That Time When I Talked to Deftones

Alternative rock band DEFTONES celebrate the 20th anniversary of their most notable album to date.

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Deftones_2000_Photo by James Minchin_1
Photographed by James Minchin III

Deftones have been one of those bands that I listened to when I started working for a music magazine. I remember that I got into them just the same time when I started listening to Incubus, Korn, and A Perfect Circle. There’s something about their music that’s very distinct—the louds and softs, the breathy singing voice of Chino Moreno, and the intense connect of the band’s rhythm section. Eight studio albums have been released by the band with another one on the works and said to be released within the year. But this year, Deftones are celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of the most influential albums that they’ve produced, their third album White Pony.

I had the pleasure of speaking to three of the members of Deftones—frontman and guitarist Chino Moreno, drummer Abe Cunningham, and turntablist Frank Delgado, whom I got to interview back in 2016 about their album Gore. I was just supposed to be listening in together with other media representatives around the world at the press con that was held via Zoom, when surprisingly, I was connected and was already being greeted by all three together with the Q&A moderator. I had a few seconds to gather my composure and finally, said Hi to everybody. I told them that I’m from the Philippines and that I was there during their first concert here in Manila. “That was so much fun, it was such a trip. We were so amazed. To go there and see how many people showed up, it was crazy. We were like, “What?!” It was just an awesome feeling, I remember. It was a great time,” says Chino.

With the current worldwide situation caused by Covid-19, the band had to cancel their North American tour dates and currently rescheduling it for next year. Read on as Chino, Abe, and Frank talked more about White Pony, working with Terry Date, and their unfinished album Eros.

When you play the songs from White Pony, does it take you back to when you wrote the songs and what they meant to you when you were writing them or are these songs upheld to be reinterpreted in the present day?

Abe Cunningham: You always go back to where they came from but I guess after twenty years in this particular album, having playing these songs over and over, you find new ways to give them life. But you always go back to that core; it’s always in there but you reinvent.

Chino Moreno: It’s a little bit of both. We’re always looking for ways to breathe new life into stuff. Some moments are nostalgic. You’d hear certain notes making your hair stand-up in a certain way. For the most part, the record and its entirety has its nuances that we’re always able to dig in and bring out.

How did you decide the singles for White Pony?

Chino: I had a little bit of back and forth with the label at that time when we were trying to pick the first single and up to that point, we never really thought about our songs being radio friendly. We’re lucky enough to get some airplay for “My Own Summer” and “Be Quiet and Drive” from the record before that but for this one, a lot of people would say that, “Okay, you’ve got this record. What song do you feel like the strongest song?” In my mind, I felt that “Change” was the strongest song, I still think it is. I think it’s probably our biggest commercially successful song to this date. A lot of times I think the labels would want you to put out something first just to tease then come with the bigger song. But me, I just want to come out with our best foot forward. I had to convince some of the guys at the label to go with it but I think that they agree with me that the song was the best too but they were trying to strategize more. As to me, I just like people to hear the song right now especially in the climate where music was at the time was a lot more fist pumpy stuff, rock n’ roll stuff. That song was a little more serial, for lack of a better word, it had a little darker vibe into it. It didn’t really fit to what was contemporary at that time but in my mind, I figured, that would make us standout a little bit from what else was going on.

While we’re making the music and before the record comes out, we really don’t sit and think about that kind of stuff. When you’re making music, it’s not really good to put it in categories. It’s good to just let it become whatever it is and then make that last-minute decision when it’s time to go.

by Frank Maddock

With this 20th anniversary of White Pony as well as bringing your thoughts back to that classic album of yours, has it drawn your attention back to Eros, which never came out, and reignited any plans to finish it off?

Chino: I say quite the opposite, I mean because we’ve been working on the new record and the reissue of White Pony, that we really haven’t put much time or thought into it. I think it’s been said before that the record itself was not finished when we put it to the side to work on Diamond Eyes. It needs an extensive amount of work to actually finish the record, that would be harder than making a new record because you’re going back on ideas that were not all the way flushed out and trying to flush them out on a different decade. It wouldn’t be as easy as like finishing a couple guitars and a couple of vocals; it has to be looked at again. I know people hold it special. We hold it special even though it’s not completed because it’s one of Chi’s (Cheng) last thing that he worked on with us. It’s just a difficult thing to figure out when we’re going to dive back in and get to work on it because it’s definitely going to be a big project.

Abe: That was a rather difficult time to everyone involved. It’s there but once again, not completed.

I know we’re currently not in a touring time, but with the anniversary of White Pony are you planning a tour to celebrate it at all or at least talked about it? What are your current thoughts on touring situations?

Chino: I think it’s something that we all have to discuss. Whatever it is that feels more comfortable for us as a band, I want everyone to make a decision collectively when we get back to it. Obviously, everybody’s safety is the first thing. As far as doing a whole White Pony thing, it may be a bit more difficult considering that we are touring our new record pretty much when we do get back out. That being said, we usually always do mix it up with a little something from all the records. To play one whole show and not to play anything from the past records is always a tough decision. But who knows? We wouldn’t say that we would never do it. We’ll see.

Given that the songs in White Pony were a shift in the sound that you had been putting up until then, was that something that you had plan? Was it in the works to do something like that?

Abe: In our first two albums, Adrenaline obviously has little tidbits of what might be to come. All those songs we’ve written when we were younger. With Around the Fur, we were definitely going on some directions that we wanted to take and taking some chances. And this time, for the third album, we’re like, “Shit, let’s just get down. But like what I said, it just came naturally; we were just experimenting. We were just there all the time with each other; we live in the same city at that time. We were just kicking it all night long and all day. We were focused even though we weren’t at all.

Chino: It was a pretty long process, not until we’re into a year into making it we were like, “Damn, we’re taking a long time.” But it didn’t feel like it while we’re doing it. It felt like we were hanging out while we’re making a record at our leisure, as well as doing something different the way we did it before. With Around the Fur, we recorded and mixed that record in four months. I think that record was brilliant because of that. We weren’t overthinking it; we just captured that moment. White Pony was an opposite of that. We were really living the experience of that record and took our time doing it. Luckily it paid off in the end.

How did you come up with the album artwork for White Pony?

Chino: Frank Maddocks laid everything out. He was at Warner at the time. He submitted ideas to us actually before he was working with us just as a fan. The aesthetic of it all was cool because it was clean cut. It didn’t look rock n’ roll to me; it looked a bit more mature. We had the idea of the pony icon. We just pulled it out from the internet from a clip art stuff, whatever. I remember talking with the band at a rehearsal space in Sacramento, “What do you guys think about this, using it as an icon? We can do a flag out of it. We can do whatever.” It’s sort of anonymous. It something that you didn’t have to explain, but it’s an iconic thing.


How was it like working with your producer Terry Date? 

Chino: He definitely does have this tendency of saying, “It’s time to work, boys.”  We were easily deterred by anything. We were always down to getting into adventures. We were playing video games at that time. We liked to waste time, anytime we could. We were like naughty kids and see what kind of trouble we could get ourselves into. Terry was really good at reigning us back in and to keep us focused on what we’re there to do. But at the same time just letting us be us. I think that’s the greatest part about our relationship with him, this was his third record and we have this relationship that we screw with each other a lot, all in a loving way, but it’s definitely a good time around him. To this day, we started our new record with him, that vibe is very confident, it’s still there.

Abe: It’s kind of funny because it’s like, “Don’t piss off dad.” We’ll have a million things and we’ll get him so pissed. We actually tried to make him quit on every record. We’d get him so pissed that his glasses would get fogged up and he’d be biting his lip. But he went on to the next record and he went on and on. Love you, Terry.

Frank: I think the one think that stuck out for me with Terry is he was one of the first people to tell us to don’t be afraid to try new things with other producers. I think he saw that we needed to expand at some point and learn from other people. That shows a lot of how smart that man is and that he cared about us.

What’s the meaning of “Knife Prty”?

Chino: I’ve always had a hard time giving definitive meaning to any of our songs. Some of them are a little easy to get the gist of but that one in particular, that’s a hard one. The title and the whole idea of “Knife Prty” perse it’s sort of where the music inspired it, where there’s a crazy swirl on Stephen’s (Carpenter) guitar, the way that Abe’s playing the drums. It’s usually that, it’s something about the music that inspires the image. To me, it’s like a goth sort of tribute in some way—sex and violence.

Frank: Don’t forget Abe’s Knife Dance either. He used to dance with a knife all the time when he gets wasted, I remember.

Deftones_2000_Photo by James Minchin_bw1
Photographed by James Minchin III

How did the album change your lives? 

Chino: That was probably the first time that we got some change in our pockets.

Abe: But the fact that we’re here, playing our songs, traveling the world is still paying off. It’s a body of work that lets us keep on going.

Frank: It showed us the world.

Chino: Abe, did you ever fall asleep buying stuff on Amazon and wake up in the morning and be surprised?

Abe: Yeah. There was a quick phase but we’re back to being simple now. Keeping it simple.

How was the experience like working with Tool’s Maynard James Keenan for the track “Passenger” knowing that his band was one of your influences?

Chino: It was an awesome experience. I love his voice. It was a thing that wasn’t really planned out; it was something that fell into place. At that time, we’ve been hanging out a lot and we became friends. We were almost done with the record and I think that’s the last song that I had to put vocals in. I mentioned to him if he’d be interested in coming in and singing on something. He came into the studio, we sat there, and within an hour, we pretty much wrote all the words back and forth and then we went there and sang it, then he left. It wasn’t until maybe the next day or two when I was listening to it that I was like, “Wow. This is a really cool thing.” It wasn’t planned, no one knew it, even when we put it on the record we didn’t really say like, “featuring Maynard” it was just one of those things like it’s a nice surprise that if you listen to the record and his voice comes in, it opens up this other realm of the record. It was definitely an interesting thing and fun for us to do.

What was your expectation like, music-wise and band-wise, after recording White Pony?  

Abe: I don’t think we had any. We were thrilled with the completion of the process and how things turned out. It was very special. It was a lengthy process too so we were a little exhausted when it was done but we felt that we have something pretty damn cool. But it was a trip. We never really had a plan, we just went in, for better or worse, let it happen. That’s one instance where we’re all clicking together and it worked. Once you make it, you put it out and then people like, you hope that they do, but it’s out of our control at that point.

Frank: I think we’re all excited to get out and play it for everyone though.

It was written that there was a little conflict over the music direction while creating White Pony, how did you guys come to align during that? And did you feel that’s what pushed this album to become so iconic the way it is today?

Chino: It’s partly true but not completely what it was. There’s a lot of things that factored into the direction it took. There weren’t any definitive ideas coming from me or Stephen, who were majority the songwriters for this record, but at that point I started writing more music. I picked up the guitar, which obviously caused a bit of tension because I’m stepping to his role in the band, but it wasn’t anything that bad. It’s not like we fought, it was more or less at any point we would see what we could outdo each other in a friendly competitive way; in a way push each other. It led to elevate and next thing you know, there’s a lot of ideas and passion in making the songs. When we were at our best, that’s what we’re doing. When we were at our worst, it’s a total opposite of that. When everybody was just doing their part, it actually just sounded like that. But when everybody is stepping up and challenging ourselves and each other is I think we’re at our best.

by Frank Maddock 2

What are your influences that shaped your unique sound?

Chino: There’s probably too many to name. We all like a lot of different stuff but we also like a lot of the same stuff. Just in general, we’re all music lovers. If we come to festivals, we’re usually being yelled at because our dressing room is always the loudest dressing room. There’s always music coming out before the shows, after the shows, on the bus; we’re always listening to music. During the time of White Pony, if I had to think about what some records were, I think DJ Shadow record, the Entroducing record, we listened to that record a lot. I think the UNKLE record also just came out, the Psyence Fiction.

Frank Delgado: Massive Attack

Chino: Yeah. A lot of those early, I don’t know if you want to call it trip-hop, but those electronic beat-driven was something that we all really gravitated to at that time.

Is there anything that you would change about White Pony?

Chino: I don’t think so. I guess there are little tiny things like wishing I could re-sing that part or change this word but for the most part, not really. It is what it is. As much as technology has changed since then, I don’t think it’s good to remaster it; to mess with it. It stood the test of time so far. It doesn’t sound dated to me. I would hate to know if we tried to modernize it. I hope that what made it so special is those little idiosyncrasies and those little things that made it what it is.

Special thanks to Warner Music Philippines

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