“Columbus Alive” – August 2001 // Chi Interviewed

The Deftones’ pony ride (© COLUMBUS ALIVE)

When bassist Chi Cheng steps off the arena rock stage, he heads to a poetry reading

by Brian O’Neill 

The Deftones’ White Pony was one of 2000’s most forbidding and minimalist discs. Yet, despite 
the downtuned gloom (and scant radio play), the band walked away with their first platinum 
album and a Grammy award. 

Invited to join post-grunge hit-makers Godsmack on tour, the Deftones played Polaris 
Amphitheater last weekend. Bassist Chi Cheng checked in with Columbus Alive about the band’s 
unexpected commercial success, avoiding the pigeonholes of musical genres, and his poetry side 
project.

Columbus Alive: In interviews before White Pony came out, you seemed confident that you made a 
good record, but you also seemed to wonder how your fans would take it, because it was a 
departure from the norm. Of course, it’s become your most popular record. Do you think your 
fans are more open to the new stuff than you thought initially? 

Chi Cheng: I’ve always given our fans a lot of credit. I figured most likely that anything we 
thought was good enough to record, they would feel the same way, and they did. There are a lot
of extremes on the album, and we took it a little further than we’ve taken it on our other 
albums. We felt really happy about it, but we were hoping that our fans would progress with us, 
and they did.

CA: The Deftones seem to be garnering more critical acclaim than any of your peers. I don’t 
know how much attention you pay to critics, but you and System of a Down are the two bands the 
more cerebral fans and critics seem to praise. 

CC: Yeah, and I really appreciate that. We’ve done a lot to stay out of being in any kind of 
scene, or any sort of musical genre or box. We’ve taken a lot of tours that were contrary to 
what a lot of people wanted us to do, or what would have made us more popular. We’ve always 
taken an approach to the left. I think it’s paid off. We never set out to be the biggest band in 
the whole world. I see a lot of guys blow up overnight and they’re huge, 
but that was never our goal. Our goal was to write music that was interesting to us and that 
we enjoyed. It’s cool that people dig it.

CA: You and Godsmack make an interesting pairing. All the rock bands coming out now seem to be 
filtered through either the Alice in Chains ethos or the Faith No More ethos. On this tour, 
you’ve got two bands that reflect those two ideologies on one bill. I imagine it leads to you 
and them having slightly different fans.

CC: Yeah, which I think is a good thing, maybe they can win over some of our fans and hopefully 
we can win over some of theirs. If people have an open mind, it’s a cool show. We were thinking 
about doing another headlining run. We’ve already done two or three in the States—just 
headlined and headlined. Godsmack called us up and offered the co-headlining thing, and it 
just seemed like a good idea. We wanted to get out there and tour this summer before getting 
down to writing the next album. We wanted to be out there in front of our fans, but we figured 
we’d do it with someone else—just make it easy. This offer was the best one we had going, so we 
took it.

CA: Do you foresee this being your last tour run before going into the studio?

CC: We know that we’re going to be gearing up to write. This is our last tour for this album, 
most likely. We’ve got a string of weekend shows through September and October, and we’ll 
probably take November off and start writing.

CA: Is writing something you do when you have ideas formulated, or do you not think about that 
when you’re on the road.

CC: We pretty much write when we get off the road. Touring is just a big party!

CA: Tell me a little bit about Bamboo Parachute, your spoken word CD. Are you still selling it?

CC: Yeah. I think people can still get it at Deftones Worldwide [the band’s website]. But I 
haven’t brought it out on the road on this tour. It’s kind of a hassle, because I’ve done 
everything myself, you know what I mean? Sometimes I’m just entirely too drunk to do the 
numbers myself. I’ve got another one recorded already. It’s a live reading I did in Sacramento. 

CA: Is it in the same vein as Bamboo Parachute?

CC: I think I only read one thing off Parachute. I write so much, but I hate all my old work, 
so like, a day later, I’ll hate the poem I wrote before and I’ll have to write a new one.

CA: Making the jump from poet to lyricist is not that huge of a stretch. Do you and (Deftones 
vocalist and lyricist) Chino ever think about collaborating?

CC: They’re pretty separate. He’s an amazing lyricist, which I really appreciate. 
So I’ve never really felt like I’ve needed to pawn off my poetry on him. He likes it a lot, 
but even for him it would be some weird shit. I don’t think it would happen. I don’t think he 
could be as passionate about it if it didn’t come directly from him. I appreciate that.

CA: Other members of the Deftones have musical side projects. Have you ever considered that, as 
opposed to the spoken-word thing?

CC: I’ve tossed some ideas around. It’s always cool to play with some other cats. But like 
everything else we do, I wouldn’t want to do it unless I could do it really well. I don’t 
think I’m a good enough musician to do a side project. I’ll just stick to the poetry.

August 23, 2001 - www.deftonesworld.com -
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