For the longest time, you couldn't talk about Korn
without first referencing drugs. They wrote songs about them, were heavily addicted to them and would ultimately be consumed by them. So it was no surprise when meth eventually devoured guitarist Brian "Head" Welch
and forced him to quit the band in 2005. The remaining members - singer Jonathan Davis
, guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer
, bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu
and then drummer David Silveria
(replaced by Ray Luzier
in 2009) - soldiered on and though still being chased by their own demons managed to sell 35 million albums, place 28 songs on the charts and snag two Grammies
. But much of that success happened while Welch was still in the band and they wanted their friend back to share in the glory. That wish was finally granted when the guitarist returned and played on "The Paradigm Shift
," which was the first time Head had appeared on a Korn album in 10 years. Everybody has since cleaned up but some things never change. "He came in and wanted to make a hard rock record,"
Davis says, "and I wanted to make a more electronic record. I think the friction between me and him made for an amazing record (laughs). He was all, 'We need more guitars' and I was all, 'More electronic stuff.' We learned to compromise and it turned out great."
Here, the singer talks about reuniting with his bandmate and working on the album. UG: Did you really believe Brian would play with Korn one day? JD:
I always hoped in the back of my mind he would come back but we were truckin' on without him. I was hoping he would come to his senses once he got clean and he realized he could do this and it wasn't bad. I think he finally got to that point. Brian first played with Korn at the Carolina Rebellion show in 2012?
He came out and played one song with us onstage and it had been eight years since he'd done that. There were people crying and it was really emotional. I think he realized at that point he would come back. We talked to him and everything was good and now here we are. It was amazing and it felt really good. What does Brian bring to the sound of the band?
It's his style of playing because he was really big on melody writing with the guitar. A perfect example of that is "Falling Away From You
) with that "do-do-do-do-do" (sings the guitar lick)
. That's all Brian and that kind of stuff was his specialty. Munky was great with the rhythms and he'd come up with really strange stuff. The two guys are completely different. It was awesome having him back because now Munky and Head can play off each other like call-and-answer and all kinds of crazy sh-t. It was awesome having that back in the band. For so long we just had Munky playing guitar and he was having to do the job of two guys. Sh-t was hard. Did those albums without Brian - "See You on the Other Side," "Untitled," "Korn III: Remember Who You Are" and "The Path of Totality" - created a different dynamic in the studio?
Yeah, it was different. Definitely it made Munky a way better guitar player. Everybody had to step up because there was one less person there creating. I just think there was something magic about us four playing together and it just shows with him back. Head went out and did the Love and Death record. Do you think he brought back new ideas from that experience to "The Paradigm Shift" album?
I think it's good because he came in and he wanted to make a hard rock record. I wanted to make a more electronic record and so I think the friction between me and him made for an amazing record. Did your love for electronics begin on "The Path of Totality" record?
Yeah. We wanted to take those influences and those elements we used on the last record but we didn't want to do the same record. It was like what we did on "Follow the Leader
" where we mixed hip hop and rock. It was the same kind of thing. By doing that we made a groundbreaking record and I think this one is too. We went all the way straight electronic on Path ... and then this was a mixture with all the layering to make Korn sound like something you never heard before. Different. How were the songs written for the album?
Those guys started writing music around August and I didn't get in to see them until around February or March. They had a whole bunch of songs they wrote together and I got in and started writing songs and working with them and we just mixed everything all up. Once that was all recorded and done, I got my buddy Sluggo and Zaylien we did all the layering of the electronics. Once that was all done I started vocals. The thing basically wrote itself and there was no real effort in it. It was really fun and definitely the funnest record I ever made. Head and Munky would come in with guitar arrangements?
They'd basically get the song done - it's not recorded - but a demo and I'd sing melody lines over it. Once that's done they'd go in and do guitars and drums. Once everything is all done including electronics, that's when I start singing at the very last. It gives me the vibe for the song and I put everything together. You like hearing all the guitar parts and all the little electronics swimming in and out?
Yeah, that's how I weave my vocals. I don't want any surprises. I think this time once I got all my vocals done, the guys went back over and did a couple parts and that was it. Were you nervous about going in to record this album?
I was in a bad place because I was detoxing off of Xanax
. The doctor had me on that for anxiety for a long time and he said I had to get off that so I was detoxing off that and that was hell. I wasn't really thinking or feeling anything at that time. I was just shaking. I did this whole record detoxing so it was pretty crazy. If I might get personal, were you taking Xanax to get high?
No, it was for anxiety and my doctor prescribed it because I've had bad anxiety problems my whole life. I just read up on the medicine and what it did to you and all kinds of stuff. My doctor decided, "You've got to get off this or you're gonna be on it the rest of your life."
I went through seven months of hell. Was a song like "Love and Meth" a reference to your drug problems?
I loved that because I thought it was a funny f--kin' title. Head named that. It's a really good title. I was like, "Oh, that's killer. We're gonna keep that."
"Paranoid and Aroused
" was about drugs and people taking ecstasy. All these raves I go to where I'm a DJ and stuff. But when I was writing, I was just kind of writing. I had no idea what was going on. So a lot of the songs I had no clue what they're about. I was starting to get it but it was pretty cool - I just put the pen on the paper and went away at it. And whatever came out came out. Munky said the album was both more aggressive and more melodic like the Issues and Untouchables records. Would you agree?
Yeah, definitely. It's more melodic and it is aggressive. It's just different. I mean you can reference back to those records and yeah it is a lot like them. I just think with the addition of the electronics and the layering and me just coming up with crazy melodies I have never done before, it worked out good. Working with Don, everybody was really happy. F--k, I didn't know what the f--k I was gonna do. Did you ever think these melodies you were coming up might go too far against the grain of what Korn was known for?
No, that's the opposite. I wanna do what they don't expect me to do. That's how you innovate. So if I'm not pushing myself and trying to do different things that are scary like, "Well, I can't do that,"
a perfect example is "Never Never
." It's heavy but it's this really soft song. It's an amazing song and it is heavy. It was so different. I don't think that song represents the album because the album's got so many different styles of songs on it. That was one of the main reasons why we put that song out first because it was so different. It was like "Got the Life
" ["Follow the Leader"]
back in '98 'cause I remember when we went to put that out as a single everybody was freaked out 'cause we were all scared and thinking it was just some disco tune. But it worked out good. You've got to take those chances and be scared. A song like "Love and Meth" is a great example of a heavy verse and a melodic chorus, which is really a trademark of what Korn do.
It's kinda what we do. Our music has a lot of melody and it's heavy music. Did Don Gilmore help you with the vocals?
He was awesome. I love that guy. Definitely don't judge a book by its cover. He looks like the white Tiger Woods and he's all into golf. He's a perfect definition of a yuppie. He's an amazing producer, very talented and it was nice working with someone who was so talented that wasn't an asshole because that can happen sometimes with producers. I mean he had his moments but overall I think it was a great thing working with him. I loved it. Why did you want to specifically work with Don Gilmore?
I worked with him back on "Take a Look in the Mirror
" on a song. He came and I was just gonna work with him and see how I liked working with him. We ended up not doing nothin'. I was out at the time and that was when I was still detoxing so the band actually worked with him. The asked me if I was cool with him and I said I liked working with him. Were any songs particularly challenging for you to record vocals on?
There was a couple of 'em. We did 25 songs and I tried a couple to see what would happen and I just didn't come up with anything for 'em. I had only so much time before we went on tour so I picked the best 16 songs I thought I could do good on and that's what we went for. But there were songs, yeah, that I had problems with. Sometimes I'm not vibing on a song. But having Brian back to record on the album felt good?
It felt really good, yeah. It was just that our friend was back and we were making music again and having fun. You worked on a DVD called "Korn: Reconciliation?"
Yeah, it was a documentary that our photographer Sebastien Paquet
did. It's about everything that took place about us getting back together as a band. It shows all that stuff that went on getting Head back in the band and back in the band and how we did this record. You'll see everything. It's amazing. Korn just celebrated its 20th year together - what does that feel like?
It's insane. I can't believe we've been playing as Korn for 20 years. It doesn't seem like that long. We're blown away by it. Did you think the band would be here 20 years later?
I didn't know what was gonna happen but I'm glad it is still going on. We're excited that we're still making music and people are still listening. Kids are liking it and we remain relevant all these years. It's almost impossible for a band together for two years to remain important.
It is. It's pretty crazy. We all look at that as we're blessed and we've very lucky. We've been given this gift and we need to keep doing it. Do you see "The Path of Totality" being in any way similar to the first Korn album inasmuch as this is the first album with Head in many years?
Yeah, I guess it could be like that. It's just all the excitement that we just did a record together and we're touring together and we're having fun and playing these shows. It's awesome. What have the live shows been like?
They've been all amazing. It's just sick to see all the kids coming out and all the love and people just really happy to see us all back together. That response from fans is a real indication they truly wanted to see Brian come back to the band.
Yeah, definitely. A lot of people were waitin' for it including us. So now that it's happening and everything is good, we're very happy. Back in September, Korn performed for an episode of Guitar Center Sessions. That was cool to watch the band in such an intimate setting and to see you sort of gently chide Head for repeatedly messing up the intro on one of the songs.
It's good, yeah. I like getting on his a-s 'cause I know he can play the sh-t - he just sometimes f--ks up, hah hah hah. That's the beauty of Head. So yeah, I like to bust his balls. I like to have him back - he's my boy. And if oh god, I go out of key on something he'll let me know, hah hah hah. But you never go out of key.
I try not to. Having a healthy band must feel wonderful.
It does. It's an amazing feeling.Interview by Steven Rosen