HOLLYWOOD — Korn singer Jonathan Davis likened it to cutting off an arm. Guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer said it was like grieving the death of a brother.
However they put it, clearly the departure of guitarist Brian "Head" Welch in February had a profound effect on the remaining members of Korn (see "Brian 'Head' Welch Leaves Korn, Citing Moral Objections To Band's Music"). At one point, they even wondered if the band would continue on.
"When he and I played we did the ping-pong effect — I'd play something, he'd play something, and then all of a sudden I didn't have that anymore," Munky said at last week's video shoot for the band's new single, "Twisted Transistor" (see "Lil Jon, Snoop, Xzibit, David Banner Star In New Korn Video"), where he, Davis, bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu and drummer David Silveria extensively addressed for the first time losing their friend of 15 years to the call of Christianity (see "Brian 'Head' Welch Talks God To 10,000 In California Church").
"There was a moment when I was really panicking," Munky continued. "I was like, 'Oh sh--. Am I gonna be able to do this?' But after a couple of weeks of writing I really focused and just poured all of my energy and all my creativity into not worrying about, 'Is he coming back? Is this gonna fall apart?' I just concentrated on the songwriting, blocked out everything else and started to come up with some great riffs, some great songs and the other bandmembers started patting me on the back and telling me what a great job [I'm doing]. They started to believe in my ability to become the only guitarist in the band."
Munky not only considered Head a close friend, he was also Munky's musical mentor. Head sold Munky his first electric guitar and taught him how to play.
"He was always inspiring me to be a better musician, 'cause he's got such a great, perfect-pitch ear," Munky recalled. "And then when he left ... what it did was it forced me to become a better musician. He's not even here with us now, and he's still inspiring me ... so it's really ironic and it's really cool, but I do miss the guy and love him very much."
And Munky's certainly not alone.
"There have been times where everybody just kinda kicks back and looks at each other and goes, 'Yeah, we miss him,' " Silveria said. "But we had to do our thing and he's doing his thing now and we had to just move on and make the record. And we still made a great record, we just did things a little bit differently this time. ... Of course we would always rather have Head be with us because he's our brother, but everything's all good."
"It was weird not having his energy there," Davis added. "I miss him being around, I miss his goofiness and all of the jokes. It's unfortunate that he got hooked up in some drugs and the things that went on, but the whole Christian thing, all that stuff, if it's keeping him alive and he's happy, bottom line, that's all we care about."
Although it was difficult at first, Head's departure eventually brought the rest of Korn closer together and inspired what the band considers a new start. Their seventh studio album, See You on the Other Side, is due December 6 on the group's new label, Virgin Records.
"I feel like this is Korn's first album," Fieldy said. "Everybody just got really focused and it seems like four is a more even number, like everything is balanced better and just feels really good. ... Some things are meant to be, I guess."
Korn have been touring with a second guitarist, former Otep axeman Rob Patterson, but the band has no intention of naming an official fifth member.
"You don't replace your brother," Davis said. "Korn's the four of us now."
Davis has not talked to Head since he left, citing a difference in lifestyles.
"He's more on the straight and narrow with his Christian views and I can respect that. I don't necessarily agree with it — I definitely don't agree with it — but if that's working for him ... I don't want to judge anybody because of what they do," Davis said. "I just don't agree with the ideals and the idea of it."
Davis expresses his views on organized religion in a song on See You on the Other Side called "Hypocrites."
"It's about people being holier than thou and sitting on high judging people, deeming people are going to hell 'cause we're this or that, and at the end of the night I see 'em chillin' at t---y bars and cheating on their wives and doing all the things that we all do," Davis said. "They're human beings and it's pretty sad that they have to use people's insecurities against them, to steal their money from them. It's not directed at Head, it's the whole idea in general. I think church is a good thing in a way for people that really need it, but it's not for me."
The rest of the members of Korn, however, have been in touch with Head through phone calls or e-mail.
"The last time I talked to him he sounded really good, really happy and we just told each other how happy we were for each other," Silveria said.
"He's not gonna kill himself and that's all that really matters," Fieldy said. "Everything aside, [we're] friends."
Munky also plans to continue a friendship with the former yin to his yang.
"Forget music, forget the whole thing ... [I want to] just call him and say, 'Hey, can we just chill, you know, get our children together?' " Munky said. "Hopefully one day that'll all pass. And I know he's working on some new stuff and I can't wait to hear it. And he'll inspire me again with his new material."