Brian ‘Head’ Welch: “Korn inspired some big bands and some crappy bands”

Brian Head Welch
(Image credit: Press)

Brian ‘Head’ Welch has had one of the most interesting journeys of any metal musician in living memory. As a member of Korn he helped to craft the sound of nu metal, superbly anchoring their bottom-heavy attack and tag-teaming riffs with fellow guitarist James ‘Munky’ Shaffer, before his spiral into addiction led him away from Korn and into the wilderness. His salvation was found in his religious beliefs, spiritual awakening and, ultimately, an emotional reformation with his bandmates. As he prepares to resurrect his post-Korn solo project-turned-fully functioning band, Love And Death, we find out what he’s learned from it all.

Metal Hammer line break

I can’t explain Korn’s sound

“We just took all of this music – metal, punk, industrial, hip hop – and melded it all together on that first album. We somehow nailed a moment in time when people were looking for something new and the climate was right. Jonathan had so much pain in his life and he just needed to get it out, that’s all we really concentrated on. We didn’t know what it was going to be. People didn’t like it at first; we were an oddity, but we started to grow on people, we just put a stamp on the history of heavy music and we’re proud of that. Did I think back then you’d be asking me about it today? Hell, no!”

We’re flattered by what’s come since

“I look at who came after us, and bands really took our sound and did amazing things with it; look at Slipknot and look at Linkin Park! I love both those bands, and they took what we did into whole new directions. So, we inspired some bands that are much bigger than us, and some crappy bands as well. You have to think that’s an accomplishment!”

Korn were one of metal’s last superstar bands

“I guess it was different in our day. There were bands with names you just recognise: Metallica, Linkin Park, Deftones, System Of A Down… to have Korn be one of those names is a trip. We were the last group to really be on MTV, where people would wait to see the video, everyone had to wait for us to put the CD out, and so I think it did mean more to people. What you can’t have, you want more; people are still fans but the instant gratification of now has taken away the real hardcore nature of it. I feel lucky to have experienced that last bit of the old way of doing things before it all changed.”

Metal is accepting religion more now

“It’s better now, but when I let everyone know that was my path, it was an oddity for sure. Heavy bands like Metallica or whoever, whatever big heavy band you wanna name, none of them had a story like that. People thought it was a hoax. It was partially my own doing, though; I took my braids out and I had this curly hair, and I didn’t shave. I remember these kids came into this ice cream store I was in and they said ‘Hey, look guys, it’s Jesus!’ and they laughed at me. I thought it was funny! I looked in the mirror and was like, ‘I’m gonna let this grow and have the Jesus look.’ I was serious about my faith, but I posted lots of pictures of myself looking like Jesus! I went and got baptised in Israel. One minute you’re Head from Korn, the next you’re this Jesus guy. But it’s different now, there are far more of us… the Megadeth guys, for example. It’s not as unusual anymore.”

I dreamt about returning to Korn

“The years after leaving Korn? When I was awake, I was OK, because I was so addicted to my new life and my new adventure. When I used to have downtime in Korn, that was when the addiction and the depression would hit me, so when I left there was a period of time where I was loving life. I just focused on my daughter and stayed away from MTV and the media; I didn’t want to know what they were doing. But when I went to sleep, 80% of my nights I would dream about being back onstage with those guys. I would wake up and have an emotional feeling about that. I was missing them. In real life I wasn’t, but my subconscious was – for about seven years I dreamed about those guys!”

My first show back with Korn was bizarre

“The last few years in Korn seemed like I was in a fog, but when I left I tried to forget about those years for the longest time. So, when I jumped up onstage [to play Blind at the Carolina Rebellion Festival in May, 2012] it was like an instant connection but yet it felt so foreign. The last two years in Korn I was totally blissed out of my mind; either drunk or, for sure, on methamphetamines, so from this blurry memory to being clear as a bell, I was tripping. Like, ‘Whoah! This is surreal!’ It was really exciting. I thought it was just the closing of the book, we all forgave each other and I got one more chance to play with them. That was awesome.”

Prioritise what's important

“A lot of Loud Krazy Love [the 2018 movie documenting Head’s time away from the band and his relationship with his daughter] is me regretting things, but, when I really think about it, my parents are still together, and my dad was a drinker and he was angry sometimes, but he tried to be a good dad. He was just stuck in his ways because his dad was a drinker too. So, I think I’ve done the best with what I have been handed. With rock stardom, I tried to enjoy it but I think I enjoyed it too much. It took me a long time to realise that positivity, family, faith… those are the things that you need in life. That’s when I started the process to rebuild and heal, which takes years.”

Watching your life on film is very emotional

“When we first watched the full cut, me and my daughter watched it together and we just cried. She was 16 at the time, she had been going to counselling – the poor thing had two parents that were addicts, so, when she saw it, she saw her whole life, from being born to that present day. The magnitude wrecked her; we wanted everything in there, but it was just so fresh. That documentary is the most real thing you can see, we just opened up and shared it.”

Exist in the moment

“If you’ve spent most of your life tearing everything apart, it will take some time to heal. But I’m pretty free, man; that old person is gone. I’m around people that drink, people do that on the road with me all the time, and it’s fine. I’m just trying to live in the moment, not let those regrets get to me and exist in the present. I get depressed sometimes, but you need to focus on what is happening right now. The past is gone, you have to be that person you want to be right now.”

Keep that sense of fun

“You know, humour helps us all a lot in that band. We’re always joking about and farting on each other or whatever. It’s literally the same thing now as it was back in the early days, except we’re not throwing up over each other! But the sayings, the silly faces, we’ve got all of these little in-jokes that’ve always been there, because we’re brothers! What you see nowadays is just an older version of what was always Korn, what always tied us together. We’re still the same people, we still like to goof around.

Love And Death is a fully fledged band

“When I went back to Korn I did some shows with Love And Death and then put that band down for a while. Myself and the guitarist Jasen [Rauch, from Breaking Benjamin] had been working on these songs for about five years, and when I first started this did feel like a very personal, solo project, but now the guys have come in and written the record with me I feel like this is its own brand. We have our own style, doing things that we can’t do in Korn, or the guys can’t do in Breaking Benjamin.”

It’s never too late to learn new things

“Writing and collaborating with other musicians is a really fun thing, because it can be a story that we’re all creating together, but it can still be something really personal to me. That’s what art is, right? It has an abstract feeling to the listener, but it means everything to me. I had a lot of help; sometimes I suck at writing lyrics, everyone is like ‘Nah’ and they’ll shut me down, but then I can get given something from them and I’ll transform it or rewrite it and they all tell me it’s great! I’m learning to be a frontman, but I’m being supported amazingly.” 

Published in Metal Hammer #344


Korn guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch’s other band Love And Death make their long-awaited second coming with new album Perfectly Preserved. Punchy and pummelling, this is a sonic confessional that draws new triumphs from former tribulations.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.