Korn is on the road and rocks the Spokane Arena on Wednesday. The rock genre has been through many changes through the years. Grunge started in 1988 courtesy of Seattle-based Nirvana, and nü metal kicked off in 1994 courtesy of Korn, a five-piece band from Bakersfield, California. It’s a small city encompassed by rural farms and sentiment, not unlike Spokane.
Best-known for hits like “Freak on a Leash,” “Blind” and Grammy-winner “Here to Stay,” the band is notorious for its down-tuned, distorted seven-string guitars, slap bass, funky drum patterns, dark lyrical content and, of course, dreadlocks.
Like any other band to kick-start a successful subgenre, nü metal’s commercial appeal was a happy accident. The sound is a blend of hard rock, electronic and hip-hop influences and came to define the late ’90s and early aughts.
The subgenre reached saturation point when Korn became flanked by other renowned acts such as Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and System of a Down. By 2003, nü metal had lost its once-firm grip on MTV and airwaves – but where did the bands go after that?
It’s a common story: Musicians either play it safe by creating tunes in the same style or risk it all by changing their sound completely. Korn has managed to straddle the fence, releasing records akin to their earlier style such as 2016’s “Serenity of Suffering,” while dropping experimental albums like 2011’s “The Path of Totality,” a collaborative effort featuring prominent EDM artists including Skrillex and Excision.
The band “isn’t afraid to take a left turn and try something completely different,” Korn drummer Ray Luzier said during a phone interview on Friday morning. “With bands like Iron Maiden and AC/DC, a new record is going to sound like the last five, and that’s OK, but Korn takes big turns.”
The band is touring the West and Midwest with prominent stadium-rockers Breaking Benjamin and all-female band Bones U.K. Jasen Rauch, lead guitarist for Breaking Benjamin, can be found in the songwriting credits for a handful of Korn songs, but Luzier chalks that up to coincidence and not a reason for the tour.
“As many years as we’ve been touring, you get to know people in bands. We’ve been fans of them, and they’ve been fans of us for many years,” Luzier said. “The business is pretty small out here.”
The winter tour is part of Korn’s efforts to promote their latest album, “The Nothing.” Singer-songwriter Jonathan Davis has never shied away from painful and vulnerable lyrics, often delving into past traumatic experiences. A firm believer in the paranormal, “The Nothing” describes a dark presence haunting Davis’ life inspired by the accidental-overdose death of his estranged wife in 2018. His mother died that same year.
“Usually, something like that would devastate a person, and they have to go away for a year or two – whatever it takes to mourn and heal,” Luzier said. “In Davis’ eyes, the music is his savior. He has to perform, or he’ll go completely nuts. Some people need to be around what they love to do.”
Korn’s 13th studio album, “The Nothing” is their most critically praised record to date. The album has an 83/100 rating on Metacritic, denoting “universal acclaim.” It peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 album charts. For comparison, the band pulled the No. 1 spot with 1998’s “Follow the Leader” and 1999’s “Issues.”
“Rock records don’t sell the way they used to,” Luzier said. “The music we work so hard on is given away now, which still blows my mind. It’s weird when you work for 4 months on a record, it’s only $10, and someone just takes it.”
Regarding the changing music industry, Luzier said, “In rock, if you’re not out here playing and selling merchandise, you’re not really supporting your family. You have to conform to [the industry]. Korn’s not going to set the rules.”
“It sucks that the rock world has suffered a bit, but the genre’s on a whole new level right now,” Luzier said, referring to live performances. “Winter tours are always harder to pull tickets for, but this one has been going really well. The attendance has been really good.”
With 13 studio albums and more than 170 songs, Korn has a plethora of material to pull from for live shows. “When you play the same songs night after night, you have to understand some people in these respective towns have never seen the old hits,” Luzier said.
“But we skipped a bunch of records on this tour. We’re talking about doing a medley again – there’s so many songs we’re blowing over. The set we have together right now is very in your face.”
Stage production is rarely the main focus point for rock performances, but he described an elaborate setup for this tour. “We have mirrored walls that move, project video screens and do lights,” Luzier said. “Some of my friends who come out to see us want to watch side stage, and I’m telling them, ‘Don’t even think about it for this tour.’ Watching from the front is an experience.”
More than 26 years into their career, the now-middle-aged rockers are still brewing up new ideas. The latest surprise is Korn Koffee, a coffee blend concocted by band members and Jeremy Gursey of J. Gursey Coffee Roasters in Las Vegas.
“The Korn logo is such an iconic thing, the ‘K’ sticks out like a Nike swoosh to me,” Luzier said. “But we didn’t just put some beans together, saying, ‘Let’s put this out to be funny.’ I’m really proud of what we did because a lot of thought went into it. The ultimate goal is to get the blends in stores, but right now people can get some at our shows and online at our web store.”
After the conclusion of their winter tour on March 1, Korn is set to tour several international rock festivals before kicking off a tour in August with Faith No More, Helmet, Scars on Broadway, Spotlights and ’68. The rockers will return to Washington on Aug. 11 at White River Amphitheatre in Auburn.
“(Korn guitarist) James “Munky” Shaffer said if it weren’t for Faith No More, Korn wouldn’t exist,” Luzier said. “Our guitar tech used to work for that band back in the day. There’ll be a lot of familiar faces – it’ll be a real special tour.”
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