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Sergio Vega and Abe Cunningham talk Deftones

Deftones at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 18 2011. Amanda Siebert photo

Deftones at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 18 2011. Amanda Siebert photo

Interview – Sergio Vega and Abe Cunningham of Deftones

– by Jacqueline Ronson/photos by Amanda Siebert

A new chapter began in Deftones history in 2008 when bassist Chi Cheng was seriously injured in a car accident. The incident brought the band together and gave them new drive. The California band scrapped Eros, their album intended for 2009 release, and instead released Diamond Eyes in 2010 with Sergio Vega replacing Cheng as bassist. Cheng has not yet recovered from the injuries sustained in the accident.

Vega and drummer Abe Cunningham sat down with me and few other reporters in their dressing room at the Commodore Ballroom April 19, between their back-to-back sold-out Vancouver tour dates. They talked about the new record, how the accident has changed the bands attitude, and their ambivalent opinions about, well, everything. Also in the room were Cunninghams two sons, who didnt take their eyes off the video games they were playing.

Deftones at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 18 2011. Amanda Siebert photo

Deftones at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 18 2011. Amanda Siebert photo

Jacqueline Ronson: How has the band evolved over the years?

Sergio Vega: When the band first got together, you got to jam and hang out, you dont have a lot of pressures of touring, and expectations. You get to develop and do your thing. And then you get where youre touring all the time and you spend more time recording… I dunno man!

Abe Cunningham: We dont really ever seriously think about it too much, we sort of take it as it comes… Its always been that way, for better or for worse. Were most productive when its us getting along and enjoying each others company. That to me is productivity, rather than us cranking out 15 songs in a certain amount… you know, were pretty lax about the whole thing. Over time, not much has changed. But our attitudes are better now.

JR: How big of an effect do you think that working with Nick [Raskulinecz, producer] and Sergio helped in really harnessing and inspiring that really positive energy that your new album has?

AC: It had a tremendous effect on that. Nick, Sergio… Obviously the circumstances were rather dire and quite extreme. With Chis accident, it really kicked us into gear on many, many levels. Quite frankly at that time, we were so ready to be positive and have things go smoothly, because the past few records weve made have been so difficult, ’til where the band almost broke up every time. It sounds corny to say, but were super close, were family. Its kind of messed up when you cant talk to your best friend and hes right here, and youre trying to be creative. Its pretty bad.

JR: How does Nick differ in the studio compared to [producers] Terry [Date] and Bob [Ezrin]? How does the dynamic change?

AC: Its just a different person. Like I said I think it was us being ready to get down to it and stop wasting time.

SV: He definitely brought a good structure. He gave us a nice template to work with. The creative aspect was really organic, but what he brought was, Well do these days, from these hours… and he was there capturing everything. So if we didnt pick on something that was cool, he would be there to be like This was cool, yall did this and Work on that.

AC: We also didnt have any time. We had already made one record on this whole recording and we had used almost our entire budget to make Eros. And when it came time to say Hey man, we want to do another record, we were asking the label what they think, and there were like, Are you serious? Well, if you can. So we had no time and very little money to do it, and it just like, [SNAP], we just whipped it out, you know?

Deftones at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 18 2011. Amanda Siebert photo

Deftones at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 18 2011. Amanda Siebert photo

JR: What was the shift that you needed to make artistically to make this new record the album that you wanted it to be compared to Eros, which hasnt seen the light of day yet?

AC: I gotta say it was pretty much Chis accident. Im sure we could have made an album similar, we had good intentions, but that really just kicked things into perspective. How we treat each other, how we treat our business, which I hate to say it but this is what we do, this is out livelihood. Just how we treat everything. The fact that we were able to do it, to be walking around on two feet, healthy, still doing it after all of these years. That just put in into perspective, the fact that hes down, the fact that hes not able to do that, made us…

SV: More appreciative…

AC: Yeah, totally man.

JR: You seem to change directions with every record, do you ever feel the pressure from older fans to revisit the older sound?

AC: Maybe a teeny bit, I think we have in the past. I know Ive learned, I think we all have as a group that you cant make everybody happy. You certainly dont want to alienate people that were into you and dug what youve done for all these years. But of course we never wanted to make the same record twice, we always wanted to evolve, I think any band does. At the same time, whats wrong with sounding like yourself? Theres nothing with that, either. Its just a matter of wanting to be stimulated and be happy.

JR: You guys have done some awesome collaborations, who has been your favourite collaboration so far? Does anyone in the studio have particularly amazing chemistry with you guys?

AC: Hmm… Maybe the collaboration that have yet to have done…

JR: Who do you want to work with in the future?

AC: A lot of the people I want to work with are passed away. I still want to work with Prince. Ive said it a thousand times, and Im not even kidding, that would be awesome.

I dunno, theres tons of people. What do you [Sergio] have to say on this matter?

SV: I dont know. It seems like whoever were on tour with, you get excited about because you meet them and then you have those opportunities. You realize that there are a lot of great people who are very talented. I think its more about what happens in that situation where youre actually recording. Im not so much fixed on anyone in particular. The more bands we travel with, and how nice they are, and what they bring to music, thats inspiring. Its all good. I could work with any of these people.

AC: In a world when so many collaborations are smashed together and manufactured and placed…. Every time that weve ever done anything its been either a friend or someone happened to be in town, it just happened very, [SNAP], very naturally. I think thats the best way. Im always open. I think were always open to work with anyone.

JR: What bands have you been listening to a lot lately?

AC: I dont… I hate music. No… I dont know man. Thats a tough… thats one of the hardest questions, ever.

SV: For me, Im still listening to that Crystal Castles, Phantogram…

AC: Anything with bell at the end…

SV: Sleigh Bells, School of Seven Bells, any bell bands.

AC: Thats him. I dont know. Im stumped.

JR: The new single, “Diamond Eyes”, has over three million views on YouTube already. Do you feel that social media is integral to a bands success?

AC: I definitely think its a great thing. Weve embraced it as its come along. Theres so many avenues coming along every second. Even this Instagr.am thing, we started linking up on Instagr.am the other day. Were just having fun with it.

SV: I dont know if its integral, but its definitely viable. Its definitely there, its true, it does happen. But do you need that to have success? I dont know.

JR: Well, you guys were successful before Facebook and Twitter and all that.

AC: Well Gagas probably got 500 million trillion views and we only have three million. Shes successful. Its a great thing. To me, personally, I long for a simpler time. If I could be back in the ’30s or ’40s, that would be cool. But I cant. At least right now. To me, theres just too much information going around. But thats just me, Im an old fart. But I love it, I embrace it. Im not mad at technology, but its just too much sh… [Addressing his sons] Oh, hi Boys!

JR: Is there a song on the album that was the most difficult to create, and one that was the easiest?

SV: I think what was cool about it was how quickly and organically it came together. Certain things may have taken longer that others, but it was all in the span of two months, so it all came together very fast. And that to me is what stands out about it. Its hard to dissect it as individual songs, I think of them as this period where all of these things came together very quickly and even though the songs dont sound the same, they all have a pulse to them and an energy to them that runs throughout them. I look at it as one piece, which is cool.

AC: Theyre family. Those songs are all family.

SV: Yeah, it all just kind of like flooded out. Thats whats special about it.

JR: Do you guys have a favourite festival that youve played? And who do you enjoy seeing play live?

AC: Festivals are just a blast. Weve been playing for years over in Europe. We just did Lollapalooza the other day in Chile. We all grew up with that. I went to the very first Lollapalooza when I was a sprout. That was such a big part of our existence growing up. Festivals are always a blast because theyre so varied. Some are more genre-oriented, this is a harder rock one or whatever. It could be us, and Bob Dylan after us, and Sex Pistols and whoever… Motorhead and PJ Harvey. Its just so cool. We love music and to be able to spend a day or a weekend watching bands…

SV: Checking bands out, especially ones you didnt expect to see.

JR: Who do you guys enjoy seeing live? Who has blown you away recently?

AC: Someone just did, the other day. Someone was bad as, was bad as eff the other day [looks at sons]. Bad as eff. I cant remember who it was, though.

SV: We just played with Cypress Hill, that was fun. We saw The National the other day in Chile, that was good, I didnt expect to see them.

JR: Making music is a personal experience for a band, but at the same time its such a personal experience for a listener as well. When putting together songs, do you keep in mind how a listener will interpret and digest them?

AC: Not really. Not to come off as… you know… We sort of just do it for ourselves, initially. If it makes us happy, thats great. Over the years weve done a lot of our own editing as we go. Were not the most prolific, we dont bust records out constantly. It takes us a long time generally to make a record. We tend to do a lot of the editing of songs, not digital editing, but like, if this parts good, if it works well narrow it down to that point and move on. It sounds sort of pompous but we sort of do it initially for ourselves. Its gotta feel good playing it for us.

SV: You get to the point where everyones excited and you just feel good about it, and thats it. You figure its exciting to play, and look at it from that perspective. You just cant wait to unleash it or share it. But its not so much, Oh, this will get this reaction, this is going to be great, or These kids will like it, this is for these kids.

Deftones at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 18 2011. Amanda Siebert photo

Deftones at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 18 2011. Amanda Siebert photo

JR: How has your relationship to the Diamond Eyes album changed now that youve been touring with it for quite some time?

AC: Im still loving it. Its so much fun to play. Its the first record that we were able to play as a band – it had everything written and dialed – before we got the studio. It felt great. It reaffirmed the fact that, wait, we are a band. We can play our own music and we can bust it out. The three or four records prior to that, wed had the majority of songs written, but we relied on studio time to write and finish the songs. That can work great, but if its not working out its the most taxing physically, mentally, financially. This is the first time since the first record that we had everything completed, we went in and just like, [CLAP]. So playing it live, we can still whip it out, it feels great. And its still a young record. Its only just about a year old.

SV: Its about a year old. But even that feels good, because it feels fresh and people come in excited to hear the songs.

AC: I dont hate any of the songs yet. Every once in a while you kind of hate… Ive hated certain songs of ours. Its just like anything. You love em, but they need a rest. Go take a rest for a while, and then come back with a new fresh approach. Im really enjoying this record, its been a great time.

JR: At this point, what do you value most about the band?

AC: The band. Its a heavy question. I enjoy it because its us. Ive spent all my life with these dudes. Its a pretty special thing. Im just really pleased to be able to do it. Were doing it pretty ok now. Were having a wonderful time and just enjoying ourselves.  Its not always easy. Its the greatest job in the world, but its also, you know, not. But its a blessing, so Im stoked. And, [turns to Sergio] I love you guys, man.

JR: What do you see in the next few years to come?

AC: Hopefully more good times. We just feel positive right now. With the things going on the past few years, it could easily have not been positive, and were trying to keep it that way. It just feels great to do what we do, and have people enjoy it.

SV: You get to be creative. You get to do things, get to travel. Its great company, you look forward to the opportunity to do more of the same and hang out.

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