Korn Guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer Talks Fear and the Nervous System, "Prometheus", and More
Mon, 08 Oct 2012 13:03:27
You've never quite taken a trip like this.
The self-titled debut from Fear and the Nervous System is an amalgam of rapturous cathartic guitars, ominous electronics, and staggering rhythms. It's some of Korn guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer's best work, and that says a lot considering the man redefined guitar playing for a generation and heavy music as a whole. The most powerful aspect of this collection is it thrusts listeners right into the heart of darkness sonically and then catapults them back out—not quite the same on the other side. It's another classic from Shaffer.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Korn guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer talks Fear and the Nervous System, Prometheus, and so much more.
How did the "Choking Victim" music video come about?
A mutual friend showed us some videos that David "Yarvo" Yarovesky had done as well as a short movie he did called Ghiled. That really set the stage. He had the right frame of mind for it. It came out way better than I'd ever imagined.
Was the story in line with what you envisioned for the song?
I wanted it to be his. I wanted his interpretation of the song. That was his favorite track. I gave him three or four, and that's the song he envisioned. He loved the imagery that comes out of "Choking Victim". He's such a dark, morbid visionary. Somebody made that mask and loaned it to him for the video.
What was your initial reaction when you saw the video?
I thought the first few images I saw were scary! It's like watching a frightening short movie, but it's sort of an introduction into some of the influences and thoughts behind the music.
What's the story behind "Combine"?
Billy Gould came to us, and the original working title was "Billy Piano Song". It had these odd timing piano parts and pieces that I mocked on guitar. It's a haunting waltz. "Combine" and "Silvertone" ultimately fit the rest of the record. The album was written in bits and pieces throughout the record. These two were recently done, and they ended up fitting really well.
What about "Silvertone"?
It was one of the first songs Zach and I wrote. We kept it around for a while. Finally, we put some finishing touches on it. It's got a really creepy mood. It reminds me of something Atticus Ross would put in a movie. It sounds like it could be on a soundtrack. Perhaps, you're being chased in the woods or something like that.
Is "Ambien" a special one?
It takes you on a ride. There are a lot of high points and low points. Then, it ends with a one-two punch. It leaves you with this feeling like, "What did I just hear? What just hit me?" There's a melancholy after thought.
Do you feel like you had the space to create these ethereal guitar passages?
Billy Gould and Brooks Wackerman are such a solid rhythm section. That left me able to put down those guitar dreamscapes and I got really into the whole echo-y, reverb thing. There's more of the standard tuning. I got to use classic guitars like Fenders and Gibsons. There's some acoustic guitar. It was a lot of fun using those old vintage instruments.
Have you begun writing the next Fear and the Nervous System record?
I have some songs written. They're not complete. They're ideas, but I think there might be some pieces of music within them. I'll write something and ask, "Could I use that for Korn? Is it more alternative-sounding? Is it just crap? Should I throw it away and not let anybody hear it?" There are three categories [Laughs].
Has this been an extremely creative period for you? Does it feel like you can do anything between Fear and the Nervous System and Korn?
I think there's new ground to be conquered with Korn. With Fear and the Nervous System, I feel like I tap into more of an alternative rock, indie feeling. There are many doorways I can choose when I'm working.
This is some of your darkest music. Will the next Fear and the Nervous System be more exploratory?
I think the music on the next record will probably be less structured and a little more experimental. We had all of the music written for the first album, and Steve came in and sang on everything. This record will be more about collaborating and writing together as a band. I think it will be a deeper, heavier, and more meaningful record since the vocalist and guy who writes the lyrics is going to be involved in every note written. That's really going to pull you into the direction he wants you to instead of having to follow somebody else's direction of where the music is going to take you.
What art have you been getting into?
I've been in Europe for a few weeks. I mean Eastern Europe and Siberia. I watched a lot of CNN. It's actually pretty dark. The news circulates. Every hour, there are conflicts. It's scary, especially for someone who's about to be a father again. Those little things do have an effect on what you write. I was trying to watch a lot of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia just to keep me laughing. We were gone from our families for a long time. It was a difficult time to be away.
What's your favorite Fear and the Nervous System song right now?
It changes! The one I used to like was "Dissolve" because it starts off really heavy and breaks down in the piano. Right now, it's "Jaguar". That song has got a really cool, haunting ending. The first part of the song builds up for this epic ending. That's something I want to elaborate on more with the next record—the builds and getting really cinematic with stuff. Since I'm the record company, we have control. We're not trying to get radio play. We just want to make great music. We don't have to please anybody but ourselves.
What was the last good movie you saw?
The last good movie I saw was Prometheus. I just saw it on a plane, but I want to see it again on a big screen. I've got to see it on a wide high definition screen. It goes so deep. It makes the puzzle complete. I thought that movie was unreal. I even got out of my seat on the plane and said to Jonathan, "Hey dude, have you seen Prometheus?" He was like, "No, I haven't". I said, "You've got to watch it!" I almost leaned over and put it on his little TV [Laughs]. I loved it!
What's your favorite song by Munky?
Photo: © Sébastien Paquet
Be sure to catch the band on tour!
10/13/12 Redondo Beach, CA – Brixton
10/14/12 Agoura Hills, CA – Canyon Club
10/19/12 Bakersfield, CA – B Ryder’s
10/21/12 West Hollywood, CA – The Roxy Theatre
Buy tickets here!