Q&A: Korn’s Jonathan Davis On ‘The Paradigm Shift’ & Finally Learning to Ignore His Critics
As Jonathan Davis prepares for the October 8 release of his band, Korn‘s newest album, The Paradigm Shift, he’s cool as a cucumber. After two decades of making aggressive and often polarizing hard rock, he’s realized there’s not a damn thing he can do about his critics so he’s stopped worrying about pleasing them.
Nowadays, the leader of the ‘90’s Nu-Metal movement is concerned with only one thing: writing songs that he wants to hear.
This was never clearer than on the band’s last release, 2011′s The Path of Totality, which pit Skrillex-produced dubstep beats against the band’s signature guitar riffs. Although that one received mixed reviews, the band is sticking to their guns and that same style for their latest full-length.
Speaking to Radio.com while literally taking a relaxing walk in the park, Davis discussed the band’s growth over twenty years, how the unexpected reunion with guitarist Brian “Head” Welch has brought a smile to his face and why their 1998 album Follow The Leader changed their lives forever. Not to mention why The Paradigm Shift is Korn’s best album “in a long long time.”
Radio.com: Where are you calling from today? Are those birds?
Jonathan Davis: I can’t stand hotel rooms. There’s a park across the street from the hotel and I’m just walking around. It’s nice to get out.
Twenty years ago when you were just hanging out in a garage in Bakersfield, California, could you have ever imagined you’d be 11 albums deep today?
No, I’m a lifer, full-on. I’m so happy I get to do what I love for a living and touch so many people positively. I’m blessed definitely.
Do you think you’re the same after all these years?
I’m the same. I think when Follow The Leader hit back then [in 1998], I think that’s when we got thrown into the mainstream. That really affected all of us and the band went cuckoo for a little bit cause our freedoms were taken away. We had bodyguards everywhere we went. We couldn’t hang out like we used to at shows, go back to their house, have keg parties. That stuff was fun and it got kinda ripped away from us.
How did you manage to stay grounded?
I think it’s from us growing up in our town of Bakersfield. It instilled good values in us I think. It’s really easy to get carried away and start to think you’re more than you are when you get in this business. I watched it happen to tons of my friends. When we started this band we wanted to stay as grounded as we possibly could, and I think we did.
While other bands that emerged in the ’90s remained stagnant, you’ve evolved. How?
I think it’s our general love of experimenting and not being scared to try different things. You’ve gotta evolve. If you keep writing the same record you’ll become stagnant. You’re not gonna like it and no one’s gonna like it. For us, it started when we did Follow The Leader. I remember when we put “Got The Life” out we were so terrified we thought it was just a stupid disco song…. And look what happened. You never know. Our motto in the band is if it makes you scared, then you’re doing the right thing.
How conscious of a decision was it to infuse your music with EDM?
That’s where I came from. I started DJing when I was 16 years old so I’ve been a huge fan of electronic music forever. I never really was a big metal fan. I loved some metal bands but pretty much I listened to dance music and old goth music, industrial and stuff like that. That’s where I come from, that’s what makes Korn so different because we’re all into different stuff. It was awesome to be able to do something different. We’ve always wanted to switch things up every record and we’ve been lucky enough, some have hit and some have missed, but we’re not scared to try.
Is it weird that ’80s synth music is back?
It’s awesome… that we’ve been alive long enough to see how the s*** turns around and repeats itself every couple decades. I’m lovin’ it cause I’m a kid of the ’80s. I love all the music from the period. I love hearing all the new electronic bands and EDM music. Everything going on right now is really exciting.
Were you able to hit any festivals this year?
I’ve wanted to go but I’m always on the road. I wanted to go to Ultra, Tomorrowland, all these great festivals. I’m pretty much convinced that that’s the new hippy movement. It’s all peace and love and people have a good time and it’s an amazing vibe to see a good show and have a good time. The last band that I saw was Imagine Dragons. I saw them at Rock am Ring in Germany. They were amazing. Unfortunately, I don’t get to see a lot of other shows unless we’re playing with the people.
How has the band been since Brian’s return?
One word: happy. It’s so nice to see my bandmates, Fieldy and Munky and Ray, just up there smiling and having such a good time cause he’s back and I missed him so much. And he’s not crazy anymore. He’s not preaching or doing any of that stuff. He was gone for almost ten years… he’s like a little kid again. He’s experiencing this for the first time all over cause he was so messed up on drugs so I’m having a blast watching him.
Seeing Brian’s return, former drummer David Silveria [1993-2006] has made it public that he’d come back if asked.
I don’t think it’s the right time or place… right now we’re really really happy where we’re at. I guess that’s all I can say.
The first single, “Never Never” has a big electronic breakdown toward the end. Is that indicative of the rest of Paradigm Shift?
We wanted to do what we did on Follow The Leader when we infused hip-hop with rock. We wanted to write for fun, do interesting music and just see what happens and then add electronic elements after. “Never Never” is probably the most electronic one on the album. On this record there’s a song for everybody. There’s a song for old school fans, a song for new school fans, it’s all over the place. I think it’s the best album we’ve done in a long long time.
Do you still get nervous when you release a record?
Some of the guys in the band do. Me, I’m to the point now where I don’t care. You’re either gonna like it or you’re not gonna like it. There’s nothing I can do to change people’s opinions. I just want to get out there and play shows and have fun.
In the trailer for The Paradigm Shift, there’s a focus on six words: money, fame, fortune, separation and depression. How does each one come into play on the album?
I think money screws things up. I think money takes away from your creativity. If you get anything you want than your creativity goes away. It’s an easy out. Fame has changed our lives. Being able to go and do things… do what we used to do. I remember when my oldest was out with me and people would come up to me, it would scare him and really freak him out. My other kids love it, they eat that s*** up. I’ve bought everything I could dream of. I remember when I bought my first Bentley. I always loved those cars as a kid and growing up and I could finally afford one. And then it became the stupidest thing I ever bought. Over the years… I think money ruins everything. It’s nice to have it and not worry about but it also brings a lot of problems. Addiction. This is pretty self-explanatory. I’m sure [Brian Welch] was depressed through all that, but I’ve always been battling depression so it’s a part of our band. When he [Brian] was going through all that stuff, he had to separate himself from us in order to go get his head together again. He was a single dad. He had a daughter to take care of, he had all kinds of things going on in his life and he couldn’t be in a band and deal with all that.
Where do you see Korn and radio intersecting in the future?
I love being played on the radio but it’s not really on my radar. But it’s just a really different time and music’s really changed. I’ve seen it change so many different times. I love being on the radio, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not gonna lose sleep over it. That’s one thing I learned. You never know what’s going to happen in this business.