Serenity and suffering: confronting Korn's dark past
Korn's new album The Serenity Of Suffering marks a return to their heavier roots – so we go back in time with them to remember where it all began
In 1993, a group of childhood friends decided to start a band. Drawn to each other by a love of music, drinking and partying, they set about writing songs that would bond them together for life, and transform the landscape of metal forever. At the centre of it was their captivating singer: former coroner’s assistant, misfit, and freak Jonathan Davis. “We were brothers and homies right from the start,” he remembers today.
As Korn prepare to release their 12th album, The Serenity Of Suffering, we delve into their shadowy past. From the early days of living together and scrounging for rehearsal money, to the dizzy heights of fame and fortune, to personal lives shattered by drink and drug abuse. Along the way, they’ve lost band members and lost their minds; be warned, memory lane can get pretty dark along the way, and those of a sensitive nature may not want to go alone. No subjects are off limits as they talk candidly about their highs and lows.
But as much as this is a cautionary tale, the band have few regrets, and we find each of them in good spirits, fresh from completing a US headline tour with Rob Zombie. What’s more, the new album is a return to old-school Korn, heavier than a bag of spanners, and features a guest appearance from Corey Taylor. This, member by member, is the story of how Korn conquered their demons, and conquered the world…
Did you ever dream of being a rockstar?
“Yes. When I was three years old, I saw my parents doing a little production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and that set me on my way. I got my first drum set, and I just really loved music. My father was a musician, and my mother was a dancer, so there was music around at all times.”
What went through your mind when Munky and Head asked you to join their band?
“They were called Creep at the time. Creep was dark and kinda reminded me of Alice In Chains. When I got the call and they asked me if I wanted to try out for them, I was a little torn, because I was doing SexArt at the time, and that was my band. But I wanted to go and see what it was all about, and from the first note I was hooked. It just all clicked.”
You’re quite sensitive. What was it like joining a band that was the opposite of that?
“Well, they basically hired me to do whatever I want. My sensitivity spawned all the lyrics, which eventually became Korn, and everyone had their own vibe, which is what bands do. You can’t set that shit up; it’s just some magic that happens when people get together.”
Were your family supportive of your music career?
“At first, my father was very wary. He went through show business and he came off the road, because when I was born he wanted to be there for me, and my mom was bitching that he was never home, which is how they ended up divorcing. My dad didn’t want me to walk down that road, but he knew that I really loved music, so he was like, ‘Fuck it, son, you have to chase your dreams, as long as you have a plan to fall back on.’ I was in the coroner’s office, so I could fall back on that. My mother was the same, but the one who really pushed me along was my aunt. She was the one that took me to a psychic fair and told me I needed to join this band because it was going to be very successful. She pretty much laid out everything, and she gave me money so I had rent and I could eat for a couple of months until I could find a job.”
Do you believe in the psychic stuff, then?
“I believe that we’re all connected through a matrix. Whether you want to call it God or whatever, we’re all connected, and there’s all this weird shit, like, déjà vu or coincidence, and there’s obviously some higher intelligence that’s making this happen. That’s my trip right now, but it might change when I get older.”
You all lived together in California in the early days. What was that like?
“Awesome! We all lived in the same house in Huntington Beach, apart from David [Silveria, then-drummer]. I lived in this little room under the stairs, because it’s all I could afford. The other guys had better rooms because they had better jobs, but we all pitched in, and I really appreciate those times. I didn’t sleep much, because I was a fucking tweeker! I had to go backwards, because I was very successful working in the coroner’s office in the mortuary, and then I was living in a fucking closet after having my own house! It was worth it, suffering for my art; I had to pay my dues. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
What impact has your mortuary job left on your today?
“I had to deal with issues of post-traumatic stress, because 17-year-old boys shouldn’t be seeing [dead] babies that have got ripped in half and fucked when they were 16 months old; crazy, horrific, horrible shit. It kinda fucks your head up. But it also made me inspired and gave me a spark; it makes you appreciate shit, because it’s like, ‘Yeah, I have problems, but I’m alive!’”