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Brian "Head" Welch of Korn, Love and Death

It seems like more so than at any other point in the history of rock n' roll, musicians are pulling double duty with multiple projects. Case in point, guitarist Brian "Head" Welch, who recently helped bring smiles to Korn fans worldwide when it was announced that he was returning to the group - after an absence of nearly a decade - for live work and an all-new studio album.

But also, Welch is the singer/guitarist of Love and Death, who recently issued their debut full-length, Between Here & Lost.

And it turns out that Korn is A-OK with Welch's busy schedule, as Love and Death will be joining Korn on the road as the opening act (precedent here is Tom Tom Club, whose members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth would open for Talking Heads and then take their place with the headliners).

Welch spoke with us about being able to juggle both bands, contributing to the creation of Korn's original sound, and the stories behind some of the best-known tracks he has been a part of.

Greg Prato (Songfacts): How would you compare the songwriting process in Love and Death to Korn?

Brian Head Welch: They're different, because Love and Death we do it with a computer. Me and my producer [Jasen Rauch] and the bass player [Michael Valentine] or the other guitar player [J.R. Bareis], we will go to the computer and get our riffs down, and the producer writes the drumbeat right there. For us, it's easier because we live in different places, so we can send things to each other. I like that process, too. It's different, because with Korn we go in a room for weeks and just jam together, like the old fashioned get-in-the-room-and-jam-out. Both ways are great and productive, and I like them both.

Songfacts: Let's talk a little bit about the new Love and Death album, Between Here & Lost.

Brian: Yeah, man, we started writing it in 2011 in the fall. We wrote "Paralyzed" and a song called "Chemicals," and those are the first two singles. Then we actually formed Love and Death, came up with the name and everything, in 2012. Me and the bass player went in with the producer, started writing songs. Then we got our new guitar player, came in and he started sending us riffs, so he got more involved. And then even our drummer [Dan Johnson] was involved in some of the bells and whistles of how the song came out. So everybody was involved in it. And it was just a fun process, because Jasen Rauch, he's my favorite working partner. It's like when you start something with him, even if it's just mediocre, he'll make it sound really good when you're done, with his ideas and everything. We had a lot of fun.

We shot a couple of videos [for Between Here & Lost]. We shot a video in South Central LA and it was just like the full on gangland. We were in this art studio that these guys run and they built a set for us. We just chilled in there. They made food for us, and we were there for three days.

It was kind of crazy, though, because my bass player flew in for that video shoot wasted, because he's afraid of flying. The stewardess gave him all this alcohol, so the funny thing is, he got off the plane, said (in very slurred voice), "Hey, where do we got to go?" And we have a photo shoot. He was wasted. I was like, "What the hell? What are you doing? We have a photo shoot right now!" He was like, "I only had a few drinks." And I was like, "I can't stand this guy," and so I was pissed off.

We got in our car and we were driving away from the airport and he just goes off - he opens the door and tries to jump out of the car while it's moving! He bails out. So we don't have a bass player for our video shoot, and I'm trippin'. But he shows up at the last minute, so that was kind of a funny thing.

Songfacts: Is your songwriting more collaborative in Love and Death or with Korn?

Brian: Well, I think it's collaborative on both. It's just I've learned that the best thing is to have writing partners, because everyone hears something different. And not everything's great. I hit and I miss just like everybody. But in Love and Death, Jasen wrote some stuff, the producer, and I wrote a lot. The guitar player wrote a few riffs on a few songs, and the bass player wrote songs. So I like working with a lot of people.

Korn is all collaborative, too. It's like full on, we get in the studio and everybody has different ideas. That's how we've always done it. And I'm telling you, Munky just threw down on this record. He brought it to the table. Something happens when we get together and write. We started playing music together when we were kids, so there's a connection there. It's really cool.

Songfacts: With all the great bands, it has to be a certain group of people for it to work.

Brian: Yeah. Exactly. And that's the chemistry.

Songfacts: Would you say some of your best songs came easy or were there some that have taken a while to complete?

Brian: I've experienced both. I've had some good songs that just came together really quickly, like "Freak on a Leash" and "Got the Life." Korn's biggest singles came pretty fast like that. We were just jamming and it kind of fell together. And then we have a new single called "Meltdown" for Love and Death coming out. We're shooting a video pretty soon. And that one just came out of nowhere, too. But then there are others that you've really got to just keep working to get the song and the music to where it needs to be. So it just depends.

Songfacts: Have you ever written a song on an instrument other than guitar?

Brian: Yeah. I used to write on synth. I'd do stuff on synth and piano. I've always done rock stuff, so for the heavy guitar parts, I'd use the synth just to get something new and different, a fresh approach.

My whole first solo album, Save Me from Myself, that was written all on synth. But I added guitars to it.

Songfacts: As far as the seven-string guitar thing that you and Munky trailblazed/popularized in rock music, what was the beginning of that?

Brian: The seven-string sound?

Songfacts: Yeah. Just the seven-string and also the trademark Korn sound where it's a low tuning, and the riffs are rubbery-sounding.

Brian: Yeah. That was mainly Munky and Fieldy, back in like '92, when they were in another band called Creep. Fieldy got a five string bass, so Munky found out and then they decided that he should get one of those seven-strings that Steve Vai had [the Ibanez Universe], so they got that. But they were kind of funk rock, so they would have funky songs and mix it with rock and stuff. Then for a bridge part, they would go to that low string.

When I joined the band, we switched the sound from the funk rock to just basically groove rock, like Pantera or like Prong, just like the groovy riffs. But everything was on that low string. So they started it and then we perfected it, once Korn really got all its members.

Faith No More will always be Mike Patton's best-known band (and with good reason - they influenced countless other acts over the years), but he made quite an impact with another project: Mr. Bungle.

Comprised of longtime friends from Eureka, California, Mr. Bungle specialized in music that can best described as "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" - starting with their highly experimental (especially for the time) 1991 self-titled debut, before refining their songwriting a bit for 1995's Disco Volante, and then really honing their songs for 1999's California.

The band was also known for their unpredictable and whacked stage shows, which for the first few years of their existence, saw the band perform wearing masks (years before Slipknot), and offering such unexpected covers as Billy Squier's "The Stroke," Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend," and the Dead Kennedys' "Drug Me." Sadly, Mr. Patton confirmed the band's demise in 2004.
Songfacts: I remember reading an old interview in which either you or Munky referred to a chord as "the Bungle chord" [a chord that has two notes three whole steps from each other]. So I'm just curious, how much did Mr. Bungle and also Faith No More influence Korn's sound early on?

Brian: I think a lot, man. They were really before their time. Especially like on [Faith No More's] The Real Thing, you know that album? And Bungle, just the weirdness of it, was totally an influence. That chord, just the weird dissonant chords, and also their stage presence where they would wear the costumes and stuff.

We liked that creepiness of it live. They used to stand there and stare at the crowd, Bungle did, for 10, 15 minutes before they even played one note! Just like, "What are you doing? Perform!" But it was so weird that we ripped that off from them, too, and did that live a little bit. They were really important to influencing us. And also Rage Against the Machine was. I don't know if they get mentioned a lot with Korn, but that anger and that rage that they had and the energy was just so intense. No other band had that when I was younger.

Songfacts: And there's also another band I've always thought perhaps was an influence on Korn, and that's Primus.

Brian: Yeah. Definitely. Especially on the bass player. Not the guitars, really, but the bass playing, yes. Les Claypool is one of a kind.

But Faith No More on the bass, too. The bass had its own sound with Faith No More, so Fieldy really liked that. And the Chili Peppers. Flea was a huge influence on Fieldy.

Songfacts: As far as "the Bungle chord," could you give an example of a Korn song that is based on that?

Brian: Yeah. The song called "Divine" off the first record, "Faget" we use it. Man, we use it a lot on that. We use it on the song "Need To." So many.

Songfacts: Okay. Let's discuss some songs -- let's start with the Love and Death track, "Chemicals."

Brian: Yeah. "Chemicals." I just remember being kind of stuck in the studio. We got a couple parts here and there and I was leaving. I was talking to the producer and I just heard this [making music sounds... sort of - play the clip to hear it].
player1

And it was just repetitive. So I went home and I was driving. And I was just kind of hearing it in my mind and I went home and I opened Garage Band on my laptop and just laid down the idea of the riff and brought it back. The next day, we had I think the full song or a half of it.

It's cool. They call it writer's block when you get in the studio and you can't write, and then all of a sudden something just bursts open.

And to me, that song could be about drug use or depression, the chemicals in your brain that cause depression.

Songfacts: I gotcha. And looking back, what do you remember about Korn's "Blind"?

Brian: Oh, man. That was a crazy time. We were over in the Malibu Hills and this dude, Chuck, had this studio - it was in the hills and it was all like vintage stuff. This guy's like a mountain man, he had a big old beard and he was kind of a mad scientist up there.

We went up there and camped out there for a month - they had living quarters and everything. We hung out there and developed this sound, Korn, with Ross Robinson, the producer. It was just amazing how it all came together.

There was some partying and stuff like that, so some of those memories are kind of blah. But the creative process was really cool to experience.

Then we went back there for the second record, Life is Peachy, and did the same thing. It was crazy but it was really exciting, starting our music career, recording our first album.

Songfacts: Cool. And then before, you mentioned the song "Got the Life."

Brian: I remember I was stoked, because I lived in Redondo Beach at the time. The studio where we wrote was about 15 minutes from my house. It was in Torrance, so I was stoked. My wife was pregnant.

We were going in there for like eight hours a day. We wouldn't take that many breaks, we were just going at it.

And I remember when "Got the Life" happened, he did that disco beat type of [sings the beat - play the clip to hear].
player2

All of us looked at each other. It's a haunting guitar line and melody, but the drums were a little happier than metal. And so we were like, "Is this good or is this kind of cheesy?" Because it's kind of like a disco beat.

So we were kind of scared of it. We were like, "I don't know if our fans would like this." It was so unique, and the more we sat with it and added to the song, we were like, "Wow, this is crazy different. Let's go with this." It ended up being one of the biggest hits. You've got to be open to try new things in music is what that proved.

Songfacts: I agree. Recently, Deftones bassist Chi Cheng passed away. How did that affect you and Korn? Because weren't the Deftones friends with Korn?

Brian: Yeah. I hadn't seen Chino [Moreno] or any of the guys for like ten years, but it was difficult. When he got in the accident in 2008, it was just like, "that's an old friend," we were really close with him. We started out together when we were just youngsters, and it just bummed me out.

Then I went to see him and just see the state he was in. It was good to be there for him, but it was just really hard and I felt so bad for the family; they're hanging onto all the hope and we're believing in a miracle, but then I didn't see him get better. It's sad that he passed away. But I'm so glad he's not suffering anymore. That's one thing that I'm stoked over. I truly believe that this life is so short. There is more after life, so we're going to reconnect. I look forward to that day.

Songfacts: And right now, you're in rehearsals with Korn, right?

Brian: Yeah. I just got finished, and now we're at the producer's house finishing the last song on guitar as we speak, we're wrapping up.

Songfacts: Yes, I was going to ask how the recording is going.

Brian: Oh, man. Mind blowing. This record is my favorite record by far from Korn. By far it's my favorite record. It's a new sound, and I'm so pleased with it.

And the rehearsals are great. I was worried about so many songs - these guys play for like an hour and a half and I've been playing for 20, 30 minutes for three years, four years, so I'm like, "Dang, I've got to learn all these songs and we've only got like seven practices or something like that." And, dude, it just came back so quick. It was just like riding a bike.

Korn stuff is not real technical. It's just like the pedals: you've got to go to clean channel, you've got to go to the chorus pedal, you've got to reverb and all this. So the pedals are the main thing. I had to remember what I'm going to hit and the timing of the song and all that.

So once I got that down, it's smooth. And I'm telling you, it's been the most positive vibe we've ever had in this band, and it's really refreshing.

Songfacts: As far as the upcoming Korn tour, what can fans expect?

Brian: I'm back. It's been a long time. So they're going to get a lot of the classic stuff with a sprinkle of the stuff that I wasn't on. But this is the most heavy-hitting Korn set in a long time. That's what Fieldy said. And so everyone's pumped. It just flows so good, and I'm really excited to see the crowd and how they react.

June 14, 2013.
Love and Death are at LoveAndDeathMusic.com.
Korn lives at korn.com.
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