BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Photos: Sebastian Paquet
Acceptance. Addiction. Recovery. Redemption. Forgiveness. Fatherhood. Healing. Happiness. Sinner. Saint. Life. Loss. All of these words – and so many more – define the seemingly indefinable personal and professional life of Brian “Head” Welch. He is the guitarist for Korn, one of the biggest bands on the planet, and father to Jennae, his daughter and arguably the principal reason he’s still on the planet.
Welch first chronicled his life in his 2007 book Save Me from Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs, And Lived to Tell My Story. He chronicles the most recent chapters of his long road back to his band and family in his latest book, With My Eyes Wide Open: Miracles and Mistakes on My Way Back to Korn, available now. So which one of the following Korn album titles best describes where Brian’s head and heart are today: Issues, The Paradigm Shift, Life is Peachy, The Path of Totality, or See You On the Other Side? Stick around and find out.
Hey, how’s it going, man?
So, what’s going on?
You tell me (laughs). I’m looking forward to talking to you about this new book, With My Eyes Wide Open. Well, I understand that you just had your mouth wide open (laughs) – I understand you just had a little dental emergency today? (Note: our scheduled conversation was delayed a few hours due to Brian’s unforeseen trip to the dentist)
(Laughs) Yes! My tooth just fell out when I was eating tacos. I got it glued back in.
Alright, good. So, With My Eyes Wide Open: I actually wanted to begin our conversation by asking you when your ears were first opened wide. Do you have the proverbial “Beatles on Ed Sullivan” moment story for me? Was there a song that came on the radio, or a show you went to, or an album that you had, where, looking back now, you said, ‘Gosh, that’s what I wanna do with the rest of my life?’
Definitely! AC/DC Back in Black! Christmas, 1980. The record came out, I got it for Christmas and I put it on the stereo, and my life was changed.
That’s a good one. Albums or songs come out and you have those moments. Believe it or not, I’ve been doing this long enough, Brian, that, I was five years old when the actual Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment occurred, and that was my moment.
Wow! You were, like, how old?
I was five years old, two weeks shy of my sixth birthday, and I can trace it back to then because, god bless my parents, they bought me the original Meet the Beatles album for my sixth birthday. And I’m happy to say that it’s framed and signed by Ringo. That was just something that stuck with me at a very, very early age, so I love to hear your story and all of the stories of all the great musicians I get the chance to talk to. So, one of the things, in my life in general, that I’ve always been fascinated by for a long time is this sinner-saint kind of phenomenon of good Christians partying on Saturday night, then being in church Sunday morning. I’ve asked several country artists and some soul and R&B singers to explain this to me: this thing about the honky tonkin’ and juke jointin’ and church. What is your take on that sort of thing?
The partying on Saturday and church on Sunday?
I think it’s to each their own. It’s just an individual relationship with God. And I think if someone is not a crazy alcoholic and doesn’t wreck their life and hurt people when they’re drinking, and they’re drinking responsibly, I think we’re all adults and they have a right to go out and have a good time. But it differs with each person because if people can’t handle it, then obviously don’t do it. And I think it’s wrong. It is wrong if it’s ruining them, or something. So, it just depends on the person. I don’t judge anybody that does that, but if you’re waking up with a hangover and all that, and sitting in the pew, then you probably got a little problem there.
I think one of my favorite words in the English language, and I use it often, is “balance.” I think that’s kind of what you’re talking about. If you have the balance right, then you’re okay. Right?
Yeah, just moderation, you know. You gotta know when to quit, and all that stuff. I don’t. I don’t have the quit button, so I can’t go out honky tonkin’ and drinkin’. I’m an alcoholic. I tried it. I was sober for 11 years and I told myself I’m not an alcoholic anymore. So last year I started drinking wine, and then I ended up in the bars – hammered! It does not work for me.
The subtitle of your book is Miracles and Mistakes on My Way Back to Korn. Give me an example of a miracle you’ve experienced on your path back to the band.
There’s been a lot. Like the biggest ones for me are the encounters: like, I have encounters with God. It’s not like a voice, a clear voice, or anything, but it’s a love communion. It shows me how real He is. If two people are in love they spend time together and they feel love for one another. Even though God’s invisible I feel that love in a powerful way. It’s not just that I’m imagining it, it’s a real, tangible reality, and so that’s the biggest miracle. I mean there’s been financial miracles, provision miracles where I was an idiot with my money; where I lost all my money and I was looking for quarters to get my daughter lunch for a couple of weeks there, I had no idea when I was gonna make any more money because I didn’t have a job and all of my money was gone. I lived off royalties and stuff, and that was gone! I wasn’t getting the proper royalties there for a while, and all of a sudden a check came in the mail. But, more than that, at my lowest point, there was a conversation that I was owed a couple hundred thousand dollars that I didn’t know that I had. Right when I was broke, at my last second. So, just, you know, little miracles like that along the way. And my daughter, she went through self-harm, suicidal thoughts and depression and she got out of that miraculously. And I could go on and on.
It occurred to me, in prepping for our conversation today, that the title of the band’s breakout third album, Follow the Leader, could sorta symbolize two of the biggest aspects of your life: your dance with the devil as it relates to drugs and alcohol abuse, and on the flipside your spiritual salvation in terms of giving your life to God. What was the seed, pun intended (a reference to the song “Seed” on Follow the Leader) that led you to denounce one of the leaders, for the other? What was the turning point for you to leave the devil behind and follow God?
Well the turning point was the massive drug addiction. I was addicted to pills, Xanax, Vicodin and all that stuff, and that was the turning point for me. And more than that stuff, more than the addiction, it was my daughter. She was a beautiful, Shirley Temple-looking picture of perfection and purity. And so I was in the gutter but I looked at this angel every day. So she was a huge factor, and I had to make a turning point in my life for her. For me, too, because I was a drug addict, but for that little girl: she deserved that. Her mom was out of her life at three years old – for the most part – so I had to make that decision.
You walked away from Korn in 2005, and walked back into your daughter’s life at that point, but things between the two of you weren’t always picture perfect, certainly. Having two daughters of my own…
…I can totally relate, my friend (laughs)! How’s the relationship now?
It’s great. By the way, hats off to you for raising two daughters.
It’s really good now. I found a counseling/school for her to go to – that’s a live-in school – in Indiana. She locked into it so much and enjoyed it so much that she wanted to stay. She’s been there three-and-a-half years. I got a condo near the school, so I live there half the time, and I see her all the time. Her rewards are flying across the world to have vacations with dad at work. She’s been to Japan twice, she’s been to Europe twice, she’s been to Rio and Australia. So, yeah, it’s amazing! And we talk and we work through our issues, and it’s just beautiful! Nothing’s perfect, but it’s so much better than it used to be.
That’s great to hear. So, this question that I’m gonna ask you now is centered on the time that you were away from the band. I’m sure the list is long, but what one or two things would you do differently during that time that you were away from Korn and raising your daughter?
Oh wow, I would have done everything – not everything, but I would have done a lot of stuff differently. Probably financial – I would have done financial stuff differently. I would have kept taking my medications, because I thought my faith in God was like, okay, He can make me perfect. I don’t need my medication no more – my mild depression medication – so I stopped taking it and I fought with myself, with my emotions, for so long. I had depression and I wasted years depressed for no reason. And so, I would have done that differently, and financial stuff. I would have tried to be smarter for my daughter’s future; just thinking about her and thinking about things a lot more. I would have used wisdom and self-control a lot more with all of those decisions, and all that.
I think so. I think so in a big way. I’ve been talking a lot about forgiveness today, and that’s the key to a life of peace. Especially as parents. All parents screw up, and there’s a thing that happens where we take offense to the mistakes they make, and I just think forgiveness for parents is a huge deal. No matter if it’s a lot that needs forgiving or a little bit. And the band, well, they’re at a place where, they read my book, too, and they were like, wow, this guy, our brother, went through some horrible stuff that we didn’t know about. He was just coming off of drugs and trying to get his life right and do the best for his daughter. So there was like a love for me that they had, that they probably didn’t have when I first quit.
Maybe you already answered this question, Brian, but what role, if any, did acceptance play?
Acceptance in what way?
Acceptance on the part of the band of (whether or not to) bring you back into the fold. There may have been some hesitation in the sense of, is he gonna do this again? Is he the same Brian that we knew before?
Yeah. They saw me out once, and then I went to a Korn concert, and I jammed with them and they saw in my eyes that I was a new person. There was a knowing inside. It was time, and everybody knew it and you can’t resist it when things are meant to be. Like, look at all these bands that are coming together again: Guns N’ Roses and there’s a few other bands getting back together. I thought Rage Against the Machine was gonna get back together, but that was a hoax (laughter). Reconciliation is a good thing. You know what, they accepted me for my beliefs, too, like, my Christianity and all that. Once they saw that I wasn’t all weird with it – I think I got a little weird with it in the beginning – they saw that I just love God so much and it’s okay to have mistakes in life and no one’s gotta be perfect, so, it’s pretty cool.
That’s great. I have just two more questions for you, Brian, and again I thank you for your time. I appreciate it very much.
Yeah, thank you.
So here’s one for you: which one of the following Korn album titles best describes where you’re at in life today, both personally and professionally. Let me give you a list of them and you tell me which one reflects where you’re at. Would it be Issues, The Paradigm Shift, Life is Peachy, The Path of Totality, or See You On the Other Side?
Oh wow, um (laughs), well, probably Life is Peachy, because life is pretty dang peachy right now.
Yeah, I got a lot of peach in my life. I’m in a sweet spot right now. Family-wise, career-wise, spiritually – everything.
Great! Great to hear. Final question: let me quote something you wrote in the book: “The thing about addictions is they take over your soul, they turn you into someone else and they make you do things the unaddicted you wouldn’t do in a million years.” What advice would you give someone who is living with an addict, regardless of the type of addiction they’re dealing with?
Well, what worked for me – and I don’t know if we’re talking about an adult or a child – but, tough love is good. Don’t enable them. Enablers make the addiction worse. You have to do some painful things in order to help wake up the person and get them to their rock bottom and get them to want to be set free. You’re feeding that disease by enabling. So any type of tough love you can do. Of course you’re gonna love them, you’re gonna talk to them all the time, but don’t enable them.
Well Brian, thank you and good luck with this book, With My Eyes Wide Open: Miracles and Mistakes on My Way Back to Korn. And thank you for writing it. This last question that I flung to you sadly applies to far too many of us. Thank you for helping us out with that.
All right. Thank you. See ya.