“Guitar School” – 1997 // Chino, Chi and Stef Interviewed

Chino, Stef and Chi interviewed by Guitar School


Over the past two years, the Deftones have toured incessantly in support of their 1995
Maverick debut, Adrenalize, celebrating the untrammeled id at every stop from coast to coast.
Metalheads, skaters and punks have all been inflamed by the Deftones’ firestorm of noise,
which blends a sensibility for drop-dead grooves with a passion for precision riffery. The ease
with which the Deftones’ annihilate boundaries among their audiences is no doubt enhanced by the
multi-ethnic makeup of the band.

“We’re two Mexicans, a Chinese and a white boy,” says vocalist Chino Moreno. “Metal and punk
don’t have to be white, anymore than rap has to be black.” Recounting his experiences growing
up in a racially mixed neighborhood in Sacramento, he continues, “Until I was 11, everybody
hung out together. Then people separated and got into different gangs; the black kids were
into rap and the whites were into metal. I was lucky-I got into skateboarding, and we listened
to everything from rap to new wave. Everybody respected each other. When we started the band,
we kept that spirit going. We’re part of the process of music opening up, and I think it’s
something you’re going to see a lot more of. We see a lot of different kinds of kids in our
audiences all hanging out and having a great time.”

Guitar World Online spoke with these multicultural mosh-pit messiahs in their tour bus just
prior to a sold-out show in New York City and learned from Chino, bass player Chi Cheng and
guitarist Stephen Carpenter how to become underground heroes and sell over 170,000 records
without any help from MTV or radio. Drummer Abe Cunningham was also in attendance. He made
faces at his bandmates and talked shit about them under his breath throughout the interview.

GUITAR SCHOOL: You guys have built up a considerable underground following, despite almost no
MTV or radio support. To what do you attribute your success?

CHI CHENG: One word: perseverance. We’ve been together for almost eight years, on the road for
two and we do it with honesty and integrity-and the kids can tell. The instant overnight
success that comes when all of sudden you get steady MTV rotation is a real temporary thing
anyhow. You’re dropping some shit on the people that has no legitimacy. You can tell a band
that’s put the time, the effort and the love into it as opposed to a band that went the easy

CHINO MORENO: I think they can tell that we do it for the right reasons: to have fun. When we
started, I had never been in a band before. I didn’t know what I was doing and I was singing
some tore-up shit. I was surprised that these guys didn’t boot me but we learned how to be a
band together and I think people see that and dig that.

GS: What inspired you to form the band?

MORENO: Steph had a bunch of equipment he bought with the money he got after being hit by a
drunk driver. His moms let him do whatever he wanted with the money, so he had a drum set,
amps and all this equipment in his garage. I was about 16 and up til then we all hung out
together and would skate after school. That was my life back then, girls didn’t matter,
drinking didn’t matter, I didn’t care about anything except music and skateboarding.
I introduced them all to each other and then they used to go over to Steph’s house to jam.
One day I went over there and they were playing a Danzig song, and since I was so into the
Misfits I started singing it and they were like, “Dude you sing like Danzig. Do you want to
sing in the band?”

GS: What kind of music were you listening to back then?

MORENO: Punk rock and new wave. My favorite bands were the Bad Brains, the Misfits, the Cure
and the Smiths. I got introduced to metal by the band and now I love it.

STEPHEN CARPENTER: I was never into punk until I started hanging with these guys. I was into
hard rock and metal my whole life. Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Faith No More were my

CHENG: All through high school it was Maiden and Steve Harris. That’s where all the bass
players come from who started in the Eighties. Anybody playing bass now who says they
weren’t introduced to it by Steve Harris is a fucking liar. He’s the man. He knew how to
keep things interesting, which is really all that matters.

GS: So what were you guys doing between forming in 1989 and getting signed in 1994?

MORENO: We spent the majority of our time in practice, making up songs. We didn’t try to get
out real quick and tour. We played shows occasionally and whenever we played in our hometown
it would be crazy. But most of the time we were just trying to better ourselves and grow.

GS: In all that time, how come you never put out an indie release?

MORENO: We got asked a lot. Indie labels came to us and said they’d give us money to put
something out, but we didn’t want to get locked into anything and we didn’t think our stuff
was ready yet.

CHENG: We didn’t want to half-ass anything, and when finally we did our album, that was the
payoff. We had six or seven years worth of songs we could select from.

GS: Your shows have always had a reputation for wildness.

CHENG: Yeah, lately our shows have been psychotic. We all vent whatever we have on stage,
which is a beautiful thing for us, but I think that because a lot of the songs are aggressive
people misinterpret it as saying “Please destroy things and hurt the person next to you,”
which is absolutely the opposite of what we want. I don’t want people coming to our shows
because they’ve heard we’re a great band to hurt people to. I’m not saying we’re cerebral
rockers, but I want people to listen to it.

GS: There is an emotional honesty in your lyrics that you don’t find in a lot of metal.

MORENO: Yeah, maybe I whine a little bit, but it’s mostly everyday life. Sometimes I’m
screaming, sometimes I’m scheming, whatever way I feel when I’m writing the song. If I
start thinking too hard about it, it’s going to come out sounding forced.

GS: What are you trying to say?

MORENO: The easiest way I can explain it is the love of music and the love of the ups and
downs of life. We don’t have a message or anything like that. There’s nothing I feel that
deeply about. These are personal lyrics, but it’s not like I’m hurting deep inside and I need
to tell somebody about it.

GS: What inspired “7 Words” and “Bored”?

MORENO: Those two are completely opposite themes, different feelings, but strangely they are
also sort of the same. “Bored” is a smooth way of being pissed and aggravated. “7 Words” is
a straightforward way of being aggravated. They are essentially about two different ways
of dealing with the frustration.

GS: Your fan base and musical style are often likened to those of Korn.
Do you mind the constant comparisons?

MORENO: Not at all. I can see some points of comparison. Korn plays emotional music over
some heavy shit and both our bands rock. I do however think there is a lot more groove to what
we do. We’re friends with Korn and a lot of the same kids are coming to both our shows, so
it’s essentially the same scene.

GS: Do you think people are more open to extreme music these days?

CARPENTER: I think the people who are into it now were always into it, it’s just becoming
more available to them now. We’ve always been heavy and had dynamics. We’ve channeled our
style so it’s become more and more intense.

GS: What are your plans for a new album? You’re going to record in April and release it
in the fall?

CARPENTER: Yeah. We’re going to go home and jam, which is something we don’t get to do on
the road. That’s where we do our best work. Let’s say one of us writes a whole song and brings
it to practice. It may be only one riff that everybody likes and we’ll just jam that one riff
and then something else will click on.

CHENG: Usually the way we write is that one person has something that everybody else likes
and then as we’re working it out everybody else contributes their own style. In our music you
can hear four people writing, and that’s what makes it cool. Fuck, we don’t agree on
everything, but that friction also helps.

CARPENTER: When I write, often I wouldn’t even have a middle section for the song because
the middle section of the songs I grew up on are a big solo section and I don’t like solos.
I’ll goof around and noodle-I play solos all the time-but as far as song structures go,
I don’t dig them. So, when I come to that part of the song, lots of times I draw a blank
and that’s where Chino takes over. In general we’ll jam riffs and jam it and jam it, and we
may not finish the idea, but then another time we may be working on something else and
those earlier ideas will pop back and we can start piecing things together very quickly.
Take “Bored.” We wrote that song in half an hour-it came out of nowhere. “7 Words” happened
the same way, were just fucking around and boom, we had a song.

CHENG: Normally we need a bunch of beer, we need to throw shit at each other and then
have somebody leave practice pissed.

GS: You fight?

CHENG: That’s why our music is strong. We’re not afraid to say to each other, “That riff
is sorry! That riff sucks! That’s a shitty riff!” And then sometimes you have to stand up
for that riff because it might just be the riff. That’s why when all four of us agree that a
riff is good it’s generally a pretty good riff because we toss out about 90 percent of what
we write. Hell, I know most of my stuff doesn’t make it and I laugh at most of Steph’s shit.

GS: The last time you spoke to us [Guitar School, April, 1996] you mentioned that lessons
were worthless; do you think a lot of people take that as a license to be lazy and sloppy
when they play?

CARPENTER: No, they shouldn’t and practice is an absolute must. What I mean is, there are
people who learn guitar from a teacher and they read the Mel Bay books and they learn the
theory and that’s all good for people who want to do that-more power to `em. But I have
never seen myself as needing that knowledge because I never wanted any boundaries, I never
wanted to worry about any kind of rules. I just wanted to make noise, put it into a rhythmic
pattern and create music. I try to make stuff that has a groove to it and then throw some
stuff into it that I haven’t heard before. I may stumble onto something and then I try to
twist it in a way that hasn’t registered before. I love hearing melodic little things too,
notes that harmonize with each other, but I love throwing in a note that doesn’t fit for a
little taste of dissonance. There are so many little tricks. Say Chi is playing the root
note F, I’ll throw an E right under it because it sounds bent.

CHI: I think the secret is that even if you have guitar heroes, ultimately it comes to the
point where you look for your own artistic voice. You have to figure out what you have going
on with your instrument that’s unique. After a while it doesn’t matter who influenced you
because you’re just trying to channel your own shit into that instrument. I think where we
all agree as players is that developing as an individual is where people should focus their
attention as opposed to becoming some sort of precision player.