Brian “Head” Welch, an established solo artist, sought the artistic push-and-pull of a traditional band setup since his departure from Korn in 2005. Now, he accomplished his goal in the shape of Love and Death. With Head as frontman, he is joined by 17-year-old guitarist J.R. Bareis, bassist Michael Valentine, and drummer Dan Johnson. Like their name suggests, Love & Death captures the honesty of beauty and tragedy delivered by musicians with intense passion and commitment to their music’s message. The aggression of KoRn is added with melodic elements and memorable choruses throughout the group’s debut album, “Between Here & Lost.” Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Brian “Head” Welch to discuss the making of Love and Death’s new album, the challenges involved and what the band has in store for fans in the months to come.
You have had an impressive career in the music industry. I like to jump back and hear a little about how the journey began. What are your first memories of music?
Good question! I was in Bakersfield, Calif., just sitting on my parents couch. I popped in an 8-track tape from Queen. When I heard the drumroll on one of the Queen songs, I was like, “I want to be a musician!” I wanted to play drums but my dad talked me out of it! That is my first memory of wanting to be a musician.
Who were your biggest musical influences along the way?
I will give you a list! I started with Queen, AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne. Then I went on to more of the glam metal stuff, or whatever you want to call it, bands like Motley Crue and RATT. As I grew older, I started getting into Faith No More, Nirvana and Alice In Chains. What I listened to really just evolved over time.
Your latest project, Love and Death, is exciting. I want to jump back again for those who might just be learning about what you are up to. Tell us about how this project began to take shape?
I did an experimental solo album, a really personal project, a few years back. It was just Brian “Head” Welch. I decided to take it on the road and see what it would be like. Starting in 2009, I hired a bunch of people. In that time, some left and some stayed. The ones that stayed were like, “Man, we have really been through a lot! It hasn’t been easy!” I found myself wanting to do a less personal album. I wanted it to be more of a group effort with more of a mainstream, normal sound. We tackled that! This music is right where I want to be musically! It has everything I love about music in it. Everyone in the band is excited about this release.
The title of the album is “Between Here & Lost.” How did you arrive at the title?
Actually, I hit up the bass player, [Michael] Valentine, one day. I was going to call the album “The Abandoning,” which is one of the songs on the record. I just thought it was kinda the easy way to pick the title of the album, so I hit him up on an e-mail. I said, “Hey. Try to come up with a name for the album right now.” He hit me back pretty quickly with a list of six names. When I saw “Between Here and Lost” on the list, I thought it was pretty profound. I knew it was the one for sure!
Tell us about the other members of the band and what they bring to the table.
Man, they brought so much! Michael Valentine, the bass player, and I wrote half of the record musically with producer Jasen Rauch. He is like the fifth member of the band. He is a lot of bands hidden member because he plays on a lot of the albums he produces. He has an ear and an ability to take something good and make it great. J.R. [Bareis] is our guitar player. He is 17 years old and he couldn’t write music. I told him to sit down, work out a riff and send it to me. He said, “OK. I’ll try!” He sent me some of the riffs for the record. He did riffs on “Watching The Bottom Fall,” the main riff on “The Abandoning” and a couple of others. Dan [Johnson], is our drummer and more of a beat guy but he would come up with some fills and added a lot of spice to the record. We would just follow his fills. He is a great drummer and I love that guy! Everyone really contributed to this record and we all enjoyed making it.
How did the writing process for this album differ from what you did in the past?
I would say that I really worked on it in pieces over the course of two years. Whenever I would have breaks from the road, I would go home and start working on it. The biggest thing about this album is having different writers on the songs. Lyrics aren’t my strongest point sometimes. I hit pockets where I feel creative but, along the way, I lose my train of thought and that’s where the lyricist came in. We got together with a guy named Mark Holman, as well as Joe Rickard, who is the drummer from Red. They both wrote some lyrics. Joe also had his partner Josh Baker and a guy named Stacy Hogan. Along with Jasen Rauch, we had a bunch of different writers on the album. That was probably the biggest thing that was different from what I had done before.
Over the past several years, everyone watched you transform from simple band member into a powerful frontman. Did you find that transition difficult?
Yes. It still is at times but I am a lot more comfortable than I used to be. I feel I am in a good place right now and it gets better with every tour. It gets easier and I learn more about my voice, if you know what I mean. I am almost there but it was one of the hardest things I have done. I was on stage the first year or two thinking, “Uh, why did I want this? What am I doing? This is so stressful! You have to control the crowd and lead the band! Are you serious! Why did I want this?!” [laughs]
Well, I am glad it worked out. It seems like you are in a really great place creatively and you definitely seem right at home.
Yeah! Thank you, man! I appreciate it. It is a really good time for the band and I am really looking forward to this whole year!
What was the biggest challenge in putting the album together?
The biggest challenge was probably the vocals. Dude, I was at the mixing studio with Ben Grosse and his partner Paul [Pavao]. I was in a small room, almost the size of a closet, a little recording room finishing the vocals on three or four songs, down to the last second. I was really down to the last second finishing vocals on this album. I would say that was the biggest challenge — getting the right takes. Some of the songs I didn’t even have choruses for! I was thinking, “Oh, no! What are we going to do? I hope it does suck!” [laughs] It was scary being down to those final seconds and trying to come up with something. It all came out pretty good, so I am stoked!
Looking back on your career, you certainly did a lot of growing. How have you evolved as a musician?
That is a good question. I really feel like I have gotten my creativity back and my ears. My first solo album was all experimental and I loved a lot of the stuff I was doing but I think I my ears were a little off. I listen back to it now and think, “Why didn’t I take that part 16 bars? Why didn’t I just cut that at 8?” It seems like I have a lot more wisdom when it comes to structuring songs and hearing melodies now. It has been eight years since I did drugs, so maybe that is helping heal my creativity.
You have a lot of touring ahead of you. What can we expect from Love and Death in that regard?
Touring is the biggest thing. It is a love/hate kinda thing because I love to connect with people and get out there because that is what we do this for. At the same time, I can’t sleep on the road that well and it is pretty stressful just to go, go, go! We are hitting the road with Thousand Foot Krutch in less than a month. The tour starts in February and we go for a full month. We are booking the rest of the year now and it is going to be solid, solid, solid. We ask for people to check our website for the dates and come out to hang out with us.
Another interesting project you have taken on over the years is writing. Your books are very personal and inspiring. What was that process like for you and do you plan to do another chapter in the future?
That book was kinda crazy because they got me a book deal and I said, “I don’t want a book deal. I want to do music.” As I chewed over the idea, I believe in God obviously, I felt like it was meant to be. I totally poured myself into it. I put my guitar away and worked on the book for eight months. I wrote most of it and I had help describing things, to make me sound smarter than I am! [laughs] I wrote most all of the book and poured my soul into it. It was painful and liberating. It was easy and hard, all at once. I also put out a second book called “Stronger.” That was in 2010. I don’t think I will be doing another book for a while. I am interested in it but maybe in like 10 years if I am still around.
I am sure you will be!
Ya never know, man! Life is fragile!
Even though you wrote these books, you are very accessible to fans and pour your heart and soul into your projects, are there still misconceptions about you?
I think it is all pretty chill now. It has been a lot of years and the world has grown. I am what I am and you can still tell through my music that I still love heavy music. A lot of people, especially the old fans, are like, “I am glad he didn’t die,” because they had read so many stories about that period of my life. I am just like everybody else and I struggle in life like everyone else. I have good days and bad days, so I take it as it comes.
What else can we expect from Love and Death in the short term?
We have a video for “The Abandoning” that just came out. We are really excited to have people check it out and see what we have been working so hard on.
This album just dropped but I was curious to know if you are already thinking about heading back into the studio anytime soon?
I am sure we will but it will probably be 2014. I will start jotting down ideas and the other guys will too.
You mentioned you enjoy connecting with people. Is there any charity work you are involved with currently that we can spread the word on?
Yeah! We do this thing that is pretty cool. It is called Mocha Club (www.themochaclub.org). I help spread awareness on it. It is a company that, instead of asking people to donate all the time, they are asking people to donate $9 a month. The whole concept is that if you give up two mochas a month, you can be putting that money to good use. The money goes to help orphans, provide clean water to those who need it overseas, women at risk and giving them all a new chance at life. It is really cool. I found out about it through my manager. It is a guy who he has known for years. He left the music industry to concentrate on this project. He is a really reputable and inspiring guy. It is an organization I am really proud to be involved with!
We’ve really enjoyed the album and look forward to seeing you play live. Thanks so much for your time today, Head!
Thank you, man! We couldn’t spread the word without you guys! Rock is in a weird place right now. Thank you so much!
To get all the latest news and tour dates, visit Love and Death’s official website at www.loveanddeathmusic.com!