Deftones: The Last Deftone On The List
It’s circa May 2013, and Deftones are passing through Sydney for one night only at the Roundhouse with letlive. I’m a romantic dream of a hangover with an ammo belt of survival nangs and I’ve been assigned to interview all of them at once. Ostensibly it’s a feature about their guitars and amps and drums and shit, but that doesn’t happen. What happens is 20 minutes of guitarist Stephen Carpenter pointing out the Illuminati in everything around us and then whispering: “They call them dabs because just a dab’ll do it.” He’ll wink, and by the power of that wink we’ll all be sitting around really, really talking about nothing in a Seinfeldian discrediting of my reason for being there. Chino is candid, Abe is chill as fuck, Sergio’s fuck is even chiller, Stephen disarmingly stares through everyone, and sampler keyboardist guy Frank Delgado? Frank said maybe one thing the whole time. It’s an agreeable “Yeah” that loosely translated to “Please defer to my comrades on this matter I am otherwise preoccupied with sitting here.”
Frank, the last Deftone on my list.
“What, uh, list?”
I have him now circa March 2016, live from some downtime during their current tour of Texas. They’re out there shaking hands with beef and firearms after finishing work on Gore. It’s their eighth record and you’d think that’d be the happiest occasion for any nu metal survivor. It’s not, according to Stephen, who made some wildly dissatisfied comments in an interview with Ultimate Guitar to the tune of:
“When we were coming up with ideas and writing the songs, the stuff that was being written, you know, the other guys’ ideas, I wasn’t too interested in it. It wasn’t the style or the sound I was hoping we would take. It wasn’t what I was expecting or wanting,” and more worryingly: “I mean, I have a great time for the most part. This record has been a struggle and we have got issues that I do not want to leave home but how things will be in the future, I do not know. But I know what I will do and what I will not do and there are some things that I will not do in the future because I just don’t agree with it.”
Stephen, many reasonably assumed, must really hate the awesome band he’s in.
“Right, that’s fucking nothing new in our camp,” Frank scoffs. “You know what I mean? That’s how we make records. Man please, maybe on that day he hated the record, you know what I’m saying? I think it would be a different interview if they talked with him now. That’s the same interview the press was writing about during White Pony in a sense. I guess that’s the push and pull of making good records, you know what I mean? You’re not always on board and some things are going to test you and challenge you. It’s about not forcing five different ideas. They don’t stick together usually. Usually, it’s a working process.”
“That’s how you make a record. If it’s not challenging, and it’s easy, and there’s no friction or ‘unnervingness’, it’s not real. If it was just all smiles and everyone agreeing, that shit ain’t real. Come on.”
I wonder if Stephen is in fact crazy. Frank declines to answer this, though he does correct my pronunciation of ‘Steven’ to ‘Stefan’. I realise that three years ago I sat chilling with Stephen Carpenter at the Roundhouse calling him Steven and then later when I got more confident ‘Steve’ and he was too high to notice.
“In all honesty this record was no different than every record, especially the making of it and those emotions,” Frank continues. “The yelling, and the fighting, and the laughing, you know, and the bro-ing. That’s how you make a record. If it’s not challenging, and it’s easy, and there’s no friction or ‘unnervingness,’ it’s not real. If it was just all smiles and everyone agreeing, that shit ain’t real. Come on.”
As the Quiet Dude Behind The Decks, I feel like Frank is the go-to guy for insight into the band’s rehearsal room dynamics. With what little I know of them personally, I posit that Chino and Stephen yell at each other in sound effects while Abe and Sergio roll enormous doobs and consider why sparrows hop.
“I was the one being difficult,” Frank laughs. “I think we’re all pretty loud, depending on what it is I guess. What’s really cool about this band is that’s how it’s set up, kind of as a democratic thing where we all want to be on the same page. We’re not going to force no one to do nothing they don’t want to do. That’s the hard process, getting to the point where there’s compromises, man. That’s life, dude. There’s always a compromise, whether it’s a business decision, the tours we’re going to take, just day to day business shit. Merch designs, song titles. It’s everything. That’s what used to hang us up when we were younger and took forever to make records. As you get older and get better at working and your work ethic and shit, I think maybe that’s why the last few records we were able to hammer out. It was like we were just dialled in, you know what I mean?”
I am suddenly, uncontrollably, overcome with some kind of emotion. I miss Chi, I blurt out, and no disrespect to Sergio, he is cool, but I teenaged with those beautiful Buddhist dreadlocks in my face while “Change (In The House Of Flies)” perfumed the apartment from a TV tuned 25/8 to Channel [V]. Chi, the white pony in the room, I always think.
“I wouldn’t call that a white pony in the room,” Frank says. “I mean, that’s our brother. His presence is always around. It’s not like a… we all deal with it in a certain way, but I wouldn’t say it’s like this black cloud. It’s like we’re off to better places. I think we all feel that way. I don’t think we dwell on that, I don’t think we’ve used it to ask for sympathy in our creative process in our records. We’ve never kind of used that as a thing. No, man. I mean, that’s fucking life. I mean leaving someone is not a good thing and some people have experienced that in life and some haven’t yet, you know what I mean? It’s like, the one thing about this band is we’re really good at coping with situations. A lot of the stuff that would break up a band hasn’t affected my band. I think it has a lot to do with our friendship. We get along really well. These holidays were the longest break we’ve had in over maybe 10 years. We were not together for about three months and then we went to go take pictures for the record, and it’s like the same. We had a fucking blast, you know what I mean? That’s why we’re still able to make records, it’s because we enjoy each others’ company. We just have a lot of fun together still, which is hilarious.”
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