The limitations of social trends will never let up on popular music or the artists that have been able to navigate a successful career. Critical response is relentless- now more apparent that social trends have bled into social media, with the haters rarely coming up for air. Throw in a little adversity and this already turbulent thrill-ride is bound to collide into any number of obstacles.
The band Korn knows all too well. The group released a maelstrom of fury with their 1994 self-titled release and the music industry responsible for pushing dollars and not faders quickly scampered to find new ways to market the sound, even labeling a new genre. The accolades, instant fan-base and copy-cat bands would follow in less time than you can mutate the word New to Nu. And you thought Grunge sounded ridiculous.
Over the next decade, Korn found mainstream success (including two Grammy awards) and discovered, like so many other bands, that the bottom falls out when you least expect it. With the departure of guitarist Brian “Head” Welch and the sabbatical of drummer David Silveria that devolved into a farewell, the band returned to their roots as a four piece with the ballistic Remember Who You Are in 2010 and 2011’s The Path of Totality. That release, while not a shift into completely new territory, was enough of a stretch for some fans, as it found them leaning towards the electronic and previously subversive ‘Dubstep’ genre. But as bassist Fieldy exclaims: “We’re constantly jumping outside of the box and doing something new, and it seems like it’s always making some people mad, but it’s a small percent that are mad. You have to look at the masses- we’re always trying something new, and we’re just as scared as the fans, but we do it because its fresh… we give people new flavors.”
Fieldy believes it’s important as an artist to continually step outside of the neatly packaged box that most bands desperately cling too- not to mention all the preconceived notions that limit the average music listener. There’s no conformity when you’re doing what you love and sharing that love with an ever changing audience; while subsequently attaching new generations of young fans.
Most bands with any foresight know that there is no bigger risk to their own longevity than being stagnant and not progressing. With the travails of complacency bypassed– Fieldy maintains his raw, percussive approach on the bass that has since become his instantly recognizable trademark. And it’s no idle approach as he states “We got to keep moving on as artists… it makes it exciting for us”. Their newest release The Paradigm Shift has all the terrorizing low end guitar of previous releases, and remains unapologetic; sounding monolithic even in the sparse, melodic moments- while never sounding forced. Tracks like “Prey for Me”, “Mass Hysteria” and “Punishment Time” unhinge the listener’s expectations. The songs remain fresh while allowing many happy returns.
It’s an album that Korn fans have longed for, even those who don’t know what’s about to hit them.
As Korn embark on a tour to support the release, Fieldy opened up to me on the origins of his unique style, the return of Brian “Head” Welch on guitar and the curious case of a 15-string oddity.
So what’s happening with you?
Well, I’m hanging out at home- we leave next Tuesday to start the tour.
In Philly, right?
So the new album sees the return of Brian “Head” Welch on guitar, and of course you have Ray (Luzier) on drums, and this will be his third album with you—there must have been a lot of chemistry and excitement in the air?
It was exactly that. We realized when Head left just how much chemistry was gone. When he came back it was like “oh, there it is!” It was amazing, almost like family members when you don’t see them all year or even years and you see them at Christmas and just pick up where you left off.
Did you guys get together and jam on material or was some of it worked out ahead of time?
We all decided to meet at the studio, so we could jam and Head said “I’ve been gone for eight years, so I have some riffs, because I wanted to bring something to the table”. So he got it started with a few riffs and then (Korn guitarist) Munky started bouncing off of it, and they we’re doing their left and right thing and it reminded me of back in the day when I could sit and listen. And I could listen for the holes and then come in on the bass and shine, doing my clicks and pulling and slapping. I was able to be me again, where before when Head left I had to take the role of writing riffs and I’m not really a riff guy, I’m more of a percussion style bassist filling in the holes.
Was that how you developed your style originally, with both Head and Munky exchanging guitar parts and you filling in the gaps?
It was fun listening to those two bouncing back and forth- it was exciting, more than just listening to a single riff. So I find myself listening until I can find a good spot where I can jump in. I don’t really learn the riff until later and a lot of times I don’t learn the riff and I make up my own thing. I find the root note and work something around it.
The style that you developed is unique, with the usage of the thumb and alternating that with strumming. How did you develop that?
Well, if the drummer’s hitting a beat on the kick drum, I’ll go against that and I don’t follow it and I’m filling in where the drums leave room for me. A lot of bass players stay with the kick drum and I go off of it almost like I’m a percussion style player.
When David left the band and Ray joined, was there period of getting to know each other? They’re two very different styles of drummers.
Ray came when it was me and Munky and it was following a lot of riffs. And then when Head returned I was going against him.
Who were some of your early influences? I know that Flea was someone who inspired you early on.
Well of course, Les Claypool was another one, but I wouldn’t say just bass players. I listened to a lot of heavy music and I wanted to know how I could fit this in with the Les Claypool/Flea style bass playing, and that’s what it became: playing music and slapping but not being funky. Maybe a little funky, but it’s more like a ‘swing’– like a fine line.
And I know you were a fan of Faith No More?
Yeah, and that’s the fine line, but they were pulling it off, you know? That kind of inspired me to do it, because here’s a heavy band, but it’s not funk.
Listening to “Pop a Pill” from Remember Who You Are, I’m reminded of something like “Woodpeckers from Mars” (from Faith No More’s The Real Thing), where there’s a thumb groove and popping but it’s not funk, and it’s hard to figure out what he’s doing, much like your style.
It’s an amazing chemistry and what I trip out on is that he uses a pick a lot of the time and still sounds like he’s slapping?!
You also have a similar tone to that record because the high end is so prominent. And it’s a lot more intricate than it reveals to the casual listener.
It’s pleasing to my ear… and harder to figure out that way, but I like people to have to fight to hear it.
You use a lot of muted strings and dead notes with both your left and right hands. Is that something that took a while to work out and why do you think it’s important for the rhythm of the song, instead of just playing a lot of notes?
I guess sometimes it’s just how I felt– sometimes it would be a mute or a strum from the back of my hand, like all four of my fingers. And sometimes it’s a pull too; they all have a different flavor to them. If I’m muting and pulling, I’m rarely pulling one string. I’m using all four of my fingers and pulling all strings at once and muting (with the left hand). You get a thicker sound.
Were there any jazz influences you had when you were younger?
I really went through a heavy phase of listening to Stanley Clarke for a lot of years. I just got into that for a while, but not really big into anything else, ’cause I like what I heard but I was very selective. Blending the two: a funk bass player and heavy music.
Let’s talk drummers. You’ve played with Ray for three albums now, and I’m pretty sure the guy has four arms; you just can only see two of them. How important is it to know (from a technical standpoint), what the drummers doing, where the kick is and how he transitions between different parts of the song?
You have to realize where you are and that you’re not getting in the way. You don’t want to get in the way of him shining and so I gotta know when he’s transitioning and that’s not really where I’m gonna go. If he’s going from a fill into a chorus and I try and go with him it clutters it up, for me at least. Some people like it, but I don’t. They’ll be other areas for me to shine. Another important thing for me is having that ‘swing’, you know? Something that makes your head ‘bounce’– and if it’s not doing that I need to keep working on it until I feel that.
And the hip-hop influence plays into that?
Yeah, for sure.
I want to talk gear and for as long as I have seen you performing you’ve always used the Ibanez Soundgear. What is it that still draws you to that particular bass?
When I first got one– I bought it obviously, and I worked in some one million degree shed all summer cleaning burlap bags and I saved my money all summer and bought a Soundgear. I remember walking into the music store and looked up at it and it was the smallest bass there, and at the time I thought I could be quicker on it. Today I don’t really care about that (chuckle), but it kind of sold me on it. Then when I got it I was surprised at how “clicky” it was and they told me it had active pick-ups, and I was just sold right there—I didn’t even try something else. I loved it.
Did you get a five string after that?
Yeah, right after that. I had a four string and then I found out there was a five string with the lower string. I was already listening to heavy music and I wanted to make it heavier, so I picked up the five string.
Do you still cut the mid-range when you play?
It’s a little more EQ’d these days. If it was just me I would, but I’m trying to feel the vibe of the whole band, and making sure that everybody’s getting what they need.
The K5 is your signature bass with Ibanez. I saw your pearl white version of that and it’s beautiful.
Yeah, I’m trying to get them to make that one part of the signature line, but I had them make the neck white too and they can’t figure out how to mass produce it. I think they should work that out because it’s a totally unique bass.
Yeah, it’s called the K15 and it’s amazing looking! I did use it on a bass album I’m working on called Bassically. And I played it on 2 or 3 tracks from the new Korn album. It just sounds massive.
Are you able to play finger-style or do you use a pick?
You know, on the K15 I did use a pick, it just sounded better. You just get that clean, crazy sound– almost like a twelve string guitar but with the bass in there.
The solo thing you’re doing– is that just you or are there other artists joining in?
No, it’s just me and I ended up recording twenty songs and it takes you on a musical ride. I wanted to show every flavor: jazz, fusion, funk, latin, blues, reggae– so every song is a different style. There’s lead bass on it and multiple bass tracks.
And you use a fretless too?
Yeah, I use a fretless, I use a stand-up bass, whatever kind of bass I could get my hands on.
Are the 10″ cones are still your preference as far as speakers go, and what about amplification?
For me, honestly, I like the Mesa Boogie 2000 heads, and as far as cabinets go, I can use anything that has four 10’s in it, but even to this day I’m still kind of open because I don’t even know. I like four 10’s as long as there is a horn in it, but I’m kind of torn because a few times I’ve used sixteen 10’s, where it’s a solid cabinet, and I like that but bass is such a tricky thing. Sometimes it sounds good in a room and you take it somewhere else and it doesn’t. I just know that I definitely have to have that horn in the middle because it gives me that click and that percussion style sound.
Have you incorporated 15 inch speakers in the past just to see what they’re like?
Yeah, I’ve tried 12’s and 15’s in the past- they just don’t seem to have that “punch” to it.
As far as strings, I saw a very colorful set on one of your Soundgear basses. Are those DR’s?
Yeah, I really like them because they just fit my character. My bass tech will just come in, and he won’t even ask me what color– he’ll just see what kind of outfit I’m wearing that night and just match it. [laughs]
In the past you’ve used envelope filters, tremolo and flangers. What are you currently using for pedals and effects, and what did you use on the new record?
I really just went back to running the tone of my bass, because Korn, being current with the times, is using a lot of electronic stuff– so there’s already a lot of those sounds’ going on. I don’t want to get in the way, and that gives me more room to shine and do my tricks & clicks.
So it’s more to add color to certain songs?
And now, I don’t have to always play that role, because (Korn singer) Jon likes to bring in the electronics and if I’m doing that, I’m not giving him the opportunity to put those type of things in there, so I just kind of leave it open. It’s a team you know, we got to be a team and let all the players jump in.
I know you had a close relationship with Chi from The Deftones, and he passed away earlier this year which left a lot of fans and fellow musicians deeply saddened, as it seemed he was maybe coming around. What legacy did he leave behind as a bassist?
As far as a bass player, I would say he was definitely a solid groove player. You know, he just had something there– a style, that just worked with The Deftones. It was good and he was a great performer. That’s what I like a lot… it’s a package deal, and I like watching performers and someone who can jump in. When he was playing with (Deftones drummer) Abe, there was a swing in there; and I’m really attracted to that.
And what of your legacy– you and the band seem stronger than ever?
Just so people hear what I’m doing and really get that- maybe it’ll inspire more bass players that you can have a little more fun than just following your guitar player and drums. You can jump out of the box more and fill in those holes and you probably heard from a million bassists that “less is more”, and when you do less, it really is more.
I have a nine year old who, in a few years will get home from school and tell me all about this “new” band Korn that he’s into; and I’ll go over to my CD rack and pull out my tattered and worn out copy of “Life is Peachy” from my earlier days. He’ll think his dad is cool—but your music really is crossing generations. Why do you think your music is capable of crossing into each new generation?
I guess with Korn we’re constantly doing something new and it may make a few people mad… but we do it because we know it’s fresh and new. We’re not completely jumping out of the box. We may give you a couple new flavors but the masses typically find that’s what they want.
And everybody expects Metallica to do Master of Puppets over and over again.
And you see, that’s why bands like that are still around. Not all the ‘old school’ fans will be liking the new stuff, but they’re still rocking the old stuff and going to the concerts, so it doesn’t matter… We gotta keep moving on as artists, because it’s exciting to us.
The tour starts next start next week? And that includes a date of The Family Values show?
It’s one show in Denver- we’re doing the Family Values and it’s one show but it’s gonna be a big production, so if you can go—you definitely want to be there! I don’t care where you’re traveling from, it’s going to sell out– so get there.
The Paradigm Shift is out then on October 8th?
Yeah, the record releases on the 8th.
Is the K15 going to be unleashed for this tour?
The message boards are full of people desperate to own that bass!
When you see that thing in person your jaw will just drop, it’s amazing. And it’s just something you gotta see– like I feel like I need to put it into a museum for people to walk around and look at. [laughs] I feel like it’s in my house and it needs to be in a museum so people can see it. I’m telling you, it’s like one of those things you walk by and just go “whoaaa”!
(Korn’s North American tour begins in Philadelphia on September 26th and The Paradigm Shift releases in stores and iTunes on October 8th).
About Tim Risser
Tim has played bass for over twenty years and has split time in both a blues based trio with Nate Fegan & Jump Street Blues, and the hard rock band Anthrophobia. Tim is currently playing in a folk acoustic duo, blogging about lesser-known bassists who were influential on him and writing songs. Tim lives in PA and has two awesome sons, one 75’ Fender Jazz bass and an atrocious looking green Fender P-Bass. Anthrophobia discography (Cd’s and ex-member pics @ www.drprecords.com/anthrophobia/main.php): In The Zero to Three Movement Hard by Design Magnetic (3 tracks)