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xmag.com : July 2001: Deftones

The 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 Moreno.

"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 tour.

 

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 out?"

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).

Exotic: Do I print that?

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 things done.

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.

Exotic: Favorite poison?

Cheng: Oh, I don't like to discriminate. I don't think that's cool in life. I'm equal-opportunity.

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 me.

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 at you.

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 deal.

 

 

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