Korn’s Jonathan Davis on Addiction, Head’s Return, and Lessons from the Satanic Bible
The eclectic metal maven talks about his career in advance of the band's new 'The Paradigm Shift'
When vocalist Jonathan Davis opened up Korn’s 1994 debut single, “Blind,” by growling, “Arrre youu ready?!” it wasn’t so much a question as it was fair warning, a salvo for a nü era. For the past 20 years, the boys from Bakersfield, California, have managed to stay at the vanguard of metal expression. In addition to (for better or worse) spawning the nü-metal subgenre, they were among the first bands to incorporate hip-hop beats with guitar heaviness, and with their 2011 album The Path of Totality, they even incorporated dubstep. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re American originals.
Korn’s latest album, The Paradigm Shift, finds the group again experimenting with electronic music on the single “Never Never” and indulging their heavy side elsewhere, thanks to help from original guitarist Brian “Head” Welch, who has returned after eight years away. And although Davis sounds effortlessly aggressive, he wrote his parts after suffering through nasty withdrawal symptoms from prescribed medicine. It’s an experience that led to some reflection; just before the band embarked on a lengthy tour, we caught up with Davis to find out what he learned from that ordeal and what advice he can offer after 20 years of Korn.
Always look out for yourself.
When I first came from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, I was so naïve. Moving there was really eye-opening, because it seemed like a city of people with agendas. I just trusted everybody, and I got screwed over a lot of times. I’m still trusting and get screwed over all the time. So now I always kind of look out for myself first and make sure I’m taking care of my kids. Other than that, everybody can fuck off.
Don’t ever give up on someone.
You can’t hold a grudge forever. Head coming back was awesome. We’re happy that he’s back and he’s normal. He just needed to leave for a while and get his life together and squared away so he could create again. Now he’s back and better than ever. You just can’t ever give up on people if you love them, and I’d never give up on him.
If your music makes you scared, then it’s good.
If you step outside your comfort zone, then you’re doing something innovative. It might not be great, but it’s a step in the right direction. We’ve always experimented and never wanted to do the same record twice. You’ve got to push yourself and try different things. For instance, the first single from our new album is “Never Never,” which is a really electronic song. It’s the only song like that on the album. It was so different, we were all scared of it. And it’s working out great, and people really like it. We did that with “Got the Life,” too. We were like, “Man, that can’t be our first single; that’s a kooky disco song.” We were all scared and bitching about it, but we’re like, “OK, let’s do it and see what happens.” Boom! It blew up. It’s just how it goes.
If you suffer from anxiety, just know that it will pass.
For me, I just remind myself that it’s my brain shooting a chemical to panic for no reason, that whole fight-or-flight thing. So I just go with it and tell myself that it’s going to pass. There’s nothing wrong. Get through it and breathe. But it is a fucking horrible experience — going through panic attacks, dealing with anxiety — but over the years I’ve learned.
Don’t take benzos for a long time.
That shit is horrible. My doctor took me off them when I was writing this record. I was detoxing for a week and a half, two weeks, but it took six months for it to actually stop. I was going through all the anxiety again. My brain was rewiring itself back to how it should be. It was horrible. I was shaking. I had to go on Phenobarbital so I wouldn’t go into seizures. Then I had to come off Phenobarbital. It was fucked up. It was the only option for me. I was just having raging anxiety attacks, and I couldn’t take anything for them. I just had to get through it, so it sucks.
If you need to go to rehab, go to the real deal with real addicts — none of that frou-frou shit.
You won’t ever want to go back to that place. That said, I’ve never been to a real rehab. When I got clean in ’98 and quit everything, I just did that by myself. I was fine with it and still am. I know I can’t do that stuff — I can’t drink, I can’t do drugs. For me, the thing was my kids. At the time in ’98, my son Nathan was three years old, and I came home and I was wasted. He’d look at me like he was scared, and that freaked me out. So I quit. And then on the pill thing, I had to go to rehab, because if you just stop taking Xanax cold turkey, you go into seizures, a coma, all kinds of crazy shit. You have to be under a doctor’s care for that.
You can be the life of the party, even when you’re sober.
What worked for me was I figured out that I wasn’t addicted to the actual drug per se. I was addicted to the rituals. So I actually became the life of the party. I was the one serving up drinks and chopping up lines or rolling joints. I would just do the ritual, but I wouldn’t partake. It was hard at first, but then I started enjoying it, because I’d wake up in the morning and I wouldn’t have a hangover and everybody else did. It helped me. A lot of people that go sober have to run away and can’t be around that stuff at all. For me, I just surrounded myself with it because that’s all that was around me, and I learned how to deal with it. I’d be laughing at these fools who were fucked up and puking in the morning.
It’s a cheesy saying, but I’m going to say it: Haters gonna hate.
That’s how I look at bad press. If you don’t have haters, then you aren’t doing something right. It comes with the territory. I don’t go up there looking for bad reviews, and I don’t try to read them. People that don’t understand what I do are not going to get it and they’re going to say bad things about it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad. The duty of the reviewer is to write their opinion. That’s great, but it’s just their opinion.
Exercise indulgence instead of abstinence.
That’s a piece of advice I learned from Anton LaVey in The Satanic Bible. Not that the advice is satanic, I just like those words. Do whatever you want to do, just don’t hurt anyone. I’ve been doing that in my life for a long time. It pretty much eliminates guilt. If you want to fuck a billion chicks, don’t be married and have a family. Pretty self-explanatory. Just make yourself happy and you’ll be happy. Don’t worry about all the guilt. If you’re not hurting anybody, then it’s not bad.