Deftones frontman Chino Moreno talks survival and Koi No Yokan
If you'd have been forced to pick one band from metal's class of 1995 whose star you thought would still be burning brightly some 17 years later, chances are you'd have gotten pretty long odds on Deftones. Not that anyone ever doubted their talent, but it would have seemed improbable that a band whose existence was predicated on such raw, physical intensity could have survived intact for almost two decades. As mid-nineties sparring partners like Korn resort to courting the likes of Skrillex in an attempt to stay relevant, we ask bandleader Chino Moreno just what it is that separated Deftones from the pack:
"In all honesty, we've gone through a lot of ups and downs in our career but we've never really exploded overnight. We were never as big as some of these other bands, but at the same time I feel like we've been very consistent. I never ask myself 'why are we still making records?' – it's just what we do. I think it comes down to something as simple as us being friends – we're buddies and we've known each other since we were kids. We're just lucky to have each other and to enjoy what we do. I still get burned out sometimes, but honestly, playing the show is the fun part of the day. The rest of it – like being at the mercy of whatever fucked-up city you might happen to be in, or whatever – those are the kind of things that drive you crazy after a while."
If his band's own sense of camaraderie has only been reinforced in recent times, it is surely attributable in some part to the tragic events of four years ago which brought Deftones as close as they've ever been to calling it a day:
"Chi's back home now but it's still a daily battle for him to come out of this state," he says of the band's original bassist, who this year emerged from coma to partial consciousness following a near fatal road accident in 2008. "It's four years now and he's still fighting and I think we all still have hope that one day he could possibly come out of this. To what extent, nobody really knows – but we try to keep positive and hope for the best."
Moreno admits that if it hadn't been for the presence of Sergio Vega (also of recently reformed NYC post-hardcore kings Quicksand), he "couldn't see the band continuing on, trying to find some bass player to fill in Chi's spot. We're very close as friends; it's not like he's some hired hand. He's just as close to me as Abe and Steph and everyone else. We're very lucky to have him."
Speedily recorded with Vega in late 2009, the band's Diamond Eyes LP won favour with both fans and critics, bringing a new sense of purpose to the re-organised unit: "As difficult a time as it was, we were really able to turn around our whole work ethic and the way that we approached writing music together. We reconnected to what it's like to be in a room with your friends and appreciating this moment in time – and trying to capture that moment. It gave us a lot of confidence, both individually and as a band," says Moreno. "I mean, we were coming off a couple of hard records. Saturday Night Wrist took three years to make and it's not like it was that great for taking three years. With Diamond Eyes we felt like we made a great record and it got this great response. The whole touring cycle for Diamond Eyes was really great too – everybody was very physically and mentally in shape and feeling good. So we came off the road fired up and ready to go in and do it again."
Buoyed by fresh focus, the band applied the same sense of discipline to the recording of their latest album, Koi No Yokan: "We'd all come in around noon at a little rehearsal spot close to my house in north Hollywood and we'd spend five or six hours with the door shut, coming up with ideas – everybody just getting in the moment. We're at a point right now where everybody's inspired, you know? The songs really wrote themselves, in a way.
"One of the problems we used to have [in the studio] was that nothing was ever finished. What it really was was a lack of communication. Stephen [Carpenter, guitar] would go into the studio and record a part and I'd come in a week later and be, like, 'that's cool' but sometimes I'd change it a little bit or I'd put a vocal over a certain part, or something wouldn't fit and I'd move it around and he'd kind of get pissed – which I can totally understand. But when we actually write the songs in the same room – all five guys at the same time – we eliminate that from happening."
When discussing the album's title (a Japanese phrase which approximates the idea of love at first sight), Moreno is upfront about his uncomplicated reasons for choosing it: "I think it's pretty. I read it and it really caught my eye. The way it sounds is very poetic – just the words themselves – and I think that when you read the meaning it's definitely something that speaks to a lot of people – people that have been lucky enough to experience something like that. Funnily enough, Stephen was the one that was pushing for it because he felt that it captured how the record feels to him, and I think that's great because usually he doesn't say anything about my lyrics. It made me feel really good that he read them and liked them enough to make a comment to me about it – and really felt a connection with it."
Packed to the gills with riffs of an almost psychedelic intensity, but shot through with disarmingly sensual melody lines and intriguing romantic allusions, Koi No Yokan is unmistakably the work of a band with total confidence in their own abilities. And whilst Moreno is the first to admit his preoccupation with the textural and sculptural qualities of sound, he professes the belief that this time around the band's pursuit of an elemental sonic intensity has not come at the expense of accessibility:
"Honestly, I feel that some of these songs are more commercial than anything we've ever written – and we didn't consciously try to do that at all. It seemed like in the past we would get so much pressure to make music for the radio – that would fit into a radio format or whatever. That used to suck. If you try to write music for any other reason than to make a great song, that shit will drive you crazy."
With the interview winding down, we wonder out loud if Moreno still has the insatiable curiosity for new music which made him such a notorious anomaly in the metal community: "Personally, I still listen to music all day, every day – probably even more than I did when I was a kid. I still get lost in music; finding new music... and that inspires me all the time to just create different sounds."
And the sounds that have been most inspiring to him of late?
"I have to say that I've been listening to a lot of trap music recently; a lot of beat oriented stuff."
"Definitely not dubstep..."