Over 15 years ago, a band out of Sacramento, California hit the scene with sound rooted in aggressive rock and a look rooted in Southern Cali swag. They were, The Deftones. Years later, the band is active as it was in its heyday, recently playing the KahBang Music Festival. Despite a deluge, the ominous rainstorm didn’t prevent the Deftones from capturing the rapt attention of fans in Bangor, Maine. The guys’ performance was far from lackluster and the premiere of two new songs only added to the electric ambience of the evening. Prior to the set, Abe Cunningham, drummer of The Deftones, discusses with Life + Times the band’s latest project due out in October, moving forward after tragedy and what it feels like to remain as an “eternal” 22-year-old.
Life + Times: I’m sure you’re getting this a lot, but does the seventh album remain nameless?
Abe Cunningham: It’s something I think will just fall into our lap. The label is pushing for it because they have deadlines, but no, not yet. Soon, though.
L+T: What is the album about?
AC: Well, there’s always inspiration to draw from. For better or worse, when we make a record we don’t really think about…well, some people have a plan. Maybe we should, but we never have. We have this little room we go into and we just bash it out. It’s a band effort by all means. No one person comes in and says, “I come here to play this.” It’s not like that. If it was, it would be a different story and we wouldn’t be around. We wouldn’t be a band anymore. It works. Sometimes it’s tediously slow, but sometimes it pops out like a newborn. Well, not with the 24-hour labor, like “Whoa! That just dropped out.” It’s just about us. It sounds kind of simple, but it’s pretty pure. There’s a lot more smiles now than it’s been in the longest time. It feels good.
L+T: With Diamond Eyes, there were heavier riffs than a few of the past albums and Saturday Night Wrist was more melodic, what can we expect on this seventh album? Are there any similarities with the past records?
AC: We can’t help but to sound like ourselves. I’ll tell you this: less expensive, more expansive. You get caught up in this write-record-tour cycle which is kind of brutal, especially in the rock world. It became really difficult to make records over the years. We did things to ourselves to make that harder, but we’re best friends and been at it a while. Starting with Diamond Eyes, we adopted a new process.
L+T: I was just about to ask about the creative process for the new album. How is it unique from the past?
AC: Making records was like pulling teeth. We’re making music, it should be fun. It just became, well, it just sucked! It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s life sometimes. It’s gonna have its ups and downs. With [bassist] Chi and his accident, we were working on a record that was supposed to be called Eros at that time. We had pretty much used our budget at that time and we had been in the studio for about a year. During that time we were just rekindling and just getting back to focusing on our friendship. So, it was a good time. Then, this accident happened. We took a little time to think about it. Music brought us together. That being said, though, we gained an appreciation. His accident was a catalyst for so much. Our little tiffs and bullshit, it was just so ridiculous. We play music for a living and I can walk. He [Chi] can’t. We created this thing [new process], 20 years in and it’s kind of cool. We adopted this whole new process of doing things and went and treated it as a job; we set up a work schedule. We went in at noon and were out around six, seven or eight. We still had the mornings and did shit at night.
L+T: That’s awesome! You still had a life when putting this album together and not kill yourself.
AC: Exactly! It took us a lifetime to figure it out.
L+T: Well, you guys have evolved with time. In lieu of these changes, you spoke about Chi’s accident. It’s admirable that you all stuck together and continued to work on different projects. How did you guys as a band maintain positivity despite the tragedy with Chi?
AC: We’re brothers. We got good people, we got good families, we got kids. We just have a lot of love. We kind of reflected on that and pulled it together and said, “You know what? This ain’t that bad.” That accident, that shit rocked our world, down to this day. We just took a deep breath and said, “Let’s do this! This is what we do.” We had a lot of support from around the world from people, the fans. We figured out we could do it again. That was the best thing. We haven’t looked back.
L+T: Since your first album in 1995 to the life transitions you have experienced together, how do you feel you guys have progressed from an artistic standpoint as a band?
AC: Everything has changed, but nothing at all has changed. We learn everything that we know. We certainly don’t know it all by any means. We’ve been able to travel the world numerous times and we live life, check things out from different perspectives. It’s just a learning thing we did together. We started in 1988 and I was fifteen. I’m 22 now, so… (Smiles and pauses)
L+T: I know that math just doesn’t add up right!
AC: Math was never my best subject. No, no, but seriously, it was my dream! We never had a preconceived notion and everything just worked out. It’s been twenty something years and we’re still doing it. It’s my dream.
L+T: “Needles and Pins” from your self-titled album read: “Tune out everyone in the crowd, because now it’s just me and you. Come fall in love with the sound.” Those lyrics really appeal to the heart. In contrast, the instrumentation in “CMND/CNTRL” and “Korea” has a noticeably darker sound than the sea of tracks you guys have created. How do you find a balance between softer lyrics, harder sounds and putting them together so that it meshes as a song?
AC: That’s our forte. From the get go, we never had any parameters, even our name. We were kids that grew up in the ‘80s and def was the thing.
L+T: Yes! The reasoning behind the band name always makes me laugh.
AC: It’s not the best fucking name, but it’s our name. There were times where we thought it was dated, but it doesn’t matter anymore. So, here we are.
L+T: Nick Raskulinecz produced your last album, Diamond Eyes, and he is also the producer of this seventh project. Was it easy working with him again?
AC: It was just a breeze. It worked twice now, maybe it won’t work the next time, but I certainly hope it does. He’s our age, maybe a couple of years older; he’s just a regular dude. He’s always got a drumstick. He’s, like, a rocker and just loves music. He’s always playing air guitar and he knows it [music] inside and out. He really encourages everyone to just be us. It wasn’t like he was just focused on the singer; he brought everyone together and encouraged us to do what we do. He’s funny as hell! He’s just a great, great dude. He taught us how to wrangle it together and gave us a kick in the ass too.
L+T: You have to have that too, along with the praise though.
AC: Yeah, of course. He really taught us some things about ourselves.
L+T: That’s important.
AC: Wait, real quick, though! The lyrics, you asked about the lyrics earlier. They’re all love songs.
L+T: For the seventh album?
AC: No, all of them. I got off track. People like our music for different reasons. People love the hard shit and everything in between. I learned a while ago, well, maybe last year I learned that you can’t please everyone. You can certainly try, we’ll always try. Fuck it, you can’t do it. That’s really become a core part of our sound, it is beautiful aggression.
L+T: Over the years, you guys won a Grammy and you have albums that went platinum. In 10 years, how do you want to be remembered as The Deftones?
AC: Ten years, I hope we can still be here. You never know where you’re going to be at. I got some good ass friends in the world surrounding me. If we can be doing it in 10 years, that would be awesome! God, this is hard. This is like I’m writing my own epitaph. Our whole thing was that everyone was welcome. It wasn’t about a sound, a look or a type of person. Anyone with curious ears was always welcome and it has always been about that.