With co-founding guitarist Brian "Head" Welch returning to Korn earlier this year after an eight-year absence, the GRAMMY-winning nü-metal progenitors have brought a renewed sense of dual-guitar melody to their latest album and 11th studio release to date, The Paradigm Shift. The album peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard 200, marking Korn's 12th set to peak in the Top 10, a feat that ties them with the Dave Matthews Band for the most Top 10 albums by a band in the Nielsen SoundScan era. The album's first single, "Never Never," cracked the Top 30 on Billboard's Rock Songs chart.
During his time away from Korn, Welch released a solo album, 2008's Save Me From Myself, and in 2012 formed Love And Death, with whom he released 2013's Between Here & Lost, which reached No. 5 on Billboard's Top Hard Rock and Christian Albums charts. Korn recently wrapped a co-headlining tour with GRAMMY-nominated rocker Rob Zombie, and are scheduled to play select dates in 2014, including a performance at Australia's Soundwave Festival in February.
In a recent interview with GRAMMY.com, Welch discussed his reunion with Korn, the new album, overcoming addiction, and what he's like outside of music.
Some people have noticed that, now that you're back in the group, there's a stronger melodic element returning, which was also an aspect of your recent project, Love And Death. Did working with Love And Death help ease your transition back into Korn?
Totally. I kind of put down the guitar for a while. I was writing songs through synthesizers when I was doing my first solo album [Save Me From Myself], and then I met up with my producer Jasen Rauch, who was in Red and wrote for Breaking Benjamin and has a great track record for recording, producing, writing, and being in a band. He said, "Dude, you've got to pick up the guitar and write some damn songs." That's when I picked up my guitar again and started writing. He was really encouraging me, and we did that Love And Death album. I had another guitar player who [was] helping out also, so I got my chops back. When I got my confidence with the guitar back, that's when the Korn stuff worked out. It was perfect timing.
I interviewed Steve Vai years ago, and he thought that Korn's melodies and lyrics, as brutal as they are, fit right in with what he thought of as bizarre chord changes.
That was very flattering, meeting Steve Vai and hearing his stuff because he was kind of a fan, even though we kind of dumbed down what he was doing and what people were doing in the '80s. We weren't doing solos, we were doing sounds and all this creepy, trippy stuff. Munky [James Shaffer] was highly influenced by Steve Vai, so just to meet him and have him say anything, and for us to help him make [popular] that seven-string [guitar] that he created, was an honor.
Right from the start, Korn was angry and aggressive. As you get older, how do you stay in touch with the young angry man inside?
To me, it's just really intense. I'm intense in every way in my life. I was intense with the drugs, I'm intense with music, and I'm intense with my spiritual life. It's like men and sports. They always love sports, and to me metal is aggressive and intense. I'll always love it. It's just part of being a man. And Jonathan goes through so much. He has a lot of pain to write about, and life didn't get all rosy for him at all, so the lyrics are still dark. Even with this record, he went through battling a massive prescription drug addiction and his son got diabetes. He's been a tortured soul off and on his [whole] life, so he comes up with a lot of lyrics for that. I think he helps a lot of fans because a lot of them go through similar things.
You overcame addiction and found your Christian faith around the time you left Korn, and fellow bandmate Reggie "Fieldy" Arvizu went through a similar experience a year or two later. Has it been easier for you to return to the fold and not be so worried about old habits coming back knowing that he and Jonathan Davis have battled those demons too?
Totally. If people were just raging drug addicts, I wouldn't be here right now just because I don't know if I could handle it. … But everybody came to an eye-opening experience in their life to where they were like, "Do you know how many people wish for what we've got? We've got to be thankful for it. We've got to stop killing ourselves, grow up, and be healthy and be thankful and happy in life." That's where everyone is in this band, and it's not perfect but it's way better than it's ever been.
What is your favorite song on The Paradigm Shift?
Probably the song "Love & Meth," if I were to choose one, just because when Jonathan sings I feel the emptiness. I was just a shell walking around and felt like I was falling through a black hole with a cloud of depression over me all the time. So when he hits those lyrics in the chorus — where he says, "I'm so lost and lonely now" — it just hits me. But there are a lot of favorite songs on the record. I also like "Punishment Time." I just love what [Jonathan] did with the vocals on that. Another one is "What We Do." I think every song has something really special to it, and I'm pleased with it.
Outside of music, what is Brian "Head" Welch like?
I like to read a lot, man. I read a lot and meditate and just go to that place. I'm not really an outdoorsman. I don't watch TV. I like to go hang out with friends and my daughter. My daughter is in a boarding school now, and I see her once a month. When I'm with her, I just follow her lead with what she wants to do. We go to the movies and stuff. But that's about it. I'm a simple guy.
After all these years, what do you think your fans would be surprised to learn about you?
Wow. That I don't listen to metal that much. I play it, I do like it, and I do listen to it sometimes, but I usually listen to more chill music. Last night I bought the Titanic soundtrack [laughs]. Not the songs, but the score. I like to chill to that kind of music. People would probably be surprised by that.
Korn achieved another Top 10 album with The Paradigm Shift. What does it feel like after all these years to come back full circle?
I didn't even want this. Management was asking me [back] every once in a while when I was gone, and I said I didn't even want that big machine anymore. I've got a daughter. When she turned 14, you know how teenagers are, she was like, "Go on tour, Dad. Get away." So I was given an opportunity to come back, and I realize that it's freakin' awesome and I'm thankful for it. I'm having the time of my life right now.
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)