From track 1, House of Gold & Bones, Part 1 from heavy metal band Stone Sour works to ramp up a musical story that will carry listeners through two albums worth of sonic intensity.
Similarly, Stone Sour lead singer Corey Taylor aimed to drop comic fans into a dreamlike ride with “House of Gold & Bones” #1 — the first chapter of his four-part comic tie-in to the concept albums. Titled “The Overture” and featuring art by Richard P. Clark, the first issue opens on a nameless character called the Human whose lack of memory is met only by a group of foes who seem to have increasingly more knowledge and power than him including a sinister doppelgänger named Allen and the mad rebel Black John with his army of brainless followers called the Numbers.
With the first issue on sale now and the second following May 22, CBR News spoke with Taylor, who provided commentary on issue #1. Below, the singer/writer explains how the opening tracks on the album match the tone and feel of the first issue, why it was important to throw readers straight into the deep end, what dark twists and strange mentors lay ahead and how knowledge is power for the music industry and for life in general. Plus, check out CBR’s exclusive preview of the second issue.
CBR News: Corey, the name of the series’ first issue is “The Overture” which everyone knows as a musical term, but your fans specifically know that the story of this book matches the music on your album. How did the opening songs help shape the overture of the series?
Corey Taylor: Obviously, I was working on the short story while we were working on the album, and I was going back and forth between the two making sure all the beats were there — the action beats and the literary beats. I wanted the story to move along and coincide with some of songs. “The Overture” as a title comes from the way we were looking at the first two songs on the album. “Gone Sovereign” for us was really the best way to set up what was going to happen. Then having that warp into “Absolute Zero” was essentially where the Human wakes up in this world. “Absolute Zero” is the soundtrack for that. So you’re getting the behind the scenes feel while the story is happening.
We just felt like that one-two punch was the perfect overture to start something like this, and if that didn’t work, nothing would. That’s why I named the first issue “The Overture” — because if issue #1 didn’t work and people didn’t buy into the setup, nothing else would make that happen. I thought it made sense to give that connotation and remind the readers that this does have a musical side to it that does or does not work [Laughs] depending on who you are in the music industry.
Plus, ever musical, every play, every story starts with an overture. It’s really the launching point for any great epic, and I just wanted to set it up like that.
Opening with a nameless character who wakes up into a crazy chase is a very dreamlike way to get rolling, but it’s also a risky choice. Was a part of this story plan and challenge to throw people right into the deep end?
Yeah, basically. It’s one of the advantages that the written word has over comics. When I was writing the short story, from a literary standpoint, I was able to pace things in a way that let people immerse themselves in the story before all hell broke lose. But with the comic, there’s that bAllence of the visual and the literary with the need to start the story on the right foot. I knew that we were going to have to hit the ground running, and it puts people right in that place of “Oh god, what the hell is going on?” That was essential, and I thought we did a nice job of doing that.
Now over the next three issues, more of this world comes to light, and you really get a sense of what it is and what’s assaulting the Human. Plus, you get a set-up for Black John and Allen in issue #1. So you get the characters a little bit at a time. With each issue, the world gets a little more darker. The way I’ve been describing it is that it starts out very Neil Gaiman, and by the end, we’re on the Garth Ennis side of things. That’s what I was trying to do. I wanted to start with an esoteric immediacy and phase into “Holy shit!” [Laughs] It was a really fine line between those.
A lot of people said they liked the book but that it was very dry. Well, that’s because this is just the first issue, man. You can give away the mystery. And that was why I wanted to do this in the first place, because I wanted the mystery to unfold. Too many times when you have a comic like this or a story like this or a concept album like this, the artist tries to beat you over the head with what’s going on too soon. I wanted the audience to come along for the ride and either let it unfold slowly or let it unfold on the second listen or second read. I want them going, “Oh, now I get what’s going on!” Otherwise, to me, it gets boring.
As the story progresses, the Human finds a brief respite from what’s chasing him in a little shack where he meets Allen. That is a mystery man who sits behind a desk smoking, looks and sounds a lot like the Human himself and makes some cryptic promises about the future. I don’t know about you, Corey, but that sounds like a metaphor for the music industry to me.
[Laughs] If only you knew. Yeah, it’s pretty weird. It’s almost that deal with the Devil set-up, as cliched as that is. But what this is about is that Allen knows more than he’s letting on. The Human knows that, but because the Human is so repelled by it — whether it’s that repulsion that some people have when they meet a doppelgänger or something else — he’s left with this conundrum of “I don’t immediately trust this guy, but I know he knows more than he’s letting on. What do I do?”
Luckily, he’s kind of left to his own devices after that initial confrontation where he’s been put on the path by Allen, but he’s not really sure where that path is going to lead. So there really is that kind of frustration — that sense of being on your own when it feels like everyone around you knows more than you do. That’s a frustrating place to be in.
In the music industry — which is funny that you make that parallel — it always seems like people have more advice for you than you really need at the end of the day. This whole thing is a crap shoot. Not one person in any of those offices knows what’s going to sell. And if they do convince you of that, nine times out of ten, they end up being wrong. But they’re all so convinced that they’re experts in the field, you have to sift through the bullshit just to find what makes sense. I’ve had my share of run-ins with people like that, and I’ve learned that you have to take the bits out that make sense and leave everything else on the coffee table.
I get the sense that one of the main themes in this part of the story is the idea that knowledge is power.
Exactly. The whole story is based around the power of choice, but sometimes you can make decisions or choices unless you have all the answers. People that charge in blindly with no understanding of the consequences or the situation, they make bad decisions and look back going “Why did I do that?” It’s because you didn’t have the patience to sit back and make an educated decision. That’s kind of what this whole story started from. It was me thinking about how people in life make decisions based on the information that’s available or based on information that they choose to ignore. I know so many people that are so stubborn because they think they’re right, but 99% of the time they’re wrong. And they’re so flippant about it! So to me, this was a study in the idea that you kind of have to fight yourself at the end of the day to find the best path in your own life.
As the Human’s story rolls on, we learn that he’s heading to what gets described as “Hell’s version of Chicago.” What was the attraction to building this nightmarish place on the core of a real city?
I love Chicago as a city because it’s almost like an overlooked metropolitan area. Because it’s in the Midwest and because it’s not a huge hub that people immediately think of, it’s not always given its due. The thing I love about Chicago is that it has such a blend of different metropolitan areas. If you really dig in deep to it, there’s a little bit of New York here, a little bit of London there. There’s a little bit of LA and even a little Tokyo sprinkled in for good measure. That’s why I still love that city. It’s the biggest city that’s close to me where I am in Des Moines, and whenever I wanted to go to a big city, that’s where I’d go. I’d jump in my car for five hours — or depending on the speed, three and a half hours — and I’d spend the whole day there. Chicago has everything you’d want in a city, and this is coming from a guy who’s lounging languidly in Des Moines, Iowa.
So when I wanted to make Red City in the comic, Chicago immediately came to mind. It’s got water running through it. It’s got bridges and architecture and skyscrapers running through it. It’s got the suburbs. It’s just got everything, and I wanted Red City to represent that. I wanted it to have everything including the answers. And it naturally had to be the end of the line.
At the end of the issue, we meet Black John and the Numbers, which is about dehumanizing a way to describe a group of people as it gets. I saw some sketches Richard did of these characters, and it seems the plan for them was to start them out as regular people and let them get more and more depraved. How did you two work on setting up Black John and all these characters?
I wanted the Numbers really to have that kind of berserker feel to them because the Numbers as a represent the chaos that comes with being part of the crowd. They’re almost like a cattle mentality. It’s all emotion and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but because people in a group want to belong SO strongly, they almost let go of all common sense. It’s the blind leading the blind a lot of the time. And Black John represents that natural leader quality you can find in groups most of the time. If you have a group of people like the Numbers running around, it doesn’t make sense to not have some some kind of focus. And Black John is that focus in the chaos — the mind behind the hive, essentially.
The Numbers represent a certain side of our own personality that can be manipulated with simply a little more intelligence. I see it all that time whether it be a riot after a bad sports playoff game or sometimes even a good sports playoff game. [Laughs] They represent that aberrant part of humanity that we can’t always put our fingers on, but when the stakes and the adrenaline get a little too high, bad things will happen. That can be from a joyous occasion or a bad one.
Looking forward, you’ve already said things will get crazier in the coming issues, but we also get a kind of balancing force in the character of Peckinpah. How does he change the dynamic for the story?
Really Peckinpah represents the antithesis to Allen. That’s represented in how he looks in the comic. He’s much more mature and more patient. He has the answers, yet he knows that he can’t just drop the answers on the Human. In a way, the Human has to earn them. And yet, Peckinpah also knows how to get the Human to figure it out for himself while also giving him little bits here and there that will lead him where he needs to go.
The next issue really finds the Human on the path itself after this huge confrontation with the Numbers. It’s another issue that steps up the journey, and it all culminates in what would be the end of [the album] “House of Gold & Bones Part 1.” That’s represented by the song “Last of the Real,” and you’ll get to see all of that in this comic. It’s kind of cool because it’s bookended. Issue #2 starts with a confrontation with Black John and the Numbers, and it also ends with that. So it’s everything in between that sets the tone for what will come next.
Overall, have you had one moment in this process where a single song idea and a single image match up for you, or is it more the cumulative effect of the whole thing?
It’s kind of both, honestly. The way I approached this was like having the right puzzle pieces and then putting them together in a way where it worked on both points. You can listen to the albums top to bottom, or you can just listen to one song. I knew this had to have several different facets to it if it was going to work as an album AND as a story. With the songs themselves, what I wanted to impress on people was that they were kind of like the internal monologue going on within the characters at any given moment. So even though those songs represent different moments going on in the story, it’s not completely represented in the song. It’s more about what’s going on through this character’s head as you’re reading what’s going on on the page.
It’s kind of like you reading the comic book; you see what’s happening with the character, and you know that this particular song is playing. It’s giving you the things going on in the character’s head as opposed to what’s going on on the page. It’s kind of like experiencing a story in three different dimensions.
“Hose of Gold & Bones” #1 is on sale now from Dark Horse Comics. Issue #2 arrives on May 22, and CBR has an exclusive preview here.
For more on Corey Taylor’s first comics project, check out his CBR TV interview from the 2012 New York Comic Con! Taylor dropped by our luxurious Tiki Room where he discussed “House of Gold and Bones,” his love of the comics medium from an early age and more.