As the years have gone by, Iowan hard rockers Stone Sour have quickly shot up the ranks of their peers release after release. Now up to their sixth full-length record, ‘Hydrograd’, the momentum is only increasing, with the band managing to pull in the best commercial and critical performance of their careers to date.
Almost a full year following its release, the band are back over on UK shorts for a small three-date run, the first of which being at Manchester’s O2 Apollo to an almost sold out crowd, and it’s only a few days after that the band confirmed they’d be re-issuing ‘Hydrograd’ again with even more tracks to tide fans over for the year.
Ahead of their set that evening, we made our way backstage to speak with drummer Roy Mayorga to talk all things ‘Hydrograd’, why live recording is far more suited for the band, line-up changes, his love for The Rolling Stones, and how Stone Sour are lifers that never, ever plan to stop.
DP!: Welcome back to the UK! How does it feel to be here again?
R: It’s fucking great, man. We love coming here to play. Every time that we’ve come to play here it has always been a great time, and we always have a great show. The last time that we were here was back in November and December, and those shows were off the hook. I love coming here to play.
I feel like people on this side of the world, and not just in England but also in Europe, I can just feel that they’re really true fans of not just us but of music in general, just like I am. It’s nice to see that people here really hold rock music that high up and are so fanatical about it just like I am. It’s a great energy, and we exchange those energies when we get to play places like this.
DP!: Awesome! Fighting any jet lag, or have you been here for a couple of days?
R: We got here a couple of days ago and had an off day yesterday, so we went to watch The Rolling Stones in Cardiff. A friend of ours works for them, so they introduced us all to all of their drum techs, guitar techs, and let us go through all of their gear and check it out. To my surprise, Charlie Watts still plays the same kick pedals, high hats, high hat stands, and even the same throne that he had since the late 60s/early 70s. All that he does over all of those years is make his techs fix those things, and he’s used all of it the whole time because he’s like “I don’t want any new stuff. I want to keep this,” because it’s what he’s used to. To me, that was the most inspiring thing ever. That’s fucking great, and he killed it. Charlie Watts was solid. He’s the most solid rock drummer ever, other than John Bonham. It’s John Bonham, Charlie Watts, and Keith Moon. They’re the top three for me as far as drummers out of England. There, I’m all done fan girling now, haha.
DP!: Haha, don’t worry. You can fangirl all you want when it comes to The Rolling Stones. On the subject of you guys though, you dropped your latest album ‘Hydrograd’ almost a year ago now. Are you happy with what it has allowed you to achieve and do you feel it has reaped in the benefits and opportunities that you’d hoped it would?
R: We’re definitely really, really happy with how it turned out and how it has been received, but we didn’t have any expectations of any of that. We basically went in with zero expectations – do what you do, write your music, write the best songs that you can, and put it out there. The set goal is write the best record that you can make, you know what I mean? There’s not really much thought to it in that sense. It’s pretty much instinctive. When we get on our instruments we just play and see what happens, see what comes out. We’ll write a slew of songs and the pick the best of those songs and go with that. We make a foundation and build from there.
DP!: Do songs come together whilst you’re there in the studio, or is there plenty of planning and structuring already done and completed so you’re ready to record there and then?
R: It’s all pretty much ready by the time that we’re in the studio. We did our own pre-production on this one. We all piled into my recording studio at my house and I demoed everyone for everything and we put stuff together there. We basically did everything in chunks, like every few months we’d do like five songs, and when Corey (Taylor, vocals) had a break from Slipknot he’d come to my house so we could track some vocals. Then we’d have time to live with those tracks up until right before we’re supposed to record, and then we’ll rent out rehearsal studio for three or four days, jam those songs that we’ve already been listening the fuck out of, me especially ’cause I’m editing, and then we’ll go into the studio and get together and play it for real and record it as we were jamming it, all live. That’s another thing that we’ve never done before on any previous recording. Normally I would play drums to a pre-recorded guitar track and a click, and then they would just get rid of that and then they would re-track to me, but, you know, I don’t think that method really applies to this band. I mean, that kind of approach works great for other bands, but for us we’re just more organic kind of musicians so it lends a better hand to what we’re doing.
DP!: I guess that must’ve been quite refreshing to do that, and keep it exciting and new from your previous recordings.
R: Right, and that’s how we approached it when we were doing pre-production in my recording studio. We were all like, “Why don’t we just do it like this in the real studio?”, and we were like, “Yeah, let’s just do it.”
DP!: Exactly. I mean, if it worked so well already, why not? Why fix something that isn’t broken?
R: Precisely. That’s how people used to make records in the old days, right? Just hit record and hope for the best.
DP!: Sometimes the old ways are the best.
R: I think that the old ways are definitely the best, yeah, and it’s refreshing for me as well. I haven’t recorded a live record like that since my first record with Soulfly, and that was about twenty years ago. I feel old saying that. Everything between that was always play to a click track. Do it like this. Cut and paste. Move your drums. Put samples of your drums in and take the human feel out of it. That sound definitely works for some bands, and that’s great, but it doesn’t work for this band because we’re very organic and very raw sounding. I think we’re going to stick to that approach from here on out, and I’m happy we’re sticking with that. It totally works for us.
DP!: I checked over your charting stats, and it turns out ‘Hydrograd’ is your highest charting album in the UK to date.
R: Oh, wow! That’s incredible. I think it’s the highest charting album that we’ve had ever.
DP!: Which is great, considering that you’re this far into your career and that you’ve released these many albums.
R: Six albums now, but I’ve only been on five. But yeah, it’s one hell of an achievement. I’m so happy that so many people got it, supported it, and are into it, so thank you for making that happen. Thank you, England.
DP!: There was a four year gap between ‘Hydrograd’ and your last record, ‘House Of Gold & Bones – Part 2’, which was the biggest gap you’ve had between records. What were the reasons behind that?
R: Well, you know, Slipknot were very busy. They got to work and put out a record and did their tours. It has to happen. I actually don’t mind the breaks, it’s fine. It’s good for both bands I think, you know? Each band gets to take a break and there’s not too much pressure to write another record so quickly, and it gives people time to mentally and spiritually recharge, and want to get back into doing some more work and get inspired to write. I’m all about it. I’m all for it.
DP!: It gives time for your fans to get more excited and anticipate the record more instead of being inundated with records.
R: That’s right. We also have families too, so it’s great for us to be with our families and have that time to unwind and collect ourselves.
DP!: Your last record was a two-part concept album which you split in half and released between a handful of months from one another, and such a big project and the concept itself is quite a big thing to push forward. Did that put any pressure on making ‘Hydrograd’ at all?
R: No, not at all, and I think that’s because this time it isn’t a concept record to stand against that and being compared so distinctively with that. The concept of this record was to write the best songs that we could write and see what happens, have a good time, go out and play, jam, get out there, and rock out. Like I said, it came out how it came out. There was no real thought or plan into it other than to see what happens.
DP!: With the new record you had a few line-up changes, obviously with the most documented one being Jim Root leaving to focus solely on Slipknot. Did that change the internal workings of the band much?
R: Yeah. Well, we have two new members so that definitely changes everything. They play different, they write different, and I think that’s what has inspired us to actually jam more together in a room and to do it as much as we can. It definitely changed everything. I think it’s for the better for both parties. I mean, Jim is in a great place. He’s kicking ass writing some awesome stuff for Slipknot now and he’s focused on that, and that’s fucking awesome. The last record they made, he wrote that whole thing, or at least a good 80-95% of it. It sounds fucking sick, and I can’t wait to hear the new stuff that they make. Having Christian (Martucci, guitar) and Johny (Chow, bass) in the band now has a different tempo, so to say, and different approach to music, and feel, and writing, and inspiration. It’s great. Everyone is in a good place.
DP!: You started off the ‘Hydrograd’ cycle with a double single – ‘Song #3’ and ‘Fabuless’ – one delivering big anthemic choruses and one being a ballsy rock track. Did you put those contrasting songs out at the same time together specifically with those two spectrums of your style on display in mind? As a band, you’re not one-trick pony and you’ve got the stadium songs and the heavy hitters.
R: Yeah, in a way. Those were the two songs that I thought displayed our two extremes the best and the most vividly from the record. I personally think that they represent the record the best. We wanted to put them out there to show we’re still who we are. We’re like a jukebox band; we have something for everybody, but we don’t write with that in mind. We write because we enjoy all those kinds of music, and if we can write it and play it, why not? There are no rules. There’s nothing to say that we have to stay one way the whole way through a record. To me that’s boring. I like to have variety.
DP!: You don’t want to put out the same record over and over. Not only does it get boring for you but it also gets boring for the fans.
R: No. No way. It also enables us to have a better live set the further down the line that we go as a band. We’ll have this whole catalogue of music that we can just pick and choose from to cater our set as much as possible. We could go from ‘Through Glass’ and ‘Bother’ to ’30/30-150′, to ‘Get Inside’, to ‘Song #3’, to ‘Whiplash Pants’, to an anthemic song like ‘Absolute Zero’. We can do shit like that and it’s great.
DP!: On the subject of you guys not being a one-trick pony, your song ‘St. Marie’ certainly explores some new areas for you lot with a slight country and western feel to it.
R: That actually came about by accident. At first that was something Corey had just put to us as an acoustic song, and it just kind of emerged to what you hear and what you know the song to be now. We added a slide guitar, and the drums I did are just really basic, and nothing too crazy and just very simple. It’s just a kick, snare, high hat, and a crash cymbal. That’s it. It’s very simple, and we kept it that way. I think once the pedal steel guitar guy added to it, that’s when it unfolded to us like “Okay, it’s a country western song. Let’s just go with it,” and it came out great. As we were going with it, it kind of went into old school 70s kind of country and western thing, which I’m all about. I’m definitely a fan of a lot of that stuff, a lot of old bluegrass and I love all of the 50s and 60s country music, like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, and all that kind of stuff. I love that shit. I love the production sound of those records.
DP!: Is there any kind of style or sound that as a band you’ve wanted to approach but just haven’t had the chance to or it hasn’t come to fruition yet?
R: No, not really, but I don’t think we really do it like that. I think we try and shape the sound of whatever song we’re working on, and shape the sound to the song. We want it to serve the song.
DP!: Do you think that your diversity as a band can sometimes act as a hinderance to some of your fans? Like some will just want the really heavy material, and some will really want the softer songs.
R: I’m sure that some of the fans are in a position where they just want it one way all of the time, because there are fans that are strict in that way in any genre and community in music, but if they don’t want to listen to something in particular then they’re welcome to put on something else. We’re not writing music to just please everyone else. We’re writing music because we want to hear it, you know? If you want to come along for the ride too then great.
DP!: You’ve got some dates coming up later this year with Ozzy Osbourne on his farewell tour. How the hell did that come about?
R: He asked us. I couldn’t believe it. They said, “We’d love for you to come and open up for Ozzy Osbourne,” so of course we’re all like, “Fuck yeah!” For seven weeks in America? Absolutely. The fact that he asked us to be a part of his final tour is pretty incredible. If you would’ve told me that thirty something years ago as a kid and a big Ozzy fan, I would’ve told you that you’re fucking crazy. It’s a full on dream come true, man. That coupled with seeing The Rolling Stones a couple of days ago? I’m done. I’m good, haha.
DP!: At this stage in your careers and what you’ve accomplished so far, is there anything else that you want to achieve as a band?
R: You know what I want to achieve? I want to achieve what The Rolling Stones have. I want that longevity. I’ll happily be there at 70-years-old. I’ll be there. I want to be there. I think that pretty much everyone in this band is a lifer, as far as I can see. I think that we’ll be doing this for a long time. We’ll be doing this until we can’t. I’m using The Rolling Stones at this point now to gauge when to stop, and so that means to never stop. I’ll go until I can’t go anymore. That’s the best way that I can put it.
DP!: I noticed in another interview elsewhere recently that Corey had said you have already been putting together work for the next record. Is that true?
R: I mean, maybe he has, but I haven’t really written anything myself yet. I think that Christian has here and there, but we haven’t like gotten together and worked on anything specifically. We probably won’t be doing anything like that until the next couple of years have passed and Corey’s finished off the next Slipknot cycle. That’s probably when we’ll get together and hash out ideas.
DP!: What’s planned for the rest of the year with Stone Sour?
R: I think we’re touring pretty much non-stop right up until the end of November, and then we’re done for a minute.
DP!: I suppose it’s quite stress-free having your year more or less planned out already.
R: It’s kind of a weird way of living, but it is how it is. When you do what I do it’s just a normal thing, but to anyone else they’re like “Isn’t it weird to know you have your life planned out for you?” Yeah, kind of, but I’m used to it at this point. It’s kind of cool to know that so I can at least sort of plan other things around it, you know? As long as I get to see my family at the end of it all, that’s all that matters to me.
The band’s latest album, ‘Hydrograd’, is getting re-issued as a deluxe edition which is set for release on August 31st 2018 via Roadrunner Records.