J Devil and Datsik Talk "Evilution", Korn, Dubstep, High School, Rockstars, and Why Electronic Music Rules
Thu, 15 Mar 2012 08:34:44
"Dubstep is its own art form now," exclaims legendary Korn singer Jonathan Davis.
The creativity inherent within the style has ushered in the next phase of electronic dance music, and Davis has been at the forefront of this movement in a couple of ways. Not only did Korn craft one of the most revolutionary albums of the decade, their dubstep-infused The Path of Totality, but Davis is in the midst of preparing the proper debut from his EDM alter ago, J Devil, which promises to be just as raw and riveting. He's a pioneer of dubstep in his own right, presciently bringing the genre together with metal.
Datsik stands right beside him. On April 10, he'll release Vitamin D via Dim Mak Records, and the album is a high watermark for both dubstep and EDM. It's visceral at all the right moments, but there's an intricate underlying structure to it as well. The record's standout, "Evilution", sees Datsik collaborating with Infected Mushroom and Davis for an explosive concoction of aesthetics. The singer's vocals resound with an entrancing danger as the elements of production converge on a new plateau for electronic music.
It's no surprise that Davis and Datsik have a lot in common. The two of them sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about "Evilution", Korn, dubstep, high school, and so much more.
What was your first meeting like? Did you click off the bat creatively?
Datsik: We met at a show in Sacramento when Korn was touring with Disturbed. Excision and Downlink were on their own tour at the time. I was actually playing somewhere on the other side of the country, and I flew to Sacramento to meet up with Excision and Downlink. We all went to the show together, and we watched Korn from the very top of the stadium because we wanted to see everything. I'd never been to a Korn show, and I was so fucking blown away by how much energy they had. After that, meeting Jonathan made more sense.
J Devil: I remember that night…
Datsik: I was really surprised by how into dubstep you were. It was cool. We sat down in a room and you showed us some tunes you were working on. It was really funny and awesome seeing how excited you were over dubstep. Coming from Korn's side of things, I had no idea you were going to be so passionate and into it. For me, it was a shocker, but it was really fucking cool.
J Devil: Oh yeah, I remember meeting them and being like, "Fuck, you guys are gods to me with what you do." They basically took metal music and turned it electronic. It's heavy and amazing. It had as much energy as what Korn does and some metal bands do, and I felt excited to say, "Check out what I'm doing! I know I'm sucking at it, but I'm trying!" [Laughs]
Datsik: Well dude, from what you've shown me, it's getting really good. I've got to watch my back here soon.
J Devil: I'm starting to coming up. I'm learning! I recently did a track called "I'll Fuck It" with Killbot. It's Sluggo and this kid Tyler Blue. The other music is me by myself. Now, I'm learning more about the engineering side. I'm trying to remix stuff and keep my levels right. All of this crazy shit is making my head hurt even more [Laughs]. People don't understand the amount of fucking time and effort it takes to make these songs. Fuck, rock is easy. You go in, you jam out the song, you play it, and it's done.
Datsik: [Laughs] I would say the opposite because you still have to play and write the song. It's quite a bit of work. If you had to engineer it as well, it'd be tough. If I tried to make a rock song right now, it wouldn't turn out nearly as good as any of my dubstep stuff—even in terms of recording. There are so many tricks that pick up over twenty years of doing it. Jim "Bud" Monti is a good example.
J Devil: When you're producing dubstep music, most people don't have engineers. You're the engineer. That shit drives me crazy. I just want to create and go, "Here, fix it!" [Laughs] I want to learn and do it the right way so I've got to do it.
How did your first collaboration, "Tension", come about?
Datsik: We did that one over the Internet. I started something, and I sent to Excision and Downlink. They fucked with it and they sent it to you, and you guys recorded vocals over it. There was a lot of going back and forth because this was before any of the other Korn songs were on the album or had been started. It was basically trying to find a balance between the two genres. I wasn't really sure how to structure it. To me, it made sense to structure it like a dubstep song. To Jon, it made sense to structure it like a song with a proper chorus, bridge, and verse. I'd never done that so there was totally a learning curve for me. I'm really happy I want through that process because it's changed the way I make all of my tunes. It's definitely interesting. It hadn't really been done yet. I thought it was really cool.
J Devil: It was fun! You sent it back, and I topped it all off. Trying to get the arrangement right was the hard part. Coming from two different worlds, we arrange music differently. It was a challenge. When we did "Tension," we did it that way. "Evilution" is more of a dubstep arrangement. That was a challenge for me. I learned from that, and I'm starting to understand more about the dubstep arrangements, where vocals fit and don't, and what you do.
What are the biggest differences between those styles?
J Devil: I'll do the rock part. You've got your intro, which you start off with. Then, you do a verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus, and outro. That's pretty much the standard one.
Datsik: If you look at dubstep, it's basically intro drop or intro, buildup and then drop. Your drop is basically like your long-ass chorus. Usually, you'll have a bridge, switch-up, or breakdown. The breakdown is usually 27 totally mellow seconds. Then, you've got your buildup again and a drop. When you make a dubstep track, you're building it in order to mix it with other tracks. You've got to keep that in mind. Since dubstep is at 140, a lot of times, everything falls on 27- or 54-seconds. Usually, the intro will be like 27- or 54-seconds so it can drop perfectly with the song you're mixing it into. In that respect, it's definitely a little different. We've found a balance where you can still make it mixable and radio-friendly at the same time. That way, you find a middle ground for the both.
Is "Evilution" that middle ground?
Datsik: I honestly think it proves you can take you can take sounds from any genre and mash them together. If you do it right, something really cool and creative can come out of it. If you look at who's on the track, it's myself and Infected Mushroom. We started the track, and we hit up Jon for the vocals. Infected Mushroom are completely on the opposite end of the spectrum as far as electronic music goes. I'm making heavy dubstep, and they're psytrance, which is like sped up house music, but it's trippy and psychedelic. Then, you have Jonathan who's the master metal vocalist. It's a total clusterfuck of genres, but it's cool. You can hear all three of our styles in it.
J Devil: It's amazing! It tripped me out that it all worked. Your music is hard, in-your-face dubstep. Infected Mushroom is psytrance. I did "Smashing the Opponent" with them. It's completely fucking opposite. Then, you throw my vocals on top. It mixed together and worked. It's awesome.
What was your idea lyrically?
J Devil: It's me watching mankind evolve evilly. There's more bad shit happening now. The lyrics come from my J Devil headspace of examining the Illuminati and everything along those lines. I feel like things are being setup so everything goes bad and we lose our hope and give up our rights. Evil is taking over. It's evolving. It's unseen. We don't know about it. It's just happening. That was the vibe. Half the time, this shit hits me a fucking month later after I've written it [Laughs].
Dubstep and heavy guitars can both trigger similar emotions for you.
J Devil: In Datsik's world, we call it "Bass Face." Let me see your "Bass Face." It makes me want to scream. When you see people at dubstep shows, they've got their bass face on. It's clenched up, filthy, dirty, and grimy like, "God, that's heavy!"
Datsik: [Laughs] High school kids come to the shows, and it's like their escape. They can go there, rage, melt their faces off, and do whatever they want to do at these crazy shows. They want to get dirty. If you go to a Steve Aoki show, you're getting covered in cake and salad thrown on you and shit [Laughs]. They love it. They love to go to these shows and let loose. It's like, "Fuck my parents! I'm going to rage out at this crazy dubstep show! I'm going to let loose!" It's starting to become that. The cool thing about dubstep is it takes everything, puts it in one big blender, and regurgitates it on a massive system with tons of bass. There are so many different styles to it. You've got your heavy metal dubstep. You've got your super melodic, UK-style dubstep. Or, you have your hip hop-infused dubstep. There are so many avenues, and I think that's why it's such an interesting genre. You can go to a dubstep show and hear one tempo the whole show, but hear so many different sides to that one tempo it's still interesting.
When did you both decide to dedicate your life to music?
Datsik: I was snowboarding a lot and listening to music. I injured myself snowboarding and I got stuck in a chair. I really had nothing else to do so I made a bunch of music because that's the way musicians are these days. You can do everything out of the box. I'd sit there on my computer in my mom's house and write music. I was giving it all out for free because I wanted to give it out. I didn't really care or think about anything coming out of it. It just happened. I got hit up for my first gig. It was 300 or 500 bucks. I was like, "Holy crap, I can't believe I'm going to play my own music and get paid for it." I had to learn how to DJ really quickly. That's basically how it all started for me. It was by fluke, coincidence, and accident. I was just coming out of high school. I thought, "Maybe I should go to school for this?" As soon as I was done with school, I went straight to this audio college for two years. I tried to learn as much as I could. I actually planned on coming out of school and working as a sound designer at a video game company. My brother works at a video game company, and he said he could hook me up. Then, I started getting all of these offers for gigs, and I was like, "I'd rather do this." I got very lucky.
J Devil: That's awesome! I started playing instruments when I was about three-years-old. I was always into music. I wanted to do it ever since I was a little kid. I was immersed in it. My family was musical. My mom and dad were in musical productions. It was all around me. Shit, my dad owned a music store. I always had my dad harping on me, "You're not going to do music for a living." So of course, what did I end up doing? [Laughs] I started doing the electro hop shit. I think it was '87 or '88 when my first song came out. You can find it on the Internet. I did that with The Baka Boyz. We were using samples from Kraftwerk's "Numbers." I was singing over it. We had Planet Rock samples going too. I was 16 or something. I started doing electronic music early. I'd break into my dad's studio in the middle of the night and make music. I started DJing. One thing led to another, and I got asked to be in Korn. Here I am. Being in music is all I know. All of the mortuary shit and other stuff was just me liking dark things. My dad was like, "You need a real job." I said, "Okay, I'm going to be an embalmer and work with the coroner's office." That shit fucked my head up though, so I'm glad I'm doing this!
Who gave you guys that release in high school?
J Devil: For me, it was The Cure and Duran Duran—just music in general. Then, I started getting into old school Ministry and Skinny Puppy and other old goth shit like Christian Death. Those were the bands who got me through high school.
Datsik: I'd go snowboarding and all I listened to was hip hop. That's it. I listened to tons and tons of hip hop. That inspired me to snowboard. As soon as I was done, I'd go home and make music again. Then, I'd get inspired to go snowboarding. It was perfect. They both feed off each other. That's where most of my inspiration came from.
J Devil: Hip hop had a big influence on me too. The first hip hop song I listened to was "Jam on It" by Newcleus. The first hip hop concert I went to was Def Jam '87 or some shit. It was with LL Cool J, Eric B. & Rakim, Roxanne Shanté, and all of this old shit. There was a shootout. It was crazy! My dad picked me up at the show. A motherfucker popped over his hood and started firing caps off at the crowd! I never got to go to another concert [Laughs].
Is dubstep the new industrial?
J Devil: I guess you could say that. I don't know. When I think of industrial, I think of KMFDM, Front 242, or Skinny Puppy. Front 242's "Headhunter" had beats and then Nine Inch Nails songs. Most industrial was crazy speed metal. There weren't beats in that sense. Dubstep is this new shit. It's different. You can't categorize it.
Datsik: It's dark but it's not overly dark. There are so many different avenues of dubstep. You can't categorize it.
Why is electronic music as big as it is now?
Datsik: The amount of stuff you can do with your computer now is mindblowing. The technology that allows you to create all of these insane sounds and put everything together is finally at our fingertips. I think that's a contributing factor. You don't need to be a huge band anymore to make it. The digital age of being able to give out your music for free and showcase it on YouTube contributes as well. In my opinion, the reason why electronic music is so huge right now is because all of the other avenues feel a bit stale. If you go to a club, you hear it on a big system, and there's no other music that really compares. It sounds clean. It's really heavy. It's got tons of bass, and it just makes you want to move. Right now, it's a perfect time for electronic music. We have so many unique tools to make it, and everything can sound different. We're not stuck just using Junos or 808s.
J Devil: I agree. That's exactly why it's getting big.
What kind of advice would you give Datsik?
J Devil: Keep doing what you're doing. Obviously, you have the love and passion for it. He's a kid. He's coming up in the music industry now the way it is. I came up the old school way. There were record companies and budgets. We'd been spending gazillions of dollars to do things and marketing. I love the fact he can just go put his music up on YouTube or Beatport. You don't have to spend a ton of money on engineers and studios to go mix the shit. It's nice, and it was fun when we did our records. However, people don't really have to do that. You have that avenue. Keep doing this shit. It's going to keep blowing up. I've seen both sides, and I love what's going on now. I miss the back in the day, the private jets, and all of the crazy shit record companies used to spend money on [Laughs]. It sucks that's all gone. People used to sign lots of bands and give them chances. Now, they don't do that at all. We didn't really "pop" until our third record. We were a band though. You're solo. The computer is your instrument. The sky's the limit. I'm learning all kinds of shit computers can do. I just learned how to make bass talk. I'm having a blast with that [Laughs].
When was the first time you heard Korn?
Datsik: I probably heard Korn when I was really young. My older brother used to listen to a lot of Korn. At the time, I was really young. I'm 23-years-old now. I also remember seeing the "Freak on a Leash" music video, and that blew me away. That was one of the main videos that got me into Korn. I was a hip hop head, but that song was totally fucking awesome. To be honest, that's the first metal I heard I really liked. Now that I'm working with Jon and Korn, it's really cool to look back and see that. They actually played a huge fucking role in where I am today. I think it's amazing.
J Devil: That's really cool. I remember when that shit came out, I was going to see one of my buddies at Interscope and Dr. Dre walked up to me. He went, "What's up JD? I love that new video!" I gasped, and I almost fell the fuck over like, "Dr. Dre!" [Laughs] I remember the time James Hetfield was like, "What's up JD? It's good to see you! Welcome to the tour! I love the shit!" I thought, "That's James Hetfield!" I totally know what it feels like. It's a trip.
How did you first discover Datsik?
J Devil: I was cruising Beatport and I found Excision. From there, I heard Downlink and Datsik. Then, I started hearing Skrillex. I got into 12th Planet. These guys tipped me to NOISIA. Before that, I was more into drum 'n' bass and all the lifted crazy shit. My first drum 'n' bass show was in London. I saw Roni Size & Reprazent, and it flipped me the fuck out. There were live instruments on stage. It started on Beatport.
Datsik: It webs off from there! You look at who the artists are working with and branch from there. Beatport led me on the right path too.
J Devil: I like that you can actually preview the song on Beatport for a long time.
What does it mean to be a rock star in the 21st century?
Datsik: Jon has obviously seen all sides of it. If you're going to say someone's a rock star, you can say Jon Davis is a rock star. It's cool that electronic musicians are able to have a taste of that. It's not quite the same. I'm young. I realize this shit might not last forever so I'm trying to embrace it and have fun while I can actually drink three days in a row and not feel too horrible [Laughs]. I go with the flow. It's fun to get crazy, stage dive, and be on the same level as the crowd really. I'm going nuts while I can.
J Devil: You're living the rock star life, dude. You're a 21st century rock star.
J Devil: My favorite memory was us sitting down together, making music, laughing, having fun, and not giving a fuck. There were no boundaries. I'd work on a part. He'd take it and fuck it up. It was so much fun. It's like we were playing musical computers.
Datsik: It really was an interesting tour. I've been playing my own shows for a while. To play on this tour where I was opening for Korn to a completely different crowd was tough at first. As the shows went on, Downlink and I would adapt to it and get better and better with it. Personally, my favorite of the tour was hanging out with Jon, talking about music until five or six in the morning.
J Devil: I've been in that spot where I was opening up for KMFDM or Ozzy Osbourne and the crowd just didn't understand what the fuck we were doing. I'd give them the pep talks every night. It did get better every night. You adapt and start learning. I think they left better DJs by doing that.
Datsik: Totally, I needed that.
J Devil: You need that shit. I'd get pissed off and be like, "I'm going to make these motherfuckers like me." It makes you better.
J Devil: You have to be passionate about this shit to want to do it. It takes a lot of time. You've got to make lots sacrifices of your time to do it—both personal and family. It's not easy to do. It's my newfound passion and love, but I'll still pick up my guitar and rock out because I love that too.
Was Jonathan an influence on Vitamin D?
Datsik:The only thing that will take you farther is not sounding anyone else. If I didn't have "Evilution" on the album, it wouldn't feel complete to me. Jonathan is perfect on that track. It set the pace for the album, and it gave me a great single. It allowed me to make a dope music video. Thank you! I love you, dude!
J Devil: I love you too brother!
What's your favorite composition by each other?
J Devil: Right now, it's "Evilution."
Datsik: That track is such a wicked blend of all our styles. I have to agree. It makes sense for you to say that. I love a lot of stuff from The Path of Totality. I really like "Bleeding Out" with Feed Me. Obviously, I like the old stuff. Listening to the new stuff on a system is incredible. There's so much more bass. It's produced from an electronic standpoint and you can tell the difference on a big system. I love the new album the most.
J Devil: I kind of do too. It knocked Untouchables out for me. That was always my favorite Korn record. This one took its place.
Datsik: Jon is a fucking good producer so I'd love to produce a track with him at some point.
J Devil: Definitely! I've been working on remixes. I'm still creating. We're definitely going to hook up.
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