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Interview: Korn’s Munky on The Path of Totality

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Interview: Korn’s Munky on The Path of Totality
Photo: Rick Wenner

“It’s about reinventing yourself,” exclaims Korn’s Munky [James Shaffer], “With each record you have to push yourself to try something new.” And The Path of Totality, Korn’s 10th release, sees the band venturing into uncharted territory with a cross-pollination of metal and dubstep. Album guests include Noisia, Downlink, Feed Me, 12th Planet, and Skrillex [Sonny John Moore], who made his first public appearance with the band this past April onstage at the Coachella Festival to give fans a teaser of the upcoming album.

Considering the success of last year’s Korn III: Remember Who You Are, which signaled a return to the band’s roots and earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance for the song “Let the Guilt Go,” The Path of Totality’s new direction may seem like a drastic change and a risky career move. And it very well may be. But from day one, evolution has been the band’s modus operandi and while other groups were busy re-hashing tried-and-true formulas, Korn ushered in the nü-metal genre with their revolutionary, dropped-tuned, 7-string riffage. That distinct sound quickly became the rage and dominated the metal sound of the mid-to-late ’90s. Somewhat ironically, the band’s latest release embodies a mildly perverted twist on reinvention. After decades of spearheading the sound of de-tuned disaster, The Path of Totality is the only Korn record to be completely recorded in standard tuning, subversively recasting the pedestrian tuning as the “new sound.”

There is perhaps no greater symbol of any band’s success than its longevity. Since Korn’s inception in 1993 to their 1996 breakthrough album, Follow the Leader, to now, the band has managed to continually push the envelope and still remain relevant despite the music industry’s constant metamorphosis. Of course, that’s not to say it’s been an easy road. A major setback occurred in 2005 when founding member, guitarist Head (Brian Welch) quit the band to deal with his drug addiction and seek salvation through holier channels. The rumor mill has since bristled with white-hot intensity regarding a possible reunion. Regarding which, Munky openly expresses his trepidation, “That’s something we have to get in a room and talk about. It’s always a roller coaster. Even me, I always say ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ because I still have mixed feelings about it. Everybody does. But the thing is, we’ve recorded four records without him and I think we’re doing just fine without him, honestly.” Munky, never one to look back, graciously took time to reflect with Premier Guitar on the making of the new album and the gear he used to navigate the band’s new frontier.

What brought about the new album’s dubstep sound?
It really was Jonathan [Davis, frontman]. He’s been doing a lot of DJ gigs and stuff, and was really getting into the dubstep scene. Basically he just approached me and asked what I thought about including some elements of dubstep in our new record.

Photo: Joe Coffey

Did you have reservations initially?
At first I was like, “Wow, this is really gonna be a challenge. I don’t know how I’m gonna approach this, but I’m down.” It was really about getting Skrillex on the phone and seeing if he was into collaborating with us and going from there. That was when the song “Get Up!” came about. It was a positive experience and we wanted to do more songs. We were like, “Let’s go find more guys.” Skrillex asked his friends and helped us with that.

You guys pioneered the nü-metal genre. Are you looking to change the game again with this new record?
We’re not having that in mind. We’ve been doing this for so long and when I saw how enthusiastic and excited Jonathan was about getting into the studio and trying this. You know, after 20 years, if you see a band member that excited you have to follow the path and trust each other’s intuition when you get inspired.

When we started this band, basically we were trying to put together all of our favorite bands and influences including hip-hop and rap into our music and make one cool band. That’s all we’ve done again.

Last year’s Korn III: Remember Who You Are recalled the sounds of classic Korn and was a big success. Are you worried about how the fans might react to this radical stylistic change?
I think our fans know that with every Korn record there’s going to be something different. The fan base we’ve created and the newer fans are so open to different genres of music. I personally had a lot of fun doing Remember Who You Are. But you know, we’ve been doing it for so long so let’s do something different. We know that fans like it but it’s kind of conquered ground. We felt like we were kind of copying ourselves. Like Korn cover songs, but by Korn.

And this electronic element isn’t necessarily even foreign to you guys. A song like “Helmet in the Bush” from your debut album had some of that electronic influence.
I’m glad you said that. We’ve always had some type of electronic element in our sound. On every record there’s been an electronic song or two.

Can you talk us through the writing process with Skrillex?
He came to the studio and brought some ideas—a couple of drumbeats with some bass lines that he’d written. He uses Massive, which is a Native Instruments software program. He manipulates it and we’ll upload his files into Pro Tools. I would record riffs over a skeleton of drumbeats and bass that he would give us, then give him back the file and he would sit on the other side of the room with headphones on and chop it up and move it around a little bit. The good thing about working with him is that he’s been in a band so he knows how to arrange it for vocals because most dubstep and dance tracks, as opposed to pop, are not really arranged for vocal structure. Having been the singer in a band already, he had it already figured out so having a musical vocabulary with him was pretty much seamless.

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