Since forming in 1993, the California-based band Korn (better known as KoЯn) has carved out a strange but influential niche in rock music. Their sound would eventually be given the descriptor “nu metal,” which indicated a blend of heavy metal music with genres that might have otherwise been considered incongruous, like funk and hip-hop. Take, for instance, what the band calls “boom-shakas,” in which vocalist Jonathan Davis engages in what a press release describes as “frenetic, guttural, wordless bark-raps.”
It’s been a a few years since “boom-shakas” appeared on a Korn record, and their absence hasn’t been the only major change in the band’s sound over the years. In 2005, Brian Philip “Head” Welch, one of the band’s guitarists, left the band after becoming a born-again Christian. In his absence, the band experimented with adding more genre influences to the nu metal umbrella, most notably with The Path of Totality’s polarizing dalliances with dubstep in 2011.
Welch returned to the band in 2013, and after an album of regrouping (2013’s The Paradigm Shift), the band is back on track with its upcoming album, The Serenity of Suffering, according to bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu.
Oh, and as a press release for the album’s lead single, “Rotting in Vain,” makes sure to specify, the “boom-chakas” are back.
Weld: The Serenity of Suffering has been heralded as Korn’s darkest album in years. Was that a conscious decision when making the record?
Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu: I mean, I would probably say because, having all of us back together, with Head coming back, it’s starting to refocus us to go in the direction of what Korn was always — When he left, we did a couple of albums without him, but we kind of ventured into a little bit of a different direction. So I think we’re just doing what we do.
Weld: So the band sees this as an album that puts Korn back on track.
Arvizu: Yeah, I would say so. I feel like, sometimes it takes a long time for a band to find [itself]. I guess you could say that this Korn album finally has all the bells and whistles, everything you’re looking for from a Korn album. Over the years we’ve tried to develop whatever we’re trying to become. And that’s what it is now.
Weld: This album follows a period of experimentation for Korn — perhaps the biggest example of which was 2011’s The Path of Totality, which borrowed heavily from dubstep and got a polarized reception from fans and critics. What are your feelings on that album, in retrospect?
Arvizu: I think at the time it was pretty scary. But when I look back on it, I think it’s great. It’s a great album. People love it or hate it, but I like it now. But when I first did it, I was pretty scared. I was like, ‘This is really different.’ But when I listen to it now, I’m like, ‘These are just Korn songs with weird tones.’
Weld: What was your writing approach for The Serenity of Suffering?
Arvizu: As far as lyrics, Jonathan all the lyrics. We don’t do any of that. But if you’re talking about music writing, I’m always just laid back and I just listen to where the holes are at, where I can kind of shine. Basically, I just try to stay out of the way, and wherever there’s a spot for me I fill it in. That’s my style. I kind of wait, and then I’m like, ‘If you guys are going to keep it that simple, then I’m going to do some clickety-clack or something in there.’ … There’s a lot of friction that goes down when we write, because all of us are into different things, so we’re pushing and pulling at different times, and out of the friction you get Korn.
Weld: One part of Korn’s narrative that’s been really compelling is that some members of the band — you and Head included — have converted to Christianity in recent years. Has that affected the music?
Arvizu: No, because when we’re making music, we’re just making music. It’s nothing to do with if we personally want to walk up to somebody and share love with them. That has nothing to do with writing that kind of song. And we don’t write the lyrics, so it’s not really about where we’re at in our lives. We’re just called to love people, so we just love people right where they’re at.
Weld: Is it true that you were give a tattoo by Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst?
Arvizu: Yeah, he gave me a tattoo. He hadn’t been tattooing that long, and he kind of lied and said he had been. So [what should have been] a 15-minute tattoo took like three hours. The first one he gave was to Head, and it’s a pretty bad tattoo. It’s on his back. It kind of looks like it says “Norm” but it says “Korn.” That one took all night. I remember being there with them and it took so long. So later, when I saw that Fred had gotten better, I was like, ‘Yeah, you can give me a tattoo.’ And he gave me the one on the back of my leg that says Korn. It looks pretty good, man. It still looks good.
Weld: You’re also almost done with a jazz fusion album titled Bassically, right?
Arvizu: I’ve been working on it. I’m actually almost finished. I’m having Marco, who’s our sound guy and who is also a mixer, he’s going to mix my bass album in November. I’m doing some final touches on it. So that’ll be out. It’s a musically ride. It’s all instrumental. I play 15-string bass, fretless basses — every kind of bass you can think of, Fender jazz, whatever. I don’t even know if we could name all the basses I played on there. It takes you on a ride. Jazz fusion, punk, Latin, blues, reggae… I don’t even know if I even left any style of music out. As much as I could put on there. That’s how it is. It’s just an instrumental album.
Weld: That sounds like a pretty ambitious album. What were your inspirations when writing it?
Arvizu: To write it, my inspiration was probably my wife Dena. She was like, “You should put a bass album out.” And then I really thought about it. And if you go back in time to my inspiration in my early days, I listened to a lot of Stanley Clarke. And then from there on, I got into a lot of Flea. And I started really listening to some of these great bands — if you’re not listening for it, you don’t really know how great a lot of those bass players are unless you listen. For example, a lot of classic rock bands I listened to as a kid — now, I was like, “Wait, I just found the Eagles on the bass, rippin’! Or Led Zeppelin! Led Zeppelin gets to rippin’ on bass! You hear these great tones that as a kid, I’d never really listened to. And now, I’m like starting to listen and trip out on it.
Weld: Given that the band seems to feel creatively reinvigorated, what do you see as the future of Korn?
Arvizu: That’s a good question, because it has been like, 23 years. I really don’t know. You’ve got to take it a tour at a time. It’s hard, man. I’ve definitely learned that, as I’ve gotten older. The traveling is really hard. Making music’s easy, playing concerts is easy, all that part’s easy. But I don’t know. Right now, we’ve got a new album coming out, so we can’t think about the next one. I don’t know how I’m going to feel. I’m not out on tour right now.
Weld: When you visit Birmingham, The Serenity of Suffering still won’t have been released, meaning that this is the first time fans will hear a lot of these new songs. How closely do the live versions of the songs resemble the studio cuts?
I think with this one, we wanted a real authentic-sounding [record]. That’s why we were in the studio playing together instead of tracking separately. Like, we were playing and recording at the same time. Most of the time, we’ve always done it where each guy tracks their own stuff. So it was more it like a live [experience], and you get that feeling. You hear the fun, you hear the energy, because for the most part, it was all of us working it out together.
Korn will perform at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre on Friday, October 7. Breaking Benjamin will open. Tickets range from $44 to $136. The show begins at 6 p.m. For more information visit theoakmountainamphitheater.com.