Former Korn guitarist Brian Welch finds Jesus
Brian "Head" Welch, former lead guitarist and founding member of the band Korn, was standing in the murky waters of the Jordan River, waiting to be baptized.
As his tears dropped into the same river where Christ once stood, Welch looked, on that March day in 2005, like the Jesus who's been baptized in paintings and on Sunday school flannel boards across the world:
White robe, check.
Long hair, check.
Even Welch's age at the time, 34, was close to Jesus' historic baptism age.
Perhaps the only element that seemed out of place was the TV cameras. Lots of them, from MTV, CNN, and a number of independent stations. They'd followed Welch to Israel from California, where he announced the end of his 10-year crystal meth addiction, his regrets for Korn's immoral songs, and his brand-new faith in Jesus to a church of 10,000.
Now, Brian Welch hadn't lived as the quiet son of a Galilean carpenter. His band made a fortune with "Parental Advisory, Explicit Content" labels, thanks to songs about suicide and hits like A.D.I.D.A.S., which stands for "all day I dream about sex." The lead singer's purchase of such artifacts as serial killer Ted Bundy's Volkswagen upped Korn's controversial ante even further.
As the waters of the Jordan swirled past Welch, Korn's music video "Word Up" was still getting airtime on MTV. In the video, Welch and his bandmates' faces are digitally superimposed on Chihuahua-like dogs. The dogs pee on the street and make their way into a strip club, where they wander, with tongues hanging out, past topless pole dancers.
"I don't want to pollute the world anymore. I want to spread a message of love and understanding, and that's what I'm going to do," Welch told MTV at the baptism.
When CNN asked if his life could really change after a dip in the Jordan, Welch replied vigorously.
"Yep. It's going to be changed. It's going to be changed. Watch. Interview me afterwards. You'll see. You'll see peace. I believe that."
Korn's powerful rhythms and haunting lyrics have wooed teens and riled parents for years. According to Billboard charts, the band has sold more than 30 million albums.
"Korn's music makes the psychodrama hit home," Rolling Stone wrote in 2000. "Their favorite device — a high guitar line [Welch] circling above a grinding bass — leaves [singer Jonathan] Davis' voice sounding stranded and desperate until the power chords arrive. And the lyrics, detailing sexual abuse and other grim scenarios, promise wrenching honesty to justify their self-absorption."
Conservative parenting groups weren't as excited. In 2004, Focus on the Family wrote that Korn's album Take a Look in the Mirror "screams the f-word, romanticizes self-mutilation [with lyrics like] 'I want to slash and beat you.' And 'Mercy I cannot allow/Through your face my fist will plow/Watching as your blood pours down.' . . . Nods to cutting and porn. One band member told Billboard, 'I think everybody's parents will hate it, so we did a good job.' . . . Don't let Korn stir up morbid hysterics in your teen."
It's difficult to say where Welch's journey from controversial metal star to the Jesus freak began.
Perhaps it was the day Welch heard God tell him to sell everything and move to Phoenix?
How about the day — three months before a $23 million deal — when Welch quit the wildly successful band he'd started 12 years earlier?
Perhaps it was watching himself in South Park's Korn episode, in which townspeople grab torches and call the band devil worshipers.
No. Welch's journey started six years before his baptism, the night he punched his wife in the face.
It started with blood spraying from her nose, almost in slow motion, her passing out on the master bedroom floor, and a rock star looking down at his wife's blood on his knuckles.
Twenty-four hours before he punched his wife, Welch was slicing guitar riffs for a surging, screaming crowd of 200,000 fans. It was Woodstock 1999, and the mass of bodies, swaying and singing in unison, was the most supernatural thing he had ever known.
Welch doesn't remember much else about that Woodstock show. He was too high. He and wife Rebekah dined on Ecstasy, cocaine, and meth the entire week, including on the private jet flights there and back with Limp Bizkit and Ice Cube.
When they returned to their house in Huntington Beach, California, they walked right past Welch's parents, past their 2-year-old daughter, Jennea, and dove into the pool — completely clothed.
Welch's parents put Jennea to bed and left. Then, still dripping with pool water, Welch and his wife started fighting the way only addicts can fight when they're coming down from a one-week high.
And that's when he realized that being a multimillionaire and rock star just wasn't doing it for him.
"I remember waking up on the front porch of our house the next morning, naked," Welch's ex-wife, Rebekah Landis, says now. "Brian had to deal with a lot of insanity coming from me. Not only was I addicted to drugs, I was also a violent alcoholic."
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Welch is sitting in the P.F. Chang's on Mill Avenue in Tempe, eating his usual lemon chicken dinner before he picks up Jennea, now 9, from gymnastics. In the past three years, Welch has quit Korn, quit drugs, found Jesus, moved to Phoenix, and written a bestseller.
His second book, Washed by Blood, hits bookstores on June 24, and his first single as a solo artist, "Flush," premières July 8 on iTunes. The song starts with audio of someone vomiting into a toilet, followed by a flush and then a hammering metal riff that doesn't sound any more "Christian" than Korn. Warner Music will release the solo album on September 9.
In 2006, while he was writing the album, Welch holed up in the Best Western at Northern Avenue and 16th Street in Phoenix. There, he heard a message from the Lord to sell his California real estate and move to Arizona. Welch had one friend in Arizona (also a believer, with whom Welch has since parted ways) and has no other idea why God chose Phoenix.
"God called Israel, Moses, and Jesus to times of preparation in the desert. This is my time of preparation," Welch says. His voice is low, and he speaks in a melodic, easy-mannered rhythm. Now a single dad with sole custody, he has been living in Phoenix with Jennea ever since. He and his wife, who also struggled with meth addiction, divorced in 2001.
Welch still looks the part of a Korn star. He's wearing his trademark braided dreadlocks and ragged beard. A mural of tattoos works its way from his fists, up his arms, under his white T-shirt, and back out his neck — all the way to his beard.
"Are you the drummer from Korn?" a P.F. Chang's waiter asks. He's been nervously attending to Welch for 10 minutes, and he's finally worked up the nerve to pop the question.
"I was the guitarist, actually," Welch answers politely. Welch had been wondering aloud why the hostess and waiter both remembered that he likes a side of butter with his rice. It never occurred to him that they remember his order because he's recognizably famous — at least to metal fans.
"That's good stuff, Korn," the waiter says. "The music is just so powerful. It's like it takes you to another place." The waiter pauses. "Especially if you're high."
After the waiter walks away, Welch quietly says, "Especially if I'm high on the Holy Spirit. All those drugs are counterfeits for God, but when you tell someone that, they don't get it. It sounds crazy."
Had the waiter looked more closely, he'd have seen that Welch's eccentric tattoos are mostly Scripture verses. His favorite is on his neck. It's Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
Welch says that quote saved his life, because he had spiraled into an obsessive and suicidal addiction. Because he used to sit in his tour bus, snorting meth and hoping to die by overdose.
In 2005, Welch, who says he grew up without any sort of religion, walked into a church and prayed that Jesus would free him from his addiction. Welch heard God tell him to quit Korn.
Welch was worth about $9 million at the time. Korn was at its peak. Loved by teens. Hated by parents, and known by almost everyone for its controversial lyrics, dark persona, multi-platinum albums, and two Grammys.
Fully aware that Korn was months away from signing a $23 million deal with Virgin Records, Welch e-mailed his resignation to his pals. In a rush of emotion, he announced his 10-year addiction and newfound faith.
The conversion made for a dramatic swing from one end of the morality spectrum to the other, à la Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, and other rockers who ditched extramarital sex and drugs for God. (Though none dashed their careers on the rocks quite like Welch.)
Korn's notorious lyrics and association with Marilyn Manson, whose violent, sexual, and anti-religious stage antics include burning Bibles and drinking urine, had riled parents across the nation. Suddenly the band's star guitarist and founding member was a born-again Jesus freak.
Locked in a hotel room, Welch quit his meth and Xanax addictions cold turkey, he says. Then he hopped a plane to Israel, where he was baptized.
Welch says he didn't invite the media along but that MTV and CNN called after a local radio interview about his conversion. "I was just wanting to get some drug addicts at the church. The next day, it spread all over the Internet. Then CNN and MTV called, and I just went with it."
Korn's lead singer, Jonathan Davis, retaliated with two fiercely bitter songs to Welch on the band's 2007 untitled album.
"I have been having fun watching my ex-guitar player bash us," Davis wrote on his personal blog, www.buttsexcrips.com. "What can I say but good luck, bro. I'm done with your false crusade. Korn will keep 'polluting' the world as long as we have fans. Life is fuckin crazy. Damn, fuck it."
Davis told Billboard.com, "It really irritated me that he's putting out this book and profiting off of talking shit about us — the guys who gave him everything in his life and put him where he's at."
That book was Welch's memoir, Save Me from Myself. It hit the New York Times bestseller list last July. Far from a tell-all about Korn, it's a journey into the mind of a depressed, addicted, and introverted rock star.
Washed by Blood is a family-friendly version of his first book, aimed at conservative buyers who were put off by the first book's dirty language.
(Current members of Korn did not respond to interview requests for this story. Their publicist said the band has been turning down all interview requests to focus on writing a new album.)
With his new book and debut album on the horizon, Welch faces new challenges. He struggles with severe dips into depression, due in part, he says, to the damage that 10 years of meth use did to his pleasure sensors. Some days, he says, he must pray for hours just to make it to the recording studio.
Welch also faces a new career conflict: getting Christians to buy music that sounds like Korn, and getting Korn fans to buy music by, as one fan put it, a "Bible thumper."
As an acne-faced ninth-grader, Welch regularly retreated to the basement of his parents' middle-class Bakersfield, California home. The youngest of two boys, he'd sit and watch slasher movies by himself. Other times, he'd close the door to his bedroom and just play guitar.
"He was really reclusive in high school," his brother, Jeff, recalls. "His long hair covered his face. Sometimes, he would even sit sideways at the dinner table. Every day after school, he would hibernate in his bedroom, practicing his guitar."
It's no coincidence that Welch was alone when he used meth for the first time. Sitting by the backyard pool at age 14, he snorted enough on a late-summer morning to be surprised (and sunburned) four hours later that his parents were already home from work.
The Welch family, by the way, didn't regularly attend religious services. Brian got his first guitar when he was 10. By 15, it was evident that he had a gift. "He was so talented. I'd take my friends into my little brother's room, and we'd ask him to play stuff. We joked about seeing him on MTV some day," says Jeff, a juvenile parole officer in Bakersfield.
Welch jammed in his parents' garage with a few friends from high school. "Brian pretty much inspired me to start playing," James "Munky" Shaffer, Korn's other guitarist, says in the book Korn: Life in the Pit. "I used to go over to his house and eat his mom and dad's food so I could save my lunch money and then buy an amp."
Four years out of high school, Welch and his buddies rented a tiny house in Los Angeles. Times were so tough that Jonathan Davis and his girlfriend slept in a closet under the stairway for months, Welch recalls.
At one point, Welch even moved back to Bakersfield to hang up the guitar and take up the cash register at his parents' Chevron gas station. In Save Me from Myself, Welch writes that he changed his mind a few days before his first shift.
Korn's members and the band's first producer, Ross Robinson (who's also worked with Limp Bizkit and Slipknot), have all said Welch is a hilarious pal. In one TV interview, Davis called Welch "the comedian of the band."
It was Welch and bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu who instigated the band's nicknames. "Munky's feet are literally like a monkey," Welch says. "He'd fall asleep with his monkey foot poking out of the bunk, so Fieldy and I started calling him Munky. Besides, James isn't really a rock star name." (Welch still has a knack for nicknaming his friends. He's dubbed his current audio engineer "Skimo" because he keeps the studio A/C as cold as an Eskimo would.)
Welch says his fun-and-games demeanor was masking an obsessively anxious interior. "I always worried my entire life. I worried if we'd get signed. Then I worried if we'd make enough money. Then I worried about the money."
By Korn's third tour, the band had its own bus and was opening for Marilyn Manson. Welch calls Manson's backstage orgies with bondage gear (he says he didn't partake) some of the darkest evil he's encountered.
Welch and his buddies enjoyed the luxury of a personal security guard who handpicked girls from the crowd for "after party" sex. But Welch enjoyed another perk even more: unlimited drugs.
Welch married his girlfriend and partner in meth, Rebekah, but the band agreed that spouses shouldn't come on the road. Welch says he tried to stay faithful to his wife, but didn't always do it. Rebekah and Brian had met long before Korn was selling multi-platinum albums.
His marriage was dysfunctional, to say the least. He constantly worried that Rebekah was using meth and cheating on him back home. Welch's crisis-management routine was simple: Find meth for himself. Snort a few lines. Play the next show.
On October 27, 1999, Welch was listening to his voice and watching the choppy animation of himself in South Park's "Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery" episode. Korn's top manager, Jeff Kwatinetz, called.
"We got 25 million bucks," Kwatinetz said, explaining Korn's new deal. (Six years later, Korn would get a similar $23 million deal just months after Welch quit.)
"It should have been the best day of my life," Welch remembers. A $5 million windfall and a starring role on South Park. But it wasn't.
"I was so excited. I told my wife, and we just started fighting," Welch says. He ended up sitting on the couch alone, he recalls, unable to crack a smile when South Park's Priest Maxi chastised the animated Korn figures for bringing their evil tunes to his town.
"I'm supposed to be at the height of my career, and I'm terrible," Welch remembers. That scene typifies Welch's ride to the top. "There always seemed to be some kind of drama with my personal life whenever things were good with the band," he says.
Rebekah Landis is now clean from meth, too, and lives in Reno, Nevada. She says her own drug addictions made Welch's life miserable. "Brian was always one of those honest, genuine, loyal people. Even when he was on drugs or drunk," Landis says. "But methamphetamine ruins your whole life. It ruins your soul, so you can't care or function. You may feel okay for a little while but, eventually, it's like you have no feelings left, like you're an empty shell."
Korn's Issues album hit just as momentum was snowballing from Follow the Leader, topping Dr. Dre and Celine Dion's new albums to rank number one on the Billboard 200.
"It was surreal. It just took off. We were on MTV every day. It got stressful. The band would fight when we got pressured," Welch says.
When Rebekah gave birth to Jennea, Welch promised himself that he'd quit meth. He didn't. Neither did Rebekah. About two years later, Rebekah left. Welch was suddenly a single dad with sole custody, a full-time rock star, and a meth addict.
"After going through all that pain, I promised myself I wouldn't do speed again. Then with all the pain, I got drunk one night. I ran into a guy, and we started talking about speed. I said, 'All right. Just once.'"
It was meth that had killed Welch's marriage, sure, but it was meth that he turned to for deliverance from the pain.
"Then, I bought a big ol' bag, and I started using every day, all day long, for two years. When we traveled to countries where they said, 'You'll get put to death if they find drugs,' I had it hidden in my deodorant, all in my suitcases.'"
Look at any picture of Korn, and Welch looks glassy-eyed. Look at any picture from 2002 to 2005, and he looks as if he were in a coma. Backstage, there's a lot of marijuana and a lot of cocaine, Welch says.
"Everybody on the road either drank, smoked weed, or did a ton of coke. There was never heroin. There was always Xanax, Vicodin, alcohol, weed, and coke, wherever we went. I snuck the speed around. No one else did speed because it ruins you so bad. I found a way to sneak it."
Welch wasn't a casual user with his meth. He was a shaking, can't-live-without-it addict — an extremely paranoid one, too. When the president of Indonesia walked across a tarmac to greet Korn's plane, Welch was sure he was being busted for drugs.
"The president comes up to me, and he puts his hand on my neck really firm. I thought he was gonna call me out for having drugs, and he goes, 'My son loves you guys.'"
Back in the States, Welch spent his days alone in his personal tour bus, doing speed, sleeping, and feeding an addiction to Internet porn.
"One thing you have to understand is that there are different brands [of meth], and, sometimes, addicts get so used to one brand to where it stops working so well," Welch writes in Save Me from Myself.
"I was so addicted that I had eight brands going at once. Eight different brands of speed. In addition to all those pills, and all the beer. I was so afraid I would run out."
While recording a promo single for Korn's Greatest Hits Vol. 1 in 2004, the drug use started affecting Welch's guitar solos. One day, he chucked his custom-built Ibanez 7-string guitar at his tech. The tech ducked just in time, and the $2,000 guitar hit a wall and shattered.
"Through the years we had brought him up, we were really concerned about drugs," says Phil, Brian's father. His parents' concern grew with his fame. "We would ask him, and he would assure us that he wasn't using."
Ultimately, it was a 5-year-old girl who saved Welch's life. You don't have to hang out with Jennea long to see why. Now 9, the curly-haired brunette is cute, funny, and a great conversationalist.
Eating a cheeseburger on a Tuesday evening, Jennea talks about her hamster Cody, her SpongeBob SquarePants collection, her favorite musician (One Republic), and her new guitar.
But life wasn't so peaceful for Jennea or Brian during the Korn years. Once Welch had sole custody, he tried to quit meth, but failed.
Then he checked himself into rehab; that didn't work, either. One night on break from tour, he woke at 2 a.m. after a "downer" binge of alcohol. He walked to Jennea's room and saw an empty bed. Welch frantically searched the house and saw the backdoor to the pool was wide open.
Welch panicked and ran outside. His 2-year-old was curled up on a pool chair, sleeping a few inches from the water. "Things were just out of control," Welch says, "I knew I couldn't keep living like that, but I couldn't stop."
When Jennea was 5, she toured with Korn. "Jonathan always made me laugh. He's so funny when he jumps around onstage," she says of Korn's singer.
The band loved having Jennea on the road, too, Welch says, with one exception. "I made a rule that if anyone cussed around Jennea, they had to give her a dollar. By the second or third day, she was making, like, $50 a day, so I called it off."
One day, Welch heard Jennea singing. The tender voice of his daughter tugged at his fatherly heartstrings. Then he realized what she was singing. "All day I dream about sex," Jennea purred. The song was one of Korn's early hits.
Welch's insecurity mingled with the guilt he felt about being a bad dad. "I'd come home, and I'd just keep doing drugs. I had heart problems. I was so scared my daughter would see me doing drugs," Welch says. "I was so tired of living, so tired of drugs, of touring, of life and pain and heartbreak and tormenting things happening to me."
He soon gave into an invitation from a real estate partner to visit Valley Bible Fellowship, an evangelical church in Bakersfield. There he saw a quote that had already been haunting him, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
He says, "It was like a big, fat trashcan full of ice cold Gatorade after I'd been stranded in the desert for five years. I'm thinking, how do you come to someone who's dead? I was drawn to it, but I couldn't figure out what it meant. Come to a Bible, and look at the Bible? Then he explained to just come in prayer.
"I decided to just go home and talk to Jesus like he's there. Nobody's gonna see it. Either it's gonna work or it's not. Once I did, everything else started to fall away from me. I started throwing the drugs away. If I didn't have Jennea, I mighta died, 'cause I just didn't care. I was miserable when I found God."
"He was a little nutty about it there in the beginning, and that scared me," admits Maryellen, Welch's mom.
Nutty, to the tune of $3.7 million. When Welch typed "I quit" in an e-mail to Korn and its managers, he knew that a multimillion-dollar windfall deal with Virgin Records was months away. But God was telling him to quit. He was sure of it. And God had done one thing the band couldn't — free him from meth.
The other members of Korn were more than surprised when they saw Welch on TV, talking about demons, Jesus, and the music he used to "pollute" the world with.
"One minute, he's doing our thing; next day, he's a born-again Christian and he's saying that we're satanic," Jonathan Davis told the Sydney Morning Herald. "That shit's crazy. I kept thinking, 'This is not happening.'"
After his baptism in the Jordan River, Welch wrote both a letter and a song, "A Cheap Name," to rapper 50 Cent.
"You're a huge force for the devil right now," Welch wrote in the letter, publicized by MTV News. "He's going to put demons around you that tell you I'm crazy . . . to convince you that money, fame, and power are the things you should worship. God told me to tell you he loves you and playtime's over and it's time to come home. He said he's been with you, keeping you safe this whole time."
Welch became a laughingstock.
Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan issued a statement that he, too, had quit rock 'n' roll to follow Jesus. Keenan e-mailed MTV News and confirmed, "I did, in fact, find Jesus. More news to follow. God bless ya."
When MTV News told Welch about Keenan, Welch replied, "This is a beautiful, beautiful outpouring of the Holy Spirit."
But it wasn't the Holy Spirit. It was a prank by Keenan, who's known by music journalists for such games.
Korn wrote two songs to Welch. In "Ever Be," the same Jonathan Davis who made Jennea giggle on tour (Welch's tattoo of Jennea on his left arm is taken from a photo at Davis' wedding) sings, "You're the infection my friend/Disgusting right to the end/Didn't I know it then? . . . You're all that's wrong/With your dumbass psalms/Yet that's all that you will ever be . . . It must be hard to be you/Nothing's alright with you."
The reaction from fans varied. "I don't think I've seen anyone this fucking insane giving up being in one of the biggest bands of all time for this imaginary bullshit," one fan wrote on a metal site, www.roadrunnerrecords.com. "No one can fucking prove God exists. Therefore, this motherfucker is insane in the head. Hopefully he will just go away and die."
Others accused Welch of trying to profit from his faith — ironic, considering he skipped a $3.7 million payday with Virgin. In comparison, his structured payment for a three-book deal with HarperCollins is a fraction of that: $250,000.
"I expect people to talk crap in any thing and any way about me," Welch says now. "I don't welcome it, but I expect it. There's a lot of angry people in the world. I know; I used be one." Welch also says he never called his former band satanic or demonic.
Just as the images of Welch in the Jordan River faded, new images surfaced of a bearded Welch smiling with tribal Indian natives and boa constrictors. Welch visited India and was so moved by the poverty that he wrote a check to have an orphanage built. The facility, Head Home, is run by a Christian humanitarian-aid group called Good News India.
In retrospect, Welch knows he said and did some crazy things after his conversion — like talking about demons and publicizing his "Letter from God" to rapper 50 Cent.
"I was a brand-spankin'-new Christian, just off drugs. I was just out of my mind. Looking back, I wouldn't have made a big stink about it. I woulda been more low-key," Welch says. "It's okay, though. I forgive myself."
Apparently, his old bandmates are ready to forgive him, too. In an MTV interview last month, Davis said, "I really want him to come back, and I really want to see him and play with him again. I can't get a hold of him. Head was always just like that. He'd hide out. He'll come get us when he's ready. He'll find us."
Every morning, Jennea Welch's alarm clock goes off at 7. She crawls out from under her SpongeBob SquarePants comforter and gets ready for school on her own.
Welch's mountainside home is nice, but not extravagant. The 2,400-square-foot custom-built house has three bedrooms (one is used as Welch's office), high ceilings, and a gated driveway.
By the time Jennea is ready for the day, her dad's alarm sounds down the hall, at 7:30. Welch's dress code consists of variations on baggy pants and T-shirts. On this Tuesday in May, he sports black Dickies pants and a white T-shirt. A long wallet chain stretches across him, and he wears black socks with black Oakley sandals.
In the kitchen, Welch pours a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal for Jennea and packs her a lunch with a homemade sandwich, an organic banana, and all-natural applesauce. "I don't like all the preservatives in the food at her school," Welch says.
Soon, Jennea piles into the backseat of Welch's late-model BMW 750i, and the two drive to school. In a sense, they're like best friends — Dad, in his low-rider seat up front, and Jennea, with her backpack and SpongeBob dodgeball, in the back. They've been together, almost constantly, for three years now.
"He's an excellent father. He knows just how to handle that little girl, how to talk to her," Maryellen Welch says.
Like she does every day, Jennea prays and asks Jesus to bless her day at school before she climbs out of the car.
After returning home to jog on his treadmill, Welch prays, too, for strength and love. Sometimes he prays for three hours at a time, reading his Bible and talking to God in an indecipherable language known as "speaking in tongues."
Welch is not a member of any church or denomination. He says his spirituality is simpler and less human than that. "I'm not a church type of person. I like to have a relationship with Christ every day. I have a Bible and read it myself. It says the Holy Spirit will teach you. I do meet with some ministries once a month that meet at hotels. It's not a denomination or traditional church, though. They teach experience with God. They teach you to go after God when you're alone at home. I'm not a religious, churchy guy."
Welch hasn't used illegal drugs in three years, but his addiction still dictates his days. He has to eat his meals at just the right times. If, for example, he eats dinner after 6, he'll awaken with his stomach in excruciating knots — one consequence from years of meth use.
The stomachaches aren't the only side effect. Welch, who says he's always been up or down emotionally, feels more down than up without meth. After the rush of media coverage stopped, Welch found himself born again, baptized, and three months clean.
Then he got depressed.
"I was yelling, 'What the fuck are you doing?' to God. It's scary, that I would yell that to God, but I did," Welch says of his lowest low — shortly after the move to Phoenix. (These days, when Welch quotes himself saying "fuck," he half-whispers the word.)
Welch even punched a few holes in the drywall during that time.
"He was telling me to give up everything, sell everything," Welch says, "So I did." He says he has an overall peace, even during the low times.
"I love following Jesus. Even if it feels like I'm sitting here, swallowed a razor blade, I love following Jesus."
The question at the studio this afternoon is just how much puke to leave in the radio version of "Flush."
"There, the spitting right after the puke, it's like counting it off," Welch says, motioning like a drummer and ticking his drumsticks three times to count off first beats of a song.
Welch is standing in a Tempe recording studio that he'd rather not name with audio engineer Ralph Patlan, whose credits include Michael Schenker and Rick Derringer. Patlan's straight, jet-black hair makes him look like a younger version of Anton Chigurh, the killer in No Country for Old Men. He's the one whom Welch calls Skimo.
Manager/business partner Greg Shanaberger is here, too. Together, he and Welch have created a new label, Driven Music Group, distributed by Warner Music.
"Imagine you're listening to a morning show. 'This is KUPD,'" Welch intones. "And then you hear the spit and the flush, and then . . ."
At "and then," the throttling electric and bass guitars pound into the studio. When Welch was first born again and a bit crazier, he talked about doing his entire solo album without electric guitar (the one instrument that made him famous). Thankfully, that idea is long gone.
The lights are low in the mixing room. A car-length row of light boards is shelled by acoustic walls and a cocoon of speakers.
Given Welch's radical conversion, it's notable that he didn't fly to Nashville to record a gospel or "Christian" album. For that, his most loyal fans can give thanks.
In fact, more than one metal A-lister worked on Welch's album. Audio engineer Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Toto, David Bowie) mixed Welch's first four songs, and renowned drummer Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, Guns N' Roses, and Rob Zombie) laid the drum tracks for all 18 of Welch's original compositions.
Welch did write a couple of stereotypically Christian songs immediately after his conversion. "For a while, after I got saved, I was writing really soft stuff. Then one day, I was just overwhelmed with the passion of God. I wrote something heavy and realized that's the kind of music I've always loved," Welch says. "God said, 'Be yourself.' With me, I'm like tattoos and heavy music. He's not scared of piercings or tattoos or heavy music."
"Flush" has the groaning undercurrent, wailing guitar solos, and screaming vocals of heavy metal. Those vocals, by the way, are Welch's — he sang backup for Korn but had never before sung lead.
"It's hard to sing. When I quit Korn, I was such an introvert. I couldn't work with anybody. I really believe that God inspired me. I got a lot of respect for Jonathan [Davis] after singing this stuff," Welch says.
The foundation of Fieldy's bass influence is evident in the songs, as is the texture of Welch's guitar and the touch of skilled audio engineers. The final product is so loud and frenzied that you wouldn't know Welch was growling about drugs or God unless you'd read the lyrics.
Speaking like a true manager, Shanaberger says, "Head's talent on the guitar defined Korn. Now that same talent is going to define his solo work as a success."
Whether that album will actually be a success or not has yet to be seen, but it's clear that this first single has a game face. Toilet flushing aside, nobody should be laughing.
It's somewhat ironic that shock-rock icon Alice Cooper also lives in Phoenix. He and Welch are probably the best-known rockers to convert to Christianity in the past 20 years. They now live about five miles from each other.
The two have yet to meet (Welch describes Cooper as a legend, and Cooper says he followed Welch's conversion by TV news), but they share a similar journey — one that Cooper made almost 18 years ago.
"He made that a pretty big news story. He went very theatrical about it," Cooper says of Welch. On the advice of his pastor, Cooper chose to maintain his shock-rock career and keep his own faith out of the news.
Thanks to that advice, he maintained his metal fan base. But Cooper — known for his onstage guillotines and hellish antics — soon learned the challenges of selling music to both Christians and metal fans.
"The heavy, right-wing Christian movement will look at me and say, 'How can you do that?" Cooper says. But Cooper says selling to both markets can be done. A handful of his albums have done that, selling in both Christian bookstores and secular retailers.
Welch could be in for an even harder sell. His new metal might not appeal to Christian buyers, and his publicized conversion may create an obstacle for selling to metal fans. The biggest risk is that both the Christian and metal markets could reject Welch's album, regardless of its quality, for stigma reasons.
"There will always be haters," Welch says when asked about the polarized markets. "I don't really care what people think about it. I'm just showing people what God has done."
Welch points to a three-week-old tattoo on his left eye. "It's music notes dropping out of my eye. That's my calling," Welch says.
To his credit, Welch's new lyrics aren't predictable or didactic. They certainly don't sound like a primer in any religion. The song "It's Time to See Religion Die" growls, "I testify/It's time to see religion die/The truth can't lie/It's time to see religion die . . ."
From "Rebel," a teen angst tune:
Your parents have failed you and I'm here to tell you
The world has abused you and I'm here to choose you!
In the song "Save Me from Myself," Welch calls for God to save him, but only after he sings, "Chop it, snort it/The kid? Ignore it/Life sucks, I'm over it/Save me from myself/Can't quit, I tried."
In a sense, that song brings Welch full circle. He co-wrote similar lyrics about trying to quit meth 15 years ago in the song "Helmet in the Bush," on Korn's debut album. But Welch is on the other side of addiction now.
Welch's first book faced the same dual-market quandary. The hardcover version of Save Me from Myself jumped to number 15 on the New York Times bestseller list last July. After about 65,000 copies sold (at $29.95 each), sales tapered off. Youth pastors and Christian parents who were initially excited about the book became upset when they read the swear words and graphic descriptions of Welch's past.
HarperCollins publicist Suzanne Wickham says the publisher hopes to key in on those readers with Welch's new book, Washed by Blood. Wickham says it's the version she would want her teenage daughter to read.
The new book could be titled, Washed by 21st-Century American Christian Marketing. It's the original story, purged of the curse words and darkest scenes. Youth pastors can recommend the new version to their kids, without riling their parents. The new version even comes with a study guide for youth groups.
Welch, who still collects $40,000 to $60,000 a year in royalties from Korn's pre-2006 work, is neither wealthy nor impoverished these days. He says he's given away most of his savings and that he's not too concerned about the money to be made from his books or new album. He seems sincere about it, too.
"[God] is the one who provides for me now. I don't look to this world's system as my source of provision any more," Welch says in the studio green room, after a mixing session.
"I had $3 million in cash sitting in the bank, all the cars I wanted, a $200,000 pool, nannies, the nicest house, real estate in California. I was miserable. Then I found God and was, like, 'This is all I've ever wanted.' I didn't find what I was looking for in all that stuff."
Welch makes dinner most evenings. (Jennea's favorites include meatloaf, spaghetti, and quesadillas.) He does not have a glass of wine with dinner, or ever. "I just have an addictive personality," he says.
He agrees that he has channeled his addictive tendencies into Jesus and music. Welch does say he has one other addiction, which he claims is under control. "I love those real-life crime shows, like The First 48. When I watch it, I'm so thankful, 'cause I could have ended up like these people."
Water has been a big part of Welch's life, too. from his poolside introduction to meth at age 14 to his $200,000 pool during Korn to his baptism in the Jordan River. So, yes, Welch has a decent pool at his Phoenix-area home, albeit not a $200,000 one. Some nights, he and Jennea swim together to unwind.
"He laughs like he won the lottery. He didn't used to be like that," Phil Welch says of Brian before and after. "All the changes since his conversion have been positive. He's much more outgoing. He's come out of his shell. He wants to help people now. That's very different."
Music critics, TV news personalities, fans, and rock stars have all tried to sum up Welch's eccentric journey these past three years.
Jennea is the only one who's been with him through it all. She probably sums it up best: "He got funnier."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.