“Rock Express” – 2000 // Chino Interviewed

Interview: Chino Moreno, Master of White Ponies


rockexpress – 2000

I skateboard and have always carried my ‘board on tours. Stephen likes cycling
and, for the past two or three year, has been bringing his own bike on tour. He goes
out and finds a skateboarding ring and ride and I occasionally go with him. Chi likes
reading and spends all his time with books, Abe… I don’t really know what he is up
to but on the last tour he spent all his time talking with his wife on the phone
because she was expecting a baby. (chino)

It is the fourth year since THE DEFTONES’ second album, ‘Around The Fur’, had
come out and, finally, its supplant is upon us, entitled ‘White Pony’; its title, at
least, continues the theme of the previous one — regardless of what singer Chino
Moreno had and is claiming — although it switches the gender and instead of the female,
the male genitalia gets a cryptic focus on. The title of the new album had also been a
source of a rumour than Moreno officially changed his name to ‘Pony 1’ but it got blame
settled on a pseudonym ‘Pony Wong’ he had used for guesting on Sevendust’s ‘Home’ album.

In meantime ‘Around The Fur’ was voted the Best HM Album of the year (1998) by
Brit-readers. The bend toured for over two years, as they had done following the release
of the debut album ‘Adrenaline’ (1995), although found time to contribute songs to the
soundtracks to the movies such as ‘The Crow: City Of Angels’ and ‘Escape From LA’ (1996,
both), plus cover songs ‘The Chauffeur’ (Duran Duran tribute) and ‘To Have And To Hold’
(Depeche Mode tribute, both 1998) and it was expected that Moreno’s side-project Team
Sleep would have had some of its atmospheric music released.

But no, it has been put on ice for The Deftones’ sake, to finish the third album
and tour it. At least one Team Sleep songs has survived to the laser of a CD player,
‘Teenager’, a trancey-psychedelic cut; the rest of ‘White Pony’ slots in between the
band’s known sound of fury (‘Street Camp’, ‘Fieticeira’), more adventurous (‘Digital
Bath’, ‘Knife Party’, ‘RX Queen’) and ultra-heavy (‘Elite’)… There are not many guests
although Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle) trades vocals with Chino on

If you are fan of the band and would like to have their complete works then you
have to search hard and long to locate a copy of a ‘Live’ mini-LP that had been issued
in two countries only, France and the USofA, between the first two albums and deleted
soon after. When I complain to Chino about this he explained it as a record company bonus
to the fans who had showed support for the band in their earliest days.

Touring, the band is known for long and hard playing all over the world but, it
might be a bit more difficult now as a couple of members have children, bassist Chi
Cheng and drummer Abe Cunnigham. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter is the fourth member of
the band that originated near the Korn’s place — Sacramento, California.

A great gap between studio albums…

Chino: We had a few false starts and had to abandon recordings because we went touring…
And then, when we started work on vocals we came up with a couple of new songs and then
few more which has delayed the process a bit. But, we got everything under control and
the album is ready to be heard by the world.

The delay wasn’t due to your searching for the right song ideas, as some might have suspected?

– No, that’s never been our problem, we’ve always had too many ideas… We kept on coming
with so many ideas in a studio that it was incredible… Every day we thought to replace a
song or two we had already recorded. It was mad and we had to stop and concentrate on
finishing some of the ideas we had put down. Even then, nothing was finished until the
master-tapes were delivered to the record company.

Which is going to be followed with a lot of touring, as usual?

– Yes, and our first stop is Europe, ahead of the album comes out… We know that’s been
a long time since the last tour and it is going to be difficult to be away from home for
such long periods of time but it needs to be done. We know only too well that our playing
live sell our records as that is the only way we can promote our music. We have never relied
on MTV or radio to get our music across and the only way left to us is to play live.
People come and like what we do and then tell their friends. That is the most valuable,
the word-of-mouth.

Live, they are…

THE DEFTONES, the Californian’s capitol Sacramento natives, earned their reputation by
playing loud, intense and extreme shows that were perfect for crowd surfing, stage diving
and general moshing. But, on this night, there wasn’t much opportunity, the main reason
being the volume that was far from what this band has been known for; instead to be of the
Spinal Tap-ish patented ’11’, it was more like an ‘8’.

We thought it could be customised due to the new material being spacier, more complex,
more structured, but no, the lower volume prevailed until the very end when we had a sonic
explosion that reminded us why we got into them in the first place. Tours that followed their
first two albums, ‘Adrenaline’ and ‘Around The Fur’, used to be like prescribed in one of
their old songs, ‘Nosebleed’.

All the known elements are on ‘White Pony’ — the cutting guitar of Stephen Carpenter,
the driving bass of Chi Chueng and Abe Cunningham raging on his drumskins, but it has all
mutated. ‘Elite’ could be the hardest song of their career but it is restrained force, there
is more of withheld aggression that the actual aural menace. ‘The Street Carp’ is a rare song
that bridges between the past and the now, ‘Change (In The House Of Flies)’ is atmospherically
heavy, ‘Pink Maggot’ sounds like an anthem designed for the stadia…

Chino Moreno sings and screams, crouches, twists and stretches his body in an attempt
to maximise passion of his vocal expression in front of a star-lit backdrop; a horse outline
was also projected on it indicating a new song without Moreno needing to introduce it.
He avoided addressing us, apart few well placed ‘Thank you’s’ and letting us on his post-stoned
daze as he had spend the day and played a gig in Amsterdam. His state didn’t affect the
performance of favourites like ‘Headup’, ‘Around The Fur’, ‘Root, ‘Be Quiet And Drive
(Far Away)’…

There was also not much for the DJ Fred Delgado, who used to be a regular onstage
contributor, to do. The Deftones, as the flashed sign reminded us several times, are
undergoing a metamorphosis that is taking them away from the crossover they established
themselves with. At one moment the stylised lettering on the backdrop read ‘DE ONES’.
Well …getting there.

Very often your official festival dates (such as Reading in 1998) are preceded by a club
show; why do you need to do that or are you using such shows instead of rehearsing?

– We did that club date because we wanted to, there was no need. It was a thank you to
our fans, on one hand, and an opportunity for people who have never seen us in such a
small place to witness what we can do, on the other hand. And also, whenever we played
London it was a big show; even our first one, it was in a 2500-capacity venue; that
(club) show was in front of 500 people only.

– And true, we never rehearse, it has never been our style. We soundcheck and that’s
about it. We should know the songs because we wrote and recorded them.

Your tours last years; how do you amuse yourself during such stints?

– I skateboard and have always carried my ‘board on tours. Stephen likes cycling and,
for the past two or three year, has been bringing his own bike on tour. He goes out and
finds a skateboarding ring and ride and I occasionally go with him. Chi likes reading
and spends all his time with books, Abe… I don’t really know what he is up to but on
the last tour he spent all his time talking with his wife on the phone because she was
expecting a baby. These two are family people and when we are off touring they spend all
their time with their loved ones.

And you, what do you usually get up to during your downtime?

– We all live lives we want to. If you wanna homelife you can’t have it on the road.
There are times when I wish I was at home but when I’m at home I wish I was on the road.
But, there is a balance and everything we do is to that effect; we don’t go on the road
and say ‘To hell with our homelife!’ It doesn’t work like that and you have to take care
of everything.

– But, the grass is always greener on the other side. What we are working toward is to
have a revolving gate with green grass on both side. That’s what we are working toward
to have and to keep everybody equally happy. We like to keep it like a big party and
have everybody enjoy himself.

Collaborating with other people, Soulfly for instance, what do you look for in it?

– It is always great to work with other people because every band works differently
and you can learn something from other people’s way of writing songs. There is no better
or more effective way but it is inspiring to see other people. There are so many ways to
do music but the main reason for working with other people is to have a good time. That’s
why we do our music; if I thought that working with somebody would be stressful, I’d never
do it. I’ll only work with people I admire and feel comfortable working with.

Don’t such excursions cause any frictions in the band?

– No, not at all and everybody is happy when somebody else’s got to do something different.
The band didn’t come with me on the Soulfly record because there was no time. Max planned to
have so many guests but he simply ran out of time. The thing with the outside work is that it
is okay as long as it doesn’t affect the work in the band. If I was not focused on what was
going on in the band, they’d tell me. This band is the priority and everything else is a
bonus. Otherwise we wouldn’t be were we are.

How unified do you feel as a band? I’m asking because few times I spoke with Chi he told me
that he didn’t feel committed to the band 100% and wished to start teaching?

– He is one person in the band who is… when he is with the band, he’s with the band;
when he is not with the band he is doing something else. His interest isn’t music only
but he wants to go to college, he wants to teach… I don’t hold it against him but he knows
when he is with the band he needs to take care of the band and he does take care.

– We all are different people; Stephen and Chi are just the opposites: Chi would stay at
home every day if he could and Stephen would be on the road every day if he could. Somewhere
between these two are Abe and me which means that we all have to compromise. He knows it
and his compromise is neither lesser nor greater than for the rest of us. He can tell you
all day long that he wants to be a teacher and a parent and a husband and go home but, this
is as much of his life as that is. And we all make everybody as much happy as we can.

– We told him that if he didn’t want to be here he shouldn’t need to be. But he wants to be
here and he is. I think it is okay for other people to have other interests as long as they
know what are the priorities. It is understandable, I’d say. I think such tension make us
stronger as a band. It’s like not only him who has his own thing but everyone of us have own
separate lives from all this. The fact that we have known each other for so long and we all
know what we want to do individually, it has drawn us together to be able to work things out
and make everyone happy. Everyone would get what they want and we’ll still be able to do our
own band thing. The fact that everyone gets what they want makes us stronger because this is
what is creating the opportunity for everybody to do what they want.

Isn’t it a bit unnerving that you have such a state among the members?

– No; if you were unsympathetic to what anyone of us needs, this would simply fall apart.
That’s why we are so close because we understand each other’s needs. We’ve been friends forever
and friendship is what keeps us going. Nobody puts a foot down in this band in protest.
Nobody creates situations here and we are equal although we know we all have our own selfish
needs. But, for one to have such needs met we all have to work together.

Passionate metal from the kings-to-be

You are well respected but, recording a tribute to a band like Duran Duran, didn’t it worry you
that it might dent your reputation?

– No, not at all. It is fine to do things like that. We know what we stand for and what we do.
No, doing covers is fine by us and when we recorded that song we did it because it was a great
song. I liked them a lot and must have been the only boy to have liked them. I didn’t like their
pop stuff but slow songs were brilliant. That song, the vibe, the video for that song, it is a
bit dark song, I really liked it a lot.

– The rest of the members weren’t fans but when I played them the record they dug it immediately.
We had no problem with recording a Duran Duran song… that’s elitism, if song is good, it is good,
and there is no discussion.

Marilyn Manson likes to think of himself as the best band in the world…

– Well, we were at an Awards ceremony when he won such a title and I thought it was cool what he
said in his acceptance speech — ‘Who else would have won?’ I like him, I think he is a swell guy.
He is definitely an interesting character who knows exactly what he is doing and when people talk
about responsibility of musicians I think of him. You may believe he is s calculating type but he
does his own thing and nobody else’s.

Precisely, he hasn’t influenced many other artists while Spineshank swear by you?

– That’s nice and I have no problem with it… I met the singer and he was really cool. It is nice
to inspire somebody to start making music like ours. As long as they don’t just copy our sound
and scream-sing-scream but try to copy the spirit of it, then it is fine. There must be some
depth and certain identity to it all. It is a big compliment whenever a band name-checks you
but we’ve never become big-headed because of it.

Very humble opinion for the difference from your old friend’s band, Korn, who couldn’t resist
to name the previous album ‘Follow The Leader’?

– Well, that’s the road they’ve chosen and the attitude… We haven’t been in touch for a long
time and I don’t know what’s going on there now. You’ll never catch me talking bad about any
bands and especially not Korn. People like to see it like a competition but it’s not like The
Deftones thing versus the Korn thing. It’s not like that with us, if I feel like dissing them
I’ll do it, in the press or in their faces.

– But, because they’ve got a new record out (‘Issues’) everybody wants to know what I think of
it. I guess it is understandable… I don’t wanna say anything bad about it but, you know what,
the record doesn’t suck but, to me, it is nowhere near as good as I think it could have been or
how their debut album was… I don’t get that feeling, that I got when I listened to the first
record, on the last three records. They are generally getting worse, the records are. But, as
far as that, it is much better than anything out there that is like it, how can I possibly say
something bad about it?

– If I compare Korn to Korn, I’d say it wasn’t as good, but compared to anything else in that
genre, it is miles better than the Coal Chamber’s debut album, for instance.

You contributed songs to soundtracks and I wonder what is your criterion?

– If we are not on it, it is not cool enough. I don’t think there are enough interesting movies
out there… Apart from that we usually don’t have any songs recorded that we could offer to
movies; I guess we could go and write one, if a project was interesting enough… We have a couple
of songs from the last record we didn’t finish and we could go back to that… If something
interesting comes along we’d take it.

But not something like ‘Godzilla’?

– Green Day had a song in it and I thought that was cool. It was in the true punk rock spirit,
go and fuck up the corporate thing. For me punk rock is rebelling against what everybody else is
doing. Green Day know who they are and are comfortable with doing such things. They are one of the
bands with the most integrity that I’ve ever met. They don’t care about impressing anybody.

– Something like ‘Godzilla’ for us…? I don’t like taking stands and if there is something good
we’ll do it. We’ll take any shit as it comes and don’t usually make any big plans.

– As far as The Deftones go, no big proclamations for us because we might change our mind and
look stupid.