Silveria is phoning from a Madison, Wisconsin, dressing room, where Korn is preparing for another date on its Tour With No Name. The drummer insists the new show is a "scaled-down" affair that's allowing the band to reconnect with its roots. For some, this might be hard to swallow, given that the SoCal nü-metal quintet is traveling with a specially designed "in-the-round" stage, a few million watts of light and sound equipment and a limited-edition "evil snake-woman" mic stand crafted by H.R. Giger, the artist best known for creating the extraterrestrial villains for the Alien and Species flicks.
"It's taking a little while to feel like we're back in the groove of things, and now we are," the road-weary Silveria says with a sigh. "We do the same [set] every night because we have programs for the lights and the sound that have to be consistent. If we change it, the programs we created won't match up with the songs. It gets tiring -- it moves into more of a job kind of feeling, doing the same thing night after night, but it's all good."
In addition to a wealth of Korn classics, the new show focuses on material from the band's fifth album, Untouchables, which entered the charts at No. 2, outpaced by a seemingly unstoppable Eminem. Korn spent more than six months penning Untouchables and several more months in the studio with producer Michael Beinhorn (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Hole). In the old days, when Korn was just another metal band trying to make it on the Sunset Strip, the notion of taking a year to make a record and then touring the globe was the stuff of rock dreams.
"I always hoped, but there's no way to imagine what it would be like," Silveria muses. "We saw other bands that were big and thought it would be cool. We tried and tried, and it just kind of happened."
Korn formed from the ashes of several acts in its native Bakersfield, California, relocating to Los Angeles "to become rock stars," Silveria says. The band struggled initially, trying to fill clubs under L.A.'s notorious pay-to-play scheme, where aspiring groups shell out hundreds of dollars for the privilege of gigging at a particular venue. With determination and a grinding, ominous sound, Korn eventually built a large enough following to demand reimbursement for its services.
"We were packing the clubs," Silveria remembers. "And we finally had to take a stand and say, 'We're not playing here unless you pay us, 'cause we know how much money's coming in.' Once one club did it, it started a chain-reaction where the other clubs were like, 'Why are you playing there?' And we were like, 'Because they're paying us; they're doing it right.' Then we were selling out all the L.A. clubs and getting paid."
Even larger paychecks started rolling in after the release of Korn's 1994 self-titled debut, which made a splash via anguished anthems such as "Blind" and "Clown." Lyrically, frontman Jonathan Davis detailed the harrows of child abuse through the evil nursery rhyming of "Shoots and Ladders" and the haunting "Daddy," which contained the album's most shocking revelation: You've raped/I feel dirty/It hurt/As a child/Tied down/That's a good boy/And fucked/Your own child. It was a record that connected with disaffected youth around the world, many of whom gravitated toward Korn's self-mutilating misery.
"We're on the same level as anybody else," Silveria says, sipping his just-delivered Red Bull while reflecting on the group's of-the-people appeal. "We don't want to feel like we're on a different level than other people; they're just as cool as we are."
Korn became a household name in 1996 with its sophomore effort, Life Is Peachy, on which the group further explored the connection between rock and rap. Among Peachy's highlights was a brainbending cover of Ice Cube's "Wicked" that featured a slurry appearance from Deftones vocalist Chico Moreno. Korn also scored with "A.D.I.D.A.S.," which juxtaposed Davis' creepy singsong style with the angular, seven-string shredding of guitarists James "Munky" Shaffer and Brian "Head" Welch. Peachy's success secured the band a main-stage slot at Lollapalooza, alongside Tool, Snoop Dogg, Tricky and others. Unfortunately, Korn completed fewer than half its scheduled dates before Munky was stricken with viral meningitis.
"He was just super tired and drained and had no energy and no drive to do anything," Silveria recalls. "He went to the hospital and found out he had meningitis. When we found that out and how dangerous it was, it wasn't even really a question. We just said, 'Forget it. It's not worth jeopardizing his health. Let's just go home and get better.' It was a drag, because we were having so much fun on the tour and wanted to do it, but it's not like anyone was mad or upset about it."
In the wake of Munky's recovery, Korn went mainstream with 1998's Follow the Leader, which cemented the group's reputation as rock-rap superstars. Spurred by the singles "Got the Life" and "Freak on a Leash," the album topped the Billboard charts and sold more than five million copies. Korn also launched the Family Values Tour, a hugely successful affair that teamed the outfit with Ice Cube, Limp Bizkit and Rammstein. Capping the tour was a performance at 1999's Woodstock, a gig that remains unsurpassed in the band's eyes.
"Massive crowd and craziness," Silveria marvels. "We started with 'Blind,' and the crowd just blew up. It was amazing to see that many people jumping at the same time. As far as I could see, people were jumping in waves because of the sound delay. It was such a rush, it was great -- definitely the highlight of our career. I think I can speak for the whole band."
Silveria downplays the carnage, rape, arson and price-gouging that soured the third Woodstock experience for many.
"It was just poor management," he says. "It wasn't anything we had to do with, fortunately. Some bad shit happened, but when you get that many people together, some bad shit is gonna happen."
A few months after Woodstock, Korn released its fourth effort, Issues, which sold millions of copies but alienated some longtime fans with nods to electronica and other glossy production touches. Issues also featured four different album covers, angering devotees who had to purchase quadruple copies. Silveria was also less-than-thrilled with what he considers Korn's weakest record to date.
"I wasn't super, super enthusiastic about Issues. I was more into Follow the Leader," he explains. "I thought some of the structures were kind of boring, and it didn't have as unique a sound as this one or Follow the Leader. I know people who say it's their favorite record, but it didn't quite hit home with me."
Following an exhaustive, yearlong Issues tour, Korn took a much-needed six-month break, its first extended vacation since 1994. Silveria used his furlough to open Tuna Town, a sushi bar in Huntington Beach, California. He also took time out to pose bare-chested for a series of Calvin Klein ads that infuriated his bandmates, particularly Davis, who took the drummer to task in the press. After Slipknot started burning copies of the CK ad onstage, Davis told a reporter, "Slipknot just had a problem with David doing those adverts, but so did everybody else in Korn. I just thought those pictures didn't suit us and weren't in good taste."
Criticism and Korn have always gone hand in hand, and the group has been subjected to some of the most venomous barbs ever fired at a commercial rock outfit. Some of these accusations center on an endorsement deal with Puma, the shoe company that signed Korn to a lucrative contract after "A.D.I.D.A.S." became a sensation. Other wags malign occasional A&R man Davis for inflicting Orgy and Limp Bizkit on the world. But the harshest words are reserved for the band's music, which has been skewered for everything from whininess to faux angst to pandering commercialism. These denouncements sting the least, Silveria says.
"I really don't care what they have to say," he says. "If they like us, fine; if they don't, fine. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. We've never been looking for credit from critics or awards -- just the support of our fans is proof. It's the most rewarding award, so to speak, that we could get. The dedication and loyalty of our fans is as much as I can possibly think we could ever get."
That and maybe a few cases of Red Bull.