This Saturday, June 20th, marks the 20th anniversary of Deftones’ third album White Pony, which Rolling Stone named as one of the 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time. Earlier in the week, Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno, drummer Abe Cunningham and keyboardist Frank Delgado hosted a virtual press conference on Zoom to share updates from quarantine — as well as revelations on the album that forever changed a genre.
The band confirmed that White Pony will be getting a reissue later in the year, as well as a remix LP titled Black Stallion. The latter album will feature all-new remixes of the tracks, each rendered by a different producer. “Electronic, beat-driven music was something we all gravitated towards in that time,” said Moreno, citing DJ Shadow and UNKLE as influential during the White Pony era. So far, DJ Shadow is the only confirmed producer to contribute to the album.
“We had that idea 20 years ago,” said Moreno. “We actually hit [Shadow] up before we even wrote the album,” added Delgado. “He was playing in [Sacramento]. I was opening for him [as a DJ]. Me and Chino kind of cornered him at the Cattle Club. He looked at us like we were fucking crazy. He asked, ‘Deftones? Are you guys ska?’”
The California metal pioneers’ eclectic taste — as well as their ability to alchemize seemingly disparate sounds — is what made White Pony’s release a turning point in American metal, which in the year 2000, had been commercially engulfed by rap-rock and its variants. However, their contentious rap-metal single, “Back to School (Mini Maggit),” was a song they wrote and tacked on to a second edition of the album, at the behest of their label Maverick. “With the reissue, we’re going with the original version, as we intended it to be,” said Moreno. “We’re gonna need to get on taking [the song] off Spotify,” he added in jest — or not.
In shaping their definitive hybrid sound, Deftones married their heavy metal roots with other influential sounds of the Eighties and Nineties, drawing from shoegaze, industrial, trip-hop and electronica. “We all had the same idea, but different ways of going about it,” says Moreno of the process. “Like people assume that because Stephen looks like the most metal guy in the band, that he only listens to metal… but he listens to mellow music too. There was some push and pull, but sonically, I realized things started to come together with ‘Digital Bath.'”
“After we’d leave the studio at night, we’d take the rough mix of whatever song we were working on,” Moreno continues. “We were renting this Mustang 5.0 convertible that was hideous, like bright yellow. But we’d drive down Sunset to get home every night, blasting that song in the Mustang, top down. I just remember sitting back and realizing we were making something special.”
A key element, says the band, was allowing for more negative space, “instead of everyone playing at once,” says Delgado. “In that space between the chords and the beat… We just let it breathe,” said Moreno of “Change (In the House of Flies).” “It was pretty miraculous,” said Cunningham of the song. “It was bombastic, and spacious — that was the first time [that] I heard us sound the way I wanted to hear us sound.”
Listeners also recall Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan’s stunning contributions to the penultimate track, “Passenger.” But few fans knew the late Scott Weiland played a part in the song “Rx Queen” — though he covertly sang backup vocals, he was never formally credited for the track. “We definitely got together and worked on some stuff,” said Moreno. “I was playing him some tunes in his studio. He’d sing along and say, ‘What do you think of this harmony?’ We just never talked about how to handle the credit part of it. I never admitted it was him, but if you play the song, you can hear him in there.”
For many of their fans, it’s hard not to recognize the significance of a majority Latino band breaking new ground in metal at the turn of the millennium; but it’s likely the last thing on Deftones’ minds. When Rolling Stone asked the band to cite Latino artists who’ve inspired them, Moreno deferred to the Deftones’ “[sic] Caucasian European Male” bandmate, Cunningham, who shouted out Chicano rockers Los Lobos as a personal influence. “[They’re] an American treasure,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed their discography for a long time.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Deftones were forced to postpone their summer tour with Gojira and Poppy to 2021. However, Deftones confirmed that their ninth studio album, originally slated for this summer, has been completed. Recorded in 2019 and mixed remotely under the supervision of White Pony producer Terry Date, the upcoming album is tentatively scheduled for release in September.