Jonathan Davis feels almost right at home when Korn plays in Oklahoma.
That's because he grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., where a lot of Okies and Arkies — including some of Davis' forebears — ended up when they left Arkansas and Oklahoma behind for a better life during the Great Depression.
Along with them came their music, and that's how Bakersfield became the unofficial left-coast capital of country picking, where guys like Buck Owens blossomed. It's also where Owens' famed recording studios still stand, and where alternative rap-metal band Korn has been recording its latest, decidedly uncountry album, due out later this summer.
The as-yet-untitled record marks the return of guitarist Brian “Head” Welch, who left the band in 2005 to practice a newfound Christian faith that he felt clashed with the band's lifestyle and often dark lyrical themes.
Fans will witness the restoration of Head and James “Munky” Shaffer's classic duel guitar attack when Korn co-headlines at Rocklahoma, taking the Main Stage of the Pryor outdoor festival at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
But at the moment, Davis was alone in the Bakersfield studio during a recent phone interview with The Oklahoman.
“Yeah, all the other guys are done and, of course, they're practicing. They're rehearsing and I get stuck here doin' the vocals and they gotta rush.” Davis chuckled. “That's how it always goes.”
You've been working on the new album in the Buck Owens Studios in Bakersfield. I've always wondered how a California town so strongly associated with country music managed to produce a radically alternative metal band such as Korn.
Davis: “I think it's just that we didn't have anything to do out here, really. I mean a lot of people, just either the kids got into drugs and stuff like that, or got people pregnant, or were into music and stuff like that. There wasn't much. Growin' up here was about keg parties in fields and that was really it. I think, for us, we got ourselves into music, and there's a really cool scene here in Bakersfield. There's a lot of rockabilly bands and some punk-rock bands. I mean there's talent here. It's really cool.”
This new album and tour also marks the return of (guitarist Brian “Head” Welch). Now didn't his leaving the band (in 2005) have something to do with his born-again Christian faith? Has his heart and mind changed in that regard?
Davis: “Yeah. I think when anybody gets saved, I've seen it so many times, you go through your ‘Oh, my God.' You get drunk with Jesus kind of stuff goin' on. You lose your mind and you don't really know what you're doin'. You're just so excited that, you know, he got off drugs and sober, and that is what filled that spot for him. So I think that took awhile, but finally he came to grips with the reality of everything and he's still a die-hard Christian, and so's Reggie (bassist Reginald Quincy “Fieldy” Arvizu), but it doesn't mean that you can't be in a band and play music.”
So you've chosen not to repeat the dub step/rock fusion of your last album on this new album, I understand. Why have you chosen to do that and what will your new approach be?
Davis: “I think it's just homing in on mixing that stuff together so it's perfect. I mean there's still dub step stuff going on this record. It's just not as prominent. I think we take every album that we do and learn from it and bring it on to the next little part of it. So I'm really excited about this. It's rockin' guitar, electronic, everything all in one. It's really good. I think it's a big step forward. It'll freak people out I think. Don't worry, it still sounds like Korn, in a good way.”
With the rebirth of the Shaffer and Welch dual-guitar attack, will this be somewhat of a return to the classic Korn sound of 10 years back?
Davis: “Oh, yeah, that's in there. For sure. That was the whole ... that was the thing. There's a lot of that on the record. It's a much bigger (sound). Huge. Super good.”
Are you going to be playing any of the new songs at Rocklahoma?
Davis: “I hope so. I gotta get to rehearsal at 2. I'm all caught up here doing the record, but once I get there with the band I'll see if we can do one. I'm not sure what the band's been rehearsing and stuff but I'll walk in and we'll try to do one.”
I understand you have some Oklahoma background. Is that right?
Davis: “Everybody from Bakersfield is from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, that area. My great grandmother is from back there, and then my grandmother and my grandfather are from Arkansas. People came ... for agriculture jobs out here back in the day. So it's just like being at home (playing in Oklahoma).”