"I always deal with my problems in my music. It's my outlet," singer Jonathan Davis told a gathering of Korn fans on Friday. "I hate writing lyrics. Maybe because I've got to face what's inside me, but when I sit down and put my pen on the paper — now it's an iPad — it just pours out and it's magic."
The words came near the end of a mostly upbeat gathering with the band and about 50 invited fans in the lobby coffee bar at the Beverly Hills offices of LiveNation, the company promoting Korn's imminent summer tour co-headlining with Alice in Chains. Taking questions from a small stage were Davis, guitarists James "Munky" Shaffer and Brian "Head" Welch, bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu and drummer Ray Luzier. All dressed entirely in black, except for Arvizu, who sported camo pants.
Piled up on a nearby table were green bags of Korn Koffee beans, a recent venture spearheaded by the genuine caffeine addicts within the band. And somewhere in the room, a pair of headphones was going around sharing a yet-to-be-released new song, "The Darkness Is Revealing." In a few hours, Korn would be back in rehearsals for the tour.
The fan event came about two weeks after the announcement of the Korn's new album, The Nothing, due September 13th via Roadrunner Records. The only taste that the outside world has had of the new LP so far is its raging, melodic first single, "You'll Never Find Me." Welch reveals that "You'll Never Find Me" originally had the working title "Smog Check," since that recording session was the day the guitarist slipped out to get his car checked out.
Davis also noted that the song's vocal melodies were completed with the help of Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan. "We sat in two chairs like this and he picked up an acoustic guitar and he started playing the chord progressions while I was singing the melodies," said Davis. It was the first time they had worked together in the studio. "I've never done anything like that before, and it was a really cool experience."
During the long process of making of The Nothing, the band recorded mostly in Nashville with producer Nick Raskulinecz (with occasional visits from Davis), while the singer again completed most of his vocals at his studio in Korn's hometown of Bakersfield. The band came up with about 22 songs for Davis to choose from, and he picked 17 to start with, according to Shaffer.
"We get together and time stops. You go outside and it's midnight," said the guitarist. "Usually it's kind of a rhythmic thing that happens — first guitar, Brian will put some melody and then most of us are falling in love with it and then cross our fingers that it sets the tone for Jonathan to feel some inspiration to write lyrics over."
From across the stage, Davis smiled. "And it's the worst thing when I hear a song and I'm not feeling it," the singer explained. "It kills me because I know they've put so much work into it and I don't want to be that fucking guy."
Though it wasn't directly discussed at the event, the death of Davis's wife, Deven, last year from an accidental overdose hovers in the background of The Nothing. Before the Q&A session, Shaffer told Revolver: "This is like a brotherhood and it's sacred. One thing can affect all of us, like the thing that happened with Jonathan. We were all affected by it."
The fans gathered in front of the band were from Southern California, and received invitations to the event after purchasing tickets online to the Korn/Alice in Chains show in Irvine, California. The first question came from David Nieto, 34, who wore a gray Korn baseball jersey and asked about The Nothing's cover art, which depicts an abstract human figure hopelessly entangled within cables. As it turns out, the new album's cover gave Davis chills the first time he saw it.
"It just hit me and gave me chills," the singer said of the striking image. "I couldn't believe that someone actually could get in my head and feel what I was going through when making the record. The person in the picture is being suspended in a very uncomfortable manner."
Later, Nieto told Revolver that 20 years ago he was strictly a hip-hop listener when he discovered Korn on TV. "I remember seeing 'Freak on a Leash' and that just changed my whole life," said Nieto, who went on to name his son "Jonathan David Nieto," and noted that Korn's music opened him up to other metal acts, including Slipknot. "When I heard their music, it was something more emotional. Something that dug a little deeper inside you're your own self and made you a think about different kinds of feelings."
The next question came from Victoria Romero, 18, with long blue curls and a spiked necklace snug around her throat. She asked the band members to describe how "an average day looks for you guys outside the studio."
Shaffer, Davis and Luzier talked of spending time with their kids, while Welch said: "I'm a spiritual guru. I float in my closet." Welch is starting a spa and getting into real estate "so I can do my next thing after Korn when I'm 70."
Munky joked: "You could massage us on tour."
Korn's singer might be the band member most in need to a good massage, as Davis has been working out a lot "because I'm old as fuck now and just to stay healthy," he said. "Then I go into the studio and hang out and just take it in and feel inspired and not necessarily write every day. That gives me my peace. Just being creative. That's my church. That's my everything. That's my safe place."
Soon after, Davis grinned as another fan asked, "So what was the moment when you guys started realizing everyone pretty much started copying you guys?"
Fieldy answered abruptly, "When we heard it on the radio," as the crowd laughed.
Then came Peggy Donner, a 65-year-old therapist in a black Korn T-shirt. She said: "I just wanted to thank all of you because I would not be celebrating my birthday tomorrow were it not for what you've all done for us, putting your heart, your energy, your love to what you do for us." Then she asked them to wish her a happy birthday, which they did. "We're glad you're here," said Welch.
After the band exited the stage, Donner told Revolver that she'd discovered Korn while watching video of the band performing at Woodstock '99. She then saw them live at the Sunset Strip Music Festival. "There was a dark period in my life," she explained, and then recited lyrics to "Dirty": "I'm out here by myself/All alone/Ready to blow my head off/I hurt so bad inside ... I just want to laugh again."
"That's how I felt day in and day out. And I couldn't seem to get out of that trap," Donner said. "Somehow their music grabbed me. The way the lyrics are written and the sound are something that draws a person in that can relate to what they're going through."
Fan meet-and-greets have long been a part of Korn's connection with their audience. Onstage answering questions, the musicians sounded very much at ease, but public speaking isn't part of everyone's comfort zone.
Shaffer, for one, is "a kind of shy person" and gets uncomfortable at meet-and-greets, "but it's good for the fans," he said. "It is good for people to connect with us and know that it's a tough business to be in this long and you have to keep sharpening your blade," the guitarist admitted before things began. "It's a young man's game. They're coming by the thousands still, moving to L.A. with the dreams that we had. So there's the gratitude to have something like this be held for you and after so long. I get uncomfortable but I'll live."