Arts and Culture

Deftones: A little less than rock stars

By Sheila T. Mañalac, Editor-in-Chief  |

What would you do to spend a night with Deftones?

If you’ve grown up listening to this band, then you’d give everything just to get to know the people behind the music that touched your soul.

With their hypnotizing riffs and heart-pounding drums, matched with ambiguous lyrics that switch from screeching to rap to melodic verses, Deftones’ sound can make anyone forget they’re even alive. Their music sounds so painfully good, like that partner who’d hurt you so many times, yet you keep on coming back to because you love that pain, chaos, and nerve-wrecking lust that no one else can give.

A blog post on Yahoo.com OMG! on May 15 entitled ‘Being star struck by Deftones’ stated, “There’s something about this band that makes you forget you’re a professional.” True enough, some people are only humans to make that mistake and forget about everything, even their own dignity when it comes to this alternative metal band.

But coming back to reality was a hard hit, knowing that the band who created such perfect rock music are just normal people themselves, wanting to chill out and have a good time. And while they struggle to keep their private lives intact, people are curious to know what it’s like to be Deftones — a band that is completely different and above from the rest of its peers.

With the spirit of rock music that’s purposely heavy and loud, Deftones has certainly drawn a rebellious and defiant crowd of the coming-of-age ‘90s, as well as the new-breed of rock enthusiasts that connect with their “forward-thinking,” “blue-collared” rock music that’s been around for over 20 years.

Becoming men and still making music

Deftones has come a long way since they first formed in 1988. At the press conference in Diamond Hotel last May 25, they recalled how they began as a band. They were childhood friends just jamming in the garage, while testing each other out to see what sounds they are able to create as a group.

“We were 11-years old and 12-years old when he (Cunningham) and I met, then I took him over to meet Stephen when we were 15. I heard that he played drums and said “you are going to be in my band.” I wanted to be the drummer but I wasn’t as good as Abe so he (Carpenter) said you’re going to be the singer,” Chino Moreno, the band’s vocalist, told The Manila Times when asked about their rise to fame.

Coincidentally, they started playing songs from the all-Filipino metal band, Death Angel.

“It’s funny because we were actually playing Death Angel at the time, and he (Carpenter), closed the door on me. He was sitting on the couch, and I came up to him and I was like “Hi!” He was like “the drums are in there!” and I was like “cool.” So I went in there and he shut the garage door (while I was playing)!” drummer Abe Cunningham said as he generously shared how it was like playing with Deftones the first time.

For those who grew up with the music of the 1980’s and 1990’s, a lot has happened since. While most dropped their dreams of becoming rock stars to go on living 9-hour day jobs, Deftones has gradually reached success through their passion for making music, at the same time just rocking it out, having fun with best friends, and making seven studio albums along the way.

“I think it helps that everyone is generally talented. I mean, I think I’m the least talented of all, but these guys, we’ve been together since we were kids and like Stephen said, he’s very persistent and he was pretty much the guy that told us what we were going to do,” Moreno told The Manila Times at the press conference.

These men, who as kids never imagined being famous for their music, are now in their prime. Their music, like themselves, has evolved into a certain style of sophistication and maturity, far from their all-heavy, guitar-screeching, vocal-churning days that was once full of “uncertainty” and nervousness, probably because of just being young in the same way everyone was back then. Nevertheless, people still enjoy the first album until the latest, with new and old fans still listening to that same distinct Deftones sound that’s progressive and emotional at the same time.

Today, they are one of the most respected, sought-after rock bands of the century, transcending past their ‘nu-metal’ stage that put them above bands like ‘Korn’ and ‘Limpbizkit’. They have proven that when it comes to rock, they know how it’s done.

In discovering new things along the path of fame and comfort, Deftones has a lot to share.

“Damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Steph Carpenter, the band’s monolithic guitarist simply said, but it was the usually-energetic drummer who gave a more thorough answer.

“What he (Carpenter) said. And patience man, patience. Being allowed to do what we do all these years is great, but through the years it’s been ups and downs, but that’s all normal in life – divorce, work whatever you want to call it. All these things are part of living life and it’s just patience and perseverance, and also understanding and being able to support each other through the worst of times. Sweet and sour, man,” Cunningham cheerfully said.

Simple and fun while rocking it out

Their third studio album, White Pony, set the stage for their ‘rock star’ level in the music industry. They described the album as “a beautiful white horse just galloping across the plains” in one of their interviews, and indeed, the magical ‘White Pony’ stood out and run past all other rock music at the time when the album was released in 2000.

But to the band, it was their second studio album ‘Around the Fur’ in 1997 that opened the doors to the world of stardom, at the same time making their name known in the rock music genre. “It was fun because we were experiencing everything the first time,” said Cunningham, who is one of the greatest drummers of his time and beyond.

Even with all the fame and fortune that came with making great music, Deftones are just normal people− far from the typical party-crazed, hotel-bashing, drug-consuming rock stars known to many. They were in Manila for three days, and they spent their Friday night at The Fort in Taguig City, their Saturday day-off swimming at the pool in the afternoon, and even took an “Abe’s jeepney” photo before they headed out for Singapore on Monday.

They are simple, real, and private, which may be the reason why people want more. Everyone seems to wonder, “How do they do it?”

Simply because despite all their success, they’ve managed to remain true to themselves and to their music, and for 25 years, they’ve stuck it out through good times and bad. This has made them strong and mature men along the way, being brothers who’ve set personal issues aside to make great music that changed their own lives and the lives of their listeners.

There are really no secret tricks in making their music. While some bands would have different machines and instruments to create their sound, Deftones keeps it simple by sustaining their level of creativity.

“We are fans of music as well. We listen to music all the time, lots of different stuff, a lot of the same stuff, but we really enjoy listening to music, and it’s even more fun to make it. I like the fact that there’s no sound at all then we get into a room and then there’s something there and it will be there forever, even after we’re gone. So that’s exciting, simply creating something from nothing. We enjoy each other’s company, as well,” Moreno shared in an unexpectedly soft-spoken manner.

What is normal, ‘Abe’-normal?

In the press conference, the band members were asked what activities they do that are “non-heavy”. Surprisingly, the tough-looking front man Moreno divulged how he “liked to sew.”

A follow up question needed to be asked. “Sir Chino, you actually make clothes?” The interviewer from Rakista Radio asked.

“No, I fix clothes. I mend my clothes, and it’s nice and very calming,” he said as he laughed along with the members of the press, who were mostly fans of the band as well.

Sergio Vega, the band’s bassist in their last two albums, shared how he liked “taking online courses, like physics.” Chino jokingly said Vega was “studious,” something not a lot of fans knew about the relatively new member of the group.

While some interviewers asked a lot of questions about ‘Tool’ lead-act Maynard James Keenan and how he liked to do therapeutic activities like wine-making, Cunningham was as quick and clever to retort, “This thing about Maynard — music has given him a great opportunity to do all these things so I hope he knows that, that’s all I’m saying,” with a playful wink from the youthful-looking drummer.

Carpenter followed up with an incredible point-of-view on how it is like to live like a ‘rock star.’

“We live a comfortable life, and if there’s anything anyone wants to do, its fill in the blanks. It can be anything we want to do in our lives. We have the opportunity to do it, provided the time and the money are available to do it,” Carpenter said.

“I’m a diva,” Carpenter confessed.

Sunday’s surreal show

Chino Moreno (vocals), Stephen Carpenter (guitar), Abe Cunningham (drums), Frank Delgado (turntables) and Sergio Vega (bass) from ‘Quicksand’ have once again graced the World Trade Center (WTC) stage last May 26, coming back to promote their new album, Koi No Yokan, which closely means “premonition of love.”

A better explanation of the Japanese word would be: “the sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love,” which is the best way to describe how it felt like hearing the album the first time, and also seeing Deftones in the flesh as they perform their mind-blowing music for local fans.

When asked about the title of their album, “Koi No Yokan I think was a very pretty thing, it was very positive and optimistic, and I like to think that our music is forward-thinking and optimistic. It has dark moments to it but I think there’s a positive energy that comes through it,” Moreno said.

Splintr.com, the independent music channel in the Philippines that has created an avenue for underground, local and foreign rock bands to come together and share their music, has successfully brought these rock legends for the first time, as they were on tour promoting their ‘Diamond Eyes’ album in 2011.

Once again, the gracious online-based music hub was able to bring these legends back, with a press conference, ‘Pick Your Front Act’ and ‘Meet and Greet’ contests at that. They were able to deliver an incredible show that was magical, even better the second time around.

The concert started on time, with an opening act from Splintr.com’s ‘Pick Your Front Act’ contest winner, Philia. The lucky group won through acquiring ‘Likes’ on the social networking site, Facebook, and was behind the band ‘Earthmover’ until the last day when their number spiked to almost double. And while Splintr.com drew a lot of flak for “disappointing those who really support your website and productions, and those who spent thousands of pesos to see the show,” as seen in Splintr.com’s comments on Facebook, the site has stuck to its promise that they are “for people (like us) who simply love great music.”

Next act was local band, Queso, who played popular tracks like “Mottaka,” which they dedicated for Cheng, and also performed “Insekta,” with the same musicality that was worthy to open for a band that are considered heroes in the local rock community.

Deftones played a 24-song show, starting out with ‘Rocket Skates,’ leaving out any greetings from the band as they entered the stage. First words that came out from Moreno’s mouth were “You’re red, soaking wet,” and people sang along by the time that “Guns. Razors. Knives.” were already piercing through their hearts.

‘Diamond Eyes’ was next, both coming from their 2011 album to warm up the crowd. Everyone was screaming at the top of their lungs at this point.

The band went for songs from their ‘Around the Fur’ album, starting their third song ‘Be Quiet and Drive’ that forced people to fly up in the air as they sang along to this personal favorite. ‘My Own Summer’ came next, and the same level of energy kept the crowd engaged.

Moreno was then on blue spot light by the time ‘Rosemary’ began, and the slower-paced, melancholic sound sent the crowd into a beautiful trance, and at this moment, Deftones was making people realize that their dreams were coming true right before their eyes.

A die-hard Deftones fan, Jan Adrian Boiser, is a teacher who came all the way from Davao, the south of the Philippines, just to see the band. “Naging tao ako dahil sa Deftones [I became a person because of Deftones],” Boiser told The Times while watching his dream band perform live.

Sure enough, most of the crowd felt the same way as they stayed on for the three-hour show. Even Moreno’s dream came true, as he revealed at the press conference the day before the concert that he had a dream that the band was playing ‘Cherry Waves.’

‘White Pony’ favorites such as ‘Knife Party,’ ‘Digital Bath,’ ‘Feiticeira,’ ‘Elite,’ and ‘Change’ were performed by the band, sounding almost as good as their recorded album if not for a few mishaps that happened as the show went along.

Off their new album, ‘Poltergeist’ started with Moreno doing its introductory clap,  and ‘Entomed’ made everyone feel safe just by listening to that melodramatic riffs, accompanied by Moreno’s comforting vocals. ‘Tempest’ and ‘Swerve City’ from Koi No Yokan were also performed by the band.

Moreno was as energetic as he was before, hitting high notes while jumping up and down as he made his way through the crowd. While bouncers held him down before he fell in the crowd, he let himself loose and just went wild as he sang for their Filipino fans on close range.

Carpenter was like a statue with flowing hair, just stoned in his stance with his mighty guitar on his hands. Sergio Vega, who sported a Morrissey shirt, was all-smiles while he hit bass lines and back-up vocals throughout the performance.

Surprisingly, it was Cunningham, who at 39 years old can still play like he’s never aged a day, shook the WTC grounds with the same playful persona that he exudes when outside the confines of his kit. He was a 100 percent hard-hitter, giving a live performance that was worth every inch of sacrifice one was willing to give.

They ended their set with one of the band’s favorite songs, ‘7 Words,’ which was a good way to finish off a less-than-wholesome night of pure rock music.

“While the animals make their way through the crowds!”

Manila is truly blessed to have the kings of rock-metal perform live the second time around. Fans went wild as their dreams came true, and all the while, Deftones has managed to make that connection with Filipinos, experiencing jeepneys, clubbing, and even shopping for some watches and wallets at the local mall.

“Pinoy, in your face!” Were the words of Cunningham, when asked about experiencing the “Filipino culture.”

To Moreno, “It’s just special, this experience of playing the world.”

No matter where they go, Deftones makes it a point to “have a damn good time, just have a release and just get down.”

Stephen Carpenter commented that “No one respects privacy in this world, and I mean no one, anywhere. There’s just no way to do it. People can’t keep a secret no more, everyone’s got to talk and talk; tweet, tweet, tweet.” But it is their music that makes their fans act like wild animals fighting their way just to get a closer look at Deftones.

To the Filipino rock community

Don’t be haters — be true Filipino rockers.

If you happen to be a rock music fan, then you’ve probably listened to Deftones, and if you haven’t, you should. Their music is more than just sounds put together, it’s spiritual and it is real. To those who grew up living a hard life, Deftones has put out music that became truth to the lost, comfort in the hardest of times, and transcendental to those who want to escape reality.

Chino can attest to the fact that some people, like him, “see beauty in dark things,” and the darkest emotions can be pain, malice, greed, disgust, or even the lack of class or composure. Rock music allows people to rebel and go against the norms, and this becomes beautiful because it’s pure and it’s “organic.”

Together with their inspirational rock music, Deftones has a few words to those aspiring local bands who want to make it to the same pedestal they are on now.

“Keep doing it and doing it and 25 years later you’ll be sitting where we’re at. Keep doing it over and over, and play for as many people as you can, and eventually you’ll have the same thing.  You just got to keep doing it, its persistence,” Carpenter said.

Learning from the heavy metal guitarist, persistence is the word that comes along with the rock music spirit. No matter what you do in life, this virtue seems to be the driving force to success. You have to be strong, like a rock, and persistent to the point of never breaking apart. In one word, it is grit – motivation and perseverance that gets you a long way.

Being relatively new as a professional, Mike Enriquez has made a point on how it is like to work in the real world: “I fear that this work that we do dehumanizes us,” which can happen to anyone at any given point in their lives. But persistence is ever present in rock music, in the music of Deftones nonetheless.

With ethics and morals thrown out the window to be replaced by some hard core rock, expect nothing but mayhem and broken rules, and probably broken people too.

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