For the past 20 years, James “Munky” Shaffer has laid down blistering riffs as the guitarist for nu-metal legends Korn. Now the nimble-fingered fret-master has assembled an all-star crew to form the side project known as Fear and the Nervous System, the band’s name taken from 1960 serial killer movie Peeping Tom.
While the idea for the project has been bubbling since 2008, Shaffer’s new band only played their first shows just recently, with a pair of small warm-up gigs in Southern California.
“Those shows reminded me a lot of when Korn first started, which was very humbling and really made me reflect how hard Korn has worked and continues to work,” Shaffer explained during an interview with CBS Local. “The crowds were just waiting to see what we’re all about. They were just kind of like anticipating between songs what was going to come next.
“We’re still hammering out the kinks in the set list. As much as you rehearse in the studio, everything changes when you get onstage live,” Shaffer continued. “The energy levels go up and you have crowd reactions. It feels really good getting it all hammered out.”
“Wes is a super-talented and creative person. His artwork is amazing, as you can see by the album cover,” Shaffer explained of Borland’s original painting featured on the front of Fear and the Nervous System’s eponymous debut.” The painting is really big, like 6 feet high by 5 feet wide. He also painted the inside cover. I have the originals at the Korn studios.”
Known for shredding on his own signature 7-string Ibanez guitar, Shaffer explored more vintage gear while writing and recording the Fear and the Nervous System album, becoming particularly enamored with a 1967 Fender Jaguar guitar.
“That axe ended up being up on most of the album,” he recalled. We actually named a song (‘Jaguar’) on the album after it.”
To record the album, Shaffer collected a group of his musician friends to just jam, recording the results and picking out the best parts later. Among those musicians was bass player Billy Gould, best known as a founding member of experimental rock legends Faith No More, who came into the project fired up and ready to rock.
“I didn’t really know what to expect. When I picked him up from the airport, he’d brought his own bass, so I knew he meant business,” Shaffer remembered of their first meeting. “He really liked the tracks and played on the whole album. He’s one of my heroes, and founded one of my favorite bands ever, Faith No More. There are moments on the album with that Faith No More vibe, because you can feel his bass roaring through the speakers.
“The songs were great, but we really needed somebody to bring them to their full potential,” Shaffer added in regards to singer Steve Krolikowsi, who fronts the band Repeater when he’s not with Fear and the Nervous System. “When he brought in his lyrics for the first set of songs, we were blown away. They’re so deep and personal.”
The album, which is packed with heavy riffs and dark imagery (perfectly captured in the grisly video for the first single, “Choking Victim”), was inspired as much by movies as music, which was all part of Shaffer’s plan.
“I wanted to create a cinematic dreamscape,” he said of the album’s rich musical imagery. “So when you close your eyes, you visualize the forest, or being chased – you know, your basic scary movie scenario.”
Fear and the Nervous System wrap up their short West Coast tour with a pair of dates in Korn’s hometown of Bakersfield, CA (Oct. 19), followed by an L.A. show at famous West Hollywood club the Roxy on the Sunset Strip (Oct. 20).
–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local