Deftones are an institution. Long before the idea of delicate buildups in aggressive, alternative metal became popularized, the California band were tinkering in a sonic space they call "ugly-pretty." Their songs are like soundscapes you can mosh to: Complicated, but interspersed with moments of respite. It's always been this way, and it only gets better with time.
At the top of this year the group revealed that they would release their eighth full-length, their first in four years. It's a lengthy break between studio albums, but one they claim was necessary. We talked to keyboardist Frank Delgado about the new album, Gore, just how they make that unique Deftones sound, touring after the Paris attacks and more.
Fuse: Gore is right around the corner and it's been four years since your last album. Why the wait?
Frank Delgado: We changed the way we were writing and being creative. That's what took so long. The last couple records we went in how we have been: we allot ourselves a certain block of time. We go in and write a record. This one, we went in and we'd write for three weeks, then we'd go home for three weeks. We were actually doing shows while we were writing so we'd book a couple shows, do some one-offs and we'd keep doing that. It stretched out way longer than normal.
What made you decide to write in that fashion? Was it out of necessity?
We needed that time. We're older. People have kids, families. I think we're learning how to find that balance of how to make this work. That's something we weren't always good at for the longest. It's good for us, we realize, to learn how to keep that balance going and it seemed to work. We were able to digest the ideas we were creating and playing with, to be able to play with those [new songs] during soundcheck at a one-off [gig], that was totally new to us. That was cool.
Deftones have always been such a consistent band. The only other time you took a few years between records was with 2006's Saturday Night Wrist and 2010's Diamond Eyes. That was because of the lineup change, bassist Sergio Vega taking over for Chi Cheng. Is that right?
Sure. At that time it kept getting longer for us. We would take our time. Sometimes we'd go to the studio with a half-written record. We weren't always prepared. We welcomed the idea of going in and being creative in the studio but in all honesty you can't do that. I mean, you can, and it works, but it's not economical and it's not smart. We've learned to try different things and find what works. We just want to make really good records. We have to find different ways to make it good for everyone. We don't want to force anyone to make something when they don't want to make a record.
"Prayers/Triangles" is the first single from the record. When it premiered on Apple Beats 1, frontman Chino Moreno described it as "classic Deftones," how it "goes at your throat" but there are also these pretty, "soothing soundscapes." That seems to be true for most of your repertoire. Is it a sound you create intentionally?
It sounds dumb but we just get together and we throw ideas at each other and what sticks, sticks. We know what we don't want to do. We know when it sucks because we just won't keep working on it. If there's an idea and we keep twisting it and turning it and building on it, we obviously think it's good and we keep working on it. We edit along the way. We've never been that type of band where we have 40 songs and we pick the best 12 for the record. It would be cool to be able to have that, but we've never been that kind of band. We don't go into a record thinking we have to do something a certain way. It just doesn't happen. The reason our records are so dynamic with these highs and lows, the heavy and soft, the quiet and low is that's just emotions that comes from being in a room with five guys for any amount of time. There's no way in hell we've ever been like, "Oh, we need to be a heavy metal band. We need to make a heavy song." Heavy is different to different people. It's different to each of us, the five of us. It's selfish, because we don't really care what people expect or want. We just do what we do. We want to be able to make a record that we can put on in ten years and be proud of. [When we write] if it's something that sticks out then we build on it. That's how we know we're digging it because we're trying to out do each other by making it cooler. That's how it's been the whole time. Nothing has changed in that department.
Young bands are going to read this and go, "Okay, we have be competitive with each other and that's how we're going to do it."
It's not really competitive, it's that we want to make each other's shit fucking better. Not better, we want to make the idea flourish. We can all add something to it. That's how it works and it's not easy.
“There's no way in hell we've ever been like, 'We need to be a heavy metal band. We need to make a heavy song.' Heavy is different to different people.”
"Prayers/Triangles" seems to be a visual song title. Prayer hands fold into triangles. Is there a theme that exists throughout that song? Or the record?
I don't think so, that's a Chino thing. In all honesty, he's always painted pictures with his words. It's hard to put stuff on it. It's very Robert Smith in a way. Being in this band, I've learned that nothing is what it seems. The title, Gore, there's beautiful, pretty picture and then there's this ugly word. Gore. It's always those dynamics, the ugly and the pretty. Those are the dynamics that we live in. That's Deftones, right there. With Chino's lyrics, he likes to paint it so you're second guessing or your not very sure. I've always liked artists that do that.
Is there any real significance behind the title or is it all in the contrast?
I think it's juxtaposition. Chino might have another meaning for it. Sometimes it's just because it sounds and looks good—that fucking simple. We've done that over the years where song titles and artwork exists simply because it looks cool and sounds cool. Sometimes it's that easy.
That makes it more fun for the listener. They get to place their own meaning and understanding on it.
I think that's what it's about! That's rock 'n' roll! When I used to look at record covers, I'd make up shit. Songs, too. Especially with the way Chino paints pictures, his imagery, you can let it be whatever you want it to be. If you broke up with your girl or something, that's what it's going to be. That's probably not what he's talking about, but that's what you're going to think it is. That's what music is, you know what I mean?
Saturday Night Wrist turns 10 this year. Have you talked about doing something for the anniversary, maybe a gig where you play the thing front to back?
No one's mentioned that, actually, but I wouldn't be opposed to it.
Deftones fans are split into different generations and for people of a certain age, that's their first and favorite record. It might be time.
I think it is time. Something I've realized is that you can tell the different generations. We have a lot of different age groups of fans. When that record came out, we were in a really trippy place. Commercially, that was not the most successful record for us but people love that record. I like being the band that has records like that.
When you play shows and when you're going to play shows later this year, you'll have an audience of diehard fans from the '90s and younger kids getting into it now. How does that differ from the gigs you were playing when you first joined the band?
It's rad. You see it. You wouldn't not be able to see it. Youth is in the front row, still. You see young kids. You see families. You see rockers. You see girls. It's a trip. It feels good to know there's a love for what we've got going on and people can come together and enjoy with us. I've always seen it happening, in a weird way. There was something building with a bunch of different types of people. It's hard to explain. When you're looking out onto these people, you see it. You see different colors, different faces, different ages. I think it would be weird if I didn't. If I kept seeing a bunch of dudes and they just kept getting older I would know something's not right here.
You'd know you're doing something wrong.
Exactly. It keeps it fun. If it stopped being fun, none of us would do this. We really enjoy each other's company. We know how to push each other's buttons but I enjoy the company of my friends and I like making music with them.
You announced some tour dates but it's mostly just Texas and Europe. Can we expect a full North American tour?
Yeah. That's just the initial list. Like a typical album release, it'll come out and we'll be on the road for a year and a half at least.
Were the dates rescheduled after the Paris attacks?
Yeah, we're definitely rescheduling. In the future, we're hoping for a lot of touring in a way that works for us. We've learned not to burn ourselves out. We're not going to be in Europe for three months during the winter. We'll go out three weeks, four weeks tops and then we'll go home for three weeks. We've learned how to make this work.
Now watch this vintage Fuse clip of Deftones bassist Sergio Vega discussing the band's love of unconventional music videos: