When Deftones broke out in the late ’90s, they were frequently lumped in with the era’s nu-metal acts. But the genre classification never fit comfortably, as Deftones drew from a much wider range of influences than just metal or hip-hop — including everything from electronic to shoegaze to classic ’80s alternative rock — and also because of their longevity. Around the time that many of their peers peaked on rock radio, Deftones put out 2000’s White Pony, an art-metal masterpiece that forever altered their career trajectory.
In the years since then, Deftones have continued to put out acclaimed albums that have put them outside the metal mainstream. Their latest, Ohms (due out September 25), is their strongest work in years, a return to form that finds them reconnecting energetically with their heavy, hard-rock roots. In a sense, Ohms is a literal return to the band’s early days — the well-pedigreed producer Terry Date (Pantera, Soundgarden), who oversaw the first four Deftones records, is back in the fold after an absence of more than 15 years. According to singer Chino Moreno, the band members also reconnected on a personal level after 2016’s somewhat disappointing Gore, hanging out more together than they have in a long while, before the pandemic made that impossible. “I miss those dudes,” he says. “I haven’t seen any of them in six months.”
When Moreno was asked to revisit Deftones’ catalogue, he didn’t hold back, candidly assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the band’s eight studio records. What’s clear, however, is that he remains committed to Deftones one quarter-century into their recording career. “Everybody firing on all cylinders,” he says. “There’s not one of us individually that was sort of sitting back just going along.”
That was a long ass time ago, especially because we started the band pretty young. We were in 10th grade, and we started playing together in the garage just as friends and neighbors. I knew Abe [Cunningham], our drummer, from school. And I knew Stephen [Carpenter], he grew up down the street from me. We all skateboarded, so we all just hung out and talked about music all the time. Abe had been playing drums since he was a kid, but he was never in a band. And Stephen wasn’t really in a band either. He just more or less had a bunch of gear. I introduced those two dudes and we just started playing.
What ended up on the first record, at that point it was our life’s work. Those are basically some of the first songs we wrote. The fact that we got a record deal was pretty scary, for me especially. I still didn’t really consider myself a singer or an artist in any way. The way I approached everything was pretty much trial by error.
We probably drove [Terry Date] crazy because we were just punk skateboarder kids. I think we were hard to wrangle. I remember I couldn’t commit to any words. Maybe a third of that record, there’s no lyrics on it, because I was so nervous. As a songwriter, I didn’t know how to write lyrics. I would just make stuff up and then he would keep it. If I ever had to go back on something, it would be different every time. That’s probably why some of the record makes me cringe a little bit.
I think it came out okay. Maybe good. It’s probably one of my least favorite records of ours. My confidence as a vocalist, it hadn’t really blossomed at all. Sometimes there’s beauty in that, when you don’t know what you’re doing. There are some moments in there that are pretty special. But yeah, I hear our youth in that record.
Around The Fur (1997)
Adrenaline was obviously not a mainstream album at all, but it was successful enough where the record company gave us the opportunity to make another record. At that point, I felt like we’d grown. We toured a lot for Adrenaline and I felt like we were just a way better band at that time. There was a lot more confidence going in to making that record. Shoot, we wrote and recorded and mixed everything from start to finish in four months. Considering the record before, like I said, we spent years making it. This was like we just caught this energy, like a “lightning in a bottle” kind of thing.
We were all pretty much in our early 20s, and just full of energy. More than anything, confidence, I think, when you hear that record, that’s the one thing that stands out. That probably is one of my favorite records of ours, because of that reason.
White Pony (2000)
That was a whole other animal. Having success with Around The Fur, I felt like we were on top of our game in a lot of ways. But the climate in music had gotten really polluted at the time with a lot of bands making this formulated riff-driven radio rock kind of stuff. I didn’t really despise it, but I wasn’t really a big fan of it. I just knew that I wanted to take what we just did, with that confident vibe, and see where we could go.
At that time, I was listening to more electronic, breakbeat stuff, like DJ Shadow records, UNKLE records, trip-hop. More drum-forward music. We all were, actually. I think we wanted to dive into that a little bit, and see how we can really bring some of these sonics into our sound. When we were done with the record, I remember us being proud of it. But I also remember a lot of our fans not liking it, or maybe not getting it. They were just like, “Where are the old Deftones at? Where’s the screaming?” It was a slow grower and there was a lot more to take in.
I knew that we liked it. But I didn’t know where it was going to fit in in the times. To be honest, it really didn’t fit in. We didn’t really get much radio play.
That’s probably one of our darkest records. By the time we were done touring with White Pony, everybody was a little spent. Because we had been going nonstop basically since Adrenaline, with touring and then right into the studio again and then more touring. Not really having any time off. A few of us got into bad habits, and it just really seemed like this dark cloud was over us.
Because we were successful with White Pony and we went against the grain, I was thinking, “Oh, we can just do that again and we’ll just make another great record.” That formula just doesn’t exist. What you put into something is what you get out of it. That sort of dragged down the record making process for a while. As far as the music, I actually really like it: It’s heavy, and it’s big sounding, and it’s really dark. White Pony was more fantasy kind of lyrics, and not really looking inward, and just writing about random shit. Where this one, even though the words are metaphorical, I was writing a lot about what I was going through at the time.
I was a little out of my mind, with drugs or whatever, and just sort of in a dark place. That record is really heavy in that way. It’s probably one of our only records that when I listen to it, I get a weird feeling. Some of the stuff’s not comfortable for me to listen to.
Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
That record is probably our most fragmented piece of work. Everybody was sort of in their own realm. We rarely were even in the room together when we wrote it. Chi [Cheng] would lay down a bass line, and then Abe came in and put drums to it. Stephen would come in later and put a guitar to it, whatever. Some of it was recorded in Malibu, some of it in New York, some of it in Sacramento. We recorded some of it at my buddy’s house in LA. Like I said, fragmented.
In our minds, maybe we thought we were utilizing technology in a cool way. But a lot of times we weren’t on the same page. We had to learn the hard way. From the time we started and the time we finished it was three years. That was our longest time spent on making a record.
At one point, I was like, “I’ve got to get out of here.” I vamped out for six months and I just didn’t talk to anybody. I had a Team Sleep record that I’d already been working on that was finished. And I was like, “I’m going to go tour on this and get sober too.” That was one thing that really helped me. I went to Europe, and it wasn’t like I could just go there and find drugs. I was with those dudes in the band who were all pretty straight. I got sober and I just went out and played shows.
At the very end, I picked the best of what I thought was there and built the record out of it, and just put lyrics over it in the last minute. The record really sounds like that to me when I listen to it. Maybe it doesn’t to everybody else, but I think me, because I know that, the record has that feel to it.
Diamond Eyes (2010)
We were all starting to really really get along. We got really close again. You know that board game Risk? We’d play games of Risk for hours. Playing poker. Sitting around, talking shit. And we were just really hanging out a lot of times. Music was sort of secondary. But I think it was really important as far as us reconnecting and having fun and hanging out together. It was great.
Right in the middle of all that, I was working on vocals (for the unreleased album Eros). Most of the music was done. And that’s when I got a call in the morning that Chi had been in an accident. At that point, obviously, the band was secondary . We were all pretty shook up, and we didn’t know what our future was going to be. It wasn’t until maybe six months or so later, Chi was still in a coma and we all met up at our studio in Sacramento and just sat around to talk about our future.
Before we even talked, everybody just went over to their instruments and we just started jamming. From that day we started writing what would become Diamond Eyes. Obviously we got Sergio [Vega] to come in. He’d filled in for Chi once before, years ago when Chi had broken his foot. He was a good friend.
That ended up being our fastest record we ever produced. We wrote it in a month and recorded it in a month. I really felt like we captured lightning in a bottle. At that point we were probably the closest we’d ever been as a band. Obviously when something like that happens tragically to one of your best friends who you grew up with, that really puts things in perspective.
I’m not really quite sure (if Eros will ever come out). It would take basically going in and finishing it. Any time we get together we’re always sort of looking forward, or creating something in the moment. So that would be more of a nostalgic kind of thing there. To open up those files would probably be heavy too. Emotionally heavy. Just because it’s the last thing that Chi played on. Not saying that we won’t do it, but we haven’t made any plans any time in the near future to do so. That’s probably as clear as I can answer that.
Koi No Yokan (2012)
Nick Raskulinecz produced Diamond Eyes and he did a great job being present and helping us remember what we’re doing. One thing about us when we’re writing songs, we jam a lot together. We’ll start somewhere playing an idea, and an hour later we’ll be completely on another planet, unless someone’s there recording us saying, “Hey, go back 30 minutes here and listen to what you did here.”
So we did another record with him, and he wasn’t as present. He was finishing up a Rush record, and right after us he was starting an Alice In Chains record, I think. Or vice versa. At the beginning of the writing, he wasn’t really there much, and at the end of recording, he wasn’t really there much. We were left with his engineer, Matt Hyde. We finished the record though, and we were pretty proud of it.
To me I feel like it’s a reprise of Diamond Eyes in a way. They seem very similar to me. Both those records I think compliment each other.
That’s a tough one. This was going to be our third record with Sergio, and it was to be the third record with Nick Raskulinecz. At that time, Nick was pretty busy. So we decided, “You know what? We’ll just kind of do this DIY. We’ll get Matt Hyde who engineered the Koi record, just to help us record. But we’re going to do it ourselves.” It was a learning process. We never really had any direction or someone to help us make sense of what we were doing.
One of the biggest things that happened was Stephen sort of checked out for a lot of the writing process. Though he was there, physically, he was not showing much interest in jamming along with it. Later towards the end of the process, he took me aside and said, “Hey, I’m sorry that I wasn’t really there mentally.” Obviously he was going through something, and his head just wasn’t in it. I get it. I’ve been in that place before. It’s not like I was mad at him for it. But at the same time, it’s not like we were going to start all over again and make another record. The record kind of was finished, and it is what it was. But the biggest thing is, I think in the end, his presence wasn’t felt as strongly as we all wished it would’ve in that record.
As a band, we were all getting along very well, and we were having fun. Even before Terry came in, I just hit up Stephen on the side, I was like, “Hey man, let’s go hang out in LA. I’ll fly down, me and Abe. Let’s just play together.” I really wanted it be to like how it was when we were kids in the garage, making something out of nothing together.
It wasn’t that we didn’t want Sergio or Frank [Delgado] there. I really just wanted to break things down to the core of us three, to get us all really on the same page. So we started writing. We did maybe a week or so together, came up with a few ideas. But I think that process really really helped.
There’s this public perception that Stephen and I are at odds, you know what I mean? A lot of people think, “He’s the metal guy.” And I’m the opposite of that, and we’re always going at each other because I want it one way and he wants it another way. That’s really not the case. When that was the case was probably more when we were doing White Pony. I think that helps the process, because you’ve got two people who are fighting to get the best out of what we have.
He’s been my friend since I was 10 years old. We’re older now and we live in different cities. We don’t hang out as much. With this, I just wanted to go hang out with him. If we make some music, great. If not, we’re just spending time together. Bonding. That’s always been a strong point I think of our band in general. Why we’re able probably to still make records is because we have a friendship that goes deeper than just making records, you know?
It takes work. It’s not like you can just get on your skateboard and ride over to your friend’s house and sit on the porch and talk about shit. For us to get together to even just sit and rehearse even, at this point, Sergio’s got to fly from New York. I’ve got to fly, I live in Oregon. So I’ve got to fly from Portland. Abe and Frank, either we’re going to Sacramento or we’re going to LA. So those two, you’ve got to fly, or Stephen’s got to fly in.
I guess that just comes with getting older. But it’s something that I definitely miss. I miss those dudes. I haven’t seen any of them in six months. Obviously I talk to them on the phone a lot. Because of what’s going on right now, it’s probably the longest that I’ve been where I haven’t been hanging out with them.
“Heavy” is kind of subjective, you know? The last thing I ever want to do is be quoted saying, “This is our heaviest record!” The first thing that’s going to happen is some dude’s going to be like, “No way dude! This is …” You know what I mean? It’s kind of subjective. But I do feel like it’s got a little more energy. I think that is attributed to everybody being engaged completely. Everybody firing on all cylinders. There’s not one of us individually that was sort of sitting back just going along. Everybody was very present physically and emotionally, ready to work and to put the work in.
Ohms is out on September 25 via Warner Records. Get it here.