At The Top Of Their Game: Our Interview With Brian ‘Head’ Welch of Korn

Once upon a time, the metal community were split right down the middle – there was the old-school, buried under the weight of faded Slayer and Metallica patches, and then there were the ‘nu-metallers’ – the outsider kids with baggy jeans and wallet chains, Slipknot hoodies and, invariably, a Korn shirt. For all that some thought that only 80s metal would ever last, Korn’s continuing popularity, acclaim and evolution has shown them to be here for the long haul and with 12th album The Serenity Of Suffering, they’ve shown themselves able to recapture the fire of their earlier works. Pinning down guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch before an immense arena show, we discussed the finer points of Korn’s longevity, as well as his own thoughts on rock superstardom and time travel.

Congratulations on a killer album, man. What were your intentions going in to the making of The Serenity Of Suffering?
We needed heavy guitars back. When we got Korn back together with The Paradigm Shift, the guitars were good but not great, you know? So we wanted to get greatness back out of the guitars, just heavy, so we achieved it with this album.

Did you go down any new routes production-wise to get this or was it largely down to the writing?
A lot of production, with the amps and the miking, but it was writing too. We like to see our crowd move so we wanted to write songs that would make them move. We’ve been doing this a long time so I think we can write a good song but if it doesn’t make people move then it’s boring to me. You can still have those songs but with the majority, I just want to see people go crazy. Our fans are getting older, though, so they move less and less every decade! [laughs]

You’re still getting a lot of young fans, though, as well as parents who grew up with Korn bringing their own kids to shows. You must be one of the few bands able to experience that so how does it feel?
It’s very strange, and cool. I love that because when I grew up, you want the opposite of what your parents want. You like the opposite of what they like so it’s special to me when the kids are Korn fans. I think they’re brainwashed when they’re babies because they play it in the car but I’ll take it.

Did you ever come back round to the kinds of things your parents listened to?
…a little bit. Not a whole lot. We’re talking Neil Diamond. But listen, Korn did a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Love On The Rocks” and I love his voice now. When I was kid, no, but he’s got a great voice. Is he still alive?

I think so. He’s somehow managed to survive 2016. How has this year been for you, as it’s been a rough one overall?
I had a rough start in the first half but it’s ending good. As far as our record coming out, it’s doing well, and we got a Grammy nomination back in the US, so can’t complain too much.

How does it feel being back on the road with Limp Bizkit, given how far back the two bands go?
It’s memories, you know? We’ve done festivals with them, so we’ve seen them around, but it’s cool to reconnect. It’s kind of sad too because there’s only three of the guys here. I didn’t know Sam was gone, and I don’t know what’s going on with him as I haven’t talked to the guys about it so it’s kind of cool and sad at the same time. I miss the other guys too.

Do you feel that your relationship with the bands that you developed alongside has changed in terms of your interactions or camaraderie?
It’s funny because with some of them, it’s the same and with others, it’s weird but I don’t know what it is. I think it’s just that people grow up and get older differently. I don’t recognise the guy I was 15 years ago so I think there’s that weirdness with a couple of them but for the most part it’s old times, but everyone’s so health-conscious now. It’s not “Let’s go get wasted!” now, it’s “Let’s go eat together, let’s break bread, let’s talk afterwards.” No strip clubs anymore, we’re just kind of over it.

How much of a difference has there been in the band since you came back?
It’s pretty much the same but I think me and Munky have stepped up into the writing spots a bit more fully. He’s a good writer but he can’t sit in one spot for too long. He has ADD so if he’s in one room for a certain period of time, he has to move to another room. But I think when me, Munky and Ray get into a room and we just write riffs, Ray does his drum stuff and we get a good thing going. Then we get a producer in who helps make our mediocre stuff sound great. That’s what producers do – the take your ‘meh’ and make it sound ‘rahr!’ I’m going to tell all the bands out there – get a good producer! It’ll change your band and the band’s future! [laughs]

What has been the key to the fact that the band has lasted so long, and has kept evolving so consistently?
Isn’t it crazy? I left for almost a decade! I remember when I was in my 30s that I could see it wasn’t as hyped up but still, people are still showing up, and I was thinking that I have to raise my kid. I don’t raise my kid, someone else does, and so that was a big reason for why I left. I found faith in Christ and everything but when I looked at my daughter and said I was going to be at home to raise her, she was like, “What’s that like?” It’s good but I think some days she’s just wanting me to go back on the road. Then, when I came back in the band, there was still a big hype going on. Obviously it’s not as big as it was in the ‘90s but once we get back together with other bands, we can do these arenas and it’s mind-blowing. I don’t know what it is. I think a lot of Korn fans were helped through their adolescence and I think our fans still hold a special place in their hearts for us. Even if they don’t like the music, and just like the old stuff, I think they still have a loyalty for us. For us, Korn has always been more than just music; we went through pain, and Jonathan went through pain, in order to help others with their pain so that’s special to us. I think that’s something that’s helped with the longevity.

Taking that further, there are lots of people who say that Korn pulled them through the darkest of times. Just how humbling is it to hear that something that you created helped play a part in saving people’s lives?
Every time I hear it from anybody, I just grab them and hug them because I’m so thankful that they’re here and the world is better with them here, and they didn’t give up and take their own lives. It’s not a case of, “Oh, I’ve heard it hundreds of times.” Every single time I hear it, it affects me.

Did the band save your life, or was it more that it nearly killed you?
Well, at first it nearly killed me but it wasn’t the band, it was the lifestyle. Be careful what you wish for. I wanted to be a rockstar but when I was little, I didn’t think about coke addiction or speed addiction or alcoholism. I think non-stop travel does something to your emotions. When you’re in an arena or a club with brick walls, it feels like you’re in an upscale prison. It’s all these walls and you’re trapped in there. It’s not the most inviting place to hang out in, and then travelling a lot, being in different beds, it’s not easy. I think people get wasted all the time to take that feeling away, and of course, we were young so we wanted to get wasted and party all the time. But hey, we’re all good now and I still have bad days, but I don’t drink anymore. I just get through it – pray, meditate.

How tough was it to pull yourself out of that?
It was really tough. If I didn’t find God, if I didn’t search for God, I’d be dead because I couldn’t stop. I tried, and I wrote in my first book, where I explained that year after year I would get sober, then I’d get down, and I was in a tug-of-war with my soul. When it was at its worst, my drug dealer was sending 8-balls of crystal meth from America to Europe when I’d run out. I’d tell him that you can’t send drugs across country lines. That’s when I got to the end. I thought I had to stop – you can’t be sending drugs out of the country, to another country. That spells prison. So that’s how I knew I had to get clean.


“I believe there’s potential in everyone but whether it’s abuse or bitterness, they aren’t able to find it and that’s why there are a lot of miserable people out there. Some people are just stuck where they are…”

What was the rest of the band’s reception to you coming back?
They were just happy. It was time because they were pissed at me for a while, Jonathan especially. I think he just started missing me. They were doing good, and were doing the electronic stuff more – Jonathan loves that! – but I think it split a lot of the fans down the middle. You loved it or hated it, but I’m glad they did it. It made Korn not the same, year after year, and it was still cool – that Skrillex song? I love that! But I think it was time, and they were missing me and Munky jamming together, and it was meant to be.

Do you think that this album will help to recapture some of those fans who had drifted away? The one’s who had grown up with those first four or five albums.
I hope so! That would be cool. I think it sounds like old Korn but I think it sounds new as well, so I think if they get excited about it then it will bring some of them back, at least enough to come check it out and see. Relive it, even if it’s only for a little while. I know people grow up and arent’ as angry anymore but if you like the music, you like the music. You don’t have to be angry to listen to us. It’s emotional music.

It’s a bit of a cliché but what do you feel of the band’s legacy over these past couple of decades?
I’m really honoured, and thankful and grateful for this legacy, because you don’t see that many bands like this. Metallica, and some of the guys like Disturbed and Slipknot are doing really well. What’s Metallica, 30, 35 years? Korn’s about 23 years so it’s amazing to see, and I’m grateful that I was able to take a break, get my life together and I was able to come back and it was still here for me. Really cool legacy and how it’s going to go down in history as a band that helped a lot of people. You don’t see that a lot. The Rolling Stones are awesome, though I don’t like them, but I feel like they’re more of a party band. I feel like Korn has more of a meaning, which I’m proud of.

What is Korn’s meaning to you?
I believe in God, and God is a creator, so we’re all meant to create something as we are images of God. We’re never satisfied until we’re doing what we want to do – nothing’s more satisfying. I feel like there’s a gift placed in each of us and I feel we wouldn’t be satisfied unless we were creating this music, this thing, that touches so many people’s lives and that’s why you see so many lost people. I believe there’s potential in everyone but whether it’s abuse or bitterness, they aren’t able to find it and that’s why there are a lot of miserable people out there. Some people are just stuck where they are, and I understand that, but whether you’re an artist or a writer, whatever you want to do, even if you have another job you should find a way to do what it is that you love and what’s in your DNA because you can’t be satisfied any other way.

I’m going to be incredibly lazy and ask what the one question is that you’d love to be asked but never have been, and what would your answer be?
Wow… don’t put me on the spot! I can’t think… wait, “What are you looking forward to after life?” Maybe that. What am I looking forward to after life? Well, it says in scripture that outside you and me and everybody, we are wasting away but inside, God renews you. That could be interpreted as makes you young again, so I feel like I’d never have to get old. I’d always be childlike. Even when I’m an old man, I want to feel new inside and so I’m looking forward to a new body, a spiritual body. You know those people who say they died, and we all “I saw a light and it was so beautiful!” I think in our next life we’ll all just be made of light, so I want a body of light and I want to fly. I always have dreams of flying. Do you?

Nope, more often falling – the failure to fly.
No! Okay, I have dreams of flying and now you’re going to have dreams of flying because of this! Well, I have these dreams and when I wake up I just want to fly so I want to fly, I want to be a light being and I want to oversee planets. There it is! [laughs]

Well, some people see space and time as being interlinked so maybe if you could do that you could visit and time as well.
Yeah, that’s awesome! History, future… yeah, I believe that. It’d be cool to go back and see how this whole world was created. Dinosaurs, all of that; see them walking around.

Or see where it’s going to go.
Yeah, unless it sucks! [laughs] No, it’s all good. We didn’t come to earth to be put in a shit place. It’s going to be good, and I’m looking forward to it. I like living.

Words: Dave Bowes // Photos: Jimmy Fontaine – The Serenity Of Suffering is out now on Roadrunner Records.
You can also read the interview here:

No Comments Yet

Comments are closed