An Interview with James ‘Munky’ Shaffer of Korn: “We needed to grow musically and experiment”

Korn Band Photo 2013 Photo Credit Sebastien Paquet

For at least the last decade, one of my favourite bands has been Korn. The pioneering metal band have managed to outlast the majority of their peers from the nu-metal sub-genre. As I was led on to Korn’s swanky tour bus, I was struck by how massive this interview is – I mean, how many people get to interview their idol?. Thankfully all my nerves disappeared when I was greeted with a hug from guitarist James Shaffer, aka Munky.

We sat down at a table, and talked about music, touring and the secret to longevity in the music business.

So how has the tour gone so far?

It’s better than expected.

Well that’s a good start.

Yeah!

How so?

I couldn’t believe the size of the crowd in Dublin. It was massive. They’re big. So far all the crowds have been really big.

Well that’s always a good thing.

Yeah.

So what’s it like being on tour with Slipknot? You guys have been friends for a long time.

Yeah, I mean we’ve known each other, we’ve done a lot of festivals and stuff together but never a proper tour. So it’s been a lot of fun, you know, we toured with them in the States and it went really well.

Is it just like getting back together with old friends?

It is! It’s like, “How you been?” And, you know, we’re older and have more children and you see a lot of kids; things have changed as far as where we are in our lives because, it was massive parties and debauchery. So it’s nice to see old faces and people that you recognise on the road.

Is it a lot more chilled out now than it used to be then?

A lot more. A lot more.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s a good thing. At this point in our lives, you know? But I think everybody had to go through that phase. To really get to a point.

Well it’s part of rock ‘n’ roll isn’t it? Part of the rock ‘n’ roll myth?

I guess. It enables a lot of bad behaviours to develop that you don’t really think are going to.

But it’s like a rite of passage as well.

Yeah, it is.

Your most recent album, The Paradigm Shift was re-released as a special edition last year. What was the thinking behind that?

You know, we were about to go on the road and we needed to give the record a quick boost, and so we had… We recorded like 20 songs and we wanted to… There were so many great tracks but we didn’t have enough time, Jonathan didn’t have enough time to put the lyrics on… There’s a lot of lyrics. He put lyrics to 15 of the tracks and two of those, like two or three of those, made the B-sides, and then we did a video as well.

Korn are one of these bands who evolved musically over the years.

Yeah.

How do you guys do that whilst actually staying true to yourselves?

It’s just… It’s something we’ve wanted to do from the very beginning. I think that our first two albums were very similar. We used the same producer. And at some point right before we made Follow The Leader, we were really feeling like we needed to grow musically and experiment and, what all artists really want to do. You don’t want to paint the same painting over and over again. It starts to feel like you’re on an assembly line of just constructing the same thing and as listeners, I think people appreciate that. It’s still… We’re still going through the musical process of what we normally do, but we just try to change it to make it more interesting for ourselves, for the listeners, the consumer. They don’t want the same product, you know, you want to have something slightly different, made by the same artist. So I think that gives people variety and it’s made for a really interesting catalogue of albums through the years. Yeah, it’s… Did I answer your question?

Yeah, you did. In a lot of ways you’ve been really ahead of the curve, be it through nu metal, be it bringing in rap artists, and then bringing in Skrillex on… Which album is that…album 7 or 8, ‘The Path Of Totality’?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

You’ve almost set the trend. How do you know what’s going to work?

Well we, Jonathan and myself and, we like to look for new bands. We like to see what people are into and when we find a band we both like, we’re like, “Oh, look at… This is…” You know, we don’t copy them but we see what they’re doing and if we like it, we get inspired and that’s all, you know? We did with the hip-hop, bringing in hip-hop in the nineties and, we just, we love gangster rap and that shows in our songs but and Jonathan loves electronic music. So now you hear it, that’s evolving.

That’s quite interesting. I was watching the Lemmy documentary the other day and Lemmy was talking about how he’s still inspired by the music he listened to when he was growing up and he doesn’t listen to a huge amount of what’s out now, whereas you’re saying the opposite almost.

Yeah, we try to constantly look on Sound Cloud or whatever it is and try to see what people are doing… Or just try to get inspired by music that’s yet to be discovered. We have always done that. I don’t know. We even started a record label and tried to… I think we signed a couple of bands, Dead Z and a band called Orgy. Yeah, we did sign them a long time ago. They were… They did quite well back then and I think we’ve always tried to stay on the cutting edge of recording techniques and technology and like, “Oh listen to this sound. Listen to these sounds.” We may not necessarily like a song, but if there’s a particular sound or sonically, if there’s something that we think… I think that’s where the dubstep came into play was we’ve always tried to capture that low-end, that big, heavy bass. I mean from our first record, you know, with the 808 bits and stuff, that was something we’ve always tried to do. De-tune guitars, you know, 7-string guitars, that low-end aggressive feel, and that kind of sound… And the electronic stuff was that extra branch to the tree that needed to grow a little bit and see where it took us.

I read recently that you still play with the same guitar that you started off with. Is that true?

I have a version of it. It’s been broken so many times, but… There’s actually two, it’s actually two guitars now. The neck and the body and it’s been mismashed and swapped apart but my guitar tech actually found the original body in the studio and it’s in, you know, it’s just piece of wood. The neck is gone … But he plans to rebuild it for me at some point.

That’s interesting though when you’re saying about they’re bringing in new technology but yet actually you still have a strong bond with your old gear.

Yeah, even with our live set up, I still use old stomp-boxes, I’m not… A lot of the guys are going to midi-switchers and that. For that, I just, I don’t know what it is. I want to be able to tweak the pedals and do what I want to while they’re on the floor. It gives me an extra palette of colours to work with live because night after night, you want to make things interesting for yourself and put a little ear candy in there for the audience too if you can. We have a lot of old vintage stuff and I think it’s combining that vintage equipment with today’s recording technology. I mean you can have electronic stuff now, of today, mixed with our heavy, classic, Head and Munky riffs with Fieldy’s bass. I think we’ve kicked the door open to something completely new for us, you know. I know bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails have been doing it forever, mixing organics with electronics and I don’t know, maybe it’s just something that we… A path we need to walk down.

Just to keep fresh.

Yeah.

With Head being in and out and then in again, in terms of the band, how’s the dynamic changed over the years?

When he left obviously it was very difficult for us to grasp and challenging but really challenging for me, and I always felt like it was never… Somebody can’t just come in and replace your best friend and your band mate that’s been there from the beginning. So it was like, “Well I’ll do it. I can do it.” And I wanted to prove to myself that I can handle it and in the back of my… Like in the back in my mind, I always hoped that he would return, it was always that. But I also had an opportunity to experiment and we worked for some different producers. I had the opportunity to work with Atticus Ross who’s fucking brilliant and I would love to work with him again at some point, whether it’s on a record or a movie soundtrack or something. But yeah, certain opportunities presented themselves and I think it presented other challenges too, I had to fill the space with more guitar sounds for myself, because usually I had him to bounce ideas off of and it was a very, very quick response creatively. But now with him back it’s sort of… It’s kind of a lot of pressure taken off me and it’s become fun. There were a lot of ups and downs when he wasn’t there. When we went out on the road live and had to hire different guys, Shane Gibson, rest his soul, who passed away last year and it was just a mishmash of personalities, you know, did they get it? Did they not get it? It just never felt right, you know, obviously, but we got by, it was like somebody that’s walking with crutches temporarily until something heals. Yeah, you know, it was like, you broke your leg or something. It really was like I lost… So much off my arm, you know?

Well that’s particularly difficult.

Yeah, especially when you play guitar.

Exactly.

So we’ve been having a lot of fun the last couple of years since he’s been back and we had… The most fun we’ve had is when we wrote the album, Paradigm Shift. Being in the studio and we didn’t know how it was going to go, you know, because the last record we wrote, we were so just drunk and high and just fucked up that… There is always that question, am I going to be able to create? And it was better than ever, like I said, we wrote… We had 20 songs prepared and we recorded and that was way more than we needed. So the creative madness and the fun, it wasn’t work, we were there hanging out, having fun, writing songs and that’s how it was when this band started. So it’s nice to see that return.

It’s quite interesting because a lot of bands see music as a job, and I suppose it is to a degree. Is that something that you think you can relate to?

Yeah. I mean some days it feels like a job but, you know, I think the better way to look at it is it has to be a career… You have to see the long-term and I think for years, we just lived in the moment, and tour by tour, and then when you’re on tour, it’s day by day but when you get home, you have time to reflect about long-term, you know, and then of course when the cloud really starts to clear, you look at it and think, “I want this to keep going.” I really… I love doing this and let’s start to strategise a little bit better and how we can make the next move and let’s start to be a little more clever, you know, maybe retirement time will be good.”

There’s not much of a pension in music!

No, you have to make one. But you start to think long-term and then that becomes a bigger picture as a career and you have to look at that career as a business and to sustain things and to make sure that there’s later down the road and all friction between band members. So because really I think, and I told Jonathan this the other day, 80% of this being in a band is getting along, and writing songs too, but it’s really getting along because you’re in these small spaces like this. I mean we’ve been in small spaces like this for 20 years. It’s when you get these small spaces and guys get hungry and they’re tired and they miss home and then you get people that don’t get along and then, you know, because of those circumstances, a fight can erupt or a disagreement and it can get blown out of proportion. Just because of the temporary circumstance of the moment and a lot of bands end that way and it’s unfortunate. So it’s everything on tour and in life but it’s temporary and really it’s moment by moment when you’re out on the road and things change, you know? The moment changes and then you’re in a different situation. It’s just… You just have to really be patient and I think now that we all have kids, it’s teaching us a lot of patience to have with each other, because really, we’re just big kids.

I don’t think you ever grow up really, I think that’s the myth.

Yeah, it’s true. It does, it keeps you young, especially getting to get up on stage every night and just express the wild anger, energy, fun and we have fun up there. So it keeps you young. Keeps you young. And the creative part too. When you’re in the studio and you’re writing, it keeps you living in the moment which when you’re in the moment, there’s no past, there’s no future and that… All time is forgotten. So that’s one of the things I think we had a lot of, writing the record, we were really living in the moment and that, to me, is really living, to be in the moment.

Cool. I’ve one question and it’s something that I, as a fan, have always wondered. I’ve always wanted to ask about the story behind your song, “Y”all Want A Single.”

Yeah. It’s actually really funny because the record company… I mean actually it was the management company…we were writing a bunch of new songs and they were like, “Guys, we don’t hear a single on these demos that you’ve been putting out.” We were like, “Okay, I mean this is what we do, we don’t want you in our creative space so don’t come down to the rehearsal studio,”. Then later we were joking about it, it was a joke. It was like, “Okay y’all want a single?” And then someone yelled in the mic, “Fuck that!” And I think David started playing a drumbeat and we were just fucking around and it became a song. So it was just a joke to mock our managers. And it became one of the bigger Korn songs. So it’s pretty funny. And the whole video and everything because that was the end of the whole era… It tied in because the era of CD’s and everything and it was us crushing, bashing a music store apart. It actually was a music store that closed. So they let us in there with baseball bats and stuff. That was actually a lot of fun to shoot and it was kind of symbolic because the same time it was like, wow this is really the end of an era and we’re smashing it.

Very symbolic.

What are we going to do? How are we clean up the mess? Still, but, you know, we find new ways of marketing. Move on and the show must go on, you know.

So what’s next?

Everyone wants to know what’s next. We were talking in the dressing room the other day, at some point this year we’re going to go back in the rehearsal studio and start riffing and coming up with some ideas as to new music. Meanwhile, we’re going to be doing some 20th year anniversary shows, even though it’s our 21st year. We should just call it the 21st year because that would be funnier.

It’s your 21st, you can drink!

Yeah, we should just call it the 21st anniversary, it’s actually would grab people’s attention more I think. Yeah, we’re going to be doing these shows around the world and it will be fun because we’ll do the first album front to back and then take some time off here and there and then we’ll probably write a record. What we’re going to do with that record, I don’t know yet. We’ll release it somehow, someway with some company somewhere in the world.

Interview by Lisa Fox.

James and the rest of KoRn continue the Prepare For Hell tour with Slipknot and King 810 across the rest of the UK for the next few days. The following shows remain:

Slipknot w/ KoRn & King 810 Prepare For Hell UK Tour Remaining Dates

Monday 26th – Nottingham – Capital FM Arena
Tuesday 27th – Birmingham – Barclaycard Arena

Remaining tickets (including recently released production tickets) can be acquired at Live Nation via the following link – https://www.livenation.co.uk/artist/slipknot-tickets. You can read the review of King 810’s performance, along with Slipknot and KoRn on the review of the show at the Glasgow SSE Hydro Arena right here!

In addition to our interview with James from KoRn, a couple of hours later Rock Sins was also very privileged to be able to talk to one of The Nine in the shape of Chris Fehn (aka #3) from Slipknot. Anyone who’d like to read our interview with Chris Fehn can do so right here.

Further coverage from more dates of Slipknot’s Prepare For Hell tour will also be forthcoming over the next week so please keep visiting Rocksins.com regularly!

Have Your Say!

Author: Lisa Fox View all posts by
I'm a thirty something music journalist, I specialise in the rock and metal genre. I live in Edinburgh and when I'm not listening to music I'm writing about it, when I'm not writing about it I'm dancing to it..... Music is life. That and cats.