Risks Pay Off For Korn On 'Unplugged'
Korn guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer succinctly describes fan reaction to the news that his band taped an MTV "Unplugged" session in December. "'What? Korn unplugged?' That doesn't really compute withKorn guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer succinctly describes fan reaction to the news that his band taped an MTV "Unplugged" session in December. "'What? Korn unplugged?' That doesn't really compute with people," he laughs.
Indeed. Korn's early catalog was the first music to put a scare into parents since the PMRC's '80s heyday. Its lyrics were saturated with a primal fury and despair that made you wonder about singer Jonathan Davis' psyche as he screamed like his innards were rupturing. Coupled with downtuned guitars and a menacing atmosphere, Korn's hits like "Blind" and "Freak on a Leash" could skewer top 40 songs on contact.
Korn drastically revamped its dark music for the "Unplugged" episode, which premieres Feb. 23 (an accompanying album is due March 6 via Virgin). Instead of "Blind" being a sinister call to arms, it now has a strong Latin flavor that's close to flamenco. And "Freak on a Leash" is led by a piano and cellos, with Evanescence's Amy Lee contributing guest vocals.
The idea evolved from Korn doing an acoustic Sessions @ AOL performance. While rehearsing for AOL, Munky says the band discovered "the song structures were good and the melodies and harmonies were still very good" when stripped of the heavy production heard in the original versions. "It almost breathed new life in these songs."
Munky says Korn never prepped for a gig like it did for this one, rehearsing for 10 hours at a stretch. "When [MTV] said we could do it, it was really exciting, because you think of the classics, like the Alice In Chains and Nirvana; the Cure did one, and Eric Clapton," he explains. "It was just an honor for them to want us to do it."
He says that 10 years ago Korn would never have considered such an endeavor. But "as creative people, we want to keep experimenting with different stuff and trying new things. It keeps our creative level interesting."
At first Korn was reluctant to do it, and Munky admits he was the most resistant, knowing the risk involved in possibly alienating fans. "I had a lot of fear about [that] handful of people that weren't gonna dig this, and I think I was just scared not to be behind the big amps and distortion pedals and effects," he recalls. "But after rehearsing a couple times, that just went away."
Munky says the band is finished writing its next album and is about halfway through recording it. Korn reteamed with Atticus Ross and the Matrix, who co-produced Korn's the band's last studio album, 2005's "See You on the Other Side"; Ross' brother Leo has also joined the team. Asked to compare this album to "Other Side," Munky says it's "pretty close to the same lines, but I think it's more refined. It's a more electronic feel."
The band wants to finish recording by March 15 so it can release the album in late June or early July. This would dovetail with Korn's European tour dates that have been announced for the beginning of June.
However, Korn drummer David Silveria is still on hiatus, which Munky attributes to needing a break from the grind of working a record. Temporary replacement Terry Bozzio has helped co-write Korn's new album. Since guitarist Brian "Head" Welch left the band in 2005, Korn has performed live with a second guitarist offstage handling Welch's parts. But Munky says Bozzio will be onstage with the band during the next tour.
"If he was like a backup drummer, I don't know how much we'd have him onstage," he says. "But Terry Bozzio, he's a legend. He's such a phenomenal drummer. And that's something you have to do, because you have to have the drummer visible. To watch him play is unbelievable."
In between his Korn commitments, Munky has been working on his own record label, Emotional Syphon Recordings, since last July. So far he has signed two bands, Monster In The Machine and Droid, and plans on putting together an eclectic roster. (Navarre is handling distribution.) He hopes to release both albums in early June, and that "in 10 years I'll have 40 bands on the roster. That's my goal."
"I want to develop artists. I want to kind of pay back what was given to me," he says of starting the label.