Korn, Alt-Metal Standard Bearers, Aren't Slowing Down
The year is 1993. A crowd is gathered outside Underground Chicken Sound Studios in Huntington Beach, California, curious about the noises reverberating from inside. There's something about the sounds that is different.
The band is Korn, and it was just the start. Within years, the band would be headlining festivals and breaking through to mainstream audiences. They'd earn two Grammys, crank out 10 studio albums, and sell nearly 50 million copies.
The band served as a gateway band to young fans — dominating Total Request Live on MTV the same time that boy bands and pre-fab pop outfits topped the charts. There's nothing like segueing from an 'N Sync tune to the music of Korn: Frontman Jonathan Davis' voice is capable of melodic emoting but also shredding screams, and the downtuned seven-string guitars of James "Munky" Schaffer and Brian "Head" Welch, combined with the rhythm section of bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu and drummer David Silveria, made for something new, a sound aided by hip-hop's rhythmic nimbleness and metal's crushing weight.
The band was, and still is, indescribably heavy compared to the glossy pop sounds of the day, and it led a generation of young kids down the path of heavy metal. Though most bands start mellowing after nearly 20 years and several lineup changes (Head left the band in 2005; Silveria departed in 2006 and was replaced by current drummer Ray Luzier), Korn has taken the opposite tack, releasing in 2011 its most divisive album, The Path of Totality.
"I think what we did was very bold and took a lot of balls, basing an album off dubstep," says Schaffer of the group's decision to incorporate modern electronic music into its sludge-y makeup. "It was our 10th record, and we just felt like it needed something . . . else."
The move in new directions was inspired by the members' outside activities: Davis' J-Devil guise, which finds him remixing and performing dubstep at grimy parties, helped introduce new sounds. Arvizu plays guitar in the band StillWell and is working on an instrumental jazz/funk solo album. Schaffer's side project, Fear and the Nervous System, explores melodic alt-rock in the vein of Smashing Pumpkins.
"I don't want to say that it's a complete 180, but it doesn't have the dubstep element," Schaffer says of his solo work. "We're utilizing many interesting recording techniques. It will be heavy, with more aggressive, in-your-face-guitars and melodic at the same time."
The shifts in focus helped to breath new life into the Korn template, as well as providing the creative release the band's obligations sometimes doesn't.
"I'm glad that we all have something other than Korn to focus on. It keeps us involved and ideas fresh for when Korn comes together," says Schaffer. "But all of our side projects are so different, as are our personalities."
It could be that the freedom afforded by embracing the eccentricities and unique approaches of each of those personalities is the key to Korn's lasting success, but to hear Schaffer tell the story, there's another key component:
"[Touring a lot means] you end up away from your family a lot," he says, "and that's when your band becomes your family."
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