From Korn to Christ: Guitarist Brian 'Head' Welch talks about kicking drugs and leaving the rock star life behind for his daughter and God
On the outside, things seemed great for guitarist Brian "Head" Welch. He was a member of one of the most popular Heavy Metal bands of the '90s, Korn, he had lots of money, and he was partying with some of the biggest names in the music industry. But behind the fame, Grammy Awards, and Billboard hits, Welch was battling many demons--an addiction to crystal meth, depression, and what he described as evil of a spiritual kind. It was only after hitting rock bottom that he found what he believed was missing in his life--God.
Welch became a Christian, quit drugs, and dedicated his life to his faith and his young daughter, Jennea. And then he did the unthinkable--he left one of the most successful bands in music history. Currently recording a "God-inspired" album, and now out with a New York Times best-selling book, "Save Me from Myself"--at the same time that Korn's new self-titled album is raking in poor reviews--Welch spoke to Beliefnet about expressing his Christian faith through his tattoos, how he privately prays in tongues, and why he really left the band.
DR: You had a pretty unique rock-star experience. You had full custody of your daughter and would sometimes take her on the road with you. What was that like?
Welch: Taking my daughter on the road was not good most of the time. Everybody was drinking, smoking, and cussing. It was hard to have her out there. Everyone tried to be good around her, but it was just too hard. All of us guys were living together and being pigs, you know? So, having a little girl out there was crazy.
We tried to start a thing where anybody who cussed would give her a dollar. But she started making, like, $30 to $40 a day and was getting excited about it. So I just said to cut that off.
And I was on drugs a lot when she was out with us. I was addicted to methamphetamines. It just was not a good place for a kid to be.
DR: How difficult was it to quit Korn?
Welch: I really felt God helped me have the courage to quit. I wasn't happy with Korn for the last few years because my heart was with my kid. She was with her nanny most of the time at home. I was always worried about her and wondering if she felt she was unloved because her mother left her [when she was a baby], and I was never home. It was just a constant battle.
But when I gave my life to God, I felt like He gave me the courage to say no to my rock-star dream, to say no to my own desires, and to look at her and say, "Yes, I'm going to be home, and I'm going to take care of you. It's about you now." So, it wasn't that hard. People think, "What about all that money and fame?" Well, I had that for 10 years, and it wasn't making me satisfied. It was cool and everything, but it wasn't what I thought it was going to be. It was like freedom when I quit Korn.
DR:How did the band take your leaving?
Welch: They were upset. I didn't have the strength to look them in the eyes and say, "I'm leaving, [but] I love you guys." So I went home and wrote an email saying, "I love you, I'm quitting. There's nothing to talk about. Best of luck to you. Goodbye."
A couple of them wrote back. One of them said, "You know, everyone's going to laugh at you because you're saying you're a Christian now." I said I didn't care. They wanted to talk. They thought it was just a phase. They weren't that happy.
DR: Do you think they might have been more accepting of your leaving if religion didn't play a part?
Welch: Yeah. As far as me being wanting to be a good dad and staying with my kid, they were all down for that. The singer [Jonathan Davis] even gave me a proposition. He told me if I wanted to stay in the band, then I would still write the records with them, and they would just hire a guitar player to tour my spot. They were cool with that. But, as far as me leaving just totally, they weren't happy about it.
DR: What about your fans? Did you get a lot of negative feedback from them about leaving?
Welch: A lot of them were mad. A lot of them thought it was a joke. A lot of them didn't know what to think. I was getting hate mail on my website. There were some die-hard fans who were really connected to us, and [there was a] family vibe to some of them. They felt like I was leaving the family and felt rejected. I got a lot of stuff from it, but I wasn't trying to please anybody but my daughter and myself. It was time, and I needed to do it.
But since I wrote my book, I've had a lot of Korn fans come up to me and say, "Thank you for writing the book. I understand now what's going on, what went on with you, and why you made the decision."
DR: After you made your announcement, Maynard James Keenan [lead singer for the rock band Tool] came out publicly and said he was a Christian--but it turned out to be a big hoax. How did that make you feel?
Welch: I was so high from my new life, so excited, that I didn't even realize it was April Fool's Day. It just made me feel stupid. MTV got a hold of me right away and were like, "What do you think about this?" They all set me up to make me look stupid. I was embarrassed, and I just wanted to go away in seclusion for a while.
DR: Do you think MTV was in on the joke?
Welch: I don't think so, but they could have been. I don't know. It just was too weird.
DR: Why couldn't you have been a Christian and still stayed in the band?
Welch: Well, it was more than being a Christian. I wasn't happy with Korn. I wasn't happy with the musical direction we were going, and I wasn't happy being away from my daughter. It wasn't working with her on the road. On top of that, I wanted to lay down everything in my life and just lift it up to God and say, "God, take my music, take my talent, take everything. I want to use them all for You." And I just don't feel like that was where he wanted me to use them anymore.
I didn't like being in Korn. I didn't like the guys. I loved them, but I didn't like what they were turning into. I didn't like what I was turning into. It was just time to leave. I was trapped in a bad relationship that I didn't want to be in anymore, and I wanted to leave. And God gave me the courage to leave.
DR: Do you think one can still be a good Christian while listening to mainstream music?
Welch: I think that's between [the person] and God. It was very healthy for me to separate myself from that stuff for a couple of years and to get built up in the spirit with God. And now, when I hear that stuff, [I'm] a different person when [I] listen to it. But, I think that it's between each person and God.
DR: Do you listen to mainstream music now, or do you focus more on Christian music?
Welch: I like to focus on positive stuff. I listen to a softer, even instrumental, classical-sounding music. I just like that. But I listen to a lot of other stuff, too. I don't listen to all Christian, no.
DR: What bands do you like?
Welch: It's weird. I play really heavy music, but I like listening to [softer] bands like Coldplay and U2. I like listening to instrumental Christian worship music a lot.
DR: When you were in Korn, you didn't have many tattoos, but when you became a Christian, you felt like God was telling you to use your body as an expression of your faith--and you have a lot of them now. Which means the most to you?
Welch: I've got Matthew 11:28 on my neck: "Come to Me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest." That was the tattoo that saved my life. There's a principle in the Bible, in Second Corinthians 12:10, where suffering is actually taken as [though you are] suffering with Christ. And after you go through the suffering, then more of Christ's power gets to rest on you to do things for Him. People will get saved and become Christian like you. So I got tattooed with the words from that Scripture on my arm: "Life for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, difficulties, and persecutions; for when I am weak, then I am strong." That one means a lot.
I have a Korn album cover tattoo on me with all these kids' faces [with] bloody noses and black eyes, and it [symbolizes] rejected kids. That's where my heart is.
I got Matthew 19:14 tattooed on top of that. That verse says, "Let the little children come to Me, for the Kingdom of Heaven is such as theirs." I [also] have a Jesus tattoo. They all mean something to me.
DR: Do you have a favorite Bible verse? I'd imagine all of the ones that you have tattooed on your body mean a lot to you.
Welch: My favorite one is First Corinthians 6:17: "He who unites himself with the Lord is one spirit with Him." I take that as that we are never, ever alone. That when we unite ourselves, we become one with Him. It's a profound, deep spiritual fact that I like to really meditate on.
DR: I read that you and Stephen Baldwin have partnered to form a record label, Livin It. But I haven't heard too much about it.
Welch: No, we've separated. We're not doing that. That was just something that we thought we might do because he was from Hollywood, I was from Hollywood. I was saved [for about] two or three months and I was just so excited to do something for God. But that wasn't God. So we separated. He's doing his thing; I'm doing mine.
DR: Right before you left the band, you say you had an experience with the devil or another fallen angel. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Welch: It freaked me out. You see, this spiritual world, I had never encountered it before, except when I played with this Ouija board and asked questions, and it spelled out the answers. But the night I was coming off drugs--when I threw them all away, and I knew I was done with them--I had this crazy encounter. I went to sleep and when I woke up a few minutes later--after being so tired since I was off drugs, and I just wanted to crash. And I woke up paralyzed, and I couldn't move my body. My eyes were awake, or open, but I just couldn't move. I felt like some kind of demon was holding me down. I felt this crazy evil in the room.
I never felt anything like that before. I believe God was just showing me how real the spiritual world is to get me to run closer to Him and just to believe more.
I'm glad I went through it. It happened a few times that night, and then it happened once the next night. It was so evil I knew it was the devil. Some people would ask me, "Well, weren't you just coming off drugs?" But I know for a fact it [was real]. I've learned a lot about the spiritual world, and it was scary. I just repeated what Jesus repeated: "Get behind me, Satan." And it hasn't happened since. But it was very real.
DR: Do you consider yourself part of the Pentecostal denomination? Do you still speak in tongues?
Welch: I stay away from denominations, and I just believe the Bible. I still pray in tongues. I do it alone. It's a private thing. And just like the rest of the book, I wanted to share the very private things of my life and that's one private thing.
DR: You spoke in the book about writing a song for 50 Cent, "A Cheap Name." [A call for him to change his ways and embrace God.] Did you ever try to give him those lyrics?
Welch: Yeah. I wrote him a letter and just tried to reach out to him. But I didn't hear back from him.
DR: Why do you think you were directed to write the song for him instead of another artist?
Welch: When we all die and go to heaven, that's when we'll know for sure if what I was doing was from God. I don't know. I felt led to do it.
DR: Do you ever get the urge to go back to meth?
Welch: No. Not at all. But just last night I was thinking about how close I could have been. Something that I didn't put in my book--not because I didn't want to, I just forgot--is I used to have my drug dealer FedEx methamphetamines to me when I was in Europe. He would put them in boxes and hide them. I was just thanking God that I didn't get busted for it in Europe. [I'd be] in jail somewhere.
I remembered myself in the hotel room waiting for that box. And then, for a second, I felt like it was fun to do--to have those drugs come. So I get memories like that, but I would never do them again. I'm not going to be mastered by anything like that ever again. But I do sometimes have stupid thoughts come in like, 'Whoa, that felt good.' But that's as far as it will go.
DR: What about depression? You've battled it for so much of your life. Do you still get depressed?
Welch: I still have good days and bad days. But I'm a new person, and I just feel so free. It's awesome.
DR: When you have a bad day, what do you do to come out of your slump?
Welch: When you believe in the Word of God and read it every day, you take those as trials to build you up. [The Bible] says consider it pure joy when you face trials. You just need to look at them as a chance to be able to exercise, like when you go to the gym. [There's] resistance. The weights are heavy. You don't want to actually work out. It's just not natural to want to push heavy things up over and over--and not get paid! So you take the hardships in life now as spiritual exercises to build your endurance and perseverance. You get a different attitude about it when you have faith.
DR: Has life been easier or harder for you since you've quit drugs, become a Christian, and left the band?
Welch: I don't know. It depends on what you mean. I had it easier as far as all the money and stuff in the other life, but its way more fulfilling [now]. I know I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. It's easier now because everything is lifted up to God. It's all His responsibility--from me making money, my house, my career, my ministry. Everything I do, He has to do it. Everything's a lot easier now.
DR: How did the other members of Korn feel about your having written the book? Do you still talk to them and know what they think about it?
Welch: They heard that I'd written it, and there was rumors going around in Hollywood that I was totally trashing them and that it was a "tell all" book about everything they did and I did. And so they actually wrote two songs on their new album bashing me about the book.
But once I heard that they were concerned about the book, I sent them a copy and put a note in there and said, "I love you guys. I didn't trash you like people say. Read it yourselves. It is what it is." And now they're doing interviews, and I've read that they're totally cool with the book, and it's not what they thought it was going to be. So everyone's happy. But, now they've got two songs hating on me on their record. But it's cool. It's all good. I love them, they love me. I think maybe I deserved those songs because of some of the stuff that I said after I quit the band. So it's all good.