Metallic Mood Swing
Dont even try and you will never beg.
One Weak, Deftones, 1995
Since Korn first pounded us with their then-revolutionary hip-hopheavy metal hybrid in 1994, so-called nu-metal has been one of the music industrys more stable, and sometimes spectacular, earners. Linkin Parks cultured take on the genre spawned 2001s best-selling album (the eight-times-platinum Hybrid Theory), and even Limp Bizkits moronic mall-metal facsimile shifted similar truckloads. Yet while this marriage of down-tuned chugging guitars, beat-box-inspired grooves and cathartic vocals went high street, one of its original architects, Sacramentos Deftones (who formed in 1988 and debuted with Adrenaline in 1995), were mysteriously slow burners, somehow remaining Americas biggest underground metal band. Their selling 4 million albums over a 15-year career is no trifle, yet these are figures the aforementioned come-latelies can muster in months.
We dont really make records for our fans, mumbles Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno in partial explanation. We just kinda make records when we want to. It sounds arrogant, but its actually the most comfortable way for us. And so its been for Deftones, who revel in doing things their own way and at their own pace, often at the expense of a potentially stratospheric career. Weve turned down a lot of stuff, Moreno says. We turned down MTV once: On our second record [1997s Around the Fur] they wanted us to do that show where models walk around [MTVs Fashionably Loud] its just kinda corny and were not going to do it. Then Im watching it a couple of weeks later and Limp Bizkit are on, and that was right when they blew up. Making some of those decisions is hard to swallow, but I think in the long run it was to our advantage; I think the reason we have credibility is because we havent taken that extra step to be all in peoples faces or to cater to the kids whore buying most of the records.
Deftones (whore completed by drummer Abe Cunningham, bassist Chi Cheng, guitarist Stephen Carpenter and turntablist Frank Delgado) stumbled together when high school buddies Cunningham and Moreno connected with Carpenter, who lived in Morenos neighborhood. Moreno maintains that he had no dreams about being in a band, but when Carpenter converted the insurance settlement from being run off his skateboard by a drunk driver into a garage full of musical equipment, the teenagers began teaching themselves to play. Soon Deftones were inadvertently pioneering a dark mix of granite guitar, the eclectic instincts of nearby San Franciscos Faith No More and Primus, hip-hop, and Morenos subgothic passions (the Cure, Smiths, Depeche Mode) into nu-metal for non-jocks, a soundtrack for the different kids who still ached for the mosh pit. It wasnt long before Madonnas Maverick imprint invited the band to showcase and signed them.
Over the course of three increasingly high-profile albums (2000s White Pony being a critically lauded platinum-plus watershed), Deftones have gradually sifted their signature rage into more measured and atmospheric statements, defined by Morenos multipersonality, fetal-position vocals. Yet strong strands of continuity prevail with their new, eponymous collection: As with all their albums, the band have once again shared production duties with Terry Date (Pantera, White Zombie), and on an initial hearing Deftones is more of the same. Indeed, the band themselves appear bemused as to what new statement the disc might make to the world. Thats a hard question, puzzles Moreno. I dont think theres any underlying basis . . . its just more good songs, man, and I think a good mixture of songs. Theres a lot of mood on it all of our records have had that, but this one is maybe more focused. The normally effusive Cunningham is similarly stumped: All I can say is that this is our next offering . . . I hope it reaches people and makes them excited and happy.
But unconscious creativity has always been Deftones stock-in-trade. I would say if we just sat in a room and did nothing, but everyone was excited and everyone was laughing and being friends, then that to me is productive, says Cunningham. We try to make it better each time, so each time it takes longer to make a record. Its not harder to make records now, its just harder to get everyone on the same page. But once its there, its the most amazing thing in the world.
So Deftones loiter until inspiration strikes, an approach theyve indulged as commercial success has bought them time and trust: I think thats the biggest gift that weve earned, nods Moreno. I think it makes things real, doing it when you want to do it as opposed to just when you have to do it.
Deftones again exhibits Morenos Cure fixation (Lyrically, more than anything, I took a lot of inspiration from Robert Smith) and the bands chiseled grasp of sudden-mood-swing angst-metal, now tinged with emo-core (or is it the other way round?) and more lyrically abstract than ever. I try to write stream of consciousness, and try to be more metaphorical, says Moreno, who records his vocals off the top of his head only after all the music is on tape. I cant draw worth a shit, so I guess I do what you would do when you draw, or just kinda sketch. I like to leave it open to interpretation. The current radio single Minerva, with its drawn-out verse syllables and schizophrenic/anthemic chorus, confirms that Deftones are an inner voice roaring, equal parts Korn and Cure.
Often portrayed as a tortured enigma, Moreno in fact views his vocation in everyday terms. I dont look at my music like this is my expression its just something I really like to do. I just enjoy the art of it. I dont look at it like this is my time to vent or tell everybody how I feel, cause thats just not me. And he avoids much of the chatter about his band: I dont go on the Internet I think the Internets chickenshit. Its the easiest way for people to just run their mouth and talk.
Together since high school, Deftones know little else beyond the cycle of write/record/tour. Moreno claims to have rarely pondered life outside, or after, his band. Its all happened pretty naturally, and I think thats a good thing. Obviously it wont go on forever . . . I dont think were going to make too many more records, but I know well do it till it starts to get irritating. If it became a case of striving for people to listen, well, weve never done that, so I dont think wed start doing it now.
While its clear that Maverick is staking plenty on Deftones, the band appear oblivious to pressure, secure in their hard-earned market position. I think its our time, Moreno says. Ive seen Maverick throw the world into other acts they have whore not so good . . . I honestly dont think record labels know what the fucks going on. I think they know when somethings good and when it isnt, but I also think that if we handed them a record full of rap-rock hits, theyd probably market that just as well.
Having carved their reputation through hardcore touring behind their first couple of records, Deftones are now able to dictate more civilized scheduling. Both Moreno and Cunningham are husbands and fathers, and the band still vet the events they get involved in. Like this Summer Sanitarium thing, laments Moreno, referring to the impending arena tour also featuring Metallica, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and Mudvayne, I wasnt too keen on that right away. But since our bands pretty much a democracy, I got voted out on that one.
Even the prospect of their latest assault on audiences barely ripples Morenos understated demeanor: I always know that, as long as we make records that I would want to listen to, then I dont really have anything to worry about. The fans who just want to hear straight aggressive stuff, the earlier stuff we were doing, were never going to make them happy, because Im never going to be as angry as I was when I was 16 years old.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.