Korn Talk “Best Album”, Head’s Return
“That looked like it did 15 years ago,” smiled Ray Luzier from behind his drum kit.
Truth be told, Ray’s got the best seat in the house, overlooking Korn’s rehearsal from up high. It doesn’t just look like it did 15 years ago, it sounds like it did back then too—only better. Reuniting with guitarist Brian “Head” Welch” has invigorated Korn immensely. You can hear it in their voices when they excitedly dish about their “best album ever”, but you can really hear it when they flawlessly tear through the perfect set list mixing both classic and recent material. Head’s booming roar punctuates certain bruisers as his riffing remains as impeccable as ever. Simultaneously, Munky infuses a dark, dreamy edge to the material, once again solidifying he and his cohort as one of the most innovative, inimitable, and impressive guitar duos in history. Fieldy’s bass warps wildly through the seven-string haze as Ray pounds out those timeless grooves like his life depends on it. Adding distinct flourishes to the songs, keyboardist Zac Baird exudes a similar energy.
After running through a staggering set like they were headlining Coachella or Woodstock instead of just playing to a few crew guys, Korn all don beaming grins. It’s on again…
In this exclusive interview, ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino sits down with James “Munky” Shaffer, Brian “Head” Welch, Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu, and Ray Luzier for Korn’s very first interview together about their forthcoming eleventh studio album, the upcoming tour, and so much more.
Photos: Sébastien Paquet
When you first got back into a room together was it like picking up where you left off? Was there a learning curve or any anxiety? It seems like the vibe got even better from the music on the album trailer…
Head: That song is one of my favorites, but this is the best Korn album ever. I’m talking about vocals, choruses, and melodies! Jonathan is completely blowing my mind, and he’s going to blow everybody else’s mind when they hear it. His vocals are way out of the park, man.
Munky: When we got into the room, I think there was a lot of excitement. Mostly, everybody was excited. Everybody had already hung out. Brian and I had a meeting with our manager Peter Katsis. We were thrilled to get in and play. There wasn’t really a learning curve. When we picked up our instruments, it was super natural. He started to play something, and then I would play. These guys would fall right in. Immediately, we started to bounce ideas off each other like we used to—as far as the back-and-forth guitars answering each other. I guess you could call it our little riddle.
Head: I was nervous when I started because, before I left back in the day, I didn’t like writing. It seemed like I was coming up with crap. It seemed like there was negative energy in the room with whoever…
Fieldy: Everyone really…
Head: There was a dark cloud over each of us.
Munky: It’s true, man.
Head: I didn’t like it before. When we came back, I thought, “Okay, I don’t want it to be like that”. You’re staring at the floor because you can’t come up with something. I’d try to come up with ideas and bring them there. I felt more excited now. Before I quit Korn, I felt defeated. This time, I was like, “I’m not going to be defeated. I’m going to do everything I can to move this writing forward”. I was nervous and excited at the same time. Everybody delivered when we got there. It’s meant to be. When it’s meant to be, everything flows.
Fieldy: It didn’t feel forced. It felt comfortable. It felt nice. Everybody knew his part and what he was supposed to do. We were all comfortable with our roles, whether it’s me on the bass or Ray on drums. It’s almost like putting the pieces together in a Tetris game in they all fall into the right spot. Nobody was trying to fill someone else’s part. Everyone was doing his part. Because we were doing that, we were putting one-hundred percent into our own parts. It brought the best out of each of us because we were trying to show that to each other.
Munky: We took time with each other. When somebody had an idea, we gave each other the time to let it develop. Fieldy would keep playing a bass part with Ray on the drums so Brian and I could experiment on it. That’s something we never had patience to do back then. It was like, “Figure it out later”. Then, we’d get to recording and figure it out. We had time to let the songs and parts grow on us. We have 25 almost complete songs. There are going to be 15 on the record.Head: Fingers crossed.
Fieldy: We’ve never done that before. We’ve normally done 13 songs at the top.
Munky: Then, we’d be squeezing them out.
Fieldy: The last four would just be squeezed out at the last minute.
Munky: Because we had time constraints…we started writing in July of last year.
Head: We had our first meeting and started in like two weeks.
Munky: We were just coming off the road for The Path of Totality.
Head: Working with Ray was really positive. I wasn’t used to a drummer trying all of these things and being really cool about it. We all work like that. For one of my favorite choruses on the record, Ray suggested the coolest thing. Then, Jonathan wrote his part from it, and that’s the hook. We all have these ideas, and we’re all open. There are no egos at all. We’ll try anything musically. I’m telling you. I don’t mean to sound all bubbly, but it was almost perfect [Laughs]. It was so positive.
Ray: Coming from an outside perspective, I’m still a fan. This is my sixth year now. Watching the two guitars and seeing James and Brian work together is really mind-blowing. They do things here and there, and they feed off each other so well. There was definitely a missing link. When we got together and started writing in the studio, it was crazy how fast everything came together. Now, we’re rehearsing. Hearing Brian play things off The Path of Totality and See You On the Other Side is crazy.
Head: It’s so fun for me to play those songs.
Munky: That’s a good indication of how there are no egos. You want to play some of the music we did without you!
Head: Totally! A couple of the electronic songs are some of the most fun for me to play in the set.
Munky: They’re so different. They’re in another tuning. It’s a different animal.
Fieldy: It’s fun for us. Korn has well over 100 songs. For us to pick is hard these days. We played the set list today all the way through, and it is so banging. It’s just good.
Everything you’d want to hear as a longtime fan is on there.
Fieldy: It’s a crazy set. I can’t believe it. It’s one of my favorite sets we’ve done in ten years.
Munky: Even in rehearsals, having Brian in the band, those old songs sound better than they ever have. We played “Freak On a Leash”, and it sounded exactly like the record.
Fieldy: We haven’t talked like this in at least ten years. It’s crazy.
How does having all of your solo projects impact Korn? You come back with fine-tuned musicianship and a new perspective and you enhance that original blueprint and elevating it.
Munky: First of all, it’s really humbling to go out and pursue a solo project or put out a record on your own outside of this band. It shows you how great this band is and how much everyone carries his own individual weight in this. When you go out and do a side project or another record, you appreciate this a lot.
Head: If I had stayed in Korn this whole time, I never would’ve done a side project.
Munky: You would’ve probably been dead…
Head: You’re right…That pushed me to do it. I totally feel like it was meant to be that I did it. I always wanted to try vocals. I tried it. I’m not the best at it, but I got to achieve something I always wanted to do. It made me feel good. When I did come back here, I was so thankful. I get to see thousands of people in a crowd again. I do it once or twice a year in my band if we get lucky at a festival [Laughs].
Munky: You have one of the best screaming voices I’ve ever heard!
Munky: The way he screams on “Ball Tongue” is awesome.
Fieldy: I love it.
Munky: Hearing you on “Lies” is incredible.
Fieldy: Hearing your backups, what helped you is that you sang on your own and came back. His voice is confident and powerful, but it’s the same “Ball Tongue” tone. There’s power behind it. It’s the same voice, but it’s not coming through a broken kazoo [Laughs]. You hear more power, and it makes everything sound better.
Head: I always felt like my voice sounded like I had food in my throat. Since I left, I got broken down and disintegrated to nothing. Then, I was built back up stronger than I’ve ever been in every way, emotionally, mentally, professionally, and musically.
Do love Korn more now than ever?
Munky: I do so much more now. I have clarity because I’ve been sober for almost three years now. I don’t take it for granted anymore. I’m so grateful. I’m in a place of huge gratitude. I think it comes with age.
Head: He’s old [Laughs].
Munky: I am!
Head: Dude, I love it one-hundred percent. It’s the best ever.
Munky: We have a new record now, and it’s so good.
Head: I love it.
Munky: He loves the record, and that makes me feel good.
Head: I’m telling you! Jonathan just killed it.
Munky: That’s what I wanted—I wanted him to come back and us to do this. That was the seed. We’re going to plant the seed, get him in the studio, and hopefully it grows into this giant tree with roots we can sustain for a long time.
Head: To be honest, some of the records in the past, I was lacking musically and in terms of writing. I think everybody was. I didn’t like it much anymore. I’m telling you. Now, about every song, I’m like, “Dang, this is awesome! I love it again! This is what Korn is”. I don’t want to build it up so much, but I can’t help it [Laughs].
Munky: Having us all go through our individual trials and tribulations, we can come to this point, make a great record, and look at it as a real achievement instead of just another album.
What makes this record that special?
Head: I’ll tell you right now. The song quality is at a different level.
Munky: The songs sound mature.
Head: The lyrics are so eloquent as far as how Jonathan is rhyming and putting them together.
Munky: That word “eloquent” is great.
Fieldy: When Head and I were in seventh grade, we had to take a reading class. We’d read a page, and the teacher would be like, “What’d you read?” We’d both say, “I don’t know!”
Munky: That’s what they call ADD now [Laughs].
Head: I have ADD! I remember that we were in Reading Lab.
Fieldy: I got ADD, ADHD, STP [Laughs].
Was there a lot of nostalgia in the studio?
Munky: There were a lot of inside jokes we picked right back up on and we could laugh about. We can look back on a lot and laugh about it. You’ll be like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that again”. We can laugh about the silly stuff we all did.
Are you more focused on what Korn is?
Munky: Everybody knows his place now. We’re all comfortable with our roles in the band and as people.
Fieldy: It makes it nice because you don’t have one person trying to jump and make this person do this or that. We know Munky is Munky with the way he plays. Head is Head. Ray is Ray. Jonathan is Jonathan. I’m me. We all have our parts, and we’re not trying to do something we’re not. It just flows. We pick up our instruments, start playing, and it goes.
What was playing “Blind” at Carolina Rebellion last year like? Head, did you feel like you were back in at that point or did it take the conversations after?
Head: It took the conversations after.
Munky: I’ll tell you though. I was nervous to play that song. We’d been on tour for a year, playing that song every night. When I knew he was going to come on stage, I was nervous.
Head: I was! Are you kidding me?
Fieldy: Head was hanging with me, and I was like, “Korn’s going on!” He said, “I want to go watch”. We were walking up.
Munky: He was walking to the stage with us, which was really weird.
Fieldy: First, we were hanging in my bus, and he wanted to go back so he could see these guys before the show. We got caught up, and he said, “Let’s go back there. I want to say hi to Munky and Jonathan”. We were walking and I asked, “Are you going to do the encore “Shoots and Ladders”, “Got the Life”, and “Blind”?” He looked at me like, “What? I don’t know those! Do the guys?”
Head: The first thing he said, all Fieldy-style, was, “I’m just saying. There’s a guitar up there all ready for you” [Laughs].
Munky: We set a guitar and amp up just in case.
Fieldy: Earlier, I had our tour manager text him a set list so he could see it.
Head: I got it and thought, “Oh, cool!” I’m so lucky I didn’t play them because they had done remixes of all of them live, and I would’ve messed everything up [Laughs]. I didn’t know those versions.
It was everybody’s first time with Don Gilmore too.
Munky: Brian and I met him at a café in Calabasas, and he was like a college guy [Laughs]. He reminds me of an old friend of ours who signed Korn.
Fieldy: What I liked about him is he’s such a good musician. The dude can harmonize. He just knows. We’ve worked with guys who don’t even know how to play.
Munky: He can hear the notes.
Fieldy: He picked up my bass and started doing some slap stuff!
Munky: Remember he did that disco thing?
Head: That was funny.
Munky: He has a way of delegating all the different personalities. He’s a good moderator for the room to get everybody to come and show up. He’s got a great work ethic.
Fieldy: Musicians are a bunch of guys who can’t hold a job [Laughs].
Munky: He’s stays cool.
Ray: I like how mellow he is. Producers get uptight, and they can really ruin the vibe of a song. Don’s not like that. Look at his track record. You go to his house and see all of the platinum plaques for albums over 14 or 18 million sold.
Fieldy: You went to his house?
Ray: I went to his house, yeah.
Fieldy: They don’t let the bass player go to anything.
Does writing and recording in Bakersfield help you focus?
Munky: It definitely makes you focus like, “We’re here to write so let’s write”.
Head: We were in Oildale. Back in the day, Jonathan and I were on meth in that same place and I recorded “Ball Tongue” for our first record. It was the same exact studio in 1993.
It feels good to go home…
Ray: The first show with Head is literally two miles from parents’ house.
Are you looking forward to Rock on the Range?
Fieldy: The U.S. is starting to pick up when it comes to festivals, and that is a good one.
Head: It’s going to be fun and exciting, but I’m nervous since it’s our second show!
Fieldy: That’s why we’ve been rehearsing hard. This is more than we’ve ever rehearsed. We usually go in for two days.
Munky: This is our second week of rehearsal!
Fieldy: Korn doesn’t typically do two weeks of rehearsal. Sometimes, we do one day, fly in early for a show, sound check some songs, and play.
Ray: We didn’t rehearse at all for my first show with these guys [Laughs]. We ran the set they day before in Dublin.
Fieldy: We are so ready. We’re extra-rehearsed.
What does Korn mean to you in 2013?
Head: That’s a deep question.
Munky: It is.
Head: To me, Korn symbolizes the path of life. We came out. Jonathan dealt with child abuse. We dealt with rage. We dealt with all of this crap. We got through that. We’re still going through life’s ups and downs, but we got to a place of maturity where we’re trying to be better people, but we’re still twisted and messed up in some ways. It’s a full circle of that life experience put into music. I swear. That’s it. I feel good about this album. I don’t want to say it’s more positive, but it has some quality. We’re trying to be better people, and you can feel it. Even if he’s singing about something negative and crazy, there’s this thing…
Fieldy: It’s like country music. They trick you. He’s singing something negative, but it doesn’t sound it [Laughs]. I’m just kidding.
Head: If you think of the Korn records, all of our emotions were poured into the music. What we dealt with every year was filtered through each album. Now, everything good that’s happening is in this album. To me, that’s what it means. We’re pouring out our lives together in unison all on this long two-decade journey.
Fieldy: Korn is an outlet. I grew up riding dirt bikes. When I get up on stage, it’s like a dirt bike to me. You get this adrenaline through you like you’re riding a dirt bike and jumping. I don’t ride dirt bikes anymore because I hurt my arm and I got scared [Laughs].
Head: That’s because you ran over Jonathan. It’s karma!
Fieldy: When we get together on stage, even if we’re just standing there, you can feel it coming through us. It’s like I’m going to ride. Instead of loading up a bunch of dirt bikes, I load up here and go ride.
Ray: Korn is bigger than all of us. I’ve been in a hundred bands in L.A. It’s cool because you’re in a band where the name is so powerful. When we get together, there’s this thing. It’s untouchable. None of us can do that individually. It takes a force. It’s bigger than all of us. I’m still a fan from way back. Being a part of this legacy is huge for me. It’s all about music. To be able to do this for a living and be brothers is everything.
Munky: I love the adrenaline. With where we are now, it’s like the light at the end of the tunnel.
Head: Yeah! I like that.
Munky: It’s simple. We get to have our day in the sun because we’ve been in the shadows for so long in so many dark places.
Head: It was huge when Follow the Leader came out, but we were in a dark place. Record sales don’t even matter. We’re talking about life. You’re getting paychecks, crazy houses, and cars, but there’s a cloud over you because of life. I love how James put it. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel.
You can finally enjoy it.
Munky: I totally enjoy it.
Head: I’m excited. This is it! I used to dread going on tour and playing the sets. I was miserable. I hated it towards the end. I did it every year for so long. To actually love everything, I’m so thankful.