“Micstand” – 2001 // Chi Interviewed

“Chi Cheng”
TITLE: Aesthetic Nuances
BY: Matt Peterson



In Eastern thought, the duality of yin and yang expresses partial contradiction. Yin is dark,
while yang is bright. Imbalance of the two is recipe for catastrophe, but the rotation of the
two—yin becoming yang, yang becoming yin—represents synchronicity and unity in multiplicity.
Chi Cheng, charismatic bass player for Sacramento, California’s Deftones, is a man who has based
the philosophy of his creative career around such an exquisite coexistence of opposites.
By braiding his interests and soldering an inseparable connectedness among them he has achieved
a dynamic exchange and eliminated the potential of static. His playing stresses the emotional
and pours forth with a sincerity of feeling and action. His fingers move across the strings
organically–he never uses picks–and without fear of what the musical moment will deal him.
Ultimately there’s no compulsion to control what is happening—he simply allows his mind, body,
and soul to fall betwixt and between the notes that he makes.

In 2000, soon after unleashing the stellar White Pony with the Deftones, Chi released his first
spoken word album of poetry entitled The Bamboo Parachute. Proceeds from his album were
dispersed to various charities including WEAVE–a non-profit agency that specializes in domestic
violence, sexual assault prevention and victim assistance–and WIND, a music program for
homeless teens. Chi spent last summer with the rest of the Deftones as they co-headlined an
8-week stint with New England heroes Godsmack. In the midst of the tour, I had the opportunity
to catch up with Chi and learn the latest about his solo projects, as well as happenings with
other members of the Deftones. A true humanitarian and just an all-around good person, Chi is
one-fifth of the reason why the Deftones seem forever destined to stay embedded within the
evolving musical landscape they’ve single-handedly discovered.

MICSTAND: How’s Chino doing now that he’s been cleared to sing again? Was he in a lot of pain
when it first happened? (Chino Moreno—lead singer for the Deftones–was stricken ill in the
midst of the tour with a vocal impediment and the band was forced to cancel some shows.
These cancellations marked the first missed shows for the Deftones in over a 10-year touring

CHI: He paralyzed one of his vocal chords and the other one was barely moving. He was just a
wreck. We’re just happy that he’s able to sing again. If that boy couldn’t sing that would
really be a bad thing. We’re just happy that he’s up and doing it again.

MICSTAND: How did they treat it? Was it just rest combined with not speaking?

CHI: Yeah, they did that combined with some kind of shot in his throat and he’s on medicine
everyday now too.

MICSTAND: Wow—we’re sorry to hear that. We wish him the best and a speedy recovery.
The last time we spoke, Chi, was right around the release of The Bamboo Parachute.
Based on how that was received, do you have any immediate plans to do another spoken word album?

CHI: Yeah, actually I’ve recorded a live reading. It’s kind of funny—you know, live readings
are always a lot better. I don’t know what to do with it yet. I’ve got it recorded and I’ve
got copies of it. I did everything on The Parachute myself and I kind of want to give this
one to a label, or something—just have somebody else take care of it.

MICSTAND: Have you done any actual spoken word tours, or do the shows happen more spontaneously
than that?

CHI: I’ve been talking about maybe doing a tour—me and Serj from System Of A Down have talked
about maybe doing a tour one of these days. He’s really into it. But right now it’s just
shows in California, you know what I mean? I’ve just been doing live readings in California,
but I’d love to take it a little further.

MICSTAND: Have you heard the new System album yet?

CHI: Yeah, I have. I think it’s really good, man. I like the fact that they just seem to be
getting crazier and weirder—more neurotic, or something, ya know.

MICSTAND: Will we ever see a Deftones/System tour?

CHI: I would love to, yeah.

MICSTAND: How was the tour that happened a little while back with Incubus and Taproot?

CHI: I thought it was really good. Taproot was great and they’re young and energetic and cool.
Incubus is a group of really nice guys. I thought the whole tour was really good—it was amazing.

MICSTAND: I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the Deftones in a few radically different
sized venues. I caught you guys at The Palladium in Worcester, which seats around 2-3,000 or
so, I’ve witnessed your work at Great Woods for a sold-out Ozzfest date, which was about
20,000 people or so, and then you’ve played 9-10,000 seat arenas. What size crowds do Deftones
prefer to play to?

CHI: You know, honestly I think we prefer places where we can get in a little closer to the
audience. This tour has been a lot of sheds, which is sometimes a drag for us because seating
is not really what we jive on, but we can have a good time anyways. But we prefer to get close
to the kids, maybe three to five thousand, or something like that.

MICSTAND: I wanted to ask you about this current tour. Obviously Deftones have a very
different flavor & vibe than Godsmack—how did this pairing come to be?

CHI: They had approached us about it and we were thinking about doing our own thing, but we’ve
done so many headlining tours already in the States. And they were like, “Look, what would you
think about doing a co-headliner?” They were just really, really nice guys and really cool
about everything. It’s a lot different—both our bands—and so hopefully people have an open
mind. Hopefully you can see something different and just enjoy it, ya know.

MICSTAND: How have the crowds been?

CHI: They’ve been pretty good. I think that we’ve been able to win over a couple of Godsmack
fans and I think vice-versa.

MICSTAND: In an interview that Abe did a little while ago he said that, in the beginning,
some members of Deftones had some reservations about touring with Godsmack. Was that true for

CHI: I don’t think it’s that we ever had any real reservations, so much as it was that we were
just like, ‘What if we did Outkast, At The Drive-In, Queens of the Stone Age,” ya know what I
mean–some crazy package of our own. But that just didn’t happen, ya know.

MICSTAND: The At The Drive-In record, which was obviously huge last year—was that one of your
personal favorites?

CHI: Yeah, I’ll be honest, I love that record. I listen to it all the time. I just saw one of
the At The Drive-In guys and I couldn’t even talk to him because I was just like, “You fucking
jerk! You going to break up again?” (Laughs jokingly).

MICSTAND: What else were you listening to last year that you felt was strong?

CHI: Not anything in the contemporary music scene really, except for like Aimee Mann—I love
her. Any time Willie Nelson puts something out, I listen to it. Nothing new—I’m not really
into new music.

MICSTAND: What did you think of the new Tool album?

CHI: I thought it was good—I thought that was a good album.

MICSTAND: Last week I caught the episode of Music In High Places that you guys did for MTV.
How was that experience?

CHI: It was all right—it was pretty cool. We had some reservations about that too. At first
they just wanted us to sing totally acoustic and we were like, ‘There’s some songs that we can
translate into acoustic songs, and there’s some that just don’t—they can’t ever be done
acoustically.’ But it was a good experience—anytime we can play our music is fine.

MICSTAND: Have you guys ever entertained the idea of an acoustic album—is there much of an
interest in acoustics within the Deftones?

CHI: I don’t think so, not really.

MICSTAND: On a recent episode of MTV’s Cribs I actually saw Steph at the home of Chester
from Linkin Park. Are all of you guys friends with Linkin Park?

CHI: Yeah, we’re all friends with Linkin Park. I mean, Stephen lives in LA and the rest of us
live in Sacramento, so he’s a little closer on the scene than the rest of us.
How was Chester’s house—was it cool?

MICSTAND: Yeah, it was cool, but on the same episode they featured the construction of the
Osbourne’s new home and obviously nothing can hold a candle to that—it was just sic.

CHI: I’m sure that was totally off the hook.

MICSTAND: I’m sure you’ve heard some of Chino’s Team Sleep material—tell me a little about that.

CHI: It’s good, man. You know the (Deftones’) song “Teenager,” it’s kind of in that vein.
Real moody, but each song has a different flavor to it. He’s not really done with it vocally,
but musically it’s a really strong album—it sounds good.

MICSTAND: When’s he hoping to get that out there?

CHI: Early 2002, or something like that.

MICSTAND: Is there a musical moment thus far—either a particular song or album—that you are
most proud of?

CHI: I don’t know–I can’t really think of anything. I’ve never heard our albums—I’ve never
put our album on ever. None of them, I’ve never listened to any of our albums. I come in,
just do my part, write whatever I can, play on it and then close the book on it and don’t
really listen to it.

MICSTAND: What about the spoken word album, did you listen to that?

CHI: No, never heard it. Recorded it, made sure it was edited OK, and haven’t really ever
listened to it. I just can’t stand to listen to my own shit. It’s just too weird for me,
or something. Well you know—you write. It seems kind of ridiculous—the idea of making
money on something that I would do anyway. So it’s all kind of surreal.

MICSTAND: Have you formulated any further ideas about maybe releasing something in print?

CHI: Yeah, absolutely. Hopefully when I get back home I’ll do a reading in San Francisco
and invite down Black Sparrow Press and City Lights Books and see if I can get a deal going
with one of those guys. Because obviously it’s a lot different in print. So yeah, I’d love
to put out a book.

MICSTAND: Now, Deftones represent a lot of different things to a lot of different people—what
does the idea of Deftones represent to you?

CHI: I think it’s mainly a unity-type vibe. We’re such different people and we all have
these goofy side-projects that we’re always doing and it’s not because we’re dissatisfied
with the band, but because we’re all such creative people. We don’t like to sit on our
asses when we get home and so we have all these side-projects, but I think that the
side-projects are never really quite as strong as the Deftones and it’s because we all put
something into it. And it needs to be that way.

MICSTAND: What do you think it says about our musical consumption as a society, the fact that
White Pony was at the top of so many artists’ and critics’ lists last year, yet the sales of
the album fell shy of matching that praise? It’s impossible to deny that White Pony is as
good as they come, so why isn’t it selling 2.5 million copies in a week like N’Sync? As a
society are we just fucked?

CHI: You know, I really have no idea and I don’t worry about it. I can’t be disappointed
because we wrote a good album. I feel like we did write a good album, so I don’t really care.
I never set out to be the biggest artist in the whole world anyhow. And if we had sold a lot
more, I suppose it would have been fine—maybe we would have had a little more freedom to get a
little crazier with our production when we tour, or something. It’s just weird to think of
music as product and I think that’s a bad fucking way of doing it. We never set out to do it
that way, so if it didn’t sell 10 million albums, or 7 million albums like a lot of our peers,
I just don’t really care.

MICSTAND: Why is it that you make music—what drives you?

CHI: I don’t know at this point. (Laughs) I think we just like it. I think it’s a gift and
I think being able to play it is a really cool thing, let alone going into a studio.
It’s still exciting for us to make music.

MICSTAND: I hate to use the word ‘best,’ but what makes the “best” art?

CHI: I have no clue—I think it would be something different for everyone. Passion, I suppose
would be the best thing—as long as your passionate about it. If you have love for it. I
think it’s just a good thing to do it—that’s the best form of it.

MICSTAND: Do you remember what first made you pick up an instrument?

CHI: My brother—he bought me my first bass. He had a guitar and he didn’t have anyone to
play with so he was like, ‘Look, we’re going to be in band together and I’m going to buy you a
bass.’ And it sounded good to me. I think I was 14, or something like that—it was a long,
long time ago.

MICSTAND: This obviously doesn’t have anything to do with the music, but tell me about your
recent decision to cut your hair.

CHI: It was a lot of personal reasons. Kind-of a change, I suppose.

MICSTAND: You’d been growing your locks for what—16 years?

CHI: Yeah, it was right around there—16, 17 years.

MICSTAND: In his episode of Behind The Music, Lenny Kravitz said a lot of weight is held in
one’s locks, do you agree with that?

CHI: Yeah, it’s definitely a piece of you and it becomes a spiritual thing. I buried them in
my backyard—my son and I buried them together.

MICSTAND: Have you been reading anything lately?

CHI: I’ve been reading a lot of Henry Miller.

MICSTAND: Did you ever receive the Miller book that I gave to Heidi to pass onto you?

CHI: Yes, thank you so much, man. That fucking book is dope. Stand Still Like the
Hummingbird—that book is rad. Yeah, I’d read Miller’s stuff before but I had never read that
book and I think that one’s amazing. I think that anyone in the entertainment business should
also read The Smile At the Foot of the Ladder. I think it affirms why you do anything in
entertainment—you should be doing it for the sake of doing it, rather than creating it to be