Deftones: Diamond in the Rough
Originally published in Guitar World, August 2010
After surviving the loss of a member and scrapping an album's worth of recordings, Deftones return to form with the alt-metal masterpiece Diamond Eyes.
There was a time when Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter enjoyed the drama and unpredictability of rock and roll. He reveled in the late nights, indulged in the excesses and relished the adulation. These days, he craves a more chilled-out lifestyle. When he’s home, he likes to hit the golf course at least twice a week. He plays video poker every day, and he loves to twist up a joint and kick back with his new ESP eight-string guitar, or click on Pandora.com, where he finds inspiration in the music of groups like Battles and 65 Days of Static.
“Some people might consider me boring or something,” he says from a conference room at his record label in New York. “That’s okay. I’ve never cared what other people think.”
Carpenter’s desire for routine stems in part from the chaos and uncertainty that have marked Deftones’ recent history. In November 2008, cofounding bassist Chi Cheng suffered a near-fatal car accident that left him incapacitated. In the aftermath of that disaster, the band members stopped meeting, and the group almost broke up. When they finally did reconvene, they refocused their priorities and realigned their creative approach, continuing on, in the hope that Cheng would eventually pull through and rejoin them.
Though they had nearly completed a new album before Cheng’s accident, they set it aside and started again, banging out an entirely new record in less than six months with the assistance of bassist Sergio Vega. Somehow, the volatility brought out the best in Deftones: the new disc, Diamond Eyes, is one of their finest, encapsulating all of the skewed grooves, haunting melodies and ebb-and-flow dynamics that put them on the alt-metal map in the late Nineties.
“Basically, I’ve come to realize that this very moment in time is always the only moment you have, and you can either make it as great as you can or just let it be what it’s gonna be,” Carpenter says. “We all decided to make the best of these moments and make another great album, because life is so fragile. It could be gone in a blink and you wouldn’t even know it.”
The album that Deftones were working on at the time of Cheng’s accident was the follow-up to 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist. Titled Eros, it was recorded with their longtime producer Terry Date. They had tracked the drums, guitars and bass parts, and vocalist and rhythm guitarist Chino Moreno was working on the final vocal tracks. Then, on November 4, 2008, Cheng and his sister Mae were driving away from a memorial service for their older brother, who died a year earlier, when their car was involved in an accident. Cheng, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from the vehicle. Despite surgery and countless hours of therapy, he remains in a semi-conscious state.
Carpenter learned about the tragedy the next day from a member of Deftones’ management team. “They told me Chi had been in a car accident the night before and was in a coma,” the guitarist recalls. “I was like, ‘What?! No, there must be some mistake.’ ”
For four months after the accident, Deftones were on the verge of collapse. They visited Cheng in the hospital but spent most of their time apart from each other, trying to escape what had happened. Finally, the bandmates decided to meet in their rehearsal space in Sacramento to decide if they wanted to stay together. “We really thought about breaking up the band,” Moreno says. “We thought, Maybe this is too hard now and this thing has run its course.”
Carpenter says, “I actually never considered breaking up, but I told everybody that I was perfectly comfortable with starting a whole new band—coming up with a new name and starting again from scratch.”
In the end, Deftones kept their name, but they shelved Eros indefinitely; it reminded them too much of Cheng. Next, they brought in Vega, the former bassist with Quicksand, who had filled in for Cheng back in 1999, after Cheng broke his foot and was unable to tour. With Vega in tow, the group played some shows that left them feeling revitalized, and in June 2009, they returned to their practice space with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Coheed and Cambria, Rush, Foo Fighters) to write a new album.
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