“Dimple Records” – May 2003 // Abe Interviewed

Abe Cunningham interviewed by Dimple Records (may 2003)

The ‘tones of the Times

With their self-titled fourth album, the Deftones expand the boundaries of heavy rock
and notch their personal best in the process.

by Brian Baker

Deftones drummer Abe Cunningham is chilling at his Sacramento home awaiting a pair of
imminent arrivals. His wife Annalynn is mere days away from delivering the couple’s second
child and the Deftones’ long-awaited fourth studio album is slated to drop a couple of
weeks later. He’s anxious for the baby to come but not particularly nervous; he simply wants
to make sure everything is okay on the home front before embarking on the first Deftones
tour in nearly two years, a combination of headlining club dates and appearances on the
much-anticipated Summer Sanitarium tour with Metallica.

“Just waiting for a couple of deliveries,” says the speed talking but laid-back time keeper.
“The baby and the new album.”

It’s been three long years since the Deftones pushed the heavy rock envelope with the release
of the experimental White Pony, an inventive and well-received album within the genre and the
band’s biggest seller to date. After White Pony, the Deftones toured relentlessly to spread the
gospel, criss-crossing the country and circling the globe until they extricated themselves from
the road in order to recharge their batteries.

Of course, in the Deftones’ case, taking a break meant getting involved in any number of side
projects. Lead vocalist Chino Moreno started and recorded Team Sleep (featuring Faith No More’s
Mike Patton, Hole’s Melissa Auf Der Maur and Helium’s Mary Timony), bassist Chi Cheng recorded
and released a spoken word/poetry album entitled The Bamboo Parachute, guitarist Stephen
Carpenter released an album with his band Kush (featuring members of Fear Factory and Cypress
Hill), turntablist Frank Delgado continued work on his Co-Defendant project with DJ Crook, and
Cunningham dabbled in several different bands, including his own Phallucy and Moreno’s Team Sleep.

With palettes refreshed, the Deftones were finally ready to begin tackling the task of
following up their most successful and well regarded album. In a move designed to reduce their
studio costs while affording them the luxury of unlimited recording time, the ’tones set aside
some of their tour money to build The Spot in Sacramento, a home studio on the site of their
long-standing home rehearsal space. With the completion of the Spot, they began laying down
tracks and slowly working out the details of their next album.

“We didn’t want to repeat ourselves,” says Cunningham of the album’s early development. “When
someone is successful and they stumble on a formula that works, people will try to get them to
do the same thing. But we’ve always done our own thing. We just tried to make a record that we’re
all pleased with. We try to please ourselves before anyone else, because we’re the ones who have
to go out and do it.”

Early in the album’s creation, Cunningham poked around the band’s numerous Internet message boards
and found a great deal of speculation about what the new material would sound like. He read fan
reactions that favored particular albums among the ’tones first three (’95’s Adrenaline, ’97’s
Around the Fur, 2000’s White Pony), and is pleased to report that the band’s followers should be
elated with the results on Deftones, which seems to combine the best aggressive qualities from the
first two while continuing the experimental vein of White Pony.

”You could kind of see what people were hoping for in a mixture of all the records, and it sort of
turned out that way, actually,” says Cunningham. “It’s another Deftones record. When I hear the
record as a whole, [White Pony] comes to mind. But there are moments on there that are just ruthless.
It‘s probably not the easiest listen right off the bat, which I think is good. Hopefully it grows
over time. Any record I’ve ever fell in love with, something grabs you right away but you find more
as you dig it out. White Pony was definitely a record that I would suggest listening to with
headphones. There are a lot of little moments that pop out when you hear it in that context.
This is the next step, I suppose.”

Perhaps the biggest development from the Deftones’ standpoint was the completion of the Spot and the
ability to record at their leisure on their home turf. With all of the benefits that accompanied the
Spot, the band quickly learned the downside as well.

“It was the best thing we could have ever done,” says Cunningham of the studio. “The only drawback
was the fact that we thought it’d be great that we’re at home and we can do it in our spot, but at
the same time there’s all the distractions of home. It ended up taking forever. So it was nice to
get out of town.”

Out of town wound up being Seattle’s Studio X to continue the album’s progress with the ’tones
longtime producer Terry Date, who had overseen the Sacramento work and who Cunningham credits as
“a sixth member of the band.” Well before the band had gotten to that point though, their label,
Maverick/Warner Bros., posted a late fall release date which came and went, fueling even more rumors
about possible reasons for the delay.

“We weren’t even a quarter of the way done with the record when they did that,” says Cunningham.
“Everyone’s going, ‘Man, it’s been three years.’ But if you do the math, we were touring the whole
time, and then we came home to try to write some songs. It’s a natural progression. Three years is a
long time, but we were busy as hell that whole time.”

During the lengthy recording process, the ’tones realized their touring break was approaching two years,
and they accepted an offer for a limited tour of Australia on the Big Day Out festival package earlier
this year. Although the band was well into the new album, they chose not to do any new material which
sparked a number of online rumors, but the short tour proved to be the tonic the band required at the

“They call it the Big Day Off down there,” says Cunningham with a laugh. “It was great. I was petrified
in the weeks leading up to it. I would call Chino up, and we’d be like, ‘I’m so excited,’ but we were
both petrified because we hadn’t played in so long. But we did, like, a week of rehearsals and
everything came back like we’d never stopped.

“We weren’t really ready with the new stuff. Everyone’s saying it was for bootleg reasons, but that
wasn’t really it. We weren’t prepared. We’d been off for so long and we’d been recording for so long,
which was going good, but we were just so ready to play. We just took a few weeks off to go do that
for a second and then came back refreshed to finish the record. It was good to get a little break and
get our ya-yas out.”

After finishing the album with Date in Seattle, the band returned to Los Angeles to mix and finalize
details like track order and titles, a process that had been ongoing until just weeks ago. The final
product, which is being touted as self-titled but which Cunningham cagily admits could change before
the actual May release date, just may stand as the Deftones’ best work to date. Balancing moments of
brutal intensity with moments of tremulous subtlety, Deftones reveals a band that understands their
considerable power and how to wield it effectively.

Regardless of how busy they’ve been during their “hiatus,” the Deftones will be back with a vengeance
this year. They’ll be well into yet another monumental touring cycle when the album drops, having
already done a few club and Summer Sanitarium dates, and later this summer, both the ’tones and Team
Sleep will be featured on the soundtrack to the hyper-anticipated “Matrix 2: Reloaded” film. Words that
Cunningham intones like a speed-rapped mantra throughout the interview seem oddly appropriate: “It’s
all good.”