Michelle Rodriguez of "Machete" meets Munky of Korn for "Rogue on Rogue"
Thu, 09 Sep 2010 20:22:11
Korn guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer and Michelle Rodriguez both keep it real.
The Avatar, Machete and Girlfight star and legendary Korn riff-master have a whole lot in common—a lot more than one might think in fact.
In Machete, Michelle's character Luz is a sexy, smart revolutionary that sparks change with a whole lot of love and bullets. Michelle adds an honesty that elevates the character beyond the level of a standard exploitation heroine and into an iconic female badass for the ages. She's as sharp as Machete comes, and she also recently anchored Avatar with that same sass. Let's not forget the countless young girls that connected with Michelle's performance in Girlfight.
Then there's Munky. Every note he plays drips blood, and he's inspired a generation of young guitarists with his unique perspective on the instrument. Over the course of their remarkable career, Korn became one of the most important rock bands of all time and Munky earned a deserved status as one of the most innovative axe-slingers ever. However, with their latest album, Korn III — Remember Who You Are [Roadrunner], Korn are still as explosive as they were on their classic self-titled debut. Munky remains a big part of Korn's hypnotically devastating sound, and he's given kids someone to look up to just like Michelle has.
That's the very reason that these two artists are our first "Rogue on Rogue" interview…
Korn axeman James "Munky" Shaffer and Michelle Rodriguez sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino. For this exclusive "Rogue on Rogue" feature, together they discuss music, their responsibilities as artists, their respective processes, Munky's high school girlfriend, Metallica, Black Sabbath, David Lynch, James Cameron, the fans and oh so much more.
Of course, they keep giving back…
When did you both discover music?
James "Munky" Shaffer: My older brother turned me on to Black Sabbath. I loved The Doors' song in Apocalypse Now, "The End." That was actually my first movie! Black Sabbath was when I first heard a heavy, dark sound though. I was like, "That's where I need to be—in that dark!" My dad took me to see Apocalypse Now when I was six-years-old. That had to have some sort of affect on my childhood [Laughs].
Michelle Rodriguez: That explains a lot [Laughs]!
James "Munky" Shaffer: What about you?
Michelle Rodriguez: The first time I discovered music was my dad walking around in his underwear listening to Bach, Chopin and Mozart [Laughs].
James "Munky" Shaffer: Really?
Michelle Rodriguez: Yeah, it was gnarly! I think "Midnight Sonata" was the first melancholy song that I really heard. It was like I felt the pain of the world in that song, and it just made me want to cry. I was about eleven or twelve-years-old. Then I started discovering rock. I discovered The Doors. When I heard the organs, that reminded me of Mozart! Then, I discovered The Black Album by Metallica. The guitars on The Black Album are so similar to classical music. I started connecting the dots, and I realized, "Wow, this is the soundtrack to my life!" I can't live without melody…Apocalypse Now at six? That's gnarly, dude!
James "Munky" Shaffer: My dad was supposed to spend some quality time with me! My mom sent me and him out together. That was the movie he wanted to see!
Michelle Rodriguez: There's all sorts of head-chopping and murdering in that!
James "Munky" Shaffer: It's crazy! One of the things that really sticks in my mind is when they sacrifice the Ox. That vision stays with me along with Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen with the paint all over his face.
Michelle Rodriguez: It's so good…
Is there a cathartic element to the art you create? Is that something that either of you ever think about?
James "Munky" Shaffer: For me, it's not about the thought. You pull something out. I think too much thought really fucks things up. If I start analyzing a piece of music that I'm writing or wondering if my performance on stage looks cool, then it doesn't work.
Michelle Rodriguez: But you are releasing every single time you're on that stage…
James "Munky" Shaffer: And in the studio too! If I'm able to turn my brain off, that's when the true creativity comes through.
Michelle Rodriguez: You're bouncing shit off of source when you're up there. That's how I feel when I'm doing my thing. I call it, "The Indigo Child Cry." I really feel like my mom and dad, at that point of conception, were thinking about hope, change and all of these elements that were left over from the late '60s. I think I was born with all of these untouched, innocent elements that are just tainted by society. There's nothing but hatred, death and this lack of appreciation for that innocence and beauty that I love so much. So that love turned into a strange anger—a frustration—and I release that shit when I work.
James "Munky" Shaffer: Me too…
Michelle Rodriguez: I think that's how people relate to what I do. It is an Indigo Child's cry, for sure. I know that I love something beautiful about the world, but this tough exterior is created. I'm a product of society. Thank God, we have the releases we do…
James "Munky" Shaffer: I agree! Jonathan [Davis, vocalist] and I talk about that a lot. After a long day, people just eat at you.
Michelle Rodriguez: What you guys do is really beautiful.
James "Munky" Shaffer: When we get on stage, we release all of that tension.
Michelle Rodriguez: But people can release through you too!
James "Munky" Shaffer: Exactly! Everybody's there to do that.
Michelle Rodriguez: I know I certainly did when I was rollerblading listening to your albums. As a kid, I'd be dodging traffic heading over to New York just angry as fuck, man.
James "Munky" Shaffer: There's a fearlessness to the release.
Michelle Rodriguez: I think of "Freak on a Leash!" I loved it. It was my release! I felt like I was able to let go through listening to your music.
You both give people that crucial outlet. Fans can identify with music and movies, and those art forms can inspire.
James "Munky" Shaffer: I think there are so many people that can relate to where you and I are coming from.
Michelle Rodriguez: It's pretty awesome.
James "Munky" Shaffer: As a kid, when I'd listen to Black Sabbath records, it felt like, "Wow, there's a whole shitload of other people that love this. I'm not alone! Let's form an army, man!"
Michelle Rodriguez: Seriously, that'd be awesome!
James "Munky" Shaffer: We just played a show with Ozzy Osbourne in Romania like two weeks ago. I've got to respect Ozzy because he's still doing it.
Michelle Rodriguez: He's the father of this shit. It's so cool. I love him and Iggy Pop as well. He's still doing it too.
Wasn't one of the first Korn tours opening for Ozzy?
James "Munky" Shaffer: Yeah, actually Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne gave us our first gold record. The tour was Ozzy, Korn and Deftones. That was a great tour. I get goosebumps when I think about it. When we were on stage, Sharon and Ozzy set up all of these ice chests with champagne. After we finished playing, we went into our dressing room. There they were with the champagne and our gold records!
Michelle Rodriguez: That's love right there!
James "Munky" Shaffer: Then Ozzy sat down and told us stories about being in Black Sabbath.
Michelle Rodriguez: I love that.
James "Munky" Shaffer: You have to be a little crazy to be in this business, in this town. This town will eat alive.
Michelle Rodriguez: How did you know that Korn was the thing for you? How did you connect with the boys?
James "Munky" Shaffer: The bassist, Fieldy, and I had this bond when we were growing up. We go back to writing in his bedroom after school at 16-years-old. We weren't going to take "No" for an answer either. We were in this until the very end. It was a bond. I don't remember ever cutting our wrists and saying, "We're blood brothers" or anything like that [Laughs]. There was an unsaid bond between us though. We were going to do this until we saw it through to whatever it was supposed to be.
Michelle Rodriguez: How long did it take for you to find Jonathan?
James "Munky" Shaffer: It was about five or six years. Now, we're on our 18th year with Korn. That's really rare.
Michelle Rodriguez: I remember when you guys first came out. It was the fucking shit!
James "Munky" Shaffer: Do you remember where you were when you first heard us?
Michelle Rodriguez: I was watching TV with my homegirls, and you guys came on. I couldn't believe there was this vibe with rock music. I couldn't tag it. In the song, Jonathan would stop, and he'd start rapping. He'd do some death metal shit and then he'd flip into hip hop without the rap beat. I was confused, but I liked it. You guys were on top of a bridge in the "Got the Life" video, and that was the first time I saw you. I heard the lyrics and the music, and I was like, "This is some fresh, hot new shit! I haven't ever heard this before in my life!" It was the new sound for the millennium for that genre of metal. The grunge thing didn't quite work out longevity-wise, so this was where it went from there. This was how it merged with the rest of pop culture. I loved it. Much respect…I think there are a lot of people who bond with different emotions in life. Some people walk around angry all of the fucking time. Some people are a mixture of anger and narcissicism. Some people might be happy all of the time. At the end of the day, it all has a vibe to it or a melody to it. For me, Korn gave me pretty much the same emotion I got when I saw Run D.M.C. hook up with Aerosmith for the first time.
James "Munky" Shaffer: That was rad…
Michelle Rodriguez: You're like, "There is depth!" You can be about more than one thing at the same time. That's what your band said to kids like me.
Have you seen Korn live, Michelle?
Michelle Rodriguez: Never! I don't really go to concerts. Music is a part of my life. It's the soundtrack to it. Either I'm listening to it in the car, while I'm rollerblading or hanging out at party. I was going to basement parties at the time. There were a lot of those.
James "Munky" Shaffer: Keg parties with red cups! You charge five bucks at the door...
Michelle Rodriguez: [Laughs] Yeah!
James "Munky" Shaffer: We used to throw a lot of those parties. That's sort of how we got the band off the ground. We would get a keg, rent a bus and round up all of our friends. We were living in Huntington Beach at the time so we wanted to make an impression on some of the record companies up here in L.A….
Michelle Rodriguez: You'd ride around in a party bus? That's awesome!
James "Munky" Shaffer: We'd fill it with friends! This way, our friends wouldn't have to drink and drive. Everybody would get fucked up and have fun. It'd look like we were selling out the club, but it was all of our buddies. The record dudes would be like, "These guys are coming from out of nowhere with this sound and all of these people!"
Michelle Rodriguez: It was fresh! A lot of people are imitating that now.
James "Munky" Shaffer: It's a compliment. It's been so long, and I'm old [Laughs].
What was the first time you saw Michelle's work, James?
James "Munky" Shaffer: S.W.A.T.!
Michelle Rodriguez: You saw S.W.A.T.!?
James "Munky" Shaffer: Yup!
Michelle Rodriguez: [Laughs] I'm surprised that you'd actually watch any of my movies because they're mostly pretty poppy, except for Resident Evil, which is gnarly.
James "Munky" Shaffer: Did you guys shoot Machete last year?
Michelle Rodriguez: Yeah, we shot that sucker last year.
James "Munky" Shaffer: I want to see that! When I saw the trailer for it in Grindhouse, I was like, "What?! This is going to be fucking rad!" Then I thought, "Is this really going to be a movie?" [Laughs] How did that come about?
Michelle Rodriguez: I guess 16 years ago when Robert Rodriguez did Desperado with Danny Trejo, he decided he wanted to do an exploitation film but with a Mexican superhero. Who better than Danny Trejo!? Do you know Danny?
James "Munky" Shaffer: Yeah, he's cool!
Michelle Rodriguez: I remember him from back in the day. In that exploitation realm, you can basically get away with murder. Homeboy heard the fans! They kept asking, "What's up with that trailer? Is it going to be a movie or what?" Four years later, Robert was eventually like, "Let's do it." He hollered at me, and I love him and his work. He knows how to make films sexy, fun and cool. He can make a statement about current events without shoving it down the viewer's throat. Nobody can ever come out and ask, "What are you trying to say about immigration laws?" It's like, "Dude, there's a guy swinging from his intestines; you can't possibly take this film seriously!"
James "Munky" Shaffer: He takes it right up to the edge and right before it slaps someone in the face…
Michelle Rodriguez: You're going to really like Machete. There will be some shit in there that you'll never forget as long as you live, and I'm sure you've seen some shit in your life.
James "Munky" Shaffer: I've seen my share; I'm still seeing [Laughs].
Michelle, you add a sense of heart to this larger-than-life hero in Machete. How important is it for you to balance that superhero vibe with keeping it real?
Michelle Rodriguez: I agree with James in that respect because I don't really think too much about it. I just resonate with whatever I'm resonating with. If I'm not feeling it, I won't do it. That's why you barely ever see me do the exploitation shit. I'm not ripping off my clothes and saying, "Come fuck me"—that whole thing girls do that make millions and millions of dollars. It's not what resonates with me. I try to follow my heart as much as possible with what I do. If I'm not feeling it, I can get so angry that it'll eat me alive. If I don't follow my heart, I'll step outside of body and say, "You're a fucking cornball, why are you selling out?" I'm actually scared of myself [Laughs].
James "Munky" Shaffer: It's crazy how we can destroy ourselves with our own thoughts.
Michelle Rodriguez: That's what makes me follow my truth, you know?
James "Munky" Shaffer: It keeps you sane.
Michelle Rodriguez: Fuck yeah, man! You survived this long, right?
James "Munky" Shaffer: I can't believe it [Laughs].
Michelle Rodriguez: You love yourself long enough to stick around. You're obviously doing something right!
There's a higher purpose to the art, which is the most important thing. You guys are both giving.
James "Munky" Shaffer: Even after an hour concert, I feel so drained [Laughs]. My girlfriend sees me and she's like, "You're giving it!"
Michelle Rodriguez: It's beautiful!
James "Munky" Shaffer: The people can connect with that really quickly.
Michelle Rodriguez: Do you ever tap into them while they're receiving it? I have this experience when I'm working on set. I'll resonate with the person I'm acting with sometimes. I'll be able to shoot back and forth, and that's how I preserve my energy. You do give of yourself and it does drain you. I find that you can bounce it off others though.
James "Munky" Shaffer: I can relate with that. I'll feel it from the crowd and their energy. Sometimes, it feels like an off night. There's a blockage or something's off, and I'll get right in their faces and look in their eyes. Then I'll see that there are people in the crowd full-on crying. For me, the band is something larger.
Michelle Rodriguez: It's fucking emotion, man! It's like you're going inside a person and touching their essence and what they're feeling. That is powerful. As an actress, to have somebody run up to me and say, "You give me strength, Michelle! I saw you in Girlfight, and you made me feel like a strong woman!" I'm like, "I love you for that." The genuineness of someone like a little fourteen-year-old who's coming up to me crying makes me think, "Fuck, dude! I can't believe more people aren't doing this kind of thing because that's what it's all about." That's what you're doing. You are literally going into a person and touching them. You'll say, "Yes, I recognize this in you." It's like you're reflecting an aspect of themselves. When they see it, they're like, "I'm not alone." We're all connected. It's amazing. I'm very fucking thankful to be able to do that.
James "Munky" Shaffer: Me too.
Like you said, Michelle, Korn was really important to you when you were a kid.
Michelle Rodriguez: Fuck yeah! Korn was so important to me as a kid. If I just listened to Metallica's Black Album, there's an aspect missing in that, which really was the essence of me growing up at the time. It wasn't just the anger, because Metallica covered the anger. It was this alienation, this understanding that I am true to myself and I know who I am, but this world is fucked up and doesn't get it! It was my connection to that hip hop world and that poetry that would come out of rap music. Korn merged both of those for me. That happened when it was crucial for me to not only be understood as angry—like I did with Metallica—but to also understand the poetry behind what Biggie Smalls was saying. What Biggie said wasn't just about being in the ghetto and selling drugs. It's that essence like, "How could you not get that I am pure of heart? I want to be part of this world, be successful, do something amazing and give back." It sounds corny when I say it out loud. However, the reality is it's all balled up into one emotion—misunderstanding. That one misunderstanding has to click within both metal and hip hop. For me, Korn combined both of those elements. So, thank you!
James "Munky" Shaffer: You owe me big time [Laughs].
Michelle Rodriguez: Definitely!
You both give the audience something to believe in and come back to. Is that connection with the audience an intrinsic part of this?
Michelle Rodriguez: For sure! I wouldn't be here otherwise.
James "Munky" Shaffer: When the fans come up, that makes me want to go to the studio! There's something spiritual to it to. Is there in doing what you do?
Michelle Rodriguez: Hell yeah!
James "Munky" Shaffer: You get that moment where you're connecting.
Michelle Rodriguez: That's a gift. Only artists can do that. You've got to be real sensitive to it. Even though you guys are heavy as fuck, you're sensitive and you're completely empathetic to it. That's what makes you so amazing. You guys can connect like that and harmonize. You know how many people don't fucking get it? They just try to imitate other things that have worked. You can sit there and make all of the pop music you want. You can follow your charts and graphs. I say the same thing about Hollywood. Just because you'd pay for some generational demographic, it doesn't mean you're capable of connecting with people's hearts. I'm sorry, brother. You need to be an artist to do that. You can hire some guy to do all of this computing and these tricks, but it doesn't mean anything.
James "Munky" Shaffer: There's too much thinking and computing.
Michelle Rodriguez: You shouldn't have to do that. It should be flawless. It should just come out of you naturally. That's what happens with an artist. It isn't work. That's the thing. Hopefully, more people like us will unite together and make some art. I think we need a revolution right now. Music and film are getting piled up with crap. It's motherfuckers imitating motherfuckers imitating other motherfuckers. I'm fed up with it. We need somebody to someone connect and spit it back out the right way.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
James "Munky" Shaffer: I draw a lot of inspiration from David Lynch films.
Michelle Rodriguez: I've got a library [Laughs].
James "Munky" Shaffer: It comes from everywhere: music, books and film. However, I always go back to David Lynch films. I don't know what it is. Blue Velvet is one of my favorite movies. I love Mulholland Drive.
Michelle Rodriguez: [Laughs] You like that freaky shit!
James "Munky" Shaffer: You can't really put your finger on what it is or where it's going. Is it a parallel universe? What exactly is it?
Michelle Rodriguez: He was one of the first to start creating dimension in that mystery element of the subconscious. Watching his films, I feel like I'm in somebody's head and I wasn't invited. I like that. What about books?
James "Munky" Shaffer: Catcher and the Rye is one I come back to.
Michelle Rodriguez: I've never read it.
James "Munky" Shaffer: For music, I always go back to Black Sabbath.
Michelle Rodriguez: Is there anybody you remember seeing for the first time and saying, "Damn, that's fresh"?
James "Munky" Shaffer: Faith No More! I saw them at a club on Highland in Hollywood. I was blown away. I told Fieldy, "Dude, we have to step up! We're going back into the studio tomorrow! We're going to re-write everything!" [Laughs] That was the moment for sure.
Michelle Rodriguez: I felt that way working with James Cameron. The guy's a fucking genius.
James "Munky" Shaffer: How was that?
Michelle Rodriguez: He just thinks on so many layers at the same time—mathematics, physics, science…
James "Munky" Shaffer: While he's working?
Michelle Rodriguez: During shooting! He's like, "Wait a minute, there's a new layer to this that I didn't really think of before." He takes five minutes, comes back and reassesses the whole entire thing. I can see him computing information as he's moving around and directing. It's amazing because the layers of consciousness that guy works off of are just staggering to me.
James "Munky" Shaffer: That's pretty cool.
Michelle Rodriguez: It was pretty dope. I love philosophy. Manly P. Hall was this guy who wrote all of this esoteric stuff. Most of his books are from the '30s and '40s. I'm obsessed with symbolism. As a kid, growing up in Jersey City, there are a lot of these conspiracy theorists. I hate assuming shit, so I like to do my research. Four or five years ago, I became obsessed with the esoteric world and what all of these symbols in Washington, D.C. mean. What is all of this Egyptian symbolism? Why do you praise Isis in D.C.? What does she have to do with our country? In terms of music, it just ranges from the classical music to the '50s to modern music.
James "Munky" Shaffer: I'm just tapping into classical music.
Michelle Rodriguez: It's so beautiful! I'm sure you'll get some inspiration!
James "Munky" Shaffer: I already have.
What do you want people to take away from your art?
James "Munky" Shaffer: For me, I love hearing people say, "I started playing guitar because of you." That's huge!
Michelle Rodriguez: I like it when girls tell me that I make them feel stronger. For me, that means I'm simply reflecting that strength they already have in themselves. In a way, we're turning something on in people.
James "Munky" Shaffer: As long as we're inspiring someone, I'd like to see them pass it on.
Michelle Rodriguez: Ditto. I think that's all I want…
What's on the horizon?
James "Munky" Shaffer: I have another band called Fear and the Nervous System that I put together with all of these great musicians. They're a bit like gothic love songs.
Michelle Rodriguez: I want to hear it!
James "Munky" Shaffer: You'll love the lyrics!
Michelle Rodriguez: I'm sorry, but do you remember the first girlfriend that you had when you already discovered your identity as far as what kind of music you were into and what kind of lifestyle you were you going to live? I'm intrigued by that [Laughs]. I'm just asking out of curiosity.
James "Munky" Shaffer: Yeah, I do! It was in high school. She was funky, different, kind of weird and older.
Michelle Rodriguez: How much older?
James "Munky" Shaffer: She was like three years older than me, so when I was a freshman, she was a junior. I thought I was cool [Laughs].
Michelle Rodriguez: She liked your music?
James "Munky" Shaffer: Well, it wasn't really music back then.
Michelle Rodriguez: [Laughs] I was just curious! I just think that's really awesome. When you discover another person who's into the same shit but you're opposite sex for the first time, that's a great part of finding yourself as a teenager. You didn't have dreds back then, did you?
James "Munky" Shaffer: No, but my hair looked like yours actually!
Michelle Rodriguez: You had nice hair like mine?
James "Munky" Shaffer: I did!
Michelle Rodriguez:Right now, I'm writing! The kind of characters I like to play are part of a new generation. I don't think anybody's really pinpointed it properly yet, so I have to go write it myself and get a bunch of really cool actresses from Hollywood to pull it off! I'm working on it…
James "Munky" Shaffer: I think a lot of people will dig that. You have a really interesting perspective on things.
Michelle Rodriguez: Yeah, right, I'm a weirdo! It's okay [Laughs].
James "Munky" Shaffer: You articulate really well, and you're so smart. I'm really happy to meet you!
Michelle Rodriguez: Likewise!
Do you think Munky and Michelle should collaborate? What's your favorite Korn song or Michelle Rodriguez flick?
Video Part One of the interview with Munky and Michelle is up now!
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