Even as a young boy growing up on a remote farm, miles away from the nearest professional musician, Korn's hard-hitting drum phenomenon knew he was born to rock. From small-town high school bands, through his trials in the mecca of the hard-rock music scene, Ray Luzier's passion for making music continues to drive his intense focus and work ethic.
Growing up on a 118-acre farm in Western Pennsylvania, Luzier was far from being surrounded by highly skilled musicians. But, the radio was always on; The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin were among his parents' favorites, and a very young Luzier tapped his way through the hits on an abandoned cassette case.
"I made different sounds for the hi-hat, kick drum and snare drum," Luzier says. "The top of it cracked, so my parents just bought me another cassette case. That finally gave way to a Muppet kit. I destroyed that in about two weeks. So a few months later, on my sixth birthday, they got me a junior kit and it was all over from there."
Like most other farm boys, Luzier was expected to spend his days working. Fortunately for his drumming, he was often saved by his terrible allergies.
"They'd get so bad that my mom would send me to my room to chill out," Luzier says. "My drums were in my room, so the more I went up there, the more I played. I'd steal my sister's Kiss, AC/DC, Ozzy and Zeppelin, and play along with them for hours."
Through the hours of jamming in his room, Luzier nurtured his passion for making music. Like many self-taught musicians, his dedication was strong, and it laid the groundwork for two more important lessons: patience and discipline.
"I was self-taught up until high school, and I didn't really know patience yet," Luzier says. "Looking back, it was an awesome disciplinary thing to play with the concert, symphonic and jazz bands. Then around tenth grade we had a drum corps teacher right out of the Army. He was very strict on us, which I loved. He'd have us show up an hour before the band got there and leave after they did."
Having risen to lead snare and written some cadences, and having been a part of a rock cover band, Luzier says he felt that he was just scratching the surface.
"I knew I had to do something more. Our guitar player talked about going to Hollywood to check out a school called Musicians Institute. We knew some Pennsylvania guys there who would come back and tell us incredible stories. We thought, 'It's so far away, but we need to give it a shot.'"
Following their high school graduation, Luzier and his guitarist ripped out the last row of a 15-passenger van, loaded it up with Marshall cabinets and a drum set, and made the 2,600-mile drive to Los Angeles.
"My parents came out with us to make sure we'd be all right and help us find an apartment. Moving from the farm to Hollywood Boulevard was quite a change."
With his living situation settled and his parents on the way back to the farm, only one thing remained for Luzier: getting into Musician's Institute.
"When we got accepted, I was blown away because the staff at the time was so incredible. It was Ralph Humphrey, Joe Porcaro, Casey Shirrell, Steve Houghton; people that played with Frank Zappa. They're amazing musicians, and they were going to be my teachers.
"Little did I realize how much I didn't know," Luzier says. "My heart was in the right place, but I had no idea about timing, groove or trying to get gigs. The first year at M.I. was a big eye-opener. It was very intense, and being told you suck at things is kind of humbling. It kicked my butt in a good way."
About a year into honing his craft and getting a feel for the industry, guitar instructor Craig Small, who had seen Luzier play during a performance class, approached him about making a record.
"He was doing a record for Shrapnel Records, which had all these guitar heroes working for them: Tony MacAlpine, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker and Yngvie Malmsteen. We started a band called 9.0, and recorded an album called Too Far Gone. That was the first professional recording I ever did. Then the singer quit the band and we disbanded, but I went on to make another 15 albums for that label through the '90s."
Luzier joined with a handful of LA bands in hopes of getting signed, but it never happened. So, Luzier joined Jake E. Lee's band, Wicked Alliance. "We never did a finished record, but that was my first tour experience, on a bus hitting every place around the states," Luzier says.
Between gigs, Luzier worked studio sessions and taught lessons whenever possible. One session led to an opportunity to meet rock legend David Lee Roth. "I did a session with Mike Hartman, and when I called him for a copy of the final tracks, he told me David Lee Roth heard the two songs and wanted me to come back and record them again. He sure asked a lot of questions for just playing two songs. Turns out that was David's way of putting me through the ringer, and it turned into eight amazing years touring. I toured the world and made three records with him."
"Being told you suck at things is kind of humbling. [Music school] kicked my butt in a good way." - Ray Luzier
While the David Lee Roth band was a steady and important gig for Luzier, he had always wished to be part of a growing, evolving band. After a soundcheck for a David Lee Roth show, Robert and Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots, two of Luzier's favorite songwriters, approached him about a new supergroup called Army of Anyone with Richard Patrick of Filter. Luzier jumped at the opportunity.
"Two weeks went by. I learned the material, but I think we just played the entire Physical Graffiti record from Zeppelin. We didn't even play the original songs. I took a quick break, and when I came back, they just said, 'You got the gig.' That's still, to this day, one of my favorite records I'm on. I still get people coming up to me at Korn shows to sign those records. It means a lot to me because I put a lot of blood and sweat into it."
Army of Anyone lasted about two-anda- half years. Following a short tour, the group disbanded. Fortunately for Luzier, Army of Anyone was signed under the same label as Korn, who was on the lookout for a permanent fixture behind the kit.
"Korn had gone through four or five drummers. They had Joey Jordison from Slipknot, Brooks Wackerman did a couple of tracks on the record. Terry Bozzio did some tracks and Mike Borden filled in as well. I never pictured myself in Korn, but I decided to give it a shot.
After seeing Joey Jordison's last show in Seattle, Luzier went into the empty arena and learned about 35 songs.
"They only wanted me to learn a handful, but I always learn more. I always learn way more than the artist gives me, or I'll do some research and find out what they like and try to learn those things. I figure that's going to separate me from the other hundred guys in line.
"For the tryout, they showed up two hours late, of course. I just played as best as I could. We played about six or seven tunes and they shook my hand and said, "Welcome to Korn. We'll see you in Dublin."
Luzier's first full-length record with the band was KORN3: Remember Who You Are. The band called back Ross Robinson, who produced the first two Korn records. "Those first two records are very raw. For KORN3: Remember Who You Are, Ross threw us in a small room and put it on two-inch tape. No click tracks. We'd write a song on the spot, and within 45 minutes we'd have an arrangement. I'd be tracking the drum tracks right there, fresh, and if there was a mistake, they left it.
"[Korn] is never the same. We’re always evolving, changing things, not afraid to try things." - Ray Luzier
"The new album that we're touring for, Path of Totality, was completely different. It was made around the last tour, so Jonathan [Davis] got together with a bunch of dubstep artists, who already have beats and crazy sounds programmed. It was spread out over months of time, recorded around the world. Quite the opposite of the last record. And that's one thing about Korn: it's never the same. We're always evolving, changing things, not afraid to try things."
Through all of his breakthroughs and let downs, small-time gigs and big-stage breaks, one lesson stands out as helping him reach consistency as a professional drummer.
"I was just one of those guys saying, 'I'm going to practice six hours a day and be so good no one can turn me down.' But that doesn't mean anything anymore. With the business as it is, I have to make an effort to remember why I started playing in the first place, because the music business can really tear that away from you."