Perhaps the imperfect Trans-Pacific connection colors the waver of his voice, but it’s clear that the man speaking is still reeling from the loss of his former bandmate and friend who is now a lifetime away.
“It’s definitely hard because we knew that this could be the outcome,“ says Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno with palpable sadness.
The band’s longtime bassist Chi Cheng died on April 13 after a four-year coma.
An end to suffering
“We hoped that it wasn’t but it happened and um…there’s a slight bit of relief that he’s not suffering like he was for so many years. But the reality that we’re not gonna see him”—Moreno pauses and sighs—“again or play with him or talk with him…,” he says during a recent phone interview.
“It’s tough, it’s a reality, and a lot of people deal with this no matter what you do in your life… we’re pretty private people so we don’t get out and talk too much about it … so everybody’s just chillin’ it, and takin’ it you know, day by day.”
Deftones was identified as part of the so-called “nu metal” scene in the late 90s. The subgenre differed from its parent strain by eschewing guitar solos in favor of down-tuned industrial rhythms, (an acknowledgment of hip-hop as an influence) and lyrics that tackled dark yet un-metal (read: serious) subject matter.
Power chords, murky lyrics and atmospherics
The current metal scene has embraced solos once again and picked up where the 80s thrash scene left off. “Nu metal” bands either fell into disarray (Korn) or disgrace (Limp Bizkit).
Deftones escaped the aftermath largely because of a sound that incorporates monolithic power chords, ambiguous lyrics and The Cure-type atmospherics.
The band also did not have any line-up changes until Cheng’s accident in November 4, 2008.
The unreleased album
Deftones were working an album called “Eros” but decided not to release the project in light of the accident. Instead they began from scratch on an entirely new one called “Diamond Eyes,” which is described as “optimistic” as opposed to the “dark and angry” vibe of the shelved album.
The latest “Koi No Yo Kan” (“Premonition of Love”) continues in the vein of optimism and positivity. And, in light of Cheng’s passing, the album takes on a poignancy even during its most volcanic moments.
But what of “Eros”? Will the band ever consider releasing it?
More positive now
“Honestly now, more than I’ve ever felt—. Beforehand, I didn’t think about it at all. Maybe it will come out, maybe it might not…. Lately, I’ve been listening to some of it and it’s definitely hard to listen to some of it because it’s the last thing Chi’s played on and it’s a very emotional thing… but there’s really beautiful things on that record,” Moreno admits.
“There’s only like 6 songs that are finished… but I can’t tell you when because we’re still very forward-thinking and we’ll probably make another record before it happens.
“Honestly, I feel more positive now that it will see the light of day than I did in the past so we’ll see what happens. I know that wasn’t a straight answer but...,” he says, chuckling.
The music is ‘way bigger’
Of “Koi No Yo Kan,” he emphasizes the optimism.
“I just think the whole theme of things, not there’s a complete ‘theme’ to it, but the sentiment itself is referring to seeing something great in the future that hasn’t transpired yet. I know we’re looking into the future brightly,” he says.
“When we were making the record, we were like, you know, there’s ‘demons’ we have in us that we need to expel. Most heavy records, to me, seem to all come from the same place, you know, a place of anger or frustration… not that things are completely great all the time but I also think that dwelling on those things is so cliché almost in heavy music.
“The music is way bigger and it speaks to bigger things and… just the mindset of making the record comes from a more positive place instead of feeling like it leads to… therapy or something like that.”
The freedom of ambiguity
Moreno chooses to be ambiguous with his lyrics; just as you think he may be referring to a specific subject, he will write a phrase that will overturn your perception.
Does he start out with something specific and then back off at the “reveal”?
He chuckles. “It’s not as exciting as that, I wish I could say… ‘I had it all calculated’ and things like that but honestly, I just kind of feel in the moment and sort of put phrases together and clip ideas together.
“I honestly don’t see the full picture of what it is I’m trying to convey until the song’s actually done and then I kind of make sense of it in my own way. I’m comfortable with that and I hope the listener does the exact same thing.”
It is a “funner way of doing things,” he adds. “(The song) can kinda go anywhere it wants to I think and I like the freedom of that.”
What sets Deftones apart
The song “Entombed” is a fine example. Any metal band would have used the word and described rotting zombies.
But for Moreno, “It’s more of describing being in a very safe place, and safe-keeping and being cherished and held… it’s not supposed to be creepy…it’s another way of describing being ‘kept’ in a special place. I love playing with those contrasts.”
“I always found beauty in things that weren’t typically beautiful. So that’s always something that I’m trying to achieve making music… and I think Deftones being considered a ‘metal’ band sets us apart from most other metal bands.”
To listen to the complete interview and for more information on Deftones’ May 26 Manila concert, check out Splintr.com.