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'It's Like It Was When Korn Started': Jonathan Davis Strikes Out On His Own With 'Black Labyrinth'

Friday, 25 May 2018 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Photo: J Weiner Photography

“Boom na da noom na na nema, da boom na da noom na namena.”

Twenty years ago, Jonathan Davis’s vocal breakdown in Freak on a Leash made perfect sense. Nu metal had almost reached its commercial peak and Korn were shitting out hits, blowing up cars in their music videos and always staying ahead of their imitators – so brashly that their 1998 album was named ‘Follow The Leader’.

There were a lot of drugs. Everyone had way too much money. It was weird. Today, Davis is sober. He has been for nearly two decades. He’s married. He has three children. Korn are still a massive proposition, selling out arenas across the planet, but things are different.

Davis is waiting for a flight at the airport at some evil hour in late April, doing press for his first proper solo album, ‘Black Labyrinth’. It’s taken 24 years for this to happen. And it sounds nothing like Korn. “I’m not fuckin’ Steve Perry,” he says, chuckling down the phone. “I’m not gonna do Oh Sherrie. That just sounds like a Journey song. Why would I do that?”

Yeah…why would he do that? Although ‘Black Labyrinth’ can be compared to Korn in the sense that, well, it’s Davis singing, and there’s a certain bounce to some of the songs, it’s a completely new project. His love of ‘80s goth, stuff like the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees, really seeps through on What It Is and Gender.

What You Believe is Depeche Mode in a sex club nobody’s ever returned from in one piece; and the use of tabla, flutes and all manner of instruments from outside rock weave their way throughout the album. “There are so many different instruments in the world,” Davis says. “Any son of a bitch can just do drums, bass, and guitar. I can do that. I wanted this to be otherworldly.”

Davis’s mission has been accomplished. This is an odd record. And it almost didn’t happen. He began work on it 11 years ago and ‘Black Labyrinth’ has gone through endless red tape and music business nonsense to be in front of you today. Record label reshuffles, Korn tours...there was no time to give this the love it deserved. Until now.

But it has been a long time coming, to say the least. Davis knows that. And he wanted to make it more than just ‘bloke from Korn does some other not-as-good Korn songs’. This record, when digested properly, aims to deliver a proper experience, as cheesy as that may sound.

“It’s more than a record,” Davis explains, baiting eye-rolls and ‘heard it before’ sighs. But stay with him. Just for a minute. “I’m trying to push it as this whole performance art thing. Whatever you wanna call it. If you get the special edition of the record, you get all this stuff inspired by the ganzfeld experiment. [The experiment is] when you deprive yourself of stimulation. You put these goggles over your eyes, stare at a red screen and listen to white noise. After about 20 minutes, you’ll start hallucinating. It’s amazing.”

Owners of the special edition will be prompted to a portal on his website, where they can use equipment from the package – yes, it’s 2018, of course you can get Jonathan Davis-branded goggles – and essentially ganzfeld themselves. But there’s more. Because positioning an album as not just an aural experience, but an extrasensory one, altering your state of mind…that just isn’t enough, right?

He elaborates, touching on the record’s music videos. What It Is, the album’s first single, is the last in the video series. Everyone and Basic Needs followed. The ominous red lighting and ganzfeld equipment is all present and correct, and the story makes more sense when viewed in reverse order.

“In What It Is, I’m incarcerated,” Davis says. “Being beaten up by these guards. The next one, Everyone, has me in this cult-kinda church; it’s explaining how the guards were made. When [the video series] is done, I’d like to take it to shows. Have pop-up things, have the guards walk kids through these experiences so they can watch the show as a whole. Because, honest to God, this is just entertainment. I just want you to hallucinate without drugs, watch a movie in reverse and listen to a dope record. There you go!”

‘Black Labyrinth’ does live up to its name. As well as the musical twists and turns, dead-ends and false trails, there’s a lyrical strand worlds apart from what you’d expect. While Davis’s work with Korn has often focused on highly personal events from his life and childhood, it's different here.

Final Days focuses on US military involvement overseas, whereas Gender is an ode to Buffalo Bill. It’s still weird, it’s still Jonathan Davis to a T, but it’s him detaching from Korn musically and lyrically. It’s renewed the man. “I just get to play my music,” he says. “There’s no expectation. I don’t have to worry about shit! It’s like it was when Korn started.”

But surely it’s not exactly the same, right? “You know ‘Wall-E’, the Disney movie?” he asks. “You know when they’re keeping those people on the spaceship, all fat, happy with a screen in their face? That’s what I’m watching [in the audience, when I play live]. What happened to humanity? To fucking talking to another human being?”

Despite sounding like a cranky old bastard, he’s right. People are filming entire gigs on their iPads. They’re sitting on the toilet, texting. They’re simultaneously the most connected and disconnected they’ve ever been. It’s something Davis wants to tackle, even after the release of ‘Black Labyrinth’.

“When the record comes out, I might just start poppin’ ‘em out – couple here, couple there,” he says of the fifteen-or-so additional songs that were recorded, but didn’t make the album. “Maybe do something special, just on vinyl. I’m a vinyl dude. My kids are like ‘What is this?’, and I’m like ‘Sit the fuck down.’ They’re hypnotised by it.”

Booked to play a clutch of European shows over the summer, Davis is understandably ecstatic to get this on the road. By then, people will properly know the songs. No Korn hits in the setlist to rely on. Just Jonathan Davis and this bizarre, colourful, unique musical tapestry.

But with Korn’s ‘Follow The Leader’ 20th anniversary shows creeping up in September, will this get sidelined again? Will it take another 11 years for the second album? “I’m gonna flip-flop Korn and my solo stuff,” he assures us. “This is the start of my solo career. I will put out more records. I’m gonna start writing when I get to Europe; that’s where I wrote the majority of this one. There’s something about Europe that inspires me. I can see where fairytales came from.

“I also have this crazy project I’ve been doing with my friend Paul, from [electronic black metal outfit] Future Doom. It’s this extreme jungle death metal shit; this is something new, some kind of fucking digital, hardcore metal. I’m working on dark country music too. All kinds of shit. I like music. I want to hone my craft. Why the fuck not do something like that? Even if I don’t put it out, it’s an exercise to teach me more, to inspire me. I’ve got a lot left. I’ve been doing music 24 years, but this is just starting. It’s exciting.”

'Black Labyrinth' is out now on Sumerian.

Jonathan Davis Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed June 06 2018 - MANCHESTER Academy
Thu June 07 2018 - LONDON O2 Academy Islington

Click here to compare & buy Jonathan Davis Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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