[caption id="attachment_18593" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Jonathan Davis performs with Korn during the 48 Hours Festival, Las Vegas, Nev., October 2011. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images"][/caption]
Korn frontman Jonathan Davis has always been vocal about the fact that his band never found a solid home in metal. While they've performed alongside genre-defining acts like Marilyn Manson, Ozzy Osbourne and Megadeath, purists found the band to be too "rock" for their taste. As a result, the group has forever been a trailblazer of the nu-metal diaspora, where their merging of hard rock with other genres like pop-rock and hip-hop paved the road for acts like Limp Bizkit, Deftones, Staind, and Papa Roach.
That said, it was no big surprise when Korn decided to release a full-length dubstep album. The Path of Totality features production work from dubstep's current "it guy," Skrillex, along with Noisia, Feed Me, 12th Planet, Excision and Kill the Noise. Strangely, these pairings really work. The album's end result is a set of eleven tracks that don't pander to either genre's affectations and instead meld into one loud, aggressive, angry rager. Heavy, scratchy bass grounds the band's token drum-kit and undercuts Davis' signiature vocals. The shrill computer-made melodies mirror the onslaught of guitars too. There's a weird understated balance to the whole thing that stems from a combination of production know-how and solidarity in the underground. The mutual sense of rage may have something to do with it too.
Hive talked with Davis about his introduction to dubstep, working with Skrillex, why new rock sucks, and the Illuminati conspiracy controlling the government.
You're currently on tour for your upcoming album -- how is that going?
It's going really, really well. We're doing something different with this tour. We're doing three different sets. We start out with rarities that we never really play live for the old-school Korn fans. They lose their shit when they hear that. And then we go into our dub set for five songs off the new album. Then we do a set of our hits. The crowd seems to like it. You can tell they were nervous because they think they're not supposed to like it because it's electronic. But then, during the show, they like it. They don't really understand dubstep but then they relate to it because it's heavy and dark but not techno. They're like, "This isn't gay techno music. This is something different." That was someone's exact words. So, we're bringing something new to them with this.
What made you want to work with dubstep producers and how did you get involved with the ones featured on The Path of Totality?
"With dance music labels, things are different. They’re not pushing you. They want you to be you. They love you for your music and aren’t trying to conform for radio or anything else. It’s on some punk-rock shit. I love it."
I'm a huge electronic music fan. I've been DJing at bars, clubs, and my own shows for years. I've been a fan of dubstep since I started listening to it in 2009. It was right before Sonny Skrillex's album dropped that I called him and heard a track off of it. I was like, "Oh my god. This would totally work with what we do. Would you be into doing something?" I took the music and I played it for [Korn guitarist] Munky and [bassist] Fieldy and everyone and they were totally blown away. We decided to experiment for the fun of it and to see what would happen. When Skrillex first came out we did a few songs with him. We did "Get Up" which we finished in like three and a half hours. Then we did two more with him. There was no real effort with him because he had been in a band before called From First to Last and had been playing guitars since he was super young. He understood the concept of making a song in a traditional song-structured way.
Then I worked with the other guys, like Excision. Excision is one of the biggest dubstep guys in North America and is heavily metal-sounding too. The bass is really distorted and heavy. We worked with them next and they were deer caught in headlights 'cause this was totally new. We jammed stuff out with them until we came up with an idea and then we worked on it until we got it right. The only goal was to keep the integrity of the dubstep and drum-n-bass producers and also keep the integrity of what we do. To find a balance that was still true to both of us and actually worked. 'Cause it could have been bad. Really, really bad.
It was the hardest album I ever did. We were working eighteen-hours a day on these things. It was our trailblazing again. Like Follow the Leader all over again.
Your work with Skrillex make a lot of sense considering your shared backgrounds -- both by location and your emo-core / nu-metal aesthetic. What are your thoughts on dubstep taking on this metal role via these kind of artists? It's like some dubstep is the new nu-metal.
It is. It really is. I don't know. Bands are starting to work with dubstep producers to help them out with their songs now but I'm not sure how good the end product will be. We're the first to make a record out of it in this way but we've also been working with the best. The fact that we got Noisia was huge for us. They're top of their game and considered gods as far as producing. Even the fact that they even considered working with us blew up the cred of this record ten times. Working with Feed Me and Kill the Noise too -- back in the drum-n-bass days they had this super-group of guys doing it. Basically we got all these amazing guys that are the best at what they do.
Do you think that Korn fans will actually crossover into being dubstep fans though?
Some will, sure. I think we did that with Follow the Leader too. Hip-hop was blowing up at that time. Now it's all commercialized so this is kind of the new hip-hop in that sense. It was about being street and being underground and having skills. These guys, all the shows they do, the underground shows. You know, Skrillex for example, he does so much for the scene. People say he killed the genre, others say he made it huge. He has a lot of haters but he's got a lot of people who love him too. There are always purists. It's like all the purist metal-heads that said we were really rock when we came out. Trailblazers of any kind of music are going to get that flack. People are going to want to hold on the past. This is the future; it's the new hip-hop, it's the new metal, it's the new everything. Have you ever been to a dubstep show?
Yeah, I have.
So you know how the crowds are. Metal shows are all hate, like, "I'm going to fuck you up in the mosh pit." Electronic shows are all peace and love. They rage harder than metal fans. I played a show in New York and then watched Nero who sold out Webster Hall. That crowd went ten times harder than any metal crowd I've seen in my life. And Nero are soft dubstep, they're pop dubstep.
I actually got to meet them after the show back stage and said I was a huge fan. They said they were huge Korn fans. I don't understand why. I was like, "You've gotta be fucking kidding me." It's cool when that happens. I watched the show from the stage and it was like watching an old Gary Numan show. The way the whole production was set up. It was just so cool. Kids are picking up on it now because they've never seen anything like that before. I'm forty years old, I saw Gary Numan do the '80s and all the other acts from back then. How cool music was back then. This felt fresh and cool like the '80s. There are so many different sub-genres and shit going on.
You recently told Rolling Stone that newer rock sucks because it all follows a certain cookie-cutter format. Can you expand on that?
Every single year everything is just so played out. Every single radio station playing the same songs with the same front-men trying to sing the same shit. It's their labels that push them to be that way to sell records. They force them to do that. With dance music labels, things are different. They're not pushing you. They want you to be you. They love you for your music and aren't trying to conform for radio or anything else. It's on some punk-rock shit. I love it.
At a rock show, I'm bored to death. I've done it for nineteen years and now it just bores me. I just like different stuff to keep me interested in the music.
[caption id="attachment_18642" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Jonathan Davis performs with Korn during the 48 Hours Festival, Las Vegas, Nev., October 2011. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images"][/caption]
A lot has changed within the music industry and within your personal life since Korn's inception, yet you still manage to channel the same sort of rage against society. I know that life is different for you now -- you're sober and you have kids -- so how do you maintain this intensely aggro sound?
It's just different and I just grew up. I'm 40 now. I've gotten over all those people who called me a faggot in high school. Or picking on me because I was different. I was listening to my kind of music while everyone else was wearing cowboy boots. I was getting my ass kicked every day in school. You get older and you move past it.
I think everyone gets angry still. I get pissed off 'cause sometimes I feel like I don't have any real friends and everyone has an agenda. I moved back to my hometown because all my friends here knew me back before I was in Korn. I have two of them. Shit that happens when you get older and I still get pissed off about it.
Speaking of your childhood, I remember reading that before Korn you were interested in musicals. You auditioned for Jesus Christ Superstar?
Yeah, man. I love them. My favorite is Jesus Christ Superstar because my parents were part of a local production here in Bakersville. My mom played Mary Magdalene and my dad was the conductor and a player in the orchestra. It's a fun story. My mom ran off and left my dad for Jesus. [Laughs.] He's been my step-dad for thirty years now. So that's how I got into musicals.
"That’s how they do it. They just push the country to near death -- unemployment, nobody can survive -- and then some guy comes along with the promise of new jobs or whatever and everyone looks to him. And then he becomes a crazy dictator or whatever."
But, yeah, that's a funny story. And then when I got older and understood the meaning behind it and how blasphemous it was for the time. How controversial it was, it just made me want to get more into rock music. One of my major influences was that musical, I think.
Are you still into them? Do you watch them with your kids?
We've watched a couple. I like watching TV with my kids. We have a couple of local arts channels that we watch together. Otherwise I'm watching their shows or Nickelodeon. But even when I'm on tour -- I'll watch their shows on my bus to make sure that I can keep up with what they're watching back at home. I watch cartoons. That's all I watch. [Laughs.]
When I have my own time I don't, obviously. I'll watch weird, interesting movies when they come out too. The last movie I watched was this Korean movie called I Met the Devil. Amazing, amazing horror film. It was disturbing as hell. Yeah, I would never watch that with my kids. That's for late at night, but, yeah, we end up watching a lot of Spongebob Square Pants.
Do they watch Glee? You know, Glee was supposed to have Javier Bardem guest-star as a Spanish heavy-metal star on the show. I think they canceled because a bunch of metal bands have animosity towards the show. Would you let them use a Korn song?
I've never seen that show in my life. I couldn't tell you what the premise of the show is or anything. If someone wants to use one of our songs and do it well then I don't care. People take themselves way too fucking seriously, I swear to god. [Laughs.]
Korn was birthed eighteen years ago. That said, if Korn was a person, Korn would be able to vote. Who would Korn vote for in the upcoming presidential election?
I'm just waiting for a non-Illuminati candidate to run.
You think they're all part of the Illuminati?
I'm all about the Illuminati conspiracies. I read all about it and it makes sense. Watching the things happen that they said they said would happen. The European Union started out and then there was North American Union -- Canada, Mexico, us -- and the Amero. It's crazy how many times I watch how they directly put us in recessions so that these other big banking companies could take over banks. Did you notice how many Chase [banks] have popped up since the recession? You know that Chase used to be Standard Oil back in the day? They helped fund hit-men in WWII. It's all connected. It all makes sense. They do this to try to take our rights away. The biggest one was when they started the Department of Homeland Security. There was someone else who did that. His name was Adolf Hitler when he started the Gestapo. It was the same exact fucking thing. He said it was for the security of the country, the Gestapo would protect him and the security of the country. It's the same shit if you look back and read it. Look it up on the internet -- all this Illuminati shit. All this shit pops up and you'll be like, "Oh my god. This is all happening in front of me and I don't even realize what's going on."
I mean, I get date-raped every time I go through a fucking airport. [Laughs.] Just because I have these pants on that have some metal on them, they play with my junk. I'm like, "You must love your job. Touching dicks all day." It's like, what the hell?
So basically Korn, the teenager, wouldn't vote.
Why? It's rigged anyways. It's all about electoral votes anyways. The way we set up our elections are by whether the state wins. That's the electoral vote. It's like how Bush got elected. His brother rigged the election. It was by two-hundred votes or something ridiculous. You know that his brother did that and that's how they got in. Listen, I've never been a political person but I'm all about what's really going on.
The introduction of cellphones is our Big Brother now. They can know at any time where you are and what you got when you have your cellphone on. Everyone has one. They can track you and all this other stuff -- it's like having a chip put on you. It's crazy.
It's just that everyone is so desperate because everyone is so broke or broken mentally in this country right now. They're going to chip us all. I mean, we'll be all chipped and all of our credit, our money, is going to be on that chip. And if you go against the government they can turn off all your money and they can just destroy you. Sorry, I know I sound crazy. People think I'm crazy about all the Illuminati stuff but...
I'm sure there are other people who share your view. Everyone's entitled to an opinion.
It's crazy. Obama is Illuminati proper. I did a song on the album called "Illuminati." He got in and got the most money ever, that any president has ever spent, and why? All the banks are taking over. Unemployment is going down. Shit happened in Germany when Hitler came around. I talk to my tour manager about this all the time. It's crazy. That's how they do it. They just push the country to near death -- unemployment, nobody can survive -- and then some guy comes along with the promise of new jobs or whatever and everyone looks to him. And then he becomes a crazy dictator or whatever. That's just how it's done. If you just look at how history repeats itself -- it's been happening for thousands of years.
Just check out the Iluminati. Actually, my family...
...is part of the Illuminati?
Yeah, they were part of the Illuminati; the Davises from Wales. I went on Ancestory.com - that's another one of my hobbies, looking up my ancestory. I found a Griffith Davis that came over from Wales to America and is part of my family. My son actually showed it to me. They were the Davies at the time and changed it to Davis when they came to America. Anyways, [my son] was like "Dad, our family at the time was part of the original Illuminati when it was set up back when the Catholic Church was in power ... and the masons and all that." I was like, "Wow, things are getting weird." Things are getting weirder every day.
Korn are currently on tour with Datsik and Downlink. Path of Totality is out December 6 via Roadrunner.