The day before this interview Brian "Head" Welch played his first ever gig in the US with his new band, Love And Death. Made up of the ex-Korn guitarist, 17-year old guitar player J.R. Bareis, drummer Dan Johnson and bassist Michael Valentine, the quartet previewed songs from an EP titled Chemicals, the teaser for an album of the same name due shortly.
As the long anticipated follow-up to Welch's 2008 album, Save Me From Myself, Chemicals boasts heavier guitars and more haunting arrangements than its predecessor. The title track is dark and angry and reveals how far Head has come as an inventive and believable singer. There is a twisted reworking of Devo's "Whip It" that flays the flesh.
This conversation with Brian and guitarist J.R. Bareis began with Welch only Bareis was nowhere to be found. He did enter the dialog after a few minutes and Brian busted him for his tardiness. "I got J.R. here now," Welch joked. "He just walked in. He's a rockstar a little late and stuff like that."
UG: You've been performing songs from Chemicals in the live sethow do the new songs feel?
Brian Welch: Yeah, this new music is just a total different energy than Save Me From Myself. Save Me From Myself was really like a serious thing I went through in my life and it had a different feel to it. Know what I mean? It was so intense. The new music has an energy and it's just like, Whoo, let's go.
Does playing these new songs with the new Love and Death band feel similar at all to playing those very early songs with Korn back in the day?
Welch: It's a different experience; it's new, it's fresh but obviously it has little elements because that's where I come from and stuff like that. J.R. is starting to write more and he's bringing this new youthful style of writing to what we're doing now. And I could see that growing too so it's all fresh. I know I've had a long career and everything but this is the beginning of something that's gonna be really cool I think. I can feel it.
Chemicals was much more of a band project than Save Me From Myself?
Welch: Totally. This is a band thing and I wanted it like that. The solo album was just me doing my thing and getting through my demons and everything. That's why I wanted to call the new band Love and Death and incorporate these guys' writing skills to help me because I can only go so far with my writing. Cause everyone's got their gifts and let's use em all together.
What did J.R. bring as a guitar player that appealed to you?
Welch: Umm, actually he just like showed up. The other guy [Scott Von Heldt] had to leave the band because his wife was having a baby so he was just like stressing over stuff and left two weeks before a tour. So I was like, We need a guitar player now and this guy showed up in our lives and he hasn't left yet. I was just looking for someone that could handle the songs and we've got a lot more. We got him when he was 15 and he wasn't even writing that much but he's starting to write now. He's just barely starting to but we got a lot more and we're trying to train him up to be a killer player and just a writer and everything. I'm stoked to see where it's gonna go and where he's gonna go. He'll probably like write all these cool songs and stuff and then become this little star and then he'll leave our band [J.R. laughs in the background.]
Since you're only 17-years old now, did guitar come very easily to you?
J.R. Bareis: You know I'm kinda self-taught and it kinda came naturally to me. It's a gift and that's all I can really explain it as. It's crazyI never thought I'd be doing this especially at my age so to be able to play with Head is crazy.
When you first played with Brian what did that feel like?
Bareis: When I got the call to go tryout, it was just the greatest feeling in the world. Of all the bands I could join the one band I never thought of would be his band. That didn't even cross my mind. Things you don't expect usually happen and so when this happened I was just blown away.
Do you think there will be comparisons between you and Munky and that type of thing?
Bareis: No man, I go out and do my thing. I do what I know what's best and I don't try to compare myself to anyone. I just try to do my own thing and have my own style.
You played in a Christian band called Twice As Deep before joining Love and Death. That's about a million miles away from what you're doing now.
Bareis: Oh man.
Welch: What's Twice As Deep?
Weren't you in a band called Twice As Deep?
Bareis: No, I was. I don't think Brian knew. That was more contemporary and kind of like worship music. I was just trying to play in any kind of band I could because it's really hard to find bands local especially in Arizona.
Welch: He was too good from the other 15-year olds probably. I think J.R. and even me when I was a kid, we were just these little nerds that went into our rooms for like hours and played guitars and we're just loners. And those years developed us to what we do now.
We spoke a while ago and you'd talked about how you wanted heavier guitar sounds than what you'd created on Save Me From Myself? Did you succeed in achieving that?
Welch: Totally yeah. I just love the stuff we're doing with Jasen Rauch. But I'm more excited because we've got these other songs that we haven't even finished yet that we're gonna be laying down and we're just excited to get those out too. These fresh ideas keep coming and it's really exciting. It feels so new and so 2012. That's what this kid is bringing I'm telling you. He's bringing these riffs that don't sound like the guys from the 90s. He'll bring these riffs that are just like fresh for today and mixed with my style and some of the other guys' styles, it becomes cool.
Vocally you've really stepped it up as well. You sounded great on Chemicals.
Welch: Man, I appreciate that. Dude, I've been working on my vocals a lot over the years just singing live. It was like touring on Save Me From Myself, I'm going, I'm sick of playing these songs cause it was three years with no new music. But at the same time I'm strengthening my voice and I'm finding out what works and stuff. So that's basically what's happening with these songs too is I'm able to sing em better live than the other songs. It's just falling into place and I think the more you use your instrument the better you get at it. So the vocal is one of my instruments and obviously I'm not where I wanna be and I'm real insecure still about my voice. But it's a lot better than it used to be though.
What was the routine for recording Chemicals?
Welch: We're just starting to do this. J.R. played on Chemicals but Whip It me and Jasen Rauch did cause J.R. lives in Phoenix, which I think he should move pretty soon like in the next year or something. But then last week he sent me a new riff and we're making a whole song out of it. We've just done it once and we kind of traded off parts. I had a feel like that I liked the way my feel was on a pre-chorus and then J.R. played the technical riff that's more difficult to play. He's just real technical on it and he'll get that down and we just kind of hand off the guitar to each other and just have fun recording.
What was that like recording with Brian on Chemicals?
Bareis: It's pretty much my first album that I've recorded on so getting to do it was pretty awesome. Trying to learn the riff was pretty hard at first because it's pretty crazy with the stretch in my hand that I have to do but we got it down finally. Yeah, it was a really cool experience getting to go in there with him.
This is your first major experience being in a studio?
Bareis: Yeah definitely. It was really nerve-wracking because I think I finally heard the songs that I had to record the night before so I stayed up all night and learned the riffs and then went in that morning and just recorded. So it was pretty crazy.
Welch: The day after he recorded he was throwing up in a trashcan all day in the studio. He got some weird flu or food poisoning or something. It was bittersweet.
J.R. was being purged.
Welch: Exactly. It was a test or something. Like be careful what you wish for.
On YouTube there is a short video where you're playing a solo on a song called Victory Is Ours. There is some pretty intense ripping going on that brings to mind Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.
Bareis: Yeah dude, I love them. They got awesome solos and stuff. I wish I could solo like them but our music is more just hard riffs and that's what we aim for more. But I definitely learned some solos before all this.
Can you talk a little bit about the gear you used on Chemicals?
Bareis: I'm using a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rec right now and in the studio we used some Bogners and Diezel stuff and it sounded really good. But live I'm running Mesa and I hope to stick with it cause it sounds really good.
For a 17-year old you seem pretty adept at creating some unique guitar tones.
Bareis: Yeah, it was difficult at first. But being around it more and seeing guys that know how and just kind of seeing how they figure it out, I've learned to really find tones. It's been a good experience for me this whole year.
You listen to Whip It and it's hard to recognize Devo's original tune in there.
Welch: [laughs] Man, I was looking for an 80s cover because I got influenced by that band The Used. They did Burning Down the House and my manager was like, Man, that would be cool to do a cover and I started Googling 80s songs. I saw Devo on the list and I was like, Aww, it's just weird but it was too weird to cover. I was like, Ehh, that wouldn't work. Then I was in the shower a couple days later and that song just came back to my head. I heard the riff and I was like, What if I half-timed it and just made it cool sounding? Then I took my dumb idea to Jasen Rauch and he made it sound cool and then we went with it.
"I know I've had a long career and everything but this is the beginning of something that's gonna be really cool I think. I can feel it."
Did you listen to those kinds of bands from the 1980s?
Welch: Totally. I didn't buy the albums but it was on MTV and that's all I watched. I was a metalhead but I could watch Talking Heads, Blondie and Duran Duran all day long just because it was music and it was on TV.
You feel comfortable working with Jasen Rauch?
Welch: Yeah, you can take crap to him and he'll make it good. He has an ear, a filter, and he just takes out the garbage and makes the cool stuff pop out. I don't think we'd be sounding this good if it wasn't for him. I mean there's a lot of producers out there but it's only meant to be right now and I'm just stoked and honored to be playing with him and working with him.
There are remixes of Paralyzed and Chemicals on the EP?
Welch: Yeah, I did it with this guy Har Megiddo. I was going to have Jasen Rauch do a couple of remixes just to give people some extra stuff and I got a random email from this guy like the day we were asking Jasen. He's like, Yeah, I want to remix a song for Head. And I was like, Oh, this is weird timing. This must be meant to be. So we gave him the track and I totally like did it with him cause I really want the melody to come through on remixes. Some people just throw beats down and they're like, OK, it sounds like a dance song now. It's a remix. I wanted to bring out the melody of the stuff so I really worked with him on the choruses and stuff. It has kind of a Depeche Mode feel on the Paralyzed remix. It's just something different and it was cool go work with that guy because he's really talented.
There are some other titles that have been floating around: Runaway, Bury Me, Resurrected, Take This From Me and Torment. Are these going to appear on the Chemicals album?
Welch: No, where did you get those?
Welch: I was doing those live with my band before Love and Death and those were gonna be on an album. We were demoing those songs and so I wanted to try em out live a couple times but they sucked so I threw em away [laughs.]
So the response from an audience to new songs is a real acid test for you?
Welch: Yeah. But as far as Chemicals and these new songs? I can totally tell they're good live so I don't really gotta try those. But back then yeah, I wanted to try em. It was just a growing period I think cause I was going from my first record to the new record and I was like, OK, what do I wanna do on this new stuff? So I was just trying stuff out and I'm glad I didn't put it out because they're not up to where this other stuff is.
You've talked about playing in front of huge audiences with Korn and now performing in front of smaller crowds with Love and Death. Has that been a difficult transition for you?
Welch: It was ridiculous. I didn't want to do it anymore. It sucks to travel and all this stuff but then just when I'm at my lowest point I'm like, I'm quitting. Then I'd have a show in front of 5,000 or 10,000 people at a big gig that we were playing with other bands and the crowd's going nuts, tits everywhere and then I'm like, OK, this is cool. Then we'd have a couple good shows and then we'd have five duds and after the fifth one I'd be like, I'm quitting. This sucks. Then we'd have another good show. You know what I mean? It's just like an encouragement would come along just in time to keep me going and then just like when we're feeling really good then a discouragement would come and knock us on our face again. And that still happens because the rock music game for new bands is just weird right now. So it still happens now but we're just gonna keep moving and have fun with it.
"This new music is just a total different energy than Save Me From Myself."
You played a gig last night for the Whosoevers. Can you explain what that is?
Welch: Yeah, Sonny Sandoval from P.O.D. and Ryan Ries came to me and they started this thing. The Whosoevers is just thatwhosoever believes in Jesus's love will have eternal life and stuff. It's just like, Come one, come all. Tattoo'd, pierced, jacked-up looking people, drug addicts, gang members, prostitutes and all kinds of people. Gay people and whoever. If your life is falling apart come with us. Hang with us and we won't judge you because we were more messed up than you were. We're just as messed up as you. It's just a movement saying, Come on all you people, let's hang out and better our lives. That's where we're at right now at the Whosoever conference. We played last night, which was the first show of Love and Death in the United States. We played our new songs and there was like 5,000 people here. I'll let J.R. tell you what happened to him after the show.
Bareis: Yeah, it was the end of the show and I came back out and everyone was screaming and stuff at the end. I kinda just let my guitar drop on the ground. It wasn't really far from the ground but it ended up snapping in half [laughs.] It snapped right in half so I gave both pieces out to someone in the crowd.
What will you play now?
Bareis: I've got my backup guitar and I'm actually getting another one pretty quick here.
Welch: I give him the guitar like a month ago, two months ago, and he plays like a few shows and then it's broken. But everyone feels bad for him so he'll have a new one soon.
Let's bring this to a close and hear about your experiences in Israel with the Valley Bible Fellowship.
Welch: It was crazy because it was just all new to me and just the whole spiritual life was new. I got offered to go for free to Israel and I was like, Free ticket to cross the world? Yeah, let's go. So I went it was really eye opening, man, and I'm so stoked I went. I wanna go back now that I know more about Israel and all the Jewish people and stuff like that. I wanna go and see the sights and it'll mean more to me now. So hopefully I'll go in the next five years or so.
After all the bad times you went through with management and finding the right players for Love and Death, you have a positive frame of mind?
Welch: Yeah totally. Everything feels brand new, man, and I'm just stoked. This is only the beginning and I'm just really stoked. Right on. Thank you, man. I enjoyed talking to you.
Bareis: See ya, man.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"You know I'm kinda self-taught and it kinda came naturally to me. It's a gift and that's all I can really explain it as."