Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #135. Subscribe to our print edition here!
There's something about nu-metal that people just can't seem to shake. It still affects Korn, too.
Words and photo by Britt Andrews.
The late 1990s and early 2000s can be marked by three things: chain wallets, three‐quarter‐length jeans, and nu‐metal. While nu‐metal’s mainstream days are well behind us, Korn lives on.
Most remember Korn either from their five‐time platinum 1998 album Follow The Leader – which gave us such (head)bangers as “Got The Life” and “Falling Away From Me” – or from their more radio‐friendly 2004 cover of Cameo’s “Word Up!”. Nevertheless, Korn live on in our hearts, minds, and record players with the release of their 13th studio album, The Nothing. With founding bassist Reginald ‘Fieldy’ Arvizu’s combination of fingerstyle and slap bass giving Korn their unmistakable sound, it’s still evident on their latest release, with guitarist James ‘Munky’ Shaffer declaring, “It’s very much a Korn album.”
We spoke with Munky about Christianity, Korn’s legacy, and how they helped to inspire a generation, “kicking open a doorway for people to find their voice” and find hope in the darkness.
So you’re the pioneers of nu-metal, but you’re also sort of the last men standing when it comes to that era - how does that feel?
I think only the strongest survive. I think that’s pretty amazing. Especially with all the things that we’ve gone through over the years. I’m very grateful.
People who grew up with you now have kids of their own. How does it feel knowing your music has crossed a generation?
I mean, when we started out, we were young. We were kids. We didn’t know we were kicking open a doorway for people to find their voice; to find that the music was going to resonate with, y’know, not just their ears but deeper into their heart and touch people and help them through difficult times. Help them have fun. We had no idea we were going to lead to such a long career. And I think halfway through the 25 years, we started to realise it was affecting people in such a positive way, and that they were finding hope in the songs and the subjects that Jonathan digs down and talks about. It’s a great sense of accomplishment; it’s the icing on the cake, y’know?
What do you think Korn’s legacy will be?
That we did things our own way. We got to create how we wanted to create, without anybody telling us what we can and can’t do. I know that’s very much of a punk‐rock sort of take, but I think we all have a little bit of that in us. I guess that comes from growing up in Bakersfield [California], and so many people telling us we can’t do this, or we can’t do that.
That’s when we decided it was time to move. I was trying to move to Los Angeles where we can create a career and do things on our own without anybody telling us what we can and can’t do. I remember the first time when there was a handful of people at our first record label that believed in this band and never gave up, and they saw the vision that we had which was something completely different and new. Something that wasn’t being done.
The subject matter on the first album was pretty heavy and dark and talks you to ‐ not a lot of people wanted to talk about those subjects at the time. But I remember people saying the label would take the song “Blind” to radio stations and stations would say, “We’ll never play that. It’s too heavy. It’s too aggressive. It’s too dark. The lyrics are too, y’know, it’s too scary for radio.” And they didn’t give up, we didn’t give up. Just having that perseverance has always paid off for this band. We’ve always stuck through the good and the bad times.
What’s been the biggest regret of your career with Korn?
I think for me personally, probably not being involved in the business aspect of it sooner. That kind of came later but, y’know, we were partying, we were young. We didn’t really care too much about it. I think that’s probably one of the regrets that I have but, as they say, never too late.
With Brian ‘Head’ Welch becoming a born-again Christian, has religion ever become a point of contention within the band, or with any of your material?
Actually, it’s helped. I think his religious beliefs have brought a lighter side and it’s a nice juxtaposition. It sort of brings a nice balance to the band because he’s such a funny light hearted person but also, we, and I say this for all of us, we go through dark times and he does too. I do. And having somebody enlightened like him brings some sort of relief to us on a daily basis.
So, there’s a nice balance of sort of light and dark and that reflects in the songs too. We need that out on the road too. I’m grateful that he has gone through what he did ‐ his journey led him back to the band. It also led him to... I don’t want to say Christianity but even though that was the religion that brought him sort of, not only back to us but I mean, it saved his life and I’m grateful for that because he’s one of my best friends, if not my best friend. So, I have many, many gratitudes about that.
What can you tell me about your concept behind The Nothing? I saw the term “Gothfunk” being used online.
[Laughs] Gothfunk! Okay. Well, definitely you can dance to it and it’s dark. So, I can get where they came up with that. It’s a piece of work that took a long time. We purposely took time, we wanted to kind of sit with the songs and live with them. We didn’t want to just go in the studio and force any album out in two or three months and then just turn it in. We kind of wanted to let it stretch.
We began the process in January 2018, we started writing songs and Head and I would team up. Me, Head, Fieldy and Ray, we would just get in the studios a couple of weeks at a time and write a batch of riffs, and then we start to send them to [vocalist Jonathan Davis] once we accumulated about 20 of these half song ideas. And after about six or seven months of that, he kind of started going through them and listening to them and deciding which ones were resonating with him, which song ideas he was liking the most.
It has to feel comfortable for him to kind of open up that sort of channel that he finds in himself to talk about subject matter that is not easy to talk about. But it’s kind of like we have to kind of create an atmosphere for him to be vulnerable and that is a challenge. It’s a challenge and we want it to be right; we want him to feel comfortable and he went through some difficult times last year. It was challenging and we took our time and we gave each other space to deal with personal stuff; give ourselves time to deal with family and I think it’s the best result and I think everybody’s going to love the album. I love it. I guess that’s all that matters.
At the end of the day, when we were finished with this, we looped that back and we said “Okay, we love it. Now, we’ve got to let it go.” Y’know? Like, let others start hearing it. It’s always difficult because you start second guessing but yeah, we were all very happy with the record and taking the time really paid off.”