Dec 10, 2011

Most everyone remembers Korn, who stormed the scene with their innovative rock sound in the ’90s. Now they’re going dubstep, & frontman Jonathan Davis is leading the charge. Jonathan sat down with LT3 & gave us some interesting thoughts on the evolution of rock & EDM.

Korn - Narcissistic Cannibal [Roadrunner]
LessThan3: How did the idea of Korn doing a dubstep-influenced album first come into play? Was it one person in the band presenting the idea?
Jonathan: I’ve been DJing steadily for three years; I used to DJ when I was 16, so I’ve been a long time electronic fan. I was DJing electro house back in the day, but I started listening to dubstep about a year and a half ago. The first dubstep artist I heard was Excision, who is hands-down the guy who invented heavy dubstep, and I was blown away by it. Not too long after that, Skrillex dropped his EP and I loved all the mixture of genres. That’s when I brought two songs—one from Sonny and one from Excision—to the band and said “Hey guys, want to try to do an experiment? Let’s see if you can envision this sound being incorporated with Korn.” I played the music, their jaws dropped, and the rest is history.
LessThan3: So the reception was pretty favorable right away?
Jonathan: They just said, “Oh my god, what is this?” That same day I called Sonny (Skrillex) and asked him if he wanted to work with us and he said “f*ck yeah, man!” because he’s a huge Korn fan. He came down for a few days and we did three songs. We did Get Up in about three-and-a-half hours and then we knew it was going to work. Then we had Excision and Downlink come out, and we did three tracks with them. We thought that we would put out an EP but we were having so much fun making new art that we decided to turn it into a full album called The Path of Totality. We made a wish list of producers, and I got every single one.
LessThan3: Do you think you guys are the first of many rock bands to cross over or to incorporate dubstep or other electronic influences?
Jonathan: I don’t know if I’d say we were the first. I think bands have tried but no one has ever done it right. The only bands that have ever done rock and electronic right are The Prodigy and maybe Pendulum, but they’re a bit more drum’n’bass. We wanted to do something that was completely different, and I think that our version of heavy bass music came out that way.
LessThan3: Is there any other band you might envision going this route?
Jonathan: I can almost guarantee you that when this album comes out there are going to be other people trying to do it, like when our first album came out.
LessThan3: Was there something about your sound specifically that you think made it easy to transition to dubstep?
Jonathan: We were going through our catalog and realized we were doing dubstep before we knew what dubstep was. We tuned it down as far as we could go—it was always about the bass. We were playing seven-string guitars, we were doing 140 bpm half-tempo songs; we even did wobble bass on one song in 1999. When we did arenas, we used to take 120 subs to make people feel it and have it be bass-intensive. It was our version of dubstep, and that’s why it worked so well. That’s what we’ve been doing our whole career.
LessThan3: What kind of reaction do you anticipate from your crowd? There’s always a chance that when a band really changes their sound that their fanbase is going to be upset and stray away. Do you think this album you are making is going to attract a brand new group of people—maybe take some dubstep fans into the rock/dubstep mix?
Jonathan: I think with every album we’ve done we’ve lost and gained fans. You can’t make everybody happy. I respect every Korn fan and their passion. I think even when blogs say “I hate this stuff” it’s because they care about the band. We’ve always tried to pioneer different kinds of music. In ’94 we started nu metal and they called us the “godfathers of nu metal.” 19 years later we’re doing a hybrid of bass music and metal, so I think we’ll make new fans, but we still love ‘em all. When you’re pioneering, you need to take chances.
LessThan3: Is there anyone you would like to see remix one of your tracks? Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with who you haven’t yet?
Jonathan: Trent Reznor. I think the guy is a musical genius and I’d love to do something with him one day, just me and him. I’m going to try to do a song with Steve Aoki too since he’s one of my favorite electro artists. I love Turbulence and all the stuff he’s been doing. I have my alter ego Jay Devil, my DJ stuff, and it’s all hard electro. It’s all bass music, but electro tempo. We’re trying to put something out on Dim Mak, so the collaboration should work out.
LessThan3: At what point did you guys realize that you would now be in this new rave scene, and are you looking forward to it?
Jonathan: I love doing metal shows, but I also love doing my Jay Devil shows because I love the rave scene. It’s a dream come true to meld both together.
LessThan3: Have any other band members seen you spin or do they spin themselves?
Jonathan: Actually, no. When I came to the band nobody knew what electro or dubstep was. Monkey is actually also an electronic music head but he listens to other stuff—all kinds of stuff, MSTRKRFT, LCD Soundsystem, etc. I’m more into the harder sound. It’s really freaked me out being in the scene. Right after I played Webster Hall in New York and saw Nero for the first time, they came up to me and told me that they were huge fans. That freaked me out. This is Nero here, man! They’re really artists—the respect I get from the electronic crowd really freaks me out.
LessThan3: In the EDM world, artists just have a lot of respect for other artists. It’s a great thing for you guys to be a part of.
Jonathan: I love it. I love doing the raves. I did one in Detroit and I freaked out because Kraze opened up for me. I have Kraze opening up for me and then I played and then Bart B More closed—it was like “what is going on?!” I’m getting props from people who I thought would just be like “oh, this is a celebrity DJ thing,” but when I was done people mobbed me and gave me props and loved my set. I just want the respect from the electronic community. I don’t want people to think I’m a bandwagon jumper because I’ve really been in the scene a long time and know a lot about it. I picked Feed Me and Kill The Noise as producers on The Path of Totality because Kill The Noise was E1 and Feed Me was Spor and one of my favorite drum’n’bass labels is Lifted. I freak people out with my knowledge of music; I really listen to everything. When I started DJing I was taking to Kraze and I freaked him out because I DJ’d freestyle music—I love New York freestyle and Miami bass. I started singing him songs and he was like “how do you know this?” I was with Downlink and Datsik and I started playing some old jungle, and they were quite surprised. Yeah, I’m in Korn, but I really love this sh*t.
LessThan3: Switching topics—today’s label landscape is way different from when you first started. What do you think about the overall landscape for hot up-and-coming producers? What advice do you have for young producers?
Jonathan: Well we came from the old school with Epic. For our first record, they spent some money and took the time and really worked it. Most bands didn’t have a hit until their second or third record, and they took a chance with us—that’s just how it was back then. Now it seems that labels want bands that are disposable—they put out a hit and then they drop them and it’s on to the next one. In the dance world, it seems really cool that all these DJs have all these independent labels and there isn’t the pressure of getting on the radio and all that. There’s just a lot more freedom. I really like labels like Rottun and Dim Mak and mau5trap because it’s more about the music and less about trying to get a song on the radio. When I hang out with all these DJs, it’s amazing. They can go walk around the crowd and stuff, but when I’m with them we get mobbed. It’s just two totally different worlds—it’s crazy.
LessThan3: Are you trying to be able to stand in a crowd one day and not be mobbed?
Jonathan: No, I’m just past that. I’ve been in the business too long. When I was at Coachella we did a track with Skrillex and we came out on stage and the crowd freaked out. It was crazy because Usher was right there but nobody was caring about Usher. We came up and the crowd just mobbed out like crazy.
LessThan3: If the world were ending in LessThan3 minutes, and you had an iPod with every song ever made on it, what would you listen to?
Jonathan: I would listen to a song I wrote that was on my solo album that I haven’t put out yet—part of JDFSA. It’s kind of Peter Gabriel/David Bowie-esque; it’s all strings and some guitar and tablas. It’s a song about the end of the world called Final Days.
LessThan3: Describe your sound in LessThan3 words.
Jonathan: Intense, Emotional, Bass Music.
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