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How Jonathan Davis became “a 400-year-old vampire” to write songs for Queen Of The Damned

Jonathan Davis Queen Of The Damned
(Image credit: Brian Ziff/Press/Pictorial Press/Alamy)

A former mortuary assistant with a morbid penchant for collecting serial killer memorabilia, Korn frontman Jonathan Davis was the perfect person to compose the soundtrack to a movie about an immortal rock star vampire.

The movie was 2002’s Queen Of The Damned, based on the 1988 book of the same name by goth-queen author Anne Rice, itself a follow up to her fang-centric blockbusters Interview With A Vampire and The Vampire Lestat.

The film starred Irish actor Stuart Townsend as vampire-turned rock star Lestat and R&B superstar Aaliyah as his lover/nemesis Akasha, aka the Queen Of The Damned of the title. Director Michael Rymer wanted a suitably epic set of songs for Lestat to sing in the movie, so he turned to Davis – then riding high on the back of a string of multi-platinum albums with Korn – and songwriting partner, film composer Richard Gibbs.

The pair met with Rymer, but they told him they didn’t just want to write Lestat’s songs – they also wanted to write the score. “I think the moment when I feel like we really got the job was… in the books and the movie, the vampire Lestat plays violin, and in the script, it even mentioned ‘Paganini-style violin’ – a classical violinist,” Gibbs tells Metal Hammer. “And I looked at Michael and I said, ‘That’s kind of been done to death, and we can certainly do that, but I have a different pitch for you.’ And Michael said, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, ‘Well, I know this guy Shankar.’’

He’s referring Indian composer and virtuoso violinist Shankar, who had had worked with Peter Gabriel on the Grammy award-winning soundtrack for 1988’s The Last Temptation Of Christ. “I started explaining who Shankar was, and I just saw Michael’s face light up,” says Gibbs. “He was a huge fan.”

A confirmed night owl, the singer relished the chance to embody an immortal rock star. “I had to become Lestat, and I read the books, and wrote lyrics about being a fucking 400-year-old vampire, and it was so fucking fun,” he says.

Gibbs joined Korn on the road, and the pair would work on songs after each show until the sun came up the next morning. Davis laid down the vocals for Townsend to mime to, enlisting Korn bandmates Head and Munky to play guitar, plus Limp Bizkit bassist Sam Rivers and Shankar on violin. They recorded eight songs, from which Michael Rymer picked five for the movie: Not Meant For Me, Forsaken, System, Redeemer and Slept So Long.

The movie’s soundtrack was snapshot of the nu metal era. As well as the songs Davis and Gibbs had written, it also featured Papa Roach’s Dead Cell, Disturbed’s Down With The Sickness and, during one sex scene, DeftonesChange (In The House Of Flies).

But there was some bad news for Davis. His label gave permission for his voice to appear in the film, but not on the accompanying soundtrack album. As a result, he and Gibbs were forced to re-record the songs with guest vocalists including Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Disturbed’s David Draiman. The Korn man was understandably unhappy at the decision.

“Oh, that fucking pissed me off!” he says. “I was so fucking mad, like, ‘Are you kidding me? You know how hard I worked on this, right?’”

Davis could take some solace that although the movie itself was crucified by critics when it was released in the spring of 2002, the soundtrack was  one of its few saving graces. More importantly, it allowed the singer to step outside of his comfort zone.

“It totally did. It gave me the confidence to reach out and start doing more,” he says. “My solo record, [2018’s] Black Labyrinth, is in that slot too. That’s just what I write; I write dark, vampiric music.”

Read the full story of the making of Queen Of The Damned, including a brand new interview with Jonathan Davis, in the new issue of Metal Hammer, out now (opens in new tab).

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