Deftones: Diamond in the Rough
“Nick actually approached us while we were still working on Eros,” Moreno says. “I met him for lunch and he explained to me exactly what he liked about our band and totally sold me on his passion.”
Although Deftones were uneasy about returning to work, everything fell into place as soon as they plugged in their instruments and began jamming. Before long, they were coming up with new ideas at a fast pace. “It was definitely therapeutic for us to be writing again,” Moreno says. “And there was a level of confidence there and urgency that was maybe missing before. We knew we could do it, and we pulled it off.”
“In a lot of ways, we didn’t have a choice but to get together and be productive,” Carpenter says. “Moving forward with this was our way of not sitting around being bummed out. We sat around for months, and it was tough. And we’re still not completely out of that mindset. One half of me is having a great time in life; the other half can’t have that great a time because my friend Chi is still laid out.”
Pushing themselves to carry on has had a transformative effect on the band. On past albums, Deftones hadn’t really functioned as a team; they were consumed with personal issues, including divorce, substance abuse, family trauma and outside musical projects. When they did get together, they’d procrastinate like college students, then work with parts of music each member had put together at home. The results were evident on Saturday Night Wrist and 2003’s Deftones, which were as fragmented as they were ferocious—the sprawling sounds of musicians that weren’t really connecting.
Diamond Eyes, however, reflects the cohesion of band members working together for a common goal and leaving their past differences outside the studio door. This time they wrote steadily and collectively, banging out riffs and feeding off the energy they created. The emotion was palpable. Diamond Eyes is crushing, yet laced with vulnerability, intermingling dense, powerful stabs of muted low-end guitar, stuttering midpaced drums, and vocals that are as catchy as prime-era Smashing Pumpkins one moment and as harsh as late-Eighties hardcore then next. The music is relatively straightforward but still offbeat, combining the raw savagery of 1997’s Around the Fur with the surreal paranoia of 2000’s White Pony. It’s also eclectic. “You’ve Seen the Butcher” dabbles in violent, dusky blues; “Cmnd/Ctrl” is propelled by staggering staccato guitar jabs; and “Sextape” swirls with echoing acoustic arpeggios and gliding seductive keyboards.
Upon hearing the master of Diamond Eyes, the execs at Reprise, Deftones’ record label, were so excited that they immediately hired professional remixer Chris Lord-Alge (Dave Matthews Band, Howie Day, Daughtry) to create a radio mix of the title track, which starts with a palm-muted wall of distortion and segues into a mellifluous, radio-ready chorus. “I didn’t even know that was happening until a couple days ago,” Carpenter gripes in the same sedate voice he uses whether he’s excited or riled up. “And after I found out, I wasn’t cool with it at all, but what could I do? It was already done.”
In part, Carpenter is miffed about the remix because he wasn’t involved, but his annoyance has as much to do with his respect for Raskulinecz. When the Deftones needed someone to bring them out of their haze and into a raging creative zone, Raskulinecz served as a compassionate drill sergeant, keeping the band on a fixed schedule and focusing on each member’s strengths. “When we starting working on Diamond Eyes, we were just as unfocused as we’ve ever been,” Carpenter explains. “I’ve always got endless riff ideas at rehearsals. It’s just a question of whether [drummer] Abe [Cunningham] or anyone will be interested and start jamming with me. With Nick, I would come up with a cool riff and he would be like, ‘All right everybody, let’s work on that.’”
In the past, Moreno sometimes interrupted Carpenter’s creative flow by trying to add to, or change, guitar parts on the fly. This time, he usually held back and waited for Carpenter and Cunningham to construct the root of the song. “Stephen was on a roll, so I didn’t want to get in his way at all,” Moreno says. “We did work on some stuff together. Like, I came up with the opening riff for ‘Sextape,’ and then Sergio joined in and Stephen brought in all the soundscapes. The song just built and came together organically.”
In addition to playing on “Sextape,” Moreno contributed to “Royal,” “Beauty School” and “976-Evil.” The sound of his Gibson SG through a Green Matamp amplifier contrasted with Carpenter’s eight-string ESP guitar, Marshall JMP1 preamp and EL34 power amp, creating a vivid ocean of sound. Carpenter, who has played seven-strings since 2000, switched to the eight-string in the wake of his favorite band, Meshuggah.
“It’s funny, because for a long time I avoided switching to a seven-string,” Carpenter says. “It just seemed trendy to me. Then when I started listening to Meshuggah, and I discovered they were using seven strings, I realized, Ah, that’s why they use seven-strings. So when they switched to eight, I thought, Well, lemme get an eight before the whole world has one.”
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