When you consider Dallas Austin's impressive, pop-centric résumé — he's worked with Madonna, TLC, Gwen Stefani, Pink, Janet Jackson and Boyz II Men over the span of a 15-year career behind the boards — you've got to wonder: What the hell is he doing working with Hot Topic metal-heads Korn?
The Atlanta resident has been spending most of his days in a Los Angeles recording studio with the group, and so far he says they've completed five tracks for the band's forthcoming seventh studio disc.
Despite his urban affiliations, Austin claimed he's well suited for the task. The Grammy-nominated knob-turner is learned in the ways of rock and roll, and his work with underground acts like Fishbone has prepared him to take on the challenge that is Korn.
Austin said the Korn album, which should see release either later this year or early next, will hold at least a few surprises for the band's trusty fans — including one of hip-hop's hardest on guest vocals.
"We've actually done a song that the Game will be rapping on," Austin revealed. The Game will join Korn in the studio next month to lay down his rhymes. Five tracks have been recorded so far, Austin said, and the remainder of the album's material has been written, just not recorded. That's what May is for.
"They looked at everything they have done and said, 'What else can we do now?' " said Austin, who got a personal call from frontman Jonathan Davis to pitch him the production gig. The band wanted to try something different with this record and felt Dallas was the perfect person to help them realize that goal.
"In an era where it's really hard to play rock and roll — especially hip-hop rock, which they kind of pioneered, but then everything got oversaturated — Jonathan thought, 'How can we rekindle it?' " Austin said.
That's where Austin came in. The band didn't necessarily want to add more hip or hop to their rap-rock mix; the new material is still classic Korn — chugging guitars, syrup-thick bass licks and Davis' hyena wails.
"The stuff you're going to hear from us, it's just great rock stuff — really heavy," Austin explained. "As a producer, I don't come in and bring my thing. I come and work with what's there. I just try making whatever I work with as vivid as possible for what we're doing. Some of the stuff, it's really dark. You'll hear beats underneath it, but it's still really guitar-heavy. I didn't bring them into my world — I just produced Korn. I think [people will] be surprised to hear what we did."
There's more on Austin's plate than just Korn. His resurrected record label, Rowdy, will release the soundtrack to "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which features songs from India.Arie, Monica, Tamia, Angie Stone, Patti LaBelle and others. He'll also be putting out an album by Decatur, Georgia, rappers Da Back Wudz and, later this year, the latest from Dropsonic, a trio of rockers from Atlanta described as a cross between Zeppelin and Radiohead.
Austin, the executive producer behind 2002's "Drumline," said his production company, Rowdy Films, will also have a hectic 2005. Production begins in June on "Jellybeans," a film that centers on the roller-skating rink in Atlanta where Austin met and chilled with Ludacris, Lil Jon, TLC's Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and members of Outkast before they were household names.
"T.I., Ciara and Big Boi will be in the film," he said. "This is our 'Purple Rain,' if you want to call it that. This skating rink is Atlanta's First Avenue." Austin is collaborating with Will Smith and his Overbook Entertainment for the Warner Bros. release.
Another Rowdy production, "Fight Night," will begin filming in the fall. The movie is based on the true tale of a group of masked, armed men who robbed more than $1 million in valuables from a house of well-known black gangsters in 1970.
"It's going to be our 'Pulp Fiction,' in a way," Austin said. " 'Pulp Fiction' from the South."
As if the man weren't busy enough, he's also working with Fefe Dobson and teenage rapper Sammy on their next discs. He'll delve into the lucrative world of reality television as well.
"We're working on a 'Drumline' reality show," he said. "It's called 'The Line,' and we're trying to decide if we want to take it to NBC or FOX or to a cable outlet."
Austin said the show will pit some of the nation's best high-school drummers in a competition for cash and scholarship prizes. No word on when that show will start filming or when it might air.