During the mid/late 90’s Metal music as a whole, was battered, bruised and dealing with a complicated transformation that was dividing the masses, thanks to the influx of crossover bands, which were then filed under the woeful title of ‘Nu-Metal’.
A melting pot of influences and musical flavours dominated the headlines with a countless flurry of bands all striving for the spotlight and a shot at climbing on board the Ozzfest juggernaut.
Now in 2017, the few surviving bands of the great “Nu-Metal plague” (kids, ask your older siblings or your parents) continue to dabble in the business with the occasional tour or sporadic album release. However, none can match the consistent rise and rise of Deftones. Having always played by their own rules, their pioneering legacy continues to venture into the unknown with unbridled confidence and swagger.
Drummer Abe Cummingham and bassist, Sergio Vega kick back and discuss the past, present and future of Deftones.
OD – This is, of course, a tour in support of last year’s most recent release “GORE” which was yet another step into the unknown in terms of heavy music. When you guys are writing, it must be difficult to keep the momentum of pushing things forward rather than repeating the same album over and over again. Is there a method to how you write and create music?
SERGE – We are really just passionate fans of music and passionate fans of being musicians and also very passionate of music gear. We are always consuming new things and with all of our different tastes combined, there are obviously overlaps with the material that we write. When we enter that process of writing, you are totally right as it’s a very organic process for us all. Basically what happens is that we get into a room and we make noise (laughs).
In the case of ‘GORE‘, (for me it’s my third album with the guys), what we do is document everything and with this album, Abe and I took a handle on that, whereby we would record everything and the next morning we would get up extra early, have some coffee and listen back to what we had worked on and would begin to chop up the ideas and mail it out to the other guys, keeping things documented and dispersed to everyone else.
ABE – What’s crazy, and kind of funny is that this record has really pissed a lot of people off! It’s made a lot of people happy also, but we’ve noticed that it’s really made people really angry. I guess it takes a bit of time for people to wrap their heads around it.
SERG – Yeah, I take solace in the fact that from my perspective of coming into the band and I was reading the way people were viewing ‘Saturday Night Wrist‘ and ‘Self-titled‘ and then after ‘Diamond Eyes‘ and ‘Koi No Yokan‘ came out, it recontextualized those albums and people approached them differently and favourably.
I feel that when you take risks and put yourself out there and following your heart, it’s really all that we can do to stay true to what we do. There’s no point in recording the same album over and over.
OD – You mentioned the word “risk” and to me, I think Deftones are a band that really do take risks with each album. There is always a guarantee that when a new Deftones album comes out, it’s going to be different and there will be a majority of people that just don’t get it and then after a period of time, they tend to warm to it and opinions change.
SERGE – Yeah, totally! I like to think of what we do as something that is like an attack on the listener on a molecular level!
ABE – Yeah! Science Bitch! (laughing)
SERGE – When I first heard Jane’s Addiction or Wu-Tang Clan it really made me angry. I remember with Wu-Tang Clan, I was thinking “this is dissonant and everything is just out of key with what’s happening” and it was the same with Jane’s Addiction. I was just thinking “This is so fucked! Everything is out and not flowing properly. I hate everything about it!”
Then something changed inside of me and it’s the only game in town and then I was starting to fiend for that sound and had to just keep going back to it and getting my fix of this new sensation that ultimately was changing my taste and perception of what can be achieved with the boundaries of music.
When people hold a band really close to their heart and that band then try something different, it really messes with people’s sensibilities.
ABE – I get that too. It’s like “that’s my band, that’s my jam” and when the next album comes out and it’s totally different, I’m like “what the fuck happened here?” After a while, as Serge said, you become more open minded to different things and ultimately that’s what we’re trying to achieve.
OD – The longevity between albums is becoming a more increased period of time, would it be safe to say that this is a conscious decision or do other factors such as Chino’s side projects like Team Sleep or +++ have an effect on the writing process?
SERGE – Well, Chino (Moreno, vocals) has gotten much better with stuff like this, because when we go, WE GO! Do you know what I mean?
Deftones is how we sustain our lives, so it’s kind of like, you can do whatever the fuck you want, but you have to fit it into this. Chino realises this too and for us as a band, we find that we have finally got some balance. We tour efficiently and get mostly where we need to go, I know we could be touring a few more places, but generally, we cover a lot of the world. We do what we do, then take a rest and then get back into things again. In the past, it really was a grind and kind of hard but now we plan things out and the system is really working well.
ABE – Yeah, absolutely. When you look at the gap between ‘Koi‘ and ‘GORE‘ is different we toured so much on ‘Koi No Yokan‘, so much so that we were writing for ‘GORE‘ while on the road. It was a whole new approach for us. When I first came into the band for ‘Diamond Eyes‘, I was living in California for seven months during that album process. I’m originally from New York and only went home once during that seventh month period.
When we were recording ‘Koi No Yokan‘, I went home for only one day during the writing/recording of that album. It can be hard sometimes, you know? With ‘GORE’ we were doing a couple of weeks of writing, then a few weeks of a tour, then we would spend a couple of weeks going home – repeat! So for anyone else that was involved with any other projects such as Chino or Stephen (Carpenter, guitars) or if Frank (Delgado, turntables) is Dj’ing clubs or parties etc everybody got plenty of time to fit all of that stuff into the schedule without disturbing the balance.
ABE – The way things are right now seem to be working really well. There is enough room for everybody to breath and work on their own personal stuff, all the while keeping Deftones at the frontline at all times.
OD – When considering the vast amount of material to take from when playing live, is there a process to which you all adhere to when putting each show together?
ABE – There were times where is was like, “come on man, I don’t want to play that track“. Our approach to rehearsals now is much more chilled. When we first arrived in London ahead of our European tour earlier this year, we jammed out some tracks that we haven’t played in fucking years man.
There was a lot of songs to play that we hadn’t aired for quite some time and it was really nice to unearth that stuff. It was kind of like when they found the Ark in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘ (laughing) all of the gold and the jewels that had been buried and forgotten about.
SERGE – We knew on that tour that we had a couple of cities where we were doing two nights and that means that we need to dramatically mix things up with the setlist. When we played Paris, the set lists were totally different with the exception of three tracks and the same for Dublin, Ireland. We always try to mix things up, but when you’re doing the same venue for multiple nights, we want to give a different performance not only for the fans but for us also.
We prepare for the tour with a suggested collection of songs each, to which we email our personal suggestions to each other and that’s kind of how the tracks that make the tour get considered. The other part of the process is what Abe was talking about regarding the pre-tour rehearsal process.
If we have a good time with the tracks and get a good vibe with the flow, then it makes the cut for the tour.
ABE – Totally! This time around when we were on the road in Europe, there was a shit-load of tracks that we added to the setlist, that I just never thought we would add and that all came from just having a good time jamming those tracks and dusting them off.
OD – I’ve found that over the years, the press/media can’t seem to identify as to who you are or define your sound. To me personally, I think this is an achievement with regards to so many bands sounding the same and being boxed off into a particular category or sub-genre, would you agree?
ABE – Yeah, I think they do get us now. Every once in a while we’ll do an interview and we’ll get asked something like “what’s it like being in a multi-ethnic band?” which is what we were asked twenty years ago! (laughing) I’m just there thinking “I’m from fucking California man!! People are just people where I come from, not a skin colour!”
But mostly, people get us and know what we’re about and are prepared when they meet us and do interviews like this one. You know your shit about us and have a great understanding of our legacy and that is so refreshing when it comes to dealing with the media.
Also, it has to be said that when we were first breaking into the scene, there was a really accepting attitude towards bands and musicians coming from a totally different background musically. It was kind of an all-inclusive acceptance which was just so amazing to be part of and vitally important to the longevity of Deftones.
SERGE – We are all so fortunate that we came up during that time. With me being part of Quicksand (pictured below) on the other side of the country in New York, the vibe was the same. It was friendly, open and very accepting to a mix of sounds and musical cross-pollination.
I really feel like we were part of the second wave of this type of eclectic musical movement. Nowadays, kids are discovering their musical tastes eclectically because more and more artists are beginning to experiment with their sounds and are looking to genres outside of their own because it’s not really about the genre it’s more about the passion for art and music.
ABE – Also, it’s from learning from other musicians and artists how are creating something that just bad-ass! It’s kind of like, “you’re a lot like us (Deftones) but what you’re doing is totally different and fucking awesome!”
SERG – When we first met on the first Warped Tour back in ’94/’95, I was with Quicksand and meeting Deftones for the first time was a real experience for me. I had never been around that really intense pro-skater scene. I knew dudes that would skate back in New York, but not to this level and I just realised that at the end of the day, we are all just living and doing things that hopefully make us happy. Although we came from opposite sides of the country, we just clicked and hit it off, with a common interest in music and good times.
OD – There have been a total of eight studio album released not including the rarities and cover albums, however, I wanted to ask if there was ever going to be a possibility of releasing ‘EROS’ or will that be just something very personal for you guys to hold on to?
ABE – If anything at all, I see some tracks from it coming out in some form or another. There is some really fucking bad-ass stuff on that album, but also stuff that’s not that good in my opinion. We know that there is interest in the album from the die-hard’s but I’m sure we will do the right thing at the right time with it.
SERGE – ‘EROS‘ has definitely been mysticised over the years.
ABE – Yeah, totally! Some of the material is so fucking good and the rest is not really finished. There is definitely more to be done on that album, so really it’s something that could surface in the coming years. We know it’s there and are aware of the public interest in it, so I’m sure that we will consider the right thing to do when the time is right.
SERG – The other thing to consider about ‘EROS‘ is that we are all very creatively hungry and as soon as we get together we start writing new shit and strive to move forward with things, creating, writing and experiencing new music.
OD – There has always been a left of centre approach when it comes to album cover artwork, you have gone from Sea Shells, Owls, Bikini Girls, Ponys, Skulls and Flamingos, can you give an insight into the stream of conscious as to the final decision cover art?
ABE – I believe that’s part of who the Deftones are! It’s the dichotomy of the band and the juxtaposition that we create surrounding the music. Our legacy of album artwork really stems from our love of the vinyl format. We all grew up with vinyl surrounding us, providing the soundtrack and in a lot of ways the imagery of our childhood. I learned how to play the drums because of my parents vinyl collection, which I immersed myself in from a very young age.
I still own my parents original vinyl collection and have that mixed in with my own collection, which is really what it’s all about. Handing music down through the family. Each record symbolises a moment of your life, a memory and a feeling. I just love that format and it’s a huge influence when we consider the artwork/imagery for Deftones covers.
Deftones are currently on tour in the U.S with Rise Against and Thrice and have been confirmed for Ozzfest Meets Knotfest in November. Please visit here for information on dates.
‘GORE‘ is out now via Reprise Records. Get your copy here.
© OVERDRIVE.IE 2017