Korn guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer has a lot to smile about. He’s basking in the recent arrival of his second son, Rocky Rebel Shaffer, with his actress/model wife Evis Xheneti. He’s about to embark on a 22-date tour to mark an extended 20th anniversary of Korn’s self-titled debut album, released in 1994.
“I’ve been in Nashville and I’ve been recording so I’ve missed some of those moments,” he shares about his new family dynamic. “But hey, that’s the sacrifice we make.”
This rock star lifestyle is a far cry from that portrayed in Korn’s biographical video Who Then Now? released in 1997. Looking back on these humble beginnings today is a riot. Founding members bassist Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu, singer Jonathan Davis, guitarist Brian “Head” Welch, Shaffer, and former drummer David Silveria were young, eager, and carefree. (Silveria left the band in 2006 and was replaced by current drummer Ray Luzier the following year.)
“When we made that video 20 years ago, we were all kids,” Shaffer laughs. “We didn’t have any real responsibly other than to show up to our gigs. That was it. We didn’t have families or anything so we’ve definitely grown as human beings. We’ve all learned the hard way.”
Korn evolved to become one of the most successful bands of the last two decades. They broke genre barriers (Shaffer later touches on that pesky “nu metal” term), took eight of their 11 studio album releases to Platinum or Multi-Platinum status, and did so while staying true to their roots and repertoire. During the band’s early years Korn’s lyrics often were misconstrued negatively as angry or dark, but the music never really was for those critics anyway. It takes a real fan to connect with such deep content in meaningful ways. Each member of Korn understands this bond with the fan community, and its resonance of life’s difficult times and pain.
“We grew up in Bakersfield,” Shaffer noted. “You think California is all glamorous, but Bakersfield is central California. It’s very much a suburban town and people struggle there. We all grew up in lower middle class families. Emotionally, we’ve gone through some shit in childhood. That resonates with so many people. We extend that to our music so people can just lock onto it and feel like they have something. In those moments when people fell despair they just fucking connect with it so much. That’s where the connection becomes real.” Shaffer is an open and humble person. He shared more of his perspective on marking the band’s anniversary, the journey to now, and the deep emotions in which the music is heavily rooted. More excerpts from the interview follow:
Congratulations on marking 20 years as a band! It’s so exciting that Korn will play the self-titled record! How do you feel to reflect on this anniversary, professionally and personally?
When I look back I feel a big sense of accomplishment, but yet I still feel like there’s a lot of work to do. We have goals, you know? I think that’s just my personality, though; I’m always striving to conquer the next dream or goal—whatever it may be—the next tour or record, or having more children. I definitely look back on all the years, tours, and recordings we’ve put out, and I feel excessive gratitude and real accomplishment.
I feel really grateful because not a lot of bands make it this long. It’s hard. It’s hard to get along. The money and the success can really thwart your reality. A lot of people can’t come back from that. We’ve had our ups and downs, don’t get me wrong, but I think we’ve all grown a lot as men.
What can fans expect from the shows?
I think this tour is really a sense of celebration. We’re not trying to be nostalgic. We’re just celebrating the beginning [of the band]. You really see, when we play our first record, and then we play our other hits, you can see how much we’ve grown as songwriters. It’s such a different time now. There’s such a spirit of positivity now in the band.
I don’t consider us metal. I never really did. I guess that’s why they coined the term “nu metal.” That’s why that whole thing was made up, because people couldn’t fit us into a box. We did what we wanted to do. I think that’s why the fans liked it. Korn offers elements of all the things people like in music smashed into one band.
I spoke to Jonathan a little bit about during this tour. We were reflecting about how we always felt like the black sheep of the metal community. We didn’t really fit in and that’s a reflection of our upbringing, our childhood. I think that’s why fans can really connect with us, because a lot of our fans feel like that. But now it’s a different time.
For us it’s about looking toward the future and having a positive outlook on life. I think that reflects in the music and what you’re going to hear from us in future music is of a bit more uplifting theme.
You guys aren’t afraid to experiment, and you’ve come to a point in your careers where you’re able to do things just for fun, for instance, the metal cover of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.” How did that come about?
One of Rihanna’s managers asked if we would be interested in doing a remix and I was like, “Yes! That’s so cool and different.” It was exciting because it’s not the same old thing. When we’re creating something we want to be excited to do something different. If an idea comes our way, we try it. If it doesn’t work at least we can say we tried it. The openness to be creative always has been an accepting trait of the other guys [in the band]. Whenever someone wants to try something no one shuts down ideas. If it works, great, and if it doesn’t then well, nothing lost.
There are the moments we create songs that we think a lot of people will like it because it sounds catchy. We’re not afraid of those moments. [The song] “Never Never” [off 2013’s The Paradigm Shift] is not something we’d normally do. It’s catchy. It doesn’t come across as a heavy song. We wanted to take a chance. We always want to take some risks, and not all of them work, but people appreciate the ones that do.
If you had the choice to play another record in its entirety, which would you play and why?
I know a lot of people want to hear Follow The Leader, but I’d want to play Issues. That record comes the closest to a concept album. It starts with the intro and it has bagpipes, marchy snare, and interludes between songs. Just the way it’s put together and the song sequence, it just feels like the full package. We actually played it one time at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. We did it that one time for the album launch. Maybe when that record turns 20 we’ll do that again because it was so good. We rehearsed to get the songs down exactly how they were recorded in the sequence. For me that’d be next on my list. Each guy in the band would probably think differently, but for me, that’s the one.
Korn will play Oct. 5 at Irving Plaza in New York City, Oct. 6 at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ, and Oct. 10 at the Rock Allegiance festival at PPL Park in Chester, PA. For more information, go to korn.com.