Brian "Head" Welch talks Korn, drugs, guitars and new band, Love And Death

Posted Feb 20, 2013 at 1:30pm
Read more about Brian "Head" Welch talks Korn, drugs, guitars and new band, Love And Death at

"I wanted to have a more band effort for my music," says singer and guitarist Brian "Head Welch. "Since leaving Korn, I really missed being part of something. I like the idea of everybody writing and pulling together. This new band feels like the right vehicle for what I'm doing."

Welch's guitar style, once famously matched with his ex-Korn mate James "Munky" Shaffer, shrieking and rumbling, performed on detuned seven-string guitars, was one of the hallmarks of the mid-'90s nu metal aesthetic. "We created an amazing sound," says Welch. "A lot of guitarists try to establish something that's recognizable, and I'm proud that we put something out there that was ours."

In 2005, Welch, burned out on drugs and seeking to make sense of what he calls an "out-of-control lifestyle," left Korn. He converted to Christianity, wrote a well-received book, Save Me From Myself: How I Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs, And Lived To Tell My Story, and issued a solo album with the shorter title Save Me From Myself. All along, though, Welch was pining to have a working band again, and following a 2011 tour he put together Love And Death, which includes Dan Johnson on drums, Michael Valentine on bass and 17-year-old guitarist J.R. Bareis.

Love And Death's debut album, Between Here & Lost, has just been released, and so we sat down with Welch to talk about how the group came together, what it's like to play with a teenager, how his spiritual life keeps him on the straight-edge tip and where things stand with him and his onetime Korn pals.

You toured with a couple of the members of Love And Death before the band actually formed. Did you have an idea that they would work out full-time?

"Well, I was impressed by their dedication. When I put my solo album out, I put a band together for touring, and a few of the guys stuck around – Dan and Valentine. It wasn't a glamorous tour – it was pretty much us in a van – so the guys who lasted I could tell were very committed."

Talk to me about working with J.R. Were you looking to form a relationship with him that mirrored your partnership with Munky?

"I was looking for somebody with a fresh approach, a guy who could come at me with some new ideas and blow me away. I think I found that with a 15-year-old kid! [Laughs] Actually, when he joined the band he turned 16 a month later. To be honest, he was my only choice. One of the guys quit before a tour, and I needed a guitar player fast. J.R. was the only person around who could do it.

"Which isn't to say I took him 'cause I had to. He looks 22 or 23, and he plays really tight. I could tell he had great stage presence – the whole thing. I was a bit put off by his age, and my manager was like, 'No way. He's a liability.' But we managed to make it all happen. I worked things out with J.R.'s parents to have legal guardianship of him on the tour."

Love And Death are (left to right) J.R. Bareis, Welch, Dan Johnson and Michael Valentine. © Caleb Kuhl

Well, I guess his folks don't have to worry about drugs and alcohol on the road. You're past all of that.

"That's right. None of that at all. It's funny – his parents felt this was coming. They put him in an online school because he was getting so good on the guitar. I think they knew where he was headed."

Is it weird for you to deal with somebody so young in the band? Not that you're ancient, but there is a big age difference. He's a kid!

"Yeah. Sometimes you can see he's a kid, but other times the older guys act younger than him. It's strange. He'll say 'What?' to me like all teenagers do. Even if they hear you, they'll be like, 'Whhhhud?' [Laughs] As far as other things go, he's very mature and has his emotions under control. He's pretty interesting."

What was this 'fresh approach' you were looking for in another guitarist? What does J.R. do that other players don't?

"It's more what he doesn't do – the riffs and licks you've heard before. When he joined the band, I told him I wanted him to write, and he said, 'I don't write. I just play.' And I said, 'You play so well, man, I can't believe you can't write riffs. Go home and start writing some.' He looked at me and said, 'Okayyyy.' [Laughs]

"He came up with great stuff. It took a while – the producer of the record, Jasen Rauch, and I had to go through a bunch of his ideas. Eventually, he had some slamming riffs. I couldn't believe how amazing the riff to The Abandoning was. I never would have written something like that. You don't want somebody in the band, especially a guitar player, who is just going to do what you do."

What made you decide to record in Nashville?

"It's just where the spirit took me, I guess. Mainly, I got some new managers who are based in Nashville. I was in Arizona for five years, and I just wanted to get out of there. It was time to move on. I had some baggage in Arizona, and I needed somewhere fresh. Nashville was everything I was looking for.

It's like Little LA now – musicians and rock bands everywhere. I love it. Just at the airport, I ran into all of these people I knew. The Fray live in Nashville, and then you've got Kings Of Leon and a few others. It's not just a country music place anymore; there's a bunch of rock-oriented writers there now. I've connected with them, and a few of them are co-writers on the album."

You mentioned the song The Abandoning. It does have a bit of a Korn vibe to it. Do you hear that?

"I think most songs are just verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge and all that. I guess there might be something of a Korn sound or approach to it – that's what I came up playing."

But have there been times, when laying down guitar parts, where you said, "That sounds like Korn. Better not do that"?

"Yeah, sometimes. But the producer on this record wanted me to sound like me. I can only sound one way. There have been times where things sounded a little too Korn-y [laughs], and we might have made a change here or there. I'm pretty open-minded to what people say to me."

Talk to me about the song Chemicals. I'm assuming it's autobiographical.

"I wrote that with the bass player and producer back in 2011. We were frustrated because we couldn't write at the studio, but on my way home I heard the riff in my head. I came back the next day, wrote that, and there you go.

"Lyrically, I can address that topic pretty easily. It's been a while now, and I don't have those itchy feelings anymore. That person I was who was into drugs, that's a whole different guy; it's a lifetime away. It's only been a few years, but I feel as though that old person died."

How long have you been clean?

"Eight years. I do it on my own. The spiritual life is what enables me to live. That's why people become addicted, because they don't have a spiritual life; they're trying to fill that hole somehow. I'm totally full now – I don't have to go anywhere else or use anything to be complete. It's pretty rad."

Do you find that some of your early fans still have a problem reconciling the music you play with your embrace of Christianity?

"I do. I think it's taking people a while, and some still haven't come to terms with it. I don't sell anywhere near what Korn sells, so a lot of people haven't figured it out. Slowly but surely, they are. But I'm just having fun doing what I'm doing. This record has everything I want in music: heaviness, darkness and melody. We even go in major keys – I've never done that before. I'm a pretty happy guy."

I Wait For You has a lot of electronics in it. That's pretty different for you.

"It is, sure. But it's got the heaviness that I like. It's got everything. We have the guest vocalist, Mattie from For Today, and he has the voice of thunder. He just kills it. It's one of my favorites because it has so much energy. The electronics are all samples and programming that the producer did. He's a master at that stuff. I don't even know how it all works." [Laughs]

Welch and Love And Death recorded their debut in Nashville. "A very inspiring town," he says. "It's got a lot of rock going on." © Caleb Kuhl

Your cover of Devo's Whip It is more of a re-imagining of the song. How did that come about?

"That's a good way of putting it. Thank you! [Laughs] My manager played me the cover of Burning Down The House by the band The Used, and I really liked it. I started thinking of a new wave cover to do, and I came up with Whip It. I didn't know if I could do it because it was just so, like… stupid [laughs]. Usually cover tunes sound just like the originals. But then I thought of just doing the half-time of the riff, and that was the right way to go. Before I did that, the producer was like, 'No way. It's too stupid.' But when he heard my idea, he said, 'Yeah, that could work…' It came out great."

What kinds of guitars are using nowadays? Are you still playing the seven-string Ibanezes?

"I'm playing Ibanez six-string baritones. I play them tuned down to A-flat. It's the perfect tuning. The other guitar player uses Paul Reed Smiths. I got off the seven-string guitars because they felt too normal to me; I wanted a different approach. I come up with different chord progressions with the six-strings. It's a new way of working, and it pushes me into new areas. The sound is thicker and richer."

What do you miss about being in Korn? I assume you don't think back to just the bad times.

"I miss my friends, and I miss the fans. We were people who were into the same stuff for years. The bad memories tend to go away. And, of course, I've played with them recently…"

I was going to ask you about that.

"It was great. I played one song, Blind, with them last year at the Carolina Rebellion in front of 50,000 people. I went to the festival with my daughter – she likes Evanescence and Staind and all of these bands; she's a little rocker. So Korn were playing, and I was just looking forward to seeing the show.

"They asked me to jam with them, which took me by surprise, but I thought, Why not? Everybody was watching – all of these bands, like Five Finger death Punch – and it was surreal. The singer was crying – all of these good memories... So they asked me to play two shows with them this year. Initially, I said, 'Thank you, but no,' but then I thought about it and said sure. So we're going to do some shows, which will be great. It's the right time. The whole thing came out of nowhere."

Have you rebuilt your relationship with them, or was that gig the start?

"That was the start. I'm rebuilding it right now. We're in contact, Munky and I are talking, and it's cool. Everybody's very positive. I'm happy where things are."

Read more about

Add a Comment

Similar Guitar News

Best Holiday Rock Song Poll: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (Dio/Tony Iommi) Vs. “Kidnap the Sandy Claws" (Korn) (12/5/2015)
It's that special, joyful time of year once again: readers' poll season! This year, we've decided to spread some musical holiday cheer in the form of our first-ever "Best Holiday Rock Song" readers' poll. It's a chance for all th...
"How Korn Got Their Name" — Video (4/23/2015)
You might remember Joey Siler from his videos, “Kitties in Chains ‘Cat in the Box’,” and “Cooking Hostile with Phil Anselmo.” Well, he’s back with a new video called “Secret Metal Mysteries,” which looks into the hilarious history of how Korn g...
Korn's Jonathan Davis Discusses Anxiety and Depression — and How He Got Through It (2/17/2015)
In the new video below, Korn singer Jonathan Davis speaks with the You Rock Foundation about his anxiety, depression, panic attacks, PTSD, schizophrenia and substance abuse. But more importantly, he discusses what helped him through it, explain...
Me and my guitar: Korn's Brian 'Head' Welch (2/3/2015)
Read more about Me and my guitar: Korn's Brian 'Head' Welch at Korn guitarist Brian 'Head' Welch meets Total Guitar backstage to talk through his latest signature model, the Ibanez KOMRAD20RS. The production model was launched at ...
Former Korn touring guitarist Shane Gibson dies aged 35 (4/15/2014)
Read more about Former Korn touring guitarist Shane Gibson dies aged 35 at Shane Gibson, who from 2007 to 2010 was a touring guitarist with Korn, died today from complications due to a blood clotting disorder. He was 35 years old....
Monster Energy's Welcome To Rockville Lineup Includes Avenged Sevenfold, The Cult, Rob Zombie and Korn (1/24/2014)
Monster Energy's Welcome To Rockville returns to Jacksonville, Florida's scenic Metropolitan Park along the St. Johns River April 26 and 27, bigger and better than ever. Following 2013’s third annual event, which drew more than 25,000 people and...
Korn talk past, present and future (10/11/2013)
Read more about Korn talk past, present and future at Bakersfield nu metal survivors Korn needed to do something big to top the attention-grabbing, dubstep-laden, genre merging enormity of 2011's The Path of Totality. And what the...
Korn Release Sample of New Song, "Love and Meth," Announce Tour with Asking Alexandria (8/26/2013)
Korn have released a sample of the song "Love and Meth" off the band's 11th studio release, The Paradigm Shift, which will be released October 8. It will be the group's first album in about a decade to include guitarist Brian "Head" Welch. Chec...
Korn to Release New Album, 'The Paradigm Shift,' October 1 (7/10/2013)
Korn will release their 11th studio album, The Paradigm Shift, October 1 via Prospect Park. The album marks the return of co-founding guitarist Brian "Head" Welch. It will be his first album with Korn since 2003's Take a Look in the Mirror. The ...
'New Metal Masters': Play and Sound Like Korn, Audioslave, Limp Bizkit, P.O.D. and More (6/13/2013)
Play and sound like the new metal legends — including Korn, Audioslave, Limp Bizkit, P.O.D., Rage Against the Machine, Linkin Park, Tool and more! — with The New Metal Masters! This book/CD pack lets you explore the work of a dozen guitar czars...
Korn Announce U.S. Reunion Tour with Original Guitarist Brian “Head” Welch (4/3/2013)
Korn have just announced their first U.S. headlining shows with original guitarist Brian “Head” Welch since 2004. No more details have been given at this time, but we'll keep you updated as we hear more. Check the dates out below: 5/15 – Belle V...
Interview: Former Korn Guitarist Brian “Head” Welch of Love and Death Discusses New Album, 'Between Here & Lost' (2/7/2013)
Brian “Head” Welch's new band, Love and Death, released their debut album, Between Here & Lost, January 22 on Tooth & Nail. On the melodic, ethereal new disc, the former Korn guitarist is joined by teenage guitar phenom J.R. Bareis, bas...
Seven-String Summit: Korn's Munky and Incubus' Mike Einziger Worship at the Feet of Steve Vai (11/28/2012)
Here's a feature from the February 1998 issue of Guitar World, which features a conversation between GW, Steve Vai, Munky of Korn and Mike Einziger of Incubus. To see the cover, and all the GW covers from 1998, check out this photo gallery. A fe...
Korn Debut "Way Too Far" Music Video (5/8/2012)
Earlier today, alternative metal icons Korn unveiled a new music video for their song "Way Too Far." Watch the Joshua Allen-directed clip below. "Way Too Far" comes from the band's most recent album, last year's The Path of Totality, which saw K...
Video: Brian "Head" Welch Joins Korn on Stage for "Blind" (5/7/2012)
Fans on-hand for Korn's set at this past weekend's Carolina Rebellion festival were in for a treat, as longtime Korn guitarist Brian "Head" Welch joined his former band on stage for a rendition of their 1994 hit "Blind." You can check out fan-fi...