Listen to the synth-pop demo that got a pre-Korn Jonathan Davis viciously bullied at high school

Korn, JD
(Image credit: Mick Hutson, Getty Images)

That old saying about school days being the happiest days of your life? Miss Jonathan Davis with that shit. For Korn’s vocalist, high school was a trial to be endured, as he faced a daily barrage of insults, innuendo, punches and kicks… all because he had different tastes in music and fashion to his tormentors.

“Growing up, I was a New Romantic,” Davis told Metal Hammer in 2015. “My favourite band was Duran Duran, so I’d wear make-up and long shirts, and in Bakersfield – an oil and farming town – there were a lot of macho jocks who took offence to that. I got my ass kicked and got called a ‘faggot’ all the time. I wasn’t gay, but it got to the point where I thought that maybe I was gay, and just didn’t know it. It really fucked with my head.”

To his immense credit, Davis refused to let the bullies stop him from expressing himself in whichever ways he saw fit. Plus he had an outlet for his creative passions, Buck Naked, the high school band in which he played with friends Ray Solis, Dave Deroo, and Jayce Waldren. Though most of the original material Buck Naked penned has disappeared into the mists of time, the quartet did record two songs which offer glimpses into Jonathan Davis’ adolescent mind-set during these formative years. 

Of the two tracks, What Have I Done most clearly telegraphs the musical influences Davis was channelling into his songwriting. Essentially it’s a knock-off Depeche Mode B-side, with traces of Duran Duran and Human League, and the type of lyrics one might expect to read from a sensitive, romantically-challenged high school student. 

“ We’re best together, can’t you see?,” sings Davis at one point. “Now we’re two of a kind, meant to be... together.”

Buck Naked’s second surviving song bears a very strong whiff of Davis’ early love for Led Zeppelin: it sounds like a tune that could easily slide on to the next Greta Van Fleet album. 

In a pristine, clear voice, Davis sings: 

“We will travel the seas.
We will embrace each other
And lose touch of reality
And climb over mountains
And soar through the air
All i want there, is for you to be there.”

A bit hippy dippy, certainly, but then if any of us were getting the crap kicked out of us on a daily basis throughout high school, we might wish for a little peace, love and understanding also.

As high school bands tend to do, Buck Naked dissolved as its members moved on post-graduation. Davis would move on to join first SexArt, then Creep, then Korn, by which point he was emboldened to write lyrics about facing down bullies and standing up for one’s own identity in defiance of anyone who might seek to curb your freedom. It’s impossible to listen to songs such as Faget and Clown and not hear a direct link back to those terrible and traumatic times.

“I had to get that shit off my chest,” Davis says simply about Faget. “Still to this day, it feels so good to be able to scream it out. Bullying is not some rite of passage that people should accept, it’s bullshit, and I hope this song has helped people. Every time I sing this I relive that shit. It’s my therapy, I guess.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.