The real story behind why Joey Jordison left Slipknot – but came back stronger
Former Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison reveals the real story behind why he left the band, and how he's come back stronger than ever
Part One - Revelation
“This is very important to me. You’re getting something that I have not told anyone. It’s very emotional. It’s fucking hardcore, man.” Joey Jordison has got a few things to get off his chest. More importantly, the world has got a few questions for the erstwhile Slipknot alumnus and the 21st century’s most celebrated percussive polymath, not least because he has been resolutely off the radar for the last few years. The last time Metal Hammer spoke directly to Joey, he was promoting his then-newly-formed band Scar The Martyr, who released their self-titled debut album in September 2013. Three months later, he was seemingly dismissed from Slipknot, the band he had enjoyed huge global success with ever since they exploded into our world back in 1999. Since that startling news broke in December 2013, Joey has been conspicuous by his absence from our ears, eyes and screens. This being the age of endless social media speculation, his disappearance and departure from Slipknot have been widely discussed online, one commonly espoused theory being that the diminutive drummer had gone spectacularly off the rails and was simply unable to fulfill his usual duties, thus prompting his bandmates’ decision to effect an unexpected lineup change.
In truth, only Joey’s closest friends and business associates know what he’s been up to for the last couple of years, but as he warmly greets Hammer at the door of the house he shares with girlfriend Amanda in Des Moines, it’s immediately apparent that today’s interview is much more than just an opportunity to herald the arrival of not one, but two new bands and Joey’s wholesale return to action. Instead, this is what he describes as “an opportunity to tell everyone what the fuck has been going on”. And it’s almost certainly not what anyone is expecting.
“It was at the end of the memorial shows we did for Paul,” Joey begins, referencing the death of bandmate Paul Gray and the subsequent world tour that began in the summer of 2011 and continued until August 2012. “We were in Canada, at the end of my last run of shows with Slipknot, and something happened to me but I didn’t know what it was. I was super ill. You can be sick and still play, but this was something I’d never felt in my life before. We found out that what I have is acute transverse myelitis. It’s a neurological condition that hits your spinal cord and it wiped my legs out completely. It’s like having your legs cut off, basically. I played those last couple of shows and it scared the living shit out of me. I didn’t know what it was. Everyone thought I was fucked up, but it wasn’t the case. I wasn’t even drinking. Everything was straight-laced and fucking perfect. Everything was on point. But I had to be carried to the stage...” Joey pauses, wincing at the memory. “The pain was something I’d never experienced in my life before, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
When he arrived home from the Slipknot tour, Joey could barely walk. On August 21, 2012, he was admitted to Mercy West hospital in Des Moines, diagnosed with some form of leg paralysis but unaware of exactly how or why this was happening to him. Ten days later, he was transferred to the neurological unit at University Of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, understandably terrified and extremely confused about his physical deterioration. “It was fucking bad, dude,” he recalls. “My lady has everything documented. I got struck with this fucking thing that I couldn’t control. The doctors said I might not be able to walk again. Today, I can almost run, but back then I couldn’t even stand up. I was bed-ridden. If I wanted to turn over in bed, I had to move my legs with my hands. I was in and out of the hospital for months. Some beautiful people have helped me out and got me back stronger and taught me how to walk again, but at that moment my whole life was screwed, man. Acute transverse myelitis is a fucked-up disease and a lot of people don’t recover from it and they’re paralysed forever.”
After having braces fitted to prevent his weakened legs from buckling, Joey was finally discharged from hospital in October 2012. Thus began an extremely lengthy, challenging and physically exhausting regime of physical and occupational therapy, as Joey tried to summon the energy and determination to beat the bizarre neurological condition that had wrenched the carpet from under his feet and left him both horribly vulnerable and understandably bewildered. Early in 2013, work began on Scar The Martyr’s debut album, as a further batch of Slipknot shows in Japan and Europe – including a headline slot at Download – loomed over the horizon. Still recovering from the worst of his illness, Joey somehow managed to recover to the point where he was able to perform at those gigs, after which he threw himself wholeheartedly into launching Scar The Martyr by hitting the road as main support to Danzig in the US.
All the while, of course, his global army of admirers remained entirely in the dark about the turmoil and trials going on behind the scenes. It was widely noted that Joey was looking overweight and far from healthy during Scar The Martyr’s debut UK tour, but the conclusions that most people were jumping to – in essence, that he had a problem with drugs and/or drink – were completely off target. Unfortunately, when Slipknot announced on December 12, 2013, that they were to forge ahead without their talismanic drummer, those rumours seemed to gain a little extra momentum.
“Yeah, and that’s why I love being able to do this interview, because finally I get to tell the fucking truth!” Joey declares. “It’s been really frustrating, but I can only bless the people that have been around me and helped me to get back to this point. And this is what I want to clarify for my fans…” – he punches his hand to emphasise the importance of this statement – “…it had nothing to do with fucking drugs or fucking alcohol!”
Several times during our interview, Joey’s eyes fill with tears. It’s abundantly clear that the extraordinary effort required to confront acute transverse myelitis and doggedly chase a light at the end of a seriously dark and bleak tunnel has taken a lot out of him, particularly on an emotional level. But now that he is about to click into top gear once again, via new bands Vimic and Sinsaenum, Joey is channeling his energies towards a cathartic clearing of the decks, and setting people straight about his life over the last five years is top of the agenda.
“Life takes you on weird trips and you just have to hold on, ride the wave and be as strong as you fucking can,” he shrugs. “I’ve been through so much fucking shit over the last few years and people just don’t know.”
Part Two - Struggle
Part Three - Rebirth
What is Transverse Myelitis?
We spoke to Lew Gray, secretary of UK charity the Transverse Myelitis Society, to understand what Joey’s battling…
Can you explain what the condition means?
Lew: “Transverse myelitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord. You have a lot of nerves doing different things in your spinal cord, so the facts of each case depend on which part of the spinal cord is affected. It can be high in the spinal cord affecting the arms, or you may struggle to breathe because the muscles in your lungs don’t work. It could be lower, affecting different sensory nerves. Some people with transverse myelitis can walk but can’t feel the floor beneath their feet, or they can’t feel hot and cold or pain. We think there are about 250 cases a year in the UK.”
Does it typically come on quickly or is it more of a gradual process?
“It can be either. A lot of people are paralysed within an hour or two. But then for other people it can be very gradual and come and go over a period of months. It takes some people years to get a diagnosis.”
What treatment is available?
“Really, the only treatment is to dose you with steroids. They will reduce the inflammation, and therefore you’re not curing it, you’re minimising the damage until it goes away by itself. Physio-therapy is very important. Almost everyone gets some spontaneous recovery over time after transverse myelitis, but the body and mind ‘forget’ how to use muscles and nerves that are not working, so the purpose of neuro-physiotherapy is to ‘guide’ the recovery.”
What is the long-term prognosis for someone with transverse myelitis?
“The nerves are capable of regenerating themselves. Nobody can predict though how well they will regenerate, how long it will take, or if they will at all. The majority of people get some improvement, but there is no cast-iron guarantee.”
How common are relapses?
“We do know people who have had recurrences, however that is rare. Sometimes a reoccurrence of transverse myelitis leads to a diagnosis of MS [multiple sclerosis].”
For more on the Transverse Myelitis Society, visit www.myelitis.org.uk