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By Photo by Sebastien Paquet
BY MATT MUNOZ Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian "Head" Welch isn't the same man he was eight years ago when his addictions and a spiritual crisis forced him to walk away from Korn at the pinnacle of the Bakersfield-bred band's success.
Then again, Korn isn't entirely the same band it was in 2005. The edge and intensity -- hallmarks of both the music and the band's personal style -- are still there, of course.
"I prayed about it and I just felt in my heart, now's the time. It just made perfect sense."
-- Brian "Head" Welch, who will reunite with Korn for several upcoming concerts
But below the surface, where it counts, the remaining original members couldn't be more different. Turns out that age and maturity have a way of mellowing even the most committed hellions.
Which puts Welch on the same page with old friends Jonathan Davis, James "Munky" Shaffer, and Reggie "Fieldy" Arvizu.
And soon it will put them on the same stage.
Welch, Davis and Arvizu have confirmed to The Californian that Korn will have its original guitar player back for a series of concerts that kick off in May. (So far, no Bakersfield dates have been announced.)
"It's kind of a weird situation, because we're all doing it based on a trial thing," said Welch, 42, during a recent phone interview. "Everyone is so humble now, everyone's happy, there's no drama at all. But at the same time, it's been so long. We're going in, and, if I'm free, we're doing it as far as live shows."
Davis echoed his old friend's sentiments:
"Just gonna be playing some shows and doing what Korn does," said Davis, also 42. "We're looking forward to these shows with Brian and we think it's gonna be awesome. He's a completely different person, for the better. He's full of life."
Out with the old ...
Welch's reunion with his old friends is all the more remarkable considering the finality of his 2005 departure. To atone for what he considered grave sins committed as a rock star, he withdrew from former bandmates, friends, hangers-on -- anyone who had anything to do with the hedonistic rock environment.
"When I left, I was like, 'I just wanna start over, I'm miserable, I'm not happy. I thought money and fame was everything.' When I left and started focusing on my daughter, I thought, 'That's it, new life.'
Korn suffered additional turmoil in 2006 with the departure of original drummer David Silveira, who has been replaced by Ray Luzier. Meanwhile, in 2007 Welch released a solo record and autobiography, both titled "Save Me from Myself."
"James (Shaffer) had reached out to me once or twice, but I was in this place where I just didn't want to be connected with anybody from my old life for a while," Welch recalled. "I feel bad that I didn't reach back out to him, but I think he understands now that I had to go through the process. I'd lost touch with Jon (Davis) since after the last Korn tour in 2005, but I connected with him in 2006 when he was sick and he had to cancel those tour dates."
A face-to-face meeting with Davis, the first since Welch left the group, came in 2011 when both were in Bakersfield. Davis was performing a solo show at B Ryder's Bar and reached out to his old friend moments before the concert.
"I hadn't seen him since the last Korn tour," Welch said. "He took me to the Korn studio in Bakersfield after my show and gave me the tour. He said, 'We need you back, man.' I was like, 'Whoa, slow down, man. It's great to see you.' I was just so nervous. I'd always looked up to him as a singer. He's Jonathan Davis, the quiet little guy I met before we got famous. Just to hang out that night was surreal."
If the Bakersfield encounter was an ice-breaker, a 2012 YouTube clip showing Welch with the remaining members of Korn at a 2012 North Carolina music festival whipped fans into a reunion frenzy.
Welch had intended to attend the Korn concert incognito with his daughter, Jeanne.
"I thought things out first. First, I thought, 'What if people try to get me to play a song? I just wanna go there and chill and not make a deal about that I'm there.' I purposely didn't tell anybody I was going until the day before, so there would be no time to plan anything. When I got there, I was watching Evanescence, Five Finger Death Punch, all those bands and just having a good time with my daughter."
But Welch was approached by Korn's tour manager about paying a visit to Shaffer's tour bus.
"Seven years was long enough," Welch said. "I went and talked to him and hung out. Next thing you know, the band is like, 'Hey, come out to the meet-and-greet.' I ended up going and signing about 50 autographs with Korn. I was like, 'How is this happening? All right cool, it's nice to see you, I haven't seen you in forever and now I'm signing autographs.' It just felt like I was put back into that position and it was meant to be."
The band convinced Welch to sit in for a set-closing rendition of the band's signature hit, "Blind," sending the crowd into celebratory chaos.
"I was trying to avoid it, because I just wanted to watch from the crowd," Welch said. "I ended up sitting behind Fieldy's amp watching the whole show, feeling all the love from the crowd. These are my brothers that I grew up with. I felt all those emotions. There were tears and it just touched me more than I thought it would."
Davis had a similar reaction:
"It's hard to describe that," he said of Welch's surprise performance. "So many overwhelming emotions. It was awesome."
A month later, Shaffer called to let Welch know the door was open.
"We talked for about an hour just about life," Welch recalled. "Afterwards, he texted me and said, 'I'm just glad to be talking to you again. It's not about the music. If you don't wanna do it, it's all good.' I actually told him, 'I don't think right now is the right time, but let me go think about it.' I prayed about it and I just felt in my heart, now's the time. It just made perfect sense."
Now in their 40s, the core Korn trio have traded strippers, booze and drama for marriage and parenthood. Like Welch, bassist Arvizu, 43, is a born-again Christian.
"What happens with friendships is that if you go through the good, the bad, and the ugly with people and you're still in their lives, the relationship is always going to be there," said Arvizu, speaking from his home in Southern California. "We don't see each other as much as people think. Brian lives in Nashville, Jonathan lives in Bakersfield, I live in Laguna. We're all in different cities and we all have our own families."
Welch will be pulling double duty on Korn's tour, thanks to the commitments he has to his own band, Love and Death, whose new album, "Between Here & Lost," was released last month.
"I have an obligation to this record label to tour with Love and Death, so I asked Korn if it would be possible that I can bring my other band on a couple dates. That way the label's happy, I'm happy, everyone's happy. They're like, 'OK, we'll see if we can do that.' So, we're kind of going on a case-by-case right now and see how that pans out."
Both Korn and Love and Death will kick off their tours May 17 in Columbus, Ohio. Korn then plays the Rocklahoma festival in Pryor, Okla., before both bands launch a European tour.
As for any potential clash between Welch's spiritual beliefs and the nature of Korn's dark lyrics, the guitarist said he's not looking to compromise the group's artistic integrity.
"I'm not uptight but at the same time, if it passes a certain level where it's going to where I have to talk to my daughter about stuff and my speaking engagements, then we'll talk about that. They're totally cool with that. There are so many Korn songs in the catalog to choose from, there's no way that I would ask anybody to change who they are. Love is the strongest thing there is and I love everyone just the way they are."
To ensure the love lasts, Arvizu said business matters will be left to the managers. He also took the opportunity to address whether a full reunion -- with the return of drummer Silveira -- is a possibility.
"God only knows," said Arvizu. "There have been so many times when people have said, 'never,' including myself. But I've read where Brian said, 'I will 100 percent never come back to Korn, and he's playing some shows with us.'... I don't really see anything right now or today, but tomorrow's a new day."
The remaining members of Korn are commuting between studios in Oildale and Southern California, putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to 2011's "The Path to Totality." Arivzu offered a tantalizing tease of what to expect:
"Right now, I will tell you this ... we've done something we've never done before. Normally if we do a new Korn record, we'll normally put 12 or 13 songs and that's how many we make. This time we've made 20-plus songs, and we'll put the best of what we have on there, whatever the numbers end up being. We have so many to choose from, I think it's going to be a little extra special this time."
Arvizu said there are no plans at this point to invite Welch to the studio.
"The only things we can confirm are the shows that we got," he said. "When we're really confirmed on something, that's when we let the world know. We are confirmed to do these tour dates with him, it is going down and he will be there to rock out with Korn the way everybody remembers Korn."
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Korn's major label self-titled debut, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
Any chance the celebration of that milestone and the spirit of reunification will reach Bakersfield? Welch, for one, wouldn't mind.
"To see restoration happening in this kind of way in my life with them is just very uplifting for me and I hope it's for the Korn fans, too. I'm down with Bako. Always was, always will be."