Korn are a behemoth of a band, massively popular and a group that at its very mention can elicit a visceral response. They are known for ushering in a new age of metal dubbed nu-metal, combining hip-hop, down tuned guitars and groove-laden melodies into a barrage of noise. Over 20 years later, after slews of knock-off bands tried (and mostly failed) to emulate their intensity, honesty and sincerity, Korn has not slowed down, regularly unleashing new records and touring nearly non-stop.
Lead singer Jonathan Davis deserves a break. But with Korn taking a breather this year, he’s used the new-found time on his hands to unleash his own solo project. His solo career been baking in his head for over 10 years. It wasn’t until recently when he actually had the time to devote to it was he able to produce Black Labyrinth, a deeply personal record that is a sharp turn away from the trademark Korn sound he helped invent.
Black Labyrinth is mellower, with more melody and a tighter songwriting structure than the typical Korn record. The songs are passionate and Davis’s unfettering energy is audible in every twist and turn. The result is a tremendous solo record and a great listen. Jonathan Davis recently spoke with mxdwn to discuss Black Labyrinth, his distaste for organized religion, his work with diabetes research and Korn’s prospects of earning an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
mxdwn: You have been flirting with solo projects over the past 20 years or so with a few songs released under your own name, what prompted you to release your solo record Black Labyrinth now at this point in your career?
Jonathan Davis: Because after 20 years of waiting — and I have been on tour with Korn for that long — I have been very patient and I wanted to finish something that I started. For instance, after tons and tons of hard drives and years of starting shit, I started writing this record in 2007, and I recorded 26 songs, with 13 on the record. I still have a shit ton that I am working on and will release somehow, someway. I just wanted to get this album out first.
I always wanted to be a solo artist, which has nothing to do with me not loving Korn, I just wanted to do something outside of Korn and this is the way for me to do it. I’m always evolving and I really just love what I do. I love music. It saved my life, which is why I’m so passionate about it.
mxdwn: One of your quotes about the album I found very interesting was that you wanted to “achieve a level of enlightenment” and you cited the Ganzfeld Experiments as inspiration. What was the thought behind the idea of extrasensory perception and achieving enlightenment?
Jonathan Davis: I started writing this record 10 years ago. Around that time Korn guitarist, Brian “Head” Welch, split and wanted to focus on being a Christian. I’ve lost a lot of people to that religion and have had a real problem with Christianity for a long time. Not necessarily the ideology behind it, I very much respect it, I respect all people’s viewpoints — who am I to judge? But, when it was ripping people away from me I just thought ‘Why does this keeping fucking happening to me?’ and ‘Is this real’ and this record was me just trying to figure out where I fit into the whole grand scheme of things, is it religion? Are there other things out there?
And the Ganzfeld Experiment, with sensory perception, that was the only real tangible thing that I could grasp onto. I’ve tried Christianity, I’ve tried Catholicism, I’ve done all that. I’ve heard stories of people being healed but I’ve never seen it with my own two eyes. When I heard that Ganzfeld shit, and saw the shit that I saw, that was concrete proof to me that there is something else out there. That the idea, the written Bible, was more like Santa Claus. I believe in a higher power, but is it the way it was told 2,000 years ago? Probably not.
That Ganzfeld Experiment…you have to be patient…some people will have out of body experiences, but you’re tapping into something that is different and that inspired me want to tell that story. With the videos, the “What It Is” video is the last story of the whole tale of the record. I’m telling the story backwards…I really wanted to create a giant performance art piece and the record is just a part of it. There may be some Ganzfeld pop-ups…I really just want people to walk away with something, whether it’s a great song, or they say they got to see some crazy shit without drugs. I think it’s dope as fuck.
Are you supposed to take it super serious? No…it’s fucking entertainment but it’s something that’s fun and different, and I’m real excited about it. It’s a different way to consume music. Most artists will put out an album, do a tour, and call it done. I wanted to try to do something that is totally different and with me, I hate doing the same shit over and over, I really just wanted this to stand on its own and challenge myself.
mxdwn: How did you approach writing this record differently than writing a record with Korn?
Jonathan Davis: It’s really simple…Korn uses seven string guitars that are tuned to A. So, anything that I write with those instruments is going to be a Korn song. And the Jonathan stuff, I’m just playing with six strings and it’s in C and it’s a different key. I’m using keyboards and world music. It’s mellower…and that is the glaring difference.
On the last Korn record “Take Me,” which was one of the singles off of The Serenity of Suffering, was taken from Black Labyrinth. The producer heard it and said ‘Dude, that is a badass song,’ and at the time I had been sitting on my solo record for like seven or eight years, and said ‘Fine, let’s do it.’ The band liked it…and we totally re-did it and made it a Korn song. It really doesn’t matter to me. If there is a song I like and Korn likes it, then it’s a Korn song.
For me, it’s just writing to get this shit out, and whatever happens to it happens to it. I’m into it for the creative part. That’s what gets me off, and then going to play the shit live for people.
mxdwn: What artists inspired you through the process of making Black Labyrinth?
Jonathan Davis: Metal is the last thing that I listen to. I mean, I was a kid of the ’80s. I was all into the New Romantic shit — Duran Duran — all the New Wave shit. That’s what got me through high school. Duran Duran, The Cure, Tears for Fears. Those were my bands. I grew up in the theater too, my mom and dad did a lot of musical theater. So, shit like Jesus Christ Superstar and A Chorus Line, just a ton of showtunes. I’ve been around music my whole life; my dad ran a music store and loved Buck Owens and country music. Being from Bakersfield, we loved Merle Haggard. I was just surrounded by it. There were just so many things that inspired me and comes from so many different places.
mxdwn: There were multiple guests on the record as well, and one of them was Wes Borland from Limp Bizkit. How did that collaboration come together?
Jonathan Davis: I just asked if he wanted to come and play on my record. I love Wes, he is such an amazing artist. That dude is the definition of artist…just an amazing guitar player, he’s visually stimulating, he’s an amazing painter, he’s become a blacksmith and makes knives and shit. I just thought it would be awesome it I could get him to play on the record because I love the way he plays guitar.
mxdwn: You released the video “For Everyone” off the record and it certainly has religious overtones. Can you talk about the idea behind the song that parallels the video?
Jonathan Davis: It’s just me pissed off at the church. The lyrics focus on it too “I walk in this place cause I need help / You don’t want me cause I’m not like you.” Really it’s they don’t like me because I frighten them. It’s definitely that vibe. It’s just corruption at its finest. I saw it when I was a mortician and I saw how corrupt the clergy was, how fake the shit is — just priests trying to get in my pants left and right — and other things that were fucked up. I just witnessed it first-hand. And I keep coming back to the idea of Christianity being a beautiful religion. It’s basically peace and love, but humans just fuck it up. For me, my religious beliefs are private and to myself…I don’t need to go to church and all that shit. That song represents that. I actually have a couple of songs like that, that vents that frustration with the church.
mxdwn: You are on touring behind Black Labyrinth until the end of June. What do you want your fans to take away with them from a Jonathan Davis live experience?
Jonathan Davis: I want them to escape. I want them to listen to the music and do what they do, escape and have an experience. I want them to say, ‘That was dope.’ It’s very stripped down, just me on the stage with my band, a red light and that’s it. It’s just me, my band, that red light, and the music. It’s really simple and people are digging it. I couldn’t be happier with it.
mxdwn: You do a ton of work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and it hits pretty close to home. How did you get involved with your charity work?
Jonathan Davis: My youngest son is a Type 1 diabetic and another child in the Korn family, one of Fieldy’s daughters, is a Type 1 diabetic, so we have two kids with it. It’s a fucking horrible disease. We are trying to find cures and people just don’t talk about it. It’s horrible for the kids to have it, but it’s horrible for the parents too. You have to watch them all the time, make sure they are eating the right things, there isn’t a break and there are scares when they go low and when they go high. You watch your kid shaking and sweating because he’s hypoglycemic and ready to go into a coma, or they’re puking cause there is too much glucose in their system…it’s not fun. I just wanted to use whatever I could use to help raise money and help find a cure for this shit.
There are a lot of new therapies that are coming out that are promising. There are a bunch of new technologies too. My son wears a CGM that I can watch on my phone. Right now, I can tell you his blood sugar, I know if it’s going up or down and it gives me alarms to where I can call home and make sure he’s getting his shots. His moms on him 24/7 and people around him at school are on it. It just helps a lot. My step-grandmother had it and she went blind and died early from it. I’ve seen the old-school diabetes and hopefully in my son’s lifetime they will find a cure and he won’t have to go through that. That’s why I’m so hardcore into it. It’s heartbreaking for the family as well as the people who have it.
mxdwn: Korn have been a juggernaut in the music world for going on 25 years. Have you ever given thought to the band being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and what are your thoughts on the institution?
Jonathan Davis: Bottom line…it’s always nice to be recognized for something. And that’s all I can really say. Would I love to be in there? Fuck ya I would. We’ve worked really hard. But there are a lot of other bands that deserve to be in there before us. So that’s the travesty of that place. But if we can get in there after our 25th anniversary and be recognized for what we have done in the music community that would be awesome. It just feels nice to be given something like that. We got our hands outside Guitar Center on the Walk of Fame, that fucking felt good…I’m not gonna lie, that was cool as fuck. Like….I’m up there with some cool legendary bands…that really feels good. Even if we get nominated that would be amazing.
All Photos: Boston Lynn Schulz