Deftones are ‘having a blast’

This year, the Deftones turned a tragedy into a triumph.

This year, the Deftones turned a tragedy into a triumph.

A little less than two years ago, the Southern California metal band was getting ready to release “Eros,” at the time planned as the follow-up to 2006’s “Saturday Night Wrist.” But in November of 2008, founding bassist Chi Cheng was seriously injured in a car accident and went into a coma. (He has since been released from the hospital, although he remains in a semi-conscious state.)

Within days, the rest of the band — vocalist and guitarist Chino Moreno, guitarist Stephen Carpenter, drummer Abe Cunningham and keyboardist and DJ Frank Delgado — announced that “Eros” had been put on hold.

“Once the Chi accident happened, we never talked about what was happening with [‘Eros’] — the main focus was Chi’s health,” Delgado said while en route to a tour stop in Orlando, Fla. “We were waiting to see what was going to happen with him.”


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Things remained quiet in the Deftones’ camp until January of last year, when bassist Sergio Vega, formerly of Quicksand, was called in to fill in for a show that had been scheduled before the accident.

Inspired by show

“By that time, we wanted to jam,” Delgado said. “We called Sergio — we had an obligation for a show, so we called him. We didn’t plan on writing songs; we didn’t have a . . . plan — our bass player’s in the hospital, you know? But when Sergio showed up, we wrote ‘Royal,’ and then we thought, ‘How about we go and hole ourselves up for a while,’ and we walked out two months later with a record.”

That album, “Diamond Eyes,” released in May, has been receiving positive reviews and favorable comparisons to earlier Deftones albums such as 1997’s “Around the Fur” and 2000’s “White Pony.”

The record’s quick gestation period is a change for a band that is known for taking more than a year to record albums, and spirits within the group during subsequent tours have been at an all-time high.

“It’s been amazing, and actually I think it has a lot to do with us, the way we’re playing, how things have been feeling,” Delgado said. “Straight out of the box, we’ve been playing anywhere from six to eight new ones in a night, which we’ve never really done before. We’re having a lot of fun; the songs translate really well and we’re having a blast.”

Next up for the band is a massive fall tour with fellow metal heavyweights Mastodon and Alice in Chains, dubbed Blackdiamondskye (an amalgamation of Alice in Chains’ 2009 release “Black Gives Way to Blue,” Deftone’s “Diamond Eyes” and Mastodon’s latest, “Crack the Skye”), which began on Thursday in Chicago. In between dates on the tour, the Deftones are striking out on their own — they’ll be playing at Northern Lights on Tuesday night between Blackdiamondskye dates in Connecticut and Boston.

Slow recovery

Cheng’s accident remains heavy on the band members’ minds and was a major influence on “Diamond Eyes.” Fans can donate money to help pay for his ongoing care at, which includes updates on his progress from his family.

“The progress is minimal, but it’s always positive, whether it’s different movements or whatever,” Delgado said. “But he’s pretty much in the same state.”

The incident doesn’t come across in the band’s new music in obvious ways, however. Moreno’s lyrics are as cryptic as ever, while Carpenter’s riffs are some of the heaviest the band has recorded to date.

“One thing we knew we didn’t want to do was to make this really sad record about the incident and us being victims of it, especially lyrically,” Delgado said. “We’ve never been so straightforward — if you think something is clear, we paint it in a much more metaphorical picture. That said, [Cheng] influenced all of it — his presence was around the whole time.”

In the past, turmoil among members has prolonged writing and recording sessions, with Carpenter’s heavier sensibilities often clashing with Moreno’s desire to create more atmospheric, Cure-influenced music. Producer Nick Raskulinecz helped push the band to work faster than it normally does this time out.

“I wish we knew how to do it like that all the time, but there was no formula to it,” Delgado said. “Previous records had taken much longer, maybe a lot more time than it needed to be, and often we didn’t make the best decisions as far as our work ethic. [This time] a lot of it had to do with our new producer Nick Raskulinecz, who helped set the tone, and then it started happening really well, really fast.”

Vega, who has filled in for Cheng at live shows before, was a natural fit in the band’s creative process.

“We vibe really well, and we all have a lot of admiration for Quicksand — they had a lot of the same elements to them as far as the rhythms and grooves,” Delgado said. “We all kind of rock on the same level, so it was really, really easy. And I think he was really excited to be in a circle of people creating again, too, so it all worked out.”

Changing role

Delgado’s role in the band is less obvious than those of the other members. He has contributed to all of the band’s albums, but only joined officially before the release of third album “White Pony.”

When he first began working with the band, on their 1995 debut “Adrenaline,” he was strictly a DJ and didn’t even know how to play an instrument. Over the years, his role in the band has grown to encompass keyboards and computers, as sound editing technology has evolved over the years.

“I tried to implement it not in the way a typical DJ would — I would create melodies and harmonies as opposed to percussive scratch sounds,” he said of his early years in the band. “From there, I had to use guitar pedals and stuff to extend notes and sounds, and from there it went from a bunch of pedals to being able to afford a new computer, buying keyboards, teaching myself how to play. I create my own sound now; I don’t use records anymore.”

For “Diamond Eyes,” Delgado used Ableton Live, a loop-based music editing program that allows him to “twist and bend sounds to my desire,” as he puts it. His subtle touches are all over the record — on the lumbering riff-rocker “You’ve Seen the Butcher,” his synthesizer lines blend seamlessly with Moreno’s wailing, to the point where it’s difficult to tell which is which.

“I think you’ll be able to see it better than hearing it, when we do that song live,” Delgado said. “It’s one of my favorite songs; it’s really creepy, and I didn’t expect it to come out that way.”

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