“You listen to the record from top to bottom and you're kind of emotionally drained, in a good way...” - hmv.com talks to Korn
When they first emerged in 1994 with their self-titled debut album, Korn were at the forefront of a growing metal revival movement variously described as 'nu-metal' or 'alternative metal', combining elements of funk and hip-hop with heavy, downtuned guitar riffs and primal, pounding drum rhythms.
One of the things that really made Korn stand out from the pack, however, was the unique vocal and lyrical style of frontman Jonathan Davis, who binned the traditionally macho approach of earlier metal bands in favour of a style that exhibited, in equal measure, both humanising vulnerability and sheer, undiluted rage.
Many bands followed in their wake, and many of those who did have long since faded into memory. But not Korn. Their line-up may have shifted over the years, with guitarist Brian 'Head' Welch leaving, then returning, and original drummer David Silveria replaced by Ray Luzier around 2008, but the band have continued through it all, racking up sales in excess of 40 million albums in the process.
25 years on from the release of their game-changing debut, the nu-metal survivors unleash their 13th studio album, The Nothing, which makes its arrival in stores today. Ahead of its release we caught up with drummer Ray Luzier for a chat about how it all came together...
When exactly did you start work on the new album?
“We worked quite a while on this one, it was nice not to be rushed, you know? We started getting together last summer. It wasn't like we blocked out a complete time to do it, it was done over the course of a year, or maybe a year and a half, but not all at one time. So I would say a few months we worked on it, total. But it was good this time, we'd get together, Head, Munky (James Shaffer, guitarist) and I would write some riffs and some grooves, and then have Fieldy (Reginald Arvizu, bassist) come down, and Jonathan would come in a lot this time.”
“It was quite different than Serenity of Suffering, where we did all the music and then gave it to Jon. This time Jonathan was there quite a lot for the writing process, which really made it good for us because when the singer is inspired, we all get inspired. We wrote a bunch of grooves and got together with producer Nick Rasculinecz again. So we really took our time with this record and probably had 25 songs that we narrowed down to the 13 that are on there. It's hard getting rid of them, because you can get really attached to songs.”
Nick Rasculinecz produced your last record too, what is it about him that makes him a good fit for you guys?
“He's one of my all-time favourite producers. I've been a huge fan of what he's done with the Deftones and the Rush records. And the last three Alice In Chains records, and obviously the Foo Fighters. He's a really passionate guy and has great outside ears to go 'OK, this is happening too much' or 'we need more of this'. He's like a fan, he's not a typical producer.”
He must have made an impression, this is the first time Korn has done two albums on the bounce with the same producer since the band's debut and its follow-up....
“Yeah, it's funny you say that 'cause I was thinking about that the other day. Ross Robertson did the first two albums and the first full studio record I did with Korn was the Korn III album with Ross. And we were talking about that, about how Korn has never worked with the same producer two in a row. Nick's great and I think we decided to go with him again because we had such a good time on Serenity of Suffering, we really like that record a lot and it sounded great.”
“He has a way of making the band sound modern, but he also brings back what makes the band famous and popular in the first place. He's really good at that and I noticed it with the Alice In Chains and the Deftones records. He brings the heart and soul back to it, but he doesn't want to be too nostalgic, it's got to have today's sound as well. To stay current and not be a nostalgic band you need to stay on top of things and really make a more current sounding record.”
Were you looking to build on what you did last time, with the heavier Korn sound coming back a little more?
“I mean, it's not like we got in and said 'let's make a heavy record' or 'let's make a soft record', we never say that. It's funny 'cause the other day I was talking to Jonathan backstage, we just finished our big tour with Alice In Chains, and he said 'You know, everybody keeps asking me if [the new album] sounds like new Korn or old Korn.' It sounds like Korn right now. It's Korn in 2019, and that's where we should be.”
“I think everybody is in a great place in our lives, we're all about family and the music now. There's no drama, there's no substance abuse, there's nothing in our way. We're just appreciative that we're still going at this level. In October it'll be my 13th year in the band, and they've been going for 25. We've sold out almost every show on this tour and it's a great feeling, you get a massive appreciation for that. Most bands would be playing 'Freak on a Leash' in clubs by now!”
Some of the songs on the new record have been co-written with Goldfinger's John Feldmann, right? How did that come about?
“He did one, he helped write one that's on the record, yeah. We had a couple of outside guys come in and some of the songs stuck, some didn't, you know? It was up to Rasculinecz to really pick the final ones. They got together, Feldmann had come in with Munky and Head for a while in L.A. and Travis Barker played some drums on some things.”
“They did some branching out kind of songs and one of the choruses really stuck with one of the songs. And that's great, I mean we really respect Feldmann, he's a great writer and producer, but at the end of the day it's like, the best song wins. One thing Rasculinecz was really critical of on this record was that he didn't want any filler. He really wanted it as strong as possible.”
We saw that they'd tracked some of the early demos with Travis Barker on drums, was that a bit of a weird thing for you? Did it affect the way you approached your drum parts for those songs?
“Oh, no, not at all. Zero. As it turned out, the songs that made it to the record were ones he didn't even play on, so it's 100% me. But yeah, there were quite a few songs that they wrote with him on there, and they were great. I never get weird about that stuff though, because I know at the end of the day it's gonna be me with my influences and my flavour on the record.”
“Me and Head live in Nashville and the other guys live in L.A., so you always run into that. It's 2000 miles away and I could have gone over there but scheduling didn't permit at that time. So it had nothing to do with getting Travis to play on the record, but he lives minutes away from Feldmann's studio and he just happened to be there, he plays on a lot of Feldmann's things. A lot of people got all uppity about that but no, he's a good buddy of ours, it was no big deal.”
How does the songwriting process work for you guys? You mentioned Jonathan was around from the beginning last time, does he usually only get involved at the end?
“With the last record he was quite tied up in his home life and he was absent a lot during the writing, except obviously when the vocals and melody part came around. It's always different. For a while, before Head rejoined, we all lived in L.A., but even though we lived in the same southern California spot, we were still spread out and it's hard to get together sometimes when we're home. It's much easier on the road, but Korn never writes on the road, we always write on off-time. A lot of bands do that, they'll write on the road and come back with it, but we've just never been like that. We're always writing stuff on the side, but it always seems to be better when we're collaborating together.”
“We took some time off, which was great, I got to do Jonathan's solo record and do his tour last year, so around that I would get together with Munky, Head and Fieldy and write. I'd keep flying to L.A., they'd fly to Nashville and we kept going backward and forward like that. Nashville's kind of turning into the new L.A. now, L.A. is not the hub it used to be, and Nick's out here as well. So we would just try to get together whenever we could to write a bunch of tunes together."
What kind of album is this from a lyrical point of view?
“Well, it's obviously a heavy record because Jon lost his wife last year, so we all went through some massive emotional feats, you know? To be honest, I can't believe he finished his solo tour. But in his words, if he didn't continue with music he would lose his mind, it's like his therapy. Obviously the whole record is not about her passing, but there is some heavy emotional darkness on there, for the obvious reasons, which made the writing process even more intense and I think that Korn fans are really going to feel that. You listen to the record from top to bottom and you're kind of emotionally drained, in a good way.”
“So I'm not speaking for him, but I know that it has a lot to do with what he went through, and people know that, 44 million records later, there's appeal to the masses for everything Jon is screaming about. That still holds true today, and the world is definitely not a perfect place.”
Which of the album's songs are you most excited about fans getting to hear?
“I do love the singles that came out already, there's also a song on there called 'Harder' which is one of my favourites. It reminds me of old school Korn where there wasn't necessarily an arrangement of verse-chorus, verse-chorus, bridge and then chorus out. It has that old mix of stuff, there's hip-hop in there, Jon's kind of going nuts on it, that's one of my favourites.”
“There's another one called 'Idiosyncrasy' that's very kind of Pantera-ish. Jon's singing is so amazing on this record, it's definitely my favourite vocal performance from him on a record in probably 15 years, easily. He's in a different space in his life. I was in love with this record instrumentally when we were recording it at Nick's, and I was thinking to myself 'wow, if the vocals are gonna match or surpass the music, this is going to be quite a record.' And it is, in my opinion. I think people were quite impressed with the heaviness of 'Cold' because they didn't expect to hear Jon growling like that, and not too many singers can do so many different voices.”
At what point in the process did the album title come up? Was it always going to be called The Nothing?
“The title's always a tricky thing. James Shaffer is usually the one that comes up with the titles, he's really good at it, he has a way with words. The Path of Totality, The Paradigm Shift, Serenity of Suffering, that's all his doing. There was a bunch of names being tossed around everyone kept coming back to The Nothing. It seemed like the perfect thing to say, there's a kind of mystique about it. You can decide what you want about, it can mean absolutely everything or absolutely nothing at all.”
“To me, it's the perfect title. With the way the world's going these days, the way nature's going these days, you never quite know what's around the corner. There's all these natural disasters happening and it's just.... The Nothing, you know what I mean? People are going to take out of it whatever they want to take out of it.”
What are your touring plans looking like for the new album?
“We're gonna be going nuts for the next two years, for sure. We took some time off, which we definitely needed. Korn never really had a touring cycle, we'd just go. I remember the UK tour we did with Limp Bizkit a couple of years ago, we finished just a few days before Christmas. There was no such thing as a summer tour or a fall tour, we'd just go.”
“And when we signed with Velvet Hammer, our new management, they were like 'you guys need to go away for a bit and build up the momentum'. And they were right, because we went away for two years and this Alice in Chains tour was almost sold out every night or really close to maxed out. It really did us good, so we can't wait to get back to the UK and Europe next year, because it's been three years now since we've been there. So we're really looking forward to touring The Nothing there and choosing from our giant catalogue of over 190 songs!”
Putting a setlist together at this point must be a bit of a headache, do you change things up every night?
“It's hard, James and I always go back and forth because we're the ones who always want to change up the set daily and the band really doesn't ever do that! It's like, you get yelled at if you don't play the hits, and you get yelled at if you don't play the deep cuts! So this last tour, we opened up with 'Here To Stay' and went right into 'Blind', so it's like we smack you over the head with two giant hits and then we did a deep cut, 'Divine' off the first record, the die-hard fans go nuts and the ones who want to hear the hits don't know that song.”
“I remember several years ago it was my idea to do a medley, because they had so many great songs before I got in the band, and now we have such a huge catalogue since I've been in the band, so we actually crammed about seven or eight tunes into a 10-minute medley. And the fans loved it, but then some of 'em wanted to hear the full song! If it was up to me we'd change up the setlist every night because we have so many great songs, but who knows what it's going to be in 2020.”
The Nothing is available in hmv stores now