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A Quietus Interview

A New Kind Of Sincerity: Deftones Interviewed
Jack Mills , June 3rd, 2010 10:29

Jack Mills talks to the Deftones about their new album Diamond Eyes and coping with the absence of bassist Chi Cheng

As painstakingly documented as the phallus-beard itself, a Chino Moreno lyric will focus on one of five, maybe six themes: Masochism, voyeurism, lovelorn, libido, fetish-taboo or boredom. 'Digital Bath''s protagonist realises sexual enlightenment through snuff flick-style electrocution porn; 'Deathblow' orbits autoerotic asphyxiation; and '7 Words', Deliverance-style sodomy and bloodlust. When Chi Cheng, the Sacramento experi-metalists' four string favourite, was seriously injured in a car crash in November 2008, Moreno and the band were faced with the possibility of tragedy. Musically, Moreno's propensity for hyperreality took a turn for the macabre; informed rather vividly on this month's Diamond Eyes by the situation that befell him, songs such as 'Royal' adopted a new kind of sincerity: a closer layer of empathy, somehow.

Meeting the band in their make-stay in Marylebone, there is a look of acceptance on their faces nowadays, but the shock is still raw. The Quietus went to find out how the accident affected the music's construction, mechanics and emotional dimensionality, and what working with Sergio Vega, Chi's current stand-in and formally of Quicksand, has been like.

For the record, what is Chi's condition at the moment? I understand he's not in intensive care anymore...

Chino Moreno: Yeah, he's been out of his coma for a while now, which is great. He's still in a minimally conscious state, which means he sleeps a lot, wakes up, opens his eyes and looks around but he's yet to communicate. He's got some good doctors around him right now, but it's gonna take some time, y'know? He's been fighting for over a year and a half now. So we're still just waiting, being patient and hoping that he comes around soon.

What has it been like playing with Sergio? He filled in for you back in 1999...

CM: Sergio's great, man. We were always big Quicksand fans. He's a great musician from a great band and he's a good friend of ours. We've known him for a number of years. He filled in for Chi as you said, so it's feeling fairly natural really. As soon as he came in, we hit a creative stride. We started writing the day he arrived and a couple of months later we had a record's worth of material. It felt really good, actually. He helped with the writing too, from the very beginning.

So you just asked him outright?

CM: Yeah, we just called and asked him. Once we got together as a band again, we instantly felt the need to play music. It just felt like the most natural thing to do. At that point, it had been a good year and a half since we'd played a show. We wanted to perform, and that was the initial reason for asking Sergio to come down. As soon as he got to the studio, we started getting creative. We practiced a few old songs with him, but after that we began writing as one.

Frank Delgado (turntable and keys): 'Royal' was written on the very first day we practiced with him again, actually. It was as quick as that.

CM: It was like: "This feels good, let's keep doing this."

You had Eros written, but not recorded, before it...

FD: Yeah, pretty much. Chino was still doing vocals on half the tracks [before the accident], but music-wise it had been finished for a while.

You've mentioned how Eros has a strong experimental bent. Can you elaborate?

CM: Well, the songs were simply a little less reined in: more 'jammy' I guess, and less focused. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but with Diamond Eyes we jumped on the song's original idea and were able to hone it in and build around it. These songs are just little gems, really.

FM: Yeah, and with Eros we really hadn't found much of a work ethic yet. We'd go in and start jamming and somebody would have an idea, but it would start 'here' and end up somewhere completely different. This time we found a way to go back to the essence of the song and discover what we liked about it in the first place. That's where Nick Raskulinecz [producer - Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver, Goatsnake] really helped. He just showed us how to be natural again and kept things focused. When we were in the studio recording Eros we'd be sitting around not doing much, and once we'd start playing we would communicate purely through our instruments. There would be little talking and the jams would go off into many different tangents, which were kinda cool but it's not an easy environment to work in. A lot of that stuff we weren't even recording, either.

CM: I think it's been a continual thing through the last couple of records, too: piecing our stuff together and writing as we played. But it's kinda cool to be prepared before going into the studio and that's what makes Diamond Eyes a cohesive thing. We feel like we've captured this energy - this lightning in a bottle. We were having loads of fun during Eros and a lot of it we like, though.

FD: All the songs were recorded in a two month time frame. We had this tremendous burst of creativity when Sergio came, and we just jumped on it. A week later we went to LA and that's when it happened. By this stage we'd been in Sacramento for well over a year, and we just made a clean break from it. We went to the studio with what we felt was a completely clean pallet. As opposed to patching up Eros, teaching Sergio Chi's parts and touring it, we felt like we just needed to completely rebuild our infrastructure: start from point A, and see where it took us.

This is perhaps your most consistently textural album to date, exploring drone and soundscaping in parts. Latter-day Deftones records have always shown strong elements of musical dimensionality, but this one seems to fall headlong into layering from the start.

CM: Well, we love drone and stuff like that. The majority of the music I listen to is purely instrumental. Not that I don't like singing or singers, it's just that I feel that there's so much optimism in wordless music. The idea that it can take you wherever you want and not confine you to these thoughts or words... It's just music as a feeling, you know? Bringing different soundscapes into our music is always something that we've tried to do. I mean, that was Frank's whole role in the band when we brought him in. At that time, he was just a DJ and his only instrument was a turntable. White Pony was when we really started to experiment with sound more. We were trying to create this disgusting sound with the instruments on that record.

You seemed to be operating on a totally perverse level to your contemporaries during the start of the last decade.

CM: Ha ha! I like that.

FD: It was pretty perverse...

In the past your words painted various bizarre situations and characters. But Chi's accident adds a fresh splash of rawness, and in turn, new obstacles to climb when sifting through the lyric sheet. There's deeper feeling of ambiguity to the music now...

Chino: Yes, definitely. I like to be ambiguous when writing to a certain extent, and throwing something so brash [as Chi's accident] against that and playing with it. And also making it sound dimensional. Giving the feeling off that it is raw and it is emotional, but it's not just connected with our personal story. It's not merely about our career and our lives, it's bigger than that. When I hear the music, I get inspired to paint the lyrical pictures you describe, but I'm not always talking about myself.

Did you feel like you were almost trying to speak for Chi, who was still in a coma at the time of writing? Or even as an attempt to communicate with him in some way?

CM: Well, possibly. I feel, going back to this dimensional thing, like our music is disconnected from just living on this planet. There are many other realms that music travels to. It's hard for me to say exactly what I'm referring to at a certain point of a song because I don't like to confine it [conceptually]. They are just stories and I don't like the idea of deciding on one before I write something and being forced to stick within the confines of that. When I go to write, I like to feel it can go anywhere it wants to. But of course you can't help but notice when it's done that certain elements of your reality are effecting it. The most important thing is to try to create in an organic way and avoid contriving or forcing it.

What inspires the lyrical themes the most?

CM: I get inspired by all sorts of things. I kinda like talking about things that are, y'know, taboo, and mixing it with the feel of the music. It relates with some of the movies I like, like old film noir and the imagery of some of those movies. David Lynch too: dark and violent in some ways, romantic in others.

To donate to the One Love For Chi Cheng fund, click here.