Korn’s ‘Follow the Leader': 8 Facts Only Superfans Would Know
Korn brought something entirely new to the world of metal in 1994 with their self-titled debut album. Its follow-up, Life Is Peachy, followed a similar sound and format as its predecessor, and the band knew they had to make a shift somewhere if they were going to last.
They exceeded their goals far beyond their expectations when they released Follow the Leader in 1998. It was their first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, and the singles "Got the Life" and "Freak on a Leash" were massive. If Korn paved the way for nu-metal, Follow the Leader cemented it, catapulting Jonathan Davis, Brian "Head" Welch, James "Munky" Shaffer, Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu and David Silveria into superstardom that they never thought possible.
Their label, Epic Records, threw a promotional event for the album at Tower Records in New York City, and 9,000 people showed up. “It was like being in the fuckin’ Beatles or some shit. That’s when we were like, ‘OK, we’re a fuckin’ big band now,’” Davis told the Ringer.
Over two decades later, and Korn have a vast discography now. But, Follow the Leader still holds at the top of most peoples' favorites. Here are eight facts only superfans would know about the album that turned Korn from a potentially faltering band to funk-metal legends.
1. The title was directed at imitators.
Korn's 1994 self-titled debut album spearheaded what would become known as nu-metal, and given the way things were going, it was inevitable that other bands were going to try and adopt a similar sound. Thus, the name Follow the Leader was directed at their "followers."
“Now we think it’s cool,” Munky told Metal Hammer. “But at the time we were like, ‘Man, this is bullshit, people trying to sound like Korn.’ We’d created something that was different, but right after the ...Peachy album we were starting to hear bands that sounded like us, so we took a left turn. They thought they knew the formula, and all of a sudden we put out this record that’s hip-hop, rock, metal... If you listen to the first album and Follow The Leader, it’s almost like two different bands."
2. They spent an outrageous amount of money partying while in the studio.
Though they didn't necessarily do it alone — members of Deftones and Limp Bizkit joined in on the fun — Davis told the Ringer they spent upward of $60,000 on alcohol throughout their time recording Follow the Leader. That total isn't including what they spent on drugs, either.
“We were 25 to 28 years old, so it was like party central,” Head admitted to Metal Hammer. “There was a lot of alcohol. Thousands and thousands of dollars! We were out of control! When you party so hard at that age it’s a lot of fun, but it was the beginning of a lot of messed-up lives.”
3. Ross Robinson physically hurt Jonathan Davis in the studio.
Ross Robinson was a ruthless producer within the metal scene, but it made for some of the best albums to be released, including Slipknot's Iowa. Robinson produced Korn's first two albums, but they decided to recruit Steve Thompson to produce Follow the Leader. Instead, Robinson spent his time in the studio with Davis as his vocal producer.
"I put the microphone on the floor, put Jonathan on all fours and stood over his middle part. My hands were on him, on his shoulder muscles, and I told him, ‘Sing, and if I feel you holding back, I’m going to fucking hurt you,’" Robinson described to Metal Hammer.
"I was squeezing him and jabbing my thumbs in his neck and I wanted more from him! I was being romantic again because I wanted him to feel like he did that first time we worked together," he continued. "I heard the tracks and they were playing to a click track and I wasn’t used to hearing Korn like that. They were so held back from what I was used to and Jonathan was trying and I hurt him."
4. Todd McFarlane, the album cover illustrator, was a comic book creator.
Todd McFarlane was known for having worked on several notable comic series such as The Amazing Spiderman and the horror franchise Spawn. Korn wanted him to work on their album cover because they heard from someone at their label that he had referred to them as "the Doors of the '90s."
"It got everyone really excited," Silveria told the Mitch Schneider Organization. "So after we were asked to do the Spawn soundtrack and we had seen his art, we knew what he was capable of."
McFarlane also directed the video for "Freak on a Leash."
5. The original release featured 25 tracks.
The album technically only has 13 songs, though "Earache My Eye" was originally considered a "hidden track" after two minutes of silence at the end of "My Gift to You." Now, streaming platforms, such as Spotify, list the album as having 14 songs.
The initial physical release, however, had 25 tracks. The first 12 were each just five seconds of silence, making the entire first minute of the album completely silent.
There are two different theories regarding the band's purpose for doing this — one says that Davis is very superstitious and didn't want the album ending on track 13; the other says it was a "moment of silence" for one of their fans, Justin, who was dying of cancer and wanted to meet the band. A song on the album was dedicated to him as well.
6. "Got the Life" was the first music video to be "retired" from MTV's Total Request Live.
The music video for "Got the Life" was the most requested video on MTV's daily top 10 countdown, Total Request Live. In 1999, it became the first music video to be "retired" from the show because the channel wanted other videos to have a chance to make it to the top.
7. Jonathan Davis got sober after it came out.
"It got pretty crazy, and the fame did go to our heads a little bit and made us a little crazy,” Head confessed to Metal Hammer. “Jonathan got suicidal because he was drinking so much Jack and coke and doing cocaine. He was losing his mind, and he decided to stop it all and get sober during that tour cycle.”
So as the band embarked on their Family Values tour in 1998, Davis was on the route to detox. "All I remember is a lot of pain and anxiety and horrible shit," Davis reflected. "I would lie shaking in my bunk, and I’d get out onstage, and I could perform but then I’d go back to going through hell again."
8. "Pretty" was inspired by Davis' time as a coroner's assistant.
Prior to pursuing a career in music, Davis worked at the Kern County Coroner's office in Bakersfield, Calif. "My dad and mom both thought I was a problem child or something that wanted to cut up dead bodies. But from the beginning, since my dad owned a music store and was in the music business, he always preached to me, I'm not letting you go in the music business," the frontman told Addicted to Noise's Jaan Uhelszki.
"So when I was sixteen I started working at the coroner's office. After I graduated I went to mortuary school to become a mortician or a funeral director," he continued. "After that, I came back and worked at a funeral home, did my internship for two years and decided to say 'fuck you' and got in a band."
Some of the atrocities Davis witnessed throughout his time working at the office inspired Korn lyrics — particularly the song "Pretty."
“It’s a story about this little girl that came into the coroner’s office when I was working there and she was fucked by her dad," he told the Mitch Schneider Organization. "She was an 11-month-old little baby girl. Her legs were broken back behind her, and he had raped her like a toy doll and chucked her in the bathroom. It was the most heinous thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I still have nightmares about it. I was about 17-and-a-half at the time. It was heavy man."
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