Another kind of monster
Inner squabbling aside, the Deftones have finally released a new record
After nearly two decades, Deftones drummer Abe Cunningham was coming to terms with the possibility of life after music—an interesting thought to ponder considering the band was knee-deep in the recording of its latest album.
“It was the hardest record we’ve ever had to make,” Cunningham said. “It was almost the end of us.”
It should be noted that Cunningham is by no means fishing for sympathy, quickly pointing out, “It’s nothing more than anything anybody else goes through in life.”
In the case of the Deftones, it was egos, side projects and a general lack of communication that threatened to finally pull the plug on the Sacramento band. As a result, it took nearly three years to complete Saturday Night Wrist—a record that again illustrates why the Deftones are still here while so many of their contemporaries have gone the way of the dodo.
“I guess the whole premise of our band from the get-go was—it sounds pretty silly—that we just wanted to rock,” Cunningham said. “There were never any barriers and it’s apparent now more than ever.”
Before landing a deal with Madonna’s Maverick label, the Deftones ruled the club circuit in the early ‘90s along with fellow Sacto bands like Cake, Far and Will Haven, and made the capital city known for being more than simply the place where Tesla got its start.
Of course, a lot has changed in music since 1995, the year the Deftones released their major-label debut, Adrenaline. Around that time, a breed of apes attempted to capitalize on the fashionable grunge movement before quickly becoming extinct themselves. From there, backwards baseball caps and hip-hop posturing became the flavor of the week as terms like “nü metal” and, later on, “emo” entered the music-critic lexicon.
The Deftones’ diverse tastes in music—most notably vocalist Chino Moreno’s love of The Smiths and The Cure, and guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s proclivity for metal bands like Sweden’s Meshuggah—led to sonically diverse albums like 1997’s stellar Around the Fur and the more adventurous White Pony in 2000, both produced by Terry Date (Pantera, Soundgarden), while also fueling the band’s oft-tense recording sessions.
For the new album, the Deftones went with an unlikely choice in veteran producer Bob Ezrin, known for his work with Pink Floyd as well as having produced KISS’s best and worst records—Destroyer and (Music From) The Elder, respectively.
“He was there ripping apart songs with us; we hired him for that purpose,” said Cunningham. “We needed a kick in the ass. We’re … I don’t want to say lazy—we’re stubborn. I think we know exactly what we want and what we want to sound like at this point.”
Saturday Night Wrist may not break any new ground for the band, but it does continue the Deftones’ knack for making metal not such an exercise in alpha-male chest beating.
Songs like “Rats! Rats! Rats!” and “Beware” strike a compelling balance between heavy and sensual—held together mainly by Carpenter’s tight riffs and Moreno’s breathy vocals—while “Cherry Waves” might be the most melodic song the band has ever written.
But most intriguing is “Pink Cellphone,” where a hip-hop beat, splashed with electronica, bumps and bleeps under a bizarre spoken-word diatribe from Giant Drag vocalist Annie Hardy: “Belief in the one true power … Slowly your troubles continue to multiply and grow as a direct result of your being misguided, deceived, misdirected or fooled …” she offers, before diving into a non sequitur about sexual adventures in truck-stop restrooms.
With the record now in the can (due out on Halloween), Cunningham says the members are communicating better than ever, remembering back to a day during what he calls “a fragile period.” Cunningham watched the documentary Some Kind of Monster where members of Metallica, continually at each other’s throats, eventually sought the help of a shrink.
Cunningham was certain other members seeing the film could trigger “it” to happen. After showing up at the band’s Sacramento rehearsal space, Cunningham heard the movie playing upstairs and feared the worse.
“Everyone comes down, and they’re all laughing, and I’m like, ‘Shit, is it over?’ And they’re like, ‘Dude, have you seen that movie, Abe? That’s exactly us, minus the millions of dollars and millions of record sales.’ “
Maybe it helped. The Deftones already headlined the rowdy Taste of Chaos Tour in early 2006 and has gigs booked through the end of the year.
Cunningham said it’s been a true test of longevity for the Deftones—coming together as friends nearly two decades ago, making music and actually turning it into a career.
“We’ve learned quite a bit about the business that we are all entangled in. It’s a very odd, strange business …”