myself a lot that they picked me for a reason, that they like the way I play, and whatever needed work, they’ll guide me. They’re helping me with the twenty years they’ve been a band. They’d make suggestions: “Funk this whole thing up, bring this kind of vibe to this…but do it the way you want to do it.” We’d do ten takes in a row, nonstop, and I’d do different fills every time.
Toward the end on some songs it was desperation, to where I couldn’t breathe, but that’s when you come up with some of the most creative stuff. You leave your intuition—the things you’re comfortable doing—and you just go for it. That’s the end of “Killpop.” It needed to be carried home with a really out-of-the-ordinary drum thing. Out of that desperation factor, I just started flailing around like an octopus, hitting everything I could. And they’d go, “Check out that crazy thing you did—chase that vibe.” That was basically how we approached the record. They would let me do my thing. They know I’m going to circle around something.
MD: Playing something like “The Negative One” ten times in a row would push most people to their physical and mental limits. That is such an insane track. It has to be hard to keep perspective on what’s working, what’s a good take, when you reach that point of exhaustion.
Jay: Clown has a good ear for hearing a particular vibe and helping me home in on it. Working on that song was the first time I was part of a collaboration with them. That was a big early test for me: Can I get into a room with these guys and walk out with a Slipknot song? And once we started tracking drums, those guys were pushing me to my limits, fourteen hours a day, six days a week. But it worked. And that was the first Slipknot song out in the world without Joey and [late bassist] Paul Gray. I’m really psyched it was that song. That was me earning my stripes.
MD: And as if being the new drummer in Slipknot wasn’t challenging enough, this was also the first time you were in a band with other people playing percussion. What was the learning curve on that?
Jay: It was really interesting. It was explained to me by Clown that it’s up to me to make it impossible for him and [percussionist] Chris [Fehn] to find their way, but they eventually will. I’m not sure how it worked before. Clown told me, “You come up with the craziest stuff, and Chris and I will find our place.” It’s the same approach live.
MD: Was there a moment, either during the recording or once you started touring, where you realized it was all clicking and you started to feel comfortable?
Jay:Comfortable is a word I would never use to describe Slipknot. [laughs] I became more confident in us playing together, that we were starting to gel. I felt like our first show together [Knotfest 2014] was badass, like we did kick in the door. But the natural progression involves hitting the stage every night as hard as you can and learning everything about each other, about each other’s playing, where you fit into the mix—there’s a lot that goes into it. We’ve found a good stride. We know how to do interesting things. We know how to communicate musically. We just know how to rock together. At the end of the day, the shows are painful and it hurts, but it also brings an immense sense of satisfaction and joy to us and the fans—there’s total communication that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. There’s such a passion with this fan base, and that translates to how seriously we take it within the band.
MD: Throughout playing with Bruce, Madball, and Against Me!, you’d been juggling those gigs with side bands and college. But Slipknot is clearly the kind of gig where you’re either all in or you’re not in at all. There doesn’t seem to be room for diversions.
Jay: Slipknot takes over everything in your life. Even the people in the road crew probably feel that way. There’s joy in it, and I’m learning to balance everything. I never want to get comfortable or complacent with what I’m doing with the band, so I’m kind of always on edge. I’m learning to really enjoy what we’re doing and where we’re at and not just be freaking out all the time. Back when we were making the record and doing the first couple of tours I was freaking out. I was the new guy in the band, wanting to do well—like anybody would. I wanted the band to know and the fans to know that the right choice was made. Now I feel like it’s really starting to translate well and it’s starting to take on a life of its own.
But before every show I still get total nerves, almost sick to my stomach. I like that. Honestly, I think everybody in Slipknot feels that way. You’re under such a microscope; you have these people that are such die-hard fans. It’s hard to think of any other group of people that are more passionate than Bruce Springsteen fans and Slipknot fans.
MD: It’s clear you’re not a sideman or a hired gun, yet there’s this vague thing where you’re not really an official member of Slipknot. They were trying to keep your identity a secret for a while.
Jay: It’s not just handed to you. And I respect that process of proving yourself and paying dues—to the band, to the fans, to the community of Slipknot. I love that. I love scrapping. It’s all handled with respect for the history of the band, the work that they’ve put in. So I understand that. But we get in a room and collaboratively create a song together. A session drummer doesn’t do that. The question of am I in the band, am I not in the band…. I’m doing the same work. So it really doesn’t make a difference to me. We have conversations like, “Yeah, we want you in the band.” So we’re looking to the future. It’s like the end of this audition period. We’ll see what happens after this touring cycle. We’ll see if there will be another Slipknot record—you really never know with this band. We hope so.
MD: It’s not really a secret that your gigs with Madball and Against Me! didn’t end well. [Upon his exit, Madball released a statement questioning whether Weinberg was cut out for the touring lifestyle, while Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! disparaged Jay on social media after he left.] Obviously, Slipknot’s a different animal, but were you a little gun-shy about signing on with another established band after the way things went down with those bands?
Jay: After I left Against Me! I was literally like, “Screw joining another established band.” But this clearly was different. Some of the bands I played with didn’t work out, but I wouldn’t change a single thing. Madball just wasn’t a good fit. We’re from different worlds. I’m not from Queens or the Lower East Side in the ’80s. I’m from Middletown, New Jersey, in the early 2000s! I was actively doing college when I was in Madball. We’re in Europe with thirty-one people on an animal-house bus, and I’m in the front lounge trying to do my chemistry homework. [laughs]
I really loved Against Me!, and we were doing really good stuff until our relationship just became completely strained. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we were self-managed for so long. We just couldn’t work through our bullshit. We were breaking up every day for seven months. The tours became increasingly difficult—no communication at all. Laura made the public think that she was blindsided and didn’t know I was leaving the band until she saw it on Twitter. I’d sent the band a message telling them I was leaving. We had a whole thing before I said it publicly. But then she’ll have her story and I’ll have mine. It got ugly and it didn’t need to.
MD: You’ve had to prepare to play with two of the most respected live acts of all time in Bruce Springsteen and Slipknot. They have markedly different styles, but are there any parallels between the two gigs in your approach?
Jay: They’re very, very different experiences. With Bruce, you’re just following one person, which helps in a lot of ways. In this, it’s an absolute mess. It’s so crazy. Nine people vying for their spot, and to be heard. I’ve got to cut through all that, and it for real feels like you’re jumping out of an airplane every time you hit the stage. You don’t know what’s happening. Then you sort of land and feel the show out. Bruce could be kind of unpredictable, but in Slipknot you might get a baseball bat thrown at your head! We never soundcheck, so I practice anywhere from ninety minutes to two and a half hours before every show. I have a little Roland V-Drums kit set up, just to get my blood going so I’m not hitting the stage cold. And I’ve never done that with any band before.
MD: As different as they are, Slipknot relies on you the same way Bruce did, to hold this giant band together.
Jay: I’m coming from a background that’s rooted in being in the pocket, supporting the song, supporting the structure, supporting the other instruments, keeping everybody locked in tight. Clown, before we had even played a show, said that’s what we’re going for—tight. That’s one of the strengths that I bring to this band. I’ve learned it playing with Bruce, where you’ve got to be tight. Playing with Against Me!, where you’ve got to be tight. With Madball you’ve got to be tight and have this invisible swing that New York hardcore has. There’s got to be a wild element to any band that I’m with, but I want it to be all totally controlled.
Whereas, as a fan listening to Slipknot, I felt the band would often sound kind of disjointed, because they’d be all over the place. They’d start at one tempo and be completely different at the end. And that’s a vibe. But when I started playing with the band, my intent was to play those songs tight. And the band has said that they’ve had to adjust to playing to me because of my meter. It’s as punk rock as it gets for a band of that size to not use a click at all live. Mick can lose himself in the rhythm of the song, knowing I’m going to keep it right where it needs to be.
Part of the charm of Joey’s playing was that it was this wild rabbit. It was here, then it was here, and you’re chasing it. That reflected the emotional state of the band at that time. Now I feel like I come into the band at a good time, when they want to feel solid and tight and know where the beats are going to be. People can prefer me, they can prefer Joey, but that’s one thing I feel I bring to the band that they didn’t have in recent years.
MD: You’ve accomplished a fair amount already and you’re still just twenty-five. What are you looking forward to doing in the future?
Jay: There are some things on my bucket list. It’s all about finding the right balance. I moved to Nashville to find the right people to start projects with. It’s great down there; I already have three projects in the works. I write a lot on guitar. So I’m starting bands where I’m probably not going to play drums. I’ll play guitar. I want to paint more, and maybe I’ll do something down the road in marketing or design. I want to have all these experiences.
I love Slipknot, I love the guys. But Slipknot is totally their baby. I’m totally passionate about it, but it’s their mission statement in life. It’s part of mine but not like it is for them. I love the work we’ve done so far. But it’s a goal of mine that whenever Slipknot packs it in or we choose to go our separate ways, I’ll build something from the ground up and use the knowledge I’ve gained in this experience to apply to that.
Drums: SJC Custom with bubinga shells
A. 6×14, 48-ply maple snare (with two 2″ vents)
B. 8×10 tom
C. 8×12 tom
D. 9×13 tom
E. 16×16 floor tom
F. 16×18 floor tom
G. 18×22 bass drums
Hardware: DW throne and 9000 series single bass drum pedals, hi-hat, and rack
Heads: Evans, including Heavyweight snare batter and 300 bottom, Black Chrome tom batters and EC bottoms, and EMAD Heavyweight bass drum batters
1. 14″ A Custom hi-hats
2. 10″ A Custom EFX
3. 10″ Trashformer
4. 18″ A Custom China
5. 20″ A Custom crash
6. 10″ FX Oriental China Trash
7. 8″ Project 391 splash
8. 8″ Project 391 bell
9. 20″ A Custom crash
10. 14″ Project 391 hi-hats
11. 18″A Custom China
12. 21″ Project 391 ride
13. 19″ A Custom crash
14. 14″ FX Oriental China Trash with 10″ Spiral Stacker on top
Sticks: Vater Jay Weinberg XD-Punisher model
“I’ve always been pretty utilitarian,” Weinberg says. “Everything I have in my setup gets used the whole show. For my Slipknot kit I knew that I wanted three toms up front, two floor toms, two kick drums, and whatever I needed for cymbals. SJC is a small company, but I believe in them. They’re my brothers. I love what they do. This is the company that lets me come to their warehouse and paint drums because I’m bored and in the area. The guy who owns the company and I are close to the same age. I see what he does, and it’s so inspiring.”