Photo: Claire Marie Vogel
Deftones Talk 'Gore,' Friendship & Morrissey
It’s a gloomy Friday afternoon in the industrial outskirts of Los Angeles, and we are at Pollution Studios to meet up with the multi-platinum alternative band, Deftones. We catch them filming the video for “Prayers/Triangles,” the lead track from their forthcoming album Gore.
The GRAMMY-winning quintet comprised of Chino Moreno, Abe Cunningham, Sergio Vega, Frank Delgado, and Stephen Carpenter are all smiles as they prep for the April 8 release of Gore, their first album since 2012’s Koi No Yokan. That they’ve reached this point and have an album all five members are excited about is reason enough to smile. As frontman Moreno tells us, guitarist Carpenter has been very open about the fact that he wasn’t initially on board with the slightly different sound of this album.
However, the band had a breakthrough rehearsing the new material before the live debut of the tracks at Travis Barker’s Musink Festival. Moreno, Vega, and Cunningham sat with us to discuss the new album, why the band’s friendship comes first, and why Moreno’s influences as a writer range from electronic music to Morrissey.
Steve Baltin: Are you doing any of the new stuff live this weekend at Musink?
Chino Moreno: Yeah, we’re gonna do a couple of songs. Obviously the single “Prayers/Triangles.” And we’re gonna try to debut one or two more, but we’ll see. It sucks because you play a song people haven’t heard yet, then someone tapes it with their phone, a live version of it, and that’s people’s first impression of the music.
Abe Cunningham: That’s the world we live in. You want the best possible version out, in this day and age though, everyone has a recording device in their pocket. But we’re excited to play new stuff.
Moreno: We had a blast yesterday, we went through three or four of the new songs. We just kept going through the ones we hadn’t played because pretty much since we recorded them, we haven’t had a chance to really sit around and play these songs. So it’s like experiencing them for the first time in a way.
Baltin: Were there albums that reemerged as an inspiration for you during the making of this record?
Sergio Vega: During the making of it I could honestly say I don’t really have source records or anything like that. This is more of a gumbo ‘cause everybody listens to so many things. I think that’s one of the strengths of this band, it’s not so easily traced to its roots or the source because the sources are too numerous.
Moreno: And if someone’s not feeling something by the first hour or second day we’ll start something else. But you know how it is, sometimes it comes like that and sometimes it doesn’t. The goal was to make a solid album.
Monica Molinaro: I can imagine that taking a while. Did it?
Moreno: The songs themselves don’t really take long. As far as the idea or the spark of the song, we kind of just want to let it happen. Then by the time we get to the studio, you kind of want some of that freshness of not knowing what’s going to happen, ‘cause there’s an unpredictability there.
Molinaro: That translates really beautifully in this album because before I even heard what the lyrics were, I could already feel the emotion.
Moreno: That’s how I usually write. I feel like the songs, musically, there’s emotion being emitted right there. So my goal is just to react with that and try to magnify that, but never take away from what’s already there. And that’s kind of the hard part of writing lyrics too, because I never want to be descriptive or giving too much of an opinion of what it should be.
Molinaro: And the tone isn’t as optimistic as in the past.
Moreno: I don’t think as much as the last two records. I feel like we’re optimistic men [everyone laughs]. I know we all feel “doomed,” or this sense of doom hanging over us. We do have a lot of optimism, but the record takes on a few more aggressive emotions in there. This record is a little bit more conniving in a way.
Cunningham: And dense, concrete. Production-wise it’s like guitars are just boom, boom, boom.
Baltin: When did you notice it was conniving?
Moreno: It’s something in retrospect when I look back. I always shy away from my honest feelings. I have a problem with that; I’ve always had a problem with that. But in a way I don’t think it’s a problem. There’s always a better way to present things than just the obvious, so the goal is to never just run with it completely, but flirt with it as much as possible.
Baltin: Who are the writers who do that for you?
Moreno: Over the last few years, I got so deeply into electronic music and instrumental music because I didn’t want someone to dictate to me what I should be feeling while I listen to the song. But on the opposite side of the spectrum of that, I love when someone taunts me a little bit with an idea of something and I’m already feeling that emotion. So, Morrissey is someone who’s done that to me, from the Smiths to his solo stuff. He’ll be very vague and then he’ll say something that just catches you like, “What?!” And that dichotomy is crazy to me, I love that. But, at the end of the day, the way things are said is way more interesting than just trying to hammer someone over the head with something. I’m not that type of person in general; I’m not a political person, I’m not a poet. I very much just react to music that’s connecting.
Baltin: What were some of the songs that were most exciting to you, playing them live in rehearsal?
Vega: Playing them back and hearing them live, they just sounded way more brutal and fierce. I see a lot of things when I play. I saw a lot went into this part and how it’s embedded with a lot of energy because it didn’t come together so easily.
Moreno: What was great yesterday was watching a lot of this metamorphosis of Stephen realizing how heavy and awesome some of these songs are because of the way shit came down. Stephen said himself it took him a while to get into some of these songs. So I think before we started playing yesterday, he didn’t know how to relate to some of the songs so much. And then we started playing them and he started realizing, just like I was, how fucking powerful this shit is really and the fact we all were very much a huge part of that, making something from nothing, it’s a pretty rad feeling.
Baltin: Did the difficulties in getting Stephen on board give you a stronger appreciation for all you went through in making this record?
Moreno: I f***ing love him more today than I ever loved him in my life even though we had one of the most difficult experiences making a record. White Pony was one of the quintessential records where he and I were like not seeing eye-to-eye, but at the same time we answered each other. So as that happened, we started building on each other, sort of outdoing each other in a way. At the end of the day it escalated to greater heights than it would be if there were no conflict.
Molinaro: No wonder it felt like there’s so much emotion in there.
Vega: It’s in there. Good times, tough times. We all love each other and there’s a real love so you don’t want someone you’re a fan of to not be stoked on something you’re all hyped on.
Molinaro: It must have been gratifying to have him get excited for these songs.
Vega: He’s super hyped and he’s mostly hyped on stuff he was resistant to, which feels good that we managed to pull together and make that happen. It’s heavy. I’m just stoked coming into this thing ‘cause everyone is so open, it’s such a great environment to create with and you’ve got people open, but also flooding you too and stuff. It’s just the best.
Molinaro: Do you feel like this album reveals who you are at this point in life?
Moreno: I definitely think our record should be a reflection of where we are in our lives at this point. Given that we’ve been doing this for over 20-something years, where we are as friends, musicians, and collaborators … that shit reflects. When you listen to the record, to me, it sounds like a mature record. It’s not White Pony Part 2, it’s not Adrenaline Part 2. It’s an expanded version of what we did four years ago when we put out our last record and that’s what it should always be.
Molinaro: Sometimes it feels like there’s more artistry in that, and it shows off who you are in your styles. That’s what your fans want and it’s what they love about you.
Vega: That’s what I noticed about coming in. What people appreciate about these guys is that it’s art, it’s not a product. It’s a result of this friendship and this mutual kind of disparate take on music. First is the friendship, then music as a means of expression and then everything else is like whatever’s going on gets filtered through him and goes into that song.
Baltin: You guys worked with Jerry Cantrell from Alice In Chains on this record?
Vega: What was cool about that was he came in and he was like, “Whoa, this is cool.” I don’t know what it’s like for him in his band and how they go on, but we all got something to say and we’re all in it. He went and then he called us up and he’s like, “I want to do more.” He came back to recut it and he’s like, “I’ll come back and do it again.”
Moreno: It was definitely a fun experience.
Molinaro: What do you guys take from this record when you hear the finished version?
Moreno: It’s definitely not a light record. I don’t think it’s a totally dark record, but there’s something in our music that has a little provocative kind of vibe to it. And I feel like that exists in our music for some reason. I don’t know where it comes from.
Vega: The bitterness [everyone laughs]. We’re not really that pissed.
Moreno: For a heavy metal band [laughs].