Korn are about to get a riff refresh.
In 2006, when Brian “Head” Welch parted ways with his band of brothers he’d hooked up with more than 20 years prior in Bakersfield, California, the Korn community was in dismay, to put it lightly.
In 1994, singer Jonathan Davis, guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer, and bassist Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu, along with lead guitarist Brian “Head” Welch and founding drummer David Silveria, started a magical music movement. A true poster child of emotional torment, Davis boldly marched into unchartered lyrical territory. Korn’s self-titled debut album took the nursery out of nursery rhymes, blew the whistle on bullies (before it was a tv campaign), and peeled back the emotional layers of countless other hard-hitting themes.
The music was equally enthralling; a culmination of dirty guitar riffs and slaphappy basslines served as the soundtrack for a generation of enduring adolescents. Their sophomore release, 1996’s Life Is Peachy, fused together the band’s hard shell repertoire, with a hip-hop outburst in an Ice Cube cover, “Wicked,” and a metal homage to scat via the intro track, “Twist.”
Staking claim at number one on the Billboard charts, their third album, 1998’s Follow The Leader, solidified their positioning in the numbers world. The single “Freak On A Leash” was nominated for nine MTV Video Music Awards, and won “Best Rock Video” and “Best Editing.” They’ve garnered two Grammy Awards, one for “Best Short Form Video” for “Freak On A Leash” and one for “Best Metal Performance” for “Here To Stay” from 2002’s Untouchables. Korn also broke down barriers between metal and popular music, and became the first band ever to be “retired” from MTV’s Total Request Live, with their video “Got The Life.”
In 2006, fans were shocked when Welch left the band to rededicate his life to Christianity. After his departure, there were tumultuous times between Welch and the group, as Welch sought sanctuary in channeling his energy into other forms of music. Later that year, Sylveria, too, announced his exit from the band.
Korn also began experimenting with their musical styling. The first album without Welch and the last with Sylveria, 2005’s See You On The Other Side was fueled by a more mainstream yet industrial sound. While their new sound and the singles “Twisted Transistor” and “Coming Undone” were well received, many fans felt the pain of a lost sound.
Slipknot’s Joey Jordison filled in on drums for a while but in early 2008, drummer Ray Luzier played his first show with Korn, and was subsequently formally integrated as a full-time member of the band. Korn had done many things to date, all but infuse dubstep into their signature sound. So they did just that, and demonstrated the application of hard rock electronica. To call Korn pioneers is an understatement. They create, experiment, integrate sounds, and trust that fans will come along for the ride. And we do.
After 10 years away from the group, Welch announced his return earlier this month. The band recently kicked off a world tour and are recording their 11th studio album. This is a 360-degree connection, of sorts, as Korn are shifting back to a guitar-based onslaught with Welch.
Welch took some time to catch up before hitting the road to talk about his return to the band, what kind of sounds to expect on the new record, and what it’s like to reconcile with his brothers. The transcription is below:
This time is really a special celebration for Korn. You’ve returned to the band to tour and record a new album. What is the experience like for you individually?
It’s so good. It’s so meant to be. The timing could not be more perfect. When the timing is perfect, everything just feels smooth. That’s exactly how it feels for everybody involved, from managers, producers, the band, of course, to the crew, everybody, it’s just so cool. It’s exciting. I look forward to it.
It keeps getting better because we’re chomping along with the album. Jonathan’s working on vocals right now. It’s a new, fresh sound, but also sounds familiar. It’s Korn and, I think, it’s just another level. It’s really exciting.
Korn fans obviously are excited for the next record, more so because you are a part of it. What can fans expect of the new music? If you had to compare it with an older Korn record, which one would you point to?
I really do think it sounds a little different, but maybe along the Issues side. The record has got the best choruses I’ve heard Jonathan do. The lyrics! He’s putting words together in a way that I’ve never seen him do before. It’s really cool for me to hear how he has [evolved vocally]. It’s really heavy in parts, and really exciting. He’s still tracking vocals right now. He’s got a couple more songs and bridges to do. So I haven’t heard everything. From what I have heard, it’s slammin’. It’s guitar-driven but it sounds new and fresh, too. So it sounds like 2013, but familiar with the past, too.
You and Munky always had great guitar chemistry. Is your connection still fluid as ever?
Yeah, there’s so much going on guitar-wise. We just fell right back into it. It was like no time had passed. I’m telling you, it was that awesome. He’ll say the same thing. We’ve been rehearsing for two weeks. We’ve just been bouncing off each other with old songs just like before. It’s tight and the new stuff just happened like that, too. It’s really well put together.
How we work in the studio is like, we grew up together, so if I heard something, I’d say, “Hey, try this.” And he’d try it and when I’d set the guitar down, he’d go over and pick it up. It was like we were one person just flowing out ideas. It was natural.
Korn have been no stranger to criticism for departing from their original sound, experimenting with dubstep. The sound was a result of creative experimentation and musical growth, but fans have expressed a general longing for the original, heavy sound that’s true to Korn’s repertoire. What have you thought about the band’s sound experiments over the last few years?
Korn’s been around so long. I thought it was really cool for them to try new stuff. And they said [they were going to have a different sound] before they put the record out. They said it was the most experimental album we’ve ever done, so right when they say that, you know it’s going to cut the fanbase in the middle. It was ballsy on their part to try something new, and I think they really achieved.
The two singles—what they did with Skrillex—I really like, “Get Up” and “Narcissistic [Cannibal].” I just think they have a lot of the Korn vibe in there along with that music. I mean, that was an experimental album, and that was a one-time thing. The heavy guitar is what Korn does. So it’s definitely going to stay there but they wanted to [branch out], and I commend them for not being afraid to share something new.
But yeah, I’m a metal head at heart. All I play is loud guitar, but I love electronic stuff mixed in. I love the depth. There’s some stuff underneath and I think it adds a lot. It’s the future. Let’s be open-minded, you know?
Earlier this year you told Rolling Stone, “Fans looked up to us like their family. And to see their family split up was hard on them. To get it put back together, there is a joy around the people who care about it.” How do you feel knowing that you’re making so many fans happy?
So awesome. That’s exactly what I meant. The people that care about it—you care about it—and the fans who are out there, we were there for them at a time in their lives when they were growing up, going through hell. It feels really cool to be able to put that back together and to come back swinging so strong with this music that I’m really proud of.
It feels like reconciliation. That’s my word. That’s the word of the year. It’s all restored and reconciled. It’s a big part, because everybody gets broken—families get broken. Almost everybody’s, except I think my parents—who are still together after 43 years. But it’s rare. It’s totally rare. So I love when people reconcile stuff. I’m stoked to be a part of a reconciliation story.
Korn are playing The Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, NJ, on May 22. For more information, go to korn.com or wellmonttheatre.com.