Editor’s Note: This interview originally appeared on AltPress on Oct. 4, 2014.
It’s been 20 years since Korn came onto the scene with their eerily illustrated self-titled debut. The creepy image depicting a young girl on a swing as a man’s shadow towered over her is a memorable staple in the catalogue of ‘90s metal (a time when we actually bought records and dared to unfold the crisp album artwork).
Lead singer Jonathan Davis had the moxie to peel back the layers of his emotional endurances on that record. Ten albums later, he’s come full circle with band mates James “Munky” Shaffer (guitar), Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu (bass), Brian “Head” Welch (guitar), and Ray Luzier (drums) to mark 20 years since their first release.
Celebration is in order. In addition to playing a string of festival shows with an exclusive set list paying homage to the self-titled record in its entirety, Korn are gearing up for the Prepare For Hell tour with Slipknot and supporting act King 810. The tour will kick off October 25-26 in San Bernadino, California with Knotfest, Slipknot’s own music festival featuring more than two dozen acts (and some camel poo).
Davis took a moment to catch up before heading out on the road.
Prepare For Hell is a brilliant bill! What’s the show dynamic like, and what kind of set list fans can expect?
JONATHAN DAVIS: We’ve played with Slipknot before, but we’ve never done a tour with them. We’ve done festivals in Europe and stuff like that. They’re a really good band. I love their whole vibe. Those guys are all fucking crazy–like certifiable crazy. I’m really excited. It’s going to be a cool-ass show. It’s two different worlds, really. We both play heavy music but in different ways, so I think fans are going to get a really cool show.
Korn are marking 20 years since the release of their self-titled album back in 1994. You’ve said the band will start performing the record in its entirety–something you’ve never done before. How does that feel to uncover those old stones?
We’re gonna probably do a heavier set list in general, but we’re only doing the self-titled at festivals. Our big reason for doing that is because it’s the 20th anniversary, so during the [Prepare For Hell] tour we won’t be doing the self-titled at all. We’ll play songs off of it, but we won’t be doing it in its entirety. I think we’ll throw a couple of songs in there and see what happens. At this point in time, we just want to have a good time.
There’s a lot of personal heartache in the lyrical content.
It’s been 20 years. I’ve come to grips with what’s happened to me, and everything else. You know what? Fuck it. I’m gonna play it. Yeah, it is what it is, but I’m a lot more mature than I was when I was back doing that record in the beginning. I need to do it for the fans, too. It’s going to be a bit bittersweet because, for one, it was our first record. We had a blast making it and we were on top of the world. The bitter part of it; We were all so fucked up. I think what it will do is remind us of how fucked up we were, but also remind us how much fun we had. I think it’ll be really special for all the fans who were there in 1994 and bought that album and listened to it young, and have listened to that record for 20 years. It’s going to be really special, because some of those songs have never been played live. “Daddy” has only been played live twice, and some others never, so I think it’ll be pretty cool.
You’ve always innovated on the fan front. How important is it to you to maintain such a mutually beneficial community with fans?
We’ve always been a band that’s been about giving back to the fans. That’s how we started. Back when we first went on tour, I remember we had boxes of stuff to give out, and our shows were about hanging out with fans. We used to play shows and sometimes we’d go back to fans’ houses and have after-parties and stuff. When the band blew up, it got to the point where we couldn’t do it anymore. So we had to think of other things that we could do to show the fans that we really appreciate them. And here we are now.
Music has changed so much since Korn started. How do you interpret the music industry today?
I think it’s a sad, sad state for music, and the industry. It seems to me that it’s just taken a big dump and music with any kind of integrity has just gone down the shitter, for real. I think that everybody is just fucking stealing music, and I understand that people can get their music out there easily. I get that. But at the same time, it feels like everything’s been flooded with a bunch of shit. Record labels don’t know what the fuck is going on and music is suffering for it. I guess I think if you had all this music that really was awesome, labels can’t even do any cool shit anymore. They don’t have any money. You can’t really do any big and cool-ass things. I don’t want to piss anybody off, but that’s just what it seems like to me.
Are there any particular bands or artists that you’d give kudos to, on the contrary?
I’ve been listening to EDM stuff. Band Of Skulls–I’ve really started getting into [them]. We just played a show with them in Germany and it seems like through the rock stuff, a lot of the old school ’70s stuff is coming back. That’s the only rock shit I’ve been listening to. It sounds down and dirty and not over-produced. I kind of miss that. Everything is shiny and polished right now. There was this one German rapper I got into named Jan Delay. He had this backing band that was ridiculous! It’s like old funk. You’ve got horns and all this cool shit. It’s been a longtime since I was stopped in my tracks by a band at a festival. Those bands I happened to see twice in one night. I grabbed Munky and Fieldy and I was like, “Come on, look at this shit. You know I never do this!” We didn’t get to see them well because they were far away, but they were really feeling it, too.
You brought your kids out onstage to jam during the summer for the Rockstar Mayhem Festival. They really looked like they were having such an awesome time. That must have been really fun for them to come out with you. How do you deal with having to leave the little ones when you hit the road?
Oh, it’s fucking horrible. They make me feel like shit! “Dad, you’ve got to go? You need to stay here and have a job here.” They do all kinds of shit and I say, “Boys, I’ve got to go on the road. When you don’t have school, you get to come out during the summer.” So that’s our special time. And that was the first tour that I took them the whole summer and I’ll do it again next summer. But yeah, it’s hard when I have to leave.
I tell everyone that gets into this business: It’s a lot of sacrifice. I tell every musician that wants to be a big rock star to be careful what you wish for. When you’re young, it’s amazing and fun, but once you have kids and a family it’s tough. Nobody likes watching their kids fucking cry, knowing you’re not going to see them for a month. That just fucking sucks.
Are Korn actively writing or recording new music?
I’m always writing. I gave up partying and replaced it with writing music, so I’m writing constantly. I get tons of ideas, and most of the guys in the band don’t start writing until it’s recording time. I get it; everybody has their time and they get wrapped up in their own lives. But when it’s time to write and record they go into that mode. I’m in both modes at the same time. I’m crazy, I guess. We’re working on some stuff and we’ll get it recorded soon. I’m excited about that.