Cover Story – Korn’s “Korn”, with photography by Stephen Stickler

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Copyright 1994 and 2007 – Stephen Stickler Photography – www.stephenstickler.com

Subject – Ko?n – Korn, a 1994 release on Immortal/Epic Records, with cover photography by Stephen Stickler

With “grunge” music filling the airwaves and dominating music television, Bakersfield, California’s Ko?n was a band that stood out from everyone else in a number of different ways. They weren’t full of angst – they were an angry band of metalheads who had discovered hip-hop beats and had a lead singer that also played the bagpipes! After being discovered by an A&R exec while playing in a nightclub, they worked on their unique musical and lyrical stylings until late 1994, when they released their self-titled debut Korn on Immortal/Epic Records.

The release of Korn also established a new genre – called “nu-metal” that showed the way for a number of bands (Godsmack, Limp Bizkit, Saliva, etc.) who had all wanted to give skate/surf kids the high-speed, beat-driven adrenalin rush that wasn’t found in the Seattle sound and to re-kindle the fire under many fans who thought that the metal genre had been buried alive or moved overseas. They toured relentlessly, opening for bands such as Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson, Danzig, Megadeth and Fear Factory and building a cult of mosh-crazy fans whose following has lasted through the years. Even with little/no radio or video support, their first album has since sold over 3 million copies (rising to #1 on the Billboard “Heatseekers” chart and as high as #72 in the Billboard “Top 200 Albums chart”) and their critical acclaim has handed them six Grammy nominations and two wins.

While Korn’s music is often filled with a sense of dark humor, the cover shot for their debut record did not tickle everyone’s funny bone for its seemed depiction of a young girl about to be lead away from her playtime at the park by a shadowy stranger (with the back-cover shot adding even more to the mystery). Brought in to use his artistic and photographic talents to develop this stunningly creepy image (and others used to illustrate the CD insert), photographer Stephen Stickler recounts what went in to making this memorable work of art in today’s Cover Story

In the words of the photographer, Stephen Stickler (interviewed November, 2007) –

“At the time of this shoot, I was working with my friend Dante Ariola, who was a graphic designer at the time (now one of the top TV commercial directors in the world – a 2007 DGA award winner!). His company did a lot of work with Sony and Epic, and so we went up to meet the band at a recording studio in Malibu and to listen to some of the tracks. I knew right away that they were going to be huge – the music was so powerful and new sounding. And dark!

Jonathan, the singer of the band, had a pretty strange background – he had been schooled in mortuary science and had worked in the coroner’s office prior to joining the band – so his perspective was dark, to say the least. The cover concept may have been his idea, come to think of it. It was one of the few instances I can recall when the band’s input was great to work with. The label was pretty hands-off on this one, surprisingly, perhaps because I had already done so much of work for them.

This shot was done specifically for the cover and the band’s management and label were involved, not conceptually, but in a supportive role. The band wasn’t even there, if I recall correctly. The little girl in the shot is actually the A&R guy’s (Paul Pontius) niece (8-year-old Justine Ferrara), and the shot took place in a playground located behind the label’s West Hollywood offices. ‘Uncle Paul’ and Justine’s mother were there to supervise, and I just told her to ‘look scared’.

I forget exactly where the specific idea came from, but the menacing shadow is actually Dante’s. He was making strange shapes with his hands to get an eerie shape in the late afternoon sun – note the elongated shadows. You’ll note that the girl’s shadow appears to hang from the shadow of the “K” in the Korn logo. We positioned it there on purpose, and the band was enthusiastic about the effect.

This was in the early days of Photoshop, so I used a manual technique of masking the film to reduce the color saturation and achieve a somewhat faded Ektachrome effect. I don’t generally shoot a lot of frames, so the edit process was easy.

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Copyright 1994 and 2007 – Stephen Stickler Photography – www.stephenstickler.com

The shot taken for the back cover shows an empty swing swinging, and it completes the tragic story we were trying to tell. Our original submission was accepted, which again is rare. The label was happy with the outcome, but the covers we shot for their 2nd release were rejected because we pushed it too far that time out. Once the girl’s parents saw the finished cover, Paul was in the doghouse for a while, or so I heard…

The band was pleased, too, which of course led to many nights of mayhem when we hung out with the band, moshing up in front, and drinking the sponsored Jagermeister backstage. I remember seeing Marilyn Manson at a Korn after party and wondering who that nerdy geek was who was trying so hard. Then a year later, he was huge!”

About the photographer, Stephen Stickler –

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Copyright 1994 and 2007 – Stephen Stickler Photography – www.stephenstickler.com

<- Stephen, on his way to work in one of LA’s trendy neighborhoods…

Stephen Stickler has worked hard to establish himself as a photographer and photo-journalist with serious credentials, having served as the Executive Editor for Bikini Magazine (“ACTION. FILM. CARS AND ROCK N. ROLL”) from 1993-1996 and then as Fashion and Photography editor for Raygun Magazine. His work has been published in many magazines, including both general interest publications (Newsweek, Life and Alternative Press) and special interest pubs in the music and fashion world, including Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Seventeen, Maxim, Revolver, CMJ and many others.

His record label packaging work has served to promote a wide range of artists on a “who’s who” list of labels including Sony, Atlantic, Virgin, Warner Brothers, Tommy Boy, Elektra, Universal, Dreamworks, MCA, Mercury and A&M, while his fashion work has improved the fortunes of companies such as Fresh Jive, Ocean Pacific, Sketchers and many others.

He currently lives and works in the LA area and, sadly for fans of his past work in the record packaging area, he’s moved on to focus his efforts and talents in more supervisory roles, i.e., directing and producing. As he puts it (and to which this author must sadly agree) – “The glory days of album photography are over, as are the days of big cover budgets. I was lucky to catch the tail end of 12″ vinyl covers. CDs are dying and, really, so is cover art. It’s just not the same looking at a record cover on a 2″ iPod screen, whereas I’ll always have fond memories of putting on a new album I’d bought and studying the packing while listening to the record for the first time.”

To see more of Stephen Stickler’s work, please visit his website at www.stephenstickler.com

For more information on Korn, please visit their website at http://www.korn.com/site.php

For more information on RockPoP Gallery, we invite you to visit our site at http://www.rockpopgallery.com

About Cover Stories – Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

Every Friday and syndicated the following week on The Rock and Roll Report, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.

Cover images and S. Stickler photo Copyright 1994 and 2007 Stephen Stickler Photography – http://www.stephenstickler.com/ – All rights reserved. Except as noted, All other text Copyright 2007 – Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) – All rights reserved.