Celebrating twenty years since their self-titled debut album turned the metal scene on its arse, Korn were in the UK recently supporting Slipknot so, before the show at Capital FM Arena in Nottingham, I had a chat with guitarist Brian “Head” Welch about the last twenty years.
Thanks for your time, how has the tour with Slipknot been going?
Welch: It’s been great. This has been my favourite tour so far because, well, the Slipknot monster, I was not around when Korn got close to them as I was out of the band so I always wanted to tour with them. We’ve toured a lot all over the world but the guys in Slipknot are just some of the coolest guys out there.
Are you a big Slipknot fan then?
Welch: I’ve only been back in Korn for two years and I’m super stoked to be on this tour. They’re so brutal. I told Mick and Jim (Thomspon and Root) the other day that, at first, it was too heavy for me. I wasn’t into that whole thrashy thing, but Corey was always just something else. Whereas Jonathon was raw and emotional when we came out, Corey was just like “I’ll rip your soul out”. It was just another level of angry and hatred coming out with Corey. The man is a machine, he doesn’t stop. For fifteen years it’s just poured out of him, he’s a poet.
And you’re coming back later in the year?
Welch: Yeah, we’ll be coming back some time this year to play at Brixton Academy. We’re coming over to play our first album in its entirety.
Before we go onto the first album, there has been internet talk of a new Korn album. Any updates on that?
Welch: Yes! We’re talking at the moment about taking a couple of months off and going in straight away as it will probably take the rest of the year for us to do the album.
Is there anything written in terms of new material?
Welch: No, but I wanna go heavy though. I hope I get my wish haha!
Which takes us back to the first album…
Welch: Yeah, we announced last year that we were going to play it fully because it was the twentieth anniversary. We’ve been so busy though we’ve only managed to find time to do that in March.
Has revisiting that first album reignited those fires to play that kind of raw, brutal music again bearing in mind how your sound has developed away from that over the years?
Welch: I’m hoping. We won’t go back and do that record again you know obviously, but I was telling Jonathon that I wanted to do some more faster tempo stuff again. When Korn wrote songs we would think about the live show because, I think you can write good songs all day long but, if they’re not fun live then you’re stuck playing them for years. Korn used to always think “what would the crowd be like if we played this?” and so I want to do that on this new record. I don’t want to go out there and play songs over and over that are boring.
Do you still get the same feelings playing those old songs as you did twenty years ago?
Welch: For me it’s all about the energy between us and the crowd. Jonathon is singing his lyrics and the emotion comes out of him from that but, for me, it’s all about the energy between me and the crowd. It’s like you’re getting everybody in one room to be a part of something in total unity. There is nothing like it. There is nothing on earth like that energy, it’s such a powerful thing.
Is it that same feeling no matter where you play?
Welch: Mainly yeah, but there are things like, on this tour, some of the shows you wonder if they really like you but then you realise it’s a Monday or Tuesday night and I’ve always noticed that shows on a Monday/Tuesday night are different. You have good shows and bad shows all over the world and good reactions, mind-blowing reactions and reactions where the crowd just stand there and clap you.
Check out the song “Never Never” here.
Okay, going back twenty+ years when you started the band, did you have any feeling that something special was happening?
Welch: It was special for me and my friends, ha! We knew we actually sounded pretty good and I’d been in a load of cheesy bands before Korn when we were teenagers but, hearing what we were coming out with, we knew we had something pretty good going on. Special? For us? Yeah. Special as in we’d still be around doing this twenty years later? No. Not me. Some of the other guys in the band would tell you that they knew but I didn’t.
You guys, Deftones and a few other bands spearheaded a musical uprising with the nu-metal scene. Bearing in mind how music is more of an easily accessible, cleverly marketed commodity these days, do you think we are likely to be another musical uprising like that again?
Welch: You’re right. Music is so easily available these days. If you want an album or a song or whatever, you can just go and get it. The market is so huge and, even though there are so many good bands and so much easily accessible music around, I don’t know if could ever be like it was again.
Being over in the States, did you have any idea of the way it was going in the UK in terms of the popularity of that whole scene?
Welch: No. We’d played the UK a couple of times and it was okay, but it never really exploded straight away. We didn’t really know what was going on.
And here we are now in 2015, 37 million albums later. How would you sum up the last twenty years as it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride?
Welch: I would sum it up… Wow! It’s been a battle for sure. People go to war and they have victories, they have defeats, they have casualties. It’s been kinda like a mild war. We’ve had a lot of cool things happen but we’ve also lost a lot of cool friends like Paul Gray and Chi Cheng. We had my addiction problems, the whole band had addiction problems. All of our friends addiction problems and all that. It’s, well, yeah, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for sure. You nailed it on the head.
Your departure from the band and the reasons why were well documented. Coming back into the band, those temptations are still there. How challenging is it for you being around that, for example, when you’re out on the road?
Welch: Pretty simple for me because, the reasons I fell into those temptations in the first place was because I was young and I wanted to party. Isn’t that what everyone wants to do? I wanted to party and get high but once that high almost killed me and the addictions of trying to get high almost killed me, I went into that church and I just wanted to get sober. I asked Christ into my heart and I went home and the craziest thing happened to me. I went home and the spiritual world opened up to me and it was the biggest high ever. I learned how to go into the spirit and function and feel things. Now I don’t want any of those temptations because I’m satisfied in my heart, I’m satisfied with my life and now it’s about that relationship, my music, my brothers in the band and the fans. I’m focused on those things. I don’t need any of that other stuff. It’s not about me just going getting high after a show any more.
Watching the birthday videos on the internet from this tour, the bond between the band seems pretty strong again…
Welch: It’s really good right now. Everyone is in a really good place. Sure, it’s not perfect but it’s better than I’ve ever seen it and I’m thankful for that. Yes, it’s a rock n’ roll tour and people are getting high but they’re not ripping their lives apart any more. I don’t see that. It’s done out of having a good time instead of just to get annihilated every night.
Wasn’t that expected of rock bands though? Look at the era that preceded nu-metal where it was positively encouraged?
Welch: Right! They were selling that to us. It was part of growing up as well. Kids are kids. Kids are rebellious. You see it, you try it and unfortunately some people take it too far and they don’t make it.
Check out the song “Love & Meth” here.
You’ve talked about your experiences with drugs. How deeply involved in that world were you?
Welch: Oh, everything except heroin. Cocaine, meth-amphetamines, Vicodin, Xanex and everything else except heroin… oh and weed. I didn’t like weed. I just liked the uppers!
If you could give the younger version of you some advice bearing in mind what you’ve experienced over the last few years, what would you say?
Welch: I’d say the best high is when you go through the door to the spiritual realm through Christ. It’s the most healthiest high, it’s a real thing, definitely look for that. And don’t be an idiot.
Just to finish up then, twenty years down the line, what are your goals for the future?
Welch: I’d like to put out a heavier, more up-tempo record with Korn and tour it hitting all the spots but not tour it as heavily. Do the UK, do Europe, take time off, two tours in America. My kid is grown up now, the guys in the band have kids, it’s not about touring so heavily anymore. As for more personal goals, I want to go deeper into things of the spiritual realm and my goal is to be one of the happiest people on the planet. I wanna bring smiles to anybody that I can!