Deftones interview with Jerry Perry in "Alive & Kickin" Dec. 1993
transcribed by defjeffrey for deftones SACTO,CA
It's raining again. Of course it is. I don't need to look out my window or feel it hit me coldly in the face to
know this. All I've gotta do is have some high priced national act on an off-night at The Cattle Club, and rain is inevitable. That's just the way its been lately - Big Act, Big Risk, Big Storm, Big Losses. Tonight will no doubt be the same. The scene is changing in Sac. We've been taking quite a few heavy hits lately trying to learn how it's changing.
I'm on my way to Far's Practice studio to meet with The Deftones for an interview. My '64 Ford is never so boatlike as it is on rain-coated streets.So as I drive down Freeport pretending to have control of my sleek two-door hydroplane, I laugh at the thought that Deftones interviews are much the same way. Just ask Samantha from cable show 411 or Liz from Sacto Active Rock, or any one else who's ever attempted a Deftones interview. When it's all over and you play back your tape, you find you have nothing to work with, You've gotten nowhere. You've just been spinning your wheels ... or reels ... or whatever. I've messed the whole analogy ur but the point is a Deftones interview is usually one-third band argument, one-third dissin' on each other, and one-third trying to keep Stephen from wreaking havoc in the immediate area. I interviewed them once for a Drinkin'and Drive-in (A&K #3) but those never require that we stay on track and well, dammit, this is the cover story - we've got to tell the Deftones dirt.
There is no doubt this is certainly an interesting stage in their development to catch their thoughts. I'm meeting with them one week prior to their show opening for Kai Kln we've set up at The Crest Theater. This is an exciting event for many reasons. For the Deftones it will be their first time in the 1,000 seat Crest Theater, an opportunity experienced by only a handful of local bands. The Crest show also represents a milestone in the development of Sacramento's alternative music scene. Kai Kin is the first band to headline this large venue, so a week before the show all we can think about is the risky undertaking. If the show bombs then it will feel like a slap on the wrist to a bunch of uppity local bands reaching for something they're not supposed to have; but if it succeeds, all our suspicions of which way the scene is headed will be validated and the Sacramento music scene will take on a whole new appearance.
Although we are very hopeful about the Crest show, we're also aware of the uncharted territory we're moving into. It's almost like the scene is entering puberty. Things are changing qnd for those of us involved, our feelings are a confusion of fear and excitement.
I arrive at the practice studio. Malcolm from Far is jokingly trying to convince Deftones singer Chino to cancel some shitty Bay Area booking the band is committed to because it's the same night as Far's CD release show at the Cattle Club, and the Far guys really want the Deftones to be there.
"You'll get nothing," says Malcolm tauting Chino.
"Probably," says Chino.
'Zero, zilch,' continues Malcolm.
"Probably,' repeats Chino. He'd love to go see his friends CD release show and sure, it'd be nice to make a little money for the drive to San Francisco, but Chino has his reasons for going through with the show. in a way, it ties in with the whole ambiguity of the unprecedented changes in the scene. The Deftones are clearly on the rise in Sacramento and doing OK in San Francisco, but what's the next move? How do you keep your forward momentum without rolling over a few people or opportunities.
"We don't want to look like dicks," explains Chino. "This Club keeps trying to get us play, if we keep saying 'no' it looks like we think we're too good to play there."
"Well, maybe you are," challenges Malcolm.
'OK' says Chino in mock defeat. "We'll cancel the show."
"No, no," says Malcolm, in mock sympathy, "we'll cancel our show. Fuck the CD."
So with that dilemma completely unresolved, I gather the Deftones together into my car. We decide to head out to this rib place on Martin Luther King Boulevard called Shawana's. "In the heart of the ghetto," says Stephen. "Uh, oh! Chi," he says to the band's bassist, "you ain't gonna get no food there, just drinks, this place is straight up beef." Chi, obviously a vegetarian isn't very hopeful, "They probably have beef- based drinks."
"Barbecue shakes," laughs Steph.
Shawana's sports a pink and lavender decor, applied to a Taco Bell style architecture. Inside cool gospel music is blaring. For a moment I fear my tape recorder will not pick up the interview, but then I realize the Deftones generally blare also.
First things first. The Deftones are Chino Wong (vocals), Stephen Carpenter (guitar,) Chi Ling Dai Cheng (bass) and John "the white
guy" Taylor (drums). They band formed in South Sacramento around mid-'90. They followed a whole wave of amazing bands that emerged from South Sac around this time, including Phallucy, FMK, and Crystal Sphere.
Stephen had started with a punk band in '86. "Four Mexicans. We were all skaters. We were so bad we didn't know we had to tune to eachother, we just played. I'd been playing guitar two weeks and we jsut started jammin.I was like, yeah, I'm in a real band.'
Chino remembered skateboarding by Steph's house and, "Steph would be outside with his guitar. He had a remote, he'd have all his amps in his garage and he'd just be out in his driveway and you'd hear 'kunk, kunk, kunk, kunk', playing Exodus and Anthrax and shit."
"If we ever get signed," says Steph, "I want to set up the whole band in the back yard one night around 1:00 a.m. and just blam." Chino used to watch Stephen's band practice in Steph's garage. Soon Dominic, an old friend of Chino's from elementary school, started playing bass for Stephen, and Chino introduced Abe, a drummer friend of his to them. Eventually
Chino himself joined as singer.
As a new local band, opportunities to play were rare and support was weak. They'd played a few parties and on a couple of Cattle Club Thursdays, but those weren't always successful. Quite often in order for a local band to get anyone to see them they'd have to appear on a show with a prominent touring band. The band's earliest sound was very derivative of Primus, and at that time a lot of the funk bands from the Bay Area were gaining notoriety in Sacramento, so it wasn't difficult to hook up the Deftones to one of the many funk shows taking place at the Cattle Club.
Their first big show was with Psychefunkapus and Funky Blue Velvet in early '91. The band's most vivid memory of the night was being in front of a huge crowd when Dominic brought his little brother on stage. "We're this full on ethnic band," says Stephen, "and we're opening for Psychefunkapus, and Dominic's ten year old brother gets on stage and tells this racial joke! Something like, 'what do you get with three black guys in a suana?' and the whole crowd goes booooo!!! And I'm all 'oh no,' I get on teh microphone and I'm saying it's cool, it's just a joke, and everyone is calming down. And then he finished the joke! - everyone booos again!"
"It was terrible," remembers Chi. "I had to turn my back to the crowd."
Somehow the band managed to survive the faux pas and to even win over a decent following. Then just as things were starting to move, Abe left the band to join Phallucy.
"Abe and I used to sit in class listening to Phallucy on my walkman and idolizing them,' says Chino. 'I'm not surprised he left." John and Chi stepped in to fill the vacancies.
With this lineup, the Deftones were able to finally get things in gear. Their sound began to progress beyond the blatant Primus sound they'd started with into an amazing and powerful hybrid of rap, metal and grunge, a common description these days, but there's nothing common about the way the Deftones deliver it.
Chino's singing has become quite strong. His vocals jump from snarls and growls to smooth ballads to rapid fire rap seemingly effortlessly as if three different people were singing. His stage presence is absolutely captivating. He'll start a song lightly swaying to the rhythms or dancing and the next thing you know he's flying off the stage or smashing a mic stand like a man possessed.
Most of the music is written by Stephen. Chino writes the lyrics. "I can't write lyrics," says Stephen, "when I try, they come out cheesy as hell."
"We have a lot of serious music," says Chino, "a lot of anger and depression, but then we write stupid ass songs like Too Many Freaks. It's dumb, but it's fun. I'm down with going with any vibe."
"My favorite songs are the songs you wrote before I got in the band," says John. "Yeah, when you joined, we started writing white guy songs," laughs Chi. "We went from heavy Pearl Jam influences to Bruce Springsteen."
"We get together a lot for practices but we end up arguing all the time and nothing gets done," says Steph. "Our problem is wee like everything."
No doubt, the diversity of the band's tastes work for them as well as against them. But then the Deftones can argue over anything. It's one of their favorite things to do.
"When I drive around," says Steph, "all I listen to is KHYL (oldies), or 1380 (classic soul)." I listen to metal, but only good metal.'
"You don't listen to good metal, cause you still listen to Trouble," says Chi.
"Trouble ain't metal, Trouble is sweet."
"They're sweet. People who listen to Trouble are never gonna change their minds, cause Trouble is sweet!' End of subject.So with that completely unresolved, the other guys tell me of their musical faves.
"I like weird stuff,' says John, "Naked City, John Zorn, Frank Zappa."
"Smashing Pumpkins" says Chino, "is my favorite band in the whole world."
"I listen to Mark Curry every day," says Chi. Adding, 'I like stuff like Tracy Chapman. Morrissey is my favorite singer-songwriter."
"Great," mutters Chino, "There goes half our audience."
Of course, we all love Far, and I think Shannon Savage is great," continues Chino, referring to some of our local talent.
"Phallucy and Monkey Drive,' says Chi.
"I like Cake," says Steph. These guys are pretty in touch with the local scene. Of course it helps that they're pros at sneaking into teh Cattle Club. It's gotten to the point where Stef shows up and says "put it on my tab" at teh front door. God help him if the ever present him with a tab.
The band for the most part is pretty self-contained. They have a handful of people who help them here and there. Most notably is their manager, Dave Park. 'We put up our own posters and stuff, but it's not like we have roadies, or anything," says Chi.
"None" affirms Chino.
"Never had," continues Chi. "Probably never will," finishes Jon.
"One time," says Chino, "we were playing a show at The Stone. It was me, Stephen, and Chi. We got all the equipment packed in the back of Chi's car and we're squeezed in there.
It was the same night as Metallica and Guns'n Roses, and we're driving down the freeway outside of the City.
There's all these limos and they're passing us and these people are all waving and yelling Metallica. I'm thinkin, 'look at us, we must look like four hella-nerds in this beat-up Nissan station wagon.' I thought if we ever get big, play the coliseum or somethin', this is the way I wanna do it. Just pull up in this beat-up Nissan in front of everyone and start unloading. They'd all be hey, isn't that the band that's playing tonight?' It'd be the coolest!"
"Anyway, we don't need roadies," says Chi sarcastically, "Stephen knows everything cuz (a) his cousin is in Testament, and (b) he used to roadie for FMK, and that makes him omnipotent,"
"There was a time when I wanted to do everything, the business side, everything," says Stephen.
"That's promoter stuff," says Chi. "I don't think bands should deal with all that. I think it's lame when bands try to be promoters. As far as promoting goes, bands should just hang up flyers, maybe. They shouldn't fuckin' overstep their boundaries."
"What's overstepping your boundaries?" asks Steph. uh oh. Here we go again.'There's no boundaries in music."
"No, that's not true," says Chi.
"You can't go anywhere unless you overstep boundaries!" says Steph loudly. "It's not that black and white, Stephen."
"Dude, it is that black and white! Stop fuckin' making shades of everything."
"There's no such thing as black and white in anything, Stephen. Period."
"Fuckin'-A! That's why there is no such thing as black and white, it's cuz of people like you."
"Hold on, hold on," says Chino, "there's no such thing as lavender and pink."
Yah, well with that completely unresolved, we decide to leave Shawana's and head for the Weatherstone to meet with their manager, Dave.
The band originally came into contact with Dave while Steph was "roadie-ing" for FMK. Dave was FMK's manager. He's a very serious fellow, very organized, very precise. The kind of person you couldn't imagine managing a bunch of musicians, especially the Deftones. And yet, he calmly performs his duties, keeping everything on course.
"We were impressed
because he always carried a briefcase," says Chi.
Dave is always pushing the band to deliver on their potential. He is their biggest critic.
John says, "I'm glad he's working for us. He busts his ass."
"He works harder than any of us in the band does." adds Chi.
When we get to the Weatherstone, the place is packed. It's still raining so all the caffeine junkies are hanging out inside. We get ourselves set up with a little vitamin J (Java). Dave is there, and we resume our interview.
"Dave is pretty hard on us sometimes," says Chino.
"Not as hard as I could be," says Dave.
"Oh! You were being a dick that night at The Terminator," exclaims Chino, pointing his finger at Dave. "I was sick, busted my ass, I got off stage and said, 'Dave, I did my best,' and he says "no you didn't". We're all laughing. Chino continues, 'No, you don't under- stand, I did the best I could, and he's 'no you didn't.' So I'm like 'fuck you Dave,' and I threw a bottle against the wall."
"I know what you guys are capable of," says Dave calmly, as always.
"The motherfucker made up some shit,' says Chino,'about whoever fucks up at oractice has to take off an article of clothing. We was gonna be buck naked in the studio."
'John was in these red bikini briefs," says Chi, laughing.
Dave says, 'Yeah, he was down to his underwear."
"I couldn't concentrate, he looked like a white grover, or a fuckin' superman," laughs Chi. "Sometimes Dave gets a little carried away. He's got Steph on the Tommy LaSorda plan. He's got me on a dental plan. He's trying to separate Chino's one eyebrow and we're trying to get John into a tanning salon and find him a black wig."
Dave handles many of the unsavory aspects of the music business. He is constantly in touch with label reps for these guys. He confident they'll be signed to a major label.
"Dave's gonna put us where we want to be," says Chi.
"I know we'll be on MTV someday," says Steph. "Hell, with Dave workin'with us, he's not gonna let it not happen."
"Dave has one name," says Chi, "and straight up it's Hollywood."
"No, he's got three names," laughs Steph, 'Money, Business and Short-Shorts," referring to Dave's fondness for way-too-tight white shorts. Dave is also helping the guys get a tape recorded. Stephen doesn't like it.
"I hate it," he says.
'You haven't heard it," says Chi.
"I've heard it."
"There's no recording of it."
"I got a recording of it."
"It's not even mixed down." And so on, and so on. Man these guys like arguing. I asked them how long they'll be able to put up with each other.
"Four more weeks," says Steph.
"The end is near," laughs John.
The Crest show is a sell-out! 1,000 people have turned out for an all local show. The Deftones played one of their best shows ever. Chino was on stage in front of their biggest audience. He points to Steph, "this is my Mexican friend;" and then to Chi, "this is my Chinese friend." And
then asks, "can any of you find the white guy?" The crowd loves it.
They've come a long way since playing with playing with Psychefunkapus, but so has the whole Sacto scene. In a way, the Deftones represent this change better than anyone. They started out having to play for big name out-of-town bands to get exposure, now local bands and out-of-town bands are opening for the Deftones for the same reason. In fact, the very funk scene that gave the Deftones their start has all but died.
The big name bands that were once a shot in the arm to the local scene, now more times than not, bring out less people than the locals would've if they'd played by themselves. And recently the biggest shows have been shows with just local bands. The Deftones are definitely one of those bands.
A week later Far sells out the Cattle Club at their CD release show. The Deftones manage to get back from their shitty SF booking in time to see them. And Chino even helps Jonah tear up the stage a little as a grand finale.
It's New Year's Eve. Kai Kin has just sold out the Cattle Club. Word going around is that John Taylor is no longer in the Deftones. What the fuck! I try to get the story from Dave, but he's pretty shitfaced. Dave gets real friendly when he's been drinking. I'm afraid he's gonna kiss me. Two days later he leaves a calm well-worded statement on my answering machine about the split being a mutual thing. "Hell," I'm thinking, "nothing the Deftones do is mutual; Those guys love to fight." That's probably what lead to this. I call Chino. He tells me it basically came down to creative differences, Creative differences, I guess that's a nice way of saying too much argument.
Well, it's a strange way to end the year. Hell, it's a strange way to end the story, but that's where we are. If everything feels up in the air, thats cuz it is. What's gonna happen with the Deftones? Who's gonna be the next big band? Good questions, all of em. And well, with that completely unresolved...
- Jerry Perry
deftones SACTO, CA Exclusive - Please do not use without permission