Q&A: James "Munky" Shaffer of Korn
Korn lead singer Jonathan Davis was on the ground floor of the dubstep revolution. He was so excited about acts like recent Grammy Award-winner Skrillex that he wanted to share his newfound love with Korn guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer.
"It was really Skrillex's record, 'Scary Monsters,' that Jonathan had played me," Shaffer told SoundSpike. "He played me some of the tracks off that record. He said 'Check this out. Check this guy out.' I was like, 'OK. That's kind of cool and different.'"
But then the Davis revealed his true intentions.
"He asked me, 'What do you think about including some of these elements into the new Korn album?'" Shaffer said.
"Well, I could relate with it because it had the heavy bass stuff. We've been trying to get low end out of our sound ever since the beginning of this band. I thought it would honestly be pretty cool and different."
The band reached out to Skrillex, penned the song "Get Up" and the sessions were so prolific that an EP turned into the album "The Path of Totality," Korn's No. 10 debuting record from December.
On the phone from an airport as he prepared to leave for the band's upcoming tour, which opens Thursday (2/23) in Detroit, Shaffer spoke to SoundSpike about the change in the "nu metal" group's sound, the success of "The Path of Totality" and the slight retooling of older tracks for the outing.
SoundSpike: How did the first leg of your tour go last year?
James "Munky" Shaffer: Better than expected, I think. When we first started, the record hadn't been out yet. People were kind of like, "What's this new sound?" I think people were a little skeptical on us. The songs translate really well live.
They seem like they would be fun to play.
It's a lot of fun. A lot of fun.
Did that vibe carry over from the recording process?
Even with my guitar tunings, we tuned to standard tuning, which is different for us. The whole approach was sort of new and fresh.
Tell me a little about the recording process; how was it different?
I would say the dubstep producers brought sort of like a skeleton of a track, and we bounced it back and forth between recording guitars and melodies, and then gave it back to them and then chopped it up, then gave it back to us. It was interesting in terms of something different creatively, the whole process. It was a lot of fun because we were creating something new. All the playbacks and stuff were just exciting. It was exciting to hear something new from us, a different direction.
What did you discover about yourself or Korn during the whole process?
I kind of discovered that the core elements of this band and the creative process are about staying true to what we like and following a path of where our creative path leads us. We have to trust it. We always kind of believed that. We have to trust within ourselves. That was a confirmation that trusting our creative path is usually the right way.
It sounds like an exciting time for Korn.
Well, I mean, we've definitely had our ups and downs. But we said, "Let's embark and try some new territory we haven't explored."
Well, it worked well for you. "The Path of Totality" debuted at No. 10 on The Billboard 200 album chart.
That's huge for us. At this point in our career, for us to have a Top 10 release, it's pretty big, big time.
Are you surprised at how well received the album was?
Yes? [Laughs] 'Cause it's still a Korn album. You have Jonathan's voice, my guitar sound, Fieldy's bass. That's the core elements of Korn. It's still very dark and heavy to me. I think Jonathan's lyrics are some of the best lyrics he's written in 10 years. But at the same time there's a little bit of, "Are we taking it too far? Are we experimenting too much?" It was really about the mix. When we mixed the record, we didn't want to alienate our core fans, but yet we wanted to make a statement where we were still trying something new and it was worth it.
Where do you go next with Korn? Do you continue down this path, so to speak? Have you decided where to go next, or is it too early?
I think it's not ever too early because in this business you have to reinvent yourself and that's the hard thing. That's one of the things that's unique about this band. Each record is kind of a different journey, a different chapter in our lives, where we are creatively and personally because everything that we experience in our personal lives is reflected in our music. This record shows growth. With our next record, we're probably going to use all the elements that we've learned and try to … I don't necessarily say it's going to sound like this record, but some of the elements that we used, the recording techniques that we used, are definitely going to be used on the next record.
What can we expect from your live show?
It's sort of like a wall of sound and lights that kind of hits you over the head. It starts out slow and we play some old songs, some rare songs, then we ramp up into the new stuff. We have this great audio-visual production that we've never had before. It's more of an experience really. It's something new for us.
Are you reinventing or reimagining the older tracks, or playing them true to the albums?
Some of them we've spiced up a little bit. Of course, we have our touring keyboardist Zac Baird, who's been with us for five years. He's always adding atmospheric things and melodies. He's keeping things fresh with us especially with the old songs. Some of the old songs, there are no keyboards. But he's always adding things that are very subtle. Obviously, those songs are written without keyboards, and on the recordings, there are no keyboards on a lot of the songs. But he's very tasteful in adding those things. You don't really know it's there, but something that's supporting the guitars or melodies and vocals. He's rad.
23 - Detroit, MI - The Fillmore Detroit
24 - Chicago, IL - Congress Theater
25 - Milwaukee, WI - Eagles Ballroom
27 - Denver, CO - Fillmore Auditorium
28 - Salt Lake City, UT - The Complex
1 - Phoenix, AZ - Comerica Theatre
2 - Las Vegas, NV - The Palms Casino Resort
3 - San Bernardino, CA - National Orange Show Events Center (Cypress Hill SmokeOut)
4 - San Francisco, CA - Warfield Theatre
12 - Paris, France - Le Bataclan
14 - Oberhausen, Germany - Turbinenhalle Oberhausen
15 - Luxembourg, Luxembourg - Rockhal
16 - Offenburg, Germany - Stadthalle
18 - Milan, Italy - Alcatraz
19 - Zurich, Switzerland - Volkshaus
20 - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Paradiso
23 - Brussels, Belgium - Ancienne Belgique
25 - London, England - O2 Academy Brixton
26 - Birmingham, England - O2 Academy Birmingham
28 - Manchester, England - Manchester Academy
29 - Glasgow, Scotland - O2 Academy Glasgow
31 - Belfast, Northern Ireland - Mandela Hall
1 - Dublin, Ireland - Olympia Theatre
3 - Bristol, England - O2 Academy Bristol
5 - Rockingham, NC - Rockingham Speedway (Carolina Rebellion)