Human After All: Slipknot's Mick Thomson Finds Honesty and Humanity in Heavy Music

Human After All: Slipknot's Mick Thomson Finds Honesty and Humanity in Heavy Music

- By Ramon Gonzales

The Slipknot guitarist guests on Defender of the Riff to share his progression into extreme music, how he prioritizes music with real emotion and reveals the artists that nurtured his fascination with the guitar from a very young age.

In an especially rare, in-depth interview, the Knotfest original series Defender of the Riff welcomed the inimitable Mick Thomson of Slipknot for a session with host, Daniel DeKay. 

Filmed live in front an intimate audience, the thorough discussion explored Thomson's pedigree as a musician, revisiting his earliest years as an aspiring guitarist and the kind of sounds that first piqued his interest. 

With his ESP in hand, number 7 of Slipknot detailed how at 10 years of age, he took up a paper route in Des Moines just to save up enough to get his first guitar. Drawn to the art by the lure of his Dad's record collection, Thomson cited the likes of Hendrix, Clapton and Johnny WInter as some of his earliest, most enduring influences. 

For Thomson, the love for guitar was so innate that he recalled taking a baseball bat and using only some nails and some dental floss, fashioned his own makeshift guitar to jam along to Destroyer from KISS. Further detailing his foundation, Thomson added how he was fortunate enough to see the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy at a very young age. The experience nurtured his view of music as a timeless gift - something that can never be taken away from you. 

Emphasizing that love for music, the guitarist spoke about avoiding being one dimensional with his listening habits and said that having tunnel vision when it comes to music ultimately closes you off from such incredible art. He would add that some of the best musicians he has encountered are also the ones that soak in as much music as they can, regardless of style and genre. 

Thomson underscored his appreciation of music by sharing that the very first composition he was able to play all the way through was the classical piece, "Dee" executed guitar God Randy Rhoads. Rather than going the more traditional route of learning a rock standard or a radio staple, Thomson gravitated to something way more refined, showing his palate even at a young age. 

Delving into some KISS worship and Thomson's love for Creatures of the Night album, he spoke about how their live records were so loved because of how they picked up the pace on stage. Thomson talked about how Slipknot producer Ross Robinson conveyed that same sentiment - being about to play a piece is one thing, but making someone feel it is another. For a band like Slipknot who has made a career of going off live - tempo might be faster than the record, but that certainly makes for a memorable live experience which makes the music stick. 

Thomson would elaborate that he found the human element of music was among the common denominators for him stylistically. While he admits that it means that the music might not be as polished as it can be, that nuance in the music is really what makes it stick and it has been something that has been core to Slipknot from the very beginning - making music you can feel rather than just automating it. 

Mick shared how he progressed into the heavier end of the spectrum and explained how Iron Maiden was his gateway. From there, bands like Metallica, Testament, Anthrax, Flotsam and Jetsam, Suicidal Tendencies and Exodus really upped the ante for him stylistically. Embracing the speed and precision of thrash, Thomson continued to explore the extreme end of guitar driven music and explained, "thrash's natural extension just turned into death metal."

Citing the extreme metal heyday of labels like Earache and Roadrunner from 1989 to 1992, Thomson referenced that moment in time as one of the best for extreme American death metal. Including a collection of regional hotbeds, Mick praised Carcass, Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower, he referenced New York death metal as well like Suffocation and Internal Bleeding. Although the top of the mountain for Mick seemingly was the technicality and tenacity of Floridian death metal and bands like Death, Morbid Angel and Obituary. 

Circling back to the theme that seemed to permeate throughout the discussion, Thomson spoke to his full embrace of music and confided that while there is plenty out there that does suck, it is incredibly rewarding to find something that moves you. He explained that the pursuit should be constant and because we all change over time, taking in as much music as you can ensures you will broaden your horizon creatively and find something that will stick. 

Watch the full episode of Defender of the Riff with Daniel DeKay featuring Mick Thomson of Slipknot - HERE 


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