Few things from 1988 haven’t expired. The clothes, popular music and, oh, the hair—they all have dissipated. In a quarter century, a lot can happen, and for the Grammy-winning band Deftones, pretty much everything has.
Friends since childhood in Sacramento, CA, founding vocalist Chino Moreno, guitarist Stephen Carpenter and drummer Abe Cunningham came together 25 years ago, and brought in bassist Chi Cheng to record a demo and expand their touring to San Francisco and L.A. Deftones came up during the early ‘90s alongside peers like Korn and other bands, defining a new tune of metal and alternative. After signing with Maverick, the band released their debut album, Adrenaline, in 1995.
Persistence, perseverance and patience paid off for the band, as they sold more than 200,000 albums without any mainstream radio or tv attention. While Adrenaline went gold four years later, the band kept steady momentum with their 1997 sophomore release, Around The Fur, which, contrary to its predecessor, garnered real airplay and earned the band a non-refundable ticket to ride in the alternative metal community.
Just before their third release, 2000’s White Pony, Deftones integrated Frank Delgado, a previous guest performer, into the band on turntables. They earned the 2001 Best Metal Performance Grammy Award for “Elite,” a song that actually was never released as a single.
Deftones released their fourth and fifth records, Deftones and Saturday Night Wrist, respectively, before tragedy struck in late 2008, when Cheng was critically injured in a car accident. Sadly, he has since been in a minimally conscious state.
A year after the accident that rocked the group’s world, they brought on pal Sergio Vega (of Quicksand) to stand in on bass in Cheng’s absence. It was a fluid transition, according to Vega. “We’re old friends since 1995 and we were on the Warped Tour together with Quicksand, and we maintained contact over the years,” he told The Aquarian. “So we always had a nice rapport that quickly translated into writing music and touring.”
Deftones collaborated with producer Nick Raskulinecz on 2010’s Diamond Eyes, and partnered up again on their most recent album, Koi No Yokan, released in November 2012. The experimentation of sounds and technical production is a prominent accomplishment between both the group and Raskulinecz, a matchup that, according to Vega, has helped the band be more regimented about their recording process.
Koi No Yokan is a well-rounded album, as a plethora of different sound particles come together in a sort of “big bang” of manipulated music. The self-proclaimed “genre-agnostic band” does not in any way relegate themselves to any one musical theme, though they do have an unmistakable trademark sound.
In the midst of a world tour, Vega took a moment to talk about the band’s formulaic approach to recording, as well as the band’s extensive appreciation for sound, technical production and damn good music (hint: he loves Hot 97). The transcription is below:
The latest record, Koi No Yokan, has a very passionate sound. Chino’s vocals are emotionally palpable, and there’s a very interesting instrumental balance of sound. What was your recording process like?
Basically, it’s just an organic thing. We just get into a room and everyone collaborates. We just start jamming, and then eventually start building off what one of us does. Then when we get something that we’re really excited about, we’ll kind of just stop, document, and do a stereo take of everything.
We get really excited about etching out our final arrangements and final work. There’s also a lot of thought that goes into what things should sound like. We just really are all passionate about music, and bands, and we listen to a lot of different things. We just get in a room and with each other’s company, we can turn everything else off.
After 25 years in the industry, the group has experimented but embossed every song with a unique trademark sound that is so easily identifiable as Deftones. What is the composition process like?
There’s not much of a science to this, really. It’s just kind of like a lot of effort and excitement and the fact that we’re always listening to music—old and new. It’s weird, we are all into everything. We’re all into tones and sounds and beats, and creating cool effects or cool patches for particular instruments. Those things give us a lot of bigger ideas, and in general, we have a large palette. When it comes down to making music, you just kind of let it fly.
The two albums that I’m on had Nick [Raskulinecz] as the producer and he’s really instrumental and helped us organized our thoughts to create structure, which allows us to think even less, and if somebody did something exciting and we’re not aware of it, he’ll just be quick to identify what’s really awesome, so we can play along with it. We just compile and record everything. We go back, listen to it, and chop it up. Both Nick and I are very into recording and Pro Tools, and all the various different digital audio workstations.
If Nick couldn’t make a day [in the studio], I’d be in charge of recording everything, editing it down and saving it to a folder to send to everybody. It was a combination of being fluid with it, and loose, and also very diligent so that when you compile ideas, you make sure they get worked over and get a chance to live.
At the end of it all, it’s really the idea that’s most exciting that ends up getting completed. With this past album we’ve probably had more ideas—well I know more than I have ever had in any project—in terms of songs that didn’t get completed or things that didn’t get fleshed out. We just have such a wealth of ideas because we’re always just excited to make music and be in each other’s company.
Who are some of your personal favorite bassists, and from which bands do you draw inspiration?
I don’t actually think about bassists too much, per se. I don’t segregate in that way. I just like bands. I like songs. I think about things holistically and I definitely don’t think from a bass perspective. I just think from a song perspective.
I love Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine—they are one of my favorite bands. I also love Pink Floyd. I love electronic music and electronic producers. I love everything. I listen to songs and I listen to the craftsmanship of it. The genre doesn’t matter. I just am constantly immersing myself into different genres for insight on how to craft more interesting music and keep it exciting for myself. I’m not trying to be purposely vague—there’s just so much going on. Recently, I listen to and love Aaliyah. She’s not particularly a songwriter, but I love her music, and I love what she brings to songs. I love hip-hop. I grew up in the Bronx. I grew up with a lot of electronic music.
Before I even got into guitar or bass, I was into dance music and stuff like that. So I’ve been open to anything really. I like to hear new things. I check out what my friends are into often. I go back a lot through my own collection. I read a lot online and see what people on social networks are interested in. I have a car but I don’t really drive, so I don’t have the opportunity to put the radio on. But when I do put on the radio, I put on Hot 97 and top hip-hop.
What’s next for Deftones? In addition to the headlining tour, you guys also are billed on the first-ever Ozzfest Japan, which is shaping up to a very exciting bill. What else are you up to?
We’re going to do a couple of tour runs on this cycle. We did the run as the album was coming out, and we’re basically just playing a lot of shows and diving into our catalogue and having a good time. We’re going to try to bring out some different concepts, play back cuts, explore the new album, and get it in front of people.
Playing shows, for us, is a lot of fun. Traveling and being away from home a lot [is hard]. You get to miss your family. But the band is a family thing, all of us together. As a unit, having that shared sacrifice makes it more thrilling because we’re all really excited to be doing what we’re doing. Everyone is leaving something behind to do what we do and be united. We want to be present, be a band that plays shows and keeps writing records.
Deftones will be playing at The Paramount on March 6, Atlantic City’s House Of Blues on March 8, Terminal 5 on March 9, and the Wellmont Theatre on March 10. For more information, go to deftones.com and oneloveforchi.com.