Korn guitarist Munky appeared to be more than a little befuddled during a conversation with Westword for an August 24 profile. A sizable percentage of questions during the interview (which took place on August 1, the day after the release of Korn’s eighth studio disc, Untitled) seemed to confuse him, and several of his answers returned the favor. Even he couldn’t figure out what one of his responses meant.
That, my friends, is the story of rock.
The topics covered, more or less, in the Q&A below include Korn’s megabucks profit-sharing deal with EMI, the company that owns its label, Virgin; the members’ decision to re-record demos made with the Matrix, the songwriting crew that assisted them on their previous studio CD, See You On the Other Side; the difficulties of doing without longtime drummer David Silveria, who split shortly after the departure of guitarist Brian “Head” Welch; the ways Korn’s sound has changed now that only three of its original members (Munky, bassist Fieldy and singer Jonathan Davis) remain in the fold; Welch’s book, which details his drug addiction, depression and eventual Christian conversion; Munky’s displeasure at missing his daughter’s sixth birthday because of touring commitments; and his continuing enthusiasm for his longtime band.
Call in Munky business.
Westword (Michael Roberts): I understand that the new album is the last in your deal with EMI that you guys signed in 2005. Is that right?
Munky: Yes, that’s right.
WW: How much pressure did that add to the process of making it? Or did it add to it at all?
M: Actually, it didn’t, because we’d already written the record. The record was about 75 percent done when they presented the deal to us.
WW: When they presented the deal to you in 2005?
WW: The current record was 75 percent done in 2005?
M: No, no, no, no, not the current record. The first one we did with them was See You On the Other Side.
WW: Right. I’m talking about the current record, and wondering if knowing it was the last on the contract added any pressure…
M: No, no. I don’t feel it did. I think the only pressure that I really felt on my side, creatively, was we came off the Family Values tour and it was such a success we wanted the momentum to keep going, and we wanted to do it again. But we couldn’t do it without going right back and writing another record, having it ready, and have the timing of it coincide with us continuing the Family Values tour again. Because you can’t just go out without a record. Well, I guess you can, if you’re Ozzy, you know? But he even put out a new record, and he’s playing those songs. We actually did some shows with him, saw him in Europe, and that was nice. But, I mean, that was really the only sort of pressure. It wasn’t from EMI at all. It wasn’t from doing a deal or anything like that.
WW: I came across an article in Billboard where they did this big breakdown, and they estimated that you guys need to make $20-$30 million by 2010 for EMI to break even on the deal. All those zeroes would freak me out. Are you able to just put that out of your mind?
M: That’s like… I don’t think that’s right.
WW: Do those figures sound like they’re not very close to reality?
M: No. How much?
WW: $20-$30 million by 2010 is what they said in the article.
M: Wow. That’s a lot of money.
WW: Yeah. That raised my eyebrows. I wondered, how can you focus entirely on the music when there’s that kind of a total hanging out there…
M: You don’t think about it. It’s just trying to do your best each day. You know? And if all of us do that, that’s all we can do. And hopefully by 2010, they’ll make back their money. Or what are they going to do? Come take my house?
WW: Or put you in debtor’s prison…
M: I don’t think that’s realistic. I think we’ll make that back for them a lot quicker than that.
WW: I understand that you guys are already interested in extending the deal. Are there any negotiations going on about that?
M: I haven’t heard about anything. That’s why my manager gets 20 percent of my money [laughs], because he better be doing that. That’s something we’ll probably talk about later.
WW: Let’s talk about the new disc, then. You guys started working with the Matrix again, and they you decided to go in a different direction, right?
M: Well, we started writing with them in the beginning, and we wrote a few songs. I wrote a lot of guitar stuff with the Matrix, and they had taken the songs and I think me, myself and the Matrix wrote something like eighteen songs over a few months. And then we wrote about ten songs with Atticus Ross after that. So what we did was took the best of both of those sessions. We took the Matrix sessions and rerecorded them with real drums to give those songs a more organic feel. It started to feel like there were two different producers, but we wanted the album to sound all the same as far as recording. So we went and took four of the songs that the Matrix did and I think seven of the songs that Atticus did, and rerecorded the four songs with Atticus, and that gave us the album.
WW: When you guys started working with the Matrix in the first place, it was controversial given the kinds of artists they’d worked with in the past. Some people might think you decided not to do a whole album with them again because you had some dissatisfaction with the Matrix. What’s your take on that?
M: My take on that is, they had a lot of creative input, and somehow it’s been downplayed. And just for the record, I think they’re a very talented writing team, and they had a tremendous influence on the album.
WW: And you in no way want it to seem that they were watering you down? You’re still positive about their contributions?
WW: You said the first batch of songs didn’t have live drums on them. Was that because of David [Silveria]’s departure?
M: Even on the See You On the Other Side album, the drums were programmed to a lot of the songs to the guitar riffs I had written, and then David had come in and retracked the drums and made them better. So that’s how they started out again, and since David isn’t with us, we had Brooks Wackerman come in and rerecord those four songs we wanted to put on the album.
WW: David’s departure and Brian’s departure not that much earlier meant that there was a lot going on in the band. Had you guys thought about adding two permanent members? Or was the timing such that it didn’t make sense in that short a period of time?
M: The timing was definitely a factor. It’s hard because these are members who were with the band for fifteen years, and they’re brothers. If your brother leaves home, you don’t just go out and get a new brother. And that’s how it is. Until we find the right people, I think it’ll just be the three of us for the moment.
WW: So you’re not opposed to adding new permanent members, but you want it to be organic, as opposed to lining up a bunch of players and having auditions?
M: Yeah. That’s not our style.
WW: The overall feel of the disc feels very different to me. Does it feel different to you? And if so, how would you describe it?
M: The overall sound?
M: Well, I mean, essentially it’s a different writing team. It’s the Matrix, their influence, it’s Atticus and his brother, Leo. It’s the three members of Korn. It’s Zac Baird, our touring keyboard player. So it’s evolved substantially. But I have to say, the great thing about the record is that the Korn sound is still in it, with Jon’s vocals and my guitar and Fieldy’s voice – the essential three ingredients that are essential. Did I say that? Man, sorry…
WW: Without that extra guitar in there, how does that change things? Does it give you more room?
M: Well, I get to create the left and the right side of the speaker, which is cool. I’m doubling all of my own stuff. And that’s easier because it can be a lot tighter. That process can be quicker. And it definitely gives me more freedom to create my own sounds. Yeah, it definitely gives me a lot more freedom, but I’m also in the studio a lot longer than anyone else [laughs].
WW: The critics seem to be laying for you on this disc. They’ve been pretty nasty so far. But it seems like you guys have never really been a critic’s band. Is your point of view that it doesn’t really matter what they think? It matters what the fans think?
M: It’s always about the fans. I know Jerry Springer might make good TV for some viewers, because people like to bash and it makes for good reading. But ultimately it’s the fans’ opinion that matters to us. [Pause.] I don’t know why I just referenced Jerry Springer…
WW: I was trying to figure that one out…
M: Don’t try to figure it out. I’ve had a really long morning. But at the end of the day, it’s the fans’ opinion that counts. That’s why we try not to read too many reviews, either good or bad.
WW: Speaking of reading, I have to ask if you’ve read Brian’s book.
M: I have not.
WW: Any interest?
M: Do you know why I haven’t?
M: Because I was with him. I know what the book’s about. The only thing that I know, and I’ve been told, is that I didn’t know he had such a bad drug addiction. And nobody else in the band did, either. But everything else, I lived it with him. I was there.
WW: But everyone’s got a different point of view, and from what I understand – and I haven’t read it yet, either – he’s pretty hard on the band in general.
M: Have you read it?
WW: No, I haven’t read it. But from what I’ve read it about it, and from some people’s reactions, it suggests that he kind of blames the band for his addiction and him getting into a bad mental state.
M: Yeah, I can see how that could happen. Being in a rock band in general, and this type of lifestyle, as everybody knows, it can run you into drug addiction. I’m definitely going to want to pick up the book and read it now, because it’s the lifestyle. It’s hard to be away from your family. A lot of people don’t realize that. You’re gone a lot, and when you’re a single parent like he was, it becomes very difficult. I’m a single parent, and it’s really hard to be away from my daughter. She just turned six, and it was one of my most difficult times to be away from home. I missed her sixth birthday.
WW: That is hard…
M: You know, some people use crutches to deal with that type of thing, and those crutches become addictions. But let me tell, just for the record, I love the guy. I really miss him.
WW: So it sounds like when you read the book, you’re not going to take it personally, because you know how you feel about him, and how he feels about you?
M: Yeah. There’s probably nothing in there that’s going to offend me.
WW: The Family Values tour this time around is definitely a value: The lawn seats are only $10. And you mentioned Ozzy earlier – Ozzfest has gone completely free. Is the idea that you guys can make up in merchandise what you’re losing from ticket revenue?
M: Hmmm. That’s a business question.
WW: That’s another one for the manager?
M: Yeah. But I think it’s a fair ticket price for any concert. I think it’s cool. I wish I could have seen a whole lineup of bands when I was twenty, nineteen, eighteen years old. See ten bands plus in one afternoon for ten bucks? Not bad. I wonder how many bands are on the second stage. I think there’s four. But it’s like ten bands, ten bucks.
WW: You were talking about how hard it is to keep the touring pace up, and you guys have been out there constantly for the past couple of years. After this tour’s over, are you going to take a break? Or go right back out there again?
M: I’m going home. I’m gonna go home and kick back for a couple of months. But, actually, there is a tour, a small arena tour that we’re going to do, and hit some markets up in the northwest where we haven’t been for a while. We have some fans up there in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, who’ve been anxious to see Korn. The logistics of the Family Values tour, we weren’t able to get up in those areas, so we’re going to go back there and hit some of those areas where the fans have really been requesting us.
WW: A lot of the bands that came out when you guys did have gone away, and have been away for a long time. How come you guys have survived?
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M: It’s the fans. I think that the fans, from our first album. I think our first album was what planted that seed, and people and fans just helped to nourish it with their love of the music. It helped it just flourish into a huge tree that’s now branching out into lots of different ventures.
WW: So even though you’re down to three, rather than the original number, your enthusiasm is still as high as it ever was?
M: It’s exciting. We still have moments that are surreal. I’m going, “Wow, I can’t believe it. We’ve released our eighth album.” Yesterday was a big day for us. We had an amazing day of press and a concert, and it was a really good day to reflect and give some gratitude about how hard we’ve worked to get this far and how many ups and downs we’ve gone through. It was pretty cool.