Retrospective Rewind: Jonathan Davis and James "Munky" Shaffer" of Korn Talk "Life Is Peachy"
Tue, 08 Mar 2011 19:01:46
Korn continue to make classic albums, however, Life Is Peachy holds a special place in their hearts and the hearts of fans worldwide.
For their second offering, Korn transformed the sound they pioneered on their legendary self-titled debut into a more dangerous, deadly, and dark monster. After over a year on the road, they'd become more proficient and pummeling in the studio. At the same time, they embraced a thrash spirit that led to an even more unbridled explosion of emotion on cuts like "Good God" and "Twist." Meanwhile, "Mr. Rogers" guided listeners through a psychological hell with humming dissonance and guitar wizardry unlike any other. "A.D.I.D.A.S." became one of the band's most anthemic tracks, while "Ass Itch" brewed its own form of jagged sonic dementia. The album's finale, "Kill You," remains one of the band's most powerful, poignant, and poetic cuts. However, it also touches on the kind of darkness that only Stephen King or Clive Barker could dream up. To sum it up, Life Is Peachy is a classic and essential for any and all fans of heavy music.
Holed up in Malibu recording with Ross Robinson, there were all kinds of great stories, and vocalist Jonathan Davis and guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer were happy to share them with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive "Retrospective Rewind" interview. This is the first in a new series and we're proud to induct Life Is Peachy as a new classic…
What do you remember when you think of Life Is Peachy?
Jonathan Davis: I think about a mad dash to get a second record out [Laughs]. That's what I remember! It was like, "Okay, we have all this momentum going; we need to do another record and get back out on the road." I remember being scared shitless because we had success with the first one, but I was worried about the sophomore jinx. I knew the second record had to be great or I was going back to the fucking coroner's office. There was all of this stuff going on, so I was really nervous.
James "Munky" Shaffer: After we released our first record, I remember everybody was just so pumped and excited. Everyone kept saying, "There's this new sound." There was an urgency to get back into the studio as soon as we got off the road. We'd been on the road for 18 months, and I remember going straight back into the rehearsal studio and writing new songs. Everything about it was chaotic! We started to see a little bit of a fan base grow, and it was an exciting time.
Was that the point where you could quit your day jobs and focus on the band exclusively?
James "Munky" Shaffer: Yeah! We got home and we had a little money. We all bought our first cars. We didn't have a place we were living in so we went and got apartments. I was living in Topanga Canyon. I'd moved up there with the hippies, and I was loving it [Laughs]. It was great! We all opened up bank accounts. It was pretty sweet! They were small bank accounts, but nevertheless it was like, "Wow, we're actually making money doing this? Okay, cool!"
How did you approach writing Life Is Peachy?
Jonathan Davis: We never set out what we're going to do on a record. We've never done that. It's so weird. We don't ever sit down and talk like, "Okay, what direction are we going to go? What are we going to do?" [Laughs] We just get in a room and start writing. We go with whatever comes out. The very first song we wrote off that record was "A.D.I.D.A.S." and it ended up being the only single other than "No Place To Hide." We were still in Huntington. We had a rehearsal space there, and we switched over for a little while. Before that, we were in Garden Grove or some shit. Right after we got done touring with Ozzy Osbourne, Ross [Robinson, producer] hooked up with us. We went into a rehearsal studio and started writing. It was faster and thrashier. It was us reacting the vibe that we had to hurry up and get this done. We thought, "Let's do something great, but let's not take a year on it."
James "Munky" Shaffer: Some of the songs and riffs from the first record had been lingering around for years. When it was time to write Life Is Peachy, we went back into the rehearsal studio and we wanted to take the elements that the fans liked and we liked about Korn and elaborate on some of those like Jonathan freaking out. "Twist" came to life. There was that dissonant guitar playing. There was more of a punk rock feel and attitude that the band had. I think a lot of that came from touring so much and the energy of the crowds. We wanted to create a really angry album.
Do you feel like you got more experimental with the guitar parts?
James "Munky" Shaffer: I remember trying a lot of new things, shopping for different effects pedals, and approaching the guitar more like a keyboard. Obviously, there were the distorted heavy chords, but there was also a turntable-style keyboard vibe. I was experimenting with volume swells a lot. That's when you strike the chord and then you turn the guitar up slowly and then back down. There's really no attack; it's like a keyboard attack. It was more atmospheric. It's funny because the title of the album came about because we had an idea. In school, people used to carry around these "Pee Chee" folders. Mead made them. They were this manila color—yellow and orange—and they had athletes on the cover. Every kid had one. It wasn't something that the school assigned. It was something you bought on your own, and you kept all of your home work and stuff in it. The idea was your whole life revolved around the Pee Chee. You'd write the names of the bands you'd like on it and draw on it. Whatever was cool to you, you'd etch on it in class. That's how the name of the album came about. When Mead denied our request to use it as an album cover, we just kept the name and thought it was an ironic title for the album. At the same time, we were indulging ourselves in drugs and alcohol. It was like "Life Is Peachy," but there's a dark side to it, you know?
Jonathan Davis: Initially, the record's packaging was a big Pee Chee folder. We'd put "Life is Pee Chee, but sex is an all-season sport" on there because it says "All-season Portfolio" [Laughs]. We'd cross shit out and draw the football players with battle axes fucking each other up. We had this badass packaging going on. When you opened up the booklet, there were the sleeves and the actual binder paper came out. It was all the liner notes. It was the dopest and sickest artwork for that time. Mead wouldn't let us do it. It was so fucking cool though! The cover we have was last minute because they had to go print. The cover we wanted was a picture of this nude girl and her back was bruised all the fuck up like she just got beat. It was really creepy and dark. It had a deep blue backdrop. We had to go with the other cover.
What made Life Is Peachy different from Korn?
Jonathan Davis: I think we jumped miles, and there was growth with songwriting because we'd been touring for so long and we wanted to do some different, cool things. Musically, Munky and Head wanted to branch out and spread their wings a little bit. They wanted to get more melodic. All of the pieces fell together in the right way with what was going on. We didn't have to try and write that record; it just happened.
James "Munky" Shaffer: I think we just felt comfortable in our direction that we'd established on the first album. We were really comfortable in our skin. With the success of the first record, it gave us the confidence to really pursue the second album with conviction and confidence. On the first one, you're always like, "I don't know if people are going to like this." We didn't feel like that on the second record; we had complete conviction about everything we did.
Did the vibe in Malibu contribute to the record?
James "Munky" Shaffer: There's no one around to bother you. You're up on this hill. It wasn't like we were kicking it at the beach. That studio had more of a mountain feel. It takes 20 minutes to drive up a windy road from The Pacific Coast Highway. Once you're up there, you're like, "Do I really want to go back down to the beach?" We'd end up staying there. There were living quarters. We just lived there! I didn't come down for like three weeks [Laughs]. I'd been in the mountains for almost the whole period of that record. It's a concentrated focus. It was live, breathe, and die Korn. There was nothing else. It was our chance to make another impression on the world.
What does "Good God" mean to you?
James "Munky" Shaffer: I just think of chaotic anger. Those are the two words that come into my mind. That's just how we were feeling at the time. Everything's really up-tempo on the record, including that song. Our whole approach was a punk rock, fuck-it kind of attitude. We knew the formula, and we knew the studio so there was some security in that as well. The formula worked.
Jonathan Davis: Either Head or Munky came up with that crazy riff and we went with it. I named it "Good God." It was just a working title, but it stayed. One of my heroes when we were out on the road with Danzig and Marilyn Manson was this bus driver named Tony Wiggins. He drove Danzig, but he also drove Pantera back in the day, and he was the craziest bus driver I'd ever seen in my life. He was just out-of-control nuts, partying and everything. I loved him to death. He used to always walk around going, "Good God!" [Laughs] With the intensity and how fast the song was, it just fit. It's a pretty crazy fast song. I don't know what I was thinking when I was writing it. I was in a really weird space. I was coming off meth and slowly becoming an alcoholic. I was switching from one extreme to the other. There was a weird leeway in between there.
What's up with "Mr. Rogers?"
James "Munky" Shaffer: That was a song Jonathan had written a couple years before the first record was released and recorded. He'd written it on some sort of recorder. That's a creepy song, man. It gives me the creeps [Laughs]. It was a reflection of where we were at the time. We were being introduced to the world, at the same time, having—well, we didn't know—bad alcohol and drug problems.
Jonathan Davis: I spent like a month fucking with that song because I'd do a quarter of speed and be up for four days. I wrote that song on a drum machine, actually de-tuning dreams. I de-tuned bells and all of this shit and made the melodies because I couldn't play guitar that well at that time. When I finally got that going on, it all came together, and I wrote the lyrics. I totally went on this speed tangent of watching Mr. Rogers episodes. I don't know if it was because I hadn't slept for three days but a lot of shit that went on during that show was disgusting and perverted. I made an actual tape of all of these quotes he was saying. It was some disturbing shit. I also heard Mr. Rogers was a Navy S.E.A.L., and he killed more people than Polio. The whole vibe of that thing was really dark and twisted. I wasn't getting any sleep, and I don't know what the fuck I was thinking. At that time, it was something that really interested me. I really got into it, and I was all about it. The whole Korn thing was about the twisted evil of innocence. For me, Mr. Rogers was one of those things.
Can you delve into the finale, "Kill You?"
James "Munky" Shaffer: I love that song! It's just murder. It's like the soundtrack to a fucking mass murder [Laughs]. It really is. It's so violent, yet so calming at the same time. It reminds me of the stories you always hear where people are like, "Oh, he was such a quiet kid." The mellow parts remind me of a normal kid that snaps. The intro riff is really simple and basic. It's all open notes. There are only a couple fretted notes. No matter what direction we take, there's always that ominous dark feeling around the corner. Even if the song starts to feel like it's uplifting, something dark is coming around the corner. It's a nice contrast.
Jonathan Davis: That's a very intense song. To me, it's more intense than "Daddy" was back in the day. "Kill You" was pure fucking hatred towards this bitch that made my life Hell and made my father's life Hell. My dad wasn't happy. To this day, he apologizes that he was with her. I've never hated anyone in my life like I've hated that woman. People have fucked me over, and I'll still be their friend. That's just how I am. I don't care. When people get over me, I don't give a fuck. I'll go to my grave with a clean conscience and being happy because I love people and always give them chance. That bitch, I wouldn't. I don't care. That song is a lot of hate, and a lot of emotion came out of it. It was a very tough time in my life dealing with her because I wanted to be with my father. I was in an abusive home so I moved to be with my dad, and she made that abusive. It was really fucked up. I was supposed to be having the time of my life in high school. She was one of the reasons I never got to do anything. She was always fucking with me and doing horrible shit to me. Emotionally, that's one of my favorite Korn songs. It still gets me. I was closing my eyes and letting shit go. It was being real. I was turning off any kind of doubt in my mind about my lyrics or what I was saying and I was letting it come out free form. Ross taught me a lot about that. I think my lyrics get the point across in a really simple way.
Was "Wicked" fun?
Jonathan Davis: It was so much fun! It was out of control. A couple of the guys from Deftones were there. We all got hammered, and we did "Porno Creep" and "Wicked." It was fun. I miss the old days with them. During those early days, we had so much fun together, coming up and playing clubs. They were our brother band. There was a lot of great shit going on back then.
Do you have a favorite memory from those days?
Jonathan Davis: Those days were really fun. There were some odd fun tours we did on that record. I just remember having fun. At that time our music was so new. It was just us and Deftones, and nobody knew what to do with us or where to classify us. We were touring with all of these different genres of music. They loved us and respected us! We fit in anywhere. We started off playing with The Cadillac Tramps, No Doubt, Pennywise, and The Offspring [Laughs]. No one knew where to stick us. It was so cool to play with any type of band and the fans accepted us. The whole thing was amazing.
James "Munky" Shaffer: We did have a lot of fun. Almost every night, we'd have a barbecue with the owner of the studio, the guys in the band, Ross Robinson, and whoever else was around at the time—friends and family members. That included a lot of clowning around. The Who Then Now video captures a lot of that. When we go into the studio and work on the songs, it's very intense. We're coming up with all of these dark ideas. Then, when we step out of the studio, we're having a good time. Those cookouts would last until 3 or 4 in the morning. We'd be running around looking for tigers and lions in the mountains. I don't know what we were doing [Laughs].
What were you listening to back then?
James "Munky" Shaffer: We were listening to a lot of hip hop! I was probably listening to a lot of Mr. Bungle, hip hop like early Outkast and The Pharcyde, Sepultura records, and Rage Against The Machine, just to name a few.
Jonathan Davis: I was listening to a lot of Cypress Hill, House of Pain, Helmet, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, and all of that stuff. There was also a band called Daisy Chainsaw. I love that band! They were on A&M. If you can grab it, grab it. They had one record, and this girl was so fucking crazy [Laughs]. I loved listening to her music because she was so cuckoo, and she really felt it. I totally could relate to her. The whole album was amazing. I was also listening to Monster Magnet. There was also a band called Cop Shoot Cop and a bunch of industrial shit. I was all over the place.
What was touring like?
Jonathan Davis: We were just living life and having fun on the road. We were young kids, and it was just a big party. We lived on a tour bus. We loved playing our music, going out, and doing it. I remember when Peachy came out and debuted at #3, we were at this little club in Upstate New York. It was just awesome. We didn't know what to think or what to do. We were happy to be able to create music and do what we do.
James "Munky" Shaffer: Touring was insanity! Every night was like the biggest party ever. It was drama, fun, drama, drinking, fun, drama—night after night. It was full-on. I don't even know how we're alive. A couple of guys couldn't take it anymore, and they had to leave [Laughs]. You've got to pull it back.
Check out our review of Korn III: Remember Who You Are here!
Read our most recent interview with Jonathan Davis about Music As A Weapon V and more here!
Have you seen Korn live recently? What's your favorite Korn album? Is "Life Is Peachy" a classic to you?
Watch the band play "Alone I Break" live in this exclusive video here!