It seems rock bands with deep histories steeped in success are becoming scarce. Those in that category who are still hitting high creative marks are even rarer.
Then there are the even more elusive, the unicorns of metal music - like Korn, for instance. Churning out their 12th studio album last year –The Serenity of Suffering - the Cali-based rockers continue to dominate the charts, top bills and set records, nearly 25 years in the making.
Touring in support of their latest effort, Korn recently ruled the Carolina Rebellion stage, where they also surprised about 40 fans (of the fest’s 105,000 attendees) with an exclusive acoustic set, with bassist “Fieldy” back after some missed dates. See our insider access photos of Korn’s secret set at Carolina Rebellion here.
Following the intimate experience, AXS.com caught up with Korn guitarists, co-founders and writers Brian "Head" Welch and James "Munky" Shaffer, while sandwiched between the two talents on an overstuffed couch. From the band’s trailer, the axemen revealed the real payoffs of performing, talked making music, and more, before the band’s billed festival set.
AXS: In Fieldy’s (Reginald Arvizu) absence, what was it like playing with Metallica's Robert Trujillo’s 12-year-old son?
Munky: It was so much fun….he’s just like his dad - he’s really talented, humble and fun to be around. He’s still very much a 12-year-old – he wants to have fun and joke around but he’s got a talent that’s just straight out of Robert’s DNA – he’s like a carbon copy of Robert.
Head: Robert said he’s a 12-year-old in every way [but] as soon as he picks up a bass he turns into an “adult” - he’s focused and he knows what he’s got to do and he’ll spend hours on his bass, because it’s his gift. It’s crazy to see that, to see him go from 12-year-old boy to “professional.”
AXS: In Serenity of Suffering, the sound is a return to the band’s roots. How would you describe it?
Head: Munky and I [wanted] to just get the guitar sound and just go for it - because what’s the point of having two guitar players and having guitars buried? We needed to get the sound that we were desiring for us. Everyone was on board and it was fun to really dig in with (album producer) Nick Raskulinecz – we worked really hard and it was amazing. I’m really proud of it, we all are.
AXS: He (Nick Raskulinecz) had the idea of you both playing and recording simultaneously, in the same room – tell me about that.
Munky: Originally, we were trying to track guitars in between tours and we had [about] a week to do three songs, or something, and (Nick) said, “why don’t you guys both track at the same time, to save time.” He was like, “have you guys ever done that before?” We said no, and he said, “we’re doing that!” We said wait, let’s just try it and see if it works. But we had a lot of fun and it added an organic energy to the recording process, something we haven’t done before, so I think we’ll probably try it again the next record.
AXS: So it didn’t feel forced?
Munky: No. It actually made us play better.
AXS: Did you feed off of each other?
Munky: We totally fed off each other. But a lot of times I’d make a mistake and we’d have to start over, or he’d make a mistake…...
Head: I made the most mistakes, just tell them (swinging one of his dreadlocks around with his fingers).
Head: But we’re human, we suck sometimes just like everybody else.
AXS: Through your years together, how has Korn managed to stay fresh?
Munky: I think it’s the passion when we create music. Also playing live. When those lights go out and the crowd goes crazy and they react to something that we literally created out of thin air - that’s the magic of making music. Head and I can create a riff or a song, it’s just two creative people, and then we say, “I can’t wait to see what the crowd does right here!”
Head: That’s the best part. It makes the traveling away from our families so much more worth it when we see a crowd that goes nuts – and this is why we started Korn, because we wanted to make crowds do what they do, like that. So when they’re kind of chill, you try to get into it but you can’t as much…....
Munky: Sometimes when the crowd is ‘weak,’ it motivates me to kind of go, “oh, this next song, they’re gonna get it” (laughs) – you kind of get a little angst, I mean the music brings that out anyway, but it pushes you to play a little more aggressive up there.
AXS: When Korn last played Carolina Rebellion, it was during your 20th-anniversary tour and debut album performances - did you find yourself channeling “1994 Korn” that tour?
Head: Actually, our singer Jonathan Davis had a rough time on that tour, because it was bringing up old stuff from his past. So he was like, “I can’t wait to get through.” But he got into it and was feeling it – I think that’s why people love Korn so much, because he’s so real and raw with his emotions. Even though he didn’t like “doing it,” I think people could see that and that’s part of the show - it was real and it really affected him. I remember sometimes it felt emotionally heavy some nights. I don’t know if that’s “channeling” but it was a weird feeling sometimes, but it was fun at the same time.
AXS: What’s up next for Korn?
Head: We’re gonna’ keep touring, we’re gonna’ hit up some other countries....we’ve got a good team with us now so we’re gonna’ start putting a plan in place and then probably take some time off later next year. Then do a record - probably come back in 2023 with a new record?
Head, to Munky: I need time off, bro.
Munky: That’s a long break, bro. You know what though, immediately what we’re gonna’ do is we have another single and a video, and a tour with Stone Sour in the summer.
AXS: You’ve toured for so many years - how do you stay sane now on the road?
Head: Coors Light (laughs). No, we don’t drink anymore. I think a lot of rest helps and eating healthy.
Munky: I have to exercise. I have to get on the treadmill and walk and do some stretches.
AXS: Any yoga?
Munky: Not really a disciplined yogi, yet – maybe when I’m 50 or 60. Wait, I’m almost 50, oh my god!
Head: Don’t say that. You could get away with 49.
AXS: Back to getting rest – where’s your favorite vacation spot?
Munky: I’ve been fortunate to go to the Maldives, a string of islands off the coast of India. Insane, it’s heaven on earth.
AXS: Anywhere else?
Munky: Home is a good vacation spot (laughs).
Head: Yes, because we travel for a living. So getting home, even sitting on my couch doing nothing. But it’s kind of hard because when you’re gone so long you have to catch up on everything. So I can’t sit too long but I love being at home.
Korn’s Serenity of Summer tour continues across the U.S., with select headlining dates canceled. The band recently announced via social media that singer Jonathan Davis was under “doctor's orders to rest his vocal cords.” We wish him a speedy recovery.