“Guitar World” – October, 1997 // Stef Interviewed

Guitar World
October 1997

By Jen Wiederhorn



The Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter slams the accelerator of his spiffy rental car and passes a
pair of pokey commuters. Drummer Abe Cunningham and I hold on for our lives as the car lurches
forward. “People in Seattle don’t know how to fucking drive,” the guitarist growls as he
swerves back out of the passing lane. The purpose of this high-speed escapade is to hit Tower
Records and buy an adapter that will enable Carpenter to plug his MiniDisc player into the car
stereo. “I can’t wait for you to hear this shit,” he exclaims as he hurtles the car into a
parking space. He and Cunningham eagerly trot into the store, and reemerge a few minutes later,
grinning broadly. They’ve got the booty.

“Check this out,” says Carpenter as he pops the disc in the player and pumps up the volume.
A deafening flurry of jagged guitar shards bursts from the speakers, followed by propulsive
drumming and haunting, melodic vocals. As the song kicks into overdrive, and the roaring riff
is greeted by a volley of equally roaring vocals, Carpenter begins to tap his hands
spasmodically on the steering wheel. In the back seat, Cunningham bobs his head intently,
as if watching a live concert, and when Carpenter stops, at a light, Cunningham flashes
Carpenter the Beavis and Butt-Head salute, and the two exchange high fives.

“I just can’t help it,” says Carpenter. “We sit in the car all the time freaking out and
listening to our new stuff. I love to play it for anyone who will listen, because I’m so
happy with the songs we came up with.”

He has plenty to be pleased about. At first listen, the band’s yet untitled second album
feels somewhat akin in spirit to Helmet’s Meantime, which came out of nowhere in 1992 to
kick-start a generation of short-haired, skateboard-toting rebels who liked their music as
ugly and abrasive as their road rash. In an era of post-alternative pop music, Deftones seem
primed to steer rockers in a new direction by combining the savagery of metal, the aggression
of punk and the moody temperament of alternative acts.

Like their 1995 debut, Adrenaline, Deftones’ new album contrasts hushed atmospheres with raging
fury, but this time around, they have eliminated much of the middle ground and pushed the
extremes, making the soft parts eerily poignant and the loud ones frightfully intense. In
addition, the band have experimented freely with samples, and one track even features Max
avalera (ex-Sultura) playing a Brazilian tribal instrument that makes an odd twanging sound.

“I really love hard music, but I don’t want what we do to be solely hard,” says Carpenter,
leaving the car and returning to the basement of Stone Gossard’s Litho Studio, where Deftones
are recording the album with producer Terry Date (Soundgarden, Pantera). “My favorite part
about my band is [vocalist] Chino [Moreno]. His voice is almost like our second guitar,
so it’s not just straight, but the beauty of it all comes from the vocals and how they
connect with everything else we do. If we wanted to only be heavy, that would be so easy
to do.”

Even when the band’s vocals are reflective and ethereal, however, the basic structure of
Deftones’ songs are dark and abrasive, and most of the guitar parts grind with menacing power.
But unlike the Trent Reznors and Marilyn Mansons of the loud rock community, Deftones aren’t
motivated by animosity or self-hatred. “Our music is about love and good experiences,” insists
Carpenter. “It’s not about pummeling your neighbor and smashing everything. It’s so funny
because our music makes people want to destroy shit, and that’s not what we’re trying to do.
I’m not saying we’re violence-free or anything, but it’s violence caused by love. There’s a
fine line between love and hate, and I’d like to think that’s where we lie.”

In part, the Deftones’ willingness to wander beyond the parameters of heavy rock stems from
Carpenter’s penchant for pop music. He may have grown up on thrash metal, but has since
developed a love for Morrissey, the Cure and even Depeche Mode. In fact, the band is currently
working on tracks for upcoming Duran Duran and Depeche Mode tribute albums. “I’ve got three CDs
in my packpack right now and two of them are Depeche Mode,” admits Carpenter. “I love their
music because it’s emotional and driving, and it makes your heart pound. Their music inspires
me to do happy things, stuff that just feels good. I love heavy music, man, but its so embedded
in me that I don’t have to listen to it anymore. A lot of metal bands are too pussy to act like
pussies, but we’re not afraid to really express ourselves.”

At present, Carpenter is sitting on a black couch, moddling on an unplugged SP guitar. Even
while he’s in the middle of answering questions his left hand crawls around the fretboard
like a bind spider. “I’ve played just about every day since I was 15, but I don’t practice
anything technical,” he says. “I just fuck around on the thing. Sometimes I try to come up
with a riff, but mostly I’ll be sitting in front of the TV just moving my fingers around.”

There was a time when Carpenter wasn’t so passionate about playing music. As a middle-class
kid growing up in Sacramento, California, he was completely obsessed with skateboarding, and
had little time for studying or even sleeping, let alone practicing guitar and writing songs.
“I’d skate to and from school, and then go out and skate all night, and I’d do that every day,”
says Carpenter. “I loved chicks like any other guy, but that wasn’t my thing. I wanted to

Carpenter’s dreams of skating glory came to an end at the age of 15 when he was hit by a
drunk driver while skating, and wound up in the hospital for two weeks. ‘the guy was doing
like 60 miles an hour when he slammed into me, and I wrecked his car,” says Carpenter.
“I never saw, heard or felt it, and I’ve never had any pain from it, but physically, I should
have died. It’s weird. I woke up in the street and I felt totally normal other than the fact
that my leg was snapped in half. It was a definite changing point in my life in the way I
looked at things, but when it happened, I was so ungrateful for being alive that I was pissed
off that I couldn’t skate because I had just learned to do this fresh-ass trick. The first
thing I said when I realized I got hit by a car was, “Damn. How long before I start skating
again?” And they said, ‘It might be some time.'”

He laughs, and plays a few fretboard-tapping licks before continuing. “After a couple of weeks
went by, I realized I could have been dead, and from that point on I didn’t care about
skateboarding anymore. I still love skateboarding now, but it’s not the way I wanna spend all my
time. Now, I just want to have a good time and live. I haven’t turned into a fraidy cat or
anything. I just want to do the most that I can with the time I’m here, and have as good a time
as possible.”

A week after Carpenter was released from the hospital, a friend came over with a guitar, and
Carpenter accidentally played his first chord. At the time, he was watching the Ratt video
“Round and Round,” and saw Ratt guitarist Warren DeMartini crash through a ceiling onto a
dining room table and strum a power chord. He imitated the simple finger positioning,
and lo and behold, when he strummed, it resembled music. “it only took me a couple of weeks to
get to where I could fake it and sound like I kind of knew what I was doing,” he says.
“I learned by playing along with Anthrax, S.O.D. [a sort of thrash supergroup made up of members
of Anthrax and M.O.D. GW Ed.] and Metallica, and I didn’t learn anything besides a power chord
until I had been playing for about four years.”

About an hour after sitting down for the interview, Carpenter and his bandmates take a break
to watch a skateboarding and rollerblading competition on ESPN. They break out a tall fragrant
bong, and proceed to light up while they watch. If you didn’t know they were in a band, you
might think the members of Deftones were textbook-case underachievers whose main social outlet
is hooking up to smoke pot, watch TV and talk shit. The assumption wouldn’t be far off the
mark. The band members’ chemistry is as strong as the weed they smoke, and it’s that bond that
makes their music sound so charged and cohesive.

“They play together like they’re related, and they think the same way,” says producer
Terry Date, who worked on both Deftones albums. “Lots of times with bands, you’ll get certain
people who want to do one thing and certain ones who want to do something else. These guys
pretty much always want to do the same thing. There’s not too much disagreement about how
they’re going to approach something.”

“We’ve definitely learned how to get along and communicate, but we also know all of each
other’s buttons, and we can make each other made, pretty much at will,” says Carpenter.
“Some of our beset shows have happened on nights when we’ve been just shy of having fistfights
before we go on. By the time we hit the stage ,it’s been so built up, we must go crazy. And
then afterwards, we’re having the beset party because we’re all so happy about playing a great
show.” He cackles and packs another bowl. “We fight about the stupidest shit who drank the last
beer ,what song we’re gonna open with, who’s been leaving shit around the bus – stuff
like that.”

Carpenter, Moreno and Cunningham attended the same high school, and although Carpenter is
three years older than the other two, he knew Moreno from the local skate scene. When Moreno
found out Carpenter played guitar, he set up a jam session with Cunningham, and the seeds of
Deftones were planted. “Me and Abe took the bus over to Stephen’s house one day after school,”
recalls Moreno. “Stephen was sitting on his porch, and he had this wireless guitar on. All the
cabinets were in the garage, and he was sitting on the porch rocking out.”

“I was a clean-cut 15 year old, and he probably thought I was some punk kid or something,”
adds Cunningham.. “There was a drum set in the garage, but the garage door was closed, and he
wanted me to go in there and play while he stayed on the porch. I’m like, ‘What a prick. he
doesn’t want to jam with me, he’s out on the fucking porch.'”

Needless to say, the trio jammed itself deaf, and decided to form the band in 1988.
They bought a bunch of equipment with settlement money from Carpenter’s skateboard accident,
hooked up with a bassist whose name has long been forgotten, and performed their first show a
few months later. “It was completely hilarious,” says Carpenter. “We were playing a barbecue,
and our bass player at the time showed up all late. When we were laying his strap would come
off, and he didn’t have enough sense to take the cod up through the strap and plug it in, so
he’d keep stepping on the cord and unplugging himself. And he wouldn’t notice, so he’d just
keep playing and nothing would come out.”

Several other bassists followed before the band settled on Chi Cheng because of his decent
gear and long hair. With their lineup complete, Deftones started writing originals and soon came
up with a four-song demo. Two years later, the tape landed on the desk of an A&R man at
Madonna’s label. Maverick, and Deftones were signed shortly thereafter.

Since releasing Adrenaline, Deftones have toured relentlessly, opening for such acts as
Korn, L7 and Ozzy Osbourne. During that time they’ve built up a loyal following by performing
explosive live shows and sticking around to party with fans after the gig. “We definitely don’t
want to act like rock stars,” says Carpenter. “We try to be approachable, and we like to hang
out with the people who listen to our music.”

“It’s cool to kick with people,” adds Cunningham. “They get to know you, and then they come
back to see you again next time. Plus, you wind up with friends all over the country.”

Of course, when your music is as emotionally turbulent as the Deftones’ is, you wind up
meeting some pretty strange folks.

“I don’t care abut people who dye their hair funny colors or wear weird clothes, because
that’s just someone being an individual,” says Carpenter. But there was this one girl who
got Chino’s name autographed on her stomach, and then she went out and had it tattooed on
there. That’s one of the craziest things I now, because that’s real. That shit’s gonna last

It’s entirely possible that the girl already wishes she could have the signature removed from
her midriff. After all, Deftones have had a change of heart about the imprint bands like Korn
and Rage Against The Machine have left on their career. At first, being compared to other
alt-rock heavyweights was flattering and helpful but it has turned into an albatross that
the band finds hard to shake.

“I hate it because we’ve always just done what we’ve done. We’ve never tried to be like Korn in
any way,” says Carpenter with a hint of annoyance. “We were all friends before either of us got
signed, and we don’t even sound like them. We appeal to the same kind of audience because we put
on intense shows and so do they, but you’re retarded if you listen to both bands and still
compare them to us. The only thing we’ve got in common with those guys is an energy thing,
and the fact that we’re all friends.

“We once played a show in Bakersfield, which was where Korn is from,” continues Moreno.
“Their producer was at the show and he really dug our band, so we gave him a tape. A couple
of days later, the Korn guys called and said, ‘Dude, we like it, we want to lay shows with you
guys.’ So we went to L.A. and we both played. That was right when they were starting to get a
buzz. They actually opened for us at that show. The whole thing is really annoying because a
lot of times we’ll be talking to a journalist, and then the press will say we’re talking shit
about each other, and we’ll have to call each other up and straighten shit out. And it’s really
stupid because we were friends even before all this bullshit happened.”

Like many of today’s grassroots metal bands, including Korn, Type O Negative and Corrosion of
Conformity, Deftones have been virtually ignored by MTV and rock radio, despite their diehard
following. The only major media attention they’ve gotten came last year after an all-day
concert in Tempe, Arizona, where a riot began during the band’s set. The story was subsequently
covered on the nightly news as well as Real TV, American Journal and Hard Copy. “We’re just
doing what we always do, and it was a typical audience for us,” recalls Carpenter.
“They were jumping around and diving and shit, but the security guys were being real fucking
dicks and hitting people and putting them in headlocks. They pulled the plug on us after four
songs. The crowd went crazy and started jumping on stag and smashing everything. We got whisked
away backstage and then kids started burning shit and climbing the light rigs and everything.
We didn’t cause the riot we just happened to be there when the shit went down.”

With the interview completed and the ESPN skateboard competition over, Deftones return to their
apartment to pick up some supplies before returning to the studio. While Cunningham searches
for some photos and paperwork, Carpenter checks the answering machine. A confused voice
crackles from the speaker: “I’m trying to reach the Deftones, but it sounds like some dude
smoking a bong.” Carpenter laughs and, after much prodding, pushes the outgoing message
button, and indeed, there’s the deep, gurgling sound of a water pipe in action. “We wanted
to hook the sound up to our front doorbell so that every time someone rings the door, they
could hear it. We’re still working on that.”

The new Deftones album doesn’t swirl with psychedelic wah-wah, or pulse hypnotically like many
drug-influenced records, but the jarring rhythms and jittery riffs do suggest the wide-eyed
paranoia sometimes caused by too much pot.

“I never thought we’d make a drug record, but this one definitely is,” says Carpenter.
“We didn’t set out to do it or anything, but w were getting high just about every day,
and that definitely had an effect on things.”

Not that a Deftones studio session is like a weekend with Motley Crue or anything. When
it comes to getting down to business, they are true professionals. But when the workday
is done, the band members like to let loose. “We party all the time. Have a good time,
fuck it,” says Carpenter.

“I’m the vominator. I’m always puking,” Cunningham offers.

“I hardly ever puke,” replies Carpenter, but then he recalls one memorably messy evening.
“The day the Alanis record went Number One the first time, Maverick threw a big-ass party
at the label, and we basically drank all the drinks. By 10:30 that evening I was one-eyed
and staggering. And I came into the hotel room we were staying at, and I just threw up a
pancake like three feet big.”

“You were sleeping in it, too,” chimes in Moreno. “I went, ‘Stephen, get up, you puked!’
And you went, ‘I did?’ and fell right back to sleep. He didn’t even care. I was getting
ready to go out again, and he woke up, and he was all, ‘I want to go too,’ and he had puke
hanging from his chin. I was like, ‘Fuck you, get in the shower. You’re going to sleep!'”

Carpenter mulls over the incident and smiles “I guess I just wanted to keep drinking.”

You can talk about riff structures and vocal cadences until you’re blue in the face, but at
the end of the day, what really distinguishes the Deftones from Korn and Rage Against The
Machine is the band members’ motivations. Deftones are into the energy, excitement and
creativity of rock music, and could care less about image and angst. The only reason they
play with so much more intensity than many of their colleagues is because, for them, volume
is a symbol of liberation.

“I’m at a point where I want to go off and have a good time, and I’m not going to be able to
run around or jump up and down to something mellow,” says Carpenter. “I basically play
energetic music because I don’t know how to dance, and that’s my form of dancing. I can
go on stage and rock out and be a total dork, and it’s all right. I like it to be really
loud because that’s where I get the most feeling out of it, where your ears feel like
they’re just vibrating from the intensity of it. All my friends go, ‘You’re deaf,’ but I’m not
deaf. I just like to feel that motherfucker hurt. Maybe one day I will be deaf, but I’m not
worried about it right now.”