James talks about the album and more…
Check out James and Steve talking about the making of the album here.
Sometimes you need to reach the brink to realize who you are and what you’re capable of.
Iconic Korn guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer began writing music for Fear and the Nervous System during one of the darkest times of his life.
“It started with the passing of my father,” recalls Shaffer. “Death is one of the hardest things that people have to deal with. I didn’t really understand what I was doing to block accepting the process of my dad’s health deteriorating. I was in a really manic state of mind. I had a lot of emotions and energy, and I needed to get them out and record them. The only way I know how to express myself is through music.”
And so, in early 2008, like a film director, he assembled an all-star cast of musicians to join him on the cathartic journey he’d embarked upon. First, Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman entered the fold. Then others followed. Faith No More’s Billy Gould assumed bass duties, Leopold Ross came in to add guitars and production, while Korn keyboardist Zac Baird provided piano, keys, and other wild sounds. There wasn’t an agenda though.
“It was unscripted,” declares Shaffer. “It was unlimited, because there were no preconceived boundaries. There was no record company. There was no one saying we have to play this on the radio. We just wanted to make a great record. I was like, ‘We’re all pros, so let’s allow the music to choose its own direction and build into its own monster.’”
Over the course of a few months, each musician had finished his respective parts and Ross and Jim Monte worked with Shaffer to assemble the sonic structure. Still, there was no vocalist. The sonic framework had been built, but the beast lay dormant for almost two years.
While in the middle of recording Korn III: Remember Who You Are in 2010, Shaffer took a break to introduce producer Ross Robinson to Fear and the Nervous System. Robinson instantly was transfixed by the music and had an idea for a vocalist. That very day, he called singer Steve Krolikowski of the band Repeater. An hour later, Krolikowski was in the vocal booth laying down ideas. The band had received its mouthpiece, and Fear and The Nervous System was finally complete.
The album’s first single, “Choking Victim”, conjures a metallic unease before snapping into a symphonic hook. It’s jarring and soothing all at once. About the song, Shaffer comments, “It’s a good representation of what people will hear, and it’s about something that happens to all of us. You trust somebody, give them your heart, and they turn around and stab you in the back. I think everybody can relate to that.”
Everybody will be able to relate to “Dissolve” as well. Reaching past the six-minute mark, the song stomps from a distorted steamroll into an elegantly entrancing psychedelica. In the midst of it all paranoia becomes strangely rapturous. After the instrumental “Hell/Intro”, listeners are dropped right into the heart of Fear and the Nervous System.
Shaffer smiles, “It reminds me of the entrance to a haunted house. You follow the crooked hallway and each guy has his own little corner that he’s decorated with his imperfections. It’s scary to look at, but the whole thing makes up the house. Everybody’s personality is like a room.”
The guitarist challenged himself in every way possible. He took on the role of band leader, orchestrating the project and bringing everyone together. He also culled inspiration from outside of music, deriving the band’s name from a line in Michael Powell’s 1960 classic thriller, Peeping Tom. As a result, Fear and the Nervous System goes deep.
“We based everything around films, directors, different inspirations, and symbols,” he says. “It’s based around cinema as an inspiration for music. I’m a big David Lynch fan. Peeping Tom obviously inspired me immensely. I was watching it obsessively and it had an incredible impact.”
When the album drops on October 25 via Shaffer’s own Emotional Syphon Recordings, it’s going to leave an indelible mark on anyone who experiences it. “When I think of this record, I have bittersweet memories of my father, his beautiful life, what a wonderful person he was, and his ultimate loss,” he goes on. “The fear affected me in a nervous state of mind and forced me to do something with the creative fuel I had. That’s literally what it was. It was about trying to make sense of this tragedy.”
This is neither a beginning nor an end for Fear and the Nervous System. Shaffer concludes, “It marks a moment in an ongoing career. It’s not the end. It’s not the beginning. It is a milestone as far as going on and writing with other writers. If this music motivates anybody to be creative, that’s all I hope for. That would be the best tribute to my dad.”
Lesley Zimmerman * Lesley Z Media * 310-476-4414 * Lesley@lesleyzmediapr.com
Fear and the Nervous System exists in the space between beauty and brutality.
Korn guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer began formally building this space in late 2007. Along the way, he enlisted Faith No More bassist Billy Gould, Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman, guitarist and programmer Leopold Ross, and Korn keyboardist Zac Baird to populate this sonic realm with their own signature flourishes. However, the missing piece was the right singer.
While working on Korn III: Remember Who You Are in the winter of 2010, producer Ross Robinson played mixes from Repeater, another band he was working with at the time. The vocals instantly spoke to James, and he knew that singer Steve Krolikowski would be the missing piece for Fear and the Nervous System.
Steve immediately stepped into the vacant spot and took the music to new places. Now, the final album is on the way, and it’s as vibrant as it visceral…
Steve offers some insight into Fear and the Nervous System in this exclusive interview with Dolor author Rick Florino.
How did you initially get in touch with James?
That’s an easy answer [Laughs]. My band Repeater was doing a record with Ross Robinson. At the time, Ross was producing Korn’s last album—Korn III: Remember Who You Are. So, he played one of the Repeater mixes for James. James thought my voice would work really well for Fear and the Nervous System, which he’d already finished. I was contacted the same day and asked to do some work on it. I tentatively said, “Yes”, and it turned out to be a really good fit.
When you first heard the music, did it speak to you?
I really like alternative metal or whatever you want to call it. It moves. The musicianship inherent in Fear and the Nervous System really hit me, and I wanted to be a part of it. It was super challenging, but I felt I was up for the challenge. I thought I could do the music justice. It’s very humbling listening to the drums, guitars, and keyboards. These are fantastic musicians, and I pushed myself to match that level of expertise and experience.
Did you feel an instant chemistry?
It wasn’t instant, I can tell you that. I listened to these songs over and over again. I think one of my special abilities is to find the melody that’s hidden in a song. In many cases, that melody might not even be there already. I used everything I had to be able to pull out the melody. I tried to write lyrics that fit the tone of the song given everything James had told me about what the song felt like already. I listened to these songs dozens of times. I’d strain over one song for hours and hours at a time in order to write the lyrics and figure out where everything went. Some of them are quite complicated even though they have really good hooks.
How would you describe your sound together?
It really isn’t a metal record, per se. It’s more than that. They wanted someone who sounded right. James was looking for a singer who fit the mold. When I was asked to do it, it started moving pretty quickly. We finished one song every couple of weeks for several months. That was good for me because I had a lot of time to write, listen to and analyze the songs. I got to really figure out who was doing what. In fact, I feel like that album’s part of me even though I wasn’t there for the recording of all the instruments. It’s a fantastic recording.
As a lyricist, is it important for you to tell stories and paint a visual picture?
I think it’s my responsibility to write the best lyrics possible. When I had my first meeting with James, I was really intimidated [Laughs]. He showed me one movie, and it’s the basis for the title of the project and the album. It also has a connection to the entire theme of the project. I’m not going to reveal what everything is about. However, everything has a subject. The songs aren’t about me. I wrote about things that other people can relate to. In every single song, there are clues to what the song is about. Often, they’re either about films or history. Sometimes, they have to do with personal life, but I have my own band and I can write personal stuff for that. This project is for James and all of the people involved. It’s sort of a cinematic experience. I want to be as colorful as possible with the themes I throw out. I don’t want to talk about love, hate, and emotion. I want to talk about the images I see that make me experience those things.
Your writing is very evocative, and listeners can definitely take their own meanings from it.
That’s the idea, and it’s why you don’t tell everyone what the songs are about. If you’re a good writer, you don’t have to tell someone what it’s about. If you’re a good artist, you don’t have to explain your painting.
Is “Choking Victim” a fitting introduction to the album?
It is. That song has a bunch of weight to it. The subject matter isn’t important. The lyrics are somewhat abstract. They simply impart a feeling of abandonment and frustration. That’s what it’s supposed to show. It turns out really catchy and super heavy. It’s a good indicator of the direction of the rest of the songs on the record. It isn’t just a collection of songs. It is a record. It sounds like it was written for a purpose. That’s one of the reasons I’m really proud to be a part of it.
What makes this record special?
It’s everybody’s record. I think that’s what makes it special. James wasn’t trying to make some sort of glamour page for himself. This is a good record. Everyone’s parts stand out. Everything locks in so perfectly. It sounds like a real rock album. It’s almost a time capsule of elements from ten or fifteen years of rock put together. It’s really amazing how it came out to what it is. Jim Monte did an incredible job mixing. The recording is immaculate. They used the best equipment for everybody.
Were you a Korn fan before Fear and the Nervous System?
I was listening to a lot of thrash metal, indie, punk, and alternative when I graduated high school in 1994. I caught the tail end of what Korn was doing. I didn’t realize the impact Korn has had on the entire world until now. They’ve been a massive influence on pop culture and written a ton of amazing songs. Before I started working with Ross, I didn’t realize how huge Korn was. I became a fan recently. Being chosen to do this was an amazing surprise. It’s a really great world filled with amazing people. I love working with James and all of these guys. I’m from Arizona, and it seems like this would’ve been obvious. When I came out of high school, I didn’t experience that subculture. I wasn’t a metal guy for a little while. I was a huge fan of thrash. I love Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer of course. For some reason, I started moving away from that when I graduated high school. I started like goth and indie rock. My vocal style wasn’t influenced by the late ’90s.
Where do you feel like your intensity comes from?
I moved into post hardcore music. When you listen to Fugazi, At The Drive-In, and The Mars Volta, that’s a different branch of the tree. People like that are incredibly intense, and that’s probably where I got my ability to sing in an intense fashion, of course it also came from Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne, and Peter Gabriel.
What was the movie that James showed you upon your first meeting?
The movie was called Peeping Tom, and it was written by a very enigmatic character named Leo Marks. Before he was a writer, he was a photographer, and he did a lot of work for the British government in World War II. The movie is a pretty good British thriller. It has a really weird plot. If you watch it closely enough, you’ll figure out the connection to the band. The protagonist/antagonist is tortured by the life of his father who was a psychologist that did a bunch of experiments on him. The main character of the story is a murderer. It’s a lost classic. Seeing that movie and where the philosophy of the record was going helped me. I looked for other related topics to write about. There are a lot of movies in there.
What are you most proud of about this?
When I got messages from Billy Gould and Brooks Wackerman telling me the record was great, that changed my outlook on life. Everyone involved really put their souls into it. They’re all happy with the result and that makes me happy. The fact that people put trust in me to be the final piece of the project was the greatest compliment. I’m proud to just be a part of this. The drum parts are insane. I can’t believe the way the drums are played. You can tell that Brooks is an amazing drummer. Then you get to the bass, and it’s so incredibly solid. The tone is perfect. Billy moves around flawlessly throughout the entire song structure. If you jam these songs on headphones, you can hear every note he plays. He keeps it in a low range. He reminds me of Geezer Butler in Black Sabbath. The guitars are everywhere. It doesn’t sound like Korn. A lot of the parts are atmospheric. A lot of them are repetitive jamm-y riffs. There’s a lot of half-time medium tempo stuff you wouldn’t hear in a Korn record. Zac’s playing is on top of it. I love the keyboard parts. Everything works together.
THE LONG-AWAITED ALBUM FROM ALL-STAR BAND FEAR AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM, FEATURING JAMES “MUNKY” SHAFFER AND ZAC BAIRD (KoRn), BILLY GOULD (FAITH NO MORE), BROOKS WACKERMAN (BAD RELIGION), STEVE KROLIKOWSKI (REPEATER) AND LEOPOLD ROSS, TO BE RELEASED DIGITALLY ON OCTOBER 25, 2011
Los Angeles, CA: The wait is almost over. Finally, it can be released that the highly-anticipated album by all-star band Fear & the Nervous System (FATNS), the brainchild of James “Munky” Shaffer (KoRn), and also featuring Zac Baird (KoRn), Billy Gould (Faith No More), Brooks Wackerman (Bad Religion), Steve Krolikowski (Repeater) and Leopold Ross will be out digitally on October 25, 2011. The album was produced by Jim Monti and Leo Ross. The track “Choking Victim” from the album was leaked and has been all over the Internet, garnering stellar reviews from both press and fans alike.
Fear & the Nervous System was an idea Shaffer had while on a long break after the release of KoRn’s Untitled album. He had the extremely cool epiphany of putting together a “super group,” comprised of top class musicians he admires and had become friends with. “I had been sitting at home for too long of a time,” Shaffer explains. “When you are a creative person, you can’t sit still for very long!” Adds Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman, “The inception of FATNS began through Munk. After I did the KoRn record, he asked if i would be interested in playing on this music project, which was un-named at the time. I’d had a great experience with him with KoRn, so I was eager to see what this was.”
“Zac Baird and I had worked on a few ideas while touring with KoRn,” Shaffer continues. “So, when we started to record, those song ideas were our jumping off point. But, 90% of the album was created on the spot, then recorded. We were lucky to get the people we wanted to become involved with the project. During the songwriting process, I wanted everyone to contribute equally, and feel open to try any and every idea they wanted. Then we would record it and see if it would work in any of the songs later. In the studio, it really began with Brooks laying down some amazing drum tracks for the rest of us to write and arrange the songs around. That is where most of the initial creative spark started. Also, I wanted to everyone to have a good time recording. There was no label (except myself) pushing any of us to do this or that, no schedules…we all wanted to have fun and write some interesting music.” Wackerman quips, “Besides hiring a band therapist, I remember it going well. All kidding aside, it was one of the best sessions I’ve had as a musician. I had a lot of freedom to experiment with. Most of these songs seemed to form in the studio, so we were able to go at it with different angles and maintain spontaneity throughout. Plus, the variety and quality of musicianship on this record added a lot to the sound.” According to Faith No More’s always-gracious bassist Billy Gould, “There are some stellar tracks on this album, and I have to say that James and the guys did a great job on it, and I tried to help where I could.”
The band name itself, Fear and the Nervous System, pretty much says it all. The music fits the name: powerful, in-your-face and just a bit unsettling…in a good way. “At the time of recording this album, I was, let’s say, ‘feeling unusual,’” Shaffer laughs. “I was getting into lots of books, movies, and music. I had been listening to the album from the band Peeping Tom, thus I researched the 1959 movie ‘Peeping Tom,’ where the band had gotten their name. The writer and the director’s stories were very inspiring to me. After obsessively viewing the film, I discovered that one of the characters (a psychiatrist) in the movie had written a series of books called ‘Fear and the Nervous System.’ In the movie, the character’s father would conduct disturbing and frightful experiments on his son, then film and document them.” “The first time I heard the name, I thought it represented the whole enchilada,” Brooks agrees.
So what else is in the cards for FATNS? “Besides world domination? Hopefully we can take this to the stage when our schedules allow it,” Wackerman says. “I think the fans would love to see FATNS live, and I know we’d love doing it.”
Stay tuned for news on possible shows and more to be announced…
2. “Choking Victim”
3. “Chosen Ones”
4. “No Secrets”
6. “Beautiful Side”
10. “Slow Motion”
11. “Last Drive”