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Thursday, September 30,2010

Dark times make good music

Deftones draw upon bassist’s tragedy new album

By Alan Sculley
Few people would have blamed the Deftones if the group’s new CD, Diamond Eyes, had been a dark and depressing album. The fact is, much of the past decade has not been kind to the group.

First there was the long and difficult ordeal that was the making of the group’s 2006 CD, Saturday Night Wrist, a project that began more than three years earlier and saw tensions in the band reach a point where the group nearly fractured.

Then in November 2008, bassist Chi Cheng was left in a coma from injuries suffered in a car accident. He has survived the accident, but his recovery has been slow.

“He’s out of his coma, but he’s still in a semi-conscious state, which means he wakes up and he sleeps, like a pattern that he opens his eyes and things like that. But he has yet to really communicate yet,” Deftones singer Chino Moreno reported in a recent phone interview. “That’s what we’re working on right now. We’ve got some really great doctors that are working on him, and we’ve kind  of tried some experimental therapies as far as trying to get him to fully wake up and communicate. The doc- tor actually that’s working on him now has an 85 percent success rate. But the thing is he’s actually on the east coast right now, and Chi is here on the west. That’s the next thing we’re trying to do is trying to get him out there so he can be under this doctor’s care full time.”

What’s more, a CD the band had nearly finished before Cheng’s accident — called Eros — was shelved and the band instead started from scratch on the newly released Diamond Eyes.

But despite the many tough times, Diamond Eyes doesn’t sound like the work of a dispirited band. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. The band sounds energized — perhaps even reborn — and the lyrical direction of the new CD is decidedly positive. And Moreno says that mood was not an accident, nor was it unintended.

“I think it was expected from everybody that we were just going to go with this dark record, with this sad record and this kind of pity kind of record, where at this point, I feel like although this happened to us, there are so many worse things (to go through),” the vocalist says. “It’s like I felt kind of empowered to show that life is going to go on, and Chi is going to fight, and we’re just going to make some badass music. We don’t have to go with the expected. And honestly, our last couple of records have been darker records. I feel like we’ve kind of come out of these times, aside from what happened to Chi.”

Given the turmoil that marked Saturday Night Wrist and the loss of Cheng, there was plenty of speculation that the Deftones would simply pack it in as a band.

But Moreno said there were never any sentiments voiced among the band members for ending the Deftones, either in the immediate aftermath of Cheng’s accident or when the group got together for a meeting a few months later to see where things stood.

“We sat around and talked about Chi for a good couple of hours, but not really about what we planned on doing as a band,” Moreno says. “It’s like we sat there and talked, and everybody got a lot of things off of their chests, their thoughts and what we were thinking about Chi. And when we were done with that, everybody just gravitated toward their instruments and picked them up, and we started to play together. … We started playing, and I guess that day we called [long-time friend] Sergio Vega to see if he could come out [and play bass]. He came out the next day, and that was it. We started writing music that day, and everybody seemed to be in a really creative headspace, so we just went with it. It happened pretty organically.”

In fact, it took only several months to finish Diamond Eyes, and Moreno came out of the project feeling the Deftones had recaptured the energy and attitude that existed in the band in its early years, when the band (which formed in 1988 in Los Angeles) made its early albums Adrenaline (1995) and Around The Fur (1997).

“It (Diamond Eyes) seems similar,” Moreno says.

“It sounds very immediate, this record. I can hear that in this record. To me, I compare that to Around The Fur, because that record had that same feeling to me and for pretty much the same reasons. We recorded that record in a pretty short frame of time. It took like four months from when we started writing it until it was done being mixed. And everybody was just in a super creative space and was working, I don’t know if it was our regimen or what, but we just, we’d go in to make music. And that’s what we would do, and we would come out with it. There was no second guessing.

“[Around The Fur] has always been my favorite Deftones record to this day,” he says. “But the Diamond sessions, when we started, there was a certain air of confidence that we had back, where I felt like we can make some of the best music of our career right now. And when Sergio was in there and started writing, I was like let’s just keep it going. It happened pretty organically. We started writing, and that record was built, and it was a lot the same way that Around The Fur was.”

It’s not just the attitude that seems similar in listening to Diamond Eyes. The music also in some ways recalls Around The Fur.

The CD as a whole possesses the signatures that made Around The Fur (and the Deftones music in general) stand out in the first place — the mix of thick angular guitar riffs melting into melodic choruses, coupled with a fierce rhythmic attack and fierce vocals powering many of the songs through the verses. The group, though, sounds especially inspired on Diamond Eyes, delivering some of its strongest songwriting on tracks like “Royal,” “You’ve Seen The Butcher” and “Prince.”

The Deftones will have a prime tour to showcase the new material as the group fills the middle slot between Mastodon and headliner Alice In Chains on this falls “Black Diamond Skye” tour.

Moreno says it’s the rare perfect bill for his band.

“I still think it’s hard for me to kind of think who do we go and open up for that sells more tickets than us, and that we feel comfortable opening up for as far as does this really work for the fan who wants to come see us play?” Moreno says. “Do they really care about seeing this other band as well and visa versa? And I think all the bands that are on there complement each other as far as being rock bands, but having different niches in the rock world, different decades even. It feels good. It feels like it’s going to be fun. Both bands are good friends of ours that we’ve known over the years, and we’re fans of both of their music, so I think it will be great.”

On the Bill:

Deftones open for Alice in Chains at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Monday, Oct. 4. Doors at 5:30. Mastadon also opens. Tickets start at $47.35.18300 W. Alameda Pkwy., Morrison, 720-865-2494.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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