Brian Welch’s life has been full of seemingly incongruent, if not altogether unlikely, identities: hard rock pioneer; MTV celebrity; rock radio hit-maker; drug addict; believer; single father; bankrupt. But perhaps the most incredible title in the biography of the man widely known as “Head” is author. Sure, rockstar memoirs are a dime a dozen, but this week sees the release of the guitarist’s fourth book, With My Eyes Wide Open: Miracles And Mistakes On My Way Back To Korn. Now underneath “Discography” the dude has his own “Bibliography” section on Wikipedia. The new book details the decade he spent away from the band that made him famous, detailing everything from his solo band that became Love & Death, raising his teenaged daughter, dealing with personal and financial betrayals, his continued walk in the Christian faith up to his reunion with Korn in 2012. AltPress caught up with Welch to talk about his bankruptcy, the new book and the forthcoming 12th studio album from nü-metal’s pioneers.
Korn influenced a generation of rock bands. But did you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagine you’d be an author?
BRIAN “HEAD” WELCH: [Laughs.] No way!
And it’s not just one book. You have, like, a section.
I know right? It keeps growing and I'm like "What the heck?" The funny thing is, it wasn’t my idea to write the books at all. I laughed and kept telling people to get away from me when they brought me the idea. But when I thought and prayed about it, I was like, “Oh, this is so you, God.” He likes to give people things that they’re not good at, so it’s obvious that it's a gift. It’s so funny. I wasn’t good in school. I never liked school. It was a fight for me. “You want your bike? You want your skateboard? You want a car? You’d better get above C’s!”
Reading Save Me From Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs And Lived To Tell My Story in 2007, it was hard to imagine reading a book about your return to Korn someday.
It’s something that I didn’t want, either. That’s the strange thing. I didn’t have those desires. I didn't care really about that because honestly, touring isn't really my favorite thing. So to think about going back to a band that does a lot of touring, I didn’t like [that idea].
It’s a big organization, too. There are a lot of moving parts for a band the size of Korn—managers, lawyers, crew. I would imagine while you were out, you had a much smaller camp.
I learned how to do stuff myself instead of being waited on, ya’ know? I got street smart. I learned by failing a lot, I learned by going broke. I was still doing fine. I was [doing] speaking [engagements] and renting a house even though I went through bankruptcy and all of that. But my needs were met. I was doing fine. I was doing great!
Do you mean you were 50 Cent or Donald Trump “bankrupt”?
No, I really did [go broke]. I didn’t have any money for bills for like a month or so. There was a two-week period where I remember looking for change in my drawers and stuff. I was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Am I going to call my parents and say I need to move in with them until I figure out what I’m going to do?” Then a check came out of nowhere. A royalty check they were holding from me for some reason, which turned out to be a huge blessing, because I would have just spent it or given it away or something. I was stupid.
"I wanted to see how God took care of someone that didn't have anything."
After his bankruptcy, MC Hammer was asked, “What was the stupidest thing you bought?” He said, “People’s stories.”
That's a good way to go bankrupt. It's kind of stupid, but you think about giving away to charity and going broke. I mean, the heart's there, but it's not very thought out. So it can't be prolonged giving.
What do you wish someone would have told you about some of the shady characters in the “Christian music business”?
Well, people told me stuff, but I didn't care, because part of me wanted to get rid of the money. I wanted to see how God took care of someone that didn't have anything. At the same time, I wanted to invest the money that I had into businesses to generate money, so I could give more money away and then live off that. But I didn't want a pile of like $3 million in my account anymore. I didn't want that. I wanted to give it away. I wanted to put it to work… People were telling me, “You gotta be careful, sharks are coming around you” and “everyone is going to tell you what you should do with your money.” But I didn’t really care about the money, anyway. One thing I was blind about: the people I was in business with. I didn’t think my people were sharks. Some of them were kind of damaged people trying to do right but couldn’t because they were still mixed up in their faults. You’re in the world doing crooked business and then you try to get your life right, like me; they found themselves having a hard time doing legitimate business because they're so used to acting like crooks. But I didn't understand that. I knew one of the guys used to be a crook and he would mess people up but, you know, he would lie about it. Like I said, I wasn't really scared about losing the money at all, because the money had a grip on me and ruled my life before so I was like, "I'm going to prove to myself and the Lord that it's not ruling me anymore." My advice? It would be to just be smart. Don’t be foolish. Think about your future and all of that.
You never anticipated that you would return to Korn. Coming back, how are you managing the temptations of life on the road?
Everyone’s focus is on music and the show. It’s really chill out here. Everyone is humble. Everyone wants just wants everyone else to be happy, and that’s the vibe out here. Some people drink, some people smoke a little, but everyone is older. We kind of outgrew the stupidity. So it's really not a struggle at all for me. The biggest struggle for me is trying not to each too much sugar. [Laughs.] Last year, I tried drinking some wine and stuff and then started drinking too much. But I did that mainly at home with some friends. I realized really quickly that I can’t just have a drink or two. I thought I could after 10 years, but it’s not for me. But that had nothing to do with Korn. But yeah, I got high too many times from all that other junk and I just don't really have that urge anymore. It's gone.
You’re a big advocate for the heavier side of Korn. What’s next?
[The new material] is awesome. It’s mainly James [“Munky” Shaffer, guitar] and I. We really wanted to go into what Korn does guitar-wise. James , Ray [Luzier, drums] and I started riffing back in June of last year. Then we’d go on tour, come back and spend a week or two just jamming out. We started getting ideas pretty quickly once we started going into bigger studios and everything. It just went in that direction of the heavier sound. It’s the most intense Korn music in a long time vocally [as well]. We were thinking about the live show when we were writing the songs. The last record had good songs on it, but we only played like two or three of them live, because not all of them really translated live. This album has more of that quiet/loud dynamic but also sounds current. The whole band is pretty happy with it. We’ll be announcing the album title, song titles, release date and some new partnerships soon.
The struggle for a lot of bands with deep catalogs is working material in live without sacrificing the classics the fans demand.
Totally! It was easier to do with the last album because a lot of the songs just didn’t work live. It will be harder with this one because I can think of at least five of the songs that would be slammin’ in a set. I would love to play at least four of them to push the new album. I think [the new songs] are going to go over well, but you’re right, people have their memories of certain songs and they want to hear them when they come to see you live. My hope is that as people get excited about the new album and the word spreads that it’s a kind of back-to-basics Korn album, the core fans will really like it and we can play more of the material live and get a good reaction. But you do always have to play certain songs. Sometimes we’ll get bold and [skip] some of the big ones and people usually aren’t happy about that. [Laughs.] “What? You guys didn’t play ‘Freak On A Leash?!’” You know what I would like to do after this new record? Maybe we do a short run of smaller places and play the new record in its entirety.
Pierce The Veil is playing their new album in full now.
To me, that’s scary to do that on the first tour for a new record. I would like to do that after a couple of arena tours because then people have had a chance to get to know the songs. Going right out with it—“Hey, here’s a new song, you’ve had the record for a week!” Of course, Pierce The Veil’s fans may play the album every hour on the hour.
Korn’s first album inspired an entire “movement” in metal that dominated rock radio and MTV. Korn managed to survive the decline of that scene. Now we’re seeing that a lot of the bands we cover at AP cite Korn, Linkin Park and Slipknot as influences. You have a teenaged daughter. What’s your take?
My kid turned me onto a lot of these bands. I’d start listening to these bands because she’s blasting them in the car everyday and I’m like, “Wow, these bands are really good!” A Day To Remember are one band that I love in particular. We played some shows with them and those guys are like, “Oh man, we used to love you guys!” I’m like, “Whoa!” It’s really flattering. They’ve taken it and done their own thing. It’s really cool to see that we were influencing them when they were in front of their TV and were like, “I want to do that!” It’s cool to see their lives turned into this in part because of us. Hopefully it’s a good thing. Hopefully they’re not like, “Oh man, this is not what I thought it was going to be!” [Laughs.] It’s really cool. I’m honored. It’s cool that we made it, that Korn survived and even though it’s all of these years later, we’re still kind of relevant and play shows with bands like A Day To Remember and Pierce The Veil. It’s also cool that we can all play together. Because when Korn came out we couldn’t play festivals with Mötley Crüe and Ratt. We couldn’t play with Bon Jovi. It just didn’t work.
It’s cool that these younger bands that were fans of us can play festivals with us and have it work. When people ask for advice, I say just keep writing and find your sound. When you just want to sound exactly like your heroes, you’re just going to turn into a copycat. When you stand out, people notice. ALT