When we think of our hero’s in the music community we tend to put them on a metaphorical pedestal, but it’s important to remember that even they are not immune to hardship or mistakes. Jonathan Davis is no different. Davis has been an inspiration and a source of healing to thousands over his many years in the music industry, both as the front man of the band Korn and as a solo artist. His lyrics have always been raw and relatable, speaking mostly of his childhood and real tragedies throughout his life. He remains humble even now, stating, “It was a way for me to deal, my therapy and my psychiatrist was my computer, actually tape machine back then, but that’s how I dealt with it. When I put my soul out there for everybody, I didn’t realize so many people felt the same way. So it goes both ways, knowing that I had so many fans that felt the same way I felt made me feel okay. It’s a two way street.” Davis has put his life into his music and his passion and experiences are pronounced in his new (but also old!) solo endeavor, Black Labyrinth.
Alcoholism is a lingering demon for many, and Davis is no exception. He has been sober for twenty years on August 22nd, and said the reason for his sobriety was his first baby, Nathan. He elaborated, “That’s when I realized. He was three years old when I got sober and it’s like I had to figure out that I’ve got these children and they depend on me to be alive and be their role model. So I gotta get my shit together and lead by example.” Davis writes about topics like this and other trials of life in all of his songs, so when we heard his new album we wanted to ask what some of the inspiration was.
Tim: I heard the song ‘What it Is’ from the new album, what is that song about?
Davis: It’s about coming to grips with the reality of whatever is fucking with you in your head at the moment. It’s basically a how-to book on how to deal with depression or anything in your life that’s fucking with you. Once you come to terms with [the fact that] there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s how you react, then you’ve won the battle. And that’s how it really goes. I think it’s touched a lot of people. And it’s a fucking sad song but it’s true.
Tim: It’s you against the world at times. The easier you accept the bad things and move on, the less you have to carry throughout your life.
Davis: Yeah and it took me to be forty-something years old to figure that shit out. And I wrote the thing when I was thirty-seven but now I’m forty-seven and I get it now.
Tim: How was your writing process in this new album?
Davis: I wrote it all over the world on tour with Korn years ago. I recorded exactly what it is eleven years ago. It’s been sitting just as it is for eleven years.
Tim: What stopped you from putting it out earlier?
Davis: Well I got signed by a label, the president signed me, and he left. The person he wanted to produce the album became the president of the label and he was too busy to produce anything and I was getting lost in the shuffle, so I asked for my record back and they gave it to me. And the Korn machine had to keep rolling because that’s how managers get paid and pay their bills so they kept us out on the road for a long time. We haven’t ever had any real time off so I haven’t had a chance to really do this right. So now that Korn’s taking a little break I have the time to go out and play it live and do the record right. Because it’s an art piece man, it’s not just the record. It’s an all-encompassing experience and that’s what I wanted to make.
Tim: How do you come up with the melodies or the riffs or the music part of things?
Davis: It just happens. I don’t think. It starts with a riff or something and I just build on it. It’s called being inspired. That means with spirit. You’re channeling something man, it just comes to you. And I wrote all this stuff with Miles Mosley, who played bass on the album, another guy Horse, which is Zac Baird. We wrote some stuff together and I wrote a lot of stuff by myself. This whole thing came together, this really crazy world music hybrid that’s kind of timeless. I wanted to just create a vibe for people.
A ‘vibe’ was absolutely created with Black Labyrinth. It was written around the time when one of the founding guitarists Brian “Head” Welch had left the band, become a born-again Christian, and released a religious album in 2008. Davis has a complicated history with the church, admitting to Tim that he was pushed into religion growing up and that it may have had an effect on his view of the church now. he realized his disdain for the organization, “…when I worked in the coroner’s office and mortuaries and dealing with clergy and seeing how fake and bullshit they are. Some people it really helps them and changes their lives. If god and believing in Jesus and whatever helps you in a positive way, fuck yeah. [But] you don’t need an institution that doesn’t pay taxes and is fucking evil to scam you out of your money for some false hope that god’s gonna do this if you go to this church. It’s gonna happen anyway. You don’t need a church. That’s all I’m saying.” Between the videos that have come along with the album and the overall underlying theme of religion, we had to know how this album came to be.
Tim: What would you say your best piece of art is that you made on this album.
Davis: The whole thing man. The whole concept of like the videos. The videos tell the story of this whole record. They’re going to tell the whole story backwards. A lot of the stuff I’m talking about, and it goes in with the videos, I’m a big fan of the Ganzfeld experiment. That’s basically if you take a ping pong ball, cut it in half and cover your eyes with the ping pong ball, stare at a red light and put headphones on with white noise you deprive your brain of stimulation so your brain wants to stimulate itself. So you’re basically just gonna hallucinate like crazy and peer into your subconscious or whatever your brain is conjuring up. Stuff is appearing out of nothingness. So that made me think about traditional Christianity and stuff, this is more real to me than some book that was made two thousand years ago. I’m not harping on Christianity at all, I think everyone has a right to believe whatever they wanna believe and I respect that, but they need to respect the fact that I can have an opinion and believe what I wanna believe. And that was where their whole process came from. I wrote this album ten years ago at that time when Head left the band so I was very angry at the church. So there’s a lot of anti-church shit in there. It’s not anti-religion, I respect everyone’s beliefs. Who am I to tell you what to believe? But I don’t like the churches that persecute the gay people or people of different means and a lot of that shit goes on. And that’s just anti what god’s’ about. There’s a lot of that on the record, there’s a lot of me coming to grips with, ‘Hey I don’t like this, why am I here,’ and my journey and trying to figure it out. And that’s the concept of the record; the videos and the ganzfeld stuff. In my special edition I’m giving you a ganzfeld kit so there will be goggles in there and the headphones and you can listen to white noise and see all that stuff. It’s all gonna be included. I wanted people to have this whole encompassing experience with the Jonathan Davis thing. I just want it to be an actual experience not just something you listen to and forget about.
The ganzfeld experiments are such an interesting topic that not many people have heard of. At their inception, they were used as research into the attempted discovery of telepathy. The results were inconclusive and their merit is argued amongst scientists today, but the concept is still fascinating. We asked Davis to explain what effects the experiment has on him.
Davis: You can sit down for like 15 mins and it starts going. I just start smiling and seeing these shapes and visions and shit. It’s really cool I mean everyone’s different. I plan on doing these little pop ups where I can walk you through it. Maybe a VIP experience. But you’d be basically making the concept of my record come to life. Because the concept of the videos is I’m this guy that’s going around changing people’s minds from traditional beliefs into something alternative. And take it for entertainment value, that’s all I’m doing. It’s not to be taken seriously. Bottom line is I want to entertain you. It’s like watching a movie about Superman. That shit’s not real but you’re enjoying it. It’s that kind of thing. I wanna take my music and do it in a different way and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. With Korn or whatever, I don’t like repeating myself. I don’t like performing and doing stuff that’s been done a billion times.
Davis is no stranger to community service as well. He has taken his success and used to give back to some of the people that need it most in this world. As a father to three boys, Nathan, Pirate, and Zeppelin, it can be hard to balance an ever-evolving music career, community service, and fatherhood. We asked if he had insomnia and his response was an instantaneous laugh. He said, “I don’t know any worth a shit artist that doesn’t!” We wanted to find out a little about what he does when he’s not on tour or writing more music.
Tim: I read that you go to military bases. It’s awesome when I hear things of that nature… Anyone that can give hope to another person without saying ‘Give me money and I’ll give you hope.’
Davis: Yeah, I do Wounded Warrior stuff. I like to go visit troops and just bring them some happiness. If they wake up after some shit and they smile for a minute then I’m doing my job. I like to give back to people. I do anti-bullying campaigns, I do stuff for soldiers and post-traumatic stress disorder, I’ve got a type 1 diabetic son, so I do a lot of stuff for JDRF. This is the way I give back any way I possibly can.
JDRF is a charity for funding of research into a cure for type 1 diabetes, which Davis’ son Zeppelin has.
Tim: I heard you play video games with your sons, what games do you guys play?
Davis: We play Fortnite right now. I play the cooperative I don’t do the solo. Both my sons do solo.
We had just one last question for Davis, and it was simple. He didn’t have a simple answer, however.
Tim: When and what was the last thing that inspired you?
Davis: I don’t know how to answer that question because life in general, it just comes to me. I don’t know if I see something that inspires me to write music, it just hits me. So I think it’s more spiritual. It’s not necessarily watching a movie or hanging out with my kids or seeing something that sparks something it just comes to me. I mean any good movie, or seeing a piece of art. I just can’t put my finger on it. I have a horrible memory by the way. Twenty-five years of banging my head. I wish I could answer that more. But just life inspires me. My children, my band, fans, something will spark something and I’ll go write it down. Even writing lyrics I don’t think about it. It’s more [of a ] stream of consciousness. I got my pencil or my ipad and I just start writing. And whatever comes out comes out. And there’s times when I’ll go a month, I don’t even know what the song’s about, and then it’ll hit me one day like, ‘Oh that’s what I’m trying to get out!’ So that’s just how I work.
There are few artists that have been in the music industry as long as Jonathan Davis that have maintained such a level of humanity and passion. The first Korn album was released nearly twenty-four years ago in 1994. Today in 2018, the release of his solo album Black Labyrinth eleven years after it was written shows the level of hard work and dedication that Davis has put into mastering his craft. His final words on what he wants this album to be were, “It’s just one of those records you put on and it just takes you somewhere. It’s a vibe. It’s not to be aggressive, it’s just for you to think and be chill. Take you out of your moment, that’s what it’s for.” Black Labyrinth truly accomplishes those goals, and Jonathan Davis could not be a more deserving recipient of the accolades he will surely receive in response.