On the surface, Jonathan Davis and Amy Lee don’t appear to have much in common. While Korn’s vocalist is best known for purging his psyche and utilising pure rage to fuel his art, Evanescence bandleader Amy is a classically trained multi-instrumentalist. To an outsider, the primal roar of Korn and the vast, intricately crafted swell of Evanescence could seem worlds apart.
In reality, the two share many similarities. Both have endured childhood trauma, which colours the music they make, giving Korn and Evanescence an honesty that connects with their fans on a massive scale. Both the bands they front have survived well beyond the nu metal tag of their early years, and are now thought of as unique artists in their own right – latest albums Requiem and The Bitter Truth charted in the Top 10 in the UK and the Top 20 in the US. Both have experimented beyond the boundaries of those bands, entering into film scoring and classical work. And, as we find out when we join a Zoom call with the pair in the aftermath of their recent co-headlining tour across the US – where they teamed up to perform Freak On A Leash together each night – both have an immense amount of respect and affection for each other.
We’ve been granted a rare opportunity to converse with two giants of the metal world. But, as Jonathan sits with his brand-new puppy on his lap – a subject that dominates the first few minutes of our conversation, and leads to Amy telling us that she’s in the process of getting a kitten – today feels far more like an informal catch-up than a rock star state of address.
Can you remember the first time you heard each other’s music?
Amy: “Gosh! I’m not sure what the first song was, but it was in high school for me!”
Jonathan: “You’re already making me feel old!”
Amy: “It was like nothing that I had ever heard. We all have certain artists in our life that we hear and they have a spark, they have an impact. Korn was absolutely one of those artists for me. The music was coming from a real place. So, I became a fan right away. My favourite album was [2002’s] Untouchables.”
Jonathan: “That’s so surreal for me. I still trip out on it. You have to remember that I was this green kid from Bakersfield, but we relocated to Huntington Beach. I gave up my whole life to live my dream, and I can’t believe that this thing we did could be so impactful. We were just doing our own thing, these punk kids telling everyone to fuck off – and we’ve gone through our entire career like that! Even the name! Who names their band Korn, man?! And to hear Amy say she first heard us in high school and… now look at what she is doing!”
Amy: “That’s what metal is, that’s what rock is supposed to be, that nonconformist attitude. ‘This is what this is supposed to look like? Well, I’m not gonna do that!’ The whole idea is that you are meant to break the mould.”
Jonathan: “I remember driving around in my car and their song [Bring Me To Life] came on, and I flipped, I thought it was cool. Listen… I hate everything, man, but I loved her voice. I liked that there was a girl doing some rock music and it was badass.”
You both had to shake off the tag of nu metal around that time as well…
Amy: “I have a feeling Jonathan may feel the same, but I don’t like boxes. As artists we are unique. The real value in something is being who you are and not trying to fit into a certain genre. I want the freedom to make whatever music comes out of my soul. When [2003 debut album] Fallen came out, I was fresh out of school and I was like a cartoon of myself; it felt like nobody got me, it was just a 2-D representation of me based on people only knowing a couple of songs. I really struggled with that.”
Jonathan: “For me, we were making Untouchables, and that was when so many bands were coming out and jumping on the bandwagon. Now I don’t mind the tag ‘nu metal’ – they named an entire subgenre after my band? Holy shit! That’s cool! – but punk-ass, crazy Korn back then, we were like, ‘What the fuck? Fuck everyone! We’re going to make this insane record.’ Keep people guessing. It had become a parody of itself – I don’t want to be defined like that! Nowadays, I don’t care, but back then, I hated it. I make the music I make… you don’t call Metallica some thrash band! They’re fucking Metallica! You don’t call the Chili Peppers a funk rock band! They’re the fucking Chili Peppers! And Korn are Korn!”
Amy: “Exactly! You did it, there is only one Korn!”
Both of you seem to really dig deep into your personal lives and experiences to make music.
Amy: “That’s what sticks, that’s what stays, that’s what really touches people. Not the bullshit. It’s when you’re really taking a chance and speaking from the heart. I want to feel something real when I listen to music – it’s food for the soul, to feel not alone in the universe. When it comes to the bands that really stick, they’re the ones that really put everything out there.”
Jonathan: “For sure. Kids have bullshit detectors; they can hear that shit a mile away.”
Amy: “We had to fight the power with labels and stuff throughout my career. It’s always been a fight. Not now, I fought my fights…”
Jonathan: “And you won!”
Amy: “I did! The fights were always for the fans’ intelligence. They are not as stupid as the industry thinks they are! We’re going to give them something real, and it can’t be fake… anything but that! That turned into fights about real strings versus synthesisers. I knew we had to spend the money to make it sound right, because I knew it was what I would have wanted as a fan.”
Jonathan: “I feel the same. We were lucky, because we always told them that it was going to be our way or no way. We got into fights with magazines, fights with video directors, literal physical altercations, because we were so sure that it wasn’t going to go down like that.”
Amy: “‘Y’all want a single, say fuck that!’”
Amy: “When [Korn’s] Y’all Want A Single came out [in 2003], it really affected me again. I was like, ‘These people get me! This is my people!’”
Jonathan: “When the managers said, ‘We gotta try and get a single,’ we were like, ‘OK, here’s your single!”
Amy: “[To Hammer] They play that song every night, usually near the end before the encore, and we are all always side of the stage like, ‘Oh boy! Here we go!’ It’s always one of our favourite songs to warm up to before we go on, too.”
Is it hard for both of you to get into a place where you have to deliver such personal material every night?
Jonathan: “It’s like a switch flicks in my mind and I go to that place. Honestly, I kind of enjoy it. Most of the time I’m happy as fuck, but when I hear my band, and there’s a crowd, and it’s loud as fuck, I go there. I feed that to the people that want it, and they purge it and they let it out and it’s a huge release. I need it to get whatever is inside of me out, but by the end of the tour I’m so exhausted I can barely walk. I’m in hell, I want to go home and sleep for two weeks. But I need it, it’s therapy.”
Amy: “It’s a release, and there are days when you don’t feel like going onstage. But, without fail, when you get to the point where you walk up onto that stage and something takes over, it’s purifying.”
Jonathan: “Totally. I’ve said, ‘I’m gonna go on autopilot!’ so many times and…”
Amy: “Never gonna happen!”
Jonathan, how difficult was it to do Daddy live for the first time in 2015, on the 20th anniversary of your self-titled debut?
Jonathan: “I felt like I robbed the world of doing that live for so long. I felt like I owed it to our fans that were hardcore enough to come and see us on the 20th anniversary of that album, but I don’t wanna do it again. Going out and touring that record, I realised how dark it is – it’s some depressing shit. As we got into Follow The Leader, it became more about groove. The emotion was there, but it wasn’t that particular darkness we captured on that first record. In a few years, it’s the 30th anniversary and… I don’t think I wanna go through that again. It was difficult, and I think I was proving to myself that I could do it too.”
You both had to deal with an intense level of fame early on in your careers. How was that?
Jonathan: “I became a raging alcoholic. You can’t go anywhere, you can’t do anything, you have to have a fucking bodyguard 24 hours a day. Crazy shit. Still to this day, it’s tough, but that’s what we signed up for. Everyone in Korn went a bit nuts in the late 90s.”
Amy: “It was a hard adjustment. I was 21 [when Bring Me To Life came out], and I was often the only female anywhere. In my mind I thought, ‘That doesn’t matter!’, but you do start to feel alone. It wasn’t just about being female. Like I was talking about – it was that you start seeing the cartoon of yourself, the album cover version, the interview version. How can you feel like everyone knows me… but nobody knows me…? We’ve grown up and times have changed, but in the beginning it was scary. I used a lot of that as inspiration for the second album [The Open Door, released in 2006]. Billie Eilish’s second album does that too, and I found myself really relating to a lot of that.”
Jonathan: “It was hard for my little boy, Nathan. People would rush me and he would start crying, because all he knew was that ‘This is my daddy and this is my daddy time.’ He would cry and I’d have to say to this person, ‘Yo, I’m with my kid.’ And they go away pissed off. It’s mentally taxing. I know Amy can relate, but most people can’t.”
Amy: “Yeah, you’re ungrateful!”
Jonathan: “‘You’re an ungrateful fuck, fuck you! I’m burning your CDs!’ That sort of shit.”
Do you remember meeting each other for the first time?
Amy: “I do. It was at a festival, I guess. I was too nervous to knock on the door. So, I wrote a note saying how big a deal it was to have played with them, pushed it under the door and was happy to leave it at that. But they chased me down. Their security guy came and got me and brought me in. You were really nice to me, Jonathan, you were like, ‘Hey come on in, sit down!’ It was really sweet. Do you remember that now?”
Jonathan: “Yeah, I do now. I haven’t thought about that for years!”
Amy: “Fast-forward a few years and we’re doing Family Values [in 2007], and they really taught me how to have fun on tour. There was one night where I was stood by our bus, and suddenly these golf carts came out of nowhere, and all of Korn are on them and they say, ‘Hey! We’re gonna go let off some fireworks!’ It was just like they were still kids. There was something really pure about that.”
Jonathan: “That’s the whole reason we become artists, so that we can remain kids. Not to conform to what society tells us we have to be. I’m a 51-year-old kid. I remember that tour now. It was us and you, Trivium…”
Amy: “I remember Atreyu was on that tour and… Flyleaf, and Hellyeah.”
With Atreyu and Trivium on that Family Values tour, did it feel like there was something of a sea change happening in heavy music?
Amy: “Music has changed all along the way, and I think that is a good thing. That’s what keeps it interesting and genuine.”
Jonathan: “I just like anyone that is nice to me!”
Amy: “Ha ha ha! I had such a great time with you guys on this last tour! Coming back after doing that Family Values tour, what, 15 years later, it actually means more. After the pandemic, the passion from the audience to the bands and the crew, it was a moment of coming full circle. You get older and you recognise that time is fleeting, and we’re very lucky to have that moment and to have each other.”
What did you think of Amy’s cover of Korn song Thoughtless in 2004, Jonathan?
Jonathan: “I LOVED it! I loved how you broke it down and really got the chord progression and the melody; I wrote that fucking thing on an acoustic guitar in my room in Arizona, when we moved to go and write [for Untouchables]. I locked myself in my room and I would just write all night. I came up with that riff, I played the drums on the demo, I laid it all down, and I just love that she made it so… beautiful. Then when you put it out [on 2004 live album Anywhere But Home], they didn’t put the [Parental Advisory] sticker on it…”
Amy: “Oh yeah! They ripped it out of Walmart! Ha ha ha!”
Jonathan: “All because some uptight Christian family were pissed at the language on there!”
Amy: “It didn’t have the parental sticker and they said, ‘What? I thought Evanescence was a Christian band?’”
Jonathan: “Exactly, all that shit. I was going, ‘Yes!’ I love that.”
Amy: “It’s one of my favourite songs. I think the thing with metal is, it still needs to have a melody for me, and something I love about Korn is their beautiful melodies. When we started this tour I said, ‘We gotta do some collab! You can pretty much pick any song!’ I was really inspired by Tori Amos. She’s done a million covers, and she showed me that you can take pretty much any song and give it a whole new perspective and make you hear the lyrics in a different way. She did this cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit, and she gave it this deep pain. And Korn have done so many cool covers over the years…”
Obviously, you did Freak On A Leash on the Korn MTV Unplugged set too, Amy. It aired in 2007. How did that come about?
Jonathan: “I do not remember…”
Amy: “You guys just asked me! I was like, ‘Hell yeah, I’m gonna do a Korn song!’”
Jonathan: “You know what’s funny about that? Originally, we were going to do a mash-up with Metallica as the last song, but they were in the studio and couldn’t leave. My second choice was The Cure [who performed Make Me Bad / In Between Days].”
Amy: “I remember Robert Smith was there!”
Jonathan: “They all were! And that freaked me out, because that’s my band right there. But we knew we wanted to have guests, and so we asked Amy, because of the Thoughtless cover, and we wanted people to hear Freak On A Leash stripped right down. It was so intimate, we wanted to have people hear the actual melodies. We didn’t really rehearse, remember?”
Amy: “I feel like we ran through it once or twice, but I’m a practiser – I had run through it a whole bunch of times at home.”
Jonathan: “Well, I appreciate that… because I’m not! Ha ha ha! I just gotta feel it!”
And not many people would have believed that metal could translate to an acoustic style in that way, either…
Jonathan: “Nobody believed we could pull it off! It was the most intricate thing we had ever done. We had all these extra musicians, strings, a glockenspiel player, the glass harmonica player. ‘Korn can’t do Unplugged!’ ‘Yeah? We fucking can, watch this!’ We had to look at what Korn is really about, it’s about me purging my demons, but we did exactly what we wanted, and we wanted to come out of leftfield. A lot of people hated it but we really didn’t care!”
Amy: “Anything great that comes out of nowhere is always going to get people going, ‘Nah! Hated it!’ But to bring everything full circle, for me to get to do that every night on stage [on our recent tour], to do the heavy version, was such an honour. I’ve always wanted to do that.”
Jonathan: “It was great, too. Everyone loved it every night.”
Amy: “It felt like the ultimate celebration every night, right at the end of the encore after a night of so much love. I’m going to miss doing that.”
At this point, our time is up, and Amy and Jonathan quickly make plans to speak again soon. It’s been a trip learning about their journeys and how they’ve connected over the years, and before we go, we ask both icons what they most admire about each other.
“I respect the shit out of how she can sit down in front of a piano and make such beautiful music,” Jonathan immediately replies. “I respect her as a musician and a person totally.”
Amy beams, before answering, “It’s interesting… he was a legend before, and now we’re friends. That’s a weird way to start. It’s amazing to me. He’s a rad, down-to-earth, normal person with an amazing talent. It’s that simple.”
And with that, these two friends, so different on the face of it but so similar at their core, bid us farewell.