Interview: James "Munky" Shaffer of KoRn
Mon, 07 Jan 2008 09:16:21
First and foremost, Korn guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer is an artist. His vision redefined guitar playing in the mid-90's, and he crafted some of the most memorable riffs in heavy music ever. However, he once again has reinvented himself. In 2007, he launched Emotional Syphon Recordings, his personal record label and home to cutting edge acts Droid and Monster in the Machine. In a visionary move, the label caters directly to the artists' needs and gives them a venue to be heard.
Shaffer invited ARTISTdirect to Korn's studio deep in the heart of Hollywood to discuss the label and his plan to give back to an industry that needs a little hope. Sitting on a couch in the studio's office overlooking Hollywood Boulevard, Shaffer remains warm, friendly and honest, clearly outlining his plan. You can't help but believe every word from this genuine artist.
What triggered you starting the label?
I felt that there was going to be a shift in the business. I had a vision of doing an artist-run label—as I'm an artist, and I like to keep working. Plus, there's always work if you want there to be work. You go get it; it's not going to come to you—like you know. So I felt the shift subconsciously that the business was going to change, and I didn't know if it was going to be the right time, but I feel like it is, by coincidence maybe. It's just another example that if you follow what you believe in, it will come true. I wanted to do something, because the industry's been crooked. With the corporations, if it was done the right way, then we wouldn't have so many people without jobs. I learned of a person over at Geffen that lost a job today, and it bummed me out. David Geffen, I think had a good vision. With the downloading though, the curve wasn't set up right, so the technology got ahead of it. I wanted to do something that catered to artists. I wanted to look after them. There are so many good musicians out there. With my band Korn, I was lucky to make that cut before the end of an era, thank God. I'll be frank, and say my family lives a good life. I'm grateful for that. So what I want to do is pay it back with this label. I also want to hopefully create something that's fair between artist and label, because we need each other. I could sit and listen to demos all day long for a week straight, believe me, and hear about 20 really great artists out of them all. However, I don't have the structure to front 20 great artists correctly right now, maybe one day. That's kind of the dream. For now, I'd love to get to the point where we have 10 solid acts. Not too many, because I don't want to over saturate. So when I have a weekly meeting with my staff, we can focus on these acts and talk about how we can make them more comfortable making music.
I think your personal attention to these artists has made the launch of ESR a success.
Thank you. I think so too. I call people on the phone myself. I like to meet them. We do exchange emails, a lot. But I have personal contact with everyone that's in the family, because that's how a label should be run: face to face and with a handshake. Let's be gangsters here [laughs]. No, I'm just kidding. We don't have to do that, because we make our money and product honestly as artists, everybody knows that, especially artists. There are misconceptions in the business that artists just sit with our feet up all day. Well if I had time to do that, I wouldn't, because I'd be busy making music [laughs].
Knowing you personally, I think you just have the urge to put out and promote great art.
Whatever it is—whether it's a band or an animated film—I want to produce great art. It could even be art such as [Monster in the Machine Frontman] Shannon Crawford's paintings. I could hang them up and have an art show in my loft in New York, if I wanted. That's pretty cool that we could have an ESR art show. I'm just exercising some ideas that are possible.
That's the beauty of ESR, you've got this artist collective idea around it.
It's multimedia. We have to be multimedia in this day and age, because if we don't put out content that's inspiring, people aren't going to want to pay for it. With the Internet, everything is too accessible. I can get whatever I want from Youtube or a file-sharing network, but I don't. I buy CDs and DVDs. Keep it real here. Let's ride more public transportation, because there's way too much traffic in this city of lost angels. I love Los Angeles; don't get me wrong. I started my career down the street from here in my band L.A.P.D. with Brian, Reggie and David. So, it's come full circle, and I'm a block away from where our band used to rehearse on Hollywood Blvd. I'll show you the building. I went in there last night, and it took me back. It's just confirmation that I'm on the right path. Now I'm here working with artists that I picked.
You have come full circle, and you've got a great label roster to start. The bands are so diverse.
It was hard. Now ground is broken, and we have the infrastructure. We have the right team and the right people to make this dream come true. We can concentrate on making great art and not worry about giving it to the wrong people or having it pirated or downloaded.
I think you're 200 percent right about that shift in the business.
It's happening now, as we speak. The people that I know that worked for Geffen might have a place at this label one day, as the artists get researched and promoted in a way that isn't through Entertainment Tonight [Laughs]. F*** that. If they wanted to come in here and do an interview, they'd have to pay me. I don't give a f*** about pop culture. I may drive a new car, but I worked hard for that. I'm on the road f***ing eight months out of the year. I do it because I love it. I'd be in a van; I could care less.
You follow that passion regardless.
It is because of the passion exactly.
I think that's what stands out. I can see that Monster in the Machine and Droid are also so passionate.
Both of those bands have been through it for ten years. I've seen them pay their dues, and now it's their chance. A hit single would be a little icing on the top, but that's not what I'm looking for. We're making records here. That's what we're doing. We don't think about it too much, because if you start thinking about it too much, that gets in the way.
That spontaneity made the classic records so powerful. It made Led Zeppelin IV what it is.
Yup, because it comes from a real place. Led Zeppelin IV, that's cool. Symbols come on! I'm going to be a symbol now, like Prince [Laughs]. Well guess who did it before that? Mr. James Page. Then of course there's Mr. James Hendrix. There you have the James's [laughs].
Well now we have Mr. James Shaffer!
[Laughs] Well that's not what I'm getting at, but I did have to see what it was like to burn a guitar on stage. I just wanted to see what it felt like to burn a guitar in front of 20,000 people, down the street from my house. I thought, "Well maybe I'll burn it tonight, see what that feels like."
Was that last Family Values show in Irvine the first time you did that?
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