If you’ve ever seen Ray Luzier do a clinic, he comes off as more P.T. Barnum than pedagogue. In Sacramento two years ago, he was the ringleader in a three-drummer performance that also included Chris Pennie and Seven Antonopoulos. Sitting center stage, Luzier busted out syncopated lines while making faces at his wingmen, goading them into responding with whatever lick they could muster. Pennie and Antonopoulos are certainly no slouches, but it was clear that on that day Luzier owned the show.
Which is why it’s surprising to hear the ordinarily confident 39-year-old, at this very moment sitting at the edge of a hotel bed in Anchorage, Alaska, second-guessing his contributions to the new release from Korn, a band he has toured with since 2008 and of which he is now a full-fledged member. Playing professionally for almost 20 years, Luzier estimates that his drum parts are on some 76 recordings. And yet here he is, just a few hours from soundcheck on the tour’s maiden date, still processing the traumatic experience of the sessions for Korn III: Remember Who You Are. “I can only listen to a handful of them,” he says of the new songs. “I mean, not that I’m not proud of my playing, but I’m very hard on myself and very critical about things. Recordings are permanent. They’re going to outlive us all.”
The Roman numeral in the title of the new album doesn’t mark it as Korn’s third. It is, however, the third one recorded by Ross Robinson, the star-making producer who helmed the band’s 1994 self-titled debut and the 1996 follow-up, Life Is Peachy, widely considered the band’s best work. While Korn’s output became increasingly polished after 1998’s Follow The Leader, Korn III unearths the detuned noise first hatched at the ass-end of California’s Central Valley in the early ’90s when the band was bored, pissed-off, and hungry for something more than cruising up and down Chester Avenue past the tract homes and strip malls of down-on-its-luck Bakersfield.
“Ross actually told me, ‘I will not let you ruin this record with a click track.’ I went, ‘That’s major, man.’ [laughs] Especially me coming from somewhat of a session background, too, you know? Doing other people’s records. Korn owns a very prestigious studio in Hollywood. Their drum room is a gymnasium. It’s drummer’s paradise. Ross walked in and said, ‘You guys are way too comfortable in here — where’s the guitar booth?’
After walking over to the 8' x 8' cubicle and declaring it perfect for tracking drums, guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer and bassist Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu began to crack up at the idea of their newest member stuffed into the constrictive space. “And he goes, ‘Oh, don’t laugh, because you guys are going to be in here with him.’”
Korn III saw Luzier intimately involved in the writing process, hashing out half the album’s tunes in a garage with Fieldy and Munky. At this time, lead singer Jonathan Davis was off doing his solo project and writing Korn lyrics on the side, so the tricky part was marrying these two elements on the fly. “I literally wouldn’t know some of the song arrangements,” Luzier says, fast-forwarding to the first day of tracking. “And I would stop in the middle of the song and they’d go, ‘What did you stop for?’ I said, ‘I don’t really know what’s next.’ They’re going, ‘Don’t ever stop. Keep time. Do something.’
“It was brutal,” he continues. “Ross was punching cymbals while I was playing. If you listen really closely to some of the new songs, you can actually hear him. I would leave that room sweating, bleeding.”
Most of Korn III’s tracks were furtively recorded while Luzier thought he was doing a rehearsal run. On these “practice takes,” Robinson would yell out to Bud, the engineer, a generic phrase that was in fact a secret code for “roll tape.” “He really helped coach me by doing that. As much as I wanted to ring his neck some days, I thank him.”
One of the tracks, tentatively titled “Pop A Pill,” features Luzier at his most unhinged, both physically and independence-wise — it’s what earned him the nickname Dr. Octopus during the recording sessions. Another track where he pushed himself to the brink is potential first single “Oildale,” named for a part of Bakersfield strewn with derelict oil pumps and meth labs. “That groove is so weird and odd for me to play, so I would come up with my own ideas but Ross would alter them. Some of them he would try to take in another direction, or if I was hitting the kick on the down, he would say, ‘What if you put all the kicks on the upbeats and hit the downbeat with the floor tom instead?’ The “Oildale” song is just that. The main groove of it is me hitting the floor tom and all the kicks are on the upbeats.”
As for how much the parts will change down the road, Luzier knows as much as we do. “I’m curious to see myself,” he says. “I didn’t know some sections that were coming up, so some of the fills are crazy and something I wouldn’t normally do. So they might even be a little more dialed in when I play them ten times live.”