Interview: Korn Frontman Jonathan Davis on Revolver’s Album of the Year, ‘The Path of Totality’
In Revolver‘s new, 100th issue, which hits newsstands everywhere on December 13, we list our picks for the top 20 albums of 2011. And numero uno? Korn’s 10th studio full-length, The Path of Totality–our selection for the Album of the Year. You can read Editor in Chief Brandon Geist’s write-up about the record in the magazine, but to celebrate here online, we recently talked to Korn frontman Jonathan Davis about The Path of Totality, which comes out tomorrow, and about the honor. Below, read our chat with the vocalist, including what led him to want to create an electronic-infused album, winning over skeptical fans, and his link to the Illuminati!
REVOLVER How does it feel to have The Path of Totality named Revolver‘s Album of the Year?
JONATHAN DAVIS I’ve got chills right now. Man, that’s fucking awesome. Thank you. You have an open mind. The album is getting people to have an open mind and just accept that this is the future–accept the change. And once they do that, after we do our shows, ’cause we play a full set–we split our set up into three different sets, then we do a full set of the new record, we do five songs of the new stuff–and during that time they’re kind of like, What’s going on? But by the end of it, the last song, the whole place is going crazy. I’ve gotta take it to the people and they’ve gotta see it with their own eyes, or hear the record, and then they’re gonna be like, What the fuck?!
Are you surprised to receive this honor for an electronic album?
Yeah. It is fucking crazy, but it’s still rock. I executive produced it—that’s what they called it—and my whole job was to keep the integrity of both sides of the music intact and finding that balance. It’s still a Korn record–you can’t deny it’s a Korn record–but there’s those subtle, and sometimes there’s a lot of the dubstep influence, and drum and bass. It’s not that we were going for a dubstep record, there’s all styles of electronic music on this. There’s dubstep, drum and bass, electro, it’s all kinds of different kinds of music. My job was to fit the pieces in and arrange them into song form and then figure out how the fuck I was gonna sing over them and all that stuff. It’s a rock record, but it’s got electronic influences.
How did the process work of making the album, between you, the band, and the producers?
The only two people we didn’t work with in the room was Noisia and Feed Me, ’cause they were in Europe. Basically what went down is we’d get in a room together and the producers would just lay down a skeleton of beats and some wobbles, here and there. And then it’d go to Munky [guitar], Munk would do some guitar stuff on it and then it’d go back to them and their producers. We’re working in digital and in analog at the same time. We had, like, a crazy, mad-scientist thing going on. So we were kind of filing back and forth doing all this stuff. It was really…that’s how you collaborate, like you do with any band. But their instrument’s a computer.
You know, what’s so exciting about it is we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. It felt good because we were just making music that we loved, open-hearted, not giving a fuck about what anybody thought. We just wanted to do something different and change rock again.
Is that why you wanted to make an electronic-infused album?
And it was my passion for electronic music. I know metal fans, or metal purists, aren’t into that so they call it “gay techno,” but there’s really heavy bass, it’s really heavily heavy-metal influenced. And it’s just, again, close-minded, and for me, because I’ve been out DJing, keeping up on all this stuff for a couple of years, I was excited to see DJs play their music, because it just takes so much talent to do that shit. People think it’s, Oh, you plug your computer in, you play some notes. It’s not–you have to have a vast knowledge of synthesis because all these sounds that these guys make are made out of thin air. It’s not like, you know, with a guitar, you plug it and [makes guitar chugging sound], there you go, you can fuck with your tone a little bit, but you know what you’re gonna get. With their shit, they make shit out of thin air, and it’s difficult.
Do you see this electronic direction continuing on future Korn records?
I mean, I think it will continue in the future, I don’t see how it can’t. I don’t know, it’s like when we did Korn, the self-titled, we had [Roland TR] 808s, we kept 808s–that was the hip-hop element. At that time hip-hop was coming up and was underground and doing all that. So I think there’ll still be some electronic elements in the music, but I don’t know what we’re gonna do next, I haven’t even thought of it yet, since I got done with this record. I’m sure I’ll think of something. At least in the electronic world, everything is evolving so fast and there’s so many subgenres coming out, it’s why I love it so much. People are so fucking creative and it influences me in different ways.
How difficult was this record to make?
This was the hardest Korn record we ever did–at least for me and the production aspects of it. And I think for Munk, too, just wrapping his head around what we were doing, and Fieldy [bass] and then Ray [Luzier, drums] being a sport because we couldn’t use real drums–we did use real drums on some of the songs, but we had to take his kick and snare off because it didn’t meld right with the electronic kicks and snares.
And my hats off to him, ’cause, like, most drummers would be like, “Fuck you, I’m playing on this,” or like, you know, everybody would have attitudes. But everybody in the band was like, “I don’t care if this isn’t up here or if my bass is rolled off there because I just wanna do what’s best for the project.”
How have the new songs been received by crowds so far?
It’s really been awesome. It’s exactly like the crowds when we first came out, back in ’94. People don’t know what to do–they know that they like it, but they don’t wanna show that they like it because the hardcore metalheads, you know, they’re such purists. But I see ‘em in the crowd, like, shaking their head looking around, like, Should I be doing this? I like it, but I know I’m not suppose to like it. [Laughs] Shit, then there’s those fans who wild the fuck out, and then we’ve been getting some electronic fans, too, and they’re just going crazy. So it’s funny, man. I’ve been getting devil horns thrown up at me and heart signs. [Laughs]
Is it almost fun to try and win over the diehard metal fans?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, that’s why I’m probably hurting so bad. I knew there was gonna be bullshit, I knew there was gonna be haters, there’s haters in everything, there was haters back in—like, I say this is the new Follow the Leader album—there was haters back then. But you can’t deny it, and you can’t deny what’s going on in the electronic world, it’s happening and I’m a huge fan of it, I love it. I love going to those shows, they’re fun, it’s exciting. I think rock’s gotten so stale. Just because labels are just wanting to churn out, you know, same formula, bands sound all the same, and they don’t know any other way. Then it’s been in the Korn fashion to always experiment and push the envelope and I think we’ve finally nailed it.
How did you first get together with Skrillex for the album’s lead single, “Get Up!”?
First of all, I didn’t know Skrillex was Sonny [Moore] to begin with. I mean, I listened to his previous EPs he did when he was starting to go kind of dubstep-y and electro, but I heard his EP before it came out, I was really blown away by it. And then I realized it was Sonny and then I just called him. Because back in the day, back at Revolver [in the September 2005 issue] you had up-and-coming bands interview their heros, and yeah, Sonny picked me to interview [laughs] when he was in From First to Last. And I knew him from that. And so I just called him–I got his number and I called him. And he freaked the fuck out. He’s like, “Whoa, what’s up, man?” I go, “Bro, we got this idea. We wanna know if you wanna work with us, like, on mixing, you know, dubstep and electro elements with what we do.” And he was all, “Fuck, yeah!” So he came out and we did three songs together.
The last [producer we worked with] was Feed Me. And I really love Feed Me–he was a guy named Spor back in the day, and he was a drum-and-bass guy. Now he goes by Feed Me. He’s, like, the most musical, ’cause he mixes all kind of genres in his music, so, like, electro, drum and bass, and dubstep all in one. And that’s when we did “Bleeding Out.” And that blew me away, ’cause I heard this song and it was the first time I wanted to put bagpipes on a Korn record in a long time, where I wasn’t forced. So I think I did the first ever bagpipe solo on a dubstep song! [Laughs]
What was the original intention when you first got together with Skrillex? Did you always have an album in mind or were you just testing the waters?
No, just was testing the waters if this would work. It started out as my idea, but I knew it would work. And once we got the three done with Skrillex and we were working with the other dubstep producers, I’m like, “Fuck an EP. What’s five more songs? Let’s make a full-length out of this.” ‘Cause we were having so much fun, it felt like we were doing something special, something completely different. And it reinvigorated the band, creatively. Now we’re all sitting in a room together just talking about how great this record is and, you know, rock had become so stale and we were chasing our tails trying to find something to change it again. And then we finally stumbled upon something that I think would do that. And we’re just beside ourselves. ‘Cause this isn’t suppose to happen–we’re an old-ass band, we’re coming up on our 20th anniversary, dude, that’s not supposed to happen.
Your last record, Korn III: Remember Who You Are, was a return to your roots, and now with this album you’ve really branched out. Is there a connection between the two?
Well, that album was an experiment, too. And I love the record, but it was hell to make–I needed a lot of hell and torture to be in, and I feel the album’s forced. And I feel a lot of kids picked up on that, because it was forced. It was tormenting me and torturing me and taking me backwards, because I was over it. Fucking 38, 39 at the time and, like, I’m over this shit, but, oh, the world needs to feel this. And I’m like, Ah, God…so it felt really forced. But I think we needed to take two steps back to go four steps forward, you know? We needed to go and do that record to get to this point, where we’re like, We’re experimenting and we’re doing some future shit. Fuck this going-back shit, we already did that. So it pushed us forward.
You’ve said that the title of the record refers to everything having to be in perfect alignment, as with seeing an eclipse, and that’s what happened with this record.
Yeah, that’s right. That’s exactly why I love the title because I asked Munk to come up with some titles, make a list of titles, and then he was reading about some eclipse shit and that term came up, “path of totality.” And I went, “What’s this mean?” I looked it up on Google and it’s, like, the path you must take to see a full eclipse. You have to be in the right place at the right time to see a full eclipse of the sun. And I go, “Dude, that’s perfect,” because everything had to fall at the right place at the right time, with the right skill, with the right people to make this happen. And the eclipse, to me, was the rebirth of this band.
Do you remember what your reaction was hearing the finished album for the first time?
I cried, dude. I did. I mean, this is like my baby. And, like, thank God I had people believe in me, thank God the band believed in me, and thank God the band embraced it and stepped up and did way beyond, you know, what they’d done before. Just everything, and all the hard work. And when I finally got the master and I got to hear it all the way through, I just cried. I was like, Oh my God, it worked. Because it could be totally set up for disaster. If we didn’t do it just right it would be fucking horrible.
There’s a song on the record called “Illuminati.” Do you share a lot of those ideas?
I saw this movie called Zeitgeist, and that started me out with the whole, you know, conspiracy theory shit, and I just got into it. And the whole Illuminati thing, I really believe’s going on.
It could be all fucking fake, and so what, but it intrigues me. Things I look around at, like this, the Department of Homeland Security–you know who did that first? Adolf Hitler, he created the Gestapo. And that was a secret police to secure the borders of Germany and protect the people. And those guys have all the power in the world, they can just take you out, stick you in a room, stick their hand up their ass, you have no rights. And that’s some of the shit we’ve given up.
You actually have some historical family connections, right?
I do. My son, ’cause he’s really into it, too, my 16-year-old son—I do ancestry.com as a hobby—well, he went through all my records and original Illuminati family was Davies and they came out of Wales and, I don’t know, it was like the 14, 1500s. Well, he found the Davies that came over to America, his name was Griffith Griffin Davies, and when they moved, the Davies was dropped and it became Davis in America. And he did all this research and shit and got all these records–my kid’s a really smart kid when he wants to be–and he showed me, he’s like “Look, Dad, we’re related to the Illuminati.” And I was like, “Oh my God.” It just freaked me out.
What’s your pick for Album of the Year?
Hyro Da Hero. That was really fucking good. So I’ll pick that one–Hyro Da Hero [Birth School Work Death]. That was really fucking good. It’s just so real and I love the way Hyro raps. It kind of reminds me of Rage Against the Machine, but different, with a band and the music. And it’s real, and this kid loves doing what he’s doing , ’cause I saw him in concert. And it’s real, it’s not made up.