Interview: Jonathan Davis of Korn
Thu, 03 Sep 2009 20:48:14
Korn frontman Jonathan Davis remains one of the most powerful presences in pop culture.
An entire generation of kids were moved, inspired and touched by his raw personal catharsis on each and every note that Korn recorded in the studio or played live on stage. The multi-platinum groundbreaking luminaries took hard rock to dark places that it'd never been before and, as a result, the genre will never be the same. Jonathan made hard rock tangible. He took it out of the realm of fantasy and down to the heart, by channeling pain like few artists before him. Others still follow the leader…
Jonathan's still willing to embrace that darkness, and that's what he's doing right now as Korn records their ninth studio album.
He's also preparing for another first—playing the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Korn will be sharing the stage with Ozzy Osbourne and over 40 other bands as the Sunset Strip closes down on Saturday September 12th for this all-day extravaganza. There's no doubt that the Strip's about to be quaked like never before by Jonathan, Munky, Fieldy and Ray Luzier.
Jonathan spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about The Sunset Strip Music Festival, brutal new Korn music and much more…
Does the Sunset Strip hold a certain significance for you?
Yeah, most definitely! Korn played every club that we could possibly play on the Strip when we were first starting out. I remember playing at the Whisky when only 12 people would show up. On the first night that we sold it out, we thought that we made it [Laughs]. We played the Coconut Teaser and all of the other clubs on the Strip as well. It meant a lot to us. We'd always go out there and hand out fliers afterwards. Playing those venues was definitely integral to getting interest and getting labels out to see us. We played in Bakersfield a couple times, but most of the time we played in Huntington Beach. We were like the house band at this club called 5902. For the shows on the Strip, we'd rent a bus and have people pay for their entrance. We'd have kegs on the bus and bring bus loads of people up from Orange County to West Hollywood for those shows. It was awesome.
Is it inspiring playing on the Strip?
Hell yeah, the Whisky has always been one of my favorite clubs. It was just amazing knowing that I was on stage where Jim Morrison, Led Zeppelin and all of these other legendary bands played. It's really an inspiring thing when you're a young band that's coming up.
Was there a show that was particularly memorable?
The first time that we sold out the Whisky would be the most memorable one. Things were starting to go really well for us. The shows were getting bigger and bigger. It was before we were signed, and that's when record labels were first checking us out. It really meant a lot to sell out the Whisky. When we first started playing those clubs, sometimes we'd play for five people. Looking back on all of that, we're really excited about playing the Sunset Strip Music Festival now.
It's also your first proper LA show in a long time.
It's been a long time. I believe the last one was Family Values 2007 in Irvine. It's been a minute.
Was there a really memorable show that you attended on the Strip?
I'd go with a local Bakersfield band called Cradle of Thorns to their shows on the Strip. Those were really the only shows that I saw because I lived in Bakersfield at the time. Those gigs were awesome. It was great seeing a local Bakersfield band playing at the Roxy or at the Whisky. It was a big deal to me. I was like, "Oh my God, I'm in these places!" [Laughs]
Korn has always carried that excitement on stage since the beginning. You still bring it every show.
Dude, it's all about that every show. It seems like the older we get, the more intense and better it gets. It's crazy.
You're one of the few bands that has become more fierce on stage as you've grown.
Now it's just brutal!
How's the new record coming along? Has the concept been fully fleshed out?
It's going to be what it's going to be. The album's starting to take on a life of its own. I wanted it to start out as a concept album but now there are other things coming up that I want to talk about. I don't know necessarily if the concept's going to stick or not. We've been working with Ross Robinson. It's weird. I've been humming my lyrics along with the band as they play. I haven't done that in forever. We'd usually do our parts separately, and then I'd do my thing over the music after the song was done. We've been writing altogether as a band this time. I've been freestyling all of these lyrics that aren't necessarily about the five things I initially came up with for the album's concept. It's total freestyling—complete stream-of-consciousness. I'm really digging it. I might just go with what's coming out of my body at that moment…
So it's like that same catharsis you had on Korn and Life Is Peachy?
It's going to be exactly like that! I've got Ross with me, and he breaks it down to the point where sometimes I'm tears. He makes sure everybody in that room understands what that song's about and the power and the energy. He does these pep talks and we sit there and listen to him. Then he just says, "Let's do it," and the energy is ridiculous. We're playing in a little room that's like nine feet by nine feet. We're all smashed in their together and in each other's faces. I've been listening to the songs we're doing, and they really are incredible. We're still on drums with just scratch guitar and bass. Hearing the music, it's so old school Korn. I'm really excited. I know there are a lot of old school fans that love the first two records, and I think they're going to be really excited with this.
You've grown so much as a writer since you began. Untitled was a very visual record and you told so many stories lyrically. Will this next album combine the raw catharsis of early Korn records with this more recent storytelling?
Yeah, I think that's what it's going to do. You're definitely going to feel exactly what I'm feeling. The band is playing old school-style on tape machines. We don't have any click tracks. The music's got a soul. It's got a life of its own. It moves, and the tempos change. I think it's going to be really interesting for fans to hear this. Everybody uses Pro Tools now, and everything is put through a grid, perfected and Auto-Tuned. This is just going to be raw. We've got a 16-track tape machine and a 16-track board, and that's what we're using. We're doing it like Led Zeppelin did it back in the day.
It sounds like it's going to be incredible live.
It's sick, and we're just doing it as a four piece. The creativity is just flowing. Every day we come up with new songs. We've got so many songs, and it's going to be fun to pick the ones that will make it through to the album.
You've left a piece of your soul on every song. How does that still feel? You're obviously coming from a different place now as a father and a husband. Do you feel like it's the same process it was when you were a kid recording the first two records?
I think it's harder…I really do think it's harder now. When I was a kid, I was a kid. I was fucked up on drugs, and I had a lot of issues that I needed to get out on those first two records. Now the stuff that really affects me are the things around me. I am a dad and a husband, and my life has changed drastically. I don't want to be merely cathartic and crazy just for the sake of doing it. I really need to write about things that I feel strongly about. That's my heart, and that's how I deal with those things.
So many fans grew up with Korn. You're a truly meaningful band to a whole generation. What's it like to have fans so intertwined with your legacy?
It's amazing, bro. When I look out at the crowd now, I see so many different generations. I see people like you that have grown up with us and came to our shows at 12 or 13. Those same fans have kids today, and they're bringing their kids to the shows. I'm seeing younger kids that are just discovering us. I'm simply blown away that we're still doing it, and it's still relevant. People still come to see it and they need it. I feel like what we do in this band is give. We give 100 percent of this power and emotion into our music. The fans take that, and it's like a release…it's like, "Thank you." They want to come live that when we play live or when they buy the records. I mean, my own music helps me get through shit. There are countless people that I talk to who say, "Man, if I didn't have your music I don't know what I'd do." I think that's the magic of this band and why we're still doing it. I'm so happy that I have the opportunity to do it.
In my opinion, Korn was the first hard rock band that gave a lyrical voice to real pain and emotion. The lyrics weren't the same D&D fairy tales that so many metal bands told. At the same time, the music didn't simply glom on to one dark vibe either. You captured feeling more than any metal band before, and the genre's never been the same.
It's weird. It's a trip. This is what me being myself, closing my eyes and baring my soul to everyone turned into. I never, in a million years, thought it would be at this level.
It's cool that you're going back to where it all began with the Sunset Strip Music Festival.
Exactly, we get to do what we do for the LA crowd. It's been a long time. We get to see all of those fans. I'm excited!