Album Reviews Q&A: Deftones
Looking likely to have the most acclaimed rock release of 2010 under their belts in the form of Diamond Eyes (it's in my top five), Californian five-piece Deftones have enjoyed one of their best years yet, with sell-out shows complementing a veritable cavalcade of commendations for their recorded wares. But the album, their sixth studio affair, emerged from a very dark period in the band's history - founding bassist Chi Cheng remains in a minimally conscious state since a car accident in November 2008, a situation which led many to assume Deftones would never regroup. But with ex-Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega drafted in, they have produced their strongest set since 2000's perspective-shifting White Pony, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. Frontman Chino Moreno (pictured, centre) took time out from the band's recent UK tour to answer our questions.
Diamond Eyes seems to keep rolling and rolling - great reviews around its release, and now it's appearing in a number of year-end lists. Just how pleased are you with how it's been received?
Well, there's been a lot of ups and downs over the last, say, eight years of our existence, especially when the thing happened with Chi. But I think that acted as an awakening in a way, as it meant we all had to step back and properly look at where we'd been, and where we were going. For one, our foundation was damaged with what happened to him, so we had to rebuild; but when we started to do that, to search for the band, we looked at it from a perspective of counting our blessings - we appreciated that we had each other, and we were still able to do this. I think that mentality, of acknowledging what we had, carried over into when we began making this album. We had a very strong mindset going into it. Which was important, as we'd already been working on Eros (the album the band were recording with Chi prior to his accident, currently unfinished) for a year and a half, and we knew we didn't have much time or money to make a record from scratch. So if we were going to do it, we needed to be really focused. So we locked ourselves in a rehearsal spot, and worked really hard. But we also really enjoyed it, as we were all happy to be together, working on something we knew was going to be special to us.
From the very first listen it's quite clear that this record has a spark to it, a vibrancy, that was perhaps missing in your last couple of albums. I guess this comes from the speed with which it was recorded?
That was a big part of it. The one, I guess, joint idea we had when we went in to record this album was to capture lightning in a bottle, to capture an energy. We'd done this sort of thing before, but that was 12 years or so before, so we really weren't sure how things would work this time, especially as the chemistry was different with Sergio involved. But the first day he was there we started writing and everything felt really natural - it didn't feel like we were trying too hard, and it felt good. Once we realised it was going to work with Sergio we fell into a groove, and from that point on we set about capturing that. I think if we dragged it on longer than we did, perhaps things would have been different - I don't doubt we'd have dragged our feet about it. But the little time and money we had actually worked in our favour.
So it was important not to over-analyse the material too much?
That was a huge part of it. We'd been stuck in that circle before - on previous albums I'd been trying to second-guess reaction to the material, and adjust it accordingly. The label, on the last couple of records, also seemed to want to get more involved at the songwriting stage - I'd send a track to them, and they'd come back with a list of what they thought should change. I wasn't so comfortable working like that, and I ended up having to second-guess myself. Ultimately it took a lot of the fun away, out of making music. But this time we could shut everyone else out and just play together in a small room, writing music until we felt it was right, and until we had them memorised to the extent we could play them all live. We didn't really waste any time at all - we went straight into the studio when the songs were there, and we were really well rehearsed.
I think it's very important that you mention fun, as there must be many bands out there for whom making a new album has become a routine. I wonder how many still get the same satisfaction they did with their first or second records?
I think the energy of this record does hark back to our first two albums - I compare it a lot to our second, Around the Fur. To me, that record was one we never thought we'd be able to make. After the first album, I never thought people would like us as much as they did. So when we got the opportunity to go in and make a second record, the level of confidence we had was really high. And we recorded that album really fast, too - in four months, which for us is really fast! There was definitely an element of fun involved in that process, and we would look forward to going into the studio. And I think Diamond Eyes is definitely comparable to Around the Fur, in that respect.
I'd like to touch upon White Pony, your third album. It's one of those albums that seems to have grown in status as the years have passed, becoming widely cited as influential by a raft of newer bands. But I recall at the time not everyone was particularly positive about it. Was it always destined to be one of those records you have to stick with a while to properly 'get'?
Yeah, I did think that to an extent. I knew we were going a little left of centre, away from what people probably expected of us. We'd become tagged with the nu-metal label, and everything that came with that, and our first instinct was to run away from that. We wanted to dodge it, and I think we did as well as we could. We knew some fans would not get it straight away, but we knew the songs were good and that we'd put a lot of hard work into it. Whether it'd be an album that's stood the test of time, as it has, that was something I didn't know. It's great to see it being talked about to this day, and even if people don't get it straight away, it's got its qualities which I think do emerge. At the time of writing it, Stephen (Carpenter, guitarist) and I were constantly trying to outdo one another. He'd write something which I'd think was cool, so then I'd have to do something better. That went back and forth, back and forth, with us putting great ideas over great ideas, so come the end of the day we had all this material that was all across the board, but I think every style that's on there has had a lot of thought put into it. Looking back now, I'm very proud of it.
White Pony seemed to open up new audiences to you, too - fans that weren't into metal exclusively were attracted to its rich textures, its ambient passages, its experimentation. The way the band is able to gain, and hold, a wide range of listeners is a quality that I don't think can be overstated.
Well, I don't really think about that too much - it's not like we ever have a plan that says we need to appeal to a particular market, or anything. But all of us are fans of a very wide range of music, and if we were to press ahead and make music that only ticked certain boxes or was clearly designed to satisfy very specific tastes, then we'd be putting walls up around ourselves. There are no boundaries now, though I can't quite imagine us dabbling in techno just yet. I mean, I listen to that music though, so perhaps it can seep through as an influence, into a riff or another element. But we really do appreciate a wide variety of music, so when we make records these influences are always at work, subconsciously.
Looking back at 2000, another band took a pretty radical left turn with an album that year. What did you make of Radiohead's Kid A?
That's a great, great record. And at the time it was a real leap for the band. I mean, OK Computer was a massive step on for them, but when Kid A came out I was like, "what is THIS?". People would hear it and have no idea who it was - it wasn't the Radiohead they knew. But I think that was great. And why not? Why not experiment? You can get a little too self-indulgent at times, but I don't think Radiohead were at all. I commend them for that record, and any other artist who reaches outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't - but to try it is one of the most fun parts about being a musician. If you've worked out a formula, it's important to step away from it.
Okay, finally then, what have been your favourite albums of 2010?
Well, I've not been very good at keeping up with new stuff. I know it came out last year but I love the Fever Ray record, and have played that a lot this year. The sounds in it... I love it. I really like Black Noise by Pantha du Prince, too - I guess that's sort of techno, in a way. It's very organic, though - the sounds in it are beautiful, and I listen to that album almost every day. It's very peaceful, but there are strong beats in it too. I guess those are the top two records I can think of, off the top of my head. Pantha du Prince is almost background music in a way, but when you listen closer there's so much going on. The samples and the sounds aren't traditional, it's really in a space of its own. It really isn't a typical dance record at all.