Under the Influence: Korn's James "Munky" Shaffer

The Korn seven-stringer recalls some of the most potent records in his collection, from West Coast classics to a band of fellow malcontents they're currently on the road with

Feature by Dave Kerr | 06 Jan 2015
  • James Shaffer

1. Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)
This record changed the way I perceived music altogether. At the time I was 12 years old, and although I’d heard Jimi Hendrix play I thought Eddie Van Halen took another step, as far as the tone of the guitar went; I didn’t understand what he was doing to the instrument to make it wail and scream like that, but I had to know. This gave me the desire to play; like, what is that? How is he doing that? How can I do that? Songs like Runnin’ with the Devil and Atomic Punk – which is just fuckin’ brilliant – I can still appreciate today. I think a lot of Eddie Van Halen's percussive techniques were well ahead of their time – I could hear Tom Morello using a lot of those tricks much later on. Awe inspiring stuff.


2. N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton (1988)
Head and I really enjoyed N.W.A when we first started – still do – and followed all of the solo careers they embarked upon in the aftermath, like when Dr Dre made The Chronic. He was using a lot of samples and we were really trying to emulate that with our guitars. Straight Outta Compton is a street smart record, this was so real and had no boundaries. I loved that they were free to express themselves and talk about this illegal gang activity which they may or may not have partaken in. I was just out of high school and had gone through a bit of a hair metal phase where I was tired of it. I can still enjoy some of that stuff, but at the time, musically, I think I was looking for something a little angrier. I think that’s where NWA came in – that’s where 90s hip-hop was at. It really struck a chord with me; so Head and I started getting into the way they produced the drums with the 808.  Much later on down the line, Cube came in and gave us a few verses for Children of the Korn and we toured with him on our Family Values tour too – what an honour.


3. Faith No More – The Real Thing (1989)
Fieldy and I were big Faith No More fans. In the late 80s they were playing a kind of funk rock; so were the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but we tended to lean more towards the minor progressions. When Patton joined in ’89 they dropped a single called From Out of Nowhere and we were sold all the way. At that point we became real fanatics – started researching the guy and going up to San Francisco to see them play. Every song on this record was super inspiring to us. The song structures and Patton’s sense of melody – it was alternative metal at its best. You don’t have any wailing solos – there tended to be a bridge where things got crazy and they’d feature each artist, rather than just the one guy. It was much more of a band effort than the norm. Now, I love guitar solos and Randy Rhoads, but Faith No More steered us in the direction where we ultimately ended up. Back in 2000, David [Silveria, original Korn drummer] had an issue with his arm for a while and had to miss a few shows, so Mike Bordin sat in and we toured Europe. It was a lot of fun to jam with him – he’s punk rock at heart and just a great drummer. So for a while there you had Korn with this Faith No More groove – it was crazy. I’m really happy to hear that they’re coming back with some new material.


4. Mr. Bungle – Mr. Bungle (1991)
A big influence before Korn got signed or even started to experiment were Mr Bungle. When we realised that Patton had this other band, we started trying to find out more about who they were and when they were playing – tracking down VHS tapes of their gigs. I loved their last album, California, but their self-titled debut had the biggest impact on me. There’s a song on there called Love Is A Fist that’s fucking crushing. That set the tone for us and what we went on to do creatively. They were completely outside the box and just didn’t care – they satisfied only themselves. It wasn’t about record sales, it was just about creating a band.


5. The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (1992)
The Pharcyde were a group we always used to listen to when we were taking a break from writing music in the studio. This was when we were writing our first album – we’d take a step back and listen to something that had a lighter vibe. The Pharcyde came with that ‘let’s have a barbecue’ feel. We ended up touring with them – we enjoyed that band so much we invited them to open up for us. A lot of people didn’t seem to know what to think – it was just such a weird and unusual combination. To us it wasn’t. We had Tre ['Slimkid3' Hardson] appear on a track from Follow the Leader called Cameltosis, which was a dream.


6. Rage Against the Machine – Evil Empire (1996)
On Evil Empire, Tom Morello was basically a DJ armed with a guitar. This record is just perfection – one of those where you have to listen to the whole thing once you’ve put it on. From People of the Sun, through Bulls on Parade to Year of Tha Boomerang, it just takes you on a journey. Korn was up and running by the time this came out and we were happy to see that these guys were really breaking the mould. I think Rage Against the Machine kind of glued together a nation of metal; Zack de la Rocha’s politicised rap reached across cultural boundaries, which I don’t believe many other bands were doing at the time.   


7. Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile (1999)
Trent Reznor is brilliant in what he does – what he’s been doing for the past 25 years. He keeps reinventing himself, keeps challenging himself creatively. That goes for what he does in the live arena as well as his records with his ever-evolving band. A friend of mine, Danny Lohner, used to be in the band so I know a lot of the stories behind some of the recordings, and it’s really cool to hear that from somebody who was actually there. The Fragile is one of the most brilliant records ever made in the genre of rock or metal. It’s epic not only in that it’s a journey or a double album, but also in the sheer number of instruments Reznor uses. Not only are you getting drones, acoustic guitars, piano and drums, but you’re getting a saxophone, string sections – there’s a lot going on. What he’s doing today has given me inspiration. He’s going into movie scores and giving a guy like me vision – the inspiration to reach beyond just being in a band. It’s given me a new sense of ‘Where do I want to be in 5 or 10 years? Why can’t I do that?’ He’s opening doors.


8. Deftones – White Pony (2000)
I love this record, this is when they really stepped up their game as far as writing and production go. I think Terry Date did a great job; he’s done some mixing on a couple of our albums, but we’ve never had him produce… I’d like to see that happen someday. That track Change in the House of Flies – so dynamic and graceful, absolutely one of my favourite Deftones songs. They’re from Sacramento and we were living in Huntington Beach at the time we were first starting out – before us or Deftones had a record deal – so we would exchange opening slots. We came up at the same time and have always remained close friends.


9. Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)
That song – Feel Good Hit of the Summer – and the way it just kicks in: ‘Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol…’ This record is so raw and real, the melodies are super strong throughout. I love Josh Homme’s voice. It’s like honey, man. ‘Restricted to everyone, all the time.’ Absolutely one of my all-time favourite records.


10. Slipknot – Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) (2004)
This is the moment these guys really brought all of the elements, every guy together – the original members and all – and reached full strength. I think this record is so diverse – melodic but heavy. There are a lot of spooky moments on here too, with the interludes they brought in. It’s their most brilliant work; I can appreciate the new one, for example, but here they were a band on fire.  


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Korn's 'Prepare for Hell' tour with Slipknot takes in Glasgow The Hydro on 18 Jan; Manchester Arena on 20 Jan and Liverpool Echo Arena on 22 Jan. Their latest album The Paradigm Shift is out now via Caroline http://www.korn.com