Deftones Interview

Posted October 12, 2012 in

Photo: 13th Witness

When talking about the late '90s miasma of hair gel, polyester cargo pants and the tuneless staccato of nu-metal, many cop an apologetic tone. "Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking … bleaching only the tips of my hair, listening to rap-metal …" But for all the bad crossover, the media pigeonholing and Adidas-clad buffoonery that accompanied the era, bands like Deftones loomed a cut above their contemporaries.

Sure, they came from California playing aggressive music geared at loveless adolescents, but the electricity and kaleidoscopic gravity of albums like White Pony leant a weight and substance to the group and era, all but absent in the chest-beating bravado of the typical Ozzfest ilk.
Surviving the "Nu Metal" press tags, a fatal car accident, which put longtime bassist Chi Cheng out of commission, and a slew of studio problems, the band has emerged triumphant, confident and, since the 2010 release of Diamond Eyes, wholly invigorated.
I chatted with Deftones Keyboardist and DJ Frank Delgado about the upcoming album, their new approach to recording and his own musical genesis.
SLUG: What's the significance of the title of the upcoming album, Koi No Yokan?
Delgado: It's a loose term for "Premonition of Love," kind of like "love at first sight." It's not really translatable from [Japanese to English], but that's what drew us to it. It sounds cool, and all of our records have flirted with "love" and stuff. I guess you could say we're lovers! (Laughs)
SLUG: Deftones are DEFINITELY lovers. On Antiquiet, Chino was comparing this album to White Pony …
Delgado: It's funny, because when we start doing a new record press, everybody wants to relate it to the last record or one of our other records. In terms of the album as a whole and the feelings involved, it feels closest to White Pony—dynamic wise, especially. When we made White Pony, we were taking chances with ourselves and with what people thought we were supposed to sound like. When that record came out, we totally took a left turn, and it became our most successful record. It was just about us believing in ourselves and trusting our intuition. We have a lot of the same feelings we did then, with the new record, especially coming off of Diamond Eyes and our run with that. We're feeling confident. When we went in to make Koi No Yokan, we just ran with our instincts and didn't second-guess anything.
SLUG: White Pony was my first exposure to Deftones, and from album to album, there's always been a really definite progression. You always existed within a certain genre, but never sounded like your contemporaries.
Delgado: Yeah, the press put us in that genre at the time, nu-metal or whatever, but we were just a young band from California with a lot of influences, and we tried to use those influences without ripping anyone off and creating our own path. We're getting much better at that, still at this age.
SLUG: I've read that Koi No Yokan involved a more collaborative writing approach. How do Deftones songs usually start?
Delgado: It could start with anything honestly, but it's never really started with lyrics. Always the music first, that's the one thing that's always happened in this band. It's always a collaborative thing, though. It's just [that] now, it's more of a fun collaborative thing, whereas in the past, it was kind of hard. It's a lot of fun, and we're using our minds and our time much more efficiently. It shouldn't be that hard to make a record, especially this day and age with technology the way it is. There were a few years where life would get in the way of creating a good creative space. We've been there, and the last few years have been really good for us, despite all that's happened as far as Chi [Cheng]'s accident and whatnot. We've persevered, and with Sergio [Vega] coming in, he just adds that energy. I can't complain.
SLUG: He's incredible. I just saw Quicksand at FYF fest, and I'm amazed at how brilliant the musicianship of that band is.
Delgado: Oh yeah, great band. We were always fans of them. It's cool how this has all worked out. 
SLUG: Sergio played on Diamond Eyes and has contributed a substantial amount to Koi No Yokan as well …
Delgado: He really contributed the same amount to both records. When we went in to do Diamond Eyes, we started with nothing. We were previously in the middle of making a record with Chi and that got put on the backburner, so when Sergio came into the mix, we just started creating new tracks and nothing has changed since then. It really feels like we're riding that same high as when we wrote Diamond Eyes. I mean, we only took a month off between album cycles before we were right back in the studio. We're just having fun … but to get back to your question earlier, it could start with anything. A loop, a riff, a beat. It's all about what sounds cool and when we all think, "Oh that sounds cool," we'll follow that person's idea and each try to add cooler shit to it. 
SLUG: Writing Saturday Night Wrist was much longer and more labored. Did that put a strain on the band?
Delgado: Well, I think it started with White Pony. We went in with half a record and then we wrote half the record in the studio, which can work sometimes and you get really good songs like that. You can capture a certain spontaneity, but when it doesn't work, it becomes really expensive and you end up wasting a lot of time, and you don't really need to be spending crazy amounts of money just to hang out in these big studios being "experimental." There's life, too. Whether it's family members passing, divorces or drugs, all those things came into play during those other records, White Pony and beyond. Now, we've lived, we're older and there's no drugs. No one's undergoing a crisis in their life, besides us being really sad that Chi is kind of on the wayside right now. It's a growing process. We're self-taught in everything we do do, so we've had to teach ourselves how to do everything. We've grown up as kids to men together.
SLUG: Is there a conscious effort to spend less time in the studio then?
Delgado: It actually involves more work because what we do now is, instead of going into a big-budget studio, we just hang out in our little, shitty-ass rehearsal room, we get all our gear together and we hash it out. We fucking write a record, play it over and over again, and by the time we go into the studio, we can play the whole record from beginning to end. Now we're not spending two years in the studio, we're spending two months, you know? It's much more efficient.
SLUG: So you go in lean and ready with material. I've read that you aren't into sampling the work of other artists. Why the drive to create your own samples? 
Delgado: It more or less comes from the fact that it's what I had to do in the early days. I had a bunch of records, and I really didn't know how to play an instrument when I first hooked up with the band. I started submitting my samples to them, and the best way to do that was to find the most obscure sound, whether it was psych rock or early electronic music or new age atmospheric stuff that I could manipulate into the band's sound and create another sonic element that wasn't there before. As I got better at it, I was able to create melodies. As technology got better and I was able to get more gear, I started learning more, and I was able to create my own sounds through keyboards and software instead of trying to sample records and risk being sued. The way I'd disguise my samples is that I had a bunch of guitar pedals, distortion pedals, and I'd plug them into my rig so I could delay the shit out of those sounds, and extend it and pitch it and bend it and put it on the turntable and add distortion to it. At that point, it doesn't sound anything like the original sound. Now, I'm able to create my own samples—I'm confident and can write and play my own keyboard sounds. It's just been a growing process.
SLUG: Was Nick Raskulinecz chosen to produce simply because of his work on Diamond Eyes?
Delgado: Yeah. We had a really good experience with him. He changed up our whole work ethic. Again, we were coming off of records that were taking us three years to make, and when he got involved, he was just like "alright guys we're gonna start at noon and we're gonna end at 6, Monday through Friday." We were just productive. We used to work from, like, 10 at night till 4 a.m. or something. It was just like, "fuck off!" It would mess your whole day up just getting up at 4 in the morning. You can't make it to the post office or do normal things. He had us record in a little space outside of our hometown where we could get up in the morning, run our normal errands and come to the studio. It just worked out. He's a really cool dude, and we got along with him well. He brought out the best in us, and could hear the band really well. He never told us what to do, but when we were doing something really cool, he'd let us know. He'd give a nod, like "stay on that path." He'd help us find stuff we may have normally forgotten in our sound. That's what we were looking for, and so we did it again.
SLUG: Tell me about your musical upbringing—child of the '80s stuff. 
Delgado: I was buying music early on. I was born in the '70s, and I had my first record when I was five years old. I was always around music. I loved it all. As a kid, just whatever pop music was on the radio and as a teenager getting into heavy metal. Once I got into middle school and I'd heard hip hop, I had some friends who had brothers who were DJs—I just got engulfed in that. Through hip hop, I ended up finding jazz and punk, and just being in that world of digging through records just informed my tastes. It's funny: When I moved up north and met up with the band, they were into ALL kinds of stuff. It was very comforting to me that, as a group, we weren't closed-minded. Plus, they were into really cool rock music that I hadn't heard yet, moving from Southern California to Northern California—like the big thrash stuff or Primus. Through that experience, they got me to come hang out, and because I had a shitload of records, it progressed from there. I knew there was something really cool about this band, and the last thing I wanted to do was, just because I liked hip hop, to steer the band into that. I made a conscious effort to add to the soundscape they were creating. We'd listen to stuff like The Cure, and I had that for a template of what I could contribute to the band and not feel snuffed out by this massive guitar and whatnot. I carved a space into the sonic structure.
SLUG: It's always come through in your sound. Everyone has brought their entire music history into it. Also, hardcore kids love the Deftones. It transcends genres.
Delgado: That's been the most important factor to us, what's kept us going. It's never been about us trying to fit into another social circle with other bands or having a certain look. It's just us, trying to make records that we can be proud of.
SLUG: What's with the B-side covers of Elvis? Is that true?
Delgado: (laughs) I'm sure one of us just said that to throw people off the radar. We usually do some really cool covers. It's always been last second and kind of spontaneous. I'm proud of the covers we've done, and it's always been a fun thing. It's weird, now that it's expected of us. I liked it when it was just something we did and now it's like, "Oh, you're going to do a cool '80s cover..." We're not really feelin' it when it's gone to that point. I like the fact that we do it when it comes towards the end of a recording cycle and it was done out of love. It wasn't a ploy for a single. 
Check out Deftones at In the Venue on Oct. 17 and the new album, Koi No Yokan, available on Nov. 13.
Photo: 13th Witness Photo: 13th Witness