1998 was a time of decadence and depravity for Korn and their friends, who were in a near-perpetual state of celebration, drowning themselves in cocaine, whiskey and porn stars. The band's second album, Life Is Peachy, had recently gone platinum, proving their breakthrough 1994 self-titled debut was no fluke, and the band was widely regarded as the pioneers and forerunners of a new kind of heavy music. For many, an abundance of booze, drugs and sex would have been a major distraction that would have a crippling effect on their music. Not Korn. Somehow, the band — singer Jonathan Davis, guitarists James "Munky" Shaffer and Brian "Head" Welch, bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu and drummer David Silveria — were driven by a wave of creativity and adrenaline to crafted the biggest album of their career, Follow the Leader.
Recorded between March and May 1998, first with producer Steve Thompson and then with Toby Wright, the album seethes with confessional, self-directed rage, fuzzy seven-string–guitar riffs, elastic funk bass lines, hip-hop beats and galactic effects, and the songs swell and sway in intensity, peaking with apoplectic fury. Yet, for every weird noise, dinosaur-stomp rhythm and agonized vocal, Follow the Leader is loaded with king-sized hooks, not just in Jonathan Davis' melodic, new-wave influenced vocals, but also in the disco beat of "Got the Life," the scat passage of "Freak on a Leash" and the elliptical guitars, colossal surge and morbid shout-along of "Dead Bodies Everywhere," which the singer wrote about his years working in a mortuary.
Featuring special guests Ice Cube ("Children of the Korn"), Fred Durst ("All in the Family") and Pharcyde's Tre Hardson ("Cameltosis"), Follow the Leader wasn't completely cohesive, and there were a few tracks — likely the result of questionable choices made under the influence — that could and probably should have been relegated to the trash bin. Yet, the innovation, groove and heaviness of the album are undeniable.
"We were listening to tons of rap, but we also liked bands like Pantera and Sepultura and as we evolved, I think we learned to mix those two styles better," Davis said in an interview for the book Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal. "Plus, I always wanted to make music that had lots of melody. We got that into the first two records, but Follow the Leader was where we were able to really emphasize the hooks."
Here are 10 things you likely did not about the watershed nu-metal album.
1. Fieldy named the album, not as a reference to the children's game, but as a taunt to the many bands in the scene that were influenced by Korn
"He was being an arrogant prick like only he could be at that time," Jonathan Davis told Shane Told's Lead Singer Syndrome podcast. "He's a sweetheart now, but back then he was out of his mind. And that was just a dig, 'Yeah, c'mon fools, follow the leader.' It was a dig at all those people trying to be us and, lo and behold, that album goes on to sell a kajillion records and be our biggest record. That's some funny shit."
2. Korn pioneered internet video while making the album
Korn hired a video team to film them while they were in the studio for a live web broadcast they called Korn TV. They also conducted interviews and, in one episode, burlesque performer Dita Van Teese indulged Davis' S&M fantasies by tying him up and whipping him. "We pretty much pioneered the whole fucking internet thing with bands back in the day," the singer told Fader. "We made it into Time magazine. We did the very first webcast — we had Adam Carolla come in to host a show, and we partnered up with Quicktime. You could look around in the studio if you dragged a cursor over it."
3. On paper, when Korn recorded Follow the Leader, they were in Hollywood's NRG studio for three months, six days a week. In reality, the band only worked on the album for half of that time.
"We had No Work Thursday, which was the [Korn TV] internet broadcast, and then we had Friday — and people couldn't work because it was Friday and they were hungover from No Work Thursday," producer Toby Wright told Fader. "Then it was Saturday, and you really couldn't do any work. Maybe we got a little bit of guitars done. And then you'd have Sunday off and we'd go back to Monday, and Monday really couldn't work either because, 'Oh God, I can't even get out of bed.'"
4. Korn spent more than $60,000 on liquor and beer during their time in the studio
During the Follow the Leader era, Davis says he was acting the way he thought rock stars were supposed to behave, modeling himself after Val Kilmer's Jim Morrison character in Oliver Stone's film The Doors. "I thought I had to be what that was — being all fucked up, doing drugs and getting drunk, fucking as many fucking chicks as I could, the whole nine," Davis told The Ringer, estimating that the band put more than $60,000 into alcohol while making Follow the Leader. "I'd come in and do my vocals, and once they were done, I'd start drinking. I wasn't drunk when I did my vocals. I was under the influence of some coke at times, but for the majority of it I'd stay sober," he clarified to Fader. "Then I was done and I'd just get hammered. We'd start around three or four o'clock, [then at] nine or 10 at night we'd stop and that's when the parties would start."
5. Jonathan Davis would refuse to start singing until he was presented with an eight-ball of cocaine
"Toby started freaking the fuck out because he knows if I do coke I only get a couple takes and the shit's gonna kick in and then my vocals are going to suck," Davis told Fader. "There was a lot of that."
6. Davis hired Ross Robinson, who produced Korn's first two albums, to produce his vocals. The relationship ended, however, after Robinson provided a little too much sadistic incentive while tracking "Freak on a Leash."
"He was doing some crazy, weird shit like sticking his nails in my back when I was singing," Davis told The Ringer. "He was doing this weird method acting shit and I was just like, 'I did that [on our first two albums] and it was cool, but I'm past this shit with you, Ross. I don't need to have you put your fucking nails in my back and make me hurt to feel the pain.'"
For his part, Robinson claims that it was Korn's nonstop partying that got in the way of his relationship with the band. "There were girls in the studio all the time when they were supposedly working, and they had people involved with them who were giving them blow," Robinson told Louder Than Hell. "I wasn't involved with the drug scene or the party scene with those guys. I was the straight-edge dude and the one they trusted the most. But basically, their vision got clouded. They hired people to party with. As soon as that whole scene turned completely into Mötley Crüe, I was out of the picture."
7. The biggest hit from the album, "Freak on a Leash," isn't about S&M
Between its title and its kinky-sounding lyrics, as well as Davis' openness about his sexual inclinations and escapades over the years, many fans have theorized that "freak on a Leash" is about sadomasochism, but it's not. "I wrote 'Freak On A Leash' [about] the music industry, entertainment in general — how the machine worked," Davis told Fader. "The label, management, publishers, everything that it involved. Looking back on it, 'Something takes a part of me" was [about how] they were taking the fun [out] of making music and making it a business. You can ask anyone in my band, I hate the fucking music [industry] — I don't give a fuck. I love singing and I love fucking making music and I don't care about shit I don't care about. I know it's stupid, but this is how I roll."
8. Davis' scatting on "Freak on a Leash" was inspired by Doug E. Fresh
Before he was a singer, Davis was a DJ and a drummer, which may play a part in the more rhythmic aspects of his vocals, particularly his signature scatting, as heard on "Freak on a Leash." "Everybody made a bajillion memes about the 'mmbop da mmbob da nena.' That's just purely heavy scatting, I just felt like some percussive shit," he explained to Fader. "I did that on Life Is Peachy when I did 'Twist,' that was really the heavy scat. I was beatboxing because I love to beatbox." He also pointed to old-school hip-hop pioneer Doug E. Fresh as a primary influence. "Doug E. Fresh was the best beatboxer back then," he enthused. "That was my 'doug e, doug e.'"
9. While Davis tracked "It's On!" a porn star got down with a famous rock-star friend in the studio
"It was the pinnacle of rock and roll excess," Davis told The Ringer. "I'm singing on a record, I'm high on cocaine, and there's some bitch blowing an amazing fucking musician that's in an amazing band — I'm not naming names, I don't fucking tell. But it was a one of my homies and one of those porn stars. It was amazing."
10. "All in the Family" is such a juvenile mess because everyone was fucked up at the time
"All in the Family," a duet between Davis and Limp Bizkit vocalist Fred Durst that was supposed to symbolize the camaraderie between bands in the so-called nu-metal scene, degenerated into a nasty rap battle in which each flung gay-themed references at the other, including: "little faggot ho," "little fairy," "suck my dick like yo daddy did," "I'll jack off in your eye," "get a gay 'cuz it's doomsday" and "I'll lick your little dick, motherfucker." "We were fucking out of our minds, insanely drunk and high when we did that," Davis told The Ringer. "It's like that scene out of Boogie Nights when they were all fuckin' on crank and they're like, 'No no, this is the best shit ever!'"