In its mid- to late 90's prime, Bakersfield, California's Korn helped forge the nu-metal genre by not only incorporating its heaviest and loudest aspects but also going outside — way outside — to untapped sources like hip-hop and electronic music. The band became huge and earned Grammy Awards in the process.
At the very heart of this band and this new genre was guitarist Brian "Head" Welch, ranked No. 26 in Guitar World's list of the 100 greatest heavy metal guitar players of all time. Welch's penchant for savage distortion and exploratory use of effects pedals bridged Korn's gap between metal and the great unknown. Welch split with Korn in 2005 and went on to perform his own heavy and sometimes Christian-oriented music. He released "Save Me From Myself" in 2008 under his own name. His touring band was eventually named Love and Death. Love and Death was initially plagued with showbiz, emotional, and personal problems. But Welch and the band persisted.
Now with a new album, "Between Here and Lost," just released in January 2013, a balance between secular and Christian music, and an apparent burying of the hatchet between Welch and Korn, things are looking up. Welch called to discuss the balance between melody and chaos, getting stuck in Eastern Europe, and getting back with his former Korn mates. Here's an edited transcript of what he said:
CITY: "Between Here and Lost" just dropped a few weeks ago. How is it doing?
Brian Welch: Dude, this is the album I've been waiting for for about eight years. When I left Korn, I was wanting to do a different kind of music. So I did my first solo album, "Save Me From Myself," and it was kind of the beginning of the music I wanted to do, but I just couldn't get there yet.
Did you need to separate yourself more from Korn first in order for this band to fly?
Not really. I just really like melody and as a band now we go to melodies that are a bit softer. We wanted to come out with a unique sound and I think we achieved that. When I started Love and Death, these musicians helped me get to where I needed to be.
The band has had its share of tough times.
We started the band and it seemed like everything was crashing around us. We went to Europe and lost a bunch of money. Everyone that signed up with the band was like, "Hey, we're gonna make it big, we've got the guy from Korn."
But that wasn't the case?
No. We hit the road and not much money was coming in. One of our guys went through a serious break up with his girl, and a lot of the emotional problems I went through. I've struggled with depression. It just seemed like everything was against us for years and now things are opening up to where we're having a better time.
But don't all the bad times make for good material?
Yeah, dude. That's the whole thing. These songs on the new record are about walking through a bunch of crap and staying positive getting to the other side.
Love and Death's music doesn't come from a pretty place, does it?
Exactly. I'm not the kind of guy to write about butterflies and puppies.
How'd you develop as a guitar player? What are some of your early influences?
I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old. I remember listing to Queen on 8-track tape. I wanted to be a drummer after hearing that, but my dad talked me into guitar. I started getting into AC/DC, Randy Rhoads, then Motley Crue, Ratt, Van Halen — all the stuff that was out then. Then Metallica came out with "Master of Puppets," Faith No More... Korn was influenced from all that — from Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More, Sepultura, even hip-hop like Cypress Hill. Throw that all in the pile and that's what influenced me.
Any new influences sneaking in?
More electronic stuff, and melody. Bands like Red are a bit of an influence. Or Breaking Benjamin; I love the melody they bring out.
Is it difficult to balance melody and your crushing guitar sound?
That's the key. It comes pretty natural.
Are you still active with your Christian ministry and music?
Yeah. I still speak to groups. But this year is going to be more mainstream. Mostly mainstream, but some Christian as well. We've got a tour coming up with Korn, and we've booked some shows with In This Moment.
You recently joined Korn on stage. Have you guys kissed and made up?
Yeah, after eight years. It totally feels like it's meant to be and we're just going to go for it.
Perhaps a reunion?
We'll see what happens...