Deftones’ Abe Cunningham: “We just let things happen, for better or worse”

By Cherylene ChanEvents - 16 May 2013 2:04 PM | Updated 2:14 PM

Deftones’ Abe Cunningham: “We just let things happen, for better or worse”

Seven albums into their career, Deftones are still masters of evolution. They’re often described as ‘the Radiohead of metal’, although their sound is almost its own entity, with measured touches of everything from glitch-hop to shoegaze setting their songs apart.

For the uninitiated, glitch-hop refers to a form of bass music that uses mechanical, glitchy noises heavily, while shoegaze is the spacey, synth-powered sound captured by bands like My Bloody Valentine.

Their steady success is proof that they’ve stayed focused despite hardships, particularly the loss of their original bassist, Chi Cheng. Cheng was in a serious car accident in 2008 that left him semi-comatose until his death last month. At the time, the band was in the thick of recording a would-be album, ‘Eros’, which was shelved as they came to terms with the sudden loss.

It seemed like the band would call it quits at first, but press on they did. Roping in ex-Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega, who has toured and sessioned with the band before joining, the Deftones returned with an all-new album, ‘Diamond Eyes’, in 2010. Making its debut at #6 on Billboard’s chart, it embodied a more hopeful, polished sound than their backlog of work.

NME calls their latest album, ‘Koi No Yokan’, one of their “most consistent listens” and gave high marks for its “shotgun blast of cranked guitars, bruising hardcore and canyon-sized choruses”.

As they return to Singapore as part of the Asian leg of their ‘Koi No Yokan Tour’, we ask Abe Cunningham about the album and the band’s future.

‘Koi No Yokan’ might just be Deftones’ tightest album yet. What was the album process like for you?
The old (unreleased) ‘Eros’ record wasn’t the easiest thing for us to make, so with ‘Diamond Eyes’, we started a new approach of working together (recording tracks as a band rather than individually). We repeated that with ‘Koi No Yokan’. Straight off the road from ‘Diamond Eyes’, we went into writing – just locking ourselves in and putting in the work. We had a really nice time. I think we’re getting better at being efficient and doing things the right way.

With seven albums down, efficiency must have come from experience.
Definitely, but I think it comes a bit with age as well – not wanting to rush things, but making better use of our time. We certainly wasted a lot of time in the past. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that! We had to live through that to be where we are right now. I think we came out of the other side feeling a bit more mature about things.

‘Koi No Yokan’ seems more progressive, and ‘Diamond Eyes’ has softer, atmospheric moments. Do you guys consciously try to plan where the sound goes?
There’s never much conscious effort. We just let things happen, for better or worse. I think it’s the way we’ve operated for years and it’s worked pretty well so far. We’re happy with what we’re putting out and that’s the main thing.

Any plans to release ‘Eros’ eventually?
We worked on that record for nearly a year and when Chi had his accident, everything stopped in its tracks. We just sort of never looked back at that point. So much of it is attached to that time and Chi. I’m sure at some point we’ll definitely have to come out with it. Of course, people very dear to us are curious to how it sounds as well, because it’s the last thing Chi played on. So, in time… I think we just need to get a bit of perspective on it.

Losing Chi last month must have been a huge blow.
We’re very sad, but also relieved that he can be in a better place. Since his death two weeks ago, there have been so many memories pouring in. We spent so much time together and grew up from boys to men. I miss him for so many reasons – his laughs, his conversations as a brother and a friend. I never had an older brother, so he was always like one to me. But I really miss his spirit. It’s celebrated in all these new records and everything we do.

Would you ever do an unplugged album?
We’ve done a few of our songs acoustic before and it’s interesting to see how they translate, because they were obviously written to be played hard. I love experimenting like that – and the guys do too – but Stephen’s (Carpenter, Deftones’ guitarist) refused it numerous times. He’s such a stubborn guy. He’ll go, “it’s supposed to be heavy! It’s supposed to be loud!” That said, it’s always good to see how things turn out when you strip all the amplification away – that’s the test of a true song in its pure form. Who knows? I’d like to do that some time. We have time.

During a concert a few days ago, you paid tribute to the late Chris Kelly of Kriss Kross by covering ‘Jump’, and you even had your shirt inside out. How did that come up?
Funny how that happened – that evening we took a little break before the encore, and our assistant asked if we heard that Chris from Kriss Kross died. I remember them from when we were growing up, and we just went back on and did it for fun. The next morning it went viral on the internet. It’s crazy.

Will you guys be pulling similar stunts here?
We’re always spontaneous and we love to keep things exciting. Nothing is planned. We’re really enjoying ourselves, so much more than we have in the longest time, and we’re so thrilled to be able to come back to Singapore. We weren’t sure we would be able to this time, but it worked out! We’re very happy.

Deftones - Koi No Yokan Tour Singapore | 28 May, 8pm | The Coliseum, Hard Rock Hotel, Resorts World Singapore, 8 Sentosa Gateway | Tickets: $88 (early bird), $98, $108 from Sistic