As the simultaneously eccentric and withdrawn lead singer with nu-metal pioneers Korn, the band that popularized the downtuned approach to metal in the mid-1990s, Jonathan Davis is no stranger to exorcising his demons through lyrics. Songs such as “Blind,” “Clown” and “Daddy” from the self-titled debut album dealt with Davis’ troubles with drugs, bullying and abuse, and he’s remained keen to tackle difficult subjects ever since.
His debut solo album, Black Labyrinth, drops on May 25 via Sumerian Records and sees him continue with that theme, though the creative shackles that come with being closely associated with a specific subgenre are off. The album has been a decade in the making for Davis, who has had to bide his time while his beloved regular band continued to record and tour. But a break in the schedule finally allowed him to put the record out.
Davis plays much of the instrumentation on the record, joined by guests such as Korn drummer Ray Luzier, violinist Shenkar, Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland and bassist Miles Mosley. The live band is, for a number of reasons, radically different, with Davis and Luzier pulling in solid session musicians. It’s all a labor of love for Davis, who is excited to be doing something very different from Korn, spreading his artistic wings.
“For one, it’s not all tuned down to A,” he says with a laugh. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s like any other band that plays a fucking eight-string, it’s going to sound like Meshuggah to me. Because they were the first band to do that. [The album] has a different-world vibe. Some songs are heavy, some aren’t. But it’s a different beast. It’s just me, writing and doing what I do.”
Again, though, Davis writes from the heart. He pulls no punches and he lets it all out. That’s the only way he can do this and, while Korn are a band that it’s easy for non-metal fans, or perhaps traditional metal fans, to loathe, their impact is undeniable. Davis’ desire to dig deep within himself has played a big part in that success and, on the solo record, he’s still digging.
“I developed some different stuff,” he says. “There’s some stuff on there that has to do with religion. I was writing it was when Head [Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch”] left the band, so I was very angry at religion at that time. Not that I care about beliefs — it’s all good. I just have a problem with the preachy religion. Christians telling you that you need Jesus. Those are the ones I have problems with. So there was basically me dealing with that, and then me coming at, ‘Why am I here? What is it I believe in? What is my higher power?’ Questioning everything.”
It’s fascinating that Davis has had to pretty much place this album on the back burner for 10 whole years while working with Korn. The man himself admits that it was very frustrating, which is understandable when considering the fact that one of those Korn tours saw the band play the first album in its entirety to celebrate its anniversary, while Davis just wanted to put new music out.
“I’ve had to wait this long for it to come out,” he says. “A label signed me and everything was good, and then the president left and the guy who was going to produce it didn’t have time to do it. I was getting shit left and right. When that was done I was looking to put it out, and then Korn Korn Korn Korn Korn. Tour tour tour tour tour. Now, I can finally put it out. I’m finally putting out my art project.”
Davis recorded 30 songs for Black Labyrinth, with only 13 making the record. So he already has a head start on the second solo album, and he doesn’t envisage it taking another 10 years.
“I’ve got a laptop full of shit,” he says. “I think for the Jonathan Davis stuff, though, each project’s going to be completely different. I’ve got Korn and I love it, and that’s my main band. So I want to do something that’s artistic each time. I’m not trying to sell a bajillion records. I’m just trying to do cool things. That’s my main focus. The next one could be heavier in a completely different vein.”
Davis will be performing material from the solo album at the Belasco this week, part of a tour that takes in much of the United States and Europe. When he gets back, he’ll go straight to work on the 13th Korn album.
He’s clearly very busy. As the frontman with one of the biggest names in heavy music, one would expect so. But he’s not too busy to give time and energy to a number of important charities, such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Heroes for Hope and Stomp Out Bullying.
“The diabetes one is really fucking simple,” Davis say. “My son, Zeppelin, is Type 1 diabetic. I want to find a cure for my son and all these other kids. Not just my kid, but I want the cure for all families because it really does tear families up. It’s a disease that doesn’t go away, it’s 24 hours, there are no breaks. It’s a horrible disease and it’s a battle every day, so I want to help that go away for people. The other charities I work with are anti-bullying because I was a victim of being bullied my whole life. It still happens. It never goes away.”
Jonathan Davis performs at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 13, at the Belasco Theater.