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Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - 12:05
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Chillin' at Capitol: l to r, Reggie 'Fieldy' Arvizu, Jonathan Davis, James 'Munky' Shaffer
James 'Munky' Shaffer steps it up for the fans
By Matt Muñoz
KOЯN - rock music innovators, hip-hop mutants, and 100 percent Bakersfield.
Still kicking it live like a new pair of cap toe Adidas, KORN's three remaining active members — Jonathan Davis, vocals; Reggie 'Fieldy' Arvizu, bass; and James 'Munky' Shaffer, guitar — have gone from being metal misfits to marketing geniuses. More importantly, the trio remain relevant to the musical genre they collectively de-tuned back in '93.
(KORN's first promo pic)
Bakersfield's most famous native sons in nu-metal will return home to rock the Rabobank Arena 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 29, with the 2007 edition of the Family Values Tour. KORN continues with its original brand of sonic torment for a rabidly devoted fanbase with its recently released CD.
“I think we can go all around the world, but our hometown fans are gonna show us the most love…,” said KORN guitarist James 'Munky' Shaffer via telephone from the band's tour bus parked outside the Verizon Wireless Music Center, in Indianapolis, Ind. Aug. 10. “They go to the same schools, drive the same streets. It's more of an intimate relationship, than just being a KORN fan. There becomes a sense of pride there.” Pride that KORN still has for its hometown, too.
(James 'Munky' Shaffer)
Proving that Bakersfield's influence lasts a lifetime no matter how famous you are, Shaffer readily admits to another of life's simple pleasures — hanging at the bluffs in the northeast.
“One of my favorite things was to go up on top of the Greenlawn Cemetery crypts (off Panorama Drive),” Shaffer said. “We would climb up on top, and we'd drink beer, and just sit and enjoy the beauty of Oildale's oil pumps all lit up by the yellow lights at night.”
Shaffer grew up in east Bakersfield and Rosedale back when farm land dominated the area.
Rosedale today is not what he remembers as a teenager, Shaffer remarked.
“I can't believe there used to be dirt fields where I lived in Rosedale,” he said. “That's where I used to ride my motorcycle, through the fields passed my old elementary school, all that was wide-open fields. I can't believe the development now.”
Shaffer may have missed out on the development in Bakersfield, but its residents haven’t missed out on his band’s stardom that went beyond the Kern County line.
And just think, their history started in a watering hole in southwest Bakersfield.
The year was 1993.
Future KORN guitarists Shaffer and Welch had just gotten back from a Mr. Bungle concert in San Francisco and decided to stop by John Bryant's, a 90s Bakersfield bar, to check out a friend's band, 2 Lazy 2 Steal.
At the time, the duo were crafting a new band called Creep (born from the ashes of L.A.P.D., for whom Arvizu, and KORN drummer David Silveria were also members of).
(L.A.P.D. in 1989)
Little did they know that fate was already in motion when they walked into John Bryant's.
They were ready to leave the club when the evening's headliner, Sex Art, hit the stage, summoning Shaffer and Welch to stay.
“We stopped when we heard (Sex Art vocalist Jonathan Davis',) voice, and it was like, ‘Whoa, that's gotta really unique tone. You know, let's stay and check this out a little bit’,” recalled Shaffer.
Sex Art was a band ahead of its time, especially for Bakersfield, whose music scene was stuck in a haze of wannabe Seattle grunge.
Davis' erratic flailing and distraught conduct onstage, combined with the band's long-haired twin towers (bassist Dave DeRoo, who would later join Adema and guitarist Ryan Shuck, who formed Orgy) was like watching a possessed, straight-jacketed lunatic.
Ask around today what they remember of the Sex Art days, and you're likely to hear the same “Jonathan rolled around on the ground a lot” story.
Shaffer and Welch soon gave Davis a ring after losing their Creep lead vocalist, but it wasn't going to be easy convincing Davis to leave Sex Art for LA.
Davis was on his own trip at home, raising eyebrows and packing dives. Still, Creep members — Welch, Arvizu, Silveria, and Shaffer — were experimenting with a new sound and laying the foundation for a musical youth movement on the horizon.
(Reggie 'Fieldy' Arvizu)
Producer Ross Robinson, often credited as the “godfather of nu-metal,” took Creep into the studios to produce the demos that would be used to woo Davis into the fold and complete the band's vision.
“Honestly, I don't think (Davis) really liked (the demos),” laughed Shaffer. “But it was an opportunity for him to get out of Bakersfield and try something. Some of his family members were like, ‘Go for it. You gotta take the chance when the opportunity presents itself. All you can do is not work out, and you can come right back’.”
Davis took the gig, joining Welch, Arvizu, Silveria, and Shaffer. Soon, the band’s name Creep would be replaced by KORN.
Origin of the new name vary: It represented “Kern.” Someone gambled how famous a name such as “Korn” could become. The backward “R” was meant to throw people off.
The band lived together in close quarters in Huntington Beach, scoring gigs and “buzz band” write-ups in early rock publications, like Meanstreet and the defunct BAM, where Molten Metal columnist Jon Sutherland made the now infamous, “Corn, an exciting new band…”
Immortal Records took notice and signed KORN to its label, releasing the band’s self-titled debut “KoRn” Oct. 11, 1994.
Their music, included the opening track, “Blind,” preached to crowds of disillusioned, post-Nirvana refugees who identified with Davis' angry, but therapeutic lyrics and delivery.
His voice fell into place with the band's music — a vicious combination of distorted key signatures, low frequency bass-thumping, and slamming, hip-hop inspired beats.
“I get a lot of fans coming up to tell me, ‘I play a 7-string because of you,’ and ‘You helped me through a hard time’ because of what they found in Jonathan's lyrics,” said Shaffer.
No longer below the radar, KORN began burning up stages around the world through the rest of the '90s, keeping devotees happy in between releases and tours, by channeling the power of the webcast, KornTV, ushering in a new era of self-promotion to interact directly with fans, bands, and the occasional porn star.
“We kinda come up with different ideas together,” explained Shaffer of the band's successful marketing strategies. “Whether it's me, Jonathan, Fieldy, management, people at the record label. It's presented to us as an idea. Either we say ‘yes,’ or ‘let's tweak it so that it's the way we want it’.”
KORN became an unavoidable name and band on radio and MTV.
After the release of “Life Is Peachy” in '96, the band reached another plateau with “Follow The Leader,” in '98, earning a Grammy and MTV Video Award for the “Freak On A Leash” music video, a memorable set at the disastrous 1999 return of Woodstock, and the launch of the Family Values Tour.
The latest Values tour promises a cavalcade of hard rock's current elite headlined by its founders.
Besides being a big money maker, Shaffer sees the go round as an important launch pad for bands in need of the extra exposure.
“We pick the bands that we like and want to help,” he said. “Hopefully they have a record that they can go out and promote for themselves, or a single on the radio. That always helps bring people out to the show.”
While business has always been the band's forte, there have been cracks along the way.
The 1999 album,“Issues,” kept the band on top of the charts, but 2002's ambitious “Untouchables” suffered a blow from studio leaks and viral net piracy. 2003's “Take A Look In The Mirror” kept fires burning, making way for “Greatest Hits, Vol. 1,” in 2004.
But as in all rock history lessons, drama was due to rear its ugly head.
First, guitarist Brian 'Head' Welch, a childhood friend of Shaffer and vital part of the KORN duo guitar sound, leaves the band to become a born-again Christian crusader in 2005 and publishes an almost tell-all book of his hard partying former rock star life, complete with puke stories.
Then, drummer David Silveria goes on indefinite hiatus for reasons unknown.
A delicate topic of discussion, Shaffer openly expressed at length his sorrow about moving on without his longtime friends and bandmates.
“It was real difficult when Brian left the band,” said Shaffer. “We went to East High together. I bought my first guitar from him, and he showed me how to play all these songs in his basement during lunch or after school. I knew him before David and Reggie. We were the [band's] left and right. You can't have a stereo if you only have one speaker.”
Much like pouring salt on an open wound, Silveria's departure further complicated matters.
“David and I have been friends playing music for 20 years,” Shaffer said. “And when you lose someone like that, you literally lose a family member. I miss and love him so much. It's been hard, believe me. I'm telling you, imagine how I must feel. If you think the fans are bummed…”
As the only member of KORN who hasn't released a solo project or taken a career break since the band's inception, Shaffer knew he had to re-commit himself to the group.
“I had to step up and prove to myself, the remaining members of my band, and to our fans, that I can persevere musically and get through this,” he said. “We've written another two albums since then.”
“See You On The Other Side,” from 2005 proved to be a huge return.
Kicking off their tour in Bakersfield in February 2006, the band also was presented with a plaque by Mayor Harvey Hall on the steps of the Rabobank Arena and a portion of the Rabobank's back lot is officially re-named “KORN Row.”
“It’s incredible,” said Shaffer of the long overdue honors Bakersfield has bestowed on the band. “Our old friends can’t believe it when we come back. Me personally, I have bittersweet memories growing up there. But hey, I’ll always be from Rosedale.”
The Family Values Tour
with KOЯN, Evanescence, Atreyu, Flyleaf,
Hellyeah, Trivium, Neurosonic, and Droid
-Rabobank Arena, 1001 Truxtun
-Wednesday, Aug. 29th, 5p.m.
-Tickets: $58 - $10
- (661) 852 - 7777
Originally printed in Bakotopia Magazine, Issue 9, 8 - 24 - 07