During a brief moment of calm on a Los Angeles soundstage, the five members of the Deftones stand restlessly in a room of bright white light. It’s an austere setting for a band of intense highs and lows, as a music video crew prepares for another take of “Prayers/Triangles,” the atmospheric opening song on the new Deftones album, Gore.
When the recorded track begins again with layers of guitar feedback and muscular beats, the band doesn’t just walk through it. Abe Cunningham is really pounding those drums, and Stephen Carpenter is bent over his guitar, carefully playing every part, though none of them are even plugged in. Singer Chino Moreno is pacing, leaping and whipping his mic chord anxiously, overcome with the sensations of a cut he describes as “perpetual motion, like the whole song is tumbling over itself.”
It’s been four years since the last Deftones studio album, Koi No Yokan, and the band is fully back in action. In just over 24 hours, the quintet will perform their first live show since narrowly escaping being caught up in the Paris terrorist attacks last November. But when the band gathered for a rehearsal this week, they hadn’t played the shimmering, crushing “Prayers/Triangles” since recording it a year ago.
“It’s silky in some ways, it’s punishing in other ways, and that dichotomy is great,” says Moreno of the song. “That’s one of my favorite things about this band.”
Moreno is a deeply musical vocalist whose presence onstage is generally of a man doubled over with the emotions of the sound rising behind him. His lyrics are not stories. “Words and lyrics can fog things up for me,” he says, “and just give me too much information that I don’t want. I just want to vibe out.”
In a few hours, the video’s film crew would take Moreno to a residential neighborhood and shoot the singer running down a street. “I hear music, and I’m inspired by it,” he says. “I see pictures in my head, and then I’ll start painting something that goes along with this. A lot of times it’s not what people expect. A lot of the music I like does that.”
Album sessions in Los Angeles led to tracks built on heavy walls of sound and feeling, colliding the ethereal with the heavy, the light and the dark. Final vocals were recorded in Oregon, where Moreno now lives. For the Deftones, new music traditionally grows out of the ongoing creative tension within the band, which they’ve just learned to accept. “That push and pull is what gives us our thing, whatever that is,” says Frank Delgado, keyboardist and sound scientist. “We’re different enough that things rub a certain way. We like unnerving feelings, too. That’s the hard part.”
Much of the conflict famously comes from the creative sparks between Moreno and Carpenter, with the singer playing Morrissey to the guitarist’s Meshuggah.
“As you may or may not have heard, I had some trouble liking some stuff [on the new album] in the beginning,” Carpenter says with a bearded grin. He’s standing in a big empty room at the downtown studio with Cunningham, who jokes about the guitarist’s struggle.
“He spends a lot of time and energy hating things, when right in front of you, all you have to do is look around and smile,” says Cunningham. “It’s a lot easier to smile than it is to frown. It’s a lot of energy to frown.”
“It’s true,” says the Carpenter, playing along. “I’ve been down with too many frowns.”