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Korn’s Jonathan Davis: “I genuinely love music. It’s saved my life”

Korn tell Rolling Stone UK how they defied the darkness to deliver their fourteenth album 'Requiem'

By Jen Thomas

Korn on a colourful background
Korn's fourteenth album is out this week (Pic: press)

It’s a week before Korn gear up to release their 14th studio album ‘Requiem’ and frontman Jonathan Davis is at home in Bakersfield, California, bathed in red light and surrounded by gothic curios, candles, and an elaborate gallery wall.

“I’ve gotta have my red lights on, they make me calm,” he jokes of the set-up. “I love it. My whole house is bathed in red light, I live the vampire lifestyle.” It’s 1am in the morning for him, and he doesn’t sleep much.

The dark setting is entirely befitting of Korn‘s new record, which has been teased with gritty new singles ‘Forgotten’ and ‘Start The Healing’ – proving that their output remains as unsettling as ever.

But, as Davis explains in an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone UK, it also contains some of his “biggest vocal work ever”, with the band opting to record on analogue tape in order to capture the “magic” of their earliest work.

You can read Davis’ interview in full below.

The fourteenth album is here. You shared a picture of you laughing in the studio, and captioned it “I’ve experienced a lot of different emotions in this place.” Some fans are unsure of what to expect – a happy Korn record?

It is a different record, I was happy doing it but I was also scared because it was in the middle of a pandemic and knowing the world was going to shit and I didn’t know what was going on… We didn’t know what was gonna happen, stuck in our houses for a couple of months. I think all of us were going crazy, so we said “let’s write a record”. It was just a way for us to escape all the craziness going on – not just the pandemic, but all the fucking riots that were going on here. I love making records. So we just took the opportunity just to check out from the world and make Requiem.

You’ve previously squeezed in recording sessions between tours, and you write the lyrics last. Did having this freedom make you your own worst enemy in terms of getting things done?

I used that time-sensitivity to my advantage for most records, but this time I decided I didn’t want to be pressured, I wanted to let it naturally flow out. Don’t get me wrong, even with all the time in the world, I don’t fuck around. Once the music’s done, I need to hear it completed. I write the lyrics the day the song is written, I’ve done melody lines, and I know what I’m going to do. I’ll write the lyrics in about 30 minutes usually, then boom, I go right in the vocal booth. That’s when I move on to doing all the crazy harmonies – I have six microphones, I do three or four-part harmonies, but I double them and I never used the same microphone on any of them. Having the time to be able to do that kind of shit, I’m enjoying it so much. It sounds huge, some of my biggest vocal work ever.

It must be nice to still be surprised after all this time?

Absolutely! Previously I was worried about my kids and I had crazy shit going on at home, so I was like, “I’m going in, I’m going to do my shit and get the fuck out.” Now I’m professionally in a place where I want to take my time and make great art. This was the first record where I really got to do that. We’ve written songs for the next record already! This record was done on analogue tape, capturing that magic, it sounds really amazing and dynamic. If you listen to modern music today, everything sounds so fucking flat, it’s all the same. People just forgot that they can record the old way and love how it sounds. I genuinely love music. It’s saved my life.

You were suffering badly with Covid-19 and performed on a throne for some of your shows last year rather than cancel the rest of the tour. How are you doing now?

I feel great. It took about three months for me to recover, and I was lucky that it didn’t really get in my lungs, but I couldn’t eat. I had no energy. I had horrible anxiety. It really just took it out of me. I wasn’t gonna be that one that cancelled the tour that so many people were going to just to forget about everything. They needed to see a rock show, that’s like the one fun thing they get to do. So I sat on a throne. I could sing, I just couldn’t move that much. It was a crazy experience, it was hard.

You released a statement last year saying that Fieldy (bassist) was on hiatus from the band for the next tour. Is there any update on when he will be returning?

He’s working through what he needs to work through. He just needs time, but we’ve got his back. We just don’t want to watch him hurt himself, so it was time for him to go and take care of himself. We’re brothers but we can’t watch him kill himself either. Hopefully he does figure it out, and he’ll be back and you can play with us again. Everyone’s journey is different. For me personally, my family told me ‘we’re done with you getting drunk’ so I went home and within a week I was done. But then Head, he took eight years to figure it out and then come back! Eight years! We’ll see how long it takes, Fieldy just needs time and we’re giving him that.

As a band, you started using the internet very early on in your careers, and you’ve seen multiple platforms come and go. What do you think is next that Korn can try?

We did livestream with Quicktime in 1996. Do you remember that? We made it into so many magazines because of that calling us the future of music and shit. We’ll go wherever the next platform is, and we are always adapting. That said, I miss the old school way sometimes. I miss going to a fucking record store, and digging through the crates like I did back in the day. That shit was fun. It was a ritual, a whole afternoon there with my headphones. If they didn’t have it, you’d go there and order a special import. The thing is though, it’s ultimately still cool that you can find our music at the touch of a button now. Can’t complain about that!

Requiem is out February 4th.