“Drummer Magazine” – 1997 // Abe Interviewed

Abe Cunningham of the Deftones:

By Matt Peiken.

Of Heavy music were like fine wine, 1997 would go down as a sweet vintage. Let’s take an
inventory: Metallica “Re-loaded”, Pantera kicked out live brutality, Korn and Tool headlined
Lollopalooza, and the Ozzfesttour pushed up & comers like Coal Chamber,
Powerman 5000, and Machine Head into the main stream. On the down side, however, all this
activity overshadowed the best thing to happen all year to hard music: AROUND THE FUR from
Around the fur is an amazing record built on crushing instrumentals lines, schizophrenic
vocals, and lush, bottom-heavy rhythms.
Reflecting on the making of the album (the bands 2nd), Drummer Abe Cunningham says he
contributed as much with notes he didn’t play as with those he did. But before you banish him
into the less-in-more department, consider his upbringing: Drum corps, school jazz band, and a
lineage of musicians. While most touring drummers have ritten off home practice, Cunningham
still relishes the woodshed. And at 24, he’s already learned that strong musicianship has
nothing to do with showing off the masses.
As the Deftones continued their international sonic assault, Cunningham broke away to talk
about his of drumming, his passion for learning, and what you can and can’t hear on Around the


Mp: Sacramento, California has had its success stories here and there, but it’s not like there
a lot of places there to play and grow as an artist. Did you guys set out to break away from
Sacramento as quickly as possible, or did you have more humble goals?
AC: People think we’re this new band, but we’ve been around almost ten years now. I went to
school w/ our singer, Chino, and he grew up in the same neiborhood as our guiterrist, Stefan.
Skateboarding was kind of our common bond, but after a while we all started jamming in Stefen’s
garage. It was just the basic garage band thing, just friends having fun. We started playing
around Sacramento, which as his ups and downs, i guess. It’s true, there aren´t a whole lot of
bands either.
We used to play cover tunes in the garage just because it was fun. But way early on we started
writting our own music. You used to be able to see the same bands playing in the same places,
so any band that really wanted to branch out had to go to the Bay Area.
So that´s what we did, Berkeley Square, the Omni, the Stone. The whole Bay Area trash metal
scene was very big then. We were heavely influenced and inspired by that.

MP: Were you a metal-head, yourself?
AC: I don´t know if i´d say that. I´ve always licked heavy music, but i have a real different
background than that. My dad was a bass player and my step-dad was a drummer. My first memories
of being around music are from watching my dad play blues gigs. When i started to play at around
seven or eight years, i dug out my parents music, like Beatles records and hendrix albums,
Mitch Mitchell is a great influence of mine, and i play along those. My mom was into things like
the Police. All of that probably influenced me as a drummer more than metal drummer.
Around the time i started playing, my dad sort of got away of the drums, i just sort of took
over is kit. I was so fascinated with it that i´´d just take it apart and put it back together
again. Then in High-school , i was in marching band and jazz band. I tried taking lessons for
about a month, but the teacher was a real jerk, and and that kind of gave me a bad taste for
normal lessons. But i used to come home after school and just jam for hours. And that still
something i crave a lot: just playing on my own. I miss it when we´re om the road.

MP:I´ve interviewed some drummers who say that they hate playing on their own, that they get
all the practice they need playing night after nigth on the road.
AC: Well that is a form of practice. What you´re doing is getting really good at playing those
same songs, and there´s a lot to be said on that. I´m sure my playing is tighter and more fluid
on our songs now then that when i first recorded them, mainly because i´ve had more time with
them and had time to experiment with other ways of doing things. But that doesn´t necesserily
makes me a better Drummer.
When you´re out on the road, you really don´t have time to sit down and work out some things
oyu´ve like to try. You basically have soundcheck and the show. So when i´m home and have some
time, one of the things i crave most is woodshedding bymysilf and trying to keep up my chops.

MP: Do you try to work out specific patterns or develop a specific part of your playing, or do
you just like playing what comes to mind?
AC: It´s really all off that. I go a lot on inspiration, even if its another drummer´s lick,
something i heard on a record or saw a nother drummer do, i might go home and pick it apart to
see if i can figure it out. Maybe it´s something i´m frustrated with and i just wont to work on
untill i nailed it. But now i pretty much go in and play what´s on the top of my head. it´s just
nice sometimes to in a room by myself and just play.

MP: Are there any drum parts on Around the fur that came directly from your woodshedding?
AC: You know, this really sounds cliché, because you always read interviews where Drummers say
there just playing for the songs, thats they´re more mature now or whatever. But really has as
lot to do with were i´m coming from now, and definitely where where i was coming from with this
At the time we did the first record, wich i really like and think is good, you can tell the
band was really young. we´d been playing most of the songs for quite a while, and we were just
so happy to be making a record that we didn´t really think a whole lot about making the song
better. I think maturity is the biggest siferrence between the two records. We´d been on the
constantky for two years we started the second record, so we where a lot more at ease in the
studio. I think that allowed us to look a little deeper into whate we wanted to do.
What came out of that is that we simplified things.
For me, I think it was just playing with more confidence, and not feeling like i had to fill
up all empty spaces. As a drummer, i wanted the songs to come through. There´s a diference
between playing what´s right for the song and the song dictating what´s right for it self, and
i think we let the song have theire way a lot more this time. The difference as really started
to come out now that were on the road, because i´m really playing some things differently that
i did on the record. Not it´s better or worse, it´s just different now that i´ve lived with the
song for a while.

MP: What were some of the main challenges in simplifying your playing in the studio? Did you
consciously hold yourself back from the embellishing certain parts, or was it very natural for
you to lay low?
AC: Any drummer would just love to open up when he can, so it was a conscious thing to pull
back. But it´s just that needed to happen
And it´s not that difficult when you´re thinking of the song first and foremost.
With the kind of music we play, the guitars are relly heavy and powerful, so it didn´t make a
lot of sense to try to compete with that. It also doesn´t leave room for me to put in all the
ghost notes and grace notes i usually like to play. I did a lot more ghosting on the first
record. But you can´t hear them, anyway, so i really just had to play solid and heavy. I wanted
the notes i do play to matter and help create a fell.

MP: You can definitely hear the difference in production between your first and second record.
The drum sound and the whole band now sounds a lot more thick and lush.
AC: Yeah, we spend a lot more time now thinking about those things and talking with the producer
Terry Date about different things we wanted to hear. Terry as just so much experince to offer
us, too. When he did our first record, he had just come from doing a White Zombie album for the
previous six months, and he was a bit burned out. This time, he took almost a year off before he
went to work with us. It was so nice because everyone was ready to do it, and Terry knew
exactly what would be right for what we wanted.He really it all together for us.

MP: Did you use a lot of different drums to get the sounds you wanted, or was it more
combination of mic´s in the room?
AC: We used the same kit throughout tha whole record, but i swapped different snares around
for practically every song. I think i´ve sort of rifened what i want in a snare sound now. I
always liked getting a nice crack, but the older i´m getting, the more i´m getting into that
fatter sound. Sometimes i like really loose snares. I´m always adjusting my snare tension,
just to try to blend that crack with the fat sound.
I used to like piccolo snares a lot, but now i mainly use a 6×14 snare that´s a 20-ply maple
with die-cast rims and four 1″ holes drilled into
the sheel. it´s become my main snare now because it´s sort of the best between the both worlds
for me. But i´m really happy with the whole kit. My drums come from Orange County Drum &
Percussion. They´re really well made, and they´ve got great tone.
We did a cool experiment with one song that didn´t make it on the album. we set two kits up,
one of them upstairs in the balcony of the studio and one below. I played the main track on the
kit downstairs, then went upstairs and played that kit, but still recording it with the room
mic´s from downstairs. I used two 19´ crashes for a hi-hat. It was just a really bizarre
experiment, but it was toward the end of our time in the studio and we didn´t had a lot of time
to play with it. It came out okay, though, and the song might make it onto B-side or something.

MP: Did you play to a click? I´m asking because your timing seems really tight.
AC: No, i don´t use a click, I can; I don´t have a problem with it. We tried once, i think, but
we didn´t really need it. I don´t know if good timings come naturally to me or not, but i think
i trained myself for that without even realizing it. It starts by playing to records with these
bad-ass studio drummers on them, like Steely Dan records with guys like Jeff Porcaro. I don´t
know if they used clix or not, but their timming is right on, an i guess playing along to them
sort of taught me to be a stronger time keeper.

MP: Like training wheels on a bicycle.
AC: Tottaly. After you ride with training wheels, you take ´em of and you can ride on your own.

MP: Do you read music at all?
AC: A little, yeah. I used to be more into it during High-School, with marching band and
reading jazz charts. I have to admit i´ve pretty much slacked on that, but i´d love to get
back to it. I really want to , because it would be great to be able to work on some drum books
when i´m woodshedding at home. I think getting more into reading would really open up a lot of
worlds for me.

MP: You played in a few different musical settings before the Deftones. Did you particularly
want to play in a heavy band, or where you just happy to in any band?
AC: At the time, to go out and play our instruments hard, but i was mainly to be playing with
my friends. Threre was about a year an a half where i left the Deftones to play in another local
band, Phallucy. They were like the really big band in Sacramento. And they were a lot older
than me, i was maybe only sixteen at the time, so it was really cool.
But was really good friends with the guys in the Deftones. They they tried all these different
drummers, and every time someone wouln´t work out, i´d always go back to play with them.
And we´d just have so much fun together. It was something we´d all created together,
and it was always a blast going back. They finally said: “hey, we´re great together, you have
to come back”. So i did, and it´s been that
way ever since. Our focus back then was on the energy and having a good time. That´s what it is
even now. And we´re colectively into many different styles of music, we really don´t even
really listen to much heavy music, so who knows what our next record will be like.

MP: Did you ever play double bass?
AC: I tried to, but i just can´t do it. I use a double bass pedal, but it´s more for emphasis,
like a flam or a ruff, not hammer out 16th notes. I used to have a big kit, i used to hate
lugging it around, and it´s became sort of silly. So i got the double pedal, which has actually
been part of my setup for a long time now. I a way, i alomost regret it, because i grew up
playing on a single pedal and i used to have a really fast foot. Now i rely a lot more on the
double pedal. I just always know it´s there, so it´s a peace of mind thing.

MP: What are some things you´d like to do musically that have nothing to do with the deftones?
AC: I haven´t really thought that far ahead. I´d love to jam with different people. I play a
little guitar, too, and i´d like to explorethat some more. But more than anything, I´d love to
take drum lessons from somebody. Not out of a music store like i tried last time, but maybe
from a friend who´s a bad-ass player, like the tutor-and-mentor situation, who i could just sit
down with sometimes and pick things up from. No matter what, i never want to stop learning.