Korn — a band that is no stranger to experimentation. In fact, it is fearlessness when creating new music that attributed to their longevity. Their 10th studio album is no exception. “The Path of Totality” is unlike any record this legendary band has released, as it blends the signature sound of Korn with the high energy of dubstep. This shifting of gears and exploration of new territory should hardly come as a shock to die-hard fans, as Korn exploded onto the scene in the ’90s and quickly established themselves as musical game changers. For the new album, the band collaborated with some of the leading dubstep and electronic producers in the world, including Skrillex, Excision, Datsik, Noisia, Kill the Noise, and 12th Planet. The results are nothing short of extraordinary.
When it comes to taking on challenging new ventures, drummer Ray Luzier has never been one to back down. His past work includes stints as a highly sought after session musician, providing the backbeat for the legendary David Lee Roth, playing on bassist Billy Sheehan’s (Mr. Big) solo albums, and working alongside The DeLeo Brothers (Stone Temple Pilots) and Richard Patrick (Filter) in Army of Anyone. Not a bad resume for an ordinary guy from Pittsburgh with a lifelong passion for playing the drums! As an artist, he feels he has just scratched the surface of his musical legacy and the latest effort from Korn is yet another milestone on his path. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Ray Luzier to discuss the creation of Korn’s highly anticipated new album, the challenges along the way and what the future may hold for one of the most exciting drummers in the music industry.
You have been a part of many cool musical projects through the years and influenced many up and coming artists. I was curious to learn how music first came into your life?
Music was something that was always a part of my life. In the house, my mom and dad always had Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Led Zeppelin and other stuff playing all of the time. I just started tapping on stuff very early. No one else in the family does music, so it is kinda strange. I am a self-taught guy. I was tapping on everything and when I was about 5-years-old my parents bought me my first toy drum kit. I destroyed that in a matter of weeks! When they saw that I was serious about it, they bought me a junior pro-kit. I started playing along with their stacks of records for a very long time, until I got to high school. Once I was there, I got into high school band, marching and concert symphonic. I even started my own rock band when I was in my teens. When I turned 18, I moved to Hollywood to go to professional school. I told my parents, “As long as I am making a living playing drums, I won’t move back to Pittsburgh!” It has been 24 years and I am still out here!
That is no small feat and you have been a part of a lot of great projects along the way! To what do you owe your longevity in the music industry?
You have to be in it. I do clinics and seminars worldwide and people always ask me, “What do I have do to stay in this?” People always say that you can make something happen if you tell yourself that it will happen. I certainly believe that because I told myself a long time ago that no matter if I was rich or poor, no matter what, I am going to play until I die. I made an oath to myself and it is in my blood, it is not some activity that I chose, it chose me! So you really have to commit. If you are willing to sacrifice family, friends or pretty much everything, you can do it! I pulled it off, so that is the long and short of it, I guess!
It is cool to see someone so dedicated to their craft and succeeding the way you have!
Yeah, it hasn’t been easy. It has definitely been a rocky road! I have several friends that got into a hit band right off of the bat and have been sitting pretty for a long time. Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers is a good friend of mine. We were in the same class together at Musician’s Institute. I will never forget, it was 1989, and he said, “Hey, I got this audition with this band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” I remember making fun of the name by saying, “That is a stupid name!” Little did I know, 30 years later, that he would still be tearing up the world with one of the biggest bands ever! So again, you just really have to commit. Like I said, I have had a long and rocky road. I have played everything from covers to disco music from Bar Mitzvahs to stadiums and everything in between. I am a life. I don’t have that whole rock star ego or attitude at all. The reality is, I was in David Lee Roth for eight years, I was with Jake E. Lee from Ozzy Osbourne for almost four years in the early ‘90s and I have played with a lot of national acts. Everything does come to an end at some point. You kinda have to be aware of that reality. I hope that Korn lasts another 10 years. I would love it! But no one has a crystal ball that I know of.
Speaking of Korn, you guys are about to drop a brand new album. “The Path Of Totality” incorporates dubstep with the band’s signature sound. How did this all come about?
Jonathan [Davis] is very into electronic music. As am I, which is pretty surprising because you would think that is a drummers nightmare! I actually love Nine Inch Nails and a lot of the people who program drums. I was into the older Marilyn Manson and even some of the ‘80s programming stuff. Jonathan approached us a little over a year ago with all of these artists that were up-and-coming saying, “You have to check this out. It is not rap, it’s this whole new thing called dubstep. It is really hitting in Europe and other parts of the world.” The stuff he played for us blew our minds. I had no idea that he was going to write lyrics over top of it ad have it become a Korn record one day. We are always writing music. I played on Jonathan’s solo record a couple of years ago that WILL come out one of these days, when the timing is right. That solo record sounds nothing like Korn and it sounds nothing like the dubstep stuff. We are always creating music, so when he started writing with Skrillex, he came up with “Get Up!,” which became the first single. Again we were all blown away. It was something unique and different. That is what I love about this band, we aren’t afraid to take chances. If people really listen to this album with an open mind — we have long time Korn fans coming up to us after a show saying, “I really wanted to hate this stuff but I love it!” That is really cool. You never know, I am sure we pissed some fans off but at the same time, I am sure we will gain a lot of new ones. I am already getting e-mails from Skrillex fans who are 16 and saying, “I don’t know what a Korn is but I love you guys!” [laughs] That is pretty crazy that a 16-year-old doesn’t know who Korn is but they love Skrillex. I am sure we are doing both sides of it. But that is what happened, from the single it turned into a five song EP and then Jonathan kept getting together with other artists through management. That led to working with Noisia, Datsik and all these other people and before you know it, we had a full length record.
How did incorporating dubstep effect you as a drummer as well as approaching the writing process of this album?
It was really opposite of “Korn III: Remember Who You Are.” That album was us with the old producer [Ross Robinson], in a room writing and recording stuff 45 minutes later. It was fresh, no fixes, as raw as you can possibly get! There were no machines involved, 2-inch tape and all of that. This project was quite the opposite. Really, we have never stopped touring since the release of “Korn III,” so it wasn’t like we stopped for three or four months and said, “OK, let’s write a record!” It wasn’t like that at all. Jonathan had already compiled a bunch of dubstep artists songs and many of them were nearly complete. We just went in there and put our stamp on it! It was weird. For example, Jonathan would put the beds up against the door and sing his vocal track in a hotel room in Korea. Then we would be in Hawaii and he would say, “Hey! Go grab some cymbals, a kick and a snare and mic it up and we are going to track a song right now!” I would say, “OK!” And the next thing you know we are backstage tracking a drum track. I would play along with the loop. Then we would be off for a week and head over to the Korn studio in Bakersfield and play on two tracks! It was completely sporadic and we were never all in the same room. That made it quite different from the last one. When you play this kind of music and it’s programmed, you don’t really need to be in the same room to capture all of the four live musicians, you are just doing what this music calls for.
It was really different for me because I love to bend and push and pull, I mean, we are all humans and we are all different and we are by no means perfect. But when we are playing this stuff, everything we play is locked up to a machine and perfect but the drums are so massive that I dig it! I don’t want to play a crazy drum fill and ruin the song, I just want to play what the tune calls for. Sometimes the programming was so good from the DJs that I would just play completely along with that and all you hear is live cymbals. There are a couple of songs on the record like that and I am OK with it.
What was the most satisfying part of putting this album together for you as an artist?
I think it was great to be part of this whole new style. None of us are 22 anymore. We have been playing forever. I love challenges and I love stuff being brought to the table where you are like, “What do you have? Lets hear it!” Because I come from a progressive background. I did Billy Sheehan’s last two solo records and a ton of “Guitar Hero” records where they are just blowin’ 800 notes a second, ya know! [laughs] This was quite the opposite, playing these giant sounding drums, that was the most excitement thing. Taking it on and playing it live has been amazing. Right now, we are on show number six of the “Path of Totality” Tour.
How has the new material been working for you guys on tour?
It has been translating really great live! It is so much heavier because you can hear the crunching guitars, the bass and I am actually playing all of the drum parts live. We have triggers on the drums, I have Tommy Lee of Motely Crue’s drum tech right now, who is a master programmer. We are doing a whole dubstep set in the middle of the show and he programmed them so every time that I hit them it sounds exactly like what is on the record. I think it is really exciting that we are playing everything live. A lot of bands bum me out because there is so much on tracks and there are very few things live. I mean, come on! That is not what we paid money for when we go to see a live show! You want a live experience!
As you mentioned, you guys have been touring relentlessly since the release of the last album and you aren’t getting any younger. On a whole, is touring easier or harder for you these days?
Ya know, I don’t know if it’s harder, it is just more challenging family-wise. We all have families and kids now, we didn’t have that when we were younger so it is definitely more of a challenge. When we were younger, we were free and could stay on the road for 11 months out of the year and you didn’t really care because you didn’t have much to go home to. Before my son came along, I didn’t care if I lived out of a suitcase for the rest of my life! [laughs] You just have this mentality that “this is what I do” and we live it. Korn is one of the few bands that have been around for a while that actually are not just in it for money purposes but are in it just because we love to play! We all have side projects and we all love a million different things. It’s not the playing thing, we never get burnt on that. I think if any of us got burnt on the playing aspect of these songs, we would have to call it, but it is not that way at all. We are really into the tunes. The first two weeks of any tour, I am like, “That is a weird shoulder pain! I have never felt that one before. Oh yeah, I’m 40!” [laughs] But still, we love it! Look at Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden and Metallica, seeing those guys still out there, running around and doing it is really inspiring!
You guys have an album release show scheduled for December 6 at The Palladium in Hollywood, California. What can we expect from that show? Any surprises in store for us?
Yeah, there are some surprises. I don’t even know some of them. Jonathan said to me, “Man, you are going to freak when you see who is showing up! But I am not going to say anything until I get confirmation!” So, I am actually very curious about that! [laughs] It is kinda cool when you are in the band and you don’t even know! [laughs] Other than that, I know we are all really excited to get this album off the ground. With this tour, we are doing some really old, obscure stuff that some die-hard fans will really freak out on! We are doing the demo version of “Predictable,” “Nowhere To Hide” and a lot of the songs that those guys haven’t played in years. This is my fourth year with the band but they haven’t played songs like those in 10 years or so. It is really cool to play those, throw in the dubstep stuff and then play all of the hits. As far as that particular show goes, that is all I know right now, that there is some surprise waiting.
Your career has so many defining moments and you played with some of the all-time greats. Is there something you haven’t tackled in your career you would like to pursue in the future?
Oh yeah, sure! For me, I don’t even feel like I have scratched the surface! A lot of artists say that but there is so much that I want to do. I was telling my girl the other day that I don’t feel like I have done near what I want to do. It is weird, I have had a lot of success and I am very proud of what I have done but I really feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of what I want to do. I really want to practice so much more to be better as a musician and that I have so far to go. I think it is an exciting part of what we do, it never really ends. There are no real limits. You don’t hit a point where it is like, “This is as good as I am going to get. This is where I am at!” because you can always get better. That is what is so exciting! You can always learn new things. I was a session drummer for so many years and it was awesome to play on someone’s country record and then play on a thrash record and turn around and do two songs on a movie soundtrack. I love a challenge and I love getting my assed kicked in different ways like that. Being a totally committed and full member of Korn now, this is a big priority in my life but I also have two instrumental solo records that I am creating on the side that are very slowly coming together because we have been so busy. We all have side-projects. I am a guitar and bass hack too, I play a lot and write in my studio, so I have some things that are coming together slowly but there are a lot of things I still want to do. I love the fact that I can play and record with Billy Sheehan’s band and then go right back to my band. I definitely hope to keep doing stuff like that.
Sounds like we can look forward to more great stuff in the future. Anybody in particular you want to work with?
There are a lot of artists out there that I would love to work with and that I am just dying to get into the studio with. I want to do a track with Trent Reznor. I want to do a track with Chino Moreno of Deftones. I enjoyed writing with the DeLeo Brothers [of Stone Temple Pilots] and I actually played with Seal, the pop music artist. I love doing stuff like that because you think about the complete opposite of Korn, Seal is pretty close to that! [laughs]
Where are the best places online for fans of Korn to get the lowdown on what is happening and for people looking to learn more about your body of work?
Awesome, we will send them your way! Thanks for your time, Ray. We are looking forward to the new record and can’t wait to see you on tour!
I appreciate your time! All the best to ya!