Korn: Remember Who You Are
How Korn rewrote the rules of the game with their latest album 'Path of Totality'Features August 30, 2012
Back in 1993, people didn’t know what the hell to do with us. Nobody knew what our music was; we were playing shows with No Doubt at one time,” laughs Korn mainman Jonathan Davis, on the line from Montana where the band has just wrapped up a show on their US tour. He could well be talking about Korn circa 2011. Korn’s contentious last album The Path of Totality saw the band break from their nu-metal mold to collaborate with dubstep producers Skrillex, Noisia, Feed Me, Excision and 12th Planet, among others, to create a dance-rock hybrid that radically polarized their fan base. But Davis insists Korn has always been about the experimentation. When the band first got together in 1993 – vocalist Davis, guitarist James “Munky” Schaffer and Brian “Head” Welch, bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu and drummer David Silveria – they were playing an as-yet-untested blend of hip-hop, metal, rock and groove. Their self-titled debut album effectively kick-started the nu-metal genre, a label that they would have a long and controversial relationship with, even as they went on to influence bands like Slipknot, Limp Bizkit and Coal Chamber.
In 2005, guitarist Welch, who had been battling a severe meth addiction for three years, quit the band to turn to Christianity and drummer Silveria left in 2006 to run his own restaurant and fans effectively wrote the band off. But Korn surged back with a new drummer, Ray Luzier, [ex-David Lee Roth] and a seething back-to-basics album Korn III: Remember Who You Are before gobsmacking fans with Path of Totality in 2011. Now, the band will hit India for their first tour of the country this September, playing Gurgaon, Mumbai and Bengaluru.Davis says the band will put together a special old-school set for India while also playing a few songs of their latest album. In a candid and oftentimes meandering chat with ROLLINS STONE India Davis discusses his India obsession, his electronic music alter-ego J Devil and his emotional reunion with guitarist Welch in May this year.
You’ve been on the road for a while now since your latest album Path of Totality released in December last year. How are fans responding to the new material?
Fans have been just freaking out. There were a lot of metal fans that didn’t accept the electronica element, but we’ve been doing that for years anyway. But people have been going on their blogs and saying that this is a record that you have to hear live. It sounds so humongous and so huge and we play most of it entirely live. There’re only a few things that are running on tape behind us – maybe two tracks that’re played on keyboards. Ray’s drum set is automated and for six songs, he has 45 different samples which trigger automatically. It’s used in the dance world a lot, it’s not like playing the tape at all. We constructed it to be played live and it’s definitely a different vibe and it’s amazing. All the kids have been freaking out over it.
Is that something that you have planned for India too?
Yes, we’re playing a lot of the old-school songs. It’s a place we’ve never been, we’ve always wanted to go. I love India. It’s awesome. I’m into Sikh religion really hardcore, like, a lot and I have a lot of Indian friends. I can’t wait to go there. We knew we had fans there, we had a lot of people come to see us and we’ve been playing all over the world and for tons and thousands of people. We’ve been to a lot of places but it’s really more important and exciting for me to play somewhere that I’ve never played before. We’ve been around about 18 years and I’ve never been to India. It’s one place that I’ve always wanted to go. I want to see the Golden Temple. I’ve got all these wishlist things I want to do there. Some of the most gifted musicians in the world come from India, some amazing, dedicated, crazy musicians. Indian music is so fucking hard because of all the quarter tones and the tabla patterns and the ragas that they play. These ragas are all 30 minutes long and not one measure is the same. That shit just blows my mind! I love Indian violin and the singing – I’ve used some of the Indian percussive singing. I’m learning how to play the violin.
As for your new album, when Korn first kicked off, you were doing something that had never been done before; you were bringing elements in from metal, hip-hop, rap and rock to create a new genre. So why do you think fans were surprised when you did the same thing – blending disparate elements together – on Path of Totality?
Some fans were surprised but a lot of fans dug it. Some people are stuck in their old ways and they really hold those old albums close to their heart, which I do too. At that time, we did something that had never been done. And I think it’s becoming a practice with us to do it all over again, hit the reset button, incorporating what’s going on now. Back in ’93-’94 when we were making that music, hip-hop and funk and that kind of stuff was going on at that time that we were really into. Now I’m here 18 years later and I’m really into electronic music and all we did is take it and flip it and switch it and turn it into something different. Some people are just really… I won’t say close minded, they just hold this stuff really… they’re like purists. But still, others are loving it and more and more people are coming out and saying they’re really digging it. We’re bringing two worlds together and I love it.
You and electronic music go back a long way. I believe you were deejaying back in high school and were into electronic music back then too…
Yeah, the first time I deejayed I was 14 but I was doing gigs when I was 16. I played New York freestyle music and Miami bass and electro-hop and that time these were all the new styles of music and I was really, really into that. I did that for a long time and after I got into Korn and years slipped by, I was just like, “Come on dude, I miss it. Let’s go do this shit again.” So I got in the game, started going out and deejaying at bottle clubs and then I’m all, “I’m tired of playing that piece of shit, I’m going to start making my own.” The J Devil stuff that I’m doing is all my own music and it’s crazy.
J Devil is your DJ alter ego. That’s really taking off too now, isn’t it? You were touring with some big acts.
Right now, J Devil is opening for Korn – it’s me, Sluggo and Korn – and I’ve done big dance gig parties. J Devil is my dark half. I think with any culture throughout the world there’s a light half and a dark half that need to be balanced. So the J Devil character is the dark half of me and in Korn I’m the light half, the other side. So it’s fun. I’m a character, it’s my alter ego and it is fun, it’s theater, it’s entertainment.
You did Korn III: Remember Who You Are in 2010, and Path of Totality happened in a little over a year. And Korn III was really old school, and then you switched to something completely different. Why did that change happen so quickly?
You know, I just kinda got inspired by listening to everyone’s music. I was listening to dubstep for a while and I got the idea that “what if we just mixed these two together Let’s just try and experiment.” And that’s when I called Sonny – Skrillex – and said, “You want to work with us?” Sonny was like this huge Korn fan and he was like, “Yeah man, I’ll come down.” And he came down after three days and we wrote those songs we didn’t know what the hell we’d do with it. The first song we wrote was “Get Up” and the second was “Chaos Lives in Everything” and we’re like,” Man, this is really cool. Let’s keep going.” So Sonny hooked me up with some more people – Jake [Stanczak] which is Kill the Noise, with Noisia, who are like the gods of electronic music period, and 12th Planet and Flinch, Feed Me from London. I just took like the best electronica DJs there are to work with us and I worked really hard [laughs], 12 to18-hour days. It looked like mission control in our studio, just cutting, editing and figuring this out to make it a Korn record, not a dubstep record. We had to keep the integrity of the electronic music but it had to be a Korn record, it had to have that integrity. We were walking this tight little line that I had to navigate and make it work because it could have gone totally, horribly wrong. I put the time in and the sweat, and shit I didn’t even sleep. Half the album was recorded out of the country. I did some of the shit in the Philippines, some of it was in South Korea and the rest in Japan, on tour. Yeah, so it was fun. It was a cool project and I worked really hard and this is my favorite Korn album. Untouchables was first one but now this is.