“Launch.com” – July, 2000 // Chino and Chi Interviewed

Chino and Chi interviews by Dave DiMartino (launch.com) ©2000


Bandmates Chino Moreno and Chi Cheng talked with LAUNCH’s Dave DiMartino about their new album,
their new sound, working with Tool/A Perfect Circle singer Maynard James Keenan, and what it
was like to stay in a “haunted” house during the making of White Pony. Video excerpts of the
conversation can be viewed in Issue 43 of LAUNCH on CD-ROM, which also features an exclusive
live LAUNCH performance of “Change (In The House Of Flies).”

LAUNCH: Do you feel that the new album is a departure from your past efforts?

MORENO: I wouldn’t say a departure from the past, but it definitely has more elements in it.
We’ve always had a lot of dynamics in our music, and I think this record in particular has a
value of warmth that our other records had, but maybe not as much. There’s a lot of highs and
lows, and the highs and lows are a lot higher and a lot lower…so, I’m digging it.

CHENG: I think that the major differences between the new album and the other albums isn’t so
much that there’s a dichotomy, or a major yin/yang with the other albums, I just think it’s a
natural progression musically to where we were going and as individuals. And so I don’t hear
anything drastic, I just hear the steps that we took from Adrenaline to Around The Fur to White
Pony. I think that it’s naturally where we were going–individually, musically.

LAUNCH: The Deftones’ sound is so distinct, and you’ve pretty much pioneered this “new metal”
sound. White Pony sounds like you’re going in a new direction. Did you go into the studio this
time with the decision to change the sound?

MORENO: It was sort of a subconscious decision, that we wanted to not so much break away, just
stay a little bit of left-field from what everybody else was doing, especially in heavy music
right now. It’s pretty redundant. There are a lot of formulas that have been just shoved down
people’s throats, this typical heavy stuff. And basically we figured that we have the ability
to do whatever we want–since, if it’s true that we did pioneer any sort of new sound, that we
can continue to pioneer, even further, as opposed to being happy with what we’ve done so far in
music, and just sitting back and doing the same record over and over again. I think it was an
opportunity. There’s still an opportunity for us to keep growing–and with every one of our
records–to take it just further and further.

CHENG: I think that back in ’94, ’95, when we got signed we were really heavy and radio didn’t
want to pick us up, we were a little bit different. And now rap/rock, or new metal–whatever
you want to call it–is the mainstream. I think the one conscious decision that we did make
on the White Pony album was to not do something like that. To give kids an alternative, and we
had made the steps, the progression to where we had the creative freedom, where we didn’t have
to go over another formula. I’m sure the kids wouldn’t have been bummed out if we had written
Around The Fur again, but I think that our kids have come to expect a little bit more from us,
something a little bit left of center. And so I think it’s…I don’t put those bands down,
’cause I think those bands are our friends, and they’re bands that we’ve come up together with,
but they’re always doing one thing, and we’ve always tried to stay away from that.

LAUNCH: Tell me about the songwriting process for this album. I understand Terry Date produced
this record as well.

MORENO: Well, when we went to go do this record, we thought about using a different producer
than Terry Date. The main reason was we obviously wanted to expand the sound, and figured if we
had a different producer, maybe someone who hasn’t done anything heavy at all, it could be an
interesting combination of the songs that we and the producer choose. And when we kind of went
full circle, I think we realized that if we were going to change our sound at all, that it was
going to be us expanding on our sound–so who better to capture that than Terry Date, since
we’d already done a couple of records with him and knew how he works? We just work really well
together; he’s like another band member. He makes fun of us just as much as we make fun of him.
So it’s kind of cool. So, halfway through the record, I just couldn’t imagine doing the record
with anybody else.

CHENG: Using Terry Date again…we initially didn’t want to use Terry at all, but we had gone
through the cycle of all of these different producers and we were like, the change is going to
come from the band, not from Terry Date. So we feel comfortable with Terry. He’s like family
now, we just love him, and he’s the only person that could have gotten us through this album,
motivated us, and pushed us through this album.

LAUNCH: Tell me story behind the album title.

MORENO: To me, the album title and the album cover itself–the artwork of the pony–I think
it’s a symbol of our individuality, in a way. It’s very plain, it’s a white pony, and it’s just
there and it stands on its own. And I sort of look at our band and the music we make: It sort
of stands on its own amongst everything else that’s going on. There could have been a lot of
decisions made to do a lot of what seemed to be easier routes. And we just never seemed
comfortable doing that, so what happened was we just stuck by ourselves, five of us in a band.
That’s the way we look at it. We’re all we got, and this is the music we make, and the “white
pony” title just fit what was going on.

CHENG: I guess when Cézanne used to do interviews, he would just ignore the questions that he
didn’t like: “I’m going to just ignore that one.” Have you ever read Cézanne’s interviews?
They’re brilliant. He wasn’t as good as Matisse, but I guess he was sort of a madman, and if
you asked him a question he didn’t like, he would just ignore you. You’d see a pause in the
interview–it’s just lovely. So I’ve kind of taken that from Cézanne–wonderful painter,
though, beautiful, French Impressionist.

LAUNCH: Your lyrics are such that one can interpret them in so many ways. Does it bother you
if people misinterpret them? Tell me about that.

MORENO: No, I think it’s fine. I think it’s great that you’re able to interpret the lyrics any
way you want to. I mean, I kind of leave them open-ended like that for a reason. The kind of
music I grew up listening to, bands like the Cure, they wrote lyrics that are just colorful
with anything, meaning that you can read one sentence and the words…the way they’re put
together, they really don’t make sense unless you kind of take them out of context and look at
the beauty in all the words that are there. And the fact that these words are put together and
they are normally not put together, I enjoy writing like that. The hardest thing is to get me
to write. I hate to have to sit down and write words, I just don’t like to do it. But once I
got halfway through writing, I was very excited with what I was coming up with. That kept me
going, but I’m just so not into writing. I don’t write in my own free time, so writing this
record took a while. I think I was supposed to spend like, two weeks doing vocals, and I spent
two months just writing and recording them. But I think it’s worth it. I mean, it’s what
excites me when I sit back and look at the songs, and read along with them. I enjoy it, so I
hope other people will, too.

CHENG: Well, I don’t write the lyrics, Chino does, but lyrically, Chino is an amazing lyricist.
I think the difference between a good artist and a great artist is the ability to make
something that’s applicable to everyone. There’s no religion that’s the one religion. You
pick a religion that works for you. I think that Chino’s lyrics are open-ended enough that
they might mean something for you. Kids come up to him all the time: “This song, it changed my
life and this is what it means to me,” and he’s like, “Oh, all right.” And maybe that’s not
particularly what it meant to him, but if you’re a good artist, then maybe everybody can get
something different out of it, because we are all intrinsically different as people. If you
make something that’s worthwhile, it’s something that everyone can make applicable to
themselves, something they can make their own. I think that Chino has that ability. He’s a
very talented lyricist, which is good. If he wasn’t a good lyricist, well, maybe we would step
in and do something about it!

LAUNCH: Tell me about the language of the lyrics. Do you have any preconceived ideas about what
you’re going to write?

MORENO: I don’t think that there are lots of preconceived thoughts that I go through before I
write. But the songs that were put in front of me, a lot of them had this sinister sound to
them. I think a lot of it is from the churning guitar, and the spaciousness of it. The music
alone gives off some kind of sexual tension. It gives me a lot of imagery–the sound alone
does. I think that’s what inspired me, so I just kind of wrote along how the music made me
feel. It wasn’t so much that I sat around and said, “I want to write a song about sex, drugs,
and rock ‘n’ roll.” But honestly, that’s what makes the world go ’round, so hey.

CHENG: I think that when Chino writes, he writes a reflection of what he’s sees and what he
lives. It’s just a simple reflection, and that’s what’s beautiful about it. It’s like he runs
the gamut from happiness to sadness, joy, pain, beauty, sex, violence. And there is a fine
line between sex and violence. And I think a lot of times that he’s fascinated by that, and
he writes about it. So it’s cool, I think it’s great. I get a lot out of it, and I don’t know
what the hell he’s singing about. I just listen to it, and I get something out of it, so it’s

LAUNCH: Do you think that the critics “get” what you’re doing?

MORENO: I think critics have a good idea of what we are doing. There’s some that don’t. You can
read about and you’ll see people wondering why this band has never been able to just break out
and become as huge as our contemporaries. I think a critic who does know what he’s listening
to, or what he’s analyzing, he would know that we could take that route if we wanted to. But
we make music for ourselves in the long run, and we make music that we like to play and listen
to. I think that if they can understand that, then they can more easily understand what we’re
trying to do. And of the critics that don’t get it, it’s because they don’t understand it.
Like, they’ll bash it, and the whole time they’ll go back to “Why did they do this, why did they do that?” It’s easy to denounce something that you don’t understand, and that’s understandable alone, right there. I think that the majority of critics that have been reviewing our record pretty much understand what we are doing. We’re here to make records for as long as possible, and I think we can do that as long as we keep on doing what we love. And I think that shows through when you listen to the record.

CHENG: It’s kind of 50/50–half the people get it, and then half the people get on the
bandwagon or they want to hack it ’cause they heard something about it. Sometimes people hear
it and they take it for its totality. We tried to write White Pony for the whole piece, not as
one song, two songs, not as a single, what’s going to be your hit single, what’s going to be
the song that you’re going to release. I don’t know, I don’t think that Pink Floyd thought
about it when they wrote The Wall, and not that I’m saying that we are anywhere near Pink
Floyd–because we’re not, I wish we were, but we’re not, I don’t think that we’re there yet–
but we do try to write an album in its totality, and an album that you have to listen to from
song one to song 10, song 12. And that’s the album–you don’t get a whole idea or concept or
ideology of an album until you hear the entire album the entire way through.

LAUNCH: Maynard James Keenan from Tool did a song with you on this record. How did that come

MORENO: Having Maynard perform on the record wasn’t something that we planned on doing. We
didn’t plan on having any guest on the record. But being a fan of Tool and A Perfect Circle,
once Maynard was involved, it was just a magical thing for us. Honestly, when he first started
working with us, he wasn’t supposed to sing with us. He was just working on the arrangements,
riff structures, time signatures, and things like that. I don’t know if you’re a big fan of
Tool’s music, but they’re really mathematical. I’ve been to their rehearsal space, and there’s
this big chart that just looks like calculus–the way they write songs, it’s just crazy.
It was good to have someone else who has different ways of writing songs, ’cause everyone has a
different way of doing it. He came in and we started working on this one song in particular,
and he just grabbed the microphone and started singing along to it, and my jaw just dropped.
All of a sudden our band sounded like Tool; it was just crazy. Then, probably two months later,
we went in to record the album, and I went in to record the vocals on it, and I just kept
hearing his voice, this re-occurring melody with his voice coming over it. So I called him and
asked him if he wanted to come down and sing on the record, and he had no problem with it. Once
he came in, I gave him sort of what I wanted the song to be about, and he wrote a couple of
ideas down, and the next day he came in with all the lyrics written all out with blank spaces
where my lyrics were supposed to be. He’s very professional like that. He wants everything set
perfectly, which is the complete opposite to the way that I write, so it was cool. And then I
went in and did my vocals over it, and it just seemed that our voices blended together pretty
good. Yeah, it came out pretty good, so we decided to put it on the record.

“Our music is ‘mood music.’ The whole mood is what usually drives the song, whether it be an
angry song or a sad song…or a happy song, which is rare.”

CHENG: Everyone has their own account of what happened, but Maynard and Chino were friends, and
during the Ozzfest, Maynard asked us to come out to L.A. and just fool around with him. And we
weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to work with Maynard–he’s an amazing artist. I love
the way Tool has done everything with their career. We feel more of a kinship with Tool than we
do with what people call the “new metal.” Tool is indigenous to Tool. Nobody says, “Tool–oh,
they’re part of new metal,” you just go, “Oh, Tool, they’re Tool.” So, we were really honored
to work with Maynard. We went down to L.A. and started fooling around with him. And Maynard’s
got a totally different work ethic than us–we’re basically lazy drunks, and Maynard’s a very
stringent, tough cat. I think on the third day, we had already all the music written for
“Passenger,” but nothing vocally, and Maynard one day just grabbed the mic, and that was it.
But we didn’t want to have a guest star, we didn’t want to have that token guest, like, “Here’s
our celebrity, we’re going to bring him in and he’s going to give our album credibility.” Even
when we went in to record the album, Chino tried to do different things, but the thing that
kept coming up was Maynard’s voice and his melodies. And so, I was like, “Hey man, just call
Maynard and ask him to be on the song.” He came in, was out in two days, and that was it.

LAUNCH: How do you feel about being part of the whole new metal movement? Does it bother you to
be classified?

MORENO: Honestly, I don’t think anybody likes to be categorized. For some reason, it feels like
you’re being sold short of what you’re capable of doing, once you’re glumped into any kind of
category. Pretty much since we released our first record, we were automatically classified with
the new metal scene–Korn and all these other bands. I’d rather be put in a category with a
band like Korn, who’s actually a good band, than some other stuff. But after a while it’s kind
of like, “Well, wait a minute, I want to be me, I want to have my own individuality.” I think
it’s important to have that. We’ve taken a lot of steps to try and stay just left of center
from that. I think a lot of people felt comfortable placing us in that new metal category. But
with this record, I think it’s definitely going to help people separate us from our

CHENG: Maybe [I feel an affiliation with] the Zen lunatics of the Beat movement, but those
guys are dead. I met Gary Snyder and Ginsberg and Kerouac, and the rest of them have passed
away, but personally I don’t feel any affiliation with any band or movement. Not even with my
own band most of the time.

LAUNCH: Is there a song on the album that represents the future of the Deftones?

CHENG: Musically, not really, but I’m not the best person to ask. Actually, I’m the most
ill-suited member of the band to answer that question, ’cause I’ve never put one of our albums
on. I don’t own them, and I don’t put them on. When they’re done, they’re done–I close the
book on them.

MORENO: I think that all of the songs on the record do [represent the future of the Deftones],
especially “Change (In The House Of Flies),” which was one of the first songs written where
everybody in the band collectively wrote it. I think that’s the type of song where I can see us
elaborating more. Other songs on the record were written differently. Stephan would bring in a
riff and would say, “Let’s work on this,” or I would bring in a song idea, or someone else in
the band would, but that song just spawned from a jam where everybody was just playing. It just
kind of happened naturally. Sonically, it’s just everybody doing what they do best,
just playing. And I think that’s the most pure part of Deftones and what we do. It kind of
reminds me of a song “Be Quiet And Drive,” which is off our Around The Fur record. And those
always seem to be the songs that everybody leaves with a big grin on their face. You know, when
we wrote that song, everybody thought it was a beautiful song, even though it wasn’t the
typical aggressive Deftones song. I’d like to elaborate a little bit more, maybe on future
records. Maybe a song like “Teenager,” which is a song that I did myself, which is kind of like
this slow breakbeat song with keyboards and turntables on it, and vocals. It’s really basic,
but I think I could see our sound simplifying a lot, too. If it’s the guitar and vocals, then
we don’t need to clutter it up with all this other stuff.

LAUNCH: What do you listen to when you’re not making music? Are there any musicians you look up
to or that inspire you?

MORENO: Man, Prince–I can’t even explain how intense he is. I think he’s one of the last
musical geniuses left alive. He just continues to make beautiful music. Whether it’s music you
dance to or music you just sit there and bawl your eyes out to, he’s one of my favorite artists
of all time. I’m into a lot of mellow stuff. Basically, the stuff I’m listening to right now is
bands like Mogwai–I think that they’re from the U.K., Scotland. Just mellow stuff, music that
I can relax to. There’s not a lot of contemporary bands that I’m really into, but bands that I
really respect, bands like Depeche Mode–every record they make, they just bring in more and
more into their records and just get better.

CHENG: I get a lot of inspiration from different things, like reading and writing, poetry,
painting, and sh-t like that. Musically, a lot of the cats that have moved me have been the
ones that have pushed it real far. Like Thelonious Monk–that kills me. I think he’s a nut,
still I hear it and I think, “Sh-t, anything that Thelonious did was so far beyond what Miles
Davis did on Bitches Brew.” You have to love Thelonious. I love Willie Nelson. I think he’s
one of the original punk-rockers. I think he’s punker than any punk-rocker I know. I love old
blues, old jazz, old country. The only new artist that I listen to that I think is exceptional
is maybe Ben Harper. I think he’s a pretty amazing cat. And the Magnolia soundtrack is really
deep, and something about it hurts me when I hear it. But I don’t listen to contemporary music.
I tend to listen to a lot of old music.

LAUNCH: What has to be the wackiest thing that has happened to you guys on the road?

MORENO: It’s pretty intense almost every night. I think the fans have been getting a little bit
nuttier these days. They’ve always been crazy, but some of the shows we’ve been playing
recently, the crowd is just insane. Just the other day, this kid jumped straight off this
balcony–it must have been like, 20 feet–and I’m like, “Look, don’t do it,” and he went
psheeeeeew [makes a falling sound]. He didn’t even stagedive-like jump. He jumped feet-first,
like he was going to land on his feet. There’s something about our music that fuels people to
do some insane things. I don’t know, man.

CHENG: All the gigs have seemed cool to me, and so I can’t really pinpoint one gig as being
great to me or anything. I know three or four nights ago, we did a show in Columbus, and I
don’t know, there was some sort of magic there, and I walked offstage, and it was just so
beautiful, and such a great thing, and I think that’s the kind of show that we like to have,
where everyone is on the same page. The audience is out of their minds, and it was just one of
those shows where nobody was thinking about anything but the music, and so I mean, that stuck
out for me on this tour. Every tour I have a couple of shows where I’m like, “Ah man, that’s
why I play music, that’s right, that’s why I do it.”

LAUNCH: Tell me about Frank the DJ.

MORENO: Frank adds this atmosphere to the music that I enjoy. He takes our records and does
this kind of thing to it…it’s like 3D-sounding to me. You can listen to our record on
headphones and hear so many different things. It’s not like his objective is to be scratching
up every time there is a break or anything like that. He’s just audio enhancement. Frank knows
how to weave in and out of the music, and I think he does it very well. He doesn’t overdo it.
I think it’s a good thing when people say they can’t hear him. To me, he’s doing his part,
adding that element, without being like “The DJ.” It just so happens that his instruments are
records. But it’s not like other bands and their DJs–I think they use them for a hip-hop
element, and we use him for just atmosphere.

CHENG: Our DJ Frank is great, ’cause we were always like, “Your objective is not to scratch and
cut it up in the middle of the song.” And I’m sure he’s great at it–in fact, I know he is,
I’ve heard him–but it’s his thing to be a fifth musician, to add textures and add layers and
beautiful depth to the music, and he does that really well. And so it’s really cool to have
Frank in the band, and he’s becoming more of a predominant member of the band every time we
record an album. His parts become more defined and a little more noticeable and stand out a
little bit more, and we use him in different ways, and it’s really cool, we’re lucky to have

LAUNCH: I understand while you were recording White Pony, you guys stayed in a house that was
apparently haunted. Did you have any run-ins with any spirits?

MORENO: When I was recording my vocals, we were staying at in this house in the Hollywood Hills,
and there was just this weird vibe going on, and every day, something different would happen.
I slept in this cedar closet, which was off one of the bedrooms. There was a bathroom between
one of the bedrooms, and the closet was perfect for me, ’cause I didn’t get home from the studio
until really late, so I didn’t go to sleep. I would sleep in the daytime and then go into the
studio and work; it was good, because there was no window there. I stopped sleeping in there
after a few weeks because too many crazy little incidences started happening. Like one day, I
was just waking up and I felt something weird, and I looked up and saw something. I can’t
explain what I saw, just something up in the corner. I closed my eyes, and I looked back up
there, and I saw it again, but it had moved. I just got up and bolted out of my room. I just
went upstairs and slept on the couch for the rest of the time we were there. Korn had rented
it while they were recording, Orgy the same thing. I ran into a couple of guys from Orgy at a
club a few nights after that happened, and they were like, “You’re staying at the Doheny House?
That place is haunted!” And they told me about some incidences that happened when they stayed
there. So I just ended up getting a hotel. And I stayed at a hotel the rest of the time. Yeah,
I really don’t believe in that stuff most of the time, but…I’m cool. Didn’t want no part of

CHENG: I think that the rest of the guys felt it a little bit more than me. I mean that there
was probably a little bit of something crazy going on, but I’m such a drunkard, I think that
the spirits avoided me ’cause, terminology-wise, the word “spirit” also represents alcohol,
and I think they were afraid that I would suck them down–mix them with a little cranberry
juice and suck them down or something. So I didn’t ever witness anything weird.

LAUNCH: Do you spend much time on the Internet?

MORENO: Not too much anymore. I did before the record was coming out, just to get initial
reactions, like when the single was leaked. Getting people’s reactions was pretty cool. But
I don’t spend too much time on it, ’cause I think if I take things too much to heart, if I
read anything negative it bugs me out for a week. I can read a million good things about our
record, and then hear one bad thing and I’m devastated for a week. I don’t even look at it
anymore. It’s the same thing with reviews. I know we made a good record, but still, for some
reason, if I read anything negative I’ll just be bummed out for too long. But you know, the
Internet itself has been a really good thing for us, as far as promoting ourselves. We really
don’t have too big of an MTV thing, or radio. I mean, we do get some play, whereas before we
didn’t get any. But the Internet is one of our biggest ways of connecting with our fans. And
the other guys in the band pretty much are on there a lot. But us going out there playing shows
and the Internet are two really big ways of getting our music out there.

CHENG: The [White Pony] interactive CD was really cool, because the cat who did it was the
second guy who put together an official Deftones site, so we were like, “If we’re going to do
something interactive, it’s got to be this cat, Mike Donk.” He came in with all these ideas,
and we were like, “All right, if we were going to do something interactive, why don’t we do
something personal?” Each band member got to put something different on it. I thought it was a
brilliant idea. I added the journal of when I was recording the album to let kids know of my
perspective of what was going on. Then I put a funky five-page poem on there. So it’s a cool,
personal touch.

LAUNCH: Have you ever read an apt description of your music?

MORENO: I think someone once called it “mood music,” and I dug that ’cause I’m pretty much a
moody person as it is–I think no matter what mood we might be conveying in whatever song you
might be listening to, I think the mood is one of the most important elements to the song, as
opposed to the chord I’m singing or the note I’m playing. The whole mood behind the song is
what usually drives the song, whether it be a happy song–which is rare–or an angry song or a
sad song. No matter what the mood is, every song has its mood to it. So I kind of dug that when
I heard that description.

CHENG: I don’t know. I like it when people get it, and they feel that our band is trying to do
something that is just our own. I don’t think you’ll be able to pinpoint this band correctly;
there’s really no way to put a decent title on it, ’cause I couldn’t really say what the band
is. We’re too opinionated, we’re too judgmental, we’re living inside the fishbowl, and there’s
no way you could say what the Deftones are.