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Deftones: Loud and vital as ever

©Robert Sebree
Deftones (©13th Witness)

Chino Moreno discusses the band's musical evolution and perseverance through tragedy

By Adrien Begrand
Special to MSN Music

Sacramento, Calif., band Deftones have always evolved with surprising grace for a metal band, transcending the "nu-metal" tag they were saddled with early in their career and metamorphosing into something unique in metal and hard rock today, heavy yet brilliantly melodic, fragile yet forceful. They've just released their seventh album, "Koi No Yokan," and not only does it continue their impressive run of strong full-lengths, but it's their best, most vibrant work since 2000's "White Pony." While on tour on the East Coast, singer Chino Moreno took some time to talk to MSN Music about how the new record turned out as wide-ranging as it did, the band's mindset now compared to two and a half years ago, and the ongoing situation with bassist Chi Cheng, who remains in a minimally conscious state four years after being involved in a car crash.

Last week I played "Diamond Eyes" and the new record back to back and was struck immediately by how much more vibrant the new record is. How did that happen? What did you do differently?

Chino Moreno: The whole "Diamond Eyes" record really took us to a new place in our career. When we made that record we were kind of in dire times: We already had one record that we didn't release, then our bass player was in a car accident, so at that point we weren't sure if we were going to carry on with what we do. When we started working on "Diamond Eyes," the whole band found a whole new appreciation for what we do, just kind of a new look for everything musically. We got into a really good head space and work ethic. We made a great record. And from that point on, we were really building momentum. So we got off tour, and instead of taking a bunch of time off we decided to go back in the studio, just keep it rolling. That's what we did. & This record was pretty fast: It was done a little over six months from when we started writing it. It pretty much has the same energy as "Diamond Eyes," but I feel like there's more expansion. We really tried not to get too comfortable and do what we did on the last record, just expand on those ideas.

Just how valuable a collaborator has Nick Raskulinecz become for you guys?

He's awesome. When we go in circles, he points us back to that place where the heart of the idea, the song, is. He keeps us focused, that's the main thing. As a band we could be playing in a room together, we'd start jamming, and two hours later we will be nowhere near where we started out. We'll have a lot of fun on the way there, but as far as structuring things, that's secondary for us; playing music is our instinct. So he helps rein everything in and have it make sense to us before we go off on a tangent, making sure we're not losing the focal point from where we started.

So was this a more pleasant experience for you this time around?

Oh, totally. Ever since the last record we've adopted a whole new work ethic, and we really appreciate and enjoy being able to do this. It was really pleasant. It was great to at home recording this: We recorded in Los Angeles where I live. A lot of times we'd go out of town to make records and we'd be in a hotel room or an apartment somewhere. To me it made a lot more sense when I adopted making music into my personal everyday life. I don't have to go away to make a record. It really works out creatively for me.

You take a bit of a less-is-more approach on this record. A lot of popular bands will just milk the fact that they can fit 79 minutes of music onto a CD.

I don't think any of that stuff was very intentional. We don't know going in what kind of record we're going to make or how we'll approach it. Song-wise and idea-wise, a lot of the stuff was, I won't say commercial, but it seems a little more straightforward than things have been in the past. It's weird, because in the past there was a lot of pressure with the record company, and once we started having success with radio that was becoming a priority for them to have these songs that are more radio-friendly. It seemed like when we didn't think about that at all, a lot of times songs that fit into that format came a lot easier.

Is there one song on "Koi No Yokan" that you're particularly attached to right now?

Right now one of my favorite songs to play -- we haven't actually played it live yet -- is  Swerve City. It's one of those songs where it has a little bit of that riffage Deftones are definitely known for. You hear that riff, and it's a bouncing riff, it gets you off your feet. But it's also got some very pretty melodies that weave in and out of that, so whenever we can capture those kind of dynamics in one song to that extent, it's usually a pretty special song. I'm pretty excited for people to hear it.

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I'm interested in how you and your fans got together to support Chi Cheng's medical situation. It's extraordinary how it united you and your fans that way.

Definitely. Our fans are great, they're very supportive, they've remained supportive. It's been four years here. All the people who have met Chi, he's touched a lot of people, and those people are there for him. It's been really great; we couldn't have asked for a better response. We still continue to do things, try to keep people aware of the whole situation. It's a tough thing, because it's still going on; there's no closure. It's just another day, that's how we have to look at it. We keep hoping for the best.

What was it like playing onstage with Chi's son in San Francisco a couple weeks ago?

It was amazing. We didn't know until earlier that day that it was actually going to happen. I talked to him a couple weeks before about doing it, but I wasn't sure if he was going to be able to get out of school. He was able to, and it was amazing to see him up there with his dad's bass. He looks just like his dad, and he moves and plays just like his dad [laughs], but he was so happy to be there. I was trying to explain to him how special it was for us at the same time. It's amazing to think & I have a son that age, too, so all of our sons can now basically form a band. We pretty much started when we were 15, 16 years old, and they're about that age now. So maybe they'll take over for us one day [laughs].

Whether people know it or not, even when we're out playing shows, he's in all our minds every day. I spent 20 years with him sleeping across from me on the bus; there's no way I can not think about him every single day. We try not to dwell on it and keep us from being positive, but we have to, we have to keep positive about it all. Keeping in touch with his family is great. I talked to his brother yesterday. It's important. Who's to say what will happen, but like I said, we'll just take it day by day.

Adrien Begrand's extensive writing about metal music has been published in such magazines as Decibel, Metal Edge, Terrorizer, Sick Sounds, Dominion and Metallian, and online at PopMatters.com and Hellbound.ca. A metal enthusiast for nearly 30 years, he resides in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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