From Metal Edge Magazine (date unknown)
HEAVY ON THE EARS
Kernels of Wisdom from Korn's Jonathan Davis
by Paul Gargano
Lanky in build and soft-spoken and good-natured, Jonathan Davis is the last person you'd expect to find fronting the dirgelike deliveries of Korn, but somewhere in the translation of crunching basslines, grinding guitar chords, and a musical mass of danger, rage, honesty, and emotion, Davis undergoes a transformation. Catching up with the lead singer during Korn's winter headlining tour, Davis has as little insight into the success of his band's breakthrough sophomore effort, Life is Peachy, as he has intentions to mellow out. In othe words, whether you like it or not, Korn are here to stay. What does that mean for music? The answer is still unfolding. After debuting at number 3 on the Billboard Charts and being certified gold less than a month after its release, Life is Peachy has been the dawning of a new era for the Los Angeles quintet that combines rock, metal, hiphop, funk and hardcore into an unrelenting aural assault. In the midst of the band's headlining jaunt, and shortly after learning they'd be opening the first month of Metallica's North American tour, Davis talked about life in the Korn camp, what it means, and just how things have changed for his breakthrough band.
Paul Gargano: I caught you guys at Roseland the other night, it was a great show. How's the tour been going so far?
Jonathan: Excellent. It couldn't be going better, we've been selling out pretty much everywhere. The Roseland was the first time we had our full production and everything, the cameras and lights and shit, it's the first time we ever did a show like that.
Paul: Was the production a long time in the making?
Jonathan: No, we just put it together. The dolls and projections and stuff were ideas we had. With what we were working with, we just tried to make it the best possible. I think it came off all right.
Paul: Where did you get the idea to have the dolls all over the stage?
Jonathan: We had dolls in the "Clown" video. We like a lot of childhood shit, so we wired them to things around the stage.
Paul: Do you draw a lot from your past, growing up?
Jonathan: All of our lyrics are shit that's happened to me, it's all just stuff that I feel.
Paul: Did you have a difficult childhood?
Jonathan: I'd say it was difficult.
Paul: More difficult than most?
Jonathan: Probably not. A lot of people have gone through a lot of shit, so I don't want to put myself up on a pedestal and say I had the worst fuckin' childhood, but I had a difficult childhood. There were lots of things - parents, school, just growing up.
Paul: With the success of your debut, did you approach the writing of this album differently?
Jonathan: The first album was a year in the making. We got together, and a year later we had all the songs. It took us a year to do that, so we had a lot of time. The second we did all in a month, so I poured out a lot of shit in four days. It took me a total of four days to do all the lyrics.
Paul: Four days? How'd you inspire yourself?
Jonathan: I locked myself in a hotel room and pounded Jägermeister and just waited till the lyrics came out. I always like to go to different mindsets, it helps me bring stuff out, thne I go back over it when I'm sober and put it into perspective. I wrote a couple of songs totally, butt-ass sober. If I had to, I could write a whole album sober, and it probably would end up the same way, it would just take me a lot longer.
Paul: You've got a very unique sound musically, where do those influences come from?
Jonathan: Man, I don't know where we draw influences from. It just kind of comes out that way. Everybody asks "What are your influences?" I guess each other, because we were all in other different types of bands, but we didn't look to them to copy them or be influenced by them. I think the only band that ever influenced us - not musically, but as a mindset, and not me, but the band because they talk about it - is Faith No More, because it showed them that there was something different than punk or metal or glam, that you could do something different. That's when the seed was planted, when they started listening to Faith No More. And then, eventually over the years, it ended up this.
Paul: Did you ever thing you'd get this big?
Jonathan: Ahhh, no! I had no idea!
Paul: What do you think has helped fuel your success?
Jonathan: Constant touring and people relating to what I have to say and liking the music. It's word of mouth. We're basically, still one of the biggest underground bands out, and we're trying to keep it that way. The fact that we're underground, the fact that we've played so much, there are so many different things - record companies, the few radio stations that did play us, there are a lot of things.
Paul: Were you conscious from the outset that your style of music was different from everything else out there?
Jonathan: We knew that. We knew that we were trying to do something that nobody else did. It was just kind of trying to figure out if people would like this. We knew they liked it in Los Angeles and California because we always played there, it was a mass of nutty shows. The big thing was whe we went on tour for the first time to other states.
Paul: I remember getting your debut in the mail and thinking,"What the hell is this?" I imagine it was met by a lot of people with the same reaction?
Jonathan: (laughing) I know, they're like, "Huh?!"
Paul: But it definitely grows on you and has an impact like other music doesn't.
Jonathan: It brings out emotions, I think.
Paul: It's a lot darker too. Where do you consider yourselves in the whole gamut of everything, a metal act?
Jonathan: I just consider ourselves anything everybody wants to label us, I think we're just Korn. We get thrown back and forth from metal to alternative because everybody's too tired of fucking bickering about what we are, trying to get us on the radio and this and that. We're a fuckin alterna-metal rock band, I guess. We're dark, but... it's weird, we're just Korn! (laughing) I know I'm taking the easy way out, but how can I explain it?
Paul: Your style is so completely different than everyone elses, does it make for more pressure and expectations trying to follow up a platinum debut?
Jonathan: Yeah, there was a lot of pressure, but the band felt all their pressure on the first day. Like I said, we did the album in a month, and we hadn't written anything on the road. We went from touring to scratch. So we were nervous as to how these songs would come out. But after the first five, everything was fine. There as a lot of pressure on me to come out lyrically, I didn't know what I was going to do, but after we got into the studio, I was like, "Fuck, this is it, there's no pressure at all." You've always got that sophomore jinx going around in your head, and anyone that says they don't notice that is fucking lying. Because it always happens.
Paul: But I dont think the sophomore jinx will affect you like it has other bands. You don't have the same things to worry about as, say, Bush, with radio and MTV support. Your crowd is a lot more honest.
Jonathan: Fuck yeah!
Paul: And you've got the Metallica tour, right?
Jonathan: Yeah, we have a month, until January 11 (in San Diego). Then we go back out on our own for a while, then we go to Europe January 21 to headline there.
Paul: So there's no chance of staying on the Metallica tour longer?
Jonathan: Well, I don't think right now. We might be coming back and doing some shows with them after Europe, but I'm not positive. We'll see how well we get along with them on tour and how the shows work out and everything.
Paul: You've toured with Ozzy and the Deftones, so you are no stranger to the arena circuit.
Jonathan: No, but this new Metallica setup is going to be fucking weird with the new stage and everything, two stages-fucking huge. The seating is going to be all around the arena and there's going to be minimal standing room on the floor, maybe 200-300 people. I don't know, I just saw one sketch, so I don't know all the tricks.
Paul: So that's going to take some getting used to?
Jonathan: Yeah, but it will be cool opening for Metallica.
Paul: Are you guys Metallica fans?
Jonathan: Yeah, I just recently got into them. Probably about two or three years ago. I started out with Ride the Lightning, then Master of Puppets, and I liked the black album.
Paul: What about the new one?
Jonathan: I don't know, I can't say.... man, it's just not Metallica! I think a lot of fans got disappointed. But they're still Metallica and you have to give them respect.
Paul: The tour will be great for you guys, it'll get you a lot more exposure. Were you surprised when the album debuted as well as it did?
Jonathan: I didn't know what to expect from this album and it just fuckin went gold in two weeks. It was fuckin crazy.
Paul: How about some of the tracks on the album? What led you to cover "Low Rider"?
Jonathan: We always played it before "Shoots and Ladders" for the two years we were out (on tour in support of KORN). I always played it on bagpipes, and half the crowd would get it, and half wouldn't. So when we played in L.A. at the Palladium, the band decided to back me up and we just did it. It was fun to play, so when we went into the studio we recorded it. That's a fresh song, a classic, it's the perfect song for us to cover, it's us! It just kind of happened.
Paul: It's a very good, uhh... translation, thats the word I'm looking for!
Jonathan: Yeah, it's our version!
Paul: I know a lot of the other songs are about childhood, what about some of the others like "Chi".
Jonathan: Chi is about a lot of alcohol and drug abuse, people turn to that when they have problems so that they won't have to feel their pain.
Paul: How does Chi fit into the whole thing?
Jonathan: Chi is actually Chi Cheng from the Deftones.
Paul: That's what I thought, he is the only Chi I know!
Jonathan: Yeah we named it after him because he used to call it reggae, and he loves reggae music. We nickname all of our songs before I have the lyrics, like, I had "dick nose" for one song, we name them fucked up because it's just the music and I have to write the lyrics before we name the song. So, it was first called "reggae" before I got the lyrics, then we renamed it "Chi" because we always think of him when we played it. Now we have a song called "Chi".
Paul: So Chi is immortalized. How about "Good God"?
Jonathan: "Good God" is about a friend who took advantage of me all my life, made me do things I didn't want to do, and threatened me with his friendship. I basically ended up taking care of this kid forever and he ended up fucking me over really bad. This is about that, then him coming back and trying to be my friend. He is a really controlling person and would put our friendship on the line if I wouldn't do things that he wanted to do. That kind of shit.
Paul: How about "Swallow"?
Jonathan: That's about being paranoid. Drug-induced paranoia.
Paul: "A.D.I.D.A.S." is the pretty self-explanatory. "Ass Itch" sounds like it might be, too, but I'll ask anyway....
Jonathan: That was the last song I wrote, and I was so burned at writing out lyrics because everytime I write I get depressed because I start thinking about things, you know? So the whole song is about that. In the chorus it says,"Before day, my sun will be dying," it's because I put myself on the line all the time and for what? Because people aren't going to be listening to it anyway.
Paul: Do you think there's a place for Korn in the long run?
Jonathan: Yeah, I do. I do. I was just down and out at that point, writing lyrics, because everytime I write I go through something painful, hurtful, and always burn out on it.
Paul: A lot of artists say that art serves as their therapy. Is that true for you?
Jonathan: Fuck yeah! That's what I do, that's my best therapy.
Paul: One thing I noticed at the New York show...You've always worn Adidas sweatsuits on stage, and at the Roseland you had a sequined suit... was it new?
Jonathan: Yeah, I get a seamstress now, so she makes the suits the way I want them (laughs).
Paul: It's like a before and after success story - without sequins, with sequins.
Jonathan: The new and improved!