Jonathan Davis Black Labyrinth Release Party, Q&A and Acoustic Performance – May 25, 2018

Jose Mangin bubbles out stoned laughter in between thoughts and his smile is contagious. It’s immediately obvious that his radio personality isn’t a gimmick. He invites everyone to have drinks and tacos while we listen to Jonathan Davis’s debut solo album, Black Labyrinth, and asks that we treat this space like our home. He’s charismatic and happy and truly acts like a host.

We’re in his studio, where he records his shows for SiriusXM radio, and it does feel oddly personal. He’s got a scented candle and figurines on his desk, and there’s an overwhelming sense of camaraderie and trust to have us all packed in right here. He seems genuinely excited to see everybody, and his pure fanboy glee buzzes through the whole room as he puts on Jonathan Davis’ new album.

There seems to be a wide variety of ages in attendance–domesticated older folks who probably look respectable Monday to Friday, but also the adorably messy Goth, baby-faced with a Smiths t-shirt. By and large, though, the bulk of the crowd is that late-20’s/early-30’s hard-to-really-tell kinda age, and they’re the real lifeblood here. I’ve seen Korn a million times by now, and this will be my third time seeing a JD solo endeavor, and something that’s really fun and charming about all of these shows is the shared experience I feel with other Korn fans my age.

Everybody has “That Band.” That band that was big to us as we came of age. For a lot of us in the room it was Korn, and having Korn as a foundational presence in your adolescence is a unique and enriching experience. Their music touched and dipped into so many different styles that it was easy for us to split into different musical directions, and yet we share this root in common. Looking around at the overjoyed faces, swaying and singing along, I feel that the love for JD is a unifying force.

I watch the people around me once ‘Underneath My Skin’ really warms up–they’re happy, maybe even thrilled, and while we’re all chilled out and behaving, they definitely dance around in place a bit and bounce on the balls of their feet.

Later, during the Q&A with Jose, Jonathan will explain about how he’s been working on some of these songs for ten years, and how working on the Queen of the Damned soundtrack with Shenkar really inspired him to explore Indian music and instrumentation. I’ve always found it so inspiring that JD is so unafraid to explore new areas, try new things. Korn has always been willing to try different electronic processes, weird instruments, experimental guitar sounds. To classify Korn as a numetal band or JD as a numetal musician restricts them unfairly into a box where they don’t belong. They are, and always have been, creative and experimental and if you try to pigeonhole them you’re gonna have a bad time.

Of course, tonight is about JD himself, so me bringing up Korn stuff is tangential. But it’s the primer, it’s the foundation. I guess my point is that there’s familiarity here, these songs hiding in his laptop for years feel like a time capsule, maybe even a map of the phases he was going through over the past decade. And, more than that, this album hits the nerve of everything I’ve always liked about Korn, and all the reasons I’ve always adored JD.

‘What You Believe’ is one of those fun songs you want to crank out in your car. When it kicks in, I gasp and touch my chest and the girl next to me asks “Did that startle you?”

“No, it delighted me.”

It’s not just the music that makes you feel so energized, either, but the lyrics are so much about self empowerment. I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do! he lets us know. It’s powerful, it’s rebellious! But also so full of that fucking classic JD sass that we all love.

Jose is behind his desk and the music is too loud for me to tell what he’s saying to anyone but he’s talking with his hands and laughing. The studio opens up into the Affliction store, and it’s a weird scene–the open bar set up behind the register, people walking around with drinks and tacos and JD blaring as the crowd snakes around amongst the tables of Affliction clothes for sale. There’s a basketball arcade in the back and Rita Haney is mingling about.

‘What It Is’ was released as a single a few months back, and as it comes on the whole room starts losing it a little bit. Everyone’s getting excited for Jonathan to come downstairs for the Q&A, but there’s that joy of being able to sing along. I look around and see the goofy laughter as all the dudes hit the high note in IIIIIIiiiIiIIi will embrace who I really am!

Before the song is over, JD comes down the stairs, and everyone starts cheering. It feels cinematic, the sight of him coming down and waving through the final moments of the song. It makes it so real and it seems so triumphant, and there’s such a positive, supportive air in the room. Everyone is so happy that he finally did it, we’re so proud of him.

Once Jose sets up for the Q&A, he and Jonathan talk about how long it’s taken to record the album and some of the setbacks and obstacles. He mentioned he has five albums’ worth of material to put out,  and they talk about the process behind Queen of the Damned.

A fan asks what inspired him to do his anti-bullying and suicide awareness t-shirt campaigns, and he speaks about how it was his way of giving back and helping people. Another asks about his creative process and he preaches the importance of going with your gut on your endeavors and not editing something to death until it’s ruined.

He talks about taking violin lessons, and video games, and bad music his kids listen to. “The second I say their shit sucks, they’re gonna listen to it more. I just let ‘em figure it out,” he says. There’s so much warm laughter from people who, like me, had that experience with their own parents as they played Korn. They talk about the Mind Over Matter documentary, and Deven’s bacon pasta, and at one point we take a moment for an impromptu cheer for libraries.

Jose wraps up and Jonathan’s band comes down and gets in position. As a fan, it’s so awesome to see Jonathan finally able to share these songs with us, and he seems so happy to do it. This acoustic performance feels more about being textured and layered than simply being stripped down; there’s an upright bass and hand drums and it sounds so earthy and soothing.

They start with ‘Underneath My Skin’, which translates into something sort of whimsical and light, and his soft vocals are a nice contrast to the studio version. It makes for a crowd pop when he finally screams towards the ends.

“This is dope,” he says, and laughs, a moment later as they’re creeping into ‘Final Days’. It’s infectious, hypnotic, and I’m again overcome with the feeling that it was something I’ve been waiting for all these years. The crowd is quiet, rapt, mesmerized. The lights drop to a calming, cool blue.

I would watch this for hours, truth be told, and the sounds of lament from the crowd when they announce the last song tells me I’m not alone. 

Just as ‘What It Is’ serves as the capstone for the album itself, it also serves to pull this entire night together. He closes his eyes and grooves in his seat, gestures with his free hand as he sings. The crowd belts out the chorus and this tiny little room feels so intimate. I’m so immersed in love.

It’s hard to sum up this experience or the album itself in one thought, hard to find a cohesive way to wrap it together. It’s easy for me to admit that, though. It is what it is.

Jonathan heads back upstairs. Jose starts the album over and he mingles, socializes. It truly feels like he’s hosting us in his own home, making time to chat with anyone who says hi and stopping to take a selfie or five with anyone who asks.

I take a moment to thank Jose and say goodnight, I wave goodbye to JD as he slips out and sneaks off into the night.

The Monster Energy bags that were handed out at the door were filled with little bits of JD merch, as well as materials for the Hope for the Day organization, which promotes suicide prevention and mental health education. There are cards and a bracelet that says “IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK. HAVE HOPE.” He’s been vocal about this cause for quite some time now, but having it as an accompaniment to this selection of music he’s shared with us is so fantastic and feels really right.

I’ve heard Jonathan talk about the importance of the bands that got him through high school, and I know he knows that he’s paid it forward. People must tell him all the time. And that he’s growing with us, that he’s staying relevant with lyrics about his kids and his recovery is absolutely huge. It caught me off guard to realize how much we still need him. In some ways it really feels like he’s a beacon for our generation, and for all the shit he can talk sometimes he’s truly such an overwhelming force of goodness.

What is there to really say about tonight except that it was lovely? Black Labyrinth is somehow exactly what I wanted while being entirely more than anything I could expect. I’m gonna need the other five albums worth of material he said he has written as soon as possible.

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