Chino and Chi interviews by Dave DiMartino (launch.com) ©2000 PONY TALES Bandmates Chino Moreno and Chi Cheng talked with LAUNCH's Dave DiMartino about their new album, their new sound, working with Tool/A Perfect Circle singer Maynard James Keenan, and what it was like to stay in a "haunted" house during the making of White Pony. Video excerpts of the conversation can be viewed in Issue 43 of LAUNCH on CD-ROM, which also features an exclusive live LAUNCH performance of "Change (In The House Of Flies)." LAUNCH: Do you feel that the new album is a departure from your past efforts? MORENO: I wouldn't say a departure from the past, but it definitely has more elements in it. We've always had a lot of dynamics in our music, and I think this record in particular has a value of warmth that our other records had, but maybe not as much. There's a lot of highs and lows, and the highs and lows are a lot higher and a lot lower...so, I'm digging it. CHENG: I think that the major differences between the new album and the other albums isn't so much that there's a dichotomy, or a major yin/yang with the other albums, I just think it's a natural progression musically to where we were going and as individuals. And so I don't hear anything drastic, I just hear the steps that we took from Adrenaline to Around The Fur to White Pony. I think that it's naturally where we were going--individually, musically. LAUNCH: The Deftones' sound is so distinct, and you've pretty much pioneered this "new metal" sound. White Pony sounds like you're going in a new direction. Did you go into the studio this time with the decision to change the sound? MORENO: It was sort of a subconscious decision, that we wanted to not so much break away, just stay a little bit of left-field from what everybody else was doing, especially in heavy music right now. It's pretty redundant. There are a lot of formulas that have been just shoved down people's throats, this typical heavy stuff. And basically we figured that we have the ability to do whatever we want--since, if it's true that we did pioneer any sort of new sound, that we can continue to pioneer, even further, as opposed to being happy with what we've done so far in music, and just sitting back and doing the same record over and over again. I think it was an opportunity. There's still an opportunity for us to keep growing--and with every one of our records--to take it just further and further. CHENG: I think that back in '94, '95, when we got signed we were really heavy and radio didn't want to pick us up, we were a little bit different. And now rap/rock, or new metal--whatever you want to call it--is the mainstream. I think the one conscious decision that we did make on the White Pony album was to not do something like that. To give kids an alternative, and we had made the steps, the progression to where we had the creative freedom, where we didn't have to go over another formula. I'm sure the kids wouldn't have been bummed out if we had written Around The Fur again, but I think that our kids have come to expect a little bit more from us, something a little bit left of center. And so I think it's...I don't put those bands down, 'cause I think those bands are our friends, and they're bands that we've come up together with, but they're always doing one thing, and we've always tried to stay away from that. LAUNCH: Tell me about the songwriting process for this album. I understand Terry Date produced this record as well. MORENO: Well, when we went to go do this record, we thought about using a different producer than Terry Date. The main reason was we obviously wanted to expand the sound, and figured if we had a different producer, maybe someone who hasn't done anything heavy at all, it could be an interesting combination of the songs that we and the producer choose. And when we kind of went full circle, I think we realized that if we were going to change our sound at all, that it was going to be us expanding on our sound--so who better to capture that than Terry Date, since we'd already done a couple of records with him and knew how he works? We just work really well together; he's like another band member. He makes fun of us just as much as we make fun of him. So it's kind of cool. So, halfway through the record, I just couldn't imagine doing the record with anybody else. CHENG: Using Terry Date again...we initially didn't want to use Terry at all, but we had gone through the cycle of all of these different producers and we were like, the change is going to come from the band, not from Terry Date. So we feel comfortable with Terry. He's like family now, we just love him, and he's the only person that could have gotten us through this album, motivated us, and pushed us through this album. LAUNCH: Tell me story behind the album title. MORENO: To me, the album title and the album cover itself--the artwork of the pony--I think it's a symbol of our individuality, in a way. It's very plain, it's a white pony, and it's just there and it stands on its own. And I sort of look at our band and the music we make: It sort of stands on its own amongst everything else that's going on. There could have been a lot of decisions made to do a lot of what seemed to be easier routes. And we just never seemed comfortable doing that, so what happened was we just stuck by ourselves, five of us in a band. That's the way we look at it. We're all we got, and this is the music we make, and the "white pony" title just fit what was going on. CHENG: I guess when Cézanne used to do interviews, he would just ignore the questions that he didn't like: "I'm going to just ignore that one." Have you ever read Cézanne's interviews? They're brilliant. He wasn't as good as Matisse, but I guess he was sort of a madman, and if you asked him a question he didn't like, he would just ignore you. You'd see a pause in the interview--it's just lovely. So I've kind of taken that from Cézanne--wonderful painter, though, beautiful, French Impressionist. LAUNCH: Your lyrics are such that one can interpret them in so many ways. Does it bother you if people misinterpret them? Tell me about that. MORENO: No, I think it's fine. I think it's great that you're able to interpret the lyrics any way you want to. I mean, I kind of leave them open-ended like that for a reason. The kind of music I grew up listening to, bands like the Cure, they wrote lyrics that are just colorful with anything, meaning that you can read one sentence and the words...the way they're put together, they really don't make sense unless you kind of take them out of context and look at the beauty in all the words that are there. And the fact that these words are put together and they are normally not put together, I enjoy writing like that. The hardest thing is to get me to write. I hate to have to sit down and write words, I just don't like to do it. But once I got halfway through writing, I was very excited with what I was coming up with. That kept me going, but I'm just so not into writing. I don't write in my own free time, so writing this record took a while. I think I was supposed to spend like, two weeks doing vocals, and I spent two months just writing and recording them. But I think it's worth it. I mean, it's what excites me when I sit back and look at the songs, and read along with them. I enjoy it, so I hope other people will, too. CHENG: Well, I don't write the lyrics, Chino does, but lyrically, Chino is an amazing lyricist. I think the difference between a good artist and a great artist is the ability to make something that's applicable to everyone. There's no religion that's the one religion. You pick a religion that works for you. I think that Chino's lyrics are open-ended enough that they might mean something for you. Kids come up to him all the time: "This song, it changed my life and this is what it means to me," and he's like, "Oh, all right." And maybe that's not particularly what it meant to him, but if you're a good artist, then maybe everybody can get something different out of it, because we are all intrinsically different as people. If you make something that's worthwhile, it's something that everyone can make applicable to themselves, something they can make their own. I think that Chino has that ability. He's a very talented lyricist, which is good. If he wasn't a good lyricist, well, maybe we would step in and do something about it! LAUNCH: Tell me about the language of the lyrics. Do you have any preconceived ideas about what you're going to write? MORENO: I don't think that there are lots of preconceived thoughts that I go through before I write. But the songs that were put in front of me, a lot of them had this sinister sound to them. I think a lot of it is from the churning guitar, and the spaciousness of it. The music alone gives off some kind of sexual tension. It gives me a lot of imagery--the sound alone does. I think that's what inspired me, so I just kind of wrote along how the music made me feel. It wasn't so much that I sat around and said, "I want to write a song about sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll." But honestly, that's what makes the world go 'round, so hey. CHENG: I think that when Chino writes, he writes a reflection of what he's sees and what he lives. It's just a simple reflection, and that's what's beautiful about it. It's like he runs the gamut from happiness to sadness, joy, pain, beauty, sex, violence. And there is a fine line between sex and violence. And I think a lot of times that he's fascinated by that, and he writes about it. So it's cool, I think it's great. I get a lot out of it, and I don't know what the hell he's singing about. I just listen to it, and I get something out of it, so it's cool. LAUNCH: Do you think that the critics "get" what you're doing? MORENO: I think critics have a good idea of what we are doing. There's some that don't. You can read about and you'll see people wondering why this band has never been able to just break out and become as huge as our contemporaries. I think a critic who does know what he's listening to, or what he's analyzing, he would know that we could take that route if we wanted to. But we make music for ourselves in the long run, and we make music that we like to play and listen to. I think that if they can understand that, then they can more easily understand what we're trying to do. And of the critics that don't get it, it's because they don't understand it. Like, they'll bash it, and the whole time they'll go back to "Why did they do this, why did they do that?" It's easy to denounce something that you don't understand, and that's understandable alone, right there. I think that the majority of critics that have been reviewing our record pretty much understand what we are doing. We're here to make records for as long as possible, and I think we can do that as long as we keep on doing what we love. And I think that shows through when you listen to the record. CHENG: It's kind of 50/50--half the people get it, and then half the people get on the bandwagon or they want to hack it 'cause they heard something about it. Sometimes people hear it and they take it for its totality. We tried to write White Pony for the whole piece, not as one song, two songs, not as a single, what's going to be your hit single, what's going to be the song that you're going to release. I don't know, I don't think that Pink Floyd thought about it when they wrote The Wall, and not that I'm saying that we are anywhere near Pink Floyd--because we're not, I wish we were, but we're not, I don't think that we're there yet-- but we do try to write an album in its totality, and an album that you have to listen to from song one to song 10, song 12. And that's the album--you don't get a whole idea or concept or ideology of an album until you hear the entire album the entire way through. LAUNCH: Maynard James Keenan from Tool did a song with you on this record. How did that come about? MORENO: Having Maynard perform on the record wasn't something that we planned on doing. We didn't plan on having any guest on the record. But being a fan of Tool and A Perfect Circle, once Maynard was involved, it was just a magical thing for us. Honestly, when he first started working with us, he wasn't supposed to sing with us. He was just working on the arrangements, riff structures, time signatures, and things like that. I don't know if you're a big fan of Tool's music, but they're really mathematical. I've been to their rehearsal space, and there's this big chart that just looks like calculus--the way they write songs, it's just crazy. It was good to have someone else who has different ways of writing songs, 'cause everyone has a different way of doing it. He came in and we started working on this one song in particular, and he just grabbed the microphone and started singing along to it, and my jaw just dropped. All of a sudden our band sounded like Tool; it was just crazy. Then, probably two months later, we went in to record the album, and I went in to record the vocals on it, and I just kept hearing his voice, this re-occurring melody with his voice coming over it. So I called him and asked him if he wanted to come down and sing on the record, and he had no problem with it. Once he came in, I gave him sort of what I wanted the song to be about, and he wrote a couple of ideas down, and the next day he came in with all the lyrics written all out with blank spaces where my lyrics were supposed to be. He's very professional like that. He wants everything set perfectly, which is the complete opposite to the way that I write, so it was cool. And then I went in and did my vocals over it, and it just seemed that our voices blended together pretty good. Yeah, it came out pretty good, so we decided to put it on the record. "Our music is 'mood music.' The whole mood is what usually drives the song, whether it be an angry song or a sad song...or a happy song, which is rare." CHENG: Everyone has their own account of what happened, but Maynard and Chino were friends, and during the Ozzfest, Maynard asked us to come out to L.A. and just fool around with him. And we weren't going to pass up the opportunity to work with Maynard--he's an amazing artist. I love the way Tool has done everything with their career. We feel more of a kinship with Tool than we do with what people call the "new metal." Tool is indigenous to Tool. Nobody says, "Tool--oh, they're part of new metal," you just go, "Oh, Tool, they're Tool." So, we were really honored to work with Maynard. We went down to L.A. and started fooling around with him. And Maynard's got a totally different work ethic than us--we're basically lazy drunks, and Maynard's a very stringent, tough cat. I think on the third day, we had already all the music written for "Passenger," but nothing vocally, and Maynard one day just grabbed the mic, and that was it. But we didn't want to have a guest star, we didn't want to have that token guest, like, "Here's our celebrity, we're going to bring him in and he's going to give our album credibility." Even when we went in to record the album, Chino tried to do different things, but the thing that kept coming up was Maynard's voice and his melodies. And so, I was like, "Hey man, just call Maynard and ask him to be on the song." He came in, was out in two days, and that was it. LAUNCH: How do you feel about being part of the whole new metal movement? Does it bother you to be classified? MORENO: Honestly, I don't think anybody likes to be categorized. For some reason, it feels like you're being sold short of what you're capable of doing, once you're glumped into any kind of category. Pretty much since we released our first record, we were automatically classified with the new metal scene--Korn and all these other bands. I'd rather be put in a category with a band like Korn, who's actually a good band, than some other stuff. But after a while it's kind of like, "Well, wait a minute, I want to be me, I want to have my own individuality." I think it's important to have that. We've taken a lot of steps to try and stay just left of center from that. I think a lot of people felt comfortable placing us in that new metal category. But with this record, I think it's definitely going to help people separate us from our contemporaries. CHENG: Maybe [I feel an affiliation with] the Zen lunatics of the Beat movement, but those guys are dead. I met Gary Snyder and Ginsberg and Kerouac, and the rest of them have passed away, but personally I don't feel any affiliation with any band or movement. Not even with my own band most of the time. LAUNCH: Is there a song on the album that represents the future of the Deftones? CHENG: Musically, not really, but I'm not the best person to ask. Actually, I'm the most ill-suited member of the band to answer that question, 'cause I've never put one of our albums on. I don't own them, and I don't put them on. When they're done, they're done--I close the book on them. MORENO: I think that all of the songs on the record do [represent the future of the Deftones], especially "Change (In The House Of Flies)," which was one of the first songs written where everybody in the band collectively wrote it. I think that's the type of song where I can see us elaborating more. Other songs on the record were written differently. Stephan would bring in a riff and would say, "Let's work on this," or I would bring in a song idea, or someone else in the band would, but that song just spawned from a jam where everybody was just playing. It just kind of happened naturally. Sonically, it's just everybody doing what they do best, just playing. And I think that's the most pure part of Deftones and what we do. It kind of reminds me of a song "Be Quiet And Drive," which is off our Around The Fur record. And those always seem to be the songs that everybody leaves with a big grin on their face. You know, when we wrote that song, everybody thought it was a beautiful song, even though it wasn't the typical aggressive Deftones song. I'd like to elaborate a little bit more, maybe on future records. Maybe a song like "Teenager," which is a song that I did myself, which is kind of like this slow breakbeat song with keyboards and turntables on it, and vocals. It's really basic, but I think I could see our sound simplifying a lot, too. If it's the guitar and vocals, then we don't need to clutter it up with all this other stuff. LAUNCH: What do you listen to when you're not making music? Are there any musicians you look up to or that inspire you? MORENO: Man, Prince--I can't even explain how intense he is. I think he's one of the last musical geniuses left alive. He just continues to make beautiful music. Whether it's music you dance to or music you just sit there and bawl your eyes out to, he's one of my favorite artists of all time. I'm into a lot of mellow stuff. Basically, the stuff I'm listening to right now is bands like Mogwai--I think that they're from the U.K., Scotland. Just mellow stuff, music that I can relax to. There's not a lot of contemporary bands that I'm really into, but bands that I really respect, bands like Depeche Mode--every record they make, they just bring in more and more into their records and just get better. CHENG: I get a lot of inspiration from different things, like reading and writing, poetry, painting, and sh-t like that. Musically, a lot of the cats that have moved me have been the ones that have pushed it real far. Like Thelonious Monk--that kills me. I think he's a nut, still I hear it and I think, "Sh-t, anything that Thelonious did was so far beyond what Miles Davis did on Bitches Brew." You have to love Thelonious. I love Willie Nelson. I think he's one of the original punk-rockers. I think he's punker than any punk-rocker I know. I love old blues, old jazz, old country. The only new artist that I listen to that I think is exceptional is maybe Ben Harper. I think he's a pretty amazing cat. And the Magnolia soundtrack is really deep, and something about it hurts me when I hear it. But I don't listen to contemporary music. I tend to listen to a lot of old music. LAUNCH: What has to be the wackiest thing that has happened to you guys on the road? MORENO: It's pretty intense almost every night. I think the fans have been getting a little bit nuttier these days. They've always been crazy, but some of the shows we've been playing recently, the crowd is just insane. Just the other day, this kid jumped straight off this balcony--it must have been like, 20 feet--and I'm like, "Look, don't do it," and he went psheeeeeew [makes a falling sound]. He didn't even stagedive-like jump. He jumped feet-first, like he was going to land on his feet. There's something about our music that fuels people to do some insane things. I don't know, man. CHENG: All the gigs have seemed cool to me, and so I can't really pinpoint one gig as being great to me or anything. I know three or four nights ago, we did a show in Columbus, and I don't know, there was some sort of magic there, and I walked offstage, and it was just so beautiful, and such a great thing, and I think that's the kind of show that we like to have, where everyone is on the same page. The audience is out of their minds, and it was just one of those shows where nobody was thinking about anything but the music, and so I mean, that stuck out for me on this tour. Every tour I have a couple of shows where I'm like, "Ah man, that's why I play music, that's right, that's why I do it." LAUNCH: Tell me about Frank the DJ. MORENO: Frank adds this atmosphere to the music that I enjoy. He takes our records and does this kind of thing to it...it's like 3D-sounding to me. You can listen to our record on headphones and hear so many different things. It's not like his objective is to be scratching up every time there is a break or anything like that. He's just audio enhancement. Frank knows how to weave in and out of the music, and I think he does it very well. He doesn't overdo it. I think it's a good thing when people say they can't hear him. To me, he's doing his part, adding that element, without being like "The DJ." It just so happens that his instruments are records. But it's not like other bands and their DJs--I think they use them for a hip-hop element, and we use him for just atmosphere. CHENG: Our DJ Frank is great, 'cause we were always like, "Your objective is not to scratch and cut it up in the middle of the song." And I'm sure he's great at it--in fact, I know he is, I've heard him--but it's his thing to be a fifth musician, to add textures and add layers and beautiful depth to the music, and he does that really well. And so it's really cool to have Frank in the band, and he's becoming more of a predominant member of the band every time we record an album. His parts become more defined and a little more noticeable and stand out a little bit more, and we use him in different ways, and it's really cool, we're lucky to have him. LAUNCH: I understand while you were recording White Pony, you guys stayed in a house that was apparently haunted. Did you have any run-ins with any spirits? MORENO: When I was recording my vocals, we were staying at in this house in the Hollywood Hills, and there was just this weird vibe going on, and every day, something different would happen. I slept in this cedar closet, which was off one of the bedrooms. There was a bathroom between one of the bedrooms, and the closet was perfect for me, 'cause I didn't get home from the studio until really late, so I didn't go to sleep. I would sleep in the daytime and then go into the studio and work; it was good, because there was no window there. I stopped sleeping in there after a few weeks because too many crazy little incidences started happening. Like one day, I was just waking up and I felt something weird, and I looked up and saw something. I can't explain what I saw, just something up in the corner. I closed my eyes, and I looked back up there, and I saw it again, but it had moved. I just got up and bolted out of my room. I just went upstairs and slept on the couch for the rest of the time we were there. Korn had rented it while they were recording, Orgy the same thing. I ran into a couple of guys from Orgy at a club a few nights after that happened, and they were like, "You're staying at the Doheny House? That place is haunted!" And they told me about some incidences that happened when they stayed there. So I just ended up getting a hotel. And I stayed at a hotel the rest of the time. Yeah, I really don't believe in that stuff most of the time, but...I'm cool. Didn't want no part of that. CHENG: I think that the rest of the guys felt it a little bit more than me. I mean that there was probably a little bit of something crazy going on, but I'm such a drunkard, I think that the spirits avoided me 'cause, terminology-wise, the word "spirit" also represents alcohol, and I think they were afraid that I would suck them down--mix them with a little cranberry juice and suck them down or something. So I didn't ever witness anything weird. LAUNCH: Do you spend much time on the Internet? MORENO: Not too much anymore. I did before the record was coming out, just to get initial reactions, like when the single was leaked. Getting people's reactions was pretty cool. But I don't spend too much time on it, 'cause I think if I take things too much to heart, if I read anything negative it bugs me out for a week. I can read a million good things about our record, and then hear one bad thing and I'm devastated for a week. I don't even look at it anymore. It's the same thing with reviews. I know we made a good record, but still, for some reason, if I read anything negative I'll just be bummed out for too long. But you know, the Internet itself has been a really good thing for us, as far as promoting ourselves. We really don't have too big of an MTV thing, or radio. I mean, we do get some play, whereas before we didn't get any. But the Internet is one of our biggest ways of connecting with our fans. And the other guys in the band pretty much are on there a lot. But us going out there playing shows and the Internet are two really big ways of getting our music out there. CHENG: The [White Pony] interactive CD was really cool, because the cat who did it was the second guy who put together an official Deftones site, so we were like, "If we're going to do something interactive, it's got to be this cat, Mike Donk." He came in with all these ideas, and we were like, "All right, if we were going to do something interactive, why don't we do something personal?" Each band member got to put something different on it. I thought it was a brilliant idea. I added the journal of when I was recording the album to let kids know of my perspective of what was going on. Then I put a funky five-page poem on there. So it's a cool, personal touch. LAUNCH: Have you ever read an apt description of your music? MORENO: I think someone once called it "mood music," and I dug that 'cause I'm pretty much a moody person as it is--I think no matter what mood we might be conveying in whatever song you might be listening to, I think the mood is one of the most important elements to the song, as opposed to the chord I'm singing or the note I'm playing. The whole mood behind the song is what usually drives the song, whether it be a happy song--which is rare--or an angry song or a sad song. No matter what the mood is, every song has its mood to it. So I kind of dug that when I heard that description. CHENG: I don't know. I like it when people get it, and they feel that our band is trying to do something that is just our own. I don't think you'll be able to pinpoint this band correctly; there's really no way to put a decent title on it, 'cause I couldn't really say what the band is. We're too opinionated, we're too judgmental, we're living inside the fishbowl, and there's no way you could say what the Deftones are.
“Launch.com” – July, 2000 // Chino and Chi Interviewed
October 13, 2011 By Leave a Comment
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