A Conversation with Korn's Jonathan Davis
Mike Ragogna: So how are you loving the latest tour?
Jonathan Davis: Oh, dude, I love it. It's been amazing, we're recording in Australia right now on the big festival Soundwave and we're doing some side shows with Rob Zombie which have been fun. We're having a blast, it's been amazing.
MR: Rob Zombie is pretty smart guy, nice.
JD: That's awesome. I went and saw Devil's Rejects tonight on the big screen and he did a Q&A, it was awesome.
MR: You guys are pretty smart as well.
JD: Well, I don't know if I would call it "smart," but we threw some s**t out there and a lot of people want to talk to me now.
MR: Well let's look at that. You have a video out of one of your songs from your latest album, The Paradigm Shift, called "Spike In My Veins." My interpretation of that video is that there are a lot of issues out there that the government is involved in and they are purposeful distractions like Justin Bieber or other celebrities that are being used. How far off am I?
JD: No, you nailed it right on the head.
MR: Okay, regardless of whoever is doing it, it seems to me that that's been used in the culture forever. "Hey you, look over here at this shiny object!" This time, it's with celebrities, although these artists have been particularly "shiny" lately.
JD: Yeah, I don't understand why people are so obsessed with artists. I'm not going to say that Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus aren't being what artists are because I've never met an artist in my life that was sane; it's just how it goes. I'm crazy. Artists aren't normally sane people, so of course, they're going to be doing this stuff. I never thought it was those people's fault. I feel like maybe the government takes advantage of that because maybe people want to live through them vicariously and that's why they're so interested in them. But I think it's just a cool opportunity--it's happened for years and years and years--the government can take that opportunity to distract so the NSA can spy on everybody. Every time you buy something online, every time you talk on your phone or do anything, there's data collecting. I thought we were living in the United States of America where you're not supposed to do that. I think people are getting kind of pissed off and fed up. By doing this video, I think it struck a chord with some people.
MR: But might it also be true there's capitalization of artists' craziness going on by the media? As Paul Simon said in "Have A Good Time," "They're just out to capture my dime."
JD: Yeah, that's probably right. I mean, any way you look at it, it's f**ked. I'm going to be honest about it. I'm not going to try to come up with some quote, I think it's just f**ked, period. Everything.
MR: A lot of people would agree. Things have spiraled out to the point where it's very hard to see what reality is. You pointed that out in your video, or at least that could be another interpretation. It's hard to see what reality is when you're being bombarded by all of these distractions.
JD: Yeah. Over the years with the internet and everything, we're so inundated with information all the time people have the attention span of a f**king gnat. "What's next, what's next, what's next?" You can also use that to your advantage. All these texts they put out, people can look at them and be totally disgusted.
MR: Some people have said, "If you want something not done right, then let the government do it." No considering that, do you think the US government is competent enough to do anything with the data they've collected? How do they even know where to begin?
JD: Where do you begin? There are people out there, groups like Anonymous. I go on all of these sites where people are calling for revolution; it's pretty scary what's going on in the world. I don't know how many countries are having revolutions right now, it just seems like it's in the air.
MR: Or a turning around of oppression and injustice. What about that?
JD: Yeah. People are just fed up with being lied to by the governments. We just want them to be straight with us. Everybody's broke and on unemployment, people are pissed.
MR: Is there anything that's happening right now that seems to be a glimmer of hope? Are suggestions like raising the minimum wage or the rolling out of the Affordable Care Act also shiny objects for distraction?
JD: Maybe? I know what you're saying. They could be. Ultimately, what's happening? Honestly, I just wish it was the way it used to be when I was a kid, man. Things have changed so damn much and it's f**king scary. But I have three boys, three little kids, and they're going to have to inherit all of this bulls**t. That just scares me.
MR: I have a son, it scares me too what he's going to inherit.
JD: That's my motivation. I'm not super-pumped. I just don't like what's going on right now.
MR: Jonathan, what about the new album? Are you happy that it is such a successful release?
JD: Yeah, man, we've been working hard. We've been on tour for twenty years; I think the longest we've had off is ten months. You have peaks and valleys and it's nice to see people coming out to our shows because we have fun.
MR: What do you think it was about this album that resonated so well with people?
JD: One of the things is that we got Head back in the band. He's one of the original members, it's our first album with him back. We've been always trying to come up with new styles of music and do records different every time, we get really bored when we do the same thing over and over again. So I think it's having Head back and also taking everything we've learned over the years of Head being gone. We're really proud of this record; it's so experimental and different, we're taking electronics and heavy metal music and mixing them together.
MR: With this album, do you think Korn has become Korn 2.0?
JD: Oh yeah, Brian coming back revitalized the band. this record was the most fun I've ever had making a record and I think it just shows, everybody was so happy and we were so pumped and making it was such a great experience that when it came out people just loved it.
MR: Other than "Spike In My Veins," are there a couple other songs on this project that you would want a listener to rush to to hear how great this record is?
JD: All the songs are all different. One of my favorite songs on there is called "Victimized." It's kind of a jam, and it's half-electronic, half-rock band, and I love it.
MR: Was the writing process different than other projects?
JD: When we did the record, the band got together in August of last year and started writing and I didn't get into the studio until February I believe. I had to go to rehab and detox off of Xanax. I have really bad panic attacks, so I was getting detoxed from Xanax because my doctor said, "This stuff is horrible for you, we've got to take you off of it." It took about a year for me to really detox off of that and to be coherent again. When I was writing the record and doing the vocals, I was seriously one foot in the alley, one out. I just flew around trying to make my brain heal itself from the damage it did to itself with those drugs. It made it pretty special for me. I actually moved into the studio and had my two boys, PIrate and Zeppy, living with me. My boys were my inspiration the whole time, going in there and singing and watching me in the studio, because that studio was my father's and before that, it was Buck Owens' studio. I remember being a little kid and going in that studio and watching Buck and watching my dad, so it was a treat to have my own children in there watching me. It was a pretty cool experience.
MR: That is really cool. Korn has been around long enough to have a double-disc Essential release. That's just shy of a box set. What do you think about that?
JD: Dude, this whole thing has been a trip to me. We're the luckiest band on the planet. We're just five guys from Bakersville, California. We go from that to the success we've had over the twenty years from our first release. It's just pretty surreal, man. I still can't believe it.
MR: And I imagine you're a little more nostalgic these days because Brian is back.
JD: Yeah, yeah, definitely. This time around, it's nice being on tour because we've all grown up more and all the partying and craziness from when we were kids has stopped. It's actually more fun now than it was then.
MR: Congratulations. The group has had an amazing career to this point. When you look back at songs like "Did My Time" and "Evolution," what would you say is the legacy of Korn?
JD: [laughs] I don't know, bro. That's a hard question.
MR: What would you like your legacy to be? If someone says, "Korn meant this..."
JD: I think it meant a lot. I think Korn means hope for a lot of people who've been picked on for anything in our lives. Every day a fan says, "Jonathan, you saved my life with your music" or "Your lyrics did this or that." That's the legacy that I want to be remembered by--helping all these kids that didn't have anywhere to turn but turn the radio on or turn a CD on and that music helped them in some way. More and more, now that we've gotten older and the fans have gotten older and are bringing their kids, it seems to ring universally. This music helps them vent whatever frustrations they have inside and they actually feel better from it. I'd like to be remembered for that. It's the only reason I'm still doing this s**t. I'm getting old. I'm not going to stop because it's so f**king cool to see these people so touched by some art that we made together, you know what I mean?
MR: It's true, you've affected many. So what advice do you have for new artists?
JD: For new artists? Hustle your ass off. When we were trying to get signed we had a sound that nobody knew what the f**k to do with and was scared of. All we did was hustle and hustle, playing shows, putting our money together to order sticker paper; we slapped Korn stickers all up and down California. Marketing yourself. We didn't have internet back then. If you really believe in your project and you feel it's good and you know in your heart it's good, go out and take advantage of all the things that are out there and just push and don't give up until you achieve your goal.
MR: Beautiful. One last question, President Obama and the US government feature heavily in the music video of "Spike In The Veins." If you had one thing to say to them, what would it be?
JD: What would I tell them? What could you tell them? What could I really tell him to change things? Do I really think it's him? I think he was handed a big giant s**t sandwich from the president before. He started all that stuff. Do you really think it's him or is there someone behind that? I'm not going to go into one of the crazy-ass conspiracy theories, but I don't think there's anything I could f**king say to that guy that could change anything.
JD: I'm being honest. He'd look at me and go, "Okay, okay," and nothing would happen.
MR: Okay, then what do you think the people should be doing right now?
JD: I think they should be pissed and demand that the government stop spying on them and gathering all this data. It's all we can do. I mean this in a peaceful way, I'm not saying go out and start crazy s**t, but I think if enough people are outraged by it, then I think the president will start listening. I got an email from my friend today that says the Al-Qaeda are trying to shut down the NSA spying program. I know it's bulls**t, but at least he said it. All those motherf**kers on Capitol Hill have got to go. We need to let new ones in and maybe it will be all right again. But everybody's feeding all of them their agendas, how do you know if you're being represented? It sucks. That's why the whole thing needs to change.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Talking with Skaters' Michael Ian Cummings
Mike Ragogna: So Skaters has a new album, Manhattan. Now, although you live in New York, you met your musical partner out in California, right?
Michael Ian Cummings: Yeah, Josh and I met at at a party in Los Angeles. I was living out there for two years, I left the East Coast for a little bit and I was just about to come back to New York when I met Josh at a party. We had some mutual friends but we'd never actually met each other. We ran into each other at a party, started talking about our bands and how they were dissolving and talked casually like you would, late night at a party, about starting a new band. I didn't really think much would come of it, but when I got back to New York Josh wrote me an email from London and I was like, "I'm coming to New York tomorrow!" He caught us all off guard, showed up the next day and kind of strong-armed us into forming a band that night and we ended up booking our first three shows the next morning. It was very quick. That pace was kind of like the benchmark of the pace of the band for the next year or so.
MR: Right, two years into it, you get a record deal. That's pretty amazing.
MC: Yeah, even less than that, like a year and a couple of months within starting the band that we got a deal. It was crazy. It wasn't expected at all, for sure.
MR: So you bonded over bartending and The Pixies?
MC: Yes, and it was just like, "Let's make a record," really. We were just sitting around listening to records and just shooting the s**t. Nothing particular, just talking about anything and everything. Just running our mouths late at night.
MR: All of you have been bartenders, right?
MC: Yeah, we've all tended bars.
MR: So I'm sure you've met a lot of people and heard a lot of stories. I'm imagining that added to the repertoire lyrically.
MC: Yeah, you definitely experience a lot of stuff by hanging out until four in the morning every day, bar tending or not. You see a lot of things; people at their best and worst.
MR: So when you guys got together, you played each other's material, but once you got comfortable, did you develop a game plan?
MC: Well, it's interesting, I was writing songs, but only a couple specifically for this new project. The second Josh got to New York we booked three shows the next morning. We weren't prepared at all, but we forced ourselves to be prepared by a date. Our first show we played like five originals and two covers and that was all the songs we really had. We just kind of got together anyone we could to do this thing and it just kind of took off from there, just a "fake it 'til you make it" kind of attitude and it eventually worked out.
MR: Who are some of your musical influences?
MC: I kind of came from more of a classic songwriting type background because my family was really into The Beach Boys and The Beatles and stuff like that. I grew up listening to Jackson Browne and lots of folk records and stuff like that, so that's where I was originally coming from and then I played in a lot of punk bands when we were teenagers, that's how I met Noah, our drummer, we played in a punk band together. From there we all had our own ways and our own different influences, but when we started this band we knew that we wanted it to feel fun, like it was when we were kids and we didn't really have any expectations or give a shit. We want the energy of those early seventies Bowery, New York bands. That was the only goal in mind. It was a lot of Television, DEVO, Clash, Ramones, Pixies and obviously Nirvana and all that nineties stuff, too. We wanted it to feel how punk music felt when there were exciting new songs behind it.
MR: Who did you hook up with to record the album?
MC: There's a producer named John Hill who produced the record with us. We had a list of producers we wanted to work with, which is crazy for us because we've never been offered the opportunity to work with whoever we wanted to. We went through a lot of people and it was a really educational experience because a lot of your favorite producers that might have made your favorite records when you were a kid aren't really as relevant as you would think they are in your head. "What kind of record would he make for us now?" We actually found John and it was a perfect match because he come from the exact same musical background as us. He's into all the same bands, had a heavy figure in reggae music and punk and pop and hip hop. We wanted someone who was relevant and contemporary and into making new sounds and challenging production and stuff like that.
MR: By the way, there was another John Hill who was a staff producer for Columbia in the sixties.
MC: The John Hill we work with is very secretive with his identity on the internet. It's really hard to find him. We did the exact same thing when we were looking into producers.
MR: The name of the album is Manhattan. Is it based on your love of the city or being a resident or...?
MC: It's a little bit of everything. It became a clear choice for the album title when we kind of sat back and listened to the songs and realized they're all very in the city, about the city, and we're all working in bars in Manhattan, and we had formed because we all moved to New York and recorded the record here and wrote about the city and what we were seeing and it was just kind of like a New York story. We didn't really feel like it fit anywhere else. The titles we were coming up with just didn't hold up to Manhattan.
MR: It seems like once you become a New Yorker you are never not a New Yorker.
MC: There is a little bit of that, yes. Once you get through that honeymoon phase and you actually live in New York for a while, yeah, I think it definitely changes you. You become educated in different ways.
MR: What are the roots of the band? Josh comes from England, right?
MC: Yeah, Josh comes from a town called Hull, which is in Northern England. We come from Boston, we grew up in Boston. Dan grew up a little south of Boston, towards the cape and we grew up in the greater Boston area.
MR: Do you realize the rivalry there is between Boston and New York City?
MC: Of course! That was my life.
MR: Then how did you dare move to New York?
MC: Well I still like the Red Sox, I'm not a Yankees fan or anything, but New York's more exciting for me. It's a much more inspiring city.
MR: You're shooting a video for one of the album's tracks, "Miss Teen Massachusetts." What's the back story on that one?
MC: That song was one of those songs that was written super quick, it came together in a matter of an hour and a half, two hours and it was totally fleshed out and done, it was one of those special tunes. I think everyone responded to it. It was kind of a dark, lurking song about wanting something that you can't have once it's already gone. Kind of a grass is always greener type attitude. I just thought it kind of sums up that feeling for me. Everything came together with that one really quickly.
MR: How do view what's going on as far as "punk" these days? Is that even how you would classify your music?
MC: You know, it's funny, it's nice to put things into little tidy packages. Someone said that we were a pre-Giuliani punk band, I thought that was good because it's really specific to a time and feeling. I think we're a little more modern than that. We draw from a lot of nineties influences, obviously. I think we're some kind of fancy punk band. I liked the days when people wrote punk songs, like Joe Jackson or Elvis Costello and people like that.
MR: What do you think about punk in general these days?
MC: There was a really good quote by David Berman, "Punk rock died when the first kid said, 'Punk's not dead,'" I thought that was amazing. I totally agree that the punk movement is not a movement anymore. I think it's an attitude, I think it's a mentality. I don't think it has to do with liberty spikes or leather jackets, you know what I mean?
MR: I think probably like any other form it's evolving, so you've got the next layer of what happens when groups are inspired by or gravitate towards a genre.
MC: Yeah, we love looking back at what it was, but it's a different thing now, for us.
MR: Where do you see Skaters in the future?
MC: I hope we continue to grow. Everything has been looking forward three months, that's how we got going this quickly, we just make really realistic short-term goals. Right now I'm not really clear what our long term goal is, I'm not really sure what the trajectory is for the band, but I hope that we can grow to headline festivals and become a band that's a household name.
MR: Like any good bartender, you have to see two or three customers or events down the line as you're working on one.
MC: Yeah, exactly. You've got to multitask.
MR: Hey, what is your advice for new artists?
MC: Just work really hard. I don't think there's anything else to be learned from what we've done. We've just really worked non-stop every day from when we started the band. Sleep less, work more.
MR: How much fun was it making the video?
MC: It was amazing. It was like an adult convent in the middle of Brooklyn and we totally transformed it. It was pretty special. Crazy.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
BREAK OF REALITY'S "HELIX" EXCLUSIVE
For the record, Break of Reality's video for their "Game of Thrones" cello cover has generated over 2.5 million views on YouTube. On their new album Ten (released March 25) and beyond, here's what the band has to say.
"'Helix' is definitely a stand-out tune on the album. We put it as the first track because we felt it really captured the energy of Break of Reality. The whole song is based off the opening 'cello riff' and I wrote it to explore minimalism, a style of composition used by a lot of contemporary classical composers. But it's really more of a rock song than a classical work, especially since the drums are such a driving force.
"The album as a whole is quite diverse, and we really feel it showcases the intensity and depth of the cello. It's an amazing instrument: It can sing beautiful melodic lines or rock just as hard as any guitar. In our music, these things are often happening at the same time. There are a few tracks that sound much closer to classical music, and a few more, like 'Helix,' that are really powerful and feature the drums. It's definitely our strongest release to date, and we hope it will appeal to a lot of different music listeners."