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