Korn's James 'Munky' Shaffer Talks to UG Readers

UG readers united to interview the nu metal veterans' axeman - read what did Munky answer here.

Ultimate Guitar

When you approach a publicist and ask them about conducting an interview with one of their artists based around questions from readers, it can be a tricky situation. Some publicists don't want to do them because the questions can be - for want of a better description - not very good. Fans may love the artist but the questions may still be inane, too personal, or simply too dumb to answer. So, in communicating with the publicist for Korn's James "Munky" Shaffer and proposing the idea of an interview composed of questions from UG readers, I must admit I was a bit apprehensive. But when I saw the list of questions I'd be presenting to James, I was both delighted and impressed. The questions here are thoughtful and insightful, and reflect readers who took some care in researching and preparing these queries. The Korn guitarist was in an upbeat mood, which probably had a lot to do with the return of his running partner, Brian "Head" Welch. He has just returned to the band after being away for a long eight years and for the first time in 10 years has appeared on a Korn record - their new release, "The Paradigm Shift," coming out on October 8th on Prospect Park. So Munky seemed to really dig the idea of answering questions from fans - here is what he had to say. metalhead2745: Which Korn album are you most proud of and why?

JS: I would have to go with our first album ("Korn"). I'm most proud of it because we created a sound that later became bigger than anything we all dreamed it would become. That's definitely the sound with the techniques we used and all that sort of foundation was built on that first album. When you put that first record together, did you have any kind of blueprint for what you wanted Korn to sound like? We had a few things we didn't want to do. At the time the '80s metal thing was on its way out and we definitely didn't want to get categorized as a typical metal band. We wanted to try to bring some hip hop influences into what we were doing and just that heavy groove. Of course we wanted to incorporate and feature the sounds of 7-string guitars. That all kind of set the stage for Jonathan to just unleash all of that anger on that first album and first couple of records really. breandan.hyland: Most bands with two guitar players have a lead and rhythm player but you and Brian split the duties pretty evenly. Did any volume battles ever happen at practice in the early years? I don't think so. We always had to turn up louder because the drums and the bass were so loud. We had to become louder. I had to have his turned up a lot because I couldn't hear what he was playing. So we could play off each other. But no, there was never any back and forth shit because I think everything we do is always to complement one another whether he's playing a lead line or I'm playing the rhythm. Brian is not a solo guitar player in the classic sense of the word. He comes up with great melody lines, which bring out all the rhythm stuff that I’m doing. It’s more like melody and lead lines that he plays. He’ll do rhythms and lead lines and I’ll do weird, quirky sounds and rhythm. I guess that’s how I would describe it. deanwinchester0: Who were your guitar heroes growing up? Definitely Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Al DiMeola and Jimmy Page later. Those are the ones that come to mind. Tony Iommi. Those are the top guys and then later it was when Tom Morello came out and I was blown away with what he was doing. Really? Yeah, he's still one of my heroes. Rob Finck from Nine Inch Nails is one of my recent heroes. It's easy to understand why you'd mention Jimmy Page or Tony Iommi but what did you love about players like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani? I loved listening to those shred records but there was something lacking in 'em that I wasn't necessarily getting out of 'em. And that was that heavy, chunky rhythm stuff. When I hear guys like Tosin (Abasi) playing that kind of stuff and incorporating the odd time signatures - aw, it's just so satisfying to hear that. Jim #4: How many layers of rhythm guitars do you record? What does your signal chain look like? It's changed through the years so it's kind of evolved. Now it's sort of like we're running three amps at once and three cabinets. Whether those are Mesa, Marshall, Bogner or Diezel amps, it just depends on what we're feeling at the time. Then 100 percent we're using a combination of Mesa and Marshall cabinets. Then just combining these amps in different configurations and putting microphones on all of them and blending the microphones together before we print. What was the question before that? How many layers of rhythm guitar? Are you double-tracking rhythms? Yeah, we're doing doubles of everything and then usually we're doing an overdub of a super low distorted fuzz underneath it maybe with an octave on it. Just so that underneath it has a lot of low end and grittiness to it. We like to call it the Tractor. It goes right to the center of the speaker and kind of brings the two left and right doubles together and kind of glues it all together. jamie_hough: How did you feel about using dubstep elements on "The Path of Totality" record? When Jonathan presented the idea of including some of this, to me they were just new, unusual sounds like electronic sounds. He was real excited and I got real excited 'cause I'm an industrial metal fan and I think this was like my chance to dig my heels into this sort of world of metal-meets-electronic. I kinda took that as a new take on what we were doing to kind of create a new sound. You looked at the notion of using dubstep in Korn's music as a challenge? Yeah, and after you've been doing this for as long as we've been doing music, if there's a bandmember and the singer is inspired by something that much, you've gotta let go and trust each other sometimes. That's what I did and I was like, "OK." We learned a lot technically in the studio about recording techniques and stuff those electronic producers and deejays use in their music. For so long Korn has always been trying to capture that low end frequency in our sound even from the very first record with 808s and the low tunings. It was like, "We're gonna use a lot of those techniques now and in the future."

malahk: Were your and Head's influences the same when you first started playing together? Yeah. A lot of people don't know this but him and I both love gangster rap. The N.W.A. records and Geto Boys and when Dr. Dre came out with his album that was so massive, the Chronic. Also we loved all those sampled sounds and we wanted to do that with our guitars like Cypress Hill. I think we ripped off Cypress Hill more than anybody because of those samples they use. Those horn sounds? Brrappp (imitates rising horn riff). That's sort of what we were trying to emulate. malahk: Now that Head's back, are you on the same page musically? I mean we jumped in when we went to write this new record. It was probably a couple of hours - it didn't take any time at all. It was super easy to communicate musically with him and personally. It didn't take any time; it was just effortless. We're both still metalheads and that doesn't change. You're always a metalhead. I think we discovered that because he went and did his musical ventures and I continued with Korn and we were using different producers and stuff, we were able to combine our refined writing skills as songwriters. That's why I think this record is so great because I think the song quality is so good and reflects where we are now musically. AlexGreat123: Have you ever considered a supergroup or jamming with some special players? I did put out a solo record, which was kind of a super band but it wasn't a jam. The songs were very structured and it was a scientific kind of concept behind the songs and everything. That was called Fear and the Nervous System. Great record. Thank you. That was great. To do it again? I don't know who I would choose. I'd really have to dig in and look around but I would do it again, yeah. I would use the same name. Absolutely. TryTheKetchup: What are your thoughts about bands who were into nu metal back in the early 2000s like the Deftones, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and P.O.D.? Most of those bands we're all friends with (laughs) because we all toured together at some point. We happen to know most of those bands on a personal level. I think it's just nice to see they've all evolved into their own (thing) and they've all found their own sound. They all sort of have their own stamp in what they do and they know where their strong points are in their songwriting and they've been able to sort of develop and let that grow. So yeah, I'm glad those bands are still around especially the Deftones. They're one of my favorite bands. Very cool band. What band would you like to headline one of your shows? (by totorsg) I would love to open up for AC/DC because they're still around. Angus Young, I forgot to mention him on my list before. Rammstein because their show is so massive and they’re just international superstars. Who else? Probably Black Sabbath because they’re out touring. Those would be three amazing bands to tour with. Have you ever met any of your heroes like Tony Iommi? I have never met Angus Young but I've met Jimmy Page and Steve Vai a couple times. It's crazy 'cause they're all sorta like very nice and polite people. And when these people get on their instruments, they just become monsters (laughs). sideslick: What was the first piece of music you ever played? That would have been the first thing I played from a well-known band would have the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane." That was the first song you ever played? You know who showed me that? Brian "Head" Welch. Is that right? Listen, Brian "Head" Welch is one of my very first guitar heroes. We went to high school together and one day at lunch period - he lived very close to the school - and I was in my freshman year and I went over to his house. He had a Randall half-stack with a Charvel and he was playing Dokken riffs and I was floored. I was like, "That's it. I gotta play. I wanna play guitar - I wanna play electric guitar." I had an acoustic at home and I had been messing with it a little bit but after that I was like, "I gotta play electric." So Brian Welch figured prominently in your development as a guitar player? He actually sold me my first electric guitar. MrKorn981: If you could spawn a sequel to any song in your catalog, which sound would it be and why? Umm, we have an expansive catalog so I'm trying think. The first one that comes to my mind is a song called "Dirty" and it's on the end of "Issues." It just kind of leaves you hanging and you want more. The way that song starts is with a bass and drum thing and it's kind of like a loungey thing and it kind of reminds you of a drunken sailor feel. But the way it evolves and there's a bridge section in there I always wanted to kind of take further. I think that would be a great song to have a sequel to. korn_jer28: Any plans for a covers album? Yeah, this has always been in the works. Originally we went into the studio and this was right before Brian left the band. We went in and recorded "Fight the Power" from Public Enemy and I think that made it on a soundtrack ("xXx: State of the Union"). We recorded "Head Like a Hole" from Nine Inch Nails and we did "We Care a Lot" from Faith No More. And we did "Word Up!" and obviously "Word Up!" made the album ("Greatest Hits, Vol. 1"). It wasn't my pick but you've got to compromise so that was a compromise on my end. There were several covers recorded for a potential album? There was another song, "Love My Way" by the Psychedelic Furs. We were gonna put these altogether and release an album but we've never found the time. So those songs are sort of floating and a couple of 'em got leaked online. Those are songs we want to do but we have to try to find time. melaird1986: Talking about leaking, several Korn albums in the past have been leaked. What measures did you take on "The Paradigm Shift" to prevent that? The same ones that we always take. Just try to be careful with the CDs that get burned and be careful about passwords and that sort of thing. But when it goes to the (pressing) plant, everyone knows it's leaked. It's just accepted that making music today, your record is going to be leaked and stolen? Yeah. You have to just accept it. When I buy an album I want the artwork and I want to see the artwork. I'm still one of those old people. I want to associate the artwork with the music because it's an important thing as an artist to create. You're setting a stage with the artwork so that when people listen they'll understand it. I wanna hear all the songs and I wanna hear 'em in the best quality. I wanna hear it usually in my car or some headphones and I wanna listen from the beginning of the album to the end. theunforgivn: If you could play in any non-rock oriented band, what band would you play in? What instrument would you play? I like playing the drums. I started playing the drums and I'm a horrible drummer but I like the physical thing of smashing stuff. It would have to be drums and what band? I don't really know what band. Actually when I was a kid and before I really started playing electric guitar and I had an acoustic guitar, I used to put on a cassette tape in a boom box. I'd play air drums to Van Halen's 1984 when I was 14 (laughs). I just loved the sound of Alex Van Halen's drums. I'd wanna learn - do you know that song "I'll Wait?" Very well. Yeah, (sings) "I'll wait." It has great, great drum fills in it. Yeah, I would play that song over and over and try to learn every one of his licks on air drums. Having someone like Ray Luzier in the band must be special. Great guy, very talented. It's a rare thing when those two things occur at the same time. AlecBeretz: What project would you pursue if you weren't in Korn? - you'd be the drummer in Van Halen, right? Oh yeah, man. I say I'd still probably be working in or around a studio probably. I'd still be playing guitar whether it was in a band or not. I'd want to do something productive. Obviously this question was written before anyone heard the album - Does Head have any lead vocal performances on the album (by mkguymer)? No, it sucks (laughs). I don't know what happened there. We did the music and we recorded the guitars and we went to NRG (studio) and recorded the drums there. After that was done, Head had gone on tour with his baby band and then we proceeded to do bass. After the bass was done, Jonathan started to do vocals so he wasn't really around. I'm a little bummed about that because he has such a great screaming voice. The next record we're gonna make sure he's on it. Brian's work with Love & Death was very cool. Pretty strong. Yeah, that's a great record. mkguymer: What are your feelings about David Silveria? Umm, I miss the guy. I miss him and that's all I can really say. I understand. He was a good friend and we had a lot of great memories together. And that's it. You did a song for the upcoming film Killer Holiday? I'm not sure which one it was. I think that's something relatively new and I don't know about it (this may be the track, "The Devil Is In the Details"). N-D: Any plans for releasing another solo record? Maybe a second Fear and the Nervous System record? Yeah, we're talking about it. We're gonna start working it and piecing songs together like song ideas while I'm on the road. Touring can be exhausting so when there's time and I have energy to record, I'll do it. Zac Baird is our touring keyboardist with Korn (also the keyboardist in Munky's band) and he'll be out there with me so we can compile ideas. The way things work now our singer, Steve Krolikowski he can write things and we can bounce 'em back and forth through the Internet and that's the convenience of technology. So we can start compiling ideas so yes, there's a definitely a plan to do something. ozanne18: What was your first guitar? Is that the one Brian sold to you? I have a picture of it on my Instagram. It's called a Peavey Mystic and it's one of the ugliest - it looks like a giant wisdom tooth. Because it's white and really ugly and kind of a rounded-off Warlock or something from B.C. Rich. It kind of looks like that. That and a Fender Champ amp. He sold me that and he also sold me a Heavy Metal pedal box (conceivably the Boss HM-2). That was my first rig. The last album Brian recorded with the band was "Take a Look In the Mirror" back in 2003. Do you have any memories of that album? Yeah, we were so scattered and we all had personal problems. We weren't in the best space. We weren't really - I don't know, I don't know how to put it. 'Cause there was some good songs on the record but it was kind of a forced effort. The songs weren't flowing and the creativity was a bit muted from these personal dramas each of us had. You can hear the kind of frustration in some of the songs, which is kind of a good thing. My favorite song on that record is "Did My Time." Do you try and match guitar tones to the feel of a song? Does Jonathan ever show you a lyric that inspires you to go after a certain kind of sound? No, because for as long as we've been a band we've always done music first and we have some working title and then he'll write lyrics. It could be the other way around - the chaos in the sound we give him and say, "Here's an idea," I think it sparks something in him lyrically. Was it a difficult transition for you becoming the only guitar player in the band when Brian left? Yeah, it was a lot of pressure. It was. I had a lot of frustration with that but after we completed the album "See You on the Other Side," I felt such a sense of accomplishment. Because obviously I had a little bit of doubt whether I was going to be able to do it. I wasn't sure I could handle all the duties of continuing to be in a band where I didn't have the basis of my other half. So yeah, after we finished that there was a sense of accomplishment and reward to that. At the same time there was a big load to carry. Everybody in the band is clean and Brian is back - does it feel in some ways like it did when the band first started? We definitely have a rebirth and almost like a second chance. We have that feeling of, "We've got another chance to make this band successful again." I think the way we reprioritized what's important to us is our families and our music and the party's not even in the equation anymore. Before it was always the party first then the music and then the family. Now that we've all become dads - we're all fathers - things have shifted and we've grown up and we've matured. That definitely has reflection in not only the songwriting but how we handle each other personally and also with making business decisions about everything that comes with a band and compromising and that sort of thing. James, thank you for your time and indulging Ultimate-Guitar readers. Remember to play all the good notes. Well, I don't know about that. Bye. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2013

23 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Yay! One of my questions made it. Except he didn't fully answer it
    Same. I thought he might say some musicians. I get there were some guys on his solo record but still
    With regards to your question, Munky may have thought by "supergroup" he was asking just who would you like to ply with. So naturally, his mind went to his only other big project which was Fear and the Nervous System. He did say he'd like to do more of that though.
    My actual question was "Are you sick of Jonathon Davies trying to shoehorn Dubstep 'influences' into your current releases?" - but I'll settle for the question asked. Be warned though UG, I will only allow one mis-quotation... just the one...
    Don't you think that the question might be too offending?No matter what was the form of question, the message is the most important.
    I was not expecting my question to actually get answered. Wow! "Thank-You!"s are in order to both UG, and Munky.
    I'm kinda sad they didn't ask iommi600's question (What happens when Pinocchio says that his nose will grow?), that would've been fun
    Great interview...but I guarantee the interviewer killed any good vibe in the room by the way he ended the interview...it was cool he thanked him, and I think we'll all agree we appreciate his candidness, but my god..."Remember to play all the good notes"....*crickets*....lol...that was ridiculous.
    Nice interview. Got to see more into the life of one of my childhood heroes.
    How did you feel about using dubstep elements on "The Path of Totality" record? I like how they changed the question so it didn't appear to be bashing Jonathan anymore xD