When Jonathan Davis refers to having the terrible twos behind him, it’s not a parenting reference. (His son, Pirate, will actually turn 2 in March.)
“We always say that, musically, our 20s are the terrible twos,” the Korn singer explained. “When you are 20 you do the stupidest stuff to your body, you’re close-minded, you’re like a 2-year-old – just grown up and can drink. Once we hit 30, we started really playing the stuff that opened our minds up.”
It’s with that open mind that the 36-year-old Davis was able to envision his metal band playing a 14-song acoustic set, which Korn recently accomplished for an upcoming “MTV Unplugged” special and album .
“Back when I was 24, when Korn just started, I would have laughed in your face if you picked up an acoustic guitar and played ‘Blind’ or any of the songs we played,” Davis said. “But I think when a band plays long enough and you’re open-minded, that there are endless possibilities that you can open yourself up to.”
Korn first started playing a few songs acoustically last April , but had to get serious when the invitation came to resurrect MTV’s acoustic franchise.
“We knew, one, it was going to be an album, and two, we are going to have to play a whole bunch of songs, so that’s when we started brainstorming how we were going to do this,” Davis recalled.
The first step was employing the singer’s good friend Richard Gibbs, an orchestrator (and former Oingo Boingo keyboardist) who collaborated with Davis on 2002’s “Queen of the Damned” soundtrack, as music supervisor.
“We first wanted to incorporate a lot of different, weird instruments that people never see,” Davis said. “We rehearsed for a month, really pulling eight-hour days. … We could have done this easily if we just played the songs like they’re written but with acoustic guitars. But to go in and really rework things and put the effort in to make it something special, that’s where the practice paid off.”
Davis, who cites Nirvana’s and Alice in Chains’ “Unplugged” albums as his inspiration, embraced the new setting by bringing in Evanescence singer Amy Lee for the album’s first single, “Freak on a Leash,” and the Cure on a mash-up of “Make Me Bad” and “In Between Days.” Korn also reinterpreted Radiohead’s “Creep.”
“Lyrically, it spoke to me as a person, growing up being considered a freak, and I thought it would translate well to the fans,” Davis said of the cover. “We had a glass harmonica, which is this little strange instrument that was invented by Benjamin Franklin, which is like playing wine glasses. It was really stripped down, we didn’t have it all huge, no percussion, it was really intimate, and I think it came across really well.”
The singer’s proudest moments, however, are Korn originals. He cited “Blind,” “because we had fun with it and changed it so entirely, we totally made it a Latin song,” Davis said. “And ‘Throw Me Away’ because it’s the huge epic one we did last with everyone, all the strings, the brass, everything. That came out to be a monster.”
The “Unplugged” show (featuring nine songs) will debut on MTV.com February 24 and on MTV in March, and the 11-song album is due March 6. “The remaining three songs we will be releasing out to fans on iTunes or different promotions,” Davis promised.
In the meantime, Korn have already done some work with the Matrix for their next record and are about to return to the studio with Atticus Ross – the same crew of producers behind See You on the Other Side. Davis hesitated to talk about the new music, but said drummer Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons), who is filling in for the on-hiatus David Silveria, is contributing to the songwriting process.
“Just picture Korn with prog drums,” Davis said. “It’s an amazing thing to have someone so talented come into our band. I am not used to playing with him, he brings something totally different. I mean, when he first showed up in the studio, he brought his drum set, which is his small set, and it’s huge compared to any other drum set anyone plays out there right now. … He makes us think differently about our music. It makes the riffs that we write come to life.
“It makes you think about singing different because we have someone in our arsenal now that is amazing, that can pull off stuff that no other human being can pull off, and I think when we go out on tour with him and people see his drum set and see him play with us, it’s just going to freak people out,” he added.
Korn expect to release the yet-untitled album by summer.
And while Davis has already put together a band for a solo tour he wanted to do before the “Unplugged” opportunity came along, he’s pushing that back for the time being .
“I always have those wheels turning in the back of my head of what kind of solo thing I would like to do,” he said. “I really want to do some of those ‘Queen of the Damned’ songs and covers and some Korn songs that we don’t play live. And I have songs upon songs that I’ve done on my own that are way different, and maybe one day they will see the light of day. But right now, Korn is what I love and I don’t want to do anything that might distract from that.”