“Game-changing” is a term that a lot of listeners use when describing something that sticks out above the morass of music released. To really understand how that applies to Deftones’ stentorian third album, White Pony, listen to all the records deemed “nü metal” around it. From alien textures to frontman Chino Moreno’s vocals, it added up to a listening experience that was textured, atmospheric and tungsten heavy.
So it only makes sense that White Pony would get a 20th anniversary reissue. Recently, band members Moreno, drummer Abe Cunningham and DJ/synth op Frank Delgado reflected on the album via a Zoom press conference. In addition to the remastered Pony, Moreno revealed there will be a special remix album, Black Stallion, slated for release. (The online host coached the singer to reveal the news but not to give any details.) Although the album’s anniversary is June 20, no release dates for the album or remix companion have been announced.
“I’d describe it as sort of a slow burner,” Moreno reflects on White Pony. “I remember when we were first putting it together. The songs are expansive, and the whole record itself goes on a journey. But it’s not something I think when you listen to it for the first time, you can completely take in. It’s one of those records [where] I feel like the more you listen to it, the more things you get out of it. Which lends itself to having a longer shelf life.”
“We were just really clicking on all our gears and firing on all pistons,” Cunningham says. “And it was a magic time. Things were getting more popular, and we just took a left turn. I believe the chances we took making it and just trusting ourselves effectively is why we’re still able to do what we do today.”
After appearing as a guest on their first two albums, White Pony was the first album with Delgado listed as an official member. “I think people can recognize that it was five guys just taking chances and believing in themselves and blazing their own little trail,” he says. “Considering what was going on in that musical climate. I guess we’ve stuck out. And I think it still sticks out for people.”
The experience of making White Pony was, for all intents and purposes, a great time. The band (including guitarist Stephen Carpenter and the late bassist Chi Cheng) lived on houseboats in Sausalito, California, near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco during the recording. Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan brought champagne, tuned singing bowls and his vocal prowess (“Passenger”). Moreno recalls completing the Pony pinnacle “Digital Bath,” and then blasting it in a rented new model Mustang convertible and being completely excited.
“Next door to us, the Foo Fighters were trying out guitarists,” Cunningham recalls. “I saw the line of a hundred people trying out for Foo Fighters, and we’re next door, and Maynard rolls up with these two glass bowls and a bunch of champagne.”
“It’s harder for me to remember a lot of the actual recording of the songs,” Moreno admits. “I remember everything else around it. We thought it was really liberating to be making a record that was the specific break we were making. Because we knew we were taking a chance and were just living it.”
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The idea for the Black Stallion remix album was something that actually predated White Pony. The band had the title of the album ready to go and even had the horse logo designed. But they also had the remix LP concept firmly entrenched. (Moreno did contribute to Remix Dystemper, a 1998 album of remixes for iconic industrial band Skinny Puppy.) Delgado recalls meeting acclaimed turntablist DJ Shadow at a club and hitting him up for a remix. For a record that wasn’t even recorded yet.
“I think he was playing here in town,” he says. “I was actually opening DJing, and me and Chino cornered him at the Cattle Club. And we were like, ‘Hey, man, what’s up? We’re the Deftones.’ And he looked at us like we’re fucking crazy. And we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna want you to remix our record.’ He’s like, ‘Deftones? You like ska?’ We’re like, ‘Nah, man.’ But he’s like, ‘All right, send it to me,’ [and we say], ‘Oh yeah. We haven’t actually written or recorded it yet.’ But it’s funny because now he’s involved in [the remix album]. It all just adds to it. This record was embedded in our brains before we even put it down to tape. It’s crazy. It’s just us as friends hanging out. And we were just making shit happen.”
“[The idea has] come full circle,” Moreno says. “We had this idea pretty much 20 years ago. This is something that we’ve always joked about. Now it’s actually coming to life.”
When bands talk about their past works, there’s usually a degree of wanting do-overs. The one guitar solo that wasn’t great. A lyric that someone may regret. In this case, it was “Back To School (Mini Maggit),” a track the band were told to add onto the record for commercial purposes. (The band promise that it won’t be coming out on the reissue.) Delgado finds irony in the fact that it wasn’t until White Pony became successful that the industry suits started getting involved.
“It’s funny because we were definitely out on our own,” he says. “There wasn’t really much push back. That didn’t actually happen until after White Pony [that they started] paying attention a lot more. Up until then, we would just turn in records that, as long as we were happy, we were stoked to be doing. There really wasn’t any pushback or nothing steering us, really, except for ourselves.”
But really, with White Pony, the band members have no regrets, sonically or psychically. (The trio are almost proud the album was reportedly the first full-length to ever get leaked onto the internet before its official release.) From the day they delivered the master tapes to how they felt about it 10 years later to right now, everything surrounding White Pony is still golden.
“I listen to the record now, and it takes me back to that time,” Moreno resigns. “I would imagine it does that for a lot of our songs: where you were when you heard it or for us, where we were at when we made it. It was definitely a special time: We took a lot of chances and were living life to its fullest.
“The songs aren’t really that personal, so it’s not like I was going through something or whatever,” he continues. “It’s just a vibe. I think the sound of it encapsulates that time in our lives. I feel like that’s what some of our favorite records do. And I’m proud of that.”