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INTERVIEW: Deftones’ Chino Moreno

It’s been said you are the company you keep. But for Deftones, that was never true. The group was always far better than the acts they were initially lumped in with. Such lazy associations drove the band to shatter all expectations with 2000’s genre masterpiece White Pony, an effort all at once atmospheric, ferocious, expansive, and claustrophobic. Since then, the band has outlasted nearly all their former “peers,” and are set to return on Nov. 13 with Koi No Yokan, their seventh full-length effort. In advance of Deftones’ Chicago show on Tuesday (Oct. 23) at Aragon, frontman Chino Moreno spoke to IE‘s Jaime de’Medici about Koi No Yokan, his thoughts on White Pony a decade later, and why the band connects so well in Chicago.


IE: I’ve seen that the new album, Koi No Yokan, has been compared to White Pony. Is that an apt comparison?

Chino Moreno: For me, it’s hard to say. I mean, obviously when we go in to make a record, we don’t think about, we’re going to make a record that sounds like this or like that, or, whatever. But, I don’t know. It’s – for me, from the inside, it’s really hard to say, even, not what record it sounds like, but what it sounds like in general. So, I don’t know. It’s definitely a Deftones record. It’s got the dynamics, I think, that all of our records have. White Pony being probably one of our, maybe, most dynamic records, as far as having some, a lot of atmosphere in it, as well as, a lot of attack and aggression in it . . . and all in between. I think with this record we really tried to expand on what we’d done in the past. So, it’s definitely not us trying to revert back to anything. But, more or less just taking what we’ve done over the years and expanding on that.

IE: What are some of the newer elements being employed on this new record – sonically, dynamically, lyrically, or otherwise?
CM: I mean, it’s nothing – I don’t think it’s anything too specific. I mean, like I just said, we don’t – we don’t go in with a preconceived idea of what we’re trying to accomplish. So that’s even a part of the answer. But, the main thing, I think, we really focused on was being very immediate, as far as just recording this record with all of us in the room. And really just building off each others’ ideas right in the moment. It wasn’t something that was pieced together or too preconceived. It was really just us living in the moment, and trying to capture that time of us in there together playing. I think we did that very well. Probably the safest thing to say is that it’s – I think the heavier parts are very in your face and very, just, there’s a lot of attack in it. And I think the lush stuff that’s in there is a little more lush. So, it’s basically just going in each direction a little further. At the same time, keeping it cohesive. And, that’s a Deftones record.

IE: Something always mentioned in relation to Deftones is the quiet/loud dynamic. How has that evolved from seven records ago to now?
CM: I think it had a lot to do with just, a lot of the stuff – letting a lot of our influences show a little bit more. It’s probably our most divisive record, I guess, in some way. Obviously we’re a lot younger then, and I think a lot of us were a little, just at that time of our life where it was us against the world type of feeling when you’re in your early twenties, and I think it kind of reflects on that record a little bit. But actually, I think as we grow up, I think we’re able to loosen up a little bit, and let some of more of our influences in. I mean, I myself didn’t grow up listening to much heavy music  –metal music – or anything like that, really growing up, until I actually got in this band, and then I started to listen to it more and obviously became a big fan of it. But, a lot of my earlier influences are more new wave and just different sonics that weren’t just so aggressive. So, I think, over the years, especially with White Pony, I think we really started to open up more and let a lot of those influences come through a little bit more. And not really force them in there, but just let them kind of evolve naturally into our sound. I think over the years it’s gotten more and more expansive in that way. And, at the same time, it’s not like . . . that’s the complete goal of making a record. Like, we don’t – we’re writing something that’s heavy, we don’t stop ourselves and say, ‘Hey! We need to stop being so heavy right now because we’re doing too much to the left and we need to go to the right.’ It’s not that conscious a response. It’s just the way we feel. I think all of us are influenced by so much different stuff, from what we grew up listening to, to what we listen to today. And we just try to let those influences come out as natural as possible.

IE: White Pony is often brought up as a high point of the band’s career. Do you agree, or do you wish other records received more focus?
CM: No . . . I totally agree with it . . . It’s not my personal favorite record of ours. My favorite record of ours is Around The Future. And it’s probably not a better record than the White Pony because I believe that White Pony‘s probably our best record as far as I think we were definitely at a peak in our creativity where we really . . . were trying to make a point about not being lumped in with our contemporaries at the time. We were getting totally lumped in with every other nu-metal band on the planet that were . . . at that time, were pretty much ruling the airwaves. And, although it would’ve been so easy for us just to kind of go along with what we had been, what we had created a couple records past, and just keep along path, we really made an effort to steer left from that and to really push ourselves and experiment on different things. And it just so happened to work out. It’s not like we knew that we were creating something so great. But we knew we were doing something that was challenging and a little different from what was expected. So, we were successful on that record, and it is a great record. I mean, I listened to that record recently and I hear, there’s a lot of – it’s just straight – I don’t know, it’s very – to me – it’s a very organic record because it just happened in that way. It wasn’t forced out. We decided to take a left turn, and that’s where . . . we ended up, and it’s great. But my favorite record is probably our second record, Around The Fur, and it’s just mainly because, that time in our lives, I think there was no pressure at all to do anything. I mean, we made our first record, and I didn’t even think that that record was going to be that successful, or people were going to embrace it like they did. So, when they did – and that’s my least favorite record to this day – I knew that we could for sure outdo that record, and I wasn’t like, pressured at all. And we just like, made a record super fast and in four months we wrote and recorded that thing. And, I don’t know, there’s something really special about that just for me personally.

IE: What do you attribute Deftones’ longevity to, compared to bands you were lumped in with a decade ago?
CM: I think making those decisions, like I was talking about during the . . . Around The Fur record, but mainly, the White Pony record. Just making that decision to go in different directions, and not feel like we’re in this mold and have to stay within these confines of what we’re expected to sound like. So, just challenge ourselves in that way and experimenting. I think with every record, whether it turns out the way we want it to or not, I think just the fact that we take those chances to do that kind of stuff. I mean, it’s not like we completely change our sound with every record . . . but we’re willing to always expand and just like, try to just challenge ourselves. I mean, for us, honestly, I think that’s what keeps it interesting for us. If there was a formula that we followed with every record, [I'd] be way over it by now. And I don’t think we’d be doing this.

IE: Koi No Yokan is Sergio Vega’s second album with Deftones. How has he affected the dynamic of the band?
CM: He’s awesome. I mean, his playing is one thing. It’s great and I think it really, it pushes everybody to challenge themselves. But, his persona, I mean, his person, I think when he came in at the time he did, obviously it was a really scary point for us in our career where there was a lot of uncertainty whether we were going to carry on or not, or whatever. And, if it wasn’t for him, personally, I don’t think we would have. I think he came in, and he just, his whole spirit and everything. He’s a good friend, and he’s very creative, and he’s willing to work at all points, and I think it really motivates all of us. I mean, he came in, he has his bass strapped on, and he’s just ready to play it at any moment and that definitely kind of woke everybody up a little bit too. Like, excited everybody else to gravitate towards their instruments and to do that. So, in a lot of ways, he really is a strong force in what’s going on . . . these last two records.

IE: Producer Nick Raskulinecz is back for *Koi No Yokan after previously producing 2010’s Diamond Eyes. Talk about that decision.
CM: Yeah. Well, with Diamond Eyes, that was our first time really working with him and really working with a producer who really is involved in pre-production, which is from the moment we start writing up until we go into the studio. We usually – that part’s all done just with us five guys, and then we go into the studio with a producer and they track the record, and . . . it usually works out great. But, when he came in for Diamond Eyes, he really took this role where he just kind of helped, really helped us be efficient, I think, with the way that we work. Really paying attention to everything. [He] let us kind of just play our instruments and he would sort of stand there and help, kind of, guide us, I guess. Because a lot of times when we start playing, although we’re having a blast and we’re sitting there just jamming along with each other, it’s really easy to lose focus of where you started and where you end up. And he was really good about reigning us in and, kind of, reminding us, ‘Well, here’s the essence of the song. This is where you started, and this is why you guys were so excited, smiling an hour ago. And now you’re like off in outer space.’ And that’s great, but like, he kind of . . . helps us make sense of it, really. So we’re free to not think so much about arranging songs and what everybody else is doing, but just really just getting into your playing and what you’re doing. And, I think that really helps keep the whole process organic. Just like, it’s more on feel and less on thought.

IE: Deftones have a long history of playing Chicago, ranging from venues like Metro all the way up to festivals like Lollapalooza. What are some memories you have of performing in Chicago?
CM: Man, I have so many great memories of Chicago. I mean, from our earliest days and the Aragon. I mean, I don’t know, I just – there’s so many good times that we’ve had. I really miss, actually, doing the smaller shows there. Though, it seems like a lot of times we’ve been there in the past, we’ve been doing bigger shows with packages. Whether it’s the Alice In Chains thing, or whatever. It seems like we’ve always had this kind of kinship where they, I think, even early on, the days where the people of Chicago have understood our music a little more maybe than some other places, especially in the Midwest. So I’ve always felt like . . . we’re understood there a little better, I don’t know. But, the crowds have always been very receptive and the shows have always been good. So, I’m excited to get back.

— Jaime de’Medici

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