Slipknot's Clown Unmasks Band's Trademark Look: How Often Are Those Masks Cleaned Anyway?

'The philosophy was always to just sit in it,' percussionist says of metallers' less-than-hygienic rules.

There's a little-known fact about Iowa metallers Slipknot and the menacing masks they don onstage — one that's sure to churn up some of that acid in your stomach. According to percussionist Shawn "Clown" Crahan, the band's members hardly ever clean their masks, no matter how much they sweat, spit, vomit or bleed in them. It's not that they never wash them, it's just that they've got this rule.

"The rule is: Sit in it," Crahan explained during a break from this summer's Rockstar Energy Mayhem festival. The bill also boasts the likes of Disturbed, Mastodon, DragonForce and Suicide Silence. "The philosophy was always to just sit in it."

Hygienic? Not by anyone's definition. True? You betcha. But as with every album cycle, the Slipknot lads have brand-new masks, ones that Crahan said "reflect [the band's] pain." So there's no need to clean them just yet. But by summer's end, those masks will wreak of all manner of bodily fluid, which could bring about some interesting on-tour dares.

"I remember, in the early days, when we had no money, we were in Europe on the first record cycle, and we were in Spain," Clown recalled. "I was in the bathroom with Shawn Economaki, the bass player from [Slipknot side project] Stone Sour, and I was washing my mask for the very first time — it hadn't been washed since I was 14 years old.

"I put the mask in the sink, and let hot water go over it, and the water turned brown," he continued. "I dared him to drink a Dixie cup full of it — and he did. I can't tell you how much piss and other things, dirt from rolling around on floors ... I mean, I can't even tell you what was in that water, bro. Now we're big rock stars and we have big dressing rooms and we have people who will come out and work on our masks and clean our clothes. We've come a long way, my friend."

They most certainly have. In fact, just the other night, it became more apparent than ever to Clown just how huge his band has become.

"We played L.A. the other night, and I thought, 'I remember being here on Ozzfest '99, playing at 11:30 a.m., swallowing dust on the second stage in front of 1,000 people, and here I am, 10 years later, playing underneath the shed, headlining, calling the shots, playing in front of 20,000,' and no one left until the end," Crahan said. "It's been a trip, man. We worked hard to have our legions of kids there. Imagine if I could get all those kids together in one place at one time ... imagine all the good we could do."

But where do the masks come from, and how are they made? According to Crahan, the first masks were all handmade, from the bandmembers' own respective designs. But now they have people to make the masks for them.

"The masks come out of our minds, and we get people that we feel have a mind-set like us, and they have the ability to sketch, and we approve the designs," he said. "The guy who helped make my mask is here with me, because, after a week on the road, he's got to check on usage. If you wear a mask for a week, it will start showing its weaknesses, so he's here to fix it. Basically, the process is, I have an idea for my mask, and I start talking to him. He sketches, we manipulate, he sketches, we manipulate, and you get to a point where you're happy with it. My particular mask is made out of real leather, with shoe thread — real stuff. I don't want any of it to [appear] human — there are no human elements to it. The mask is actually made of steel [covered with leather], so I can rip it off my head and use it as a weapon. It's not some plastic bullsh--. We keep manipulating it and manipulating it until we get what we want."

Of course, Slipknot are touring in support of their forthcoming album, All Hope Is Gone, which comes out August 25 and is, according to Crahan, "more musical, more melodic and more dynamic." For Clown, the experience of making the LP was both "the best recording experience and the worst" — the latter, chiefly because he'd brought several tracks to the table that the band didn't end up using.

"I was involved with a handful of other songs that I play drums on, but they didn't really make it. And that's not right or wrong, but every year we do a record, there's a mind-set," he said. "There's a song called 'Till We Die,' which [guitarist] Jim [Root] and I wrote together, and I play drums on it. That'll make the special edition [of the record], and I can't wait for all the Maggots to hear me play a drum set. I've worked hard the last five years to get back to what I started doing many decades before I started Slipknot, which was to play drums. I'm tired of being some big guy with a clown nose hitting a keg with a bat — I mastered that."