They said it would never happen, but alas, here we are: the Download Festival is coming to Australia! We caught up with its headliners, who promise one hell of a set.
The legendary Download Festival is coming to Australia for the first time, and a legendary festival needs an equally legendary headliner. Korn are the perfect choice to unite Australia’s diverse metal community: 24 years have passed since their self-titled debut, and along the way they’ve helped shape the course of modern metal, bringing alternative, hip-hop and experimental elements into their sound. They popularised the seven-string guitar, enduring the storm while all the nu-metal copycats drowned in their wake. We caught up with guitarist James ‘Munky’ Shaffer on the eve of their only Australian show.
Do you ever just pinch yourself and go, “Holy crap, I’m headlining Download!”?
It’s pretty unbelievable, but then you go, “Y’know what? I’m gonna need a five-star hotel [ cackles]. I’m not staying at that shitty hotel again, I’m headlining Download!” One minute, you’re so humble and you’re so honoured to play, and then they say, “You’re staying at this hotel.” And the only reasonable response to that is, “No. We’re headlining, I want a first class ticket too!”
So this is the only Australian show you’ll be playing. Are you doing anything different with the set because of that?
We’re going to bring a full stage production and do something special for the fans in Australia. We thought about the different options and the possibility of doing other shows while we were there, but it became a logistical nightmare. If we were to bring the whole show across the country, we’d have to cut things – we wouldn’t have the same sound that we will at Download and we wouldn’t have the same lights, and we don’t want to give the fans a half-assed show. We want to give them a full Korn experience with a long set and something they can really remember. It’s going to be 20 years since Follow The Leader came out, so we’ll probably put a few of those tracks in the set. It’s all the little things like that. So we’re working on a new production that Australia’s never seen before.
I feel like you guys are in an interesting place right now, because you’re still putting out vital music – it’s not like you’re a legacy act where people only want to hear one record – and you’re always getting new fans, but as you said, Follow The Leader is 20 years old and you have some fans who have stuck with you since then. Maybe they’re going to bring their kids, y’know?
When I’m up onstage and I see families, or I see a dad in the front row with his kid and they’re holding onto the barricade, it makes me have such a great experience while I’m playing. Just to see the bonding between generations, it brings people together. I think it’s such a great experience for you and your kids. I mean, I wouldn’t take my kids to see GG Allin if he was still alive…
I saw a kid the other day, maybe 13 or 14, in a brand new Marilyn Manson shirt. He’d just started to grow his hair out and it seemed like that was his first step into this world. In a couple years, that shirt is going to be well worn and his hair is going to be long – he’s going to be one of us!
Yeah! That was me at 11, 12 years old, y’know? The awkward teenager with long hair, trying to
find who I am – I’m still looking, by the way – and trying to find a group of kids who were like me. It was like, “Hey, this guy likes these bands, let’s hang out!” That’s such an awkward age, too, and when you’re finding music and you’re finding a group of friends, music is such a galvanising element in putting friends together. You find common things in the lyrics that are relevant to you at that point in your life.
What was your first band shirt?
Mine was Ozzy Osbourne – one from the Diary Of A Madman era. I wore that every day. I don’t even remember what my second one was, all I remember is that one. And then I cut the sleeves off and I tried to do the shark vents on the side, and it got all tattered up.
Now, let’s talk guitar! Is there any new gear that you’re really into at the moment?
I like the stuff from Strymon. I like that you can adjust them on the fly because they’re on the floor, or you can keep them in a rack draw. I’ve been messing with my Kemper – I like that I can save my presets on a USB drive and take that wherever I go. But as far as doing live shows, I’ve gotta have the old-school Mesa Triple Rectifier. I’ve gotta have my pedalboard and I’ve gotta have speaker cabinets facing at me. I’ve got a new guitar, which is a Fender Starcaster – a Chinese semi-hollowbody. I was having a chat with a friend of mine – Matt Mitchell, who plays in A Perfect Circle – and he had the bass version. I said, “That bass is so sick!” and he told me about a guitar version that you could get online. It’s just something that I like playing because it sounds different from my typical Ibanez. I just play it in the house without the amp and it sounds so nice. And for a Chinese guitar, it’s very well-made.
The quality of guitars these days in general is so much better than when I started playing.
It’s crazy! I saw a budget Ibanez RG on sale recently and it was just insane. They’re made in Indonesia and they’re, like, $150 dollars – and it sounds great! It’s crazy.
So are you working on anything outside of Korn at the moment? I love your Fear And The Nervous System album.
Yeah, you’re my only fan! I lost distribution and never followed it up. I was going to make some vinyl – I still might do that. But no, I haven’t been doing anything except raise my family, and that really takes up a lot of my time when I’m not on tour. When I’m on the road, I’ll sit with my laptop and some plugins and write music, but I tend not to pick up the guitar too much until I have some atmosphere, some beats and a bassline. I won’t really work on my riffing until we’re in a band setting and there’s more energy, y’know? I feel that when I sit down to play, I’m finding chords that sound nice together and figuring out what that chord is later, or I’ll look at diagrams of new chord shapes, or different voicings in different parts of the neck. Lately, I’ve been listening to piano pieces and trying to pick out the chords, because some of the chords you hear on a piano wouldn’t typically be played on a guitar. Even in a movie, I’ll figure out the melody in a score.