January 2011 is an interesting time for Australian fans to be witnessing Californian hard rock act Deftones. Here in the country for their first tour since 2007 – they headlined the Soundwave Festival that year – it’s been eight months since the five-piece released their sixth album, Diamond Eyes, to extensive critical acclaim (TheVine included). They’ve been on the road for most of that time, seemingly becoming comfortable with splicing new material amongst enough tracks from their big-sellers – second album Around The Fur (1997), and follow-up White Pony (2000) – to keep the long-term fans happy.
Diamond Eyes holds some of the heaviest tracks the band have ever committed to tape. Built around Stephen Carpenter’s Meshuggah-like downtuned guitars and Abe Cunningham’s punishing percussion, the album’s 11 tracks marry beauty and brutality in a way that Deftones had never – up until this point – fully realised. Despite the melancholy the band had been confronted with in the last few years – an underwhelming fifth album in 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist; drug addiction; and bassist Chi Cheng’s car accident in 2008, resulting in a severe head trauma that has kept him in a semi-conscious state ever since – Diamond Eyes, against the odds, is arguably the band’s most uplifting and optimistic release in their 23-year history.
In the middle of the national Big Day Out tour, The Vine connects with singer – and occasional live guitarist – Chino Moreno on Friday 28 January, the eve of their first BDO sideshow at the University of NSW Roundhouse.
Andrew: I’m interested to know what an average day as part of the Big Day Out tour looks like.
Chino: It’s pretty mellow. We play semi-early, in the middle of the day, and I’ve not yet adjusted to the time change here, so I’ve been waking up every single morning at like 5 or 6am. So I’m up super early. I go out, I get coffee. I usually go for a run or something, and cruise around. I don’t get there until a little after noon. I get to the venue, and there’s usually a little bit of press or something like that, and then I get ready to play. We’ve been averaging to go on stage between 4 or 5pm. We play our set, and then hang out, and check out some of the other bands. There’s a few good groups who I’m into who’re on the lineup this year. So I cruise around and see some good stuff.
Yeah, I actually met them on the first night of the tour. They gave me one of their records, and I’ve listened to it, and I’m digging it. It’s similar to a lot of the stuff that I listen to, when I’m not listening to very loud music [laughs].
Have you made any other musical discoveries while here on tour, so far?
I wouldn’t say ‘discoveries’, so much. I got to see some bands live that I’ve never seen, like Crystal Castles. I got to see them perform live, which I was really into. I really like the records, so it was good to be able to see them live. Tool, as well; a lot of the time, I get to see them.
Has Rammstein’s stage production convinced you to look into including pyrotechnics in your set?
[Laughs] I don’t know, man. I don’t know if that’d work for us. I don’t know if we have the finances for that. They have, like, flames that go off every three minutes. That’s gotta be pretty pricey. But no, it’s cool; I always enjoy watching them play, because it’s very theatrical. They’re great dudes; they’re super nice. When you watch them on stage, you think they’re these huge beasts. But they’re very humble.
I saw you at the Gold Coast show on Sunday. I’ve followed your music for over a decade, but hadn’t seen you play live before. I get the impression that as a live band, you’re in your prime at the moment.
Cool, thank you. I don’t know about this week; maybe a month ago, we were a little more in our prime. We were at home for like a month, and that was the longest break we’ve had since we started touring on this record. That, accumulated with the heat, and coming from winter into summertime… But I think musically, we’re having a lot of fun. More fun than we’ve had in years. We’re enjoying the shows. I think we’re playing pretty decently, but it’s a matter of getting accustomed to, for one, the sleep. Usually, a couple of hours before we play, I’m yawning, so I’ve been drinking Red Bulls and stuff, and trying to shake it off and get energised. But that sun – it’s a beast, man.
I don’t see many bands wearing red jeans anymore, which is a shame.
Are they favourites of yours, the ones you were wearing on Sunday?
I have a few pairs of them. I try not to have one ‘look’, I guess. I don’t wanna make that my ‘thing’, so I’m gonna have to switch it up a little, or else people will start to think I’m the dude in the red pants, you know what I mean? [laughs] It’s kinda like I don’t wanna be the dude in the red hat.
You’re in pretty good shape at the moment. It seemed like you couldn’t wait to get your shirt off and show everyone.
[Laughs] No – I was really hot. I was actually embarrassed after I took it off. I had to put on another shirt. But I was just so damn hot. I thought the long sleeve would work for me, but the shade was slowly disappearing. I’m still a little self-conscious. I mean, I work out and stuff, but I can always use a little more definition. That’s a goal – a good goal.
What prompted you to lose weight in the last couple of years?
Just feeling better, and looking better. I’d been depressed for a while, man. For a lot of reasons. It probably started five or six years ago, from just going through divorces, taking so much time making records, and record company crap. Those were sort of dark days. It was a dark period in our career, but also my life. Just drugs, and shit that was not getting me anywhere fast. Once I cut that stuff out, and started to see things clearly, I started to realise that if I sweat a little bit every day, I sleep better. And if I sleep better, I wake up feeling happier. It’s a vicious cycle; pretty soon, you look at yourself and you start recognising yourself again.
I heard a lot of people chanting for ‘Passenger’ on the Gold Coast. [A collaboration from White Pony with Tool singer Maynard James Keenan] Were you expecting that?
We’re going to play it tonight [at the sideshow in Sydney]. Obviously it’d be great if Maynard was to perform with us. But he ends up getting to the gigs later, for one, and he’s real particular about his voice, as far as ruining it, or straining it before he has the Tool show. Which is understandable. We’ve done it before, though, on the same day that he’s played with Tool. So there could be a chance that it could happen once on this Big Day Out [tour]. But it wouldn’t be during the first stage [of the tour], and I figured if we included it in the [BDO] set, the best time to do it would be if he was to perform it with us. So we’ll see.
I notice that you’ve been mixing up the setlists a lot here in Australia. Your set at the second Sydney BDO was really heavy on White Pony material. Did that just come down to how you guys were all feeling on the day?
Yeah. We write the setlist usually a couple of hours before we play. But we obviously knew that we wanted to play a different set than we did on the first day, minus a couple of songs that stayed the same. But when I started writing it out yesterday, I just felt a little bit heavier on the White Pony stuff. And I know that a lot of that stuff is a little darker, too, and I figured it mightn’t go over that well, being in the sun, and the whole festival vibe. But at the same time, I said “Fuck it, I think it’ll be cool, and a little different.” And unexpected. We tried it, and I think it worked out pretty good.
To be honest, I was pretty worried about your voice when you played ‘Elite’ on Sunday. I was afraid that you were doing some real damage.
Yeah. I’m used to screaming that thing, though. Luckily enough, my voice has maintained itself pretty well. I think that has a lot to do with, what we were talking about earlier, as far as just taking care of myself a little bit better. I’ve had less throat issues ever since, so hopefully it stays that way.
Are there any specific tactics you use to care for your vocal cords these days?
Not necessarily. I mean, I don’t smoke anymore, which is probably the most important thing. I still don’t really warm up. I don’t have the warm up ritual that I should do. I do a couple little singalongs to different music; a half-hour before we play, I start singing along with whatever’s on my iPod. That warms me up a little bit. I try to sleep well, which I think is very important, because when I sleep well I can always tell that my voice is stronger. And not smoking. That’s helped me out.
I read an interview from back in 2006 where you said that you’re a big tennis fan. Do you get the chance to play much when you’re on tour?
Lately, over the last few months, I…I don’t know if I actually have tennis elbow, or whatever, but I’ve had a sore elbow. It’s on my right hand, which is my tennis racket hand [laughs]. And it hurts when I do that, or when I play basketball. So I have to look and see what’s up with it. But I do still love playing, and I will still play. It’s not like I’m incapable of playing, but I can’t get to serious about it because of [the injury]. But it’s definitely a fun sport. Especially if you have someone playing along with you, because it’s a good rival sport where you can talk a lot of mesh. And when you get a good shot, and you slam a ball on somebody, there’s not a better feeling than that!
Are any of your musician friends into tennis?
Yeah. Gavin Rossdale [of Bush], he’s a big tennis guy. We’ve still yet to play, but every time we meet, we talk about playing. A couple of my managers play, and another couple of friends who live close to me. I’ve got [tennis] courts right by my house, which is great.
I’d like to discuss the video for ‘You’ve Seen The Butcher’. Who came up with the concept?
Deftones – ‘The Butcher’
I did. And that was only because… It wasn’t like I wrote the song and had this whole idea of what the video was supposed to be like, or anything like that. It was pretty last minute. We had sent the song out to a bunch of different video directors, and they all sent back treatments that were just complete rubbish. Every one was in, like, a post-apocalyptic world; they were all so away from what the song was. Either that, or they took the song so literally that it was just corny. So at the last minute, I said, “Why don’t we just make it a performance video. Take us out of our element, so we’re not in a club or something. Put us in maybe a library, or something, so we’re all set up in our little area.” And then I said: “Why don’t we just have all women? No-one wants to see a bunch of dudes.” [Laughs] “Wouldn’t it be nice if they were all scantily-clad women?”
And so we did that, and then I said “Wouldn’t it be cool if it just rained blood on everybody?” And that was it! Those four little things. I gave it to a director whose reel I liked, Jodeb, and he wrote out a treatment which was pretty close to what I explained. We went in and did it, and it was one of our cheapest videos, and one of the funnest videos to make. It was cool; the majority of the girls in the video… We just put up on Twitter that we were filming a video here, and that we were looking for girls to come. So they were actually fans of the music, and there wasn’t so much acting going on, even though making a video is definitely acting, because you’re playing along to the recoded music. But it was fun. I can easily say that it’s the funnest video we’ve made.
Were the menstruation overtones intentional?
The menstruation overtones. A crowd of women, covered in blood.
Oh. Intentional? No! [Laughs] It was supposed to be more of a gory, sexy thing. I don’t think that was on my mind. [Laughs]
I note that a few Deftones videos over the years include you being accosted by hot chicks. Is that intentional?
Probably, yeah. [Laughs] It’s safe to say that a lot of music that I listen to, and that we make, is influenced by hot chicks. [Laughs]
On a completely unrelated note. I was looking at photos from the Big Day Out and noticed the demon tattoo on your right bicep. When did you get that done?
Oh, the baphomet? I got that a few months ago in Belgium.
Is there a significance behind it?
I don’t know. I mean, I have other religious tattoos as well. I like the art a lot. I’m really into religious art, but I don’t feel too strongly about any one religion. I just take it as it looks. It’s probably the only tattoo I’ve got that I really appreciate, and really like. I wanted a baphomet, and I had a guy draw it up the way I wanted it. He did it perfect, so it’s like, you know, something fun to look at.
Finally – will there ever be a second Team Sleep album? [An experimental alternative rock group fronted by Chino, who released their debut album in 2005].
I would think, maybe. I can’t say for sure when. The reason the record came about was because, at the time, I was living in Sacramento, and [my bandmates] were my buddies who were around at the time. We were just making music, and that’s the way it came out. Right now, I’m living in LA, and they live in Sacramento. Everybody’s doing different things, so if we get in the same place together, and we have time to do it, I think we all would love to. We have a lot of music that we’ve been working on over the years, that we can probably put together. It’s just about getting the time to do it.