The Fall of 2013 marks a very special time for Grammy Award-winning multiplatinum hard rock innovators KORN — Jonathan Davis [Vocals], James “Munky” Shaffer [Guitar], Brian “Head” Welch [Guitar], Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu [Bass] and Ray Luzier [Drums] — as they prepare to unleash their 11th studio album, ‘The Paradigm Shift.’ This aggressive new album marks the emotional return of co-founding guitarist Brian “Head” Welch for his first album with Korn since 2003’s ‘Take a Look in the Mirror,’ and it serves as the follow-up to the band’s 2011 critically acclaimed trend-setting dubstep metal hybrid, ‘The Path of Totality,’ which debuted Top 10 on the Billboard Top 200 chart and was named Revolver Magazine’s “Album of the Year.” ‘The Paradigm Shift’ is also Korn’s first time working with super producer Don Gilmore [Linkin Park’s ‘The Hybrid Theory, etc.] who recorded the album with the band at Buck Owens’ studio in their original hometown Bakersfield and at Los Angeles’ famed NRG Recording Studios.
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 return of Brian “Head” Welch to Korn, Luzier’s collaboration with George Lynch and Doug Pinnick for KXM and what the future may hold for one of the most exciting drummers in the music industry.
A lot has happened in both your world and the world of Korn since we last spoke. Obviously, the biggest story is the return of Brian “Head” Welch to the band. What can you tell us about meeting him and his return?
It is weird; I met his daughter first at a gig in Phoenix, Arizona. It was probably about three years back. It was really cool. She came to the show and I told her I was a big fan of her Dad. That was the first time I met her. When the Carolina Rebellion kicked in, we heard that Head was going to be there. Fieldy and J.D. [Jonathan Davis] had been in touch with Head through the years. They said, “Hey, Head is coming down to sit in with the band RED on the side stage.” I said, “Man, I really want to see him play!” We all hopped in a golf cart and headed out to the side stage to watch him to play. He and Fieldy had spoken but, the way I understand it, Head and Munky hadn’t spoken in seven years. Fieldy went over and literally pushed him onto the bus! Forty-five minutes later, they came off the bus hugging and laughing! There was a lot of ice broken that day. Towards the end of the night, Head asked if him and his daughter, Jennea, could watch from the stage. We were like, “Yeah, that works! Not only that but you are going to get up and play ‘Blind’ at the end!” [laughs] It took him by surprise. We had a guitar tech prepare an amp and guitar for him just in case! He got up and went ape! The ball started rolling from there!
Was there much behind the scenes discussion about his return to the band?
Not at that time. We all just thought it was cool that everyone was talking again. I have been in the band for six years and I wasn’t in the band during the darker period they had but I know what was going on. I think that moment was an ice breaker. Everyone was just happy to be getting along again. From what I understand, he had left kind of abruptly. Munky said that he had sent an email and didn’t even call anyone when he left, if you can imagine that. After the ice was broken, Munky gave him a call a few months later and said “We are getting ready to start writing again up in Bakersfield. I am just throwing it out there if you are interested.” He said “Oh, cool. Thank you for the offer. Let me think about it and if it is the right time.” He called back within a few weeks and said “Yeah, let’s get in the studio and see what happens!” You never know, years pass and people change, both personally and musically. The second he stepped foot in the studio, everything brightened up. There was no awkwardness at all. To me, not ever playing a note with the guy, it just instantly clicked. There were a lot of grooves and riffs pouring out of us within minutes.
How did the approach to songwriting differ on this album as opposed to the band’s more recent work?
It was drastically different. Korn has never been a band who sticks with one thing. The band is definitely experimental. I learned that really quickly when I got into this band! There are a lot of signature things but I love being a part of a band that is not afraid to expand, grow and change. Everyone should! There are a lot of bands that have formulas where there new record sounds exactly like the last one and they have a big fan base and the fans are used to that. That is cool but Korn is just not like that! Even when Jonathan approached us with the dub step angle for the “Path to Totality” record, it was such a big switch but we were like, “Hey, let’s embrace it and see what happens.” It is still Korn at the end of the day, even though it is a drastic change. Obviously, bringing Brian back in is a big deal because he was a part of the giant hits they have had through the years. It would be too easy to release another “Life Is Peachy.” You can write riffs all day and have that mentality but we wanted to make sure it sounded like 2013. The riffs were definitely the heart and soul of Korn but bringing in Don Gilmore as a producer had a lot to do with it. We had a guy named Zavion and Sluggo the dub step stuff just write little nuances and add little effects here and there to make it modern. We couldn’t be happier with the way it all turned out!
How many songs did you guys end up writing for “The Paradigm Shift” and what made the record?
The cool thing about this record was nothing was forced. A lot of records are approached as “Oh, hurry up. Let’s get in there and do this because we only have this amount of time…” It wasn’t like that this time. The creation of this record was an over a year long process. Brian was doing his thing and we were still doing Korn shows. We would just get together, write three or four songs and take a month off. We would come back, listen to what we just wrote, change a few things or chop something up. That is what was so cool about it — the un-forced process. We had about 25 songs going by the time it was all said and done — full songs. Then Don [Gilmore] would come in and say “This section is stronger than this section. Let’s get rid of this.” He was trimming the fat, so to speak. I think that is when things really started to take shape. Then we narrowed it down from there. I tracked about 16 tunes at the studio at NRG and 15 ended up being kept — 11 on the record, 13 on the deluxe edition and an extra for iTunes and Japan.
As a drummer, what was the most satisfying part of working on this particular record?
I love working at NRG Studios. That is where Korn’s legendary “Follow the Leader” album was recorded. There have been so many giant records recorded there. You want in the building and it just oozes with inspiration and great sound! When we started talking about doing drums there, I was happy. It just took it up to a whole new level and really inspired my playing. We tracked almost everything else in our studio in Bakersfield, Buck Owens studio. I think that was a big part of it. Passing the multi-platinum “Follow the Leader” record hanging on the wall was really cool because Brian was in the band then. It was a very cool experience overall! I hope everyone checks out “The Paradigm Shift.” In my personal opinion, it is probably the best Korn record in the past ten years. We are definitely looking forward to getting out there and playing it live!
As you mentioned, musical exploration has been the name of the game for Korn. Has there been any discussion of where the band plans on going in the future?
Ya know, it is a case of when we start writing the next record seeing where everyone’s head is at. There is definitely no sign of stopping, which is great because with a band of this caliber that has been around for 20 years, ya never know! The music is in such a weird state in 2013 but it is never going to truly die because people truly love and appreciate good music. You can never replace live entertainment no matter how much people get bummed by record sales and all of that. That is one thing you can never replace — a moment in time when you are one stage, everyone is connecting, feeding off the crowd and they are giving it back. That is the good news! We will see where we are at when the time comes. I know we are going to be touring a lot off ‘The Paradigm Shift,’ so whenever we start writing again, be it on the road or after a break, we will put our heads together and see where it takes us.
You are a guy who definitely keeps himself busy. I wanted to talk about the supergroup project you have put together with George Lynch and Doug Pinnick. How did the KXM come about initially?
It is really cool. With Korn, the one thing about everyone’s side projects is that they are all so different. For example, Stillwell sounds nothing like Fear and The Nervous System and J-Devil sounds nothing like KXM. I think it is so cool. You have to keep you mind open musically. I was a session guy for so many years and playing with David Lee Roth and so many other bands that were completely different from Korn’s sound. That is how I made my living for quite some time. KXM came about when I threw a big party at my house for my daughter’s birthday. George and Doug happened to be here. L.A. is the land of flakes, so you invite 200 of your friends and 20 people show up! [laughs] That is just the way it is! I had just got my studio finished and they were in there messing around. It was just us three sitting there and I said “I would kill to be on a record with you guys. It has been a dream of mine.” I am a huge King’s X fan and George is one of the greatest guitar players ever. He said, “We should do a record sometime!” I said, “Yeah! Try to find a time where our schedule’s can be the same!” That is exactly what happened! A few months went by and finally our schedule’s matched up. We just started chipping away. We got together and wrote a song a day. We would track a live drum track at the end of the day and move on. It was really cool. The album came out way better than I had anticipated. Sometimes, you get together and even though it seems like a good idea, it is really not! This was a great idea! Doug is still finishing up vocals at the moment. Hopefully, we will have it out by the end of the year but if not, definitely by the beginning of 2014.
You have always struck me as the type of musician who is a bit of a sponge when it comes when it comes to learning from the guys you have worked alongside. What have you learned from your time working with George Lynch and Doug Pinnick?
It is crazy because George can play anything on guitar but yet when you start focusing on writing, his ideas can come from anywhere. All musicians have really bad ADD! [laughs] George will get so crazy in the studio, he will go on to something and then something else before you get the section you are working on down. Doug Pinnick is more like “Wait! Let’s solidify what we just did!” It was really interesting, being huge fans of both of them over the years, seeing how they work in the studio and how they produce a song. It is crazy! Doug is so full of soul! He has the most soul, in my opinion, on the planet! They guy should be bigger than John Mayer! I don’t get it! [laughs] He has his fan base, he definitely does! He is very popular but I just don’t know why he isn’t bigger than James Brown! I have always been into people who feel it. There is so much music out there that is just surface and no depth. That really bums me out. I am into stuff that hits you or effects you emotionally. Watching Doug work has been amazing. I might be messing around tuning my drums, getting ready for the session and he will say “Wait, wait! What are you doing right there!” I am like “I am tuning my drums.” He says “No. You did some pattern right there!” He would immediately pick his bass up and that is how a song would evolve! It was crazy! It has been a very cool thing to be a part of. They are just great guys! I am the baby of that band again! I thought I would never be the baby again but I am! [laughs]
Last time we spoke you mentioned how you felt you were only scratching the surface of what you wanted to achieve in your career. What are some of your short term goals at this point in time?
You know, it’s funny. You think you hit a plateau but you really don’t. I am definitely a lifer. I have been doing this since I was 5 years old. It is kinda weird and you don’t know it as a kid but there is a fire burning inside of you. I knew at a very young age I would never stop playing. It didn’t matter if I was rich, poor, famous or unknown, I didn’t really care! I think I am still very much excited about everything I do. The little personal accomplishments mean a lot to me these days. For example, I am going to be on the cover of ‘Modern Drummer’ magazine next month! To me, that is one of the little closet bucket list things. I have probably been on the cover of 15 or 16 drums magazines but never on ‘Modern Drummer,’ which is the biggest in the world. Little accomplishments like that which are happening lately have been really cool and satisfying. You just never stop growing!
How do you feel you have evolved through the years? Is there something that really stands out as a major change for you?
It is crazy. Everyone always says thing change when you have kids and your family gets bigger. It really does! The last 2 1/2 years since my son was born has been amazing. That is what jumps out at me — how you start appreciating life a lot more! Little petty things don’t mean as much as they used to. I used to stress out over certain things but I don’t do that anymore because it’s not worth it. There are things much bigger than what you have going on, especially when you bring a human life into the world. Mixing that along with my music over the last 2 1/2 years has been a huge deal.
It definitely sounds as if you have had time to be a bit reflective of your life and work. What do you hope you musical legacy will be?
I am still a huge music fan. I love listening to music, going to shows, discovering new music and how it moves me. If I could move anyone with my music, affect them emotionally and inspire them to pick up a stick, which is the most I could hope for. People are still buying my instructional DVD! It has been about 8 years since I put that thing out. I am at Korn shows and people still come up to me and say “Hey! This video really helped me out!” It is things like that which mean a lot. If I can continue to help, teach and affect people in a positive way, I have done my job!
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to those young musicians looking to make a career in music?
That is my big joke — Go to law school of be a doctor! [laughs] That is a rough one because your heart has to be in it 110%. You have to be so dedicated to your craft and willing to sacrifice family, where you live and everything else. If you are willing to do that and the fire burns deep inside you, then the big thing is networking and getting out there. It’s not only getting your instrument down but getting the business down! That is a big thing! When I moved out here at a very young age, I didn’t know the game and that you had to get involved and network. That to me is a big part of it. If I could speed up the process for any young musicians out there, I would say get the business side down, just as much as your instrument and playing with others. It is a huge deal and it took me 6 or 7 years out here to really figure it out. I still have question marks in my head about a lot of stuff! [laughs]
Thank you for your time today, Ray! We really appreciate it and look forward to seeing you again soon when you hit the road!
Thanks, Jason. I really appreciate it! Take care!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.