When we’re patched in for our phone interview with Korn singer Jonathan Davis, he sounds a bit drowsy. “I’m kind of a vampire, bro,” he says cordially. He’s speaking via phone from Eugene, Oregon where he and his band had a day off from his solo tour in support of his forthcoming album, Black Labyrinth
. He performs at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 9, at House of Blues.
Given the schedule that Davis keeps — Korn records and tours relentlessly — it's no wonder he needs all the sleep he can get. And yet Davis perks up when he begins discussing his solo album. He says he began writing the songs for it back in 2017. But Korn tours and albums always seemed to prevent him from finding the time to complete them.
“I’ve been waiting 11 years for the fucking record to come out,” he says. “I started writing when my son was born. I did a tour with my different band. I did [music for the horror film] Queen of the Damned
. That was my first solo endeavor. We went on the road, and I wanted to do a record. I did the record. The label president left, and I had to get the record back. It got caught in the red tape. I got the record back, and the Korn machine had to keep rolling. We’ve been going and going for the past 11 years. We haven’t had a break. Now, I actually had the time to put this thing out. I’m on tour, and the record is doing great. I’m happy to be performing something I started 11 years ago.”
Growing up in the ’80s, Davis said he was initially drawn to the New Romantic movement.
“I was into Duran Duran and the Cure,” he says. “That really spoke to me. Later on in the '80s, I dabbled in Motley Crue metal, but that didn’t last long. I went back to the New Romantic stuff. I also listened to old Goth stuff like Christian Death and Specimen. I loved that kind of stuff. I also liked [Queen's] Freddie Mercury, who was over the top amazing. I admired his skill and his whole persona and everything. [Queen] just obviously had talent.”
When Korn first formed in the early '90s, the group sounded quite different from what was popular at the time. The band mixed hip-hop, metal and rock in a unique fashion. Davis said the band didn’t set out to blur musical genres.
“I think it just happened,” he says. “We didn’t think about. Even when I make records today, we don’t have preconceived notions. We go in the room and start writing music from our hearts. It just came out that way. For bands who stand the test of time, that’s how they do it. They don’t sit there and analyze it. It’s just whatever comes out at the moment. When we do that, it’s a snapshot of what’s going on with the band at the moment. That’s why I love music. It’s like fuckin’ wizardry or some shit. There’s definitely magic involved. You never know what you’re going to get, man. It’s awesome. It’s a fun process, and I love what I do.”
In the early days, Davis says he and his bandmates would hang out with the fans after the show.
"I remember on our first tour, we'd hand out out cassettes and socialize with the fans," he says. "It got so big that we couldn’t hang out with them. We wanted to still do that, but there was no social media at the time. We still did a lot of in-stores. We had contests and all kinds of shit. We wanted to thank the fans and still be there. We wanted to connect and take it to the people and do it organically. That’s how you succeed. Other stuff doesn’t work or last.”
Davis says he wrote the Black Labyrinth
songs while touring the world; he penned the tunes in Russia, Europe and South America.
“It was all over the place,” he says of the writing process. “I wanted there to be this world music vibe. You couldn’t really date it. I wanted a hybrid of world music and heavier music. It’s not necessarily heavy. I wanted to do something different that hasn’t been done. It’s really difficult to do that.”
Davis says the first single, “What It Is,” an anthemic song that features orchestral flourishes and upper-register vocals, is about “coming to terms with your life problems.”
“Humans cause so much grief because we don’t deal with the problems right when they happen,” he says when asked about the song's meaning. “That’s what inspired me to write that song. People are touched by that song. It’s a complicated song, but it speaks the truth, I think.”
Part of a series of music videos for songs from the album, the music video for "What It Is" depicts the ending of the album’s storyline.
“I wanted the series to go from end to beginning because it’s a cool way to do it,” says Davis. “The Ganzfeld Experiment inspired it too. You put these goggles over your eyes and start listening to white noise. After 20 minutes of doing that, you start hallucinating crazy shit. There’s no drugs, no nothing. It’s your subconscious. It’s amazing. The concept of the album is inspired by that. [The album is also about how] I have a problem with organized religion. They say that gay people aren’t allowed in the church. To me, the concept of God is love. You should accept everyone. It’s me dealing with that and going through this journey about what I believe it. It’s designed to make you think; all the pieces will start coming together later on. I wanted to do something different that would stimulate your mind.”
For the live show, which will feature solo material as well as the occasional cover, Davis says he’s recruited a “bunch of killer guys” to back him up.
“It’s me doing this shit live,” he says. “It’s more laid back. It’s not all aggressive like Korn. It’s really a fun show. I’ve done four or five so far. Fans are really digging it. If you want to mosh and go crazy, go to a Korn show. If you want something else, check this out. It’s really dope.”
Jonathan Davis, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 9, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $35-$45, houseofblues.com.