Jonathan Davis still suffers for his art. The Korn singer calls “my fucking life” the central inspiration in his songwriting, and he recently could be seen suffering more in a rundown two-story building in downtown Los Angeles, where Dean Karr was directing the band in a music video for “Rotting in Vain.” For one sequence, each band member was put under layers of debris, and Davis was asked to erupt and sing from a bathtub filled with leaves and dust.
When his moment on camera came, some of the detritus went into his lungs. “It sucked,” Davis told Rolling Stone during our visit to the set, sounding more cheerful than irritated. “I started breathing in the massive amount of dirt, and when I got out of there, I had all this shit in my hair. The worst is my lungs – I’ve been coughing up dirt loogies. That’s fun.”
The daylong shoot was for the first single from Korn’s 12th album, The Serenity of Suffering, which is set to be released October 21st. On “Rotting in Vain” and other tracks – including one that features guest vocals by Corey Taylor of Slipknot – the album leans heavily toward the heavy rock sound of their early hits. But Davis wash’t initially inspired to write lyrics to the music created by guitarists Brian “Head” Welch and James “Munky” Shaffer. He hit a creative block.
“I knew the songs were good. I knew the guys poured their hearts into it, but I just could not feel anything,” Davis said. “It took me a couple of times, a couple of times, and things started trickling out. I never had a more difficult time making a record than this one creatively. The end result made it that much greater.”
In the new music video, which premiered last week on Rolling Stone, the band is brought to life by a mysterious ringmaster/mad scientist played by goateed actor Tommy Flanagan of Sons of Anarchy. Each band member is reanimated to perform “Rotting in Vain.” The visuals play with the dark and the disturbed – which is what Karr has frequently specialized in since his eerie video for Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” in 1995.
“It’s a song about relationships, about dealing with people and their bullshit,” Davis said of “Rotting in Vain.” “All the pain and … putting yourself through this constantly and constantly, going through this negative stuff that really irritates you. You’re sitting rotting and you’re doing it for no reason because it’s never going to get better. … I have lots of instances in my life where I’ve done that, and I have a problem: I’m too nice of a guy. I’ve let people hurt me over the years.”
The Serenity of Suffering is the second full album since Head’s return, reconvening the band’s raging duel guitar attack of its classic lineup. “I’m, like, the metal guy, and James likes the heavy stuff … and Jon likes his softer stuff, and Fieldy was a hip-hop guy, a funky dude. So it’s just everybody’s styles coming together,” Head told Rolling Stone. “It’s a brotherhood, too. People can feel the family in this thing. I’ve always felt Korn is more than music.”