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Dana Dentata

Hard Rock Clown Finds Inner Softie

Posted on February 12, 2008

Hard-Rock Clown Finds His Inner Softie NEW YORK TIMES October 15, 2003 By NEIL STRAUSS LOS ANGELES, Oct. 14 – The moment that the self-titled debut CD from To My Surprise wins the listener over is when the guitar solo kicks in on the first track, “The World’s Too Small.” This is chiefly because it is not played on an instrument, but is sung with nonsense words like “bwaaa bwa bwa.” Beyond that, the song is a quirky alternative-rock hit-to-be in the tradition of bands like Cake, the Presidents of the United States of America and Harvey Danger. It may come as a bombshell to anyone who listens to this eclectic album that To My Surprise is the latest side project from a Slipknot member. For those who haven’t been following hard rock for the last five years, Slipknot is one of the most extreme and aggressive popular rock bands today: nine men from Des Moines who dress in jumpsuits and scary masks and grind out aggressive, mostly tuneless new-metal. If there is a concert that parents don’t want their children at, it is probably a Slipknot show. So far its members’ unmasked side projects have included the horror-movie metal of the Murderdolls and the shout-along thrash of Stone Sour. Earlier this year two murder suspects said that they listened to Slipknot for motivation before stabbing a friend to death. For these and other reasons, finding a kinder, Gentler project influenced more by the Beatles than Korn is such a shocker, especially considering that To My Surprise is the spawn of not just a Slipknot member but the band’s founder, unofficial leader and chief instigator, Shawn Crahan, who dresses as a clown and beats a percussion contraption onstage. “I’m now only concerned with making songs and speaking to people,” Mr. Crahan said, speaking by telephone this week. “I want to speak to Wall Street people. I want to speak to businessmen who push insurance. I want to talk to the teachers. I want to go to colleges and give seminars. I want to sit down with kids in classrooms and have them challenge me. I want to communicate because I’m 34, and I’ve been shutting out communication and pushing it away.” He said his new attitude was inspired in large part by the transformation of the country and its consciousness after 9/11, which sent him into a period of deep self-evaluation. “There’s not one person today who doesn’t understand that we’re living in a different world,” he said. “And I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been a boy. And I’m getting better in my mind and I’m getting healthier.” “I went out in front of 60,000 people, and I felt isolated from them,” he continued, adding that he had “mass quantities of power to make a difference” but that he took advantage of “not a moment of speaking to make a difference.” In Slipknot there were lyrics like, “How many times have you wanted to kill everything and everyone?” Songs by To My Surprise like “Blue” are a world away, with optimistic choruses like, “Blue belongs in the sky/ And not on you or I.” Mr. Crahan is one of contemporary rock’s most interesting characters. When he communicates, he is preternaturally intense, always evaluating the world, his life and his work and attaching a profound cosmic significance to it all. His change of direction does not mean that he is leaving Slipknot to become a social worker. He is currently working on a new Slipknot CD. One of the other reasons why the To My Surprise album was so unexpected was that Mr. Crahan was considered the least musical member of Slipknot, pegged as a percussionist with little musical aptitude who helped drag the band to popularity through sheer force of will. Rick Rubin is executive producer of the CD, released by Roadrunner Records. “I pushed him really hard to sing on this album,” said Brandon Darner, who sings and plays guitar on the CD. “I’m like: `You have a voice. Who cares if people think it sounds good or not?’ I think he has one of the coolest voices of anyone that’s out there.” Unlike Mr. Crahan, Mr. Darner, 26, is hardly a music veteran. He continues to run a janitorial business in Des Moines with his wife. But music has always been his dream. Influenced by musicians like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen and early Billy Joel, he said, he has had the ambition since he was 15 to “write one of the greatest albums of all time.” This made it hard for him to keep a band together, he said, because members were more concerned with playing clubs and living the rock lifestyle than actual songcraft. To My Surprise has never played a live show, though it intends to. Mr. Darner first met Mr. Crahan seven years ago, and the two have been friends since. The balance they strike in To My Surprise is that Mr. Darner craves order and planning, while Mr. Crahan pushes him toward spontaneous experimentation. (To My Surprise’s third member, Stevan Robinson, was brought in later in the process for extra guitar and vocals the band has no bassist.) A result is a diverse CD of pop songs that have been pushed off balance. On the slow-trudging “Say Goodbye” Mr. Crahan comes on like Trent Reznor in “Hurt.” At the other extreme “Sunday” takes the Doors dirge “The End” and turns it into a chirpy, upbeat pop song that sounds more like it came from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Fishing for singles that wouldn’t come as a shock to fans, Roadrunner chose one of the few hard-rock songs on the CD, “In the Mood,” in which Mr. Crahan addresses the events of 9/11 (“We erect buildings to hit airplanes”) and recognizes his role in the band (“I’m in the mood to ruin a melody”). There is not one song on the CD that sounds like another one, which the members say was partly the intention. Between songs they changed most of the instruments and equipment in the studio. Clearly Mr. Crahan has discovered and brought out a talent in Mr. Darner. For his part Mr. Darner says his life will never be the same. “Since I’ve gotten home,” Mr. Darner said of returning from recording with Mr. Rubin in Los Angeles, “I know now that I have to make music to live.” You can read the whole story HERE


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