From the February 1997 issue of Bass Player Magazine
FIELDY DEMANDS TO BE HEARD
by Bill Leigh
The guitars are roaring out thick, juicy, dissonant riffs that hover near the bottom. The singer is intense - angry, occasionally nervous, sometimes ecstatic. And the drums are getting funkier by the minute. In the middle of it all, at the source, there`s that sound: the subterranean bass groove that moves it all. It has to be Fieldy - and it has to be Korn.
Korn's music is the latest incarnation of hard rock: it's the angry godchild of thrash-funk, eager to explore new sonic possibilities while drawing as much on hip-hop as on metal. "It`s a heavy, phat groove," nods Fieldy, who`s rumbling 5-string accommodates everything from deep fingerstyle grooves to aggressive slap passages, with a rapid-fire approach that forms the center of Korn`s sound. The band also includes guitarists Brian "Head" Welch and James "Munky" Shaffer, drummer David, and impassioned vocalist Jonathan Davis. The fast and furious quintet recently hit the road in support of its sophomore Immortal/Epic release, Life Is Peachy, which debuted at #3 on Billboard`s Top 200 album chart.
Korn hails from Bakersfield, in California`s Central Valley; the members have known each other for years. "We were always trying to be in bands," Fieldy remembers. As a teenager, he tried to learn guitar from his father, but gave it up after awhile. Then, he grabbed a bass when Head needed a bassist for his group. "It was just a cheesy rock band," recalls Fieldy, now 27. "I didn`t do much of anything. I thought it was easy. Then I got into it and thought, I want some credibility - I want to be known, and I'm not going to be known for just riding the E."
Fieldy hit the woodshed; a few years and several bands later, he was well on his way towards developing a highly personal style. "Before Korn, we had a band that was kind of a cross between Chili Peppers funk and Faith No More. I guess that was my real starting point." Fieldy still wasn`t comfortable with his role, though. "I thought, There`s GOT to be a way to get the bass to pump through all this heavy bullshit. I don`t care if there are two heavy guitars - I`m going to be heard. So I just worked at it and didn`t give up."
Using both technique and tone, Fieldy developed several ways to make his bass stand out. One of the most noticeable is his clicky, percussive sound, which can easily be mistaken for kick drum on such tracks as "Need To" from KORN and "Ass Itch" from Life Is Peachy. "When I`m doing that clicking stuff, I either strum all the strings with the back of my fingers, or I grab all four strings at once and pull`em when I`m slapping. Most bass players hit down on one string and pull up on another. I pull up on four." It took some experimentation to refine this technique. "At first I was just pulling one, and I thought, it sounds kinda weak. Then I tried two, and then three, and finally I said, 'Fuck it - I'll try all four'. It took practice, but now it's easy."
Korn's touring and instrument choice are also important parts of both the bandd's sound and Fieldy`s role. He tunes the lowest string on his Ibanez Soundgear 5 down a whole-step to A. When he converted to 5-string in the band`s pre-Korn days, he encouraged Head and Munky to switch to 7-string guitars; they now use standard tuning plus an A string on the bottom. This accounts in part for Korn`s list towards the low end - but Fieldy also relies on some creative EQ to bring out his bottom-heavy sound. His two MESA/Boogie M-2000 heads each have 18 bands of EQ, which he tweaks heavily. "I don't use any mids," he maintains. This leaves lots of low end to help his tone emerge from the drop-tuned guitar mix, and it leaves plenty of highs that let his percussive work cut through.
On the road, each of Fieldy`s M-2000 heads powers a 2x15 cabinets and 4x10 cabinets, one each by Hughes & Kettner and MESA/Boogie. "The clicking sound is the horn in the 10's," Fieldy notes. "We don`t even mike the speakers; we just put that mike right in the middle of the horn. I use a SansAmp, too, both live and in the studio. It puts a real sub-low on the bass you can`t really hear - you just feel it."
Unlike Head and Munky, who bought $2000 worth of pedals for the new album, Fieldy uses no effects at all. In the studio he sets up one of his MESA/Boogie heads along with a single 4x10 cabinet with the horn miked. "What you`re hearing on the new record is my miked amp, " he says. "The direct signal was all the way off." Fieldy prefers to play in the control room, grooving off the big reference monitors and looking through the glass at his bandmates. "I can just get a better vibe that way."
While everyone in Korn contributes to the songwriting process, Fieldy admits he has a big influence on the band`s musical decisions. "If I come up with my part first, I`ll tell Head or Munky to make up a guitar line underneath that`s not going to run all over the bass. But if they`re doing their guitar parts first, I`ll write something to go over the guitars. They like it that way, because it doesn`t make our sound so typically metal. I`m not overriding the band; you can still hear all the guitar work, but it adds a different dimension for the bass."
Although he`s pretty busy with Korn, Fieldy hopes to get involved in some hip-hop side projects when he gets some time off. "Hip-hop is a big influence on me. An average kid listening to Korn is not going to think we sound like hip-hop - and we don`t - but there's an influcence there. I try to cross hip-hop`s beats and bass lines with SICKNESS."
Fieldy keeps his main focus with Korn on his contribution as a bandmember. "You`ve got to make everything work together as one; you can`t just be out there by yourself. WE get demos every day, and the bands are heavy - but when the bass player is slapping it doesn`t even go. I guess they`re saying, 'Fieldy slaps, so I`ll try to slap,' but that`s straight wack."