“Nick Terry” – September, 1998 // Chino Interviewed

Chino interviewed by Nick Terry
09/1997 - www.deftonesworld.com

By any recckoning, the Deftones are this autumn's
Big Hip New Cool Band. With their second album
'Around The Fur' following hot on the heels of a
completely sold-out UK tour, the Sacramento band
could be set for stardom and all its usual
pitfalls very soon. Nick Terry caught singer
Chino Moreno and drummer Abe Cunnigham on this
cusp, and dug beneath the hype to discover one of
the more unlikely contenders for Metal
Megastardom to have waltzed along in a while.
All, it turns out, is not as it seems?

DEFTONES
Vulnerable Display Of Power

It's a truism that when a band arrives, some of
their potential audience departs. The sound of
disgruntled undergroundists leaving the room as
the Deftones move in on the popular affections of
the Metal-loving masses is already audible.
They'd need little provocation: after all, isn't
an unholy triumvirate of New Metal Monstrosity
now complete, with Coal Chamber sitting at the
feet of King Korn, and Deftones placed at the
right-hand side? After a long hiatus, maybe we'll
all learn to loathe Los Angeles once more, and
hold California in contempt, just like we used to
in the nightmare days of all those hair bands. 
As a reaction to the already-swelling hype that
will descend on SoCal's heavier bands in tandem
with a hundred A&Rs, this skepticism is probably
healthy and, in part at least, well-founded.
Funnily enough, it's also a skepticism shared by
the Deftones themselves. This Sacramento band has
taken the long route round to success on these
shores, playing out across America on countless
support and headline tours, releasing a quietly
powerful debut album, 'Adrenaline' to less than
immediate acclaim. Having done it the hard way in
the back of a van in their home country, they've
arrived, all but out of the blue, over here, to
find themselves headlining the larger clubs of
the UK tour circuit and selling them out with
effortless ease. The hype, such as it has been,
has followed their flag, rather than the other
way around. Like it or not, until recently,
Deftones have been an almost underground
phenomenon here. 
So that noise you're now hearing is the murmurs
of all those who just don't like being blindsided
by a band who took the outside lane to what now
looks like stardom. Ignore it, for the fact
remains that, sold out tours or no, heavily
pushed and marketed second albums or no, press
hype or no, there's more than enough of worth and
interest here for anyone. And one last thing:
none of it has anything to do with Korn. 

To be fair, little of the above has probably even
entered the minds of Chino Moreno, the Deftones'
lanky vocalist, or his sidekick and the band's
drummer Abe Cunnigham, as they sit down backstage
to chat with me before a show that will once
again see the Astoria break fire regulation
records on account of its crammed-to-capacity
crowd. It's as if they've parachuted into the
midst of an ongoing controversy and been caught
up in the crossfire. For the first few minutes,
all they can do is respond to my probing with the
kind of platitudes you'll find in other
publications. The tour's been amazing; the
crowd's given them a great vibe; they play for
the love of the music, not because they want to
be rockstars. Don't get me wrong: none of it's
faked, lipsynched or rings in any way false. It's
just that they're saying exactly what you'd
expect them to say. Eventually, I remind them
they're talking to a Metal magazine, not the NME.
Things start moving from there on in. 
"Oh, I'll talk Metal to any mag," Chino replies.
"You know, with the mainstream mags is when I
really like to talk about Metal. Cause then they
get all bent out of shape. You know what? If
they're gonna get all bent out of shape about me
talking about Metal, that's them thinking they're
too good for some style of music. Especially in
the States, if you say Metal, the first thing
they think of is Poison. So it's hard just to say
you're Metal, but we're definitely not ashamed to
say we're Metal."
So, unlike Korn, you embrace the term?
"I'd say we're definitely influenced by Metal,"
says the singer. "Of course. If you listen to us,
you can hear it. Metal's probably the most
alternative music that's available right now to
kids, you know. What's being shoved down their
throats every day on the radio is so far from
being alternative, they want an alternative to
that, so I think they choose heavy music. Plus
with heavy music, it's just the aggression of it
all, it's good for the youth to follow it."
But why do you think there's this almost
embarrassment with the term in the States now? Do
you think it might be because of the likes of
Mötley Crüe? Have they maybe turned the term into
something of a, forgive the pun, Poisoned
chalice?
"That's terrible," Chino returns. " But this is
it, exactly. What happened was, it got ruined
because it became a scene. There were good Metal
bands, and a flash of Metal bands came out and
just ruined it. That's exactly what I don't want
to happen with what you consider our New Metal or
whatever you wanna call it, bands like us and
Korn, who make heavy, Metal-influenced music
that's just on another level, and I'm just hoping
it doesn't go the route where Heavy Metal went in
the first place and it just got over-popularised,
with bands that were doing half-assed jobs at it
starting getting on TV all the time. Then it just
gets ruined."
Is that why you're suspicious of the hype going
on at the moment with Southern California or this
new wave of Metal?
"Definitely. I see it because the media's coming
out and saying we're sounding like [other bands],
that there's this new sound coming out, and it's
scary to me. I don't want it to become a scene,
cause the minute it becomes a scene, which it
already kinda is? that's when everyone's going to
put their hands in?"
"?sucking it dry," adds Abe in a stage-whisper,
getting a rare word in edgeways. 
"?and they'll ruin it," Chino continues, "the
whole reason why we're doing this. The reason why
we're doing this kind of music is not because we
wanna be in a band and try to be stars, we're
doing this kind of music because this is what we
know, this is what we grew up on. This is what
made me who I am and all of us come together in
the first place. That's what we want to do and
that's what we want to continue to do and the
only way we'll be able to continue to do this is
not to be put in a scene, because a new scene is
an old scene next year, you know what I mean? I
don't wanna be part of that. I always wanted to
be a band like, say, Sonic Youth that can just
keep making records and not really be in a scene.
The only scene you can say they're in is maybe
indie, but you know what, though? They stand on
their own, and they keep making records and keep
making records, and I'm sure they love every lick
of guitar they play or note they sing."

You need only listen to the first few bars of the
very first song on Deftones' debut album
'Adrenaline', 'Bored', to know that Chino isn't
bullshitting. Unashamedly, it steals a classic
Sepultura riff, as if to say 'Here I am - this is
where I come from', and THEN, the voice comes in,
all but crooning, singing not screaming, totally
offsetting the aggression and brutality of the
rhythm. That, in a nutshell, is Deftones'
relationship with Metal: an influence, yes, a
spring-board, also, but not the whole of the
story. There's more to it than that, but first,
let's talk a little more about this one aspect.
Both 'Adrenaline' and 'Around The Fur' were
produced by Terry Date, best known for his work
with Pantera and White Zombie, and the new album
features ex-Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera on
the track 'Head Up', trading off vocals with
Chino in the way only Max can. It's thanks to
Max's relentless championing of the band that
Deftones have, in part, got as far as they have.
When Terrorizer talked to him the other month,
the first name that came out of his mouth when
asked what he'd heard lately that rocked his
world was, you guessed it, Deftones. 
So, Chino, what did you think when you heard that
Max Cavalera say that 'Adrenaline' had been an
influence on 'Roots'?
"I loved 'Roots'. That's? I just can't even
comprehend how that makes me feel. It's just the
biggest compliment I could ever get. We listened
to 'Chaos AD' on the bus last night. We played
with his new band a couple of months ago for a
benefit show for his stepson that passed away [in
Phoenix in August - NT], and his intensity
onstage, on tape, just in person, his vibe is the
best. I love the new demos. It's equally as heavy
if not as heavy as Sepultura. Max is an angry man
right now, and he's got every right to be. He's
letting out some shit. It's powerful. It's some
of the most powerful stuff I've heard in ages. If
people like Sepultura, they'll love Max's new
stuff.
Max just laid that shit down with Sepultura, and
he still continues to do that. That's the first
Metal band that I thought, oh my God, this has to
be the best music in the world! A band like
Sepultura took Metal I think to another level,"
Chino finishes. "They didn't come in wanting to
talk about skulls and death, they came and talked
about their feelings."

Here's the real meeting-ground between a band
like Sepultura and Deftones - not in the musical
carapace of riffage and rhythm, but in the
attitude and emotions expressed. I said earlier
that 'Bored' was Deftones in a nutshell, but by
no means the whole story. Watching them at the
Astoria tonight more than bears this out. For
every downtuned battering-ram of a tune, whether
it's 'My Own Summer (Shove It)', taken from the
new album, or a rendition of the track they
contributed to the 'Crow II' soundtrack,
'Teething', you get other songs which take this
band's colossal live energy in totally different
directions. Completely able to slow down as well
as speed up, Deftones sprawl: few bands have this
great a grasp of dynamics. There's undoubtedly
those here tonight who start getting restless
when Chino's sob 'n sigh heralds the arrival of
yet another midpaced or dragged-out number, or
who shift in their seats when Chi Cheng bangs his
bass and Stephen Carpenter wrings the neck of his
guitar in order to extort yet more
in-between-tune feedback. F*** 'em. There's more,
far more to Deftones' range than a constant
barrage of scream-and-shufflebeat New Metal
obviousness. 
"Okay, so it feels good to beat your shit," Chino
explains. "Aggression is a total natural feeling,
accepting that you have adrenaline in your body,
and it's a natural thing to release that, that
comes out right away, but I think it's harder to
be vulnerable. And actually, you can mend the
two, and merge the two together, in the music, so
that you can open yourself up and say, you know
what? This is me, and I'm not the hardest guy on
earth. I probably can't kick your ass. 
"What I really like is vulnerability, is being
vulnerable," he continues. "I don't know, I like
to see girls when they're vulnerable. Vulnerable
girls always attract my attention right away. I
think ever since I was a kid, I liked that for
some reason. I've kinda detached myself from
that, too. On this record, between all the parts
when I'm lashing out, which aren't too much on
this record, I put myself in the vulnerable
position, lyrically."
In Metal terms, being vulnerable is quite a
radical gesture, not to be a tank steamrollering
over everything. 
"But it's cool! That's how I would describe our
music. I would describe it as being aggressive,
vulnerable music, which are two opposite things.
That's one of the biggest things about the band
that we have, is that we don't stand up and say
these are our beliefs, and throw 'em out to
people. We don't have any message that we're
trying to send across all the time. We don't go,
we're hard and we're heavy as shit. Our music is
so much more heavier than some of that shit when
people are just going, 'Aaaaaargggh!'. Nothing
against that kind of music, but if you let your
shield down for a minute and let your true self
out for a minute, that could be heavier than you
screaming anything. You can just say something in
complete honesty and in a nomal tone of voice and
it can be twenty times heavier than the loudest
scream than you can belt out of yourself."
Thirty times louder than bombs, Deftones' second
album totally bears this out. Its predecessor
came over like a cross between Sepultura and
Fugazi, or Pantera and Tool, especially towards
its closing, where the final two tracks, 'Eingine
No. 9' and 'Fireal', took the tempo down to a
sinister torpor. 'Around The Fur', too, has its
gloriously slow moments, not least 'Mascara', a
total kissing cousin to anything put out by the
likes of Slint and Rodan. And as with Slint, what
makes Deftones so great is this rise and fall,
this rollercoaster flow: a combination of
eardrum-shredding noise and almost catatonic
melancholy. Both bands, then, offer a vulnerable
display of power.
Chino goes wide-eyed when I mention Slint, and so
do I when he acknowledges the reference-point.
"Oh yeah. I love them. I can definitely see that.
I'm glad people notice it. The thing is, I'm not
saying we got that from Slint, we listened to a
lot of the same music that Slint listened to.
People will say, 'how do you listen to this
trash?' You know what? It's not trash, it's real
music, they're not being in these bands to make
money. A lot of people know that you don't get
into Indie music if you wanna make money. It's
Indie for a reason. It's making music because you
love it. I don't know if you ever heard the band
Girls Against Boys, they're a band we all love,
you can call them indie. I love that shit. That's
just straight emotion going on there, powerful
shit. There's this record by them, 'Venus Luxure
No. 1 Baby', to me, that record is heavier? I
don't want to name albums, but damn, that record
is one of the heaviest records of all time,
emotionally and everything."

Even if you try and shut out Deftones' slower
side, you can't ignore the fact that, as Chino
says at one point, their heavier songs go places,
too. It's this dynamic approach - stop-start,
loud/quiet, build and destroy - that makes the
band's current success such a delicious irony.
Rock-club fodder they may be, but we're talking
about a band who take inspiration from Indie
music (though, it should be said, underground
Indie music) and don't care who knows it.
Suddenly, Chino's flopping and cavorting onstage
looks less like the work of Jonathan Davis' kid
brother, and more like the actions of a man who
probably wants to be both Phil Anselmo and
Morrissey, all wrapped up in one. And as it turns
out, even 'Around The Fur's bruising opener,
'Shove It', fits in with this spiel. 
"'Shove It' is a song about the sun and the
daylight," Chino explains. "When we were doing
the record, I was just getting irritated by the
daytime. Me and him [points to Abe] shared a
room, put foil over the windows cause we wanted a
bit of solitude. So the song is somewhat like, in
my onw summer, I would prefer for there to be no
sun, you know what I mean? For there just to be
no one on the streets, somewhat like Armaggedon
or an apocalyptic kind of thing."
Isn't that a bit unusual for a band from Southern
California?
Chino smirks in acknowledgement. "Yeah,
definitely. Usually in Seattle, where we
recorded, it's rainy and dreary, and I like that.
I get off on depressing music, like I'm a big
Morrissey fan. People will wanna shoot me after
this interview! I'm not embarrassed at all,
because I love depressing music."
So you could say that 'My Own Summer (Shove It)'
is a bit like a Metal version of 'Everyday Is
Like Sunday', then?
"You could! He's talking about Armaggedon in that
song. 'My Own Summer' is basically something of a
take-off of that song. I love that feel, when you
put on some music and it can almost be eerie. The
actual song 'My Own Summer' is straightforward,
pounding. The riff's kinda cryptic, but it's
heavy all the time. If you read the lyrics,
you'll understand what's going down, and it's
just asking the clouds to come down and please
shove the sun aside, and that's what it's saying.
But I'm screaming!"
Is there any kind of conclusion we can come to?
Anywhere we can fit you into?
"I would just say, you know, it's just completely
intense," Chino concludes. "The whole vibe of it
all. It goes through a lot of different moods,
usually always heavy but it has a lot of melody
and a lot of sorrow, a lot of emotions. It goes
through a lot of different emotions that
everybody goes through in everyday life. A lot of
people can tap into that and that's what I think
draws them to us. Basically, it's just emotional
music."
Over the years, I've had everyone from Slint to
Sepultura and Godflesh say the exact same thing
as Chino just did. You know what? He's right.
Just because Deftones are the Big Hip New Cool
band of this autumn, doesn't mean they can't be
genuine. Go figure, but more importantly, go
listen.
Page 1 of 11