Jonathan Davis of Korn Talks Electronic Music, Favorite DJs, Video Games and More
Mon, 11 Apr 2011 06:18:19
Korn are about to change heavy metal again.
Recently, the band gave fans a taste of their brand new song, "Get Up," featuring Skrillex. Dive-bombing from an eerie dubstep drop into maniacally melodic guitars, the track sees Korn carving out new territory in both heavy and electronic music. The band has always dominated the fringe, but "Get Up" is ready to decimate pop culture with its daring approach. This is modern industrial at its best, and some of Korn's best work to date.
However, Korn have never been strangers to electronic music. Dark electro soundscapes colored 2005's See You on the Other Side and 2007's Untitled, but "Get Up" signals a new dawn for the band and metal. Legendary singer Jonathan Davis's roots in the genre step even farther back to when he was growing up in Bakersfield, DJ-ing in high school and listening to Kraftwerk in the mortuary he worked in later on.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino, Korn frontman Jonathan Davis talks about his favorite electronic music, DJ gigs on the side, video games he's playing, and so much more.
When did you first start DJing?
I started when I was 16-years-old. Growing up in Bakersfield, I worked for a sound company, and we used to DJ parties, high school dances, and shit like that. I started out with The Baka Boyz, Eric and Nick Vidal and Choc who were all on Power 106 in LA. Then they went on to Miami. They're huge radio personalities, but they're amazing DJs. I grew up watching them and learning from them. I used to battle Choc all of the time. We'd roll up to the dances I was playing in and we'd get in these full-on scratch battles and do all of this fun stuff during the shows. Another DJ who used to be on Power was my boy DJ C-Minus. He'd come to my shows when I was DJing high school parties. He went on to Power 106 later. I've been in it a long time. When I got into Korn, that pretty much stopped for awhile. I decided I wanted to get back into it again.
What attracted you to electronic music? In many ways, it's similar to metal.
Yeah! When I got back into it this time, my eyes opened to a whole new genre of music that I had never really heard before because I was out of that scene for so long. Back when I was spinning, N.W.A. was just coming out, and there was all of this electro hop shit like Egyptian Lover going on. I was really into that. Now that I stepped into the club scene again, I'm trying to take everything in that I'm hearing like Steve Angello, Steve Aoki, David Guetta, Skrillex, Deadmau5, and all of these cats I'm listening to. I pulled myself into that world and now I'm really starting to get into it. My gigs are just bottle club DJ stuff at the moment. I go in and rock tunes. It's nothing of my own, but I'm starting. I just got done doing a couple of remixes so I've been playing those in my sets. I'm working on more electronic music so I want to switch over and do sets of all my own remixes and electro music that I've been doing. I've also been doing dubstep shit with Excision, Datsick, and this kid Downlink. Those guys are from Canada. They're big North American dubstep DJs. Then, of course, there's Skrillex. I'm still working all of the bugs out but eventually I want to transform my set over to music that's just mine.
You're blending heavy elements with dance music, and it's definitely a fresh look for the genre.
There are people who are doing it. It's just weird to see me do it because I'm in Korn [Laughs]. I think that's what everyone's tripping out about. It's definitely different. Tommy Lee does his thing, and there are other guys out there. I love rocking a club, and I love just playing music and mixing stuff up. I'm not a scratch DJ. I go to a lot of clubs and DJs are just scratching shit up and playing songs for two seconds. I like playing songs, mixing them together, and making it one long enjoyable night with my set.
Does DJing come from a different creative place than singing and writing lyrics? Are they two different thought processes?
Dude, it's so fucking hard. When I get done doing a set, I'm just fucking drained. I'm matching BPMs and I'm counting out bars when drops hit. When I've got an eight-bar hook, I've got to go back eight bars and mix it and make it slower. All of this math and weird shit is going on in my head the whole time I'm doing my set. So, when I'm done, I'm fucking exhausted [Laughs]. It's something different. I love being able to go in and play music I like. It's so different from rocking live music in a band. I'm still exploring and learning the ropes. I've got a lot to learn. I don't think I'm super uber great at yet, but I'm learning and writing. You never know what might happen!
What are some of the remixes you've done?
I did a remix of Far East Movement's "Like A G6." I also did a remix of "Nothin' On You" by B.o.B and Bruno Mars. I'm working on some other ones as well. It's hard trying to find a capella tracks on the net [Laughs].
What's the remix process like?
I'm just adding beats and different music. I'm getting into synthesis now so I'm starting to make my own sounds. The remixes have some of my own sounds. Hanging out with those cats doing the Korn stuff, they're starting to show me how to create sounds, and it's a bitch. It's very difficult, it makes my head hurt, and I have to walk away from the computer and decompress every couple hours. Then I go back. When I pick up a guitar, I can fucking play it. You have one sound, if you want to fuck with it, you've got pedals. To make this shit, you have to create the sound first and then apply it to the song and create again.
Is spinning a similar release to performing on stage?
It feels good, man, and I don't have to sing! I get to rock out, have fun, and watch everybody get drunk , dance, and do whatever they do. I like the club sets where fans actually come to hear the songs. Bottle clubs are cool, but it's the same old shit. It's a bunch of dudes hanging out, trying to get laid, and buying bottles for chicks [Laughs]. When I opened up for Infected Mushroom in New York, that shit was awesome. It was a hall full of kids jumping up and down having a good time. They were all there to see the show. I like playing and I'm paying my dues.
Are you a house music fan?
I like electro music. It's all BPM-relative, and it's four-on-the-floor. I'm a super huge dubstep fan. I like drumstep and I'm trying to keep up with all of the subgenres. Dubstep is 140 bpm. Drumstep is 175 or some shit. It all has to do with how fast the fucking kick's going. It's like what I did with Korn. I listened to some metal bands, but I really didn't know what the fuck I was doing. I just did what I did. That's what I want to carry over into electro music. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't want to categorize it. It's electronic music. Once I get it out, honed, polished, and mixed right, people will hear it.
You keep your metal roots buy wearing Cannibal Corpse shirts while you're DJing too.
I think I wore that at a metal set. I do metal sets too. It just depends on what the crowd is. Sometimes, I'm wearing other shit. The best show I had recently was at The Whisky-A-Go-Go. I played a bunch of shit that I worked on. Then, I played a bunch of electro and dubstep music, and the crowd went fucking nuts. I saw metal heads getting into the dubstep shit, and I was stoked. I was rocking this shit, and they were like, "Damn, this is heavy." I try to play things for everybody.
Did DJing take a lot of practice first or did you get right in front of a crowd and learn as a trial by fire?
I had to practice for awhile to get my blends right. I had to put my training wheels back on. My buddy C-Minus came out for the first five shows I did and helped me. He was my safetyman. Once I got used to it, I was like, "Okay, I've got to do this shit myself." I've been doing it alone ever since. It just gets better every time I do it.
Who are some of your favorite electronic artists?
Let me look at my sets right now…I like Boys Noize, Steve Aoki, The Bloody Beatroots, Steve Angello, Dadmau5, and remixes by Aoki, Kid Cudi and LMFAO. Then there's Swedish House Mafia, Ratatat, A-Trak, NOISIA, definitely Skrillex, Bassnectar, and Borgore. Working with Skrillex and those other guys has been really nice. Excision and those other kids are huge metal fans. Their form of dubstep is really fucking heavy. They were like, "We're just happy to be in room messing around!" Everyone that I've met has been really met and stoked to see I want to do something with them. It goes back to Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and all of that. The 80s was a lot of electronic music, bro.
Did you listen to electronic music in the mortician's office while you worked there?
I listened to Kraftwerk and shit like that while I was working. To be honest, I listened to a lot of Rush Limbaugh [Laughs]. My boss was all into that, so that was what was on the radio. When I was alone, I could throw on my shit, but I had to listen to Rush Limbaugh. I wanted to listen to music really bad, but it was all fucking talk radio all day. I lived there. When I was finished up working, doing makeup, or preparing the bodies, I'd throw on whatever I was into at the time. I was into Skinny Puppy, Afrika Bambaataa "Planet Rock", and all that shit.
Was there any dancing around the mortuary?
Only when I was there by myself [Laughs].
What's your favorite video game right now?
I'm actually playing Lego Star Wars III. It just came out, and it's fucking awesome! I beat Lego Batman and Lego Star Wars: The Complete Series. Now, I'm on Lego Star Wars III. I've been getting stuff of Xbox Live. I'm into Call of Duty: Black Ops, of course. I beat Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, Halo: Reach, and Batman: Arkham Asylum, and that's a great game. I beat Dead Space 2 and Red Dead Redemption as well as the add-on Undead Nightmare. There are some other great games you can download off the Xbox Live Arcade. I've got Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters: S.O.S., Hardcore Uprising, and Tekken. I've just been writing electronic music and playing video games like crazy.
Do you play Lego Star Wars III with your kids?
Yeah! That's what got me all started. We play all of the games together though!
Your current live medley hits like a fast-paced electro set.
I did the medley like a DJ would do it. The whole set is like a DJ set. I think that's how we're going to keep doing our sets from now on. People have no attention span, for one. Two, we're only given an hour or an hour-and-a-half, and we've got so many fucking songs. In that hour, we play 19 songs. It works and kids walk away thinking they got their money's worth. I love it. It's fun, and it's challenging.
Are you excited to hear "Get Up"? What's your favorite Korn song?
For our exclusive retrospective interview on Korn's Life Is Peachy with Jonathan Davis and guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer, click here!
Watch an exclusive live video "Alone I Break" here!