: July 2001: Deftones
Deftones sneak up on you. A lot of bands lure you into
the 8-bars-of-quiet followed by 8-bars-of-Cookie-Monster-metal
trap, but this Sacramento-based quintet doesn't care if
you have a short attention span for their free-form dynamics.
Within songs like "Pink Maggit" and "Passenger" from their
latest album White Pony, there are long passages
of hypnotic, sultry space. Meaning: The requisite rage
they interject is that much more jarring and potent; hell,
it's almost like they care.
Originally inspired by Bay Area kitchen-sink
metal from Mike Patton's Mr. Bungle and Faith No More,
there isn't much that could be called "trendy" about the
Deftones, save for a few of their collaborations. "Passenger"
features vocals by Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan,
who also co-wrote the song with Deftones vocalist Chino
"It's about being the passenger in a car
with a girl who's taking you around the world, literally,
sexually, in a whirlwind of time," Chino explains. "I
can barely tell where I end and Maynard begins."
The ascent for Moreno, guitarist Stephen
Carpenter, turntablist Frank Delgado, bassist Chi Cheng,
and drummer Abe Cunningham has been a subtle, but steady,
climb as well. Their 1995 debut, Adrenaline, sold
a half-million copies with virtually no help from a radio
world still trying to hype the damn grunge thing. Tireless
touring worked up a healthy buzz for their 1997 follow-up,
Around the Fur. Alternative radio played "Be Quiet
And Drive (Far Away)," and MTV got on board with the video
for "My Own Summer (Shove It)."
With stints on the Warped and Ozzfest
tours solidifying their stature, the Deftones hit the
next level with the critically-acclaimed Pony. This
not only established them (somewhat begrudgingly) among
the metal moguls as new messiahs, but Spin, Rolling
Stone, Alternative Press and the rest of the big boys
stood up and barked as well. But the biggest bone was
their song "Elite" receiving the "Best Metal Performance"
Grammy Award this year.
But wait, there's more: The band is kicking
off an eight-week US tour, which includes a stint headlining
Rockfest at Columbia Meadows on July 14th, with Godsmack,
System Of A Down, and Saliva. Exotic spoke with
30-year old bassist Chi Cheng from his Sacramento home
before his band hit the road for the next leg of their
Exotic: How do you think the band
has evolved musically from Adrenaline to White
Pony? Has it been a natural progression?
Cheng: It was all a natural progression;
it's never been contrived...we never really talked about
it. The only thing we talk about is that we don't want
to do the same thing twice. So when we write things we
go, "Oh shit, that sounds like this band or that band,"
or "That sounds like the last album; don't do that." I
mean, it's always going to be our voice musically, but
I think we're all pretty much just trying to impress ourselves
and do something different for us.
Exotic: You guys have been media
darlings the past year...
Cheng: Which is weird. We've always
pushed it and pushed it, and now that we're getting all
this critical acclaim we're like, "Uh, okay. It's not
really what we were shooting for, but right on." I mean,
everyone's always like, "Shit, man, if you guys have been
around for 12 years, how come you've only got three albums
When you're from Sacramento, or the Bay
Area, you're in it for the sake of playing music. It's
not like your brother's cousin is an A&R guy and you're
going, "Let's get signed." We were more like, "Let's try
and write good songs and hopefully we can get a small
following and cop some free beer out of our promoters."
Exotic: How did the song "Passenger"
come together with Maynard James Keenan?
Cheng: We're friends. When we were
on the Ozzfest, Maynard was like, "Look, once you're done
with Ozzfest, come on down here and we'll fool around
together." And I was hoping he was talking sexually, but
I guess he just wanted to make music (laughs).
Cheng: Yeah, yeah, print it. But
you know, we figured, "Well, shit, it's amazing that he
wants to work with us." So we were already blown away.
Right on, let's do it, what an honor. We've always respected
the way Tool has done things. Nobody goes, "That's new
metal," it's more like, "Oh, that's Tool." It's indigenous
to their own nature. He never intended to sing on anything.
He just wanted to see how we wrote and give us ideas about
how Tool does things, just because he's interested in
bands. So we went down to work with him, and we already
had the music for "Passenger" done. We were playing (while)
Chino was out getting a beer or something; he wasn't in
the room. Maynard was listening and he said, "Why put
things in 4/4 when you can go 3/4 or 7/8 or something
like that?" And then he just grabbed the mike and started
singing, and it was like [sigh]--you know what I mean?
And Chino had come back at that point, so they started
trading off and doing their thing.
We didn't ever really intend to use
Maynard on the new album, because every band is like,
"Okay, here's our token celebrity guest appearance,
our celebrity crutch for the album." We didn't really
want to go that route. But when we actually recorded
it, we couldn't get Maynard out of our heads. And I
said, "Look, dude, just call Maynard and ask him to
come in and do the song." So Maynard came in for two
days: wrote, recorded, done.
Exotic: Has the Grammy Award
spoiled you guys?
Cheng: No. It's nice, you know
what I mean? I put it up in my house and go, "That's
nice." It was a huge honor; I'm not going to lie. It's
pretty amazing, but I'm not going to let it affect me
in any way...other than, I expect to get free groceries
now. I go in and say, "Look, I've got a fucking Grammy.
If I've gotta pay for this broccoli..." So, no, it hasn't
changed me at all.
Exotic: When do you think you
might go into the next studio album?
Cheng: Hopefully after the summer
tour we'll get in there and start writing and getting
Exotic: Do you guys write anything
on the road, or do you go into the studio cold?
Cheng: We never write anything
on the road; we're too busy getting drunk. We're not
one of those organizational bands that's like, "Okay,
cool, I'll meet you at 3:00 and we'll do the ProTools
thing." Nothing like that. It's like, "Oh, hey, you're
drinking already. Cool!"
Exotic: Is there anybody in
the band that parties harder than everybody else,
or is it a tough call?
Cheng: Yeah, yeah. [pause]
It's pretty tough. Stephen's a pot smoker. I'm a pretty
big drinker. The other guys are, whatever.
Cheng: Oh, I don't like to
discriminate. I don't think that's cool in life. I'm
Exotic: This story is going
to predate your July 14th gig in Portland. Certainly,
being from Sacto you've been through Portland a
bunch of times.
Cheng: Hell, yeah. We played
La Luna maybe 12 times. We love Portland. Any place
where they serve beer in a theater is okay with
Exotic: Any wild stories
from previous gigs that you can remember?
Cheng: We did a radio show
one time where the stage got pretty wrecked. I don't
remember...I think it was...I was pretty drunk!
This was a while ago, and Creed was playing after
us. We're on stage, doing whatever, and I had split
my eye--my eyebrow--open on the second song. And
I wasn't going [sobbing], "Oh no, I split my eye
open. I can't fuckin' play anymore." (But then)
I was like, whatever, fuck it. So I was feeling
kind of punk, right?
So we're playing, I'm bleeding and
drinking more, thinking it's a fuckin' punk show
for me now. So I said, "Throw everything up on stage!"
And people were like, "Excuse me?" And the band
was like, "Hey man, shut the fuck up!" And I said,
"Throw everything up on stage, you fuckin' pussies!"
Oregon started pelting us, right? And then I felt
bad, because our drummer got hit by a rock, and
now he's bleeding, too. And I'm like, "That's not
good enough! Fuckin' set it on fire or piss in it
before you throw it on stage!" I mean, shit was
comin' up in pee bottles and we're getting pelted...but
we're finishing the song. I wasn't trying to start
a riot or anything like that. I was like, fuck it,
let's have fun. And the crowd was having fun, too;
they were going for it. And we finished our set
and walked off the stage, saying "Thanks a lot!"
Exotic: So the stage is trashed.
I'll bet Creed was thrilled.
Cheng: Oh man, they were
standing on the side of the stage, watching. And
I walked off the stage and saw their faces, and
looked at the stage--it's fucking ruined--and I'm
like, "Sorry, fellas!" And I went back to the dressing
room. Hooked up with a medic who was like, "Hey
man, you need stitches."
Exotic: Great reaction. Cut
yourself open and then tell people to throw shit
Cheng: Yeah, so now I'm kind
of hoping that Portland doesn't associate our band
with throwing shit at us, because that was a one-time
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