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Korn's Fieldy: "I want it to be an almost percussion-sounding instrument rather than a bass"

Reggie ‘Fieldy’ Arvizu interview: "We've never struggled to have enough low-end"
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images)

"Man, we’ve made so many albums I can’t keep up any more. This October was 25 years since the first album came out. Back then, you think you’re unstoppable!" These are the words of Reggie ‘Fieldy’ Arvizu, bassist with Korn, arguably the first nu-metal band – if that term means anything anymore.

The quintet from Bakersfield, California, who are now accurately regarded as pioneers in their field after a quarter of a century and over 40 million album sales, have just released The Nothing, their thirteenth studio album since their debut record appeared in 1994. 

Reminded of these facts, Fieldy displays a refreshing refusal to take his band’s success for granted, marvelling: “It’s surreal. The chances of us making it this far must be almost a one in a million. We’re in disbelief. It’s amazing... I can’t even wrap my head around it.”

Piercing the wall of riffs produced by seven-string guitar-slingers Brian Welch and James Shaffer, Fieldy’s bass tone on The Nothing is instantly recognisable – a clicky, buzzy, clangorous, chiming twang that is unlike that of anyone else, delivered from his signature Ibanez K-5 five-string.

I wear earplugs because I don't like loud music. Everybody laughs about that

Some people like this tone, millions of Korn fans presumably among them, but others – many of whom are this magazine’s readers and indeed, writers – can’t stand it, regarding it as unrefined or worse.

For this interview, we’ve collated a bunch of pointed questions from our staff and visitors to our social media: it’s time for Fieldy to take the stand and explain exactly what the hell his trademark sound is all about...

You’re in a band with two seven-string guitarists. Is that why your bass tone has so much top end?

"Yes. The band’s sound is so low, I need to know how to cut through and be heard, you know? I want it to be an almost percussion-sounding instrument rather than a bass, because I’m like, ‘If you guys need bass, you can get it from the kick drum’. You can always get enough low end from seven-string guitars and a five‑string bass. We’ve never struggled to have enough low-end with Korn. If you ask me, I have to compromise with too much low-end. That’s why I have that  clicky, clangy, noisy string sound so I can kinda cut through and everything doesn’t get washed out."

Do producers and engineers ever refuse to work with that tone?

"Yeah, for sure. I’ve had it happen a few times, and on those albums, you can clearly hear that there’s no bass on them. But I still step back and I listen to them, because it was kinda necessary – it gave a change of flavour to Korn for a while. They’re still Korn songs; it’s just the bass isn’t my tone, it’s not there. It happened, and it could happen again, who knows? Look at Metallica, for example. I don’t even know if there’s bass on [Metallica’s thin-sounding 1988 album] ...And Justice For All. But was it necessary for the process or the longevity of the ride?"

At the end of the day there’s three or four notes that people use, but it’s not how you use them, it’s when you move to them

Your sound is obviously a challenge for producers.

"Oh yeah, it was tough, man, because we were trying to cut through a bunch of low end and the frequencies where we tune down, and to find that happy medium of being heard. It’s challenging for anybody to mix Korn."

Your producer Nick Raskulinecz did a great job on The Nothing, though.

"Nick is hands-on, and there the whole time, encouraging you and helping you. The cool thing is that he’s a bass player too, and so he has an ear for bass. He’ll be like, ‘What if you move over here?’ and ‘What if you move the timing just a little quicker so you can go over here?’ and things like that. Tiny, slight changes that are huge. You’ve got to be willing for a producer to give you a slight change in your riff or your style, or to suggest a slight movement change that is a game-changer."

Do you require multiple takes to record the bass?

"Honestly, when I work with the producers over the last 450 million Korn albums that we’ve put out, the stereotype for the most part is that I say, ‘You have to tell me what you want.’ Basically, they all want four takes, even if the first one went down perfectly. I’ll lay down the first one and say ‘Is that good, or do you want me to do it again?’ and they’ll be like ‘Give me one more’, and I’ll say ‘Okay.’

"So I’ll do that and I’ll go ‘Is that one good?’, and they’ll say ‘Let’s do it again’, and I’ll keep going until four or five are done. I kinda do what I do, and I’m just being me.

You once said that a bassist’s picking hand is much more important than the fretting hand. Can you explain that for us?

"I think that hand becomes the main character of what you bounce to and what you’re listening to. Both hands have got to go together, of course, but if your right hand is super comfortable in a style and in a rhythm, that becomes your percussion hand, kind of like your drummer hand. The other one is more your feel: when and where you move the note. At the end of the day there’s three or four notes that people use, but it’s not how you use them, it’s when you move to them."

Do you still record with two amps, one for high frequencies and one for lows?

"My advice to people would be to record with a DI, a low, a high, analogue, through Pro-Tools – have it all. You can take this or that out, but you’ll have it all, and in the studio we do use it all. The studio is a whole different game to playing live."

Would you say you are a more or less ‘busy’ player these days?

"I would say that I play both more and less on this album. When I’m actually playing with the guitar players, I’m playing more, but when there’s parts where I’m shining, I’m playing less. I’m really working on playing that swings, you know. It makes your head bounce if you choose the right notes, and that’s really the backbone.

"If you’re ripping out some bass scale or something, it makes your head stop bobbing. I want to find a good groove, but that’s not easy to do. I’ve been working on that, because it’s out of my comfort zone, and out of my pocket, but I know my ear wants that bounce."

What basses do you use in the studio? 

"It’s the craziest thing. Back in the day I had my original Ibanez K-5 with a wood finish. It was the first one they came out with: we wrote ‘Number 1’ on the back of it because it was the first recording bass we used. I think I’ve used that same bass on at least 10 Korn albums, because it sounds better than all of my other basses. 

"There’s something about that bass, maybe the way the wood has settled over the years. We try all the other basses and we always come back to that one. That’s a stay-in-the-studio bass, I never take it out on the road. Some day there might be a bass that sounds better than that one, but this one always seems to be the go-to."

If someone can hear your style and recognise that it's you, that's really cool

Did your 15-string bass make an appearance this time?

"Nah. I tried it, but it was more like a gag-type bass. On my solo bass album [Bassically, 2017] I played two or three songs on the 15-string, and it sounds cool, but if I was to do that now it would be taking over a guitar part. I’m hoping to do it, but it’s really hard to play."

Presumably that bass requires a pick, as it’s made up of five three-string courses?

"It’s not the picking hand that’s difficult – it’s holding all the strings down. I don’t know if anybody else has a 15-string bass, but those are thin little strings when you’re playing high. You end up playing a little bit behind the beat because you’re holding down all those strings, too."

Are you on in-ears, live?

"No, I wear earplugs, because I don’t really like low-end and I don’t like loud music. Everybody laughs about that. I happen to be in a metal band, and a metal band that loves a lot of low-end. So there’s my Murphy’s Law, right there."

How do you achieve your tone?

"When I came across the K-5 bass, and I plugged that thing in, I just liked the way it sounded. And then, back in the day, when I came across the amplifiers, it didn’t matter what kind they were – but when I came across 4x10 cabinets with a horn in the middle, they enhanced the active pickups in my bass and gave me that hot sound. All that combined together gives you that sound that I have. 

"I stumbled across it. When I saw the cab with the horn in the middle, I said ‘Okay, turn that thing on 10’. In the early days it would drive the producer nuts, because he tried mic-ing up the cab, but that wasn’t my tone. I’d go ‘Here!’, put the microphone right on the horn and say ‘There we go! That’s my tone’, ha ha!"

So how do you get that sound when you play live?

"Live, I’m running 8x10s with the horn in the centre of each cab, but they’re just for the sound on stage. My sound guy takes most of the signal from the DI box and adds a little bit of my amp. He knows what my tones are and he’ll recreate them, instead of trying to keep my sound from the stage. There’s so much noise from the drums and the vocals and the guitars that it’s going to be impossible to get that sound from my amp. I trust my sound guy – he knows my bass tones."

What amps do you use?

"I’m basically back to Mesa/Boogie. Over the years I’ve tried so many things, but I always end up back with the same old gear. I’m at least trying to get to use the new Mesa/Boogies, because I think they sound a little better, but you know, everyone has got to like it."

Do you remember your first ever bass?

"It was a black Ibanez Soundgear four-string, when I was 17. I worked in a hot shed all summer long in Bakersfield and bought it. I’ve never played any other kind of bass – I’ve tried them and they don’t feel right for me. I’m always open-minded and I’ve tried a lot of other basses, but there’s something about the Ibanez that just fits for me."

Was it love at first sight?

"Yes, it was just accidental. I saw it hanging on the wall and it was the perfect size. It was a little bit smaller than all the other basses, which I liked because I was a guitar player first and all the other basses looked massive. So I played the Ibanez and asked the guy ‘Why does it sound like this?’ and he said, ‘Well, because it has a battery in the back.’ I said ‘I gotta have this’ and that was it."

There’s always been a small handful of bass players that really blew my mind. The chemistry of the way that Bill Gould plays bass in Faith No More is incredible

Which bassists did you admire when you were younger?

"For years, Flea was one of my favourite bass players, and still is. I couldn’t even try to play like that. Les Claypool too, he’s just mind-blowing, and when I was younger, I was listening to a lot of Stanley Clarke. There’s always been a small handful of bass players that really blew my mind.

"The chemistry of the way that Bill Gould plays bass in Faith No More is incredible. He and I kind of play the same, but he plays on-beat and with a pick most of the time, even though it sounds like he’s slapping. As much as I practise, I can’t play like that."

You embraced Christianity a few years ago. Does that affect the way you look at bass?

"No, because we’re not making worship music. It has nothing to do with my playing. That’s about how I changed my life. I can’t change Korn. That’s like Alice Cooper becoming a Christian, if he ever says ‘I can’t be Alice Cooper any more’, no-one’s gonna go see him play. It’s a heart change. If anything it’s made me want to play with more integrity and do my job even better. It’s actually bettered me into wanting to give my all."

You have a unique sound, which is an achievement. Most of us couldn’t say the same.

"Well... I’m not really good with compliments. I just don’t believe them. When people say nice things about my bass playing, I’m like, ‘Really?’ I don’t know, I don’t think much of myself. I think I just do what I do. Maybe it’s because I [admire] Flea and Les Claypool and Stanley Clarke that I say ‘You’re saying that about me?’ I can’t even try to do what they do."

What I meant was you sound like you, and no-one else.

"Yeah. That’s one thing I do understand. I don’t have to be that good, but somebody can go ‘That’s Fieldy from Korn playing bass’ which is the best way to be. If someone can hear your style and know it’s you, that I can understand. If I’ve developed a style that is recognisable, that’s really cool."

Thanks for the interview, Fieldy. It’s great to have you on our cover again.

"I’m honoured, man. I can’t wait. It’s very humbling and it’s very appreciated. Like I said, I don’t believe it.

"The last tour we did with Alice In Chains, I was blown away. I used to listen to them when I was a kid, and now I’m on tour with them. I’m walking down a hallway with Jerry Cantrell and he’s saying hi to me. It’s weird! And we were in Brazil and Kirk Hammett of Metallica walks past me and says ‘Hi Fieldy.’ In high school I used to write ‘Metallica’ on my folders, and now we’ve toured with them. It’s like a dream I haven’t been able to wrap my head around. Maybe I will in another 20 years..."

  • The Nothing is out now on Roadrunner Records, and available from Amazon.