Korn frontman Jonathan Davis has always been vocal about the fact that his band never found a solid home in metal. While they’ve performed alongside genre-defining acts like Marilyn Manson, Ozzy Osbourne and Megadeath, purists found the band to be too “rock” for their taste. As a result, the group has forever been a trailblazer of the nu-metal diaspora, where their merging of hard rock with other genres like pop-rock and hip-hop paved the road for acts like Limp Bizkit, Deftones, Staind, and Papa Roach.
That said, it was no big surprise when Korn decided to release a full-length dubstep album. The Path of Totality features production work from dubstep’s current “it guy,” Skrillex, along with Noisia, Feed Me, 12th Planet, Excision and Kill the Noise. Strangely, these pairings really work. The album’s end result is a set of eleven tracks that don’t pander to either genre’s affectations and instead meld into one loud, aggressive, angry rager. Heavy, scratchy bass grounds the band’s token drum-kit and undercuts Davis’ signiature vocals. The shrill computer-made melodies mirror the onslaught of guitars too. There’s a weird understated balance to the whole thing that stems from a combination of production know-how and solidarity in the underground. The mutual sense of rage may have something to do with it too.
Hive talked with Davis about his introduction to dubstep, working with Skrillex, why new rock sucks, and the Illuminati conspiracy controlling the government.
You’re currently on tour for your upcoming album — how is that going?
It’s going really, really well. We’re doing something different with this tour. We’re doing three different sets. We start out with rarities that we never really play live for the old-school Korn fans. They lose their shit when they hear that. And then we go into our dub set for five songs off the new album. Then we do a set of our hits. The crowd seems to like it. You can tell they were nervous because they think they’re not supposed to like it because it’s electronic. But then, during the show, they like it. They don’t really understand dubstep but then they relate to it because it’s heavy and dark but not techno. They’re like, “This isn’t gay techno music. This is something different.” That was someone’s exact words. So, we’re bringing something new to them with this.
What made you want to work with dubstep producers and how did you get involved with the ones featured on The Path of Totality?
“With dance music labels, things are different. They’re not pushing you. They want you to be you. They love you for your music and aren’t trying to conform for radio or anything else. It’s on some punk-rock shit. I love it.”
I’m a huge electronic music fan. I’ve been DJing at bars, clubs, and my own shows for years. I’ve been a fan of dubstep since I started listening to it in 2009. It was right before Sonny Skrillex‘s album dropped that I called him and heard a track off of it. I was like, “Oh my god. This would totally work with what we do. Would you be into doing something?” I took the music and I played it for [Korn guitarist] Munky and [bassist] Fieldy and everyone and they were totally blown away. We decided to experiment for the fun of it and to see what would happen. When Skrillex first came out we did a few songs with him. We did “Get Up” which we finished in like three and a half hours. Then we did two more with him. There was no real effort with him because he had been in a band before called From First to Last and had been playing guitars since he was super young. He understood the concept of making a song in a traditional song-structured way.
Then I worked with the other guys, like Excision. Excision is one of the biggest dubstep guys in North America and is heavily metal-sounding too. The bass is really distorted and heavy. We worked with them next and they were deer caught in headlights ’cause this was totally new. We jammed stuff out with them until we came up with an idea and then we worked on it until we got it right. The only goal was to keep the integrity of the dubstep and drum-n-bass producers and also keep the integrity of what we do. To find a balance that was still true to both of us and actually worked. ‘Cause it could have been bad. Really, really bad.
It was the hardest album I ever did. We were working eighteen-hours a day on these things. It was our trailblazing again. Like Follow the Leader all over again.
Your work with Skrillex make a lot of sense considering your shared backgrounds — both by location and your emo-core / nu-metal aesthetic. What are your thoughts on dubstep taking on this metal role via these kind of artists? It’s like some dubstep is the new nu-metal.
It is. It really is. I don’t know. Bands are starting to work with dubstep producers to help them out with their songs now but I’m not sure how good the end product will be. We’re the first to make a record out of it in this way but we’ve also been working with the best. The fact that we got Noisia was huge for us. They’re top of their game and considered gods as far as producing. Even the fact that they even considered working with us blew up the cred of this record ten times. Working with Feed Me and Kill the Noise too — back in the drum-n-bass days they had this super-group of guys doing it. Basically we got all these amazing guys that are the best at what they do.
Do you think that Korn fans will actually crossover into being dubstep fans though?
Some will, sure. I think we did that with Follow the Leader too. Hip-hop was blowing up at that time. Now it’s all commercialized so this is kind of the new hip-hop in that sense. It was about being street and being underground and having skills. These guys, all the shows they do, the underground shows. You know, Skrillex for example, he does so much for the scene. People say he killed the genre, others say he made it huge. He has a lot of haters but he’s got a lot of people who love him too. There are always purists. It’s like all the purist metal-heads that said we were really rock when we came out. Trailblazers of any kind of music are going to get that flack. People are going to want to hold on the past. This is the future; it’s the new hip-hop, it’s the new metal, it’s the new everything. Have you ever been to a dubstep show?
Yeah, I have.
So you know how the crowds are. Metal shows are all hate, like, “I’m going to fuck you up in the mosh pit.” Electronic shows are all peace and love. They rage harder than metal fans. I played a show in New York and then watched Nero who sold out Webster Hall. That crowd went ten times harder than any metal crowd I’ve seen in my life. And Nero are soft dubstep, they’re pop dubstep.
I actually got to meet them after the show back stage and said I was a huge fan. They said they were huge Korn fans. I don’t understand why. I was like, “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.” It’s cool when that happens. I watched the show from the stage and it was like watching an old Gary Numan show. The way the whole production was set up. It was just so cool. Kids are picking up on it now because they’ve never seen anything like that before. I’m forty years old, I saw Gary Numan do the ’80s and all the other acts from back then. How cool music was back then. This felt fresh and cool like the ’80s. There are so many different sub-genres and shit going on.
You recently told Rolling Stone that newer rock sucks because it all follows a certain cookie-cutter format. Can you expand on that?
Every single year everything is just so played out. Every single radio station playing the same songs with the same front-men trying to sing the same shit. It’s their labels that push them to be that way to sell records. They force them to do that. With dance music labels, things are different. They’re not pushing you. They want you to be you. They love you for your music and aren’t trying to conform for radio or anything else. It’s on some punk-rock shit. I love it.
At a rock show, I’m bored to death. I’ve done it for nineteen years and now it just bores me. I just like different stuff to keep me interested in the music.