Deftones frontman Chino Moreno’s latest musical endeavor started as a homespun project among friends, but has since blossomed into a hit on the alternative rock scene.
The band, called Crosses (with its official moniker signified by three cross symbols) features Moreno, with Shaun Lopez of Far, resulting in a mini super-group of two Sacramento natives. Bassist Chuck Doom rounds out Crosses, which was showcased recently as a musical guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
Crosses self-released two EPs of music before its full-length album emerged in February via Sumerian Records. That self-titled album debuted at No. 4 on Billboard’s alternative album chart and spawned the single “the epilogue.” That’s all translated into two sold-out shows in New York City, an upcoming slot at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and a well-received tour that reaches Ace of Spades on Saturday.
Crosses ranks as Moreno’s most successful project outside Sacramento’s Grammy-winning Deftones. In between albums of Deftones’ ethereal heavy metal, Moreno has launched such mellower side projects as Palms and Team Sleep (featuring longtime friends Todd Wilkinson and D.J. Crook, as well as drummer Zach Hill of Death Grips and Hella).
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Crosses mines Moreno’s longtime love of brooding new wave music and electronic influences, and it’s a sound that’s reaped unexpected success.
“It’s funny because at the end of last year I thought I’d have most of this year off,” said Moreno, by phone from a tour stop in Phoenix. “But it’s pretty awesome. We’re having fun.”
Here’s what Moreno had to say about Crosses, plus the latest from the Deftones.
What kind of expectations do you have for a project like Crosses? Do you look at it as just a fun musical outlet, or do you hope to blow it up in the biggest way?
I try not to make any expectations around musical stuff. Obviously, I appreciate it when good stuff happens and I’m proud of the record. When it was all done and put together, I heard it in a new light. At first there was no label behind us and now we’ve got some marketing and touring. We want as many people to hear this as possible. That’s where we’re at now.
What’s your mindset when performing with Crosses? Deftones’ music can be very aggressive, but this is much mellower.
Honestly, I don’t approach anything differently. It’s me reacting to the way the music’s presented to me. I grew up listening to a lot of new wave music, even with Deftones, and with these specific tracks it’s a little easier for those influences to come out since it’s not such a guitar-driven project.
So how does a kid from south Sac discover new wave in the first place?
When I was in fifth grade my older sister bought me two cassettes and put them in my Christmas stocking. One was the Thompson Twins and the other was Depeche Mode’s “Speak and Spell.” That record totally changed my life. Until then I was into break-dancing and early hip-hop music and freestyle, like Afrika Bambaataa and Debbie Deb. I thought, “Wow, they’re using the same drum machines as the hip-hop guys, but there’s this great melody, this dark melody and lyricism.” At a young age I completely latched on.
I remember seeing Deftones early on at the Guild Theatre and you had more of a skater haircut with long bangs. You didn’t look like a metal guy at all.
I didn’t really know too much about metal until I got in the band. (Drummer Abe Cunningham) turned me on to some things in junior high and Dominic (Garcia, the original Deftones bassist) got me into Metallica. But I was definitely the oddball when I came into the band, like, what am I supposed to do? I figured out my own way, I guess.
You recently moved to Oregon after a few years of living in Southern California. How much do you get to Sacramento these days?
All my family is still there – my mom and dad, and tons of friends. I try and get there whenever I can and I’m pretty stoked to get there (on Saturday). I’ve also been talking a lot to Todd of Team Sleep and Zach Hill about making some music again.
You go way back with Shaun Lopez, and Deftones and Far were kindred sorts of bands in Sacramento. How is the dynamic of working with him in your own band?
Although we are great friends, and we do have a lot of music in common, we don’t always see eye to eye. But that’s the push and pull that works well. (Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter) and I work like that as well. But recording with Shaun is great. At one point we lived near each other and our backyards were literally a fence apart. I would come over to record stuff, or just hang out or whatever. And one time I went over and he just so happened to be working with Chuck (Doom).
At what point does a “side project” become a full fledged band for you? Do you even consider Crosses as a “side project”?
Deftones is always my main focus. I’ve been doing it the longest and it’s definitely a priority. I think of these as projects. It’s not like I’m unfulfilled with a need to find another outlet. I look at it as making music with my friends, and I’m blessed that they’re great musicians.
Do these side projects ever cause any friction within Deftones?
There’s definitely a lot of planning involved but everyone’s been supportive and super cool. I’d done those (Crosses) EPs and all that stuff during my downtime. I never said, “I can’t do this because I’m doing Crosses.” There are times when I need to prioritize but preparation is the most important thing.
Sounds like Deftones have started writing for the next album. How’s that been going?
We got together a few weeks ago, and we’re all meeting up the week in between the Coachella shows. We’ll do some writing and hopefully have enough stuff to get in the studio before the end of the year. We really fell into a great rhythm, like locking ourselves in a room for four to six hours a day. That’s the funnest way of making music, whereas we spent so many years making records and it was like pulling teeth. It’s sort of like that work ethic from Stephen’s garage in south Sac – we just get in a room and start making noise.
What do you see as the long-term future of Crosses?
I hate to put it in that thought process, but as long as the demand is out there, we’ll go out and play shows and keep doing it. But do I want to get in a van and sell it to everyone in the U.S.? Not really. But it feels good to be out (on tour).