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Korn: Remember Who You Are

How Korn rewrote the rules of the game with their latest album Path of Totality

Deepti Unni Aug 10, 2012
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Jonathan Davis Photo: Mooz Entertainment

“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. The band’s contentious last album The Path of Totality saw the band break from their nu-metal mould 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 debut self-titled 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 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 Rolling 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.

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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?

The 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 toIndia. It’s one place that I’ve always wanted to go. I want to see the Golden Temple. I’ve got all these wish-list things I want to do there.

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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. 

Full story in the August issue of ROLLING STONE India. 

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