With an upcoming compilation ("Antennas To Hell," due July 24), a return to North American stages headlining the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival tour and its own Knotfest events coming up in August, M. Shawn "Clown" Crahan says Slipknot  is "ending a philosophy of grieving with our fans" over the 2010 death of bassist Paul Gray.
"It's very important for people to know that, yes, it is the end of a thought process of sharing a loss together and getting on with the future," Crahan tells Billboard.com. "But that doesn't mean the future doesn't include Paul Gray. We're moving forward, but he's leading the pack. It's not the end of a period and a beginning of a new period; there are only nine members, and there will only be nine members (of Slipknot). Paul Gray will always be part of that nine. We'll always be representing. He will be there 'til the end of time."
Crahan says the Knotfests -- taking place Aug. 17 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Aug. 18 in Somerset, Wisc., and also featuring Deftones , Serj Tankian , Dethklok , Lamb of God  and others -- will "end (the grieving period) with a little fun." They'll also include a Slipknot museum full of memorabilia from throughout the group's career, including costumes, masks, stage gear and artwork. But Crahan won't commit to Knotfest -- which will also be available to fans via Internet Pay Per View -- becoming a regular or traveling part of Slipknot's arsenal just yet.
"Less is more; we'll do these two and then see," explains Crahan, who recently published the photography art book "The Apocalyptic Nightmare Journey." "We're not looking into the future of what it could be. It's just our way of saying we would like to contribute... just the way that we think something should roll, and we're going to build on that. We just want to bring things that people enjoy that are different than the other festivals that are going on. We're looking to have a good time."
Crahan says the plan after Knotfest is to "take some time off -- less time than people think -- write a record, record a record, (set up) a record, drop a record, (set up) a tour, support the record." He says Gray will definitely be part of the successor to 2008's "All Hope is Gone" -- "We've got songs he's written," Crahan notes -- and that any mixed signals Slipknot members have sent about the band going on in the wake of his death have been by design.
"We like to twist and turn people's minds," he acknowledges. "We do that on purpose. We like to sit in our little dressing rooms and laugh about how we have one on everybody, y'know? Everybody can say what they want, but at the end of the day we'll be back and we'll be kicking the s*** out of everyone like we have since day one."
The topic of another bass player, however, is still a sensitive one for Crahan, who says he visits Gray's grave "every other day" when he's at home in Iowa.
"I don't have to think about a new bass player right now because it's not even remotely time to even think about that," Crahan says. "My brother's been gone for two years, and it isn't any easier than it as the first day it happened."
Slipknot's touring bassist Donnie Steele stands off stage during the shows, while Gray is represented by a banner.
Meanwhile, guitarist Jim Root, who missed the early dates of Mayhem after suffering a burst appendix, returned to action on July 13 in Tampa, Fla. Crahan says that in hindsight he's "happy that (Root) decided to stay home for a little bit, because if it would have happened out here, I don't know what would have happened. If it would have burst in the middle of the set, he might have fallen over and died right there. I don't know, you know, I don't want to think about it 'cause it didn't happen that way."
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