Korn’s spot as a headliner on this year’s Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival tour is appropriate, as there was a considerable amount of mayhem — both sonically and emotionally — in the making of its new album.
Frontman Jonathan Davis says “Korn III — Remember Who You Are,” which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart after its mid-July release, was charged in ways both good and bad, and that even the latter helped bring the album to a place that made the band proud.
“We wanted to recapture the original vibe of those early Korn records, the first two records,” Davis, 39, explains citing 1994’s “Korn” and 1996’s “Life is Peachy.” The group has gone on to sell more than 35 million albums worldwide and win two Grammy Awards.
“We didn’t want to copy those records,” Davis adds. “It was just about the vibe and the way we recorded them and how we did things then. It was a lot simpler.”
And, he adds, getting back into that mindset was “pretty easy. It was like riding a bicycle.” The first thing Korn did was recruit Ross Robinson, who produced those other albums, to work on “Korn III.” Robinson took the quartet into a relatively tiny studio dubbed The Catbox, where Davis says the group members were literally “right on top of each other.”
“We were crammed in there, that’s for sure,” the singer recalls. “(Amplifier) headstocks were hanging over cymbals, and I was hanging right over Ross in this teeny little room. But doing that got us into a vibe ’cause we could feed off each other. We could see what everyone was playing.
“It was amazing to do that again, ’cause it had been awhile since we wrote and recorded like that as a band.”
Korn also made a decision to go old school in recording to tape rather than to computer and do away with the experimentation of its recent albums, particularly its untitled 2007 release.
“We stripped away all the technology, the bull ... no vocal tuning or anything,” Davis explains. “It’s just a simple Korn record ... with just drums, bass, guitar, me. It was like a breath of fresh air. The more we wrote and then started tracking the songs, the more we remembered how much better it is, and ‘What the ... were we thinking before?
“That’s the only way we’ll make albums anymore, with Ross or anybody else.”
Working with Robinson might present a conundrum for Davis. As much as he loves the finished product, making “Korn III” was “sheer ... torture and hell” for the singer, primarily due to Robinson. According to Davis, the producer dug deep into his angst-filled lyrics, forcing him to confront his demons and at one point even having Davis sing one track with his wife looking on in the studio.
“I’d come in with some lyrics,” Davis recalls, “and we’d go through them line by line and talk about everything that was behind them, and (Robinson) would really want to get inside them. And once I’d get in there and start to sing he would use those things against me, like pouring salt on the wound.
“He got into my head and took me to a very bad place. I relapsed into ... depression, hard. I got suicidal. I even had my psychiatrist (angered), wanting to call (Robinson) and say, ‘What are you doing to this poor kid?’ It was getting bad when the doctor started to get involved.”
Noting that Robinson also played mind games with drummer Ray Luzier, Davis says he didn’t talk to Robinson “for a long time” after the album was recorded. “But I called him up and said ‘thank you,’ because he did what he had to do to get this record right,” he concedes. “I knew it was necessary, but it was hell.”
The group is having a more relaxed time on the road with the Mayhem tour, unveiling what Davis calls “an amazing stage set” designed to look like an oil field in a nod to “Korn III’s” first single, “Oildale (Leave Me Alone).” The irony is that Davis is also leading a boycott against the BP oil company by touring rock bands in retaliation for the company’s handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in April.
“I’ve always hated bands that mixed politics and music, but we felt like we needed to do something in this case,” Davis explains. “It was just us on board when we first started, and I think Backstreet (Boys) hopped on and I was kind of taken aback and thought that was cool. It’s basically let’s try to send a message out to this company — all the companies — ‘cause anyone who’s touring buys a lot of gas, so we can really make a dent.
“Other people say, ‘Why don’t you do a benefit concert?’ Those things don’t really make that much money. This is an easier way to do something about it. It’s as simple as not buying their products.”
Korn performs as part of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, taking place at 2:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Other acts include Rob Zombie, Lamb of God, Five Finger Death Punch, Hatebreed, Chimaira, Shadows Fall, Atreyu, Norma Jean, In This Moment, 3 Inches of Blood, Wings of Plague and the Metal Mulisha freestyle motocross team. Tickets are $59.50 and $39.50 pavilion, $25 lawn with a $79 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to