Deftones is an American rock band from Sacramento, California formed in 1988, consisting of Chino Moreno (lead vocals and guitar), Stephen Carpenter (guitar), Chi Cheng (bass), Frank Delgado (keyboards and turntables), and Abe Cunningham (drums and percussion).
While they were mostly considered as a nu metal band in their early years, their sound progressively evolved into something more complex and experimental, as a result they are often coined today as an alternative metal band.
Critics have often praised them as one of the closest to unique rock bands of recent years for their innovative, atmospheric music; as Johnny Loftus writes, “Rock critics usually reserve a special place for Deftones above or at least away from the rest of the turn-of-the-century metal movement […] Deftones have always seemed more curious, more willing to incorporate traditionally revered sounds like dream pop into their Northern California alt-metal.”
Frontman Chino Moreno’s poetic lyrics—described by a Time magazine critic as “fiercely intelligent”—are often evocative, yet are sparse enough to allow for multiple interpretations. Moreno has cited Morrissey, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, The Cure’s Robert Smith, and Depeche Mode’s David Gahan among his favorite singers, and beyond an occasional similarity in vocal technique, these singers’ sweeping sense of drama and delicate vulnerability is often evident in Moreno’s vocals and has often been likened to that of Daryl Palumbo(glassjaw).
Early years: 1989-1993
When Carpenter was 15 years old he was hit by a car while skateboarding. This left him confined to a wheelchair for several months. It was at this point that he began teaching himself guitar by playing along with bands such as Anthrax, Stormtroopers of Death and Metallica. It has been reported that the driver paid Carpenter a cash settlement that allowed the band to purchase equipment, but drummer Abe Cunningham commented in an interview that this was “a myth about how our band was started.”
Carpenter, Moreno and Cunningham went to the same high school. They were childhood friends and remained friends through the skateboarding scene in Sacramento. When Moreno found out Carpenter played guitar, he set up a jam session with Cunningham and the three began playing regularly in Carpenter’s garage circa 1988. After playing with several bassists, the band settled on Justin Jaramillo and recorded a four track demo soon after. Within two years the band began playing club shows and later expanded their playing territory to San Francisco and Los Angeles where they played shows alongside bands such as Korn. While closing for another band in L.A., after the majority of the audience had left, the band impressed a Maverick Records representative. They were soon after signed to the label after showcasing three of their songs for Freddy DeMann and Guy Oseary.
The name “Deftones” was created by Carpenter who wanted to pick “something that would just stand out but you know, not be all cheese-ball at the same time.” Carpenter combined the hip hop slang term “def”, which was used by artists he listened to such as LL Cool J and Public Enemy, with the suffix “-tones”, which was a popular suffix among 50s bands whose music he also enjoyed (e.g. Dick Dale and the Deltones; The Quin-Tones, The Monotones, The Cleftones and The Harptones). Carpenter said the name is intentionally vague to reflect the band’s tendency to not focus on just one style of music.
The band’s debut album, Adrenaline, was recorded at Bad Animals Studio in Seattle, Washington and released on October 3, 1995. It was produced by Deftones and Terry Date, who would go on to produce the band’s next three albums. Initially unsuccessful, extensive touring, word-of-mouth and Internet promotion built the band a dedicated fanbase, as well as helping Adrenaline to sell over 220,000 copies without the singles “7 Words” and “Bored” (as well as their music videos) receiving any airplay. The band contributed the non-album track “Teething” to the soundtrack for the 1996 film The Crow: City of Angels and are also seen performing the song live during one of the film’s scenes.
The album spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Heatseekers chart reaching a peak position of 23. When asked what he attributed the album’s success to, Cheng responded, “One word: perseverance. We’ve been together for almost eight years, on the road for two and we do it with honesty and integrity - and the kids can tell.” The album was RIAA certified gold on 7 July 1999 in recognition of 500,000 units sold.
Regarding the recording of the album, Abe Cunningham said, “At the time we did the first record - which I really like and think is good - you can tell the band was really young. We’d been playing most of those songs for quite a while, and we were just so happy to be making a record that we didn’t really think a whole lot about making the songs better.” Moreno felt that Adrenaline was recorded “really fast”[ and performed all his vocals live with the band in the room using a hand-held Shure 58 microphone. A review of Adrenaline praised the album’s musical control, precision, overall groove and Cunningham’s “surprisingly sophisticated drumming”. It was also noted that “there is a bit of sameness in Chino Moreno’s whispered vocal melodies, which drags the record down a bit.”
Adrenaline was certified platinum on September 23, 2008 by the RIAA
Around the Fur: 1997-1999
Deftones’ second album, Around the Fur, was recorded at Studio Litho in Seattle, Washington and produced by Terry Date. Released on October 26, 1997, the album included a collaboration with singer Max Cavalera (of Sepultura/Soulfly/Cavalera Conspiracy) on “Headup”, a tribute to Cavalera’s late stepson Dana Wells, to whom the album was also dedicated. Although not yet a member of the band, Delgado is credited as “audio” on five of the album’s tracks and Cunningham’s wife, Annalynn, provides guest vocals on “MX”.
“When we went in to make this record, we really didn’t have a set idea of what we wanted to come out with,” said Moreno in a 1998 interview with Chart magazine. However, he felt that the album “fell into place” once the band had settled into the studio. The band expanded its sound, spending more time with Terry Date, and giving more thought to the album’s production. Cunningham varied his drum sound and experimented by using different types of snare drum on almost every track. The album was praised for its loud-soft dynamics, the flow of the tracks, Moreno’s unusual vocals and the strong rhythm-section grooves created by Cheng and Cunningham. Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s review noted that “while they don’t have catchy riffs or a fully developed sound, Around the Fur suggests they’re about to come into their own.”
The album was highly anticipated and propelled the band to fame in the alternative metal scene on the strength of radio and MTV airplay for the singles “My Own Summer (Shove It)” and “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)”. Around the Fur sold 43,000 copies in its first week of release, and entered the Billboard 200 at number 29 (its peak position), remaining on the charts for 17 weeks. The band went back to touring, making appearances at the Warped Tour (in the United States, New Zealand and Australia), Pinkpop Festival, Roskilde Festival and Ozzfest as well as releasing a live EP on June 22, 1999. Around the Fur went on to reach RIAA gold status on June 24, 1999.
White Pony: 2000-2002
On June 20, 2000, the band released their third album, White Pony, again produced by Terry Date and Deftones. It was recorded at The Plant Studios in Sausalito, California and at Larrabee Sound Studios, West Hollywood, California. The album debuted at number three in the US Billboard chart with sales of 178,000 copies. Delgado (DJ Speedboat) was now a full-time band member, adding new elements to the band’s music. The melancholy “Teenager”, for example, was a radical departure in style and mood, a “love song,” according to Moreno, which incorporated elements of glitch and trip hop, with programming duties carried out by Moreno’s friend and side-project Team Sleep bandmate DJ Crook. A collaboration with singer Maynard James Keenan of Tool is present on “Passenger”, and the refrain in “Knife Party” features vocals by Rodleen Getsic. Moreno had also started contributing additional guitar on several tracks.
An interview with the band in Alternative Press explained the recording process of White Pony. After a break from touring, the band spent four months in the studio writing and recording White Pony, the longest amount of time they had dedicated to an album thus far. Moreno explained that the majority of this time was spent trying to write songs, and that the writing of “Change (In the House of Flies)” was the turning point where the band began working as a group. Despite being pressured to release the album sooner, the band decided to take their time making the album. Cheng explained that “We didn’t feel like we had anything to lose, so we made the record we wanted to make.” Moreno did not have a common theme in mind lyrically, but made a conscious decision to bring an element of fantasy into his lyrics, explaining that “I basically didn’t sing about myself on this record. I made up a lot of story lines and some dialogue, even. I took myself completely out of it and wrote about other things.”
Reviews were generally positive, noting Moreno’s increasing sophistication as a lyricist and the group’s experimentalism. Of White Pony, one reviewer wrote that “Deftones went soft, but in an impressive way, to twist around its signature punk sound.”
The album was originally released as an 11 track version beginning with “Feiticeira” and ending with “Pink Maggit” and featuring gray cover art. A limited edition print of 50,000 black and red jewel case versions of White Pony were also released at the same time with a bonus 12th track entitled “The Boy’s Republic”. Later, the band released “Back to School (Mini Maggit)”, a rap-influenced interpretation of the album’s closer, “Pink Maggit”. “Back to School (Mini Maggit)” was track 11 on the leaked pre-release version of White Pony in April 2000, but not included on the original (official) issue of the album in June 2000. The leaked version of White Pony also included the slower version of “Pink Maggit” which appeared on the first official White Pony CDs. That song was listed as a bonus track (track 12) on the leaked pre-release version. The song was picked up as a single and placed as the new opening track (with “Pink Maggit” still the closer) of a re-released White Pony on October 3, 2000 featuring altered white cover art. Not entirely happy with re-releasing the album, the band negotiated to have “Back to School” made available as a free download for anyone who had already bought the original album. Chino noted that “Everybody’s already downloaded our record before it came out anyway, otherwise I’d be kind of feelin’ like, ‘Man, why [are] we putting [out] all these different versions of the record?’ […] that’s the best way we can actually get this song out to the people who already purchased this record, for free basically. And if they wanna buy the record again, it’s cool.”
White Pony achieved platinum status, selling over 1.3 million copies in the US, and earning the band a 2001 Grammy award for Best Metal Performance for the song “Elite”.
Deftones began work on their fourth album under the working title Lovers. Regarding the album’s direction, Cheng commented that “We’ve proven that we can musically go in any direction we want, and we want to get kind of heavy on this one.” Moreno underwent vocal training as a precaution after severely damaging his vocal cords on the band’s 2001 summer tour. The band converted their rehearsal space in Sacramento into a fully equipped studio and recorded most of the album there at negligible cost. The band brought in Terry Date to assist with production, and also received input on musical arrangement from Greg Wells on several of the album’s tracks. The band later added more material at Studio X in Seattle, WA and at Larrabee Studios in West Hollywood, CA. Overall the album took twelve months and cost roughly $2.5 million to produce with the band being fined by Maverick for missing deadlines.
In January 2003, Deftones left the studio to perform some “one off” shows in Australia and New Zealand as part of the annual Big Day Out Festival. Shortly after, the band returned to the studio to finish their fourth album. The self-titled Deftones was released on May 20, 2003. Deftones entered the Billboard 200 at number two and sold 167,000 copies in its first week. The album remained in the Billboard top 100 for nine weeks, supported by the first single, “Minerva”. The band shot a video for their second single, “Hexagram”, with fans watching the band play the song in an indoor skatepark in Simi Valley, California. The band made a video for the track “Bloody Cape”, but it was never released for play on television. The video was only made available on the band’s official website for one day. It was later released on their B-Sides and Rarities DVD.
Reviews were mainly positive, praising the band for the heavy album’s progression and originality in the midst of declining creativity in contemporary metal. Moreno was quoted as saying, “It’s all on record. We told motherfuckers not to lump us in with nu metal because when those bands go down we aren’t going to be with them.” In reviewing Deftones, Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes that “Hexagram”, the album’s opener, “hits hard — harder than they ever have, revealing how mushy Staind is, or how toothless Linkin Park is,” but also goes on to say that the album “sticks a little too close to familiar territory.” The Onion’s A.V. Club similarly called the album “less rewarding than its predecessor, though its peaks rival any in the genre.”
The band released a compilation album titled B-Sides & Rarities on October 4, 2005. The CD includes various b-sides and covers from throughout their career, while the DVD contains behind-the-scenes footage and the band’s complete videography up to that point.
Saturday Night Wrist: 2006-2007
Deftones performing live in Glasgow, June 2006.The band’s latest album, titled Saturday Night Wrist, was released on October 31, 2006. It debuted at number ten in the US Billboard chart with sales of just over 76,000, a significant decrease on the first week sales of their two previous releases.
Rather than work with longtime producer Terry Date, Deftones decided to record with Bob Ezrin. Cunningham says that while the group enjoyed working with Date, “At this point, we just needed to change things up […] And this is definitely a different style. Working with him [Ezrin] is just putting us fucking upside down. He’s cracking the whip.” After recording all the instrumentals for the record, Chino Moreno decided to record his vocals separately. Chino thus finished recording the album with former Far guitarist Shaun Lopez as producer. Collaborations on the record include Annie Hardy from Giant Drag on the song “Pink Cellphone” and Serj Tankian from System of a Down on the track “Mein”.
The album’s first single was called “Hole in the Earth”, hitting the radio on October 16, 2006. “Hole in the Earth” was also featured as a downloadable song for the PS3 & Xbox 360 versions of Guitar Hero 3. “Mein” was the album’s second single, which aired in Spring of 2007.
As of March 2007, Saturday Night Wrist has sold over 250,000 copies (US).
Deftones spent the majority of 2006 and 2007 touring around the world in support of the album. The band played shows in places including North America, Canada, Europe, South America, Japan and Australia. The band also performed in such tours as Taste of Chaos, Family Values Tour and the Soundwave Festival in Australia.
Deftones are currently in the studio writing and recording their next release, Eros, which will once again utilize the production services of Terry Date. Deftones have been writing the album since Fall 2007. As of December 7, 2007, six to eight songs were finished and the album is expected to be released in the winter of 2008. Chino Moreno has described the album as weird, unorthodox, featuring a lot of atmosphere and soundscaping, and having “fuck you, I hope you die!” style aggression. He has also stated that he won’t be contributing on guitar, instead focusing on his vocals, and will leave guitar duties entirely to Stephen Carpenter. Carpenter will be utilizing his signature 8-String guitar, the ESP Stef B-8. They started recording the album on April 14th, 2008.
Moreno stated that this album would be more up-tempo (as far as the drumming is concerned), going on to say that the past couple of albums have been more mid-tempo; that Abe Cunningham has been playing faster. He also referred to the album as being “snappy”. Moreno stated in an interview that the process for this album would be more raw and simplified after dissatisfaction with the long and “pieced-together” experience of recording Saturday Night Wrist.
On January 14th, Chino Moreno posted an instrumental electronic beat that sounds similar to Team Sleep called “You’ve Seen The Butcher”, on the Deftones’ MySpace page, and announced in a bulletin that the album would be called Eros, the Greek word for “love.” It was also announced that Eros would be released by Warner Bros. Records, the first time Deftones have released an album not affiliated with Maverick Records.
On September 18, Deftones played a secret show at the Spaceland Club in Los Angeles. The band played a new song entitled Melanie, which they also played at the previously announced headlining show at the Ventura Theater in Ventura, California on September 19 and also at the KUPD’s End of Summer Scorcher on September 20 in Peoria, Arizona, where they co-headlined with Alice In Chains.
Also, recently Deftones have been posting a number of videos on MySpace and their blog, documenting the recording process of Eros.
On November 4, bassist Chi Cheng was seriously injured in a car accident in Santa Clara, California. Chino Moreno posted on the band’s blog, saying, “It deeply saddens me to inform you all that our brother Chi Cheng was involved in a terrible car accident last night. He is currently in a Northern California hospital in serious, but stable condition. I am on my way up north right now to be by his side, along with the rest of our bandmates and family. Chi is one of the strongest people I know, and I’m praying that his strength will get him through this. Please say a prayer for him as well.” Following the accident, Cheng’s bandmates and mother, Jeanne, began using the Deftones blog to post updates on Cheng’s condition. In a post dated November 18, it was stated that “Chi’s condition remains the same - serious, but stable. He still lies in a coma, however his vitals (heart, lungs, and blood pressure) all exhibit very stable functions and doctors have begun removing much of the excess monitoring equipment.” In a blog posted dated November 9, it was reported that Chi was attended by three off-duty EMTs who happened upon the accident scene. The post goes on to state that “If not for them, the chances of Chi making to the hospital alive would have been poor.” On December 9, it was announced that Chi had been moved into the care of an unnamed hospital that “specializes in the care and management of traumatic and non-trauma related brain injuries”.
It was announced that the new album would be titled “Diamond Eyes”, to be released May 18th, 2010. The first single from the album, “Rocket Skates”, was released February 23rd; the second single is “Diamond Eyes”.
“Pretty,” affirms Deftones singer and guitarist Chino Moreno when discussing their new full-length studio album, Diamond Eyes. “We’re not afraid to be pretty.” It’s an adjective most riff-heavy groups might avoid, but then, Deftones have never been your average hard rock band.
As kids, the Sacramento fivesome cut its teeth on Anthrax and The Smiths, Pantera and The Cure, skateboarding and “The Smurfs.” As a band out of high school, Deftones mixed trip hop with thrash, melodic vocals with crushing reverb, and yes, pretty with ugly. As chart-toppers and headliners, they’ve crossed over genres, defied categorization and confused the hell out of your iPod (“Heavy Metal?” “Hard Rock?” “Alternative?”) Above all, Deftones have stuck together throughout their often-turbulent tenure, and now, deliver one of the most compelling records of their career.
The 11-track album is just that—an album from start to finish. Diamond Eyes works the way good records used to; each song carries you a little further away from your shitty day until finally, you’ve been transported to a place that feels a whole lot better than where you started. “There are so many emotions that music can give you, and if you explore all sides of those, it can be really amazing,” says Moreno. “Like sadness -- it can be really lovely, or beautiful, or wide open, or coarse. We connect with different emotions because we listen to everything out there—that could mean dumb music or something by Brian Eno. Then when we play, it’s not a real conscious thing, but the emotion builds and it takes us in a lot of different ways. I think that’s what music’s supposed to do.”
The tangle of Stephen Carpenter’s woozy, undulating guitar work and Moreno’s soaring then secretive vocal style is the bittersweet dynamic behind each of Deftones' records, including Diamond Eyes. The friction drives the music as much as it does the players, though it doesn’t always make life easy for childhood friends Carpenter and Moreno. “What makes us work?” asks Carpenter. “Chino will give you the exact opposite answer that I do. That’s the way it is with us—we contradict each other constantly but it’s also what makes our music what it is—intense and different.”
There’s also a newfound sense of purpose that makes Deftones' sixth album stand out. The band recorded the album after their best friend and bassist Chi Cheng sustained a debilitating brain injury from a car accident in November of 2008. “After Chi’s accident, it would have been easy for us to make a sad record,” says Moreno. “It felt like there was a cloud around us, so we aimed to make something uplifting. I think that’s why there’s a lot of fantasy stuff on the record. I tried to take it away from day to day life, and make it more about the abstract, about art. It sounds odd, but really, this is an optimistic record.” And a spontaneous one.
Diamond Eyes was made in a mere six months with the help of former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega and producer Nick Raskulinecz of Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains, and Rush fame. Oddly enough, Deftones had just come off recording another full album, Eros, which they ultimately shelved. Moreno says, “Honestly, I knew there was something better to come.” Starting over was a bold move considering Deftones traditionally take their time writing and recording each album. Drummer Abe Cunningham was concerned about the decision, especially since it had been so difficult making records in the past. “Each one was getting to be like pulling teeth, and beyond—maybe like surgery without anesthesia,” he adds. “But this time, we just said fuck it, we’re still best friends, all of us -- and we’re still able to do this. So we just lightened up and got creative, and we’re firing on all cylinders.”
These days, Deftones are far more unified than ever before, but that hasn’t always been the case. Tensions began to mount following their breakthrough record “White Pony” in 2000. It was their first to top the Billboard charts, win a Grammy and earn Platinum certification. In the wake of their success, the band toured nonstop; a grueling schedule that gave way to 24/7 road-life, in-fighting, and eventually, burnout. Carpenter and Moreno’s disputation over the direction of music escalated to the point where the pair stopped speaking all together. By the time their 2003 self-titled album was release, Cunningham says they all had their nicknames for the difficult period in which it was recorded. “Steph calls it the Downward Spiral. I refer to it as Dark Days.” The conflict made the band’s life hell, but it gave the music press something to write about in the stretch between albums. “A lot of that was trumped up, but we’ve definitely had some heavy times,” says keyboardist Frank Delgado, who joined the band originally as a turntableist in the mid 90s. “Still one of the best things about this band is that we just don’t give up. As dysfunctional as it can be, we still make it work. And I really don’t know what the press thinks of us now, but I like that. There should be some mysticism there. Maybe they should think we’re off our rocker.” And deconstructing the band’s mental state is an easy task compared to categorizing the music they make.
Critics, marketers and radio alike have struggled with just where to place or how to define Deftones. They band has, after all, played with punk rockers L7, toured with Metallica and appealed to some of the same fan base as Morrissey and generally defied simple, and ultimately pointless genre classification.“We’re not a party band, but we’re not a dark rock band,” says Moreno. “We’re not the most wildly artistic band, but we’re not light and fluffy. It’s hard to put us in one place. I don’t blame people when they try to do it, because I can’t even pin it myself. But really, does it matter?” Not when you’re as compelling, diverse, powerful and pretty as Deftones.
Since their inception, Grammy-winning alternative band Deftones have quietly been pursuing two paths, delivering songs defined by churning, double-fisted aggression while also quietly testing the boundaries of music by incorporating elements of psychedelia and shoegaze. Their platinum-certified, Billboard chart-topping 2000 album White Pony earned raves for blending the moodiness of bands like the Cure and Slowdive, but the group has only gotten more experimental since then, evincing a clear restlessness with convention and repetition. Picking up where 2010's lauded Diamond Eyes left off, the group's seventh album, Koi No Yokan is their boldest yet. Both ferociously melodic and dizzyingly expansive, the album moves from pensive to pulverizing – often in the space of a single song.
"I think one of the things we were really conscious of was making sure the songs had real dynamics," says front man Chino Moreno. "I love Stephen [Carpenter]'s aggressive, chunky guitar riffs, but we always wanted there to be that kind of yin and yang in the songs – that push and pull between heaviness and beauty."
That tension is evident in songs like first single “Tempest,” which opens with a tense, pulsing guitar and hushed vocal from Moreno before it's swept away beneath great black waves of guitar. Its chorus is ominous and otherworldly, Moreno darkly prophesying about an "ancient arrival" against thunder clapping riffs. "When we started the record, we were all joking a little bit about the Mayan prophecy about the end of the world coming in December of 2012, and I some of that filtered into this song, kind of dealing with those ideas a little bit." Street track "Leathers" also volleys between two extremes, opening with a storm of falling-anvil guitars before gliding into a gorgeous, high-arcing chorus.
For Koi No Yokan, the group reunited with producer Nick Raskulinecz, who also worked on Diamond Eyes. As they did for that record, the band set a rigorous daily work schedule. "We kind of adopted this new way of doing things, where we'd have a 7 or 8 hour work day instead of just working on things a piece at a time," drummer Abe Cunningham said, "It enabled us to be a lot more efficient." Moreno agrees. "In the past, one of us would write something, record it, and then weeks -- or even months -- later, someone else would come along and add to it. We had totally lost that communal vibe. This time, all of the songs started with just the five of us together in a room, playing." Those close collaborations led to a more deliberate drive and cohesive final product. "It gave us a real sense of focus," says Cunningham.
Those moments of give-and-take are audible, and the songs are united by a sense of impassioned optimism. In "Romantic Dreams," Moreno sings "I'm hypnotized by your name/ I wish this night would never end," and on the surprisingly tender "Entombed," he swears "From the day you arrived/ I remain by your side" over Carpenter's gently spiraling constellations of guitar. "I'm talking about being someone's prize that they keep next to them," he says of the lyrics to “Tempest,” "so it's being alive, but being in kind of a stasis – it's about being someone's possession, but loving to be that way."
Moreno insists the record's title, a Japanese term for the notion of love at first sight, is not meant to be taken literally. "It's really just trying to get at those tingling feelings that everybody gets from time to time. I just wanted to give people a descriptive emotion to work off of when approaching the record."
More than anything else, that's what comes across in Koi No Yokan -- a sense of euphoria. With their forward-thinking, genre-agnostic rock, Deftones ride strange waves of inspiration to always-engrossing, always-surprising ends. The songs are as eerie and ghostly and glimmering as the Northern Lights – both strange and strangely beautiful, and firmly positioned at the intersection of blunt force and haunting elegance. Koi No Yokan is Deftones at their finest.
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