Interview: Korn’s Brian “Head” Welch opens up to UL’s Jim Gilbert and Jeff Ayers

Back in 1993, ‘nu metal’ was barely a thing in the musical landscape. But five young guys from Bakersfield, California started a band that would become the powerhouse metal band Korn. From their debut self-titled album which gained instant success, to the slew of consistent chart topping albums for the last 20 years, they have been a lasting force in the heavy music scene. The members remained constant until 2005 when Brian ‘Head’ Welch decided to leave the band because, in part, to his addiction to drugs. He then found religion, cleaned up, wrote books and started new bands. In 2013 he officially rejoined Korn, bringing the guitar double team of Brian and James ‘Munky’ Shaffer back to full strength. At the recent Rockstar Mayhem Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY, Jim Gilbert and I got to sit down with Head and talk about what the road back to Korn was like, and how it feels to be back.

‘s Jeff Ayers and Korn’s Brian “Head” Welch backstage at 2014 Mayhem Festival. Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

Jim Gilbert: How have you been?

Brian ‘Head’ Welch: Life is good, man. You know there is always something to do on this tour. We wake up, eat and then we are busy like crazy. I am also working on a new book, and I am way behind on it, so it takes any free second I have. There are other bands we want to see, on the small stages too. Then we have meet-and-greet, and after the show we are doing after parties. So we have like an hour to shower off, and then we meet like a hundred people every night and then it’s bedtime.

Jeff Ayers: How are those after parties? We heard that some are thrown by other bands.

BHW: Ours is more of a one with our fans kinda thing. We hang out, play some music, take pictures. It’s like a meet-and-greet, but you can buy drinks and hang out in a different atmosphere. There is a Q and A too.

JA: That sounds cool.

BHW: Yea, I don’t really like it. It’s a cool thing, but I was under the impression it was going to be the whole band there. Jonathan [Davis] has his kids out [on this tour] so he is never there. So the vibe is always, “Where’s Jonathan? Where’s Jonathan?” So I am not going to do it again, unless he signs an agreement that he is going to be there. I mean, I understand, he has his kids. But you know, I got a different impression about these after parties.

Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

JG: What’s the new book going to be about?

BHW: It’s about my eight years away from Korn, and my road back to Korn. So it is about me, trying to be the normal person, trying to be dad, and getting my life together while breaking apart a few times a year. I was always wasted the whole time before, and I couldn’t run to that stuff anymore, but I wanted to. A few times. I went through a lot of stuff, and I am writing all that stuff down. It’s flowing out of me, so I think it’s meant to be.

JA: It has to be cathartic, too, to be able to get that onto the page. I am a writer myself, and getting hardship, pain, and loss written down can be helpful and help with the healing

BHW: Yea, you are right. But it is hard too, I mean, I’m feeling it too. I had this episode with my daughter, during the time we [Love and Death] were fighting with this label. They were stringing us along, and they had done it a few times before that, and then they were like “We are going to pass”. So I said “I’m done!” and threw my phone and broke it, but I had this episode with my daughter because she got hit by the phone on accident. It was the worst day, I felt like I might lose her. It has been hard at times, too.

JG: In that eight year recovery, is there a defining moment? That pinnacle moment that smacked you in the face and made life clearer?

BHW: I’d say when I finally hit the day, well I don’t know if it was a day or a time period, but when you hit a place in life where you step back and go, ‘Everything just changed right now’ whether it is a new a career or something. When I went through my bankruptcy, I hit a place where I realized ‘I just went through all of that for a reason.” I faced every fear that I had in life, I faced every emotion that was caused by my drug addiction, every bad thing that I could face, I did, and made it through. Facing those things actually cleansed me from them, so I am new man. It felt like for a time there was a curse on my life. I wrote my first book, and that was cool, but I then started a label, which failed, then I lost my house, then people were trying to sue me left and right. Then I moved to Nashville, I started a new band that wasn’t successful, and it was just like ‘C’mon man!’. But [looking back], it was all a process to make the person I wanted to be, this new man. Then I entered into peace right there, and I have been good ever since.

JG: Can I ask what happened recently in Europe? You guys, Love and Death, were just on tour and you had to cancel dates, didn’t you get sick?

BHW: Yea I had a kidney stone, and had surgery. I was in three different hospitals, called the paramedics twice, once in an airport, once in a hotel. Right in front of the Russian fans, it was just bad. I didn’t know what was going on, because they initially told me I didn’t have a kidney stone, but then my gall bladder started failing. Then my kidneys started hurting really bad. The doctors were just messing around, and I ended up having surgery. I had to Google translate with my surgeon. I asked, “I still feel like I am going to die, we had the surgery, what’s wrong?” Then he would Google translate back to me, it was rough.

JA: Wow, that sounds crazy!

BHW: Yea, remember how I told you everything got better after that certain day? Well that was challenging. But, after going through everything I had before, when I faced the kidney stone I was O.K.. Even though I was in extreme pain, I was fine inside, I knew I could get through it.

JG: You took those eight years off from Korn, now that you are back for a little over a year, how has it been?

BHW: 2014 has been great. 2013 was a little challenging. I came in from running the show at Love and Death. Even though it was a tiny show, it was my show, so I was making all the business decisions, saving tons of money on flights, and hotels and stuff. So I came back here, and I was all about trying to do things different, business wise. I talked with the guys, and was like “Why is this happening? You know how much money we could save, etc?” So I would let it eat me up inside. I was treating the tour manager pretty bad, and he’s been doing this for fifteen years, and he has his ways. He doesn’t work on the things that save nickels, he works on the things that save lots of money. I was sitting there worrying about the nickels, so it took me awhile to balance that. I had a conversation with him eventually where I apologized, because this was a big change for me and had to adjust. Once I got past that though, I have had a good year.

JA: Your new record, The Paradigm Shift, is doing great. You just came out with that the end of last year, what is the plan for after Mayhem Fest?

BHW: Well, I wish I had confirmation to tell you about this thing we are working on, but I can’t say it yet. We are looking to do a really nice tour in the fall. I thought it was just going to be a few shows to close out the year, festivals and stuff like that. But this thing came up, and I am really excited for it to come together. So big tour in the fall, and then I don’t know about next year. We haven’t really gotten that far yet. I think it would be good to take a couple of months off [from touring]. You know, do a couple of cool shows, but everybody just go away for a little bit. Give everybody a break, the fans a break, the band a break, and then start writing the next record. We will see what happens.

Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

JA: Do you guys write music individually and then bring it together or is the writing process a collaboration?

BHW: The big thing with Korn, is we like to get into a room, and flesh it all out together. But we also write at home to bring ideas to those sessions. Definitely have to do that, because the famous thing we like to talk about is when we are holding our guitars and staring at our feet on the floor, and we try to do stuff and it sounds like we are beginning teenagers all over again. Looking around the room asking, “Is this cool?” [laughs]. That’s desperate, so playing on our own helps to stop that.

JG: You guys have been playing now for a long time, and being on the road with the same guys over and over again, it can put strains on dealing with each other. Do you guys handle that pretty well as a band?

BHW: Obviously, humans are humans. Even the people you love will get on your nerves, and it will happen out here on the road too. But you learn to just walk away, and then come back. That’s all is. There are some days, like four weeks into the tour, and you have a great night with everybody and you are on the bus just laughing. On the hard moments, you just walk away and try and go refuel by yourself. At this point, we all know how to do that really well.