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