Korn (Contemporary Musicians)
Korn emerged in the mid-1990s at the forefront of a music genre dubbed "coldwave," a crossover between underground metal and industrial rock. Hailing from southern California, the members of Korn fused five various musical interests into their own distinct blend of fury. Although it took a year to catch on, their debut album and tour became a smashing success and firmly planted them on radio stations and in record stores worldwide.
Although the band did not have formal training, they created their music through instinct and democratic input. "We can't even read four bars of music, let alone play it in time," guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer told Aaron Johnston in Guitar Player. "It's more about exploration and finding new sounds than anything else. Not every creation has to start out with a riffometimes all it takes is a noise. It takes patience, but we respect each other's musicianship."
All of the members of Korn grew up in an agricultural town called Bakersfield, California, two hours north of Los Angeles. The place did have a history of spawning musicians, but they were classic country singers like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Bassist Fieldy and drummer David Silveria started playing together in high school. Fieldy's father used to play in a band with singer Jonathan Davis's father.
Before the formation of Korn, Shaffer, Fieldy, and Silveria played in a band called L.A.P.D., which released one album. They then disbanded and reformed as a band called Creep, in which guitarist Brian "Head" Welch joined them on stage for a few shows. Silveria also played for another rock band called Infectious Grooves. They had all moved closer to Los Angeles in California's Orange County.
One night, Welch and Silveria saw Jonathan Davis singing for a band called Sexart during a visit to Bakersfield. Within a month, they asked him to join the band and renamed it Korn. "I was into Duran Duran, Missing Persons, A Flock of Seagulls, that kind of vibe," Davis recalled to Chris Gill in Guitar World. "So when I joined this band, I had no clue what to do. I hadn't ever listened to heavy music. I just opened my mouth and hoped for the best."
Davis also listened to classical music and played the bagpipes. He not only brought his musical perspective to the band, but also his life experience. He grew up an abuse victim with a deeply troubled childhood. Before joining Korn, he worked as an autopsy assistant at the Kern County Coroner's office. And until the band went on its first tour, Davis had an addiction to drugs.
His experience at the coroner's office gave him a different perspective on life, death, and driving. One of the repercussions of the job was that Davis refused to get behind the wheel of a car. "I hate it. I've seen one too many dead people from cars," he explained to Daina Darzin in Spin. His autopsy work and his childhood gave him plenty of lyrical inspiration, and had an influence on the aggression of the band's sound as well. "The stuff I write is how I feel about things," Davis told Neil Aldis in Metal Hammer. "We're not trying to get political or anything; we just like to play our music and for people to relate to it."
In 1993 the members of Korn all moved to Huntington Beach, California, where they began to crystallize their sound and identity. By the next year, they had landed a record deal with Immortal/Epic Records and recorded their debut. The self-titled album Korn did not appeal to radio stations or people in the music industry at first. It took nearly a year to get their album off the ground. Finally, the first single, "Blind," and its follow-up, "Shoots and Ladders" began to get some exposure. Neil Aldis described his impression of Korn in Metal Hammer, "Throughout the 12 tracks, there is a constant deep, dark groove with a hypnotic sense of melody."
Most of the group's delayed popularity resulted from their more than 300 shows across the globe. They played with bands such as 311, Marilyn Manson, KMFDM, Danzig, Megadeth, House of Pain, and Ozzy Osbourne. "People need to see the show to get it, and if they don't get it the first time, they need to check it out again," Silveria told Carrie Borzillo in Billboard. "Obviously, our path to success will be longer than a band that is radio-friendly. Any band that is somewhat original takes longer."
On September 30, 1995, Korn became the first debut hardcore rock artists to reach the top of Billboard's Heatseekers chart since 1993. In July of the following year, they became the first band to conduct an interactive radio broadcast over the Internet. Korn could not be stopped and soon released another album.
Life Is Peachy hit the stores on October 15, 1996, and debuted at number three on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart. "I've matured more [lyrically]," Davis said to Daina Darzin in Spin. "I'm not crying about my childhood anymore. The first record was just, get [it all] out." Davis did write about his relationship with his former step-mother on "Kill You," but he also moved on to other topics, like how he felt about the band's success.
The popular tune "A.D.I.D.A.S.," which stood for "All Day I Dream About Sex," became the title track for their 1997 release A.D.I.D.A.S. Remixes. Two weeks later Korn followed up the record with a home video called Who Then Now? Korn's success on their first albums helped secure a renewal of their label's distribution deal with Epic Records in 1997, a relationship that promised to continue to support the band's goals. By the end of the year, they had also collaborated with the Dust Brothers on the film soundtrack for The Spawn.
In 1998, Korn released Follow the Leader, which rocketed to the number one spot on the Billboard 200 charts. It also sold more than three million copies. The hits from that album included "Got the Life" and "Freak on a Leash." The video for "Freak on a Leash" ended up winning both an MTV Video Music Award and a Grammy. That year, Korn and the band Limp Bizkit launched a highly successful festival tour called "The Family Values Tour."
With the release of Issues in 1999, Korn once again hit the number one spot, this time on the Pop Albums chart. That same year, Davis and the band established an independent label called Elementree. In 2003, Korn reunited with Limp Bizkit for the "XBox Live: Back 2 Basics Tour" to support their 2003 release, Take a Look in the Mirror. Even with the advent of bands with similar sounds, Korn stands out among the crowd with its consistently intense live performances and a wildly enthusiastic fan base. Davis explained to Larry Flick of Billboard what drives him to work as hard as he does: "You can make music you love, but getting out there and playing it for the kids is what gives the songs life. It's when you're out there that you see the result of your pain and work.That's [what] makes it worthwhile."
Korn, Immortal/Epic, 1994.
Life Is Peachy, Immortal/Epic, 1996.
A.D.I.D.A.S. Remixes, Immortal/Epic, 1997.
Follow the Leader, Immortal/Epic, 1998.
Issues, Immortal/Epic, 1999.
Untouchables, Immortal/Epic, 2002.
Take a Look in the Mirror, Immortal/Epic, 2003.
Billboard, October 14, 1995; April 19, 1997, May 4, 2002.
East Coast Rocker, January 1996.
Entertainment Weekly, October 25, 1996; March 28, 1997; December 12, 2003.
Guitar Player, March 1997.
Guitar World, March 1996.
Kerrang, August 1996.
LiveWire, July 1996.
Metal Hammer, December 1995.
People, July 8, 2002.
Spin, December 1996.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Epic Records press materials, 1997.
Sonya Shelton and
Eve M. B. Hermann