Stephen Carpenter Looks Back on Deftones' Breakthrough Album, 'Around the Fur'

(Image credit: Rick Kosick)

When Guitar World catches up with Stephen Carpenter, the Deftones guitarist is gearing up for a busy few months.

The following day, he and the band leave for a few weeks of headline shows across Europe, after which they’ll be back on these shores for a much-anticipated summer package jaunt with Rise Against and Thrice. Those shows in particular are ones that Carpenter is excited for.

“It’s gonna be great, you know?” he says. “We’ve played lots of shows with Rise throughout the years but it’s the first time we’ve actually toured together, so that’ll be fun. And Thrice, my best friend loves those guys. So it’s a nice mix.

As for what people can expect from the Deftones at the shows, he continues, “We don’t ever really have anything particular in mind when it comes to our set lists. The only thing we do really think about and work on is practicing through our old catalog and getting everything back into shape, because there’s a lot of stuff we haven’t played in a long time. So we’ll do some of that along with the new stuff.”

The new stuff, of course, is Deftones’ eighth and most recent album, Gore, which was released last year and has continued the band’s reign as one of metal’s most enticing and enigmatic acts, with Carpenter’s crushing riffs juxtaposed against elements of new wave, post-punk, space-rock and atmospheric sounds.

It’s a stylistic combination that has been there since the Sacramento, California–based band’s beginnings, but that truly came to the fore on their second album, 1997’s Around the Fur. That effort also signaled their mainstream breakthrough, spawning hits in the piledriving opening track, “My Own Summer (Shove It)” and the swirling, shoegaze-tinged “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away).”

The diverse record was rounded out by solid alt-metal workouts (“Lhabia,” “Around the Fur”), dark, moody tracks (“Dai the Flu,” “Mascara”) and all-out ragers (“Rickets,” “Headup”), and helped to solidify Deftones’ standing as one of the most creative, adventurous and ferocious new bands on the scene, at the same time laying the groundwork for the even more experimental and critically lauded follow-up, 2000’s White Pony.

And yet, says Carpenter, when Deftones—which at the time also included singer Chino Moreno, drummer Abe Cunningham and now-deceased bassist Chi Cheng (Frank Delgado, who handles keyboards and samples, contributed to the album but was not yet a full-time member of the band)—convened to write and record the songs for Around the Fur, there was no grand plan at work.

Rather, he says, “For us, we were just excited because we were making our sophomore release. Like, ‘We got past the trial phase of the first one and we didn’t get the boot!’ People were still backing us. We weren’t by any means selling records at the level where our label, Maverick, was like, ‘Ah, man, we’re making money on this.’ It wasn’t anything like that. But they were behind us and they helped us to develop by just letting us do our thing.”

On the 20th anniversary of the release of Around the Fur, Carpenter sat down to chat with Guitar World about how, exactly, the Deftones did their thing.

When you look back on that time period for Around the Fur, what most sticks out to you?
That we were just really excited to make it. It was going to be our second record, you know? As a band we were just stoked on the fact that we had made one.

Being that you did have one record [1995’s Adrenaline] under your belt, did you go into the writing sessions for Around the Fur feeling more confident?
I feel like I’m always confident about stuff, so I don’t relate to that. But mostly we were just really pumped. Back then it was like, “Ah, it’s our sophomore record! Wow, man, fuckin’ a!” We went into it more with a feeling of accomplishment than confidence, I think.

You toured a long time on Adrenaline. Did you write the songs for Around the Fur on the road?
Nah. We toured for Adrenaline for about a year, maybe a year and a half. And then around the end of ’96 we got ourselves a warehouse to rehearse in. And we could only rehearse in the evenings because of the other businesses around it. So we finished our touring cycle and then we went in there. We built ourselves a little mini-ramp to skate on and stuff like that. It was like our little playground. And we went in there and jammed out. And it was really just me, Abe and Chino. We ended up doing the song “Dai the Flu” with our friend Dan on bass. He was jamming with us because at the time Chi was living in San Diego. And we had our little beefs with him because of that. He was like, “Ah, I’ll just be an English teacher. I don’t need this rock and roll shit.”

Chi was thinking about becoming a teacher?
Yeah, he was gonna be an English teacher at that time. That was one of the things he was throwing around. But we were just, like, “Get up here!” And he finally did. And we put together about six or seven songs. And then the rest of them we did when we were up in Seattle [at Studio Litho], doing the record with Terry Date. Like “My Own Summer,” for instance, we didn’t have that before we went into the studio. That was born in Seattle. We had actually recorded most of the record at that point in time and Terry was like, “Time to start writing!” And so “Around the Fur” and “My Own Summer” came out of that, and also another song that’s on the b-sides record [2005’s B-Sides & Rarities], “Crenshaw Punch.” “Headup” was another one we did at that point. Max Cavalera came out and we put that one together from his ideas. That was later on in the process.

How did Max come to collaborate with you guys on “Headup”?
It was just our mutual love and adoration for each other and each other’s music. We were huge fans of Sepultura and they were fans of us and we were fortunate to become friends early on. So when that opportunity came up, we took it.

In the chorus of that song Max screams the words soul _ y. Which supposedly led to him naming his post-Sepultura band Soulfly.
Yeah. And unfortunately all that was born out of tragedy [the song was written as a tribute to Cavalera’s stepson, Dana Wells, who was also a friend of Moreno’s and who had been killed in a car accident]. That song was like all of us trying to live through that whole tragedy and make something great.

Muse sometimes play the main riff from “Headup” onstage at their shows.
Yeah. That’s awesome. I’ve heard them do covers of “Bored” [from Adrenaline], too. Way back when we were first starting out and first starting to play in Europe we got to do some festivals with them. Those dudes are fucking rad.

It’s interesting that “My Own Summer” came toward the end of the Around the Fur sessions, given that in many ways it has come to be the defining song on the record—it leads off the album and it was also the first single. How did it come together?
That was just one great, sunny day in Seattle. We had already tracked the bulk of everything that we had, and Terry was like, “All right, you’ve gotta get out there.” And, you know, in true form I’m just procrastinating, smoking bong load after bong load. I thought, I’m just gonna go to a place mentally where I’m not thinking… And that song just popped out.

That’s a good way to do it.
It’s funny because I’ve told people for years it is a good way to do it. You know, marijuana comes with so many dumb fucking stereotypes it’s ridiculous. But they’re just that—stereotypes that actually aren’t actual. I feel that since I’ve been enjoying the marijuana my thought processes and everything have improved. Sometimes I’ll stutter, of course, but that’s my own speech problem. [laughs]

There’s a hidden track after the final song, “MX,” that is essentially nothing more than what sounds like a huge bong hit on an answering machine.
Yeah. That’s what I was doing back then. The big Zong bong. It wasn’t really big, probably a foot long. A nice little good-sized bong. But, yeah, I was doing bong rips all the time. That was the best.

Was that your actual answering machine message?
That was the answering machine we had at the apartment where we lived when we were making the record. If you would’ve rung our bell on the panel you would’ve gotten that message. [laughs]

So you guys were all living together at that time?
Yeah. We were all living together and Chi was living with his wife.

What was the Deftones’ apartment like?
Three bedrooms. Actually, it wasn’t even three bedrooms. Abe and Chino shared a room and I had a room.

How’d you manage to get your own room?
Don’t know. [laughs] First dibs, I guess!

You worked with Terry Date on Around the Fur—he produced your first four albums. What did he bring to the Deftones sound?
The obvious thing is his engineering ability and talent. And you know, our relationship, the way we all worked with each other, Terry really left us to our own. He didn’t ignore us or anything like that but he allowed us to make our own decisions and decide for ourselves what we wanted to do musically. But if he had something he wanted to say or something he felt strongly about he definitely spoke up. But Terry was rad and he still is rad. I was just saying this the other day—I would work with Terry forever. I didn’t have no problem with him whatsoever. He’s fucking rad.

What gear did you use on Around the Fur?
I had my ESP signature model, and back then I was using Seymour Duncan pickups. I had JBs installed in my guitars. My amps, I was using the ADA MP-1 preamp and a Marshall 9200 power amp. That was the first time I switched to a power amp; previously I was using two separate Marshall heads—two 100-watt JCM 800s.

Was this right around the time your ESP signature model came out?
Yup. I don’t know if it was actually official at that point. I believe it was. But the model was the same before I had the signature and after.

What effects were you using in the studio?
I had a Rocktron Intellifex, and I also had some pedals on a shelf in my rack—a Boss octave pedal, a reverb pedal and the Hyper Fuzz pedal. I still use that Hyper Fuzz sound to this day. And that was it. Then I got the rest of the effects, all the delays and stuff like that, out of the Rocktron unit.

When Adrenaline first came out Def-tones were lumped into the nu-metal scene. But with Around the Fur you started to separate yourselves from those bands. Was that intentional?
Well, we definitely always wanted to be identified for ourselves and not for being part of some type of scene. Mostly when it came to the whole nu-metal tag I think we all just kind of laughed at that. Like, “Nu-metal, what the hell is that?” You know, before all that, in the very beginning, we got all the comparisons to Rage Against the Machine and Korn. And it was, like, “Oh, man, I love both those bands but we don’t sound like them.”

Other than the fact that, you know, Chino had dreads and that’s kind of related to both bands. If anything, I would say he had a rap style but he never really rapped. So I didn’t make the comparisons that everyone else was making. I just felt, you know, if that makes you feel good, go for it.

At that time, you talked a lot about listening to decidedly non-metal bands like Depeche Mode.
I’ve always loved Depeche Mode, but at that time, that was when the Ultra record came out and I had that thing on 24-hour repeat. I just put it on at the house and it never shut off. So specifically at that moment in time I was definitely engulfed in Depeche Mode. It would have been impossible for me to not talk about them. But I think metalheads always want to be identified as metalheads. So if you talk about anything else you’re, like, scratching their metal armor or something like that. But human beings love all kinds of music. To get stuck in one kind and one kind only, that’s insane to me.

Did it feel like you guys were pushing the boundaries of metal at that time?
No, because I think the dynamics of that sound, we always had that. It was just that our equipment was getting better, we had been doing it longer and we were getting more creative. But it wasn’t anything conscious. If anything, it was just that everyone was pumped. Everyone was excited. A.K.A. livin’ the dream! [laughs]

In past interviews Chino has talked about a certain amount of drug use and partying coming into the picture after your next album, White Pony. Was that element there at all in the Around the Fur days?
I don’t know about the drugs. I was just smoking pot and at the time I was still drinking. I felt like all that was pretty much the bulk of everything that was going on then. But, yeah, I mean, it was wild times. You could get liquored up and act a straight-up fool. You don’t need drugs to be a fool. [laughs]

You can do that all on your own.
Yeah. The story of “dumb” is so long it would just be a whole other conversation! The story of dumb is literally the only global pandemic that has happened that no one talks about.

It’s a story that needs to be told.
Oh, it’ll be told! It’s just a question of if the people who are being talked about in the story will understand. [laughs]

The photo on the cover of Around the Fur was taken at a party, correct?
Yeah. It was just all of us hanging out one night in the pool of the apartment building where we lived. My thing about each one of our albums is that they’re simply snapshots in time. And that cover is a representation of that time—that period making that record. You go to a party and everyone’s snapping pictures and you just get those moments. And that photo takes you back to that period in time. There’s no fancy reason for why it was used or anything like that. It just stood out for whatever reason.

Once Around the Fur was released, the video for “My Own Summer” was all over MTV and the band really started to take o. . Did it feel like things got big for you guys?
Well, I don’t know if I felt like we got tons of MTV play but we definitely got out there. Where we felt the difference was by going out and building these audiences from the ground up in these clubs. We’d done shows where there was nobody there, and each time we’d come back, another group of people would show up. We just kept building it up and building it up. It was constant touring and meeting people everywhere and seeing them come back again and again. That’s what we noticed.

You have a summer tour with Rise Against and Thrice coming up, and your most recent album, Gore, came out only a little more than a year ago. That said, has there been any talk of work on a new Deftones album?
There’s no official timeframe, but I’ve already started working on ideas. And Sergio [current bassist Sergio Vega] has been working on stuff, and I imagine Chino’s been working on stuff. We’ve been exchanging little bits here and there. So at the earliest, if we somehow managed to pull off some crazy miracle, there could be something that happens at the end of this year. But I definitely wouldn’t hold my breath for that. [laughs] You might not make it to next year!

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.