In AP 266’s Class of 2000 special, we look back at 10 albums that debuted a decade ago and shaped the punk of today. DEFTONES’ White Pony made the cut, but our full interview with frontman CHINO MORENO didn’t (at least, not in its entirety). Luckily, we’ve got Altpress.com…
A lot of people point to White Pony as the point where Deftones got rid of that nü-metal tag and reinvented the genre. Was that the intent?
CHINO MORENO:Pretty much. If there was any intent, it was to stay left of everything that was going on at the time. I don’t know if you remember, but around that time, there were a bunch of bands in that Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, nü-metal genre that were doing good business. For us—not that we felt we were so much better than these bands—but we just felt we were different; that we always had something a little different than all these other bands. Our main reason for it was, after that point, we had been lumped in with that scene pretty solely and it was a conscious decision, to not abandon our sound, but to explore a little bit more.
If you look at that whole scene as a big race, it would seem like White Pony was the album where the band definitely lapped the competition. It seemed like it was the milestone for the genre because it was so different from everything that was going around. That’s the first record that Frank [Delgado, DJ/synth op] plays as a full-time member, right?
Yeah, that was the first record Frank became more active. He was there during the writing process with us for the majority of the time, and then he actually became a band member shortly after we made the record. I started playing guitar on that record as well, which was pretty weird for a few reasons. One, I didn’t really know how to play guitar that well—I still really don’t, but obviously, I think I am a little better than I was then. So I was just trying to figure stuff out, and it worked in a way, but it barely worked. When I started playing, Stephen was really standoffish about it. He kind of thought I was stepping on his ground, like, why don’t I just worry about singing? To me it was just experimenting; I was just having fun. It was just another way of expressing myself without singing and just making notes and following along. Just counteracting certain melodies and trying different things. So it was just experimental and fun for me, but I didn’t look at it from Stephen’s standpoint. But what ended up happening when we started writing that record, was when a lot of the push-and-pull started coming from him and I.
That was my next question: Is that the record that started the whole Chino-Stephen butting heads thing? Was the tension a big part of that record?
I think so. That is the one record where it happened, but in a way, I think it was [used as] some of the building blocks of that record. Stephen would have an idea, and I would be like, “That’s awesome,” and I would come with something to counteract it, and he would do the same thing. I think what we ended up doing was trying to out-do each other, not really thinking about it. What happened was he would build his tower, then I would build mine a little higher and then he would build his tower a little higher, so by the end we had all this great stuff because we were competing in a way, but not really thinking about it.
Now that I look back on it, that’s kind of what we were doing so we were just building this project without knowing what we were doing, and I think that’s why it sticks out as far as being one of our most dynamic records. You have super-heavy, aggressive songs like “Elite,” and you also have songs like “Digital Bath,” which is the opposite side of the spectrum, but equally as big-sounding. That’s where we really started to hone in on those dynamics and really bring them to the forefront.
You have said that you are not ashamed about Deftones writing “pretty songs,” but White Pony was where you first embraced the idea. Was that a big deal at the time? Were there any kind of debates about, for lack of a better phrase, opening yourself to a more feminine side, musically?
It wasn’t anything we thought of. I’ve always been influenced by things like Morrissey, things I grew up with. I’ve always been inspired by softer stuff, I guess you could say. I feel like I’ve always tried to put it into our music. I think even if you listen to Adrenaline, there’s songs like “Birthmark” and stuff like “Fireal.” When people think of Adrenaline, they think of this young, aggressive record—which it is, but there is a hint of a softer side in there. Maybe with White Pony, I felt a little more liberated. I was able to try more things and not be ashamed. For instance, “Teenager,” which is the probably the lightest. song on the record. It’s pretty much all instrumental and all electronic. The beat is programmed, the only thing that’s real on there—or that’s played—was Stephen’s high keyboards. It’s one of those things that builds, and it sounded like nothing else and no one really had a problem with it. I brought the song in, I made it with my buddy Crook, who’s in Team Sleep [Moreno’s side project] and who’s a good friend of Frank. I brought it to the band and was like, “What do you think about putting it on the record?” [The band] were like, “I like it, it’s a great song.” To me it felt like the record was already venturing out into other places, so it didn’t feel like this was going to stick out like a sore thumb. I just thought it would add more colors to the palette, and it feels like that’s what it did.
We talked about how the album kind of morphs into really heavy things, and then into textural atmospheres. But lyrically, sex and murder seem to be the big themes that collide throughout that record. Obviously “Knife Party” is like that and “Digital Bath” is about electrocuting a girl in a bathtub. Where did those ideas from?
Drugs. [Laughs.] Pretty much. That was a time, if I have to be honest, when, as a band, we started to experiment a little bit more with drugs. I’m not going to attribute it all to that, but I’m sure it had something to do with it. I was kind of out there in my thoughts and thinking of things. Sex and violence are a big part of fucking rock ’n’ roll, always have been. Plus, one of the most interesting aspects of rock to me, so bringing that in and being sort of cryptic and still not being so blatant about it. For instance, “Digital Bath,” the song itself isn’t, if you took the lyrics out of it and you listen to just the melodies and the song, you wouldn’t think that it would be a violent song. It’s a prettier, spacier song.
But still sinister.
Yeah, sinister in a way. But then you add those lyrics in there, they’re painting a picture, they’re telling you a story, I guess. Those are some of my favorite lyrics that I wrote. Now that I look back at it, I don’t remember writing them. Which leads me to believe that I was probably out of my mind when I did it. But I always liked that contrast. I like pretty music with dirty lyrics, or vice versa. Song titles even, to offset something and take it somewhere else, it just sort of broadens the spectrum for me.
You talked about the title of the album White Pony as being a cocaine reference, you were pretty open about that in the cover story we ran at that time [AP 145]. Any regrets about framing the album around that title in hindsight?
It is what it is. If it was today, I don’t know if I would. Probably not, now that I’m a little older and wiser. I do feel a little bit more responsible about setting a good precedent, especially because I have teenage kids now. I guess I am a little bit more thoughtful about things like that. But, I think it’s kind of cool. I’m happy to know that those years of my life are kind of done with. I think that’s what makes it easier for me to accept; it was just a phase and part of growing up, I guess.
Isn’t White Pony the last Deftones record to go platinum?
Yeah, I think it is. Actually, I think the self-titled record is close to going platinum. I never got a platinum record for it. The only platinum plaques that I have are Adrenaline and White Pony.
The reason I bring that up is that it seems like that’s the record that liberated the band. Saying you’re an “intelligent metal band” is like being the prettiest waitress at Cracker Barrel. I would kind of think that record, while it was successful financially, was even more successful for the band psychically. Didn’t it liberate you, like, “Fuck, we can do anything?”
I think so. I think that was a good and a bad thing for us. When we turned that record in, it was different from the record that’s out now. It didn’t have the song “Back To School” on it. The record company had nothing to say about it. We wrote it, recorded it and then they put it out. So we did feel pretty great about it. The one thing that I look back on now, they did do a great job. That was the first time I felt like the record company got behind one of our records, in the beginning at least. From the roll out of the record, they promoted it very well. At the time, Maverick Records was growing. They had a lot of money and they were putting it into us. They marketed the record great.
After they put out “Change (In The House Of Flies)” they said to us, “There are no more singles on this record.” And my thing was, ‘Well, you didn’t sign us on Adrenaline because we’re a radio band. This is probably the most pop record we’ve made and you guys had nothing to do with it. There are other songs on here that,just because you wouldn’t hear a song like ‘RX Queen’ on the radio, doesn’t mean you can’t serve it to the radio and see what happens.’ [The label] didn’t want to; they got cold feet and said, ‘Either this record’s cycle is over or you can write another song.’ [The band ended up rewriting “Pink Maggit” as “Back To School (Mini-Maggit”).] It’s one of the only things I look back at with a slight regret.
We did whatever we wanted on that record. We made it and we just did what we wanted. We worked at our leisure; we spent a year making that record and a lot of money, wrote the majority of it in the studio, and we’re working on our own time. The last couple records after that, we figured it worked for White Pony, so we can just work that way again. Taking that attitude on the next few records made it a lot more difficult on ourselves, a lot more expensive and way more taxing on our lives. It was definitely a learning experience. We didn’t have a preconceived thought, we just wanted to make something that was left of center. We didn’t have any big scheme, like this was going to be our breakthrough record or whatever. That’s just what happened, it worked out.
The record that would keep you in fancy tracksuits and dreadlocks.
[Laughs.] You said that, not me! alt
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