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Renewed Metal: Chino Moreno on How Deftones Thrive

Deftones have turned tragedy into triumph. In the four years since their beloved former bassist, Chi Cheng, was severely injured in a car accident (he’s still in recovery), the veteran Sacramento alt-metal outfit has released arguably its strongest music — 2010’s Diamond Eyes and this year’s Koi No Yokan (Reprise), out November 13. Full of moody melody and soaring aggression, the latter album is the band’s story in microcosm: Nothing is easy or predictable, but by force or feeling, redemption always arrives.

We spoke with the band’s thoughtful singer, Chino Moreno, about what he’s learned in the course of a 24-year career.

Time is money.
That’s one of the biggest things we’ve learned. We recorded our last record, Diamond Eyes, pretty fast. I think we spent six months from writing it to recording it. Our whole work ethic changed at that point. Not dragging things out and really capturing a moment in time is a great way to make a record. We did a couple of records before that — Saturday Night Wrist and the self-titled record — both of those took a couple of years. Taking that long just is not a good work ethic. We’d have an idea, a riff, and it would be tweaked and mangled and months and years later, after enough things are added to it, you kind of lose the sense of what it was you were trying to do. Capturing the essence of what the idea was in the first place is very important.

You realize that the more of yourself you put into the music, and the better you communicate, the better the music is.
The catalyst for that realization was really when Chi had his accident. Sadly, that was the thing that woke us up and got us on track. The way we were making records didn’t work. Well, it would work, but it wasn’t in a healthy way. It was so disconnected. So when Chi’s accident happened it really put everything in perspective — not just with us as a band, but in life. It gave us an appreciation for having the opportunity to make music that was somewhat relevant. It got everybody focused. I don’t want to say we started taking things more seriously, but it made us understand that we have the opportunity to do the thing we love. Everybody reconnected and got on the same page and making records became this kind of communal thing. It had seemed like we were piecing things together and it would work in the end, but, like anything in life, what you put into it is pretty much what you get out of it. So now we put more into it.

The right melody can be just as impactful as the loudest scream.
When you’re younger, you have a lot more aggression. Some of the songs on our first record I wrote when I was 16 years old. I don’t sound like a pissed-off kid anymore. As you get older you try to communicate in different ways. So, obviously, with the new record we definitely tried to expand on that idea. When you hear the first five seconds to a song and you’ve pretty much heard the whole song, that’s kind of a bummer. With the way that we’re making music now, the songs travel. I was thinking about this a few days ago — I’m 39 years old and in a little over ten years I’m going to be 50 — I was thinking, “Ah! 50 years old?” I can’t imagine jumping around and screaming my head off at that age. I highly doubt that’s going to be happening. But in a way, I feel like our music is maturing. I could imagine playing the songs on this record in ten years.

We never have preconceived ideas about what kind of music to make.
Everybody in this band has such different tastes for what they like and what they listen to. That definitely comes into play when we make music. We never think, “This song’s going to be our New Wave song,” or our heavy song, or “We’re going to make a love song.” We never go in with those sorts of pre-formulated ideas. That keeps it inspiring. That gives the music a chance to be organic.

Any time we make a new song, I’m thinking, “Will I be happy hearing this five, six years from now?”
I don’t let that rule what I do or dictate what I do, but it’s there in the back of my mind. And I think it’s important. I have a feeling a lot of the records I grew up listening to and the records I still like, as hard as musicians worked making them, I feel like they were really enjoying what they were going through. They weren’t just going through the process. You can tell that with certain things that you listen to. That feeling is something we hope to accomplish.

To me, music is a hobby.
Music isn’t something I do because, “Well, I have to get this out of me because I’m filled with all this stuff.” It’s not like that at all. It’s as simple as music being such a big hobby of mine. I don’t play video games. I don’t watch TV. In my spare time, if I have any, I want to make music. Doing collaborations is just a fun thing. Everyone works in different ways so you pick up certain things and learn certain things. Music is always fun. If it weren’t fun I wouldn’t do it.