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Cover Story: Do The Pony

The Deftones broke through writer's block to create the Nü Metal masterpiece White Pony

By Alan Sculley · May 24th, 2001 · Cover Story
  Chino Moreno of The Deftones
Ryan Greis

Chino Moreno of The Deftones

The Deftones discovered the value of teamwork when they made their long-awaited current CD, White Pony.

Having spent more than two years touring behind Around The Fur -- the popular 1997 CD that established The Deftones as one of the leading bands in the NĂ¼ Metal genre -- the band finally came off the road last spring to begin work on the new record. The group promptly hit a roadblock as the songwriting process began.

"At first, there were a lot of wars over the songs because at the beginning, the songs we started writing, everybody was kind of writing separately and coming in with their own," singer/guitarist Chino Moreno says. "And some of those songs ended up being good songs, but the best songs that we make are the songs we all write together. And it wasn't until probably halfway into the writing process when we actually started to; everybody just kind of put their walls down and stopped trying to be in control of the whole situation and kind of just did their own part. That's when the best stuff started coming out."

Moreno describes the members of The Deftones -- himself, guitarist Stephen Carpenter, drummer Abe Cunningham, bassist Chi Cheng and DJ Frank Delgado -- as five diverse personalities with considerable contrasts in their musical tastes. Writing separately at the start of the White Pony project only encouraged those differences to emerge.

"We never really have had a formula to writing, so we just kind of went in and everybody kind of had their own ideas, which is good. Everybody (encourages) everybody else to come up with ideas," Moreno says. "But it just so happened that a lot of the ideas we were coming up with were, especially my ideas and Stephen's ideas, they were on completely opposite sides of the spectrum. Like Stephen wanted to make a straight heavy record from beginning to end. I wasn't opposed to doing anything heavy, but none of our records have been just heavy from beginning to end.

I mean, our records have always had a lot of dynamics in them and that's, I think, one of the best traits of Deftones is the dynamics."

Indeed, White Pony stands as the most diverse and adventurous record yet from The Deftones, who formed in Sacramento, Calif., around 1989 and built a considerable following with shows throughout California before signing with Madonna's label, Maverick Records, in 1994.

Like the band's 1995 debut Adrenaline and Around The Fur, the new CD retains two of the band's key trademarks -- a sound built around thick, serrated guitar riffs and bludgeoning rhythms, and whisper-to-a-scream arrangements that find The Deftones shifting between song segments that are moody and quiet and ones that rock furiously.

But White Pony boasts a broader stylistic reach than the first two CDs. In addition to raging tracks like "Elite" and "Street Carp," songs like "Digital Bath" and "Teenager" explore ambient textures, while Cunningham, in particular, brings some inventive drumming to songs like "RX Queen" and "Knife Prty."

It's also the most melodic Deftones CD yet. Songs like "Feiticeira," "RX Queen" and "Change (In The House Of Flies)" all feature strong vocal lines and catchy guitar hooks to go with their harsher textures.

"I think I've always had the melody, wanting to get it out," Moreno says. "This time I think with the music that we wrote, it was a lot more open for me to do stuff like that. A lot of our (earlier) music was, you know like in each song there would be a lot more riffs and a lot more changes and stuff going on, where I didn't really have time to lock into any kind of real hooks or anything like that. I could, but it was always something much more sporadic sounding. And this record, to me it felt like a lot of the fat was cut out and the songs were a lot leaner and it gave me a lot of room to let my vocals blanket over the top of the songs, so it's just kind of fitting in between the crevices of all the different riffs, all the different rhythms. This record, though it does have dynamics and stuff in the songs, I think the music was easier for me to blanket my stuff over."

One of the melodic rockers -- the CD's lead single "Change (In The House Of Flies)" -- was also the song that broke the songwriting logjam and put the band on track to finish White Pony.

"That was one of the first songs that we wrote all together," Moreno says. "To me, those are the epitome, the best of what a Deftones song is, when everybody (participates), instead of somebody coming in and just basically saying 'Check it out, I wrote this riff here, this song here, play this.' Nobody even opened their mouth. I started playing a guitar riff and our DJ (Delgado), he came in with this little kind of ambient sounds and a little keyboard line underneath it, and everybody just started playing. It was like a jam. Other than going through, saying 'Why don't we put this part here and this part right here,' I'd say in about a half hour that song was written. And when that song was written, I believe that's when everything started to come together, because we kind of got on this vibe where we would just kind of just play together."

From that point on, Moreno said, White Pony came together rather smoothly -- if not altogether quickly. Working once again with Terry Date -- who had produced both Around The Fur and Adrenaline -- the CD was recorded at Plant Recording Studios in Sausalito, Calif., and Larrabee Sound in Hollywood. Moreno himself takes some of the blame for the lagging pace of the recording sessions.

"What happened was we wrote a lot of stuff in the studio. That was a big part of it," he says. "And me, I don't know if it's a bad thing or a good thing, but I didn't write any vocals at all until the music was completely written, arranged and recorded. I think we spent two months recording all of the music, and then I was supposed to spend a couple of weeks on the vocals. But by the time I got in and by the time I started, it was two months later before I finished the vocal parts, which is a pretty long time for me to do vocals. But I wrote almost everything (lyrically) that's on this record right in the studio with my headphones on in the recording booth, hearing the song over and (just reacting) to it.

"My main reason for doing that, I just feel really, really comfortable with doing it that way, for one," Moreno said. "And the other thing is to me it seems like if I sing what's coming out of me naturally right at the moment it's the most sincere I'll probably be as opposed to if I'm writing all these words out and it's kind of all preconceived and then I go in and record it. It's not as convincing, I think, if it's coming out of me right at the moment. I think that's the most real I can possibly be on tape."

THE DEFTONES perform August 17 at Riverbend with Godsmack.



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