Deftones - Biography
By Brad Austin
As Sacramento hard rock band Deftones perfected their craft at the turn of the century, it seemed that they stood relatively alone; a new class of hardcore bands were threatening to oust them from relevance, and their peers were already headed that way of their own accord. Fred Durst and Limp Bizkit answered the mega-hit status of “Nookie” with an embarrassingly bad third album. Korn, once the leaders of the pack, were unable to top the success of tracks like “Freak on a Leash” and “Got the Life.” Deftones were the only “nu-metal” band of the nineties who were still on the rise in 2000. With the release of their third album, White Pony, they not only matched their prior success, but topped it, and did so by embracing artier, and often quieter, touches. To this day, Deftones remain the only nineties hardcore band to release new material in the new millennium without making a mockery of themselves or their ever-fickle genre.
Deftones came together in Sacramento in 1988, featuring high school friends Chino Moreno (vocals), Stephen Carpenter (guitar), and Abe Cunningham (drums). Carpenter was struck by the vehicle of a drunk driver around this time, and the silver lining to that cloud was the hefty cash settlement he received and subsequently poured into the band's funding. Better, louder equipment was acquired and the trio began playing shows and going through a barrage of bassists, eventually reaching the right chemistry with Chi Cheng. The group began flaunting their heavy metal inspirations before developing similarities to newer bands, incorporating the rap/rock of Rage Against the Machine and the darkness of Tool. After years of making demos and playing small gigs, they landed a contract with Maverick, Madonna's label, thanks to their latest four-song tape.
The band hired producer Terry Date, who was no stranger to the sounds they were after, having albums by Pantera and Soundgarden to his credit. Adrenaline (Maverick) was released in October of 1995, and although it was never a smash success, Deftones gave it all the momentum they could by touring copiously. They hit the road by themselves, or with their friends in Korn, who had risen to success much faster than Deftones. They toured with Ozzy Osbourne and L7, and when all was said and done, their debut album had sold upwards of 200,000 copies through sheer will and word of mouth. Also, their fans were now some of the most unwaveringly dedicated in all of rock, and anticipations for a breakthrough follow-up were high.
The band would not enter the same commercial league as Korn or Limp Bizkit until one album later, but 1997's Around the Fur (Maverick) was an inspired step forward, and peaked in the charts at an admirable #29. Moreno's rap/rock tendencies from the first album are very suppressed here, and the band shifted toward a seductively spooky aesthetic while continuing to cultivate their appreciation for metal. “My Own Summer (Shove It)” was a hit on MTV and “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” also reached #29 on Billboard's mainstream rock tracks. During the heyday of the pandemonium that was MTV's Total Request Live, Korn and Limp Bizkit were thriving, having their videos exposed to Britney Spears fans on a daily basis. But Deftones were quiet during this time, releasing a seven-track import CD called Live, which highlighted their crushing live sound, in 1999. Where the popularity attained through TRL made it staggeringly difficult for Korn and Limp Bizkit to follow their mega-hit albums successfully, Deftones were in the more favorable position of following an album that hadn't made them superstars.
As they obviously felt some pressure to deliver an album stronger than Around the Fur, while simultaneously grew sick of nu-metal's limitations, the band's three-year break between releases was to their benefit, and the payoff came in the form of White Pony (2000 Maverick). The album was preceded by the single, “Change (in the House of Flies),” a song that was haunting both musically and lyrically, and showed fans that Deftones could be much moodier, and even slightly melodic. The single reached number 3 on the modern rock charts, as did the accompanying LP. While the follies of their peers were convincing people to reconsider the merit of their past releases, Deftones were forcing critics to take them as more than a nu-metal band, and to take them seriously. Longtime collaborator Frank Delgado was officially brought in as a member for this release, upping the sonic textures with his turntable work. Some fans scoffed at the softness of tracks like “Teenager” and “Pink Maggit,” but the group could still rock unbelievably hard, as recognized by their 2000 Grammy win for Best Metal Performance for the song “Elite.”
Now the band had a genuine hit to live up to, and attempted to do so with 2003's Deftones (Maverick). The album didn't blow any minds (and many believed that, given the band's evolution from Around the Fur to White Pony, their fourth album would be positively mind-blowing), but the group demonstrated a furthering of their ability to blend absolute metal assault with lush, dreamy textures, perfectly exemplified in opening track “Hexagram.” They joined Metallica and Linkin Park for the Summer Sanitarium tour, as Deftones reached number 2 on the charts. A break was taken after touring in which Moreno finally saw the release of the debut album by his side project, Team Sleep, an album that had been sitting on the shelves for nearly three years. Also released was the Deftone's B-Sides & Rarities (Maverick) in 2005.
Terry Date, who had produced the first four Deftones albums and become a mentor to the band, did not work with them on 2006's Saturday Night Wrist (Maverick). Instead, Deftones enlisted the help of veteran producer Bob Ezrin, who had helmed albums by Pink Floyd and Kiss. Wrist was another successful outing for the band, and possibly their most experimental to date, but somehow generated a feeling of sameness. In 2008 bassist Chi Cheng was in a terible accident, which put him in a coma. The band soldiered on with new bass player Sergio Vega, releasing Diamond Rings in 2010, followed by Koi No Yokan in 2012. On April 13, 2013- Cheng passed away when his heart stopped suddenly. Sadly, he had been on the mend, in a semi conscious state at the time.