Who’s the worst version of Korn?
James “Munky” Shaffer isn’t saying.
“Man, we’re still a bad version of us,” he laughs. “I just hope people show up tonight.”
Guitarists for 17-year-old, genre-shaping, platinum-selling bands still big enough to guarantee hotel room after-parties till 4 in the morning, wake-up calls at 4 in the afternoon, and a daily tour itinerary requiring nothing beyond getting on the bus for the next town shouldn’t worry about drawing a crowd. But Shaffer still does.
“Man, every day we look at all the people that come to our shows, and I’m just amazed. And I have to kind of stay humble because it’ll eat you up, it really will, everyone kissing your ass, telling you how great you are,” says Shaffer, gearing up (by waking up) for just another show in New York. “I see it every day in the other bands that we tour with. I just can’t believe how, from my perspective, they let it go to their head.”
Eleven years ago, as the mosh pits began to form and the cameras began to flash and the girls began to be groped and the fireworks began to streak over the East Stage of Woodstock ’99, it would have been easy for it to go to Shaffer’s head. Instead, it went to his arms.
“That was the most nervous I’ve ever been for a show,” he says of the band’s set at the infamous rock festival. “There was just a sea of people. Me and `vocalist Jonathan Davis` were back there before we went onstage, and my arms and my hands had gone numb. I was like, ‘How in the hell am I going to play?’ Both of us were just trying to breathe, trying not to hyperventilate, but after a couple of songs, the stage fright went away.”
Despite the ensuing chaos — the three-day event ended in scorched trailers, a mile of trash, and reports of rape — Shaffer describes the experience of his performance as “like sky-diving for an hour.”
“All the bullshit started later, which really bummed me out,” he says. “I flew home … and turned on the TV, and it was like, ‘What the hell — fires? What’s going on?’ When I left everyone was having a great time.”
In addition to Korn, Woodstock ’99 featured Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, Everlast, Rage Against he Machine, and Godsmack. The festival has been described as a coming-out party for the hybrid nu-metal and rap-metal genres that Korn helped define and that dominated the turn of the century airwaves.
“That was our most successful year, I think,” Shaffer says. “It was right around when we released Follow the Leader, and the video for ‘Freak on a Leash’ kind of broke big after that.”
Since then, the band has won two Grammys and sold more than 35-million records worldwide.
“Man, when we started, all we tried to do was put together all of our influences, all of the bands we loved at the time — Faith No More, Sepultura, Rage Against the Machine, Cypress Hill — all of our favorite bands, and make a band that sounded like all of them.”
Thanks to the help of Ross Robinson, who produced the band’s first two records, Shaffer envisions their upcoming album, Korn III: Remember Who You Are, as a long-overdue return to the roots of the musical movement the band discovered they had pioneered only after a random interview nearly five years after the fact.
“We were doing some press, and some European journalist came up with it, and it was like, OK, cool — they had to think up a sub-genre category for our music and nu-metal was what they were going to call it,” Shaffer says. “There was something kind of new about it, but then it was like, all the other bands copied what we did, and we were getting pissed. We had this sound and held it close to our hearts and protected it with our lives, so when someone tried to take those elements and that style, we were mad at first, but then it became flattering.
“It was kind of cool that we were having a positive influence on people wanting to play music. Even if they are a bad version of us.” •
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