Korn: On Top Of The World
While for several years dismissed by some as a vestige of an era long since past, the winds of fortune are seemingly blowing Korn’s way again. There’s been a palpably enhanced sense of nostalgia surrounding them in recent times – that’s likely attributable to a series of factors, such as the mega-selling nu-metal forebears performing their game-changing 1994 self-titled record in its entirety, or Jonathan Davis reintroducing the scatting vocal style their on new single, “Rotting In Vain” (from the new album, The Serenity of Suffering).
Perhaps the event which has most reignited fan interest, though, was the return of guitarist Brian “Head” Welch in 2013. The axeman departed Korn in 2005, years of partying and drug addiction having taken a sizeable toll. Converting to Christianity and embracing sobriety, said tenure away from the group is documented in his latest book, With My Eyes Wide Open: Miracles And Mistakes On My Way Back To Korn. This period featured Head swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and raising his daughter as a single parent. After assuring BLUNT that a return to Australia is in the works for next year, Welch gave us the lowdown on their new LP – and plenty more.
Given the alterations you’ve made to your own lifestyle – and with Jonathan also being sober – how different is it backstage at Korn show in 2016, compared to say, 2000?
[Laughs] That’s funny. It’s kind of just… Chill. But still fun, y’know? I’ll give you a ‘for instance’: on this tour, there’s always been Breaking Benjamin, the whole band and crew, and a couple of the Korn guys out there by the buses. Breaking Benjamin would set up a bar and make drinks for people, and everyone would just hang out, have a good time and not get too crazy. I didn’t see any drunks… Besides our tour manager, Matt. I’m just joking, he’s with me. But there was just – even the younger bands, they seemed to have their head on straight on this tour. It’s crazy, ’cause back in the day, it was just like, “Let’s get as wasted and as messed up on drugs as we can,” almost every night. It’s a lot healthier now.
Do you reflect on those times and wonder if, because of the partying, the band perhaps didn’t take the shows as seriously as it should have?
I think we were pretty serious about getting our show together and doing all of that. But the good thing was that the main guy in our band, our singer [Davis] – he was totally sober by, like, ’98. I mean, if he’s on his game, we wouldn’t get wasted before the show. It was during and after [laughs].
The Serenity of Suffering is out now, so you’ll no doubt be incorporating a number of new tracks into your live shows.
We’ve been playing two new songs on the tour this month, and we’re going to play two more tomorrow. They’re fun songs to play! We wrote with the energy in mind, ’cause we really want… This new batch of songs from the album all have energy, so all of them seem to work live pretty well.
To the outside party, the new record does feel somewhat akin to a conscious “return to the roots” type of affair. Was that in any way premeditated?
It wasn’t like we were trying to make songs that sounded like the first couple of records – it was about bringing the intensity back. Because when we started Korn, there was just this intensity. We wrote songs thinking, “What would the crowd do? How can we make them go crazy?,” and, “How could we feel the energy of the songs?” So we wrote this new record with the same thing in mind. What would the crowd do? How can we get their hearts pumping and us feeling that energy? That’s basically what it is.
“We write well together, and it’s just like family, y’know? We’re meant to be.”
On that note, Jonathan reintroducing the scatting-style vocals doesn’t seem like a re-treading of the past, necessarily, but gives long-time fans a point of familiarity.
That sounds great because it just seemed to fit. It wasn’t like he was pushing that, but the producer [Nick Raskulinecz] was working with him on vocals, and he was like, “Man, you know that thing you do with your voice that no one does? I just feel like you should approach that direction on this part.” So they went at it, and that’s what came out with it. It seemed to fit. So we laid the foundation with the music, and yeah – it wasn’t forced, it was just meant to be right there.
Your musical kinship with fellow guitarist James ‘Munky’ Shaffer is such a crucial component of the band’s core sound. What’s it like collaborating with him again?
Right on, thank you. James and I… It was a thing where we worked on stuff separately. I did my solo thing, and he did Korn by himself for a while on the guitar front. But when we got back together, it was like, “What are we going to do? What do we want to do with Korn?” So we did The Paradigm Shift, and that was cool, but it was just like… They experimented with electronics for a few years, and now we’ve got two guitar players back, so I wasn’t really feeling as passionate about the new music when we played it live. So with this record, we were like, “We’ve really got to fine-tune our guitars. Why are both of us back together? Why are we back together if we’re not gonna just get what we want out of the guitar sounds and everything?” We really worked with Nick Raskulinecz, and he was amazing to help us get that bite in the guitars. So yeah, [the collaboration] is a huge part. We call each other ‘guitar twins’. We write well together, and it’s just like family, y’know? We’re meant to be.
Could you detect a chemistry the first time you jammed together?
Our first band was called Russian Roulette [laughs]. I was in a band with Munky – we were teenagers; we would solo together, and it sounded like ’80s rock and ’80s metal. It was just a couple of kids jamming. David Silveria [drums] from Korn was in it too, and Fieldy [bass]. It was like old metal. But then, Fieldy and Munky got into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and they quit that band and went and formed some other band that was like a mash-up of Faith No More and the Chili Peppers. I was like, “Well, screw you guys” [laughs]. I was still their friend, but I was just like, “They’re going down a weird road and I don’t like that music.” But I hung out with them and everything.
When we first started Korn and I got into the room – ’cause they had played in other bands for two or three years and I wasn’t playing with them, but then they asked me to come back. And when I jammed with James – with that new sound after they got over their Chili Peppers funk phase and back into more heavy stuff – when I first jammed with them, it was like, “Oh wow, this is big.” It was like, “It’s on, let’s do this.” Ever since then, just something sparked. It was really important, I think, to the sound of Korn. That’s what we’ve recaptured on the new stuff.
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