Music News & Reviews

Are the Deftones Sacramento’s next big thing? With help from Madonna, they could be

Chi Cheng, left, Chino Moreno, Stephan Carpenter and Abe Cunningham make up the Deftones, a Sacramento thrash-rock band whose debut album was just produced by Madonna's record label.
Chi Cheng, left, Chino Moreno, Stephan Carpenter and Abe Cunningham make up the Deftones, a Sacramento thrash-rock band whose debut album was just produced by Madonna's record label. Sacramento Bee file

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Oct. 10, 1995.

Chino Moreno is slouching on a couch in his quiet midtown apartment, at once looking completely bored, dangerously close to falling asleep and, well, exactly like he knows this waiting routine all too well.

Which, of course, he does (details at 11 - or in paragraph 11, 1 anyway).

“Dude,” Moreno - wearing a pair of fly-eye sunglasses for no particular reason - says to nobody in particular, although there are four other people in the room. “He should be here any minute. I think.

“He’s waiting for a cab. I guess he missed his bus or something. Whatever.”

The “he” in question is Stephan Carpenter, the guitarist for the Deftones, a thrash-metal group from Sacramento whose name you should really begin getting used to.

Moreno is the Deftones’ singer. Abe Cunningham - also slouching on the couch, looking bored, sleepy and entirely nonchalant by Carpenter’s tardiness to the Interview That May or May Not Happen - is the Deftones’ drummer. Chi Cheng - holed up in the corner, looking like he’s meditating - is the Deftones’ bassist.

The red-hot Warner-backed Maverick Recording Co. (home to Alanis Morrisette and Candlebox, among others) is now the Deftones’ label - which makes label owner Madonna the Deftones’ boss. “Adrenaline” is the Deftones’ just-released debut album. Name-brand studio whiz Terry Date - whose impressive resume includes hit records for White Zombie, Pantera, Soundgarden and Sir Mix-a-Lot - is the Deftones’ Seattle-based producer.

And noted videomaker Jake Scott - the man behind R.E.M.’s award-winning “Everybody Hurts” video, plus Bush’s “Comedown,” Soundgarden’s “Fell on Black Days” and Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” - could soon become the Deftones’ ticket to the highly powerful, star-making MTV “Buzz Bin.” He’s set to put his touch on a forthcoming Deftones video, likely for the song “Bored.”

In other words, the rock world is the Deftones’ to conquer. Finally.

“It’s taken us a long time to get our stuff out,” drummer Cunningham admits after Carpenter’s taxi finally arrives - 45 . . . minutes . . . late.

Which is really no big deal for a band that has mastered the art of waiting. The Deftones have, after all, existed for six years without a single recorded album to speak of.

“We recorded two-song demos here and there - three of them over the years,” singer Moreno says. “But we never recorded a full album.”

This, of course, was a well-known fact in local music circles, because before the thundering, slightly industrial and incredibly brash “Adrenaline” arrived in stores last week, the Deftones were the only established local band playing shows at the Cattle Club (Sacramento’s premiere alternarock venue) that didn’t have an album out.

According to the popular local myth, the Deftones didn’t want to record anything until they inked a major-label deal; “independent release” supposedly wasn’t even in their vocabulary.

Says Moreno: “We just weren’t ready to make a record yet. I mean, we could’ve. But it probably would’ve sounded like a local record.”

In other words, said local myth wasn’t far from the truth?

“I know that just about every band around town has put out an album on their own, and that’s cool,” Cunningham says. “But, I don’t know.. . . ”

Says Cheng: “We always ended up (getting rid of) our songs. We never had more than six that we liked at once.”

Adds Moreno: “I personally never really dreamed that I was going to be in a band that was going to be signed. I mean, I thought it would be nice, but that wasn’t my goal or nothing. I just like to play music.

“I mean, we were asked a long time ago by (a small, independent record company) to record some stuff. But we were like, “Nah.’ I really don’t think we were waiting to get signed to a big deal, but we just didn’t feel right about it.”

When the group finally did feel right and signed a very big deal with Maverick (the Deftones’ guarantee is reportedly worth well into the six-digit range, and its publishing deal is also reportedly quite impressive), it looked like the long-overdue debut album was imminent.

But that was 18 months ago.

Maverick actually announced earlier this year that the Deftones’ riff-powered, rap-influenced debut - completed in early March - would be released in July. Then, it got pushed back to August. Then Sept. 26.

“Adrenaline” was finally, uh, rushed to stores on Oct. 3.

“It was mostly our fault,” Cunningham says. “We kept missing these stupid (record-company) deadlines.”

Says Moreno: “Like, we messed up on the cover artwork. We couldn’t make up our minds what we wanted it to be. (Final curious choice: a bulb syringe.) And if you miss one deadline - if you’re even a day late - that’s another week that they add on to the release. We barely got the “thank yous’ (for the liner notes) in on time. If we didn’t get them in on time, the album wouldn’t have come out until next year!

“We’re really glad to finally have something out.”

“Adrenaline” may not have been one of the year’s most anticipated (or hyped) albums, but that’s not the point. Simply getting the thing out was precisely what the Deftones needed to do to move on to The Next Logical Step: Touring in support of “Adrenaline,” an album that may or may not launch itself into the big-time (million-selling) rock territory.

“Considering the kind of music that they do (thrashy hard rock), it’s better to hope for a couple of hundred thousand albums sold and to establish a really firm live fan base and then set themselves up for a big second record,” says “Adrenaline” producer Date, in a phone interview from a Los Angeles recording studio. “To expect to sell 1 million on your first record is just setting yourself up for disappointment. But sales aren’t really the ultimate thing right now. The live show is the thing, and the record is the advertisement for that.”

Not that the Deftones wouldn’t like to see “Adrenaline” sell, say, 3 million copies and beat boss Madonna’s forthcoming album to the top of the charts.

“It’d be cool to blow up,” Cunningham says of a phenomenon that Sacramento has seen just once in the past 10 years, with the million-selling hard-rock group Tesla. “But we do want longevity. So if it takes a couple of steps, that’s cool, too.”

Adds Carpenter: “We’ve been doing this for six years. We’re ready to move to the next level. We just want to be able to do this as a career and make a living off of this. We’re doing all right now, but we’re not, like, living in luxury.”

(For proof, note that Carpenter was trying to take the bus to Moreno’s house - and that Moreno later boasted that he just got a free ultra-used, barely working car from a friend.)

Following producer Date’s Rock Star Blueprint (release debut album, embark on never-ending tour, release huge second album, add pinch of yeast, shake well), the Deftones just hit the road to open for Monster Magnet during the mildly popular hard rock group’s large club/small theater tour, which began in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last Friday.

“I want to go out for 300 straight days; I don’t want to come back,” Carpenter says.

Says Cunningham: “It’s standard for a new band to be on the road for a year and a half, maybe two years. We know what we have to look forward to.”

Which could make for some interesting road episodes. This interview (conducted two weeks ago) marks the first time since, well, the last time the group was on the road that Carpenter, Cheng, Cunningham and Moreno have been together.

“We hate each other,” Cheng says, deadpan. “Actually, we have a 12-step counselor who goes on tour with us.”

Not true, of course.

The Deftones don’t exactly seem like a dysfunctional musical family.

But anyway, it’s doubtful that the group - whose promising future will likely include a bit role in the forthcoming sequel to the hit film, “The Crow,” plus a song on the film’s soundtrack - would actually let sour relationships get in its way.

“All the bands that I’ve produced,” says producer Date, “at least the ones that have gone on to do really good things, they all kind of have something similar to the Deftones: a lack of distraction. This is really the only thing they want to do. There’s not a lot of distractions in their life. The band is it, and there’s all this fire and these expectations.”

And “Adrenaline.”

Brace yourself for the impending rush to rock’s big time.

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