Sacramento legend and Deftones singer Chino Moreno muses over two decades of rock
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Deftones can play perfectly hectic, stream-of-consciousness spaz rock. Or they can downshift to a more shoegazey sort of art metal. Singer Chino Moreno can sound like pissed-off Satan or a jacked-up lounge singer.
They blur a lot of boundaries. But whatever the band ends up with, they still sound like Deftones. And that’s impressive, considering they’ve been a together since Ronald Reagan was in office.
In late 2008, after bassist Chi Cheng’s car accident that left him in a coma, the band (Moreno; Stephen Carpenter, guitar; Frank Delgado, keys, turntables; Abe Cunningham, drums) found themselves without an album since 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist.
It was a pretty heavy period for the band.
They shelved the record they’d been working on (Eros) and hired bassist Sergio Vega (formerly Quicksand) to fill in for Cheng.
But Vega—who replaced Cheng briefly when he broke his foot back in the early ’90s—brought a newfound energy and inspiration to Deftones. They recorded Diamond Eyes, their sixth studio album, from start to finish in almost six months.
The new album, much like their previous five, is aggressive, chunky, sentimental, disturbing and even a little bit confusing.
From his home in Los Angeles, Moreno talks to SN&R about the album, Cheng’s health and the band’s stunning longevity.
So Diamond Eyes leaked on the Internet?
Yeah, it did. I think it leaked about two months before the record hit the stores. It’s kind of a trip. There’s not much you can really do about it. We really hoped it wouldn’t have leaked so early, but it did.
But the positive spin we put on it was that people were excited about it. People were just sharing it like crazy, and the response was positive that people were happy with the record.
You guys were pretty early on the Internet-marketing thing, too.
Yeah, back in 2000, when White Pony came out, we were one of the first bands to do a live Internet broadcast for the release party.
[The Internet is] here and it’s not going anywhere, so you might as well utilize it instead of trying to fight it.
When you conceptualize an album in your head and you hear it post-production, is there a difference between the two?
Yeah. We have a hard time conceptualizing something before we do it. When we go in to make a record, we don’t say, “OK, we’re going to make a record that’s going to sound like this.” It kind of just happens. It has to happen organically. That’s the way we’ve always worked: just go in there and spend time with each other and have fun together making sounds.
The last couple albums were created more in the studio over long periods of time. This one … we all got together, and everybody gravitated toward our instruments and we just started playing. We were all in the same room and everybody was in this really creative space and we turned it up to 12 and were on fire.
It’s great that you got Sergio to fill in for Chi.
Sergio’s a great dude. I think if we had to go looking for bass players, we wouldn’t have even gotten that far.
We called and were like, “Hey, you want to play with us?”
He came to our rehearsal spot in Sacramento, and we just started playing from that day on. We wrote the song “Royal” and started to write the song “Prince” the first day that he was there.
So we just carried it on from that moment on, and within a couple months, we were sitting on an album’s worth of material.
How is Chi doing?
He’s making progress. It’s very slow, which is frustrating. It’s over a year and a half now since the accident. It’s tough, man. It’s tough to have to take it day by day and not know what the next day is going to be. But we’re just looking at everything positive and just trying to be as optimistic as possible. The doctors that are working with him have evaluated him, and they feel that they have a good chance in getting him to come out of this. So we’re just looking at the most positive side of it and hoping that one day we can talk again.
Have you played him Diamond Eyes?
I haven’t. I’ve played him all kinds of other music. I played him some of the Eros stuff that we’d been working on prior to the accident. I knew he was familiar with that stuff, so [I played it] just to see what kind of reaction he got. He started moving around, and I could tell he could hear what was going on. But I know he’ll be really proud of [Diamond Eyes].
Do you miss Sacramento?
I really miss a lot of my friends and my family. I’ve lived here [in Los Angeles] for five or six years now. And, you know, it’s very quiet. I don’t know if people expect that, but I live in a quiet little neighborhood, and it’s a lot more mellow for me here than there.
A little while back, a Jehovah’s Witness came to my door. He thought I was you and I didn’t lead him to believe otherwise.
That’s pretty cool. Did you play along with it?
I did. He was stoked. I gave him your autograph.
Does it trip you out to think you’ve been in the band for more than 20 years?
It does. If I really think about it, I’ll get really bugged out. I was a 15-year-old kid, pretty much, when we started playing in Stephen’s garage in south Sac. It’s wild to think that I just turned 37. It’s a trip to think that more than half my life I’ve been rocking out.
You’re like the Stevie Wonder of—I don’t know—what kind of music do you play, anyway?
Yeah, I don’t know. That’s a good question.
I’m paraphrasing, but a long time ago, you said to not lump Deftones in with nu metal because the genre wasn’t going to last.
I remember saying that. It’s not so much just that genre, but any genre of music. Whenever they say that it’s new, it’s going to be old in the future. So we’ve always tried to distance ourselves from any kind of scene or clique and try our hardest to kind of remain our own.
Your lyrics are rather poetic. I know Chi is an advocate of the poetry, but what is your connection to it?
I don’t read it, and I’m not a big fan of any certain poet. I just always figured there’s a more artful way of saying things. To me, it keeps it interesting. I like when I’m listening to something and I don’t know what’s going on, what the lyrics mean. When it’s all spelled out, I lose interest.
So are you going to make music until you drop dead?
I don’t know. When I was a kid, I didn’t really make a plan on how I was going to do it. And I don’t think I’ll make a plan now, either. I think I’m just going to do it until it’s not fun.
I’ve had sex to your music, but the question is: Have you ever had sex to your own music?
Well, I haven’t, but I’ve heard numerous stories. It would be weird for me, but you’re not the first person I’ve heard that from. I’m glad I can help.
Yeah, thanks for that.