Though their first album came out in 1995, there have been a lot of latecomers to jump on the Deftones appreciation train. After the criminally underrated alternative metal band headlined Riot Fest in Chicago last September, official reviews and social media commentary joined in a chorus of “how have I never paid attention to them before?” It’s a question that has percolated since the dawn of the band, with those in the know left perpetually shaking their heads.
DEFTONES and RISE AGAINST When: 6:30 p.m. June 9 Where: Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, 1300 S. Linn White Dr. Info: livenation.com
In a way, Deftones got tangled in the wrong circles, pieced together in the skateboard scene of Sacramento in the late ‘80s and early on incorporating a lot of the street scene with heavy riffing that came to be a big identifier of the often vilified label of “nu metal.” But Deftones soon became singularly different from bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and others of that ilk — on songs like “Digital Bath” and “Be Quiet and Drive” they brought heavy hooks, melodies and influences as disparate as hardcore and shoegaze — and in the past several years have made bigger strides to separate themselves.
The last three albums — 2010’s “Diamond Eyes,” 2012’s “Koi No Yokan” and 2016’s “Gore” — have been habitual experimentations in sound and some of their most commercial and critically accepted to date. They’ve also made the very metal move of partnering with a brewery to release limited edition draughts (the second, Swerve City IPA, comes out this summer from Belching Beaver Brewery), and had played more highly curated fests like Download, Iceland’s Secret Solstice (where vocalist Chino Moreno was invited to do an intimate performance in a volcano) and of course Riot Fest.
The latter is where the idea of this summer’s co-headlining tour with Chicago punks Rise Against started germinating when they had a chance to spend more quality time with singer Tim McIlrath and the other members — naturally, the tour also kicks off in Chicago at Northerly Island on June 9.
“The hope is to bring something different to each other’s audience in a package deal,” says Deftones bassist Sergio Vega during a recent phone call. “It’s always cool to play with bands that sound different and approach music differently. For me they come from a similar world that I came up in, the hardcore scene, so there’s an affinity for me personally.”
Vega is the newest member to the band. Prior to the Deftones, he was a member of habitual hard act Quicksand and was brought into Deftones as the replacement for Chi Cheng, one of the founding members whose career devastatingly ended in 2008 after a car crash resulted in severe brain injuries. After a long journey to recovery, he passed away in 2013. The emotional toll became a big turning point for the band, which, in addition to Vega and Moreno, also includes guitarist Stephen Carpenter, drummer Abe Cunningham and keyboardist/turntablist Frank Delgado.
“Personally I look at ‘Diamond Eyes’ [the first album released without Cheng] as a boxer getting off the ropes,” Vega says. “The band had been through some hard times and bad situations with what had happened with Chi and it was tough. And ‘Diamond Eyes’ was getting up out of that corner and getting back to center of the ring and reaffirming the band with something that was visceral and good. From there we were able to expand from that platform.”
Vega admits Deftones still considers Cheng a member (“the band encompasses six people but one isn’t able to be with us physically”) and his memory has been part of the impetus to push things forward. “Either consciously or subconsciously you always want to put best foot forward and to give it your all because you’re there to be able to do it and it makes you appreciate the fact you are able to do this for each other; the friendship is strong between everybody.”
The chemistry has been a vital part to the latest recording sessions, with Deftones recently promising that more is on the way.
“We always quote Stephen on this, who puts it this way, ‘A Deftones record is a snapshot of where five people are at that given time.’ We’re consistently developing and changing, taking in new influences and getting gear and developing new tones,” says Vega. “It’s not a one-headed beast. It’s a collaborative band — it’s not a Deftones song unless everybody had their way with it in some shape or form. So by virtue of that, there’s always movement and we are proud of that.”
Gaining the attention of new fans is a happy byproduct of the band’s persistent efforts, furthers Vega. “I think all of this gave people an opportunity to listen to the band more open-mindedly and also go back to the other albums with fresh ears as opposed to expectations,” he says. “I think it just took a minute to shake the previous labels. Now I think Deftones is just being accepted as Deftones.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.