Korn appear on one of the collectible covers of Revolver's new Spring 2022 issue. Visit our shop for a limited-edition bundle featuring an exclusive silver vinyl colorway of their new album, Requiem. Order yours before they're gone!
Jonathan Davis has been through a lot to get here — and no one doubted his survival more than the singer himself. He's spent nearly three decades exploring his life's traumas as the frontman of Korn, venting and raging on death and despair, defiance and self-destruction, reveling in his role as proud metal misfit.
That he's still standing in 2022 as one of the most distinctive and lasting voices in heavy music is indication of his tortured ingenuity and some accidental survival skills, even as the world repeatedly collapses around him. In 2019, he dealt with the deaths of both his mother, Holly, and his estranged wife, Deven (the mother of his two youngest sons), on Korn's bleak The Nothing. And now, amid a global pandemic, comes the band's pointedly titled 14th full-length, Requiem, which confronts the ongoing darkness with some of Korn's most melodic, urgent and impactful songs in recent years.
The new album was recorded almost entirely on ancient analog gear at the singer's studio in Korn's hometown of Bakersfield, California, a music factory originally built and made famous by the late country music icon Buck Owens. Faced with a live music industry in uncertain limbo because of COVID-19, Davis and the band found purpose and escape together, each of them battered from the virus and personal losses.
The first song released was "Start the Healing," a typically emotional statement of rage and self-doubt, set to grinding guitars and music that shifts from the painful to the sublime while Davis shouts: "Everything I'm feeling burst into flames/Looking at a soul that's broken and strained/Every night, the wish is always the same/Keep on hoping that I don't go insane."
Davis is joined on the album's nine songs by guitarists James "Munky" Shaffer and Brian "Head" Welch and drummer Ray Luzier. As always, bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu's signature click-clacks are present over the record, though he's currently on hiatus from touring to confront what he's described as "personal issues" and "bad habits." (Filling in live is Ra Díaz of Suicidal Tendencies.) Fieldy is "taking a break for himself, which is very needed," says Davis.
It's nearly midnight in Bakersfield when the Korn singer signs onto Zoom to talk about Requiem, the tour and the pandemic that has hit the music world as hard as any other industry. Davis and Korn are back on the road this year, but between dates he's sticking close to home, making music and keeping safe. "There's only three places I go: the grocery store, my studio and home," says Davis while seated in the murky red glow of his home office lights. Despite the circumstances, the singer is in an otherwise upbeat mood. Korn has new music out and more on the way. Plus, Davis reports that he's in a new relationship that has introduced him to a strange feeling called "happiness." Even so, the closing song on Requiem is titled "Worst Is on Its Way," in which Davis basks in a good moment even though he knows the darkness is certain to return.
"That is the divine comedy of life. Ups and downs. I'm not going to be in denial of that," he explains. "I know I'm going to be hurting again, but I hope that I have family and loved ones around who can help me get through it and I'll be all right. I won't let it win."
WOULD THIS NEW KORN RECORD EXIST IF NOT FOR COVID-19?
JONATHAN DAVIS No. We did The Nothing and we just started touring it and then [COVID-19] hit, so we really didn't get to go out and properly do that. We were supposed to go to Japan. That didn't happen. Touring's done. It's not going to happen for a year. So we're sitting there: Oh fuck, all scared. People are dying and then a couple months in, I'm going fucking nuts. We're just like, We should go in the studio and work on music and forget about everything." That's exactly what we did.
SO THIS WAS DONE DIFFERENTLY THAN THE LAST COUPLE OF ALBUMS, WHERE THE BAND WOULD GO OFF TO NASHVILLE WHILE YOU WORKED ON VOCALS AND LYRICS IN BAKERSFIELD. HOW DID THAT AFFECT THE CREATIVE PROCESS?
It was cool because I was there from the very first note. It improved the workflow a lot because the guys weren't in Nashville writing songs going, "Is he going to like this?" Or, "Is this going to spark any ideas?" The moment I hear a riff, I'd be like, "What's that, Munky?" "What's that, Head?" I would kind of be the maestro in the studio saying, "Hey, do this part, let's arrange this," and get a basic idea down. Then we would really start digging in and making it cool. It was good that I was there. I hadn't done that since Korn III [:Remember Who You Are, from 2010]. It's been a long time.
CAN YOU HEAR A DIFFERENCE IN THE RESULT?
I love the vibe of this record. We were in a crazy time. Everything was going nuts. It's more of a melodic record and different all the way around, but it's still us. Maybe subconsciously we were trying to fucking be calm or something because a lot of shit was going on.
THE SONG "HOPELESS AND BEATEN" BALANCES REALLY MELODIC MOMENTS WITH SOME SERIOUSLY DARK AGGRO SECTIONS…
It's two extremes in one song. And that's what I was feeling at that time. That song, I just remember being in that place in my life. I've never really had any hope and I've always just been like a beaten dog. I just expect it and that becomes my normal. I did some cool purging in this record, too, but it was coming from a different place. It was more enlightened, like I realized what's going on and I realized how to make myself happy now.
WAS THERE A PARTICULAR MOMENT DURING THE RECORDING WHERE YOU COULD CLEARLY SEE WHERE THIS ALBUM WAS GOING?
I never see where the fucking record's going. If I was to really hyperanalyze that shit, I'd ruin it. That's kind of the magic of it. I learned very early on with doing records with [producer] Ross [Robinson], he'd be like, "Man, walk away now, you're going to fuck this up. You're overthinking it." I didn't know what direction it was going. I just knew I wanted it to be emotional and passionate and just touch you.
DO YOU THINK HOW THIS ALBUM WAS MADE WILL INFLUENCE YOUR APPROACH TO FUTURE RECORDS?
I'm already working on another one. We've been in the studio writing. I've already got new ideas for the way we're going to record it. I look at it as a painting — it's what medium you choose. So I restored a couple more of Buck's old tape machines. The way that the signal splashes onto the tape and sounds like that old, big thick shit … that's just how it's supposed to be.
IS THERE AN OLD RECORD THAT YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE GOLD STANDARD OF SOUND QUALITY?
The best analog-sounding record in my opinion is Steely Dan's Aja. Listen to that fucking record. That shit is ridiculous.
HOW DID YOU LAND ON THE ALBUM TITLE REQUIEM AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
We just really liked the way it sounded. For me, it's a mass for the dead, celebrating and sending someone off. It was like The Nothing — the death of that bullshit and a new beginning for me. I remember Munky, in particular, thought it was really fitting because it was respect for all the people we lost during the pandemic. All of us lost people.
I'VE NOTICED IN THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS THAT WHENEVER KORN RELEASES AN ALBUM, A LOT OF THE REACTION IS, "KORN'S FINALLY GONE BACK TO THEIR CLASSIC SOUND."
Their "roots." I don't get it. We've always tried to trailblaze and experiment and do different things. For fuck's sake, our band name is Korn. We do things our way. Don't tell us what to do. When we did the first record, it was, "You can't fucking do a song called 'Faget.'" Watch us.
Even when we're trying to take it somewhere else and do something different, you always get sucked back to that one thing. The one album that just didn't work was Korn III — because we were trying to go back to our roots. I'm not 24 years old and a raging speed-freaked alcoholic [anymore]. It's not going to work. [Laughs]
But then we learned our lesson … Next, we did The Path of Totality, and that was amazing. The really cool thing about the way we make records is you win some, you lose some. We can make another one. If you don't like this one, listen to the first one.
THE NOTHING CAME OUT OF A PRETTY SERIOUS TIME IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE. HOW DO YOU SEE THAT RECORD NOW?
I think it's an amazing piece of art. The listener can hear me deal with and work through my grief. It wasn't fun to make. I was in shock. I was in disbelief. I was in all kinds of emotions. I felt so horrible for my sons. All those things. But you know what, I dealt with it in that record. Once it was done, I'm done with that. I faced that pain and everything head on.
I'm going to be honest. I wasn't in a very happy place or happy relationship in that situation [with Deven]. It was fucking brutal. I was being abused. It was a very bittersweet situation. Now that that's happened — I'm not saying it's good, and I'm not happy about it — but what happened, happened, and my children are flourishing.
I found the love of my life, someone that fucking takes care of me, has got my back, and I've never had that. I feel this crazy, weird feeling that I'm not used to called happiness. It's weird. I've had up periods — and this is an up one — but I always know around the corner I'm going to get slapped across the face again. I'm armed with the tools to be able to deal with it a lot better now.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED TO SEE KORN'S INFLUENCE ON OTHER BANDS?
You could hear it way back in the day. At first, I was overwhelmed and flattered, and then you start going through different emotions, pissed off, like, "Why can't you come up with something? Are people lazy?" Getting older, I've come to see it as fucking cool. It's all music. Everyone stole from Black Sabbath, man. That's just how music evolves and it's a cool thing. There's only one Korn and it's the players getting together and doing what we do that makes the magic. You can try and do what we do, but it's not gonna be that.
THERE'S NOW A NEW GENERATION OF BANDS THAT ARE DEEPLY INFLUENCED BY THE NINETIES NU-METAL SCENE.
It's cool to hear that someone's influenced by your band. The best is when my kids come to me and say, "Hey, this band is wearing your shirt." Or, "This hip-hop artist is doing this and that." It makes me look cool to my kids.
WHAT SONG WOULD YOU PLAY FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER HEARD KORN TO SAY, "THIS IS WHAT WE'RE ABOUT"?
There's so many different eras. I don't know. Definitely I would tell them to listen to the first record [1994's self-titled]. You got the first Korn record, and then you got maybe Follow the Leader — that's when we were starting to do some different [things]. There's so many different variations of this band. [Laughs] And then See You on the Other Side, when we were going proggy and weird, working with the Matrix [production team] and shit. And then we got The Path of Totality, which is working with the DJs, and then The Nothing, and then this new shit now. It's hard. One song? Probably "Freak on a Leash." That's the one everyone wants to hear anyway. [Laughs]
I KNOW IT WAS PANTERA'S VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER — WHICH TURNED 30 THIS YEAR — THAT REALLY GOT YOU INTO METAL AND PUT YOU ON THAT PATH. WAS THERE A SONG ON THAT RECORD THAT REALLY POINTED THE WAY FOR YOU?
I'm trying to think of a favorite one on there: "Walk," "This Love," "A New Level." They had the pretty stuff and then the heavy shit. It was so heavy and grooving. The only other band before that got me going like that was Helmet, but that was more of a New York hardcore kind of thing. This was different.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY MADE PANTERA'S SOUND SO DIFFERENT?
I think it was their guitar tone and the crazy clicky kick drums of Vinnie [Paul]. Phil [Anselmo]'s vocals were just so brutal ... just fucking emotional, screaming. And he was just this badass. I remember I saw them live before we were signed. Fieldy took me to Irvine Meadows and the first song, Pantera came out and I looked over and he was fucking crying. [Laughs] He was just like, "That is the baddest shit I ever saw!" And I had just goosebumps all over my body.
THERE'VE BEEN SOME HURDLES ALONG THE WAY, BUT KORN HAS MANAGED TO STAY TOGETHER AS A BAND ALL THIS TIME, WHILE OTHERS HAVE COME AND GONE. WHAT HELD KORN TOGETHER?
We were all just kids living our dream and we actually got along. I really look forward to hanging out with my brothers and writing music. We don't hang out every day, but we talk almost every day. We text every day. We really enjoy writing music and there's no attitudes. It's a family thing. There've been fights before, but no one's shouting. We work it out. I think the secret is, for the most part, all of us hate confrontation. [Laughs] I don't have Lead Singer's Disease, and all the things that usually happen in a band. The universe put us all together and just made it work.
DO YOU THINK THAT COMING OUT OF BAKERSFIELD HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THAT?
Yeah. We're all from here. There's nothing to do here. As a kid, I hated it, but it's nice here. It's slow and people are nice and sweet. Growing up and wanting to get the fuck out and go be big rock stars kind of fueled it, you know?
LAST YEAR, KORN WAS FINALLY GETTING BACK OUT ON THE ROAD AGAIN WHEN YOU GOT THE CORONAVIRUS, AND YOU HAD TO RESCHEDULE SOME DATES.
It was like fucking 10 days into the tour. I was always so careful. I wouldn't go anywhere. I'd stay in my fucking bubble. Then boom. Munky got it. He was out for a week or 10 days. Then Ray got it. Then while we were on break, Head got it. So everyone went through it.
HAVING GONE THROUGH IT, HOW DO YOU FEEL AS YOU HEAD OUT ON TOUR AGAIN?
I'm anxious and excited because that's what I do. I've just got to be smart. Just wear my mask, wash my hands. That's the world we live in now.