This past Saturday, Korn crashed through town, performing at the Arizona State Fair. I watched in glee. This is a band that truly contributed to opening the door to metal for me. Before that discovery, I was a sixth grader rocking out to Westside Connection, much to my Backstreet Boy-loving locker partner's dismay.
So imagine my excitement when Korn's 1998 album Follow the Leader connected hip-hop and heavy metal more seamlessly than any album before or after. I had the opportunity to interview the guitarist James "Munky" Schaffer, and decided to serve it up for this installment of Metal Mondays.
Up On The Sun: You and your wife are expecting your first child any day now right?
Munky: Yes, around November 15.
Do you have any names picked out?
Yes, but I can't say anything! We do have some names picked out though. [Laughs]
Korn has always been at the forefront of the metal's evolution. Jonathan Davis said back in July that you guys are getting ready to record your 11th album, but it's not sticking with the dubstep style. What can you tell me about that?
Well, I'm headed there right now actually. I'm driving to the studio now. We've been working on it for awhile, just recording ideas. I wouldn't say it's a 180 from the last album, but we're definitely taking a different approach. We're not going with the dubstep style, but we are using a lot of interesting recording techniques.
So do you think it will be a bit heavier than the last one?
I think it will be. I think once Jonathan puts vocals on it, it has...it's more melodic and the guitars are more aggressive and much more in your face. I think what we did before was bold and took a lot of balls, in regards to the album devoted entirely to dubstep. To me it's very much a Korn album, but I want to feature more guitar on this album, on the one were writing right now, we still have one foot in the electronic [style], not necessarily the dubstep [sound], and we still have a fresh approach on the guitar riffs with some melodic vocals. Jonathan is great at sort of delivering the aggressive lyrics and vocals.
So on The Path of Totality with the dubstep direction, were you completely on board with that at first, or did it take you awhile to warm up to the idea?
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I wanted to change things right away, you know, because for so long we were writing songs with the same method. You know, drummer, guitar, bass. And it was nice when we wrote the new record and we just felt like, you know, this feels like it needs something. Jonathan has been really into doing deejaying and is into the more aggressive style of dance music, and we also wanted to keep it simple. So that's why we decided to try some of the dubstep stuff. We've always been a band that's tried to reinvent themselves and innovate what we do, I think. We were at the point in our career you know, our tenth album, like, let's go for it! And if we don't like it, we don't have to put it out. Let's just try it and see if it works. And working on the song "Get Up", it was just so refreshing so after that we thought, like, let's just do a whole album [in the same style].
Alright, so moving on to your side project Fear and the Nervous System. I saw the music video for the song "Choking Victim," and it was so crazy. Can you tell me a bit more about that project? I know you have been working on it for quite awhile.
Yeah, I've been doing this whole thing on my own; from writing the songs to booking studios to hiring musicians, and, you know, it 's been a project that I have been working on for quite awhile. It's hard to find the time to do that when, you know, 90% of my time is focused on Korn. And that extra 10% is time that I have to work with the other guys, recording. Then I leave on tour and come back and record some more. It's been a process for about five years. Finally we got it off the ground and have had a couple shows.
The music, I can't describe. I guess it's like a heavier Smashing Pumpkins, [an] alternative rock album. You can order it through Amazon and iTunes. It's been a long process, considering 95% of it is involved with me. It gives me a lot of gratitude that Korn has been so successfully. It's very humbling to have that level of success. It reminds me of how hard people at labels, management, booking agents...how hard they all work every day for bands. It reminds me of that process.
How is that outlet a different release for you from Korn, musically?
It just feels like two different worlds now. Korn is very aggressive and Fear and the Nervous System is how I can experiment with different instruments and being musical. There's a lot of piano on it, and our keyboard player [Zac Baird] is also our keyboard player in Korn. That's how the project originally started.
Your father passed during the recording process; did that make the music more personal to you, in terms of creating it?
Yeah, it did. It was a really hard time. That's one of the reasons I started the project. I first started writing it with our keyboardist [Baird] on a Korn tour. When I got back from tour I found out my father was in really bad health. We weren't doing anything; Korn wasn't doing anything. So I wanted to sort of...I used music as sort of a drug. It's my escape. I use it to get away from reality, and I think a lot of people are that way. So that's what I did. I thought, "Okay, I have to do something because I don't want to be sitting in a hospital every day, all day." It was hard to deal with, so I went into the studio and just started writing song, and this was the result of it. So really, if we keep the thing going, it's in memory of my father, you know?
Oh yeah, and channeling that type of energy really makes the best kind of music.
Yes, and it's very melancholy. It definitely provided an outlet for that aggression.
I am really sorry to hear that about your dad though.
He was a great man and he lived a great life, and I am glad I was there in the end.
With you, Jonathan, and Fieldy all working on side projects, do you find it hard to focus on Korn, the band that started it all?
I think we've learned to balance it very well. I mean, I'm glad that we all have something other than Korn to focus on, and it keeps us involved. It keeps ideas fresh to when it's time for Korn to come together. Because you know, you've tried things out with your side project and you think, this is kind of clever. Then on the other hand, you find ideas that don't work, but may work for a side project. It can go both ways. But any ideas that come up at the moment, we use it for whatever we're working on at the moment. The projects are all so different, and we are all so different. I think that is what makes us an interesting band. Our personalities come out through our instruments. That's what makes us unique.
I know [drummer] Ray Luzier been on board for quite awhile, and you've said that he's like the lost member of the band. But do you think fans will ever see a full reunion of the original members?
That is a great question. [Laughs] Anything is possible, as I've discovered with this band, and this career. Anything's possible. I hope it would happen one day. But I can't really look that far into the future because I'm the type of person who lives in the day and in the moment. But it's also about putting aside your egos and moving forward. That would be great.
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You formed [pre-Korn band] L.A.P.D. in your late teens. With all the ups and downs over the years and success, is there anything you would've done differently?
I don't think we would've signed the first record contract that came our way with L.A.P.D. I don't know, I wouldn't of done anything different I don't think because everything is a learning process. You learn those lessons by making mistakes.
Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit/Blacklight Burns designed your album artwork, right? Yeah, he did. I tried to get him to be part of the project. And we actually recorded a couple songs, but we didn't really have time to flesh out those ideas and make them great. Our schedules just weren't lining up, so I asked him to design the album cover because I still wanted him to be a part of it. He created a great album cover. The real painting is like 6 feet by 5 feet; it's huge. He's so talented.
Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit/Blacklight Burns designed your album artwork, right?
Yeah, he did. I tried to get him to be part of the project. And we actually recorded a couple songs, but we didn't really have time to flesh out those ideas and make them great. Our schedules just weren't lining up, so I asked him to design the album cover because I still wanted him to be a part of it. He created a great album cover. The real painting is like 6 feet by 5 feet; it's huge. He's so talented.