Korn’s Brian ‘Head’ Welch Talks 20th Anniversary Tour, Reflects on Self-Titled Album
Korn have paid tribute to the 20th anniversary of their self-titled debut album at a handful of shows over the past year, but the group is getting ready to play a leg of dates that will find them playing the disc in its entirety through the full run. Loudwire had a chance to speak with Korn guitarist Brian "Head" Welch about the tour and we also got his recollections from the era in which they recorded the groundbreaking album. Check out the chat below.
It's very cool that your doing this 20th anniversary tour celebrating the first album. As a musician, what's your approach on this?
We've been playing the album a few times this year and it's gone over so well. A lot of the s--t is just real fun. Some of the songs are real dark, you know, but just a lot of them are really fun. Lyrically, they're pretty intense, there's a lot of sub-genre going through. As far as musically and the energy and breakdowns and the dynamics of them getting quiet and loud, the crowd just goes nuts, especially in like the first six or seven songs, it's just "go-go-go," so we just wanted to do and it take it around the country before we called it a day.
What songs are standing out to you from the self-titled disc that you're getting a chance to play?
Wow, I can just name the first few, because you know it all goes by just so fast playing them. I mean "Blind," "Balled Tongue," "Divine," "Faget," "Clown" and then "Shoots" ... like all the "Shoots and Ladders," I'm like, "Is that ten minutes?" but it's like forty minutes passed up.
This album has been so influential over the years. Did you have any idea when you were working on it that it would become what it has to meant to so many different people?
No way man. We signed through a hip-hop label that had House of Pain and they had some other hip-hop artist, but we were like the only rock band on there. So we were like, "Cool! Indie label, we've been signed, maybe we'll sell off a few thousand, and if it goes big maybe we'll do like a couple hundred thousand." Even the owner of the label got mad at us about something that we did, I forget what we did, but we always did something to piss people off; but he took us into his office and yelled at us and said, "You'd guys will be lucky if you sell 90,000 records," and we're like, "Cool, that's a lot you know." He's like, "You don't have melody, you don't have nothing," and he just kept yelling at us, and I was like, "Why'd you sign us if you don't believe in us and we don't have melody and all that?" So it was really crazy, and we had no idea, but if you asked a couple of the other guys they'd probably say something different. But for me, and for most of us in the band, we had no clue that you could get that big off just a little hip-hop label.
I forgot the fact that a lot of your early shows were you guys playing with House of Pain, Biohazard and playing some free shows right off the bat. Any recollections of those shows and what it was like to get out there with such a mixed audience?
They stuck us in where like they could, there like, "Okay, Korn... hip-hop", and there are some hip-hop elements, but when you listen to the music you don't hear hip-hop, you hear just "hard" whatever, mixed with like Trent Reznor vibe which mixes with all kinds of stuff you know. So, our first show after our record debut was with No Doubt and then we hit the road and on the way to House of Pain tour we stopped and played with Sick Of It All, and then we played with Bad Religion, and then we ended up on tour with Biohazard and House of Pain, so quite a wide range just right there.
We were liking that, especially even the alternative type people that would show up, like Sublime even, and we like that type of alternative thing that was going on. So they gave us the Megadeth tour after that. I think it was Danzig and Marilyn Manson, so that kind of alternative vibe, but we were loving it you know because it was growing. And then they offered us Megadeth, and we just like, "Nah, we don't want to do it because... we respect Dave and Megadeth and everything but we just wanted to grow in our alternative direction." We ended up saying yes to the management and we took the tour and just got a lot bigger after that tour. After then, Ozzy offered offered us a tour at his arena tour and that was it. That's when it just went passed five-hundred-thousand units, and off we were.
Reflecting on the making of this album, I know you had some experience with Ross Robinson prior to the album but what made him the right guy to guide you through the process?
It's funny, I was talking to Munky the other day and he thinks that Ross was recording WASP back then, and so he was working with Blackie [Lawless] and whoever else he had in the band, and so he was working this studio and then after they were done recording he called us, and said, "You can come into the studio and we can record." So he really put in his hours and all his power and his gear and all of everything and even put his neck out on the line a little bit trying not to get in trouble for stuff like that. He did that so when the time came it was just [easy].
He was a big part of the sound and really showing us how to use the guitar to create the song. We weren't doing any solos, so he was showing us how to do stuff with melodies with the guitars instead of just going [mimics heavy noises] you know. A lot of the other bands were doing that and we were going away from that so yeah. He was a Cure fan and so he had a lot to give in ear and heart for the melodies. It was a dark vibe to Korn. We had some cool sounds, pretty melodies and dark riffs and stuff like that, and he was a big influence on me in regarding that, and that's been a big part of my career for like the last 20 years.
During a portion of recording, you guys all lived in a house together in Huntington Beach. What do you remember from that time? Did each of the band members fall into certain roles within the household while you were living together?
[laughs] I lived in the closet in the front room. It was officially called "an office" but you couldn't fit a desk or anything in there. I found the smallest mattress you could and threw it on the floor and there was like a foot all around it where I could walk and that was it, that was it. I put a stereo and a guitar in there. I stayed there. I think this guy Danny, he was the guy that cleaned up all the time and vacuumed. He wasn't in the band, so he liked doing it I think. We argued about dishes a lot because they piled up all the time. I remember, under the kitchen sink there was a hole where the pipes went down and this possum would come up from the hole and we'd freak out, [laughs] -- that was trippy.
It was just a bunch of, like, dirty dudes who didn't really clean up and we'd argue about who would clean up. I would say David, our drummer, was the cleanest. He had the master bedroom and he would be all neat. He had a safe in there, he had money to buy nice stuff. He put a lock on the door and no one was allowed to go in there. [laughs]
"Blind" is obviously a huge hit for you guys. It was a song that introduced a lot of people to the band, but I know that song had a little bit of a life before Korn even came about. Can you talk about what it was like to see that song evolve to what we all now know and love?
When we first heard it, we were like, well we love the vocals man. Everything else we didn't like. It had a groove but it was a lot slower. You can hear it on YouTube I think but it didn't sound like a song that could go anywhere, but the vocals were cool [sings]. All that stuff was just like, it had a stamp on it of uniqueness. I loved that. When we started writing the song it was all on the lower registered seven string, using the low B string a lot. We played it again and were just like, we said, "Who wrote that song?" Jonathan said he did. He told us he wrote it, so that was it. We were like, "You wrote it, let's do it. Let's try it."
We tried it on the low strings and it was banging. We were like, the crowd would be like, bah bah! We changed all the chorus, we took it out and changed it. We let that riff, I think it was the A string before. [sings] - so we changed it to the low B and kept that riff. Everything else pretty much changed, if I remember correctly. It was a great introduction to Korn's career. It was like, "Are you ready?" Because, here we come and you're not going to be able to get rid of us for decades. [laughs]
When you think of putting together songs, you think guitar, bass, drums, vocals. But what was your first impression the first time bagpipes came into the picture on "Shoots and Ladders"?
Oh dude, I was all for it. Any singer in a rock band that walks out with bagpipes and you're just going [sings] over bagpipes? It was like a gimmick. Gene Simmons had the fire, we had the bagpipe guy with the twisted nursery rhyme lyrics. I don't know what it means, but it's awesome.
Off this album, thinking back, what was the song that was the most difficult to finally nail down and bring it through to its fruition?
Oh crazy. I mean, let me tell you the easiest then the hardest. The easiest was, we were just out with Metallica. We were out in Rio with them last week and I was talking to Robert the bass player and he actually helped us put together our song "Divine." He helped us structure it, he helped us write it. He structured the song with us. So that came together easy. The hardest one, they kind of all ... I might want to say "Daddy" because we had two or three different versions of "Daddy" before it ended up on the album. Then, just seeing Jonathan wig out and cry and the end of that when we were recording, while it was happening, was a trip. You can hear it, if you listen closely, I do a laugh because I thought it was an act. They were like, "Dude, this is real." I was like, "Oh." I was tripping.
I know David Silveria has been out there and has been vocal about his disappointment and not getting his chance to be a part of this. Just wanted to get your thoughts on what David brought to the album and your thoughts on his not being part of this tour.
First of all, I love David. I've got nothing but positive vibes for him. They had their issues with David for years. After I left or the next year he left. They told him to take a break and he never called back. He started calling back about three years ago and wanted to do a reunion thing. He asked me and I said I didn't want to do it because at the time I didn't want to do it. But after I got on stage with them, it was just like, "Whoah, I think I should do this. This is meant to be." But Jonathan and David, they have some things that they haven't worked out and so, I just stayed out of it.
But I've got nothing but respect for him and that first album was awesome. It was the closest we were at the beginning of Korn. We were in a studio with Ross, writing songs together. It seemed like some of the members on the next few albums after that were a little distant, not as hungry to throw all they had into it, but that time was a great experience.
I know you guys are getting a chance to play Knotfest. What are your thoughts on playing Slipknot's festival.
Yeah, dude. We couldn't do it the year before, I don't know, a schedule thing. It's so cool. Slipknot was coming out and I remember Korn had some kind of [beef]. We were fans of Slipknot but then Corey and the drummer and then it was kind of bad blood there a little bit. When I left, they played a few shows in Europe with them but I never got to know them. So when I left, all the guys got closer to Slipknot. So, I felt like I missed out on that so when we got the tour last year, I was stoked. We got to hang with all of the band. I don't know, we've got a lot in common with those guys. Just being able to go back out with them, play Knotfest and all the other great bands, I'm stoked. It has a cool place in my heart, just because I missed so much when I was gone. I'm looking forward to it. And Corey is doing Ozzfest with us in Japan in November, so that'll be awesome. Good times!
Our thanks to Korn's Brian "Head" Welch for the interview. Look for the band celebrating the 20th anniversary of their self-titled release at these stops. If you don't own Korn's self-titled album, you can pick up the classic release at both Amazon and iTunes.
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