When frontman Jonathan Davis told Ray Luzier that Korn’s next album would be heavily influenced by dubstep, the drummer was, to put it mildly, surprised. After all, the band’s previous effort, 2010’s Korn III: Remember Who You Are, was a stripped-down, back-to-basics affair that had the Bakersfield, Calif.,-born quartet reuniting with original producer Ross Robinson. The result was Korn’s most critically acclaimed album in years. Now Davis wanted to discard the rough-and-tumble blueprint after becoming a fan of—get this—Skrillex.
“Man, I thought the idea was wacky at first,” Luzier says. “I love electronic music, and I’m a huge admirer of bands like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. But then part of me realized, hey, for the majority of drummers out there, going dubstep is a total nightmare. So I saw it as a challenge.” One day Davis introduced the band to some Skrillex-produced tracks he and the L.A. electronic-music producer (and Vegas-haunting DJ) had collaborated on. “They’d written these insane tunes that were so noisy and harsh I couldn’t see how Jon would be able to write melodies for them,” says Luzier about the sketches that eventually comprised Korn’s 2011 album, The Path of Totality. “When he did write those melodies, wow, it just all came together so easily.”
On tour, Luzier plays every note live, each drum hit matching what you hear on the record. If it sounds impossible, there’s something you should know about Luzier. Not only is he the “new guy,” having joined the nü-metal monolith in 2009, but Luzier is the only dude in Korn to have graduated from and taught at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood.
“The guys in Korn and I come from different worlds, no doubt,” Luzier says. “But they have a beauty about what they do and possess a level of passion I respect. In contrast to them, I didn’t have early success. I went from studio session to bar-mitzvah gig to cover band and still had to scrape together rent money every month.”
Ultimately Luzier, like his Korn-mates, is someone who plays “from the heart.” He grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania (“Yeah, I know how to milk a cow, so what?”), playing along to Van Halen records in his underwear in a cold-ass barn. When the 41-year-old moved to California in the ’90s, his constant gigging earned him the attention of his rock hero, David Lee Roth. Luzier played drums for him from 1997 to 2005 (and on Roth’s last two solo albums) before joining supergroup Army of Anyone with Stone Temple Pilots’ DeLeo Bros. After that, he auditioned for Korn, learning 30 songs when he was only asked to master five.
“They said, ‘Welcome to Korn. See you in Dublin when the tour kicks off.’”
From there, Luzier jumped into the fire, doing a world tour before recording Korn III. “No Pro Tools or any studio tricks,” Luzier says of the experience. “[Robinson] locked us in a small room, and if we looked too comfortable he’d make us play harder, faster.”
Indeed, the caveman-on-meth beat of III’s “Oildale” is a blood vessel-burster, with the snare and kick drum essentially switching places and a momentum that requires technical know-how and godlike physical stamina. But after the cramped intensity of that experience, Korn took a digital and on-the-fly approach to Totality, with David securing a vocal take in a studio in Hawaii and Luzier sampling toms in Paris.
“I’m just happy to be in a band that’s willing to experiment and take chances,” Luzier says. “Too many groups are content to do the same old thing.”