The Classic Albums: Korn

artist: korn date: 02/21/2009 category: interviews
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The Classic Albums: Korn
Welcome to the first in a new, and hopefully regular, series of features for Ultimate-Guitar.com called "The Classic Albums". The series hopes to cover and look back over the making of some of the most influential albums ever made in the rock, punk and metal genres. From the songwriting process to the gear used, to behind the scenes stories from the studios, "The Classic Albums" will provide a rare glimpse into the whole creative process in the making of a featured album. To kick off this new series, we begin by taking a journey back to the early 1990s. With a blending of elements from heavy metal and alternative rock together with elements from hip hop and funk, Korn's self-titled 1994 debut album became the benchmark for what would later become known as "nu-metal". The group's innovative approach would also see the album become one of the band's most influential and successful in the group's catalog of releases. Guitarist Brian "Head" Welch speaks to Joe Matera to look back on the making of the album. UG: Let's start by first discussing the background to the songwriting process for Kon? Brian Welch: We wrote most of those songs, about a year or two before we began recording the album. And because we were playing clubs for a couple years prior to getting signed, we had something like eight songs already written since we used to play them at the clubs. But when we went into the studio with Ross Robinson to record the album, we scrapped five of them because they weren't up to par with the others so we took some parts and wrote some new songs from them. Do you remember what the budget was for the album? We originally got a $500,000 deal, where it was $250,000 for the record and, $250,000 that we got to split amongst ourselves. And when it came to the recording process, how did you approach that? It was a party! We were broke and had been barely making our rent for years. We were working at Pizza Hut, delivering furniture and stuff like then all of a sudden we got a record deal. Like I just mentioned, we got like $40,000 each from that. So when we went into the studio it was like beers and drugs, though not that many at the time, but it was still just one big party. But when we tracked it, because Ross was under control, he was like the teacher and we like the students. So he kept us in line. And if we ever did the drugs, and we did, he would really get onto us about it. How long did the whole recording process take? From memory, I think it took about six weeks.
"We really just wanted to make a heavy record that sounded like us."
What did producer Ross Robinson bring to the process? He was mainly the ears and stuff for everything. We went in not knowing much as we were just friends hanging out and playing music. Ross knew the sounds that he wanted so he basically went and got what he wanted. He was very involved in all of that stuff. Did you have a sonic template in mind for what you wanted to achieve with the album musically? Not really. We just knew we wanted it to be heavy and we wanted some killer low end on there. We really just wanted to make a heavy record that sounded like us and that explained who we were when you listened to it. What sort of gear did you use? At that time I only had two guitars. I used primarily a standard Steve Vai model 7-string Ibanez and as far as amps went, I just used mainly Marshall amps. I had a Boss Chorus pedal that we used for a lot of the underneath melodies and Ross also brought in a bunch of pedals too. I think there was also an Ibanez Chorus pedal that we used a lot too. That first record, because it was a lot of heavy riffs, we hadn't started doing a lot of those trippier effect things that we would do on later Korn albums. At those sessions we were also introduced by Ross to the Big Muff distortion pedal and so we used that a lot on that album too. How did the evolution of your use of the seven-string guitars and the respective tunings come about for the album? I'd say Munky and Fieldy had started messing around with that sound about three years before Korn went into the studio. And they had used that low string for a couple parts in a couple songs in a funk band they had at the time. But when I and Jonathon [Davis] joined the band, we started writing all the songs with the low strings, and with heavier grooves and heavier stuff. Then it got developed with Ross and it grew to where it was going to be. So really, it was already established before we went into the studio. We liked anything that was rebellious, like heavy metal music, and we liked the heavier darker music and the really aggressive Hip-Hop, the Hip-Hop that sounded minor and not happy. It sounded so dark, that we took all that stuff and kind of blended them together and we came up with a sound and it just burst from that. When it came to the guitar parts, how did you and Munky approach them for the album? It kind of just happened. If Munky came up with something, I would work something in that would bounce off his idea or compliment it. Or vise versa, where I'd come up with something and he would do that. But we would just get into the studio and jam. At our rehearsals we would just mess around and whatever we would hear, we would do. I don't really remember me and Munky ever sitting down and trying to work out stuff together. It just kind of happened where we were just always jamming. Was there much overdubbing done? Not as much as we would do on the other albums. We just did two tracks of guitars and on some of the parts we did another rhythm on top of the original rhythm tracks. We may have a done also an effects rhythm track too or a Big Muff rhythm track with the two guitars and panned it left and right. On top of that, we would add some melodies. And it would usually be just a one guitar melody, not two. We really kept it very simple back then.
"We went in not knowing much as we were just friends hanging out and playing music."
Kon was unique in that it spawned the whole 'nu-metal' movement. Were you aware at the time you were making an album that would be so influential in its genre? No way man, that whole thing was crazy. But we knew we had something different because we had this freaky singer, who was like this really dark singer, that was a mix between Nine Inch Nails and a real scream-y type vocalist and underneath that, we had these Hip Hop undertones. We didn't know what we were doing or where we were going but after awhile, it just kind of caught on. Even when we went out and played live shows, like on our second tour with Megadeth, people were booing at us onstage and there was even a knife thrown at us at one show too. It was definitely a climb up and it was crazy but we kind of finally broke through once we got on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. We got the slot right before Ozzy and whenever Ozzy had put someone right before him, I guess it gave them some clout or whatever, and so I think that made the album sales go up and people just started getting into it. Over the years, the band has been said to consider the labeling of the album as metal by critics as unjustifiable, rather preferring to consider the album more of an "ultra-aggressive metal-rap hybrid" instead. I've never heard that before! I remember doing interviews with everybody and especially when someone would ask Fieldy what he would use to describe ourselves, especially back then, he would say, heavy groove. That name nu-metal came from the media, somebody in the press just called it nu-metal and then that caught on too like that. But I don't know really. They can call it whatever. A lot of critics blamed the band for killing off guitar solos during the Nineties too? I think it made it easier for kids that when they heard us, they would hear that they didn't need to learn all that hard lead stuff! It is funny because Munky and I are pretty good soloists and we could solo but we chose to do something else with this band. Everybody had doing solos for all these years prior and we figured, instead of having a rhythm playing in the background and having the guitar players just soloing over the riff or the chorus, why don't we just make up a whole new part in the middle so that everybody could be involved in. That way we don't have just one guy showing off. And that was our idea to do that it. And if we became responsible for the lack of guitars solos during the Nineties, then all I can say to everybody now is, I'm sorry. Finally, how did the album cover concept come about? Since the lyrics were a lot about Jonathon's childhood and stuff like that, it painted a very dark picture. Our A & R guy who signed us, Paul Pontius, got the idea to get some little kid in a park. It was actually his eight year old niece who is in that picture on the album cover. It certainly captured all the whole vibe of the album. There was innocence and evil right there all in that one picture. Interview by Joe Matera Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
More korn interviews:
+ Jonathan Davis: 'It's Just Sick to See All the Kids Coming Out and See Us All Back Together' Interviews 06/18/2014
+ Korn's James 'Munky' Shaffer Talks to UG Readers Interviews 09/30/2013
+ Korn: 'It's Time To Move On Musically And Creatively' Interviews 01/06/2012
+ Korn: James Shaffer About The Band's Music And His Own Contribution To It Interviews 02/09/2011
+ Fieldy Of Korn: 'A Lot Of The Bass Got Buried In The Mix' On New Record Interviews 10/20/2007
+ Korn's Munky: 'Solo Album Is Gonna Happen' Interviews 03/30/2006
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