Jonathan Davis talks solo albums, growing up in nu-metal’s heyday, and new Korn material

His debut solo album 'Black Labyrinth' is out May 25

After twenty-plus years fronting one of metal’s most game-changing groups, you’d forgive Jonathan Davis for tapping on the brakes a little. But at 47 years old, somehow the Korn frontman is still flexing his muscles. Case in point – while Korn are still packing out arenas and headlining metal fests worldwide, he’s gearing up to release his debut solo album ‘Black Labyrinth’ – a stylistic heel-turn of a record, which finds the one-time nu-metal icon embracing texture and world music like never before.

It’s a record that he’s been sat on for a full decade, as the logistics of life in a world-touring rock behemoth took over. Now, ‘Black Labyrinth’ is ready to go – a record inspired by Davis’ love of out-of-body experiences, and his increasing love of the Ganzfeld Experiment (a text used to investigate evidence of telepathy) – worming its way in and out of both Davis’ own psyche and that of the listener.

Waiting up for a 6am flight back home to catch his son’s birthday (“but I’m a vampire, so I’ll stay up all night,” he quips) Jonathan hopped on the phone with NME to talk growing up in nu-metal and expanding his previously gothic horizons.

Hey Jonathan! So you’re finally readying that debut album – it’s been a long time coming.

I did this record ten years ago! I recently recorded one or two songs for it in January this year, but the majority of it was done and recorded back in 2007, 2008. It was weird – I got signed to a label, the label president left, and they gave me the record back. By the time that was all said and done, it was time for Korn to start up again, and you know how we do it in Korn – we tour just non-stop. So finally I can finish what I started, and this record’s done. It’s time to do it, and go on tour – I’m really excited. I’ve been waiting a long time.

It must be maddening to sit on something for that long.

A decade, man – it’s fucked up! I’m very, very happy it’s out. It’s not just the record, it’s the whole experience – the videos, this thing about the Ganzfeld Experiment that I’m gonna be doing. It’s gonna be a really cool whole project.

Is it nice to have more control over something?

It’s really fun, and it’s a lot easier when you’re doing something solo because it’s just you. In Korn, I’ve got loads of bandmates and we’ve all gotta bounce ideas off and agree. It’s cool to be in a band, but to get to call all the shots and get your complete vision… I wanna tell people to do solo projects, because they get a chance to express themselves fully and not have to compromise.

Is it something you always wanted to do?

I’ve always wanted to do a solo album. The first thing that made me realise that was the Queen of The Damned soundtrack that I did, that was my first solo project, I guess – that was an amazing experience. It led to 2007 when I toured and could play the Queen Of The Damned songs. I didn’t have enough songs to do a full set, so I started doing Korn songs that Korn never play live. That was amazing, too. Then right after that I started writing for this with Miles Mosley, my bass player, and Zac Baird, who played keyboards for Korn. We put all this stuff together, and this really cool, world music, heavy, vibey thing came out – some hybrid. You know me – I don’t like doing shit that’s been done. I gotta try and do something different. It’s my trailblazing way! 

With Korn, there’s an expectation of what that is, now. Whereas now you can do whatever you want.

It feels amazing. There’s no stress, no pressure – it’s just pure art and music. It doesn’t matter how many people are at the shows, or how many records I sell – I’m doing this for the pure love of the art, man. It’s just the most amazing feeling. That’s why you become a musician; that’s why you get in a band; that’s why you do what you do when you’re coming up in a band. When you’re in a band of the calibre of Korn – which, don’t get me wrong, is amazing – it becomes a fuckin’ business. That’s not why I want to be in a band – dealing with corporate bullshit! But this feels amazing, it’s good for my soul, man.

How’s your connection to the music changed, if you’ve been sat on it for ten years?

I’ve been listening to this shit for a decade, and it just feels amazing to play it live. This is definitely something where you can just zone out on the music. It’s great.

It’s been twenty years now, pretty much, since Korn broke through. How do you look back on that breakthrough now?

It’s crazy – this is our 24th year, and it’s the twentieth anniversary of the ‘Follow The Leader’ record. It’s a record that broke us all over, and made us go mainstream – you look back and it’s been an amazing, amazing ride. Who would’ve thought we’d still be here doing this, and still relevant after all these years? We’re not doing casinos and doing the nostalgia circuit! It’s fuckin’ awesome. After the European tour I’m gonna come back, go into the studio with those guys, and start working on a new record. Then I’m back out on [a solo] tour until the fall, and then we’ll do more work on the [Korn] record – I’m gonna flip-flop ‘em! The two work well together.

Jonathan Davis’ debut solo album ‘Black Labyrinth’ is out May 25