by Steven Sanchez
Suicide amongst Americans has become an epidemic in this country. The statistics of those taking their own lives is staggering. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on average, there are 129 suicides per day; in 2017, firearms accounted for 50.57% of all suicide deaths. Based on research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. for all ages, there is one death by suicide in the U.S. every twelve minutes, and suicide takes the lives of over 44,965 Americans every year.
The numbers are shocking and because of these figures, it’s why the guitarist for the popular nu metal band Korn, Brian “Head” Welch, and his daughter Jennea are leading a crusade against the stigma of suicide by traveling to churches to talk about their struggles with addiction and suicidal thoughts to find the passion to live life through the power of faith.
The Bakersfield raised six-string shredder was riding on a wave of success in the late 90s and early 2000s when Korn was one of the biggest rock bands of that era. But with kind of success comes temptations and vices, and unfortunately Brian got caught up in that lifestyle that many rock stars of his caliber do. He got swallowed up into the pit of addiction to alcohol, methamphetamine, Xanax, and sleeping pills. During that time, he was gifted with the birth of his daughter, Jennea, that he reconsidered his priorities. He took baby Jennea on the road with him but that left her being exposed to a world that was too mature for her young eyes. Instead, he’d leave her in Bakersfield with his parents (Jennea’s grandparents) while he was on the road, but with having an absent father and a mother that wasn’t in the picture, this created resentment and issues during her upbringing.
Shockingly, Brian decided to leave the band during the height of their prime in 2005 once he found God and decided to clean up and become a better father and man. He and his daughter traveled to Israel to do more research on his faith. Even though Brian became a man of faith and it seemed things were going good, the rug was swept beneath him. After getting into business with a shady individual that left him broke, ridiculed by the fan base that supported him because of his departure, that’s when he started questioning his creator. Things didn’t get better when Jennea was approaching her teen years and those past memories flooded back to her. Longing for a normal life and a closer connection with her father led to her drug use, anger, and self-harm. To seek the help she needed, she enrolled at the Awakening Youth Academy, a Christian boarding school located in Lafayette, Indiana. It was there that the grieving and healing process began. Through her time there, her relationship with her dad improved. He then rejoined Korn and now their father-daughter bond has never been stronger and they both have a mission to help others.
This fascinating story was encapsulated in the documentary Loud Krazy Love that premiered on Showtime last year. The duo has been traveling across the country screening the documentary and using it as a basis to communicate with their fans about the power of Jesus Christ, overcoming adversity through love, faith, and in this regard…music. Brian and Jennea brought the documentary to the Visalia First Church on September 8 to share it with some local fans.
September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month and who better to be featured than two individuals who rose above that in due part to their belief in each other and their savior. I had the privilege to sit down and talk to both of them about the Central Valley, religion, music, who would play him if there was a movie adapted about his life (I suggested Jake Gyllenhaal), and how one facing insurmountable odds can find the purpose to live.
KRL: You were raised in Bakersfield, had a house there when you had your musical success, you go to church there, and now you’re showing your documentary in Visalia. I’m a Central Valley guy myself, and I was born in Bakersfield. For most people here they want to leave and never come back, but with you, what keeps you coming back to the Central Valley?
Brian: The thing is when I did leave I didn’t want to come back. I left in 1989, but I came back when I bought my first property during Korn’s success. I would return to visit family during our breaks and the holidays. Love for family.
KRL: And this is an area of California most people don’t know about and the one that isn’t advertised as much so when it comes to interacting with fans and when they ask about this area, how do you describe the Central Valley to them?
Brian: When I was growing up, I thought it was the armpit of California. But to me its unique and special and very sunny. I’ve met people from Seattle who’ve moved here and they love it here. So, I believe it’s special here.
KRL: You’ve made a career of getting personal on your lyrics and albums with Korn and solo, and with your autobiography, and now is the documentary. Since you already had a history of putting it out all on the table before was making the documentary an easy thing since you’ve already gotten personal before or were there any challenges making it?
Brian: There’s always challenges in every way. You get through it by knowing your helping people.
Jennea: It’s another layer of healing that needs to happen. Us looking at our lives and what we went through.
KRL: As a Korn fan and with all the other ones in the world, we have seen you mature, personally, professionally, musically, and spiritually. But from your perspective have you seen that same level of maturity amongst your fans? Obviously getting older, but I mean as far as evolving with the direction of the band, because I know the fans don’t necessarily agree with all the music choices from the past and your departure, but in regards to now, do you think as a fan base they’ve matured?
Brian: I think so. People grow up, they become wiser, and they realize that life is short. I hope people look past the stigma of Christianity and see that God loves them so much.
KRL: From your perspective do you feel that the musical genre you’re in could use itself a little more of a spiritual awakening and faith involvement? I hear talks amongst people that rock is dead or that it’s not as popular that it used to be. And do you think that in order for itself to propel forward into the future that it could use some spirituality for the better?
Brian: I think that anybody can use spirituality. It works. I had it all and had the right connections and my life was messed up and my faith helped me. In terms of it helping the genre that remains to be seen but spirituality is amazing.
KRL: Jennea, you can say you grew up faster than other people your age. Growing up on the road and seeing what you saw you can say you were mature beyond your years. So, with that, did it help in confronting the crazy things of this world as you got older since you’ve already seen and experienced it? And if so what areas of your life did you feel you handled things more maturely was it relationships, friendships, school, life goals?
Jennea: The misconception is that kids, people in my generation aren’t mature. They’ve dealt with loss of loved ones. I was forced to mature by what I saw, but I think the things I saw stunted my growth. But what propelled me forward was the school I went to. It was a habitat to where I can become my true self.
KRL: Korn’s music played a big part in my upbringing, and I’m aware I’m one out of many all over the world. But growing up I personally saw your impact on fans from people telling me they cope with life or what stopped them from killing themselves was listening to your music. The music was saving lives with your fans, but here you were making the music but it was mostly hurting you. So, when can you say at what point in time in your life was it when the music became enough for you, and where it impacted you equally as it did with your fans?
Brian: I think the music is fine, but it was the rock lifestyle that was hurting me. I needed to get away from it and figure out life and let my bandmates figure out their lives. Some of them went into the gutter like I did, and some didn’t. But now we’re the best version of ourselves than we’ve ever been.
KRL: There are many people out in the world suffering from the things that you did, especially when it comes to the opioid crisis. It’s become an epidemic so for those suffering what advice can you give them for those seeking salvation and hoping to get out of the trappings of addiction?
Brian: There’s a lot, but step one…change your environment, like find different friends. Leave what you’re doing and please get treatment and go to your family. You can go far in life if you just focus on what’s best for you. I got hooked up with everything, pills and powder, and I broke free from that and if I can do it so can you. The power of the Holy Spirit hits the part inside you that’s feeling empty, that feeling that you need to do drugs, he fills that, and you just become a better person overtime.
KRL: With you, Jennea, you want do creative writing and use that to reach out to people and entertain them, similar to what your dad does. What advice has he given you as you navigate through life and your pursuit of a storytelling career?
Jennea: He’s given me little trinkets here and there like how to handle the business side of things. And a lot of things in different capacities it’s hard to name the specifics.
KRL: Anywhere you look in the news there’s headlines talking about how bad the suicide problem has gotten. Suicide rates are on the rise, especially in rural America; economic hardship is leading to suicide; suicide rates increased 41% between 1999 and 2016; it’s increasing amongst teens and our veterans returning home. From someone who has had suicidal thoughts, what moment was it for you, a specific thought or thoughts, or action, what was that specific turning point that made you give up those suicidal thoughts and gave you the energy to live life?
Brian: Like there’s different changings of the season in a year, that’s how it was for me. My mood was always changing, there was like clouds hovering over me, I couldn’t see the light of hope and the meaning of life. When I was sober, I was still depressed and went to go see a shrink in LA who worked with Kurt Cobain. I definitely knew that didn’t work, so I was left with no answers. It was confusing, and I always turned to God and he was my light and that gave me hope.
Jennea: Community is what helped me. Connecting with people meant a lot, and kids my age don’t have both parents, and dealing with school, and bullying, they lack connection. People my age just want to unplug from that, they have no emotions at that point. As soon as I could relate to people who felt the way I did, that helped me on my road to recovery.
KRL: You know what it’s like to travel, but with you being the subject of the documentary not only were you going place to place with your father, but this time you were on press junkets, doing interviews. Going from being the person who was around to now you were the center of attention. Was it a simple adjustment since you already knew about that life or was it still a transition? Did your dad help you and if so what advice did he give you in regards to dealing with that kind of attention?
Jennea: People have always thought of me as Head’s daughter, not Jennea, as me being my own person. It hits a sore spot and the attention I get…I mean the only reason why I’m doing this is to help people. So, to do the interviews and talk to people, as long as I’m helping those that need it that means a great deal to me.
KRL: Your music has never changed, its raw and aggressive which I like, but these are dark times we are living in, and most would consider your music as being dark. Expanding on what you’re saying about the light, have you ever thought about changing the tone of your music or do you feel that in order to fight the darkness we have to confront it and through that that’s where you’ll find the light?
Brian: The lyrical content comes from our singer Jonathan Davis. This is like his therapy and for our fans it’s their therapy. He’s gone through loss and deals with his pain in his music and it helps our fans to make them feel like they’re not alone. For some people this music might be too dark but for those that are already living in darkness our music is their light, and it speaks to them.
KRL: You turned to God and you found salvation through your conversion. That’s a great thing. It may have helped you, but sometimes that’s not the case for some people. There are people out there that have turned to religion and faith to overcome addiction and other bad things but somehow that wasn’t enough. What suggestions can you make in terms of finding other things to live for to those people to reinvent themselves and turn their lives around when sometimes faith isn’t enough?
Brian: Working through your issues, seeking counseling, faith is enough, but it hurts that some people are just more broken than others. We don’t need to find a conclusion to everything that’s out there, we just need to keep loving, and if you’ve fallen, just get back up.
KRL: You both put yourself out there in some very specific ways in the film that most people wouldn’t dare to do. Obviously with you being in music, of course, you’re going to reveal your emotions through song, but do you ever think that you’ll put yourself out there like that again?
Brian: No, I’m good. (laughs)
Jennea: I would continue to talk about my life for like speeches and motivational speaking.
KRL: There’s been books and documentaries done about you. Could we possibly see a movie about you in the future?
Brian: I don’t think so.
After the interview was the screening of the documentary. This whole thing was made possible by the church’s Pastor Mark. I’m aware of the impact it made on me but to see other people’s reaction to it and the ending result being a loud ovation was amazing to see. Then came a questionnaire with Brian and Jennea with the audience members. To say that the exchanges were sentimental would be an understatement. There are those that stepped to the microphones to share their love for his music, wanting to shake his hand or hug him, but there were those seeking deep advice. The film may have put their skeletons out there, but the crowd didn’t mind putting theirs out there either.
Right when it started a woman who missed the meet and greet got invited up onstage to hug Brian because his music prevented her from taking her own life. A young female with short blue hair who wept while meeting Brian and Jennea at the meet and greet asked how should she go about life considering she’s a suicide attempt survivor because her dad is absent and her mom was stricken with cancer. Jennea went into the crowd to hug her, give her advice, and asked for her contact information to help her out. A soft spoken nineteen-year-old woman asked them how she should help her father overcome his heroin addiction even though no matter what she says or does he ignores her. Jennea again made herself available to reach out to her and to exchange contacts to advise her. A blind woman told her story on how she became blind and that hearing his story was what gave her the drive to continue living life. When it came to hearing those confessionals, not one dry eye was in the house, you could hear a pen drop. People were listening to them as if they were philosophers, taking in all that they were saying.
“We’re in a fallen world, things happen, and sometimes it seems like more things happen. In my life, the more pain I go through, I feel the resurrection of what is God’s power, the worse things are, the better they’ll get later on. We just need to trust him,” says Brian. This night just proves that even in the darkest of moments, when it seems like there’s no reason to go on living, that the power of love, music, and faith can help save us and to go forth on this journey that is life.
Check out another article up this month in honor of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month-this one is about the rescue dog who saved author and mental health advocate Maricela Estrada’s life.