From the October 19, 1996 issue of Kerrang! Magazine
HEART OF DARKNESS
Korn singer Jonathan Davis and I are sitting at Ye Olde Inne, a dingy fake wood-panelled bar in the Los Feliz district of LA, slowly getting to the bottom of the dark inner demons which power his bandís vita heartbeat. Itís powerful, disturbing, fleshcrawling stuf.
It isn't just what Davis is saying that hits so hard; it's his whole body language while he's talking. He's constantly fidgeting, his eyes rolling left and right. He clasps and rubs his hands together, or absently plays with bits of his dreadlocked hair. Basically, Jonathan Davis is extraordinarily nervous. But despite his shy, friendly manner, he admits to being in a perpetual rage at the world around him.
Korn's second album, 'Life is Peachy', is poised to launch the band to stratospheric heights of success. Creatively, it's infinitely superior to its predecessor. Commercially, it's destined to turn Davis, guitarists J. Munky Shaffer and Brian, bassist Fieldy and drummer David into the metal band of the late '90s. It's also another trip through Jonathan Davis' personal nightmares. Hold tight -- this is going to be a dark ride...
"I'm having major anxiety attacks at the moment," Jonathan Davis says in an unexpectedly soft, quiet voice. "I donít know what this album' unlocked, but shit's starting to come out and mentally I can't handle it. I have to go to a doctor now for pills -- a sedative to keep my heartbeat regular. When I have these attacks, my heart starts to palpitate and freak out and.... shit, I dunno what it is, but I just have to go with it."
What do these anxiety attacks feel like?
"It feels like I'm going to fucking die," he replies. "It's like your head's crawling up your asshole, and you just wanna get into a ball so fucking tight that you die. You can't think, you don't know what's happening.
"I conquered it once before, but now it's coming back and happening for no reason. There were triggers before, but now the attacks are just happening. I decided that I had to get this shit taken care of with just a little sedative. Because once it starts, I can't turn back. It's like turning your car's engine on and busting the key in the ignition, and not being able to turn it off until the gas runs out..."
Jonathan Davis hasn't been prepackaged as 'The Nutter' by some corporate marketing department purely to help sell records. He's a genuinely traumatized man, and watching him open up his mental wounds is a deeply uncomfortable experience.
But the more you find out about their singer, the more you come to understand Korn's true power. When Davis screams and pleads and freaks out during the course of a live show, or throughout 'Life is Peachy', he's exorcising his own pain.
The twisted roots of this pain lie in his childhood and his white trash upbringing in Bakersfield, California. "I used to go and visit my grandmother in the trailer park -- most of the people I hung out with grew up that way" he says. "I loved my grandmother to death -- she was the only one I could confide in and, to me, she was like my Mom. When she died six years ago, it fucking killed me."
Davis' grandmother was responsible for his happiest childhood memory.
"I remember hearing a knock at the door one Christmas," he recalls, "and how it made me so happy to answer it. My grandmother had bought my first drumkit, a blue glitter kit. I started playing real drums when I was four. When I was five, I was playing a couple of songs in my Dad's bar band. I picked it up early, and I've been into it ever since."
By contrast, one of his darker recollections offers a small glimpse of his childhood that he had 'torn' away from him. "I remember when my Dad kidnapped me from my grandmother's house," he says. "My Mom and him were fighting - I remember them screaming at each other. He'd start crying and then she'd look at me and go, 'Look at what you did to him, making me cry.' That was when I was two."
Our conversation lurches back and forth between Davis' jarring memories of alienation and abuse. At once point he vividly recalls his father's abrupt conversion to the Pentacostal Church, his words suddenly a blur.
"When I was 13 or 14, my Pop got into fucking religion really bad," he says. "I'd go to church with him and have all these people saying I was possessed by the Devil. It scared the shit outta me. These people are crazy. They'd be singing and jumping up and down, and then they'd start screaming in no language you'd heard before, praying in 'tongues'. Then the priests would come and lay their hands on them to 'knock the Devil' out of them, and all these fuckers would fall to the floor. Then all the other people there would turn to me and start coming after me, because I wasn't down on the floor. I was like, 'Get the fuck away from me', and they'd be yelling, 'He's got the Devil in him...' But I finally got my Dad out of that shit, which is cool."
For Davis, screaming until his gut hurts for Korn is the best therapy he's found for memories like this and many more.
"I'm not screaming just to fucking scream," he says. "All that stuff is my whole life. I went through so many different settings; my parents were divorced like any typical American family. I was three years old and getting pulled back and forth between my Mom and Dad. That's how I started off my life. I was raised by five or six different families, and it really fucked my head up. It was like, 'Who the fuck am I?'. I had my Mom and her Mom, my Dad and his Mom, my step-dad and my godparents, all trying to raise me their way. I'd always be jumping from house to house, like a kid being pawned off. I felt like I was a burden on them all."
Davis never saw much of his father, a touring musician, during his childhood - which only added to his sense of confusion.
"He was never there," he sighs. "When he did come home, I'd see him for three days and freak out, and then he'd be gone again. He was 21 years old when I was born and 24 when he and my Mom divorced, so he was still a kid too. Seeing all the shit that he did, and how I totally felt like I was a mistake to him. I understood that from an early age. People think 'Daddy' was written because my Dad fucked me up the ass, and that's not what the song's about. It wasn't about my Dad, or my Mom. When I was a kid, I was being abused my somebody else and I went to my parents and told them about it, and they thought I was lying and joking around. They never did shit about it. They didn't believe it was happening to their son. I don't really like to talk about that song. This is as much as I've ever talked about it..."
At times, Jonathan Davis seems as if he's dying to fully open himself up and let people into his world. But something holds him back. He says that he still finds it impossible to trust anyone or anything.
"I built up trust after my grandmother died, when I got my first two girlfriends," he explains, "because I needed a woman figure. I fell in love, got dicked, did it again and got really dicked. After that something clicked, and I couldn't trust no one ever again. I don't even trust myself. That emotion has no meaning to me any more."
The young Davis didn't find school any easier than life at home. By his own admission, he was a loner who found it difficult to make friends.
"At my school, there were these jocks walking around everywhere," he says. "They'd take one look at you in your make-up, and you were instantly a 'fag' to them. I was into the new romantic scene at the time. Duran Duran and that stuff - and that's what you did; wear make-up and frilly shirts. So the jocks just thought, 'That guy's gay'. If Iíd been going to school in LA it might have been totally different, but in Bakersfield I was a 'faget'. I got by, but I was always the school 'queer'."
For a brief time, Davis tried to fight back by joining the local gym.
"I worked out for four months and then questioned why I was doing something I hated. I was only doing it to get back to get back at those people somehow. So I just said, 'Fuck it'."
He's fully aware of how differently the same people will treat him now that heís in a successful rock band .
"My drummer, David, is a total work-out freak, and we had this party last night and all his gym buddies turned up," he smiles. "These big, huge guys were going 'You rock!'. I was looking at them thinking, 'Those are the type of motherfuckers who used to call me a queer, and now they wanna be my friend. Alllriiiiight'."
With the notable exception of the atypically humorous 'All Day I Dream About Sex', all of the songs on 'Life Is Peachy' - like those on the debut LP 'Korn' - continue to deal with Davis' childhood traumas and torments. Throw any of the song titles at Jonathan Davis, and heíll immediately dredge up the people and the events that are scarred across each lyric:
'Good God': "It's about a guy I knew in school who I thought was my friend, but who fucked me. He came into my life with nothing, hung out at my house, lived off me, and made me do shit I didn't really wanna do. I was into new romantic music and he was a mod, and he'd tell me if I didn't dress like a mod he wouldn't be my friend anymore. Whenever I had plans to go on a date with a chick he'd sabotage it, because he didn't have a date or nothing. He was a gutless fucking nothing. I havenít talked to him for years."
'Kill You': "It's about a relative I first met when I was 12. I fucking hate that bitch. She's the most evil, fucked-up person I've ever met in my whole life. She hated my guts. She did everything she could to make my life hell. Like, when I was sick she'd feed me tea with Tabasco, which is really hot pepper oil. She'd make me drink it by saying, ĎYou have to burn that cold out, boy.' Fucked-up shit like that. So every night when I'd go to sleep, I'd dream of killing that bitch. In some sick way I had a sexual fantasy about her, and I don't know what that stems from or why. But I always dreamt about fucking her and killing her."
Jonathan Davis knows that he's escaped through Korn. His life hasn't ended up as weird and ugly and hopeless as it could easily have been. For a start, he no longer has to go to work in the local morgue.
"I mean, what else would I be doing if I weren't doing this?" he says. "I was chopping up dead bodies at the Bakersfield coroner's office. Would I have taken that further? What drives anybody to do stupid shit? You need an outlet - art or something - to let the shit flow, and I used to be into hiding it. I got to go and cut up dead bodies for a living, and that was a high. I'll never forget the sound of cutting flesh - it's the most awesome sound, it's like a drug, and I got into the power of it. I didn't go to jail and I got to cut up corpses. But I didn't disrespect the body in any way, it was just shit going on in my head. It helped me for a while, then I got into the band and I think that saved me from going further and further. Music is where I let it go. But even now, I don't let it all go. I still hold back shit. I'm scared, like a little kid. I don't want to let all of it out, and I don't know why."