The Ibanez Guitars of Head, Fieldy & Munky.
Thirty seconds into listening to the new track, “Prey for Me,”
one thing is certain: Korn is back. For the first time in nearly a
decade, Brian “Head” Welch has reunited with fellow guitarist
James “Munky” Shaffer and bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu
to deliver that monstrous, dual-seven-string wall of guitars
and cutting, percussive bass that fans first fell in love with
almost 20 years ago—and release the band’s 11th studio
album, The Paradigm Shift.
The Korn sound is unmistakable—a unique blend of gorgeous consonance and hostile dissonance, spawned by the incredible relationship between Munky, Fieldy and Head. “We all got our strong points, you know? That’s what happens when we get together—it just clicks,” says Head, relaxing in the green room as the trio await their Guitar Center Sessions sound check at Guitar Center Hollywood. “[Munky] comes up with the weird stuff that I wouldn’t be able to— like, the Korn stuff, you know?” Munky jokes, “[Head]’s really great at writing choruses, and I’m really bad at it. I mean, it’s so much easier with him though, because he thinks of [the] more melodic side of things, and I think more of a rhythmic thing. And it’s kinda hard to split my brain … I have melodies within my rhythms, but he’s really good at pulling those and accentuating them.” Fieldy adds, “I feel like when Head was gone, that I was trying to write riffs all the time with [Munky]. I felt like I was trying to do more than my role. Now, I can just be me and do my annoying, clicky noise in the background—which I’m comfortable doing. I like playing my role.”
With the band’s latest album, The Paradigm Shift, that “Korn stuff ” that Head refers to is more present than ever, albeit in a more mature, evolved way. “I think on the new record we kind of tried to push ourselves into diff erent chord voicings because some of the stuff we were doing was sounding too old—like, old versions of what we used to do,” says Munky. “We tried to kind of bring something that was a little more current and something that was fresh, and so we actually scratched out a lot of songs or kind of dumped a lot of ideas that were too old-sounding—” Fieldy interjects, “Too typical for Korn. Too comfortable and typical—we could do that all day long.” Munky continues, “And our producer helped us get rid of a lot of that—Don Gilmore—on this record, he’d go, ‘Nope.’ Or he’d kind of move his hand [in a so-so way] and go, ‘Ehhhhhh,’” he laughs. “It’s his nice way of saying, ‘It sucks.’”
Since the band’s formation, Munky and Head have almost exclusively played seven-string Ibanez guitars, and Fieldy is most o en seen with his fi ve-string signature Ibanez bass. “I mean, [seven-string guitars just have] a more aggressive sound,” Munky says. “And you can reach that—just those four or five extra notes that kind of bridge between the bass and the guitar, there’s just that baritone area that we like. That kind of became our sound. By accident.” Fieldy adds, “[The guitars are] so low that it needs something to cut through.” He goes on to say, “I don’t like bass. There’s enough low end in the guitars for me.” Munky describes Fieldy’s playing, “One of my favorite things about his sound, the way he plays … he can play with his fingers and get a real fat, full sound out of a bass, or if he’s doing a percussive click thing, it goes into a different register, which is more of a midrange thing, and Head and I can fill in that low end with low chords … so it really compliments each other.” As Fieldy puts it, “I wouldn’t mind, like, if it didn’t cost money, to hire a bass player and let me be the percussion clicky [guy],” he laughs.
Korn and Ibanez have a long-standing relationship, and each of the three guitarists has certain needs and specifications for their respective instruments. “For me, it’s usually the neck—the way the neck feels,” says Munky. “’Cause we play seven-strings, sometimes guitars can get a really wide neck and it’s uncomfortable to play after five minutes. So, for me, it’s gotta be the thinness and the width of the neck. And then, sort of just like the durability of it, because the way we play is so aggressive.” Fieldy adds, “Live, I like [my bass to sound] like it’s cutting something … aggressive, clicky, nasty tone.” And as far as Head is concerned, “My guitars … it needs to stay in tune, ’cause I’ve had tuning issues in the past a lot. So what I did, when I left Korn, I started playing a baritone six-string RGD. And so, when I came back to Korn, I was like, ‘Hey Ibanez, I love these guitars I’m playing, can we make an RGD seven-string?’ So it’s like a baritone seven-string … I just loved everything about it.” Munky chimes in, “They made that guitar for him, and we used it on the record because it had such a clean, bitey sound—and they made it with a titanium bridge, that just [gives] it super clarity—” Head continues, “That’s what I was gonna say. We used it a lot on the record, it just—you know, you go in different studios and sometimes … there’s a guitar that shines, and we’re like, ‘Aaaaaah, that’s the one.’ And so, [the RGD] was the one this [time].”
Guitarists know that the guitar is only one piece of the tone puzzle, and for Korn, their amp selection has steadily expanded throughout the years. According to Munky, “Amps are tough, man. I mean, because of our tuning, and how we play with a lot of gain—actually we’ve been kind of rolling off the gain the last few years, just to get a little more clarity.” He goes on to say, “For so many years we’ve been using Mesa Boogies on the road. In the studio, it’s been Diezels and Bogner, and this time we used a Peavey 6505 … and then a Marshall, an old Plexi Marshall I have … so we change it up, it depends—and we combine three amps with different mics and combine ’em in the studio to come up with one tone. So I’m playing out of three completely separate amps with three different characteristics.” He adds, “But I love Marshall cabinets, I like Marshall with Greenback Celestions, that’s my favorite—” Head interjects, “Oh, those are so buttery.”
And just as the guys from Korn “change it up” with their gear, a similar sense of experimentation and exploration is what fueled the writing process for The Paradigm Shift. Munky explains, “We got to get into the rehearsal studio again—it was me, Fieldy, Brian, Ray—and start jamming … we just went days on end like that, just coming up with ideas, piecing things together—really not coming up with whole songs, just like, ‘Oh, this is a good verse and a good chorus, and let’s leave it like that and move on.’” Head adds, “Sometimes we’d have a bridge, and finish it out, and I would just Pro Tools it … I’d put the chorus on the end. Leave it for the producer. And then other times we’d be lazy and we’d [just record] verse, chorus, verse, chorus, pre-chorus, and then at the bridge, we’ll just stop … and so we just piled those, like, 25 ideas like that, and then we ended up with, like, 15 for the record. It was a good process, man. I love Pro Tools, man.” Munky adds, “It was fun because, also, we didn’t have a producer in there, we didn’t have anybody in the room with us, we were engineering everything ourselves … it was laid back, it was just a relaxing, fun atmosphere for us to be in. [There] was no pressure.”
One of Korn’s most successful albums was their 1998 release, Follow the Leader, which earned the band the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 2000 and has sold more than 14 million copies worldwide. According to Fieldy, The Paradigm Shift is reminiscent of that album. “I think it kind of takes you on a ride and reminds me of, like, Follow the Leader, how it kind of took you on a ride everywhere. ’Cause this has a flavor of everything—’cause people can hear the first single on the radio and assume that the Korn record’s like that, and it’s not … you’re gonna get a lot of everything on there. But the foundation of the whole album is solid, classic, current Korn.” Munky adds, “I think it’s something that fans have been waiting to hear from Korn in a long time, which is guitar-heavy riffs, melodies and just cool grooves—” Head chimes in, “Bangin’ Korn songs, yeah. [Fans are] gonna be happy with it.”
And for the fans out there inspired by Korn to take on the music industry, the band has this to offer, “Run away now, before it ruins your life,” jokes Head. Munky says, “I would say, do it for the love, and do it for no matter how big or small the paycheck is gonna be—if and when there’s a paycheck. Just do it for the love of it.” Fieldy adds, “You know what I’d say is— and I heard this [from] a famous tattoo artist, Cartoon … he’s all, ‘Hey homes, anybody can be an overnight success in 20 years.’” He goes on to say, “We done our roughin’ … it wasn’t an overnight success for us.” Munky adds, “I don’t think there is such a thing.”