Sacramento alt-metal demigod’s Deftones are about to drop one of the year’s most feverishly anticipated records, Ohms. Produced by frequent collaborator Terry Date, Ohms sees Deftones conjure a rare energy, infusing their signature sound with fresh new elements to deliver an otherworldly soundscape.
Fittingly for 2020, Ohms finds Deftones frontman Chino lending his uniquely emotive timbre to a lyrical narrative of isolation, alienation and longing for connection, as his bandmates provide some of their most inspired and holistically connected work in years. A distinctly different listening experience from the divisive yet critically acclaimed Gore, Ohms showcases why, some 32 years into their career, these GRAMMY award winners are still spoken of with such exalted tones.
In the lead up to the Ohms release, we were fortunate enough to catch up with vocalist Chino Moreno for a chat about channelling their younger days on new album Ohms, finding ways to connect with fans, his iconic voice and of course coping through the year that has been 2020.
MF: Chino, how’s existence treating you?
CM: I’m doing good man, how are you?
MF: I’m talking to Chino from Deftones, in the comfort of my own home, so I’m going good! Now 2020 has been a bit of a mess but you’re about to make it a little bit better for everyone when you drop your new record Ohms on the 25th, how are you feeling about the rollout?
CM: It’s a little weird, I’ve got to say, it’s obviously not what we’re used to, but we’re definitely still excited to be getting new music out. We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to use this time to really put our heads down and put the finishing touches on our art. We’re very excited for people to hear it, hopefully, they’ll like it and it’ll be a little bit of a glimmer of light in these times, for sure.
MF: Well after a few listens I can tell you that it will definitely be that glimmer of light for Deftones fans, it’s a cracking record, so give yourself a pat on the back, you did it again.
CM: Thank you.
MF: For a band that’s been around for as long as Deftones have, has the challenge of finding new ways to present the record, because of the current climate, been oddly refreshing?
CM: I don’t know if refreshing would be the best word, but it is a different experience that’s for sure. The whole thing with us when we’re making records is that we’re always trying to find different angles or ways of approaching what we do. We’re never looking to completely reinvent ourselves, but at the same time, we are always looking to expand on what we’ve done before, both musically and in the way that we approach it. The thing that we did a little differently on this record, is we took a bit of a different approach to the guitars. We wanted to record this one pretty much live, as a band. We didn’t record to a click track or anything, it’s just us, much like we were when we were younger, playing together in a garage without all this technical stuff, basically just us playing off of each other and trying to feed off the energy in the room. I think that really helped capture that exciting vibe for us, made it feel like it used to when we were kids.
MF: You can honestly hear that on the record, there’s this sense or aura of natural connectivity present, that perhaps wasn’t as evident on Gore, at least in my opinion anyway. How do you feel the two records compare?
CM: Oh yeah, the vibe in the band is a lot different from what went on with Gore, and that was our goal when we set out to make this record. We learned a lot when we were making that record, it was a little bit fragmented due to some reasons. This time we really wanted to get back to pulling that organic energy from all five guys in the band, firing on all pistons. That’s not something that you can just turn on either, it has to happen organically.
We’ve been friends for so long and been through so much stuff, so we took our time to cultivate that energy. Whereas, on Gore, we went in for these writing sessions and just tried to bash out songs and the first songs that we made, got kept and that was the record. On this one, we stretched it out over a year and a half, so we wrote, then we’d step back and reflect on what we’d done and then work on it some more. We really let the songs and the record grow, without the weight or pressure of having to have it done at a certain time. I really feel that contributed positively to the way that Ohms sounds.
MF: That’s a great thing to hear man. I’m curious, lyrically speaking you traditionally wait until the musical elements are complete before you write the lyrics, did you take that approach again? Also given the writing happened over a time period where the world changed rapidly and often, did the state of affairs end up influencing the lyrical narratives?
CM: What’s going on in the world definitely had an impact. I traditionally try to stay away from focussing on what my immediate surroundings are and use the music as an escape from those things. This time around, naturally though where my headspace was crept into the music. A lot of the record was finished before the end of 2019, so a lot of the lyrics were written pre-pandemic, but what’s crazy is that a lot of what I put into the lyrics, these sort of recurrent themes and depictions of isolation and longing for a connection, they’re now matching the headspace that a lot of people are in right now, because of what happened in the last six months. So in a way, I feel like the record really mirrors these current times.
MF: It’s funny how art works like that sometimes. I agree that longing for connection and alienation that’s present on Ohms really hits home now. I think maybe it’s because these are feelings we’ve all just been suppressing by staying constantly distracted, and now that we’re forced to spend so much time with ourselves, they’ve kind of taken over our minds. So in a sense, the record is reflective of a deeper societal disconnection that we’re all being forced to face right now.
CM: That’s very true. For me, it was very much a physical thing, for five or six years I was living in a pretty isolated area, not anywhere near my bandmates or musicians. I was enjoying my life, because I was spending a lot of time outdoors, in nature, but I was really longing for a connection with my friends and bandmates, and a lot of those feelings ended up on the record. Those feelings of isolation and longing for connection are obviously very prevalent at the moment, so it feels like the right record for now.
MF: You also worked with Terry Date on this, which is a return to what many consider your best producer/band partnership, what is it about that combo that just works do you think?
CM: I think a lot of it has to do with the trust and the patience that we have with each other. He is a very dear friend, as well as being our producer and I think having made five records with him previously, we’re just really comfortable in being ourselves in his presence. Especially me, when I’m writing vocals, I’m not ever nervous to try certain things in front of him, he’s very encouraging and lets me experiment. He’s very patient because sometimes it’ll take a couple of days for me to try things and really nail down how I want the song to go and he is very patient and understanding and accepting and sticks with me through that process. He’s also obviously an excellent engineer, he makes incredible sounding records.
MF: It’s interesting to hear you talk about the vocal approach in this way because your voice is so central to the sonic identity of Deftones as a band. So to hear that you’re still learning new things and experimenting with your instrument this far into your career is both fascinating and refreshing. Not everyone is so open to taking those chances when they’re as far into a career as you. I think other vocalists will find that interesting, that someone so accomplished has these moments of uncertainty that they fight through.
CM: I don’t think of it as being insecure of my singing ability, in terms of technically being able to hit certain notes or anything like that, it’s more or less the ideas that I choose to follow. A lot of times I’ll hear something and I’ll instinctively start singing something over it and it seems too easy, so I’ll deliberately force myself to switch it up. Sometimes your instincts are correct and they are what the song needs, but not all of the time. So I always question that first, and try to do the due diligence, put the original idea aside, come at it from a whole different perspective. Then at the end, I’ll come back to it and choose the one that I want to go with. It’s time-consuming, but I think it is worth it in the end.
MF: As a band you’re in a unique position, having your most celebrated record, White Pony turning 20, just as you’re gearing up to release a new record. You’re issuing Black Stallion, which will present new mixes and interpretations of the tracks, did revisiting the White Pony record in such an in depth manner have any influence on Ohms?
CM: Not necessarily. Obviously we’re super stoked to reach that landmark of 20 years with that record, especially given the fact that it is still well talked about and people love it and we do as well, we’re super proud of it, but it didn’t really influence where we are going today. At least not in a cognitive way. We didn’t aim to draw influence from the past of our catalogue.
MF: That’s likely one of the reasons each of your albums sounds unique, which is a great thing as a listener. Ohms is no exception to that. Now, unfortunately, social distancing and therefore restrictions on shows is going to be with us for quite a while longer. So given you’re such an artistic band, have you given any thought to putting together an immersive livestream event, you seem a very natural fit for it?
CM: We don’t have any plans to right now. I’d like to, I’d like to play in any capacity. If we’re not going to be able to perform live, which is the ultimate goal. Our shows for next Summer are still booked, but I don’t think anyone can really say confidently if they’ll be happening or not. So I would hope that we’ll be able to get together to do something. I haven’t even seen my bandmates for six months. Even the video we made we did it individually, then edited it all together. We do speak daily, but I’m really looking forward to just getting in a room and playing music with them all again, whether we film it and do something to connect with the fans, but as of right now we don’t have any definitive plans to do so.
MF: I, much like most Deftones fans, very much looking forward to you figuring that out. We could all do with a little Deftones live magic in our lives, even if it has to come via streaming. Just touching back on Ohms, was there anything about the creation process this time that you want to replicate in the future? I note that you went with the three OG’s to start the process for instance. Is that something you’ll do in the future?
CM: It wasn’t a formal thing, where we decided we were going to do that. I live in Portland, Oregon and we’d been on tour for a while, and I really just felt like jamming, so when we got back, I hit up Stephen and I said “hey, I’m going to come down to LA for a while” I’m really keen to jam with you and Abe lives in Sacramento so he came across as well and we just got in a room and did four or five sessions over two weeks as just the three of us. I’m quite sure that none of it even ended up on the record, but it was an experiment of us getting together and sharing that space without any pressure. I didn’t even play guitar, it was just them on guitar and drums and me singing along and making stuff up from scratch. For me, I really just wanted to feel that feeling again of being back in Stephen’s garage, just for fun.
MF: Well it obviously yielded results in the sense that you went into the eventual recording process with that refreshed, organic approach. Is that something that you might do in the future?
CM: I really like stripping things down, as much as I enjoy building them out and adding things to the sonic palette. Sometimes it is fun to take things away. I’m not saying we’re ever going to make a record without all five of us guys, that wouldn’t make sense, but sometimes musically taking a less-is-more approach can do good things for the creative process.
MF: Sadly I have to let you go, but before I do, I’ve got a bit of a fun one to finish things off. I know quite a few Deftones fans who are also big pro-wrestling fans, so I’m curious if you could have any song be your real-life entrance theme, so it plays every time you enter a room, what song would you pick?
CM: Well considering I’m going out there to do damage, so it has to be something on the heavier side, so I’m going to choose a song by Sepultura called ‘Biotech is Godzilla’. From start to finish, that song is just so super heavy and energetic and I think that would be a good fit.
MF: Sick choice. I’d pop for sure! If I ever see you down under I’ll start blasting it out of my phone as you walk into view, so you’ll know it’s me! Thank you for taking the time to Music Feeds, good luck with the record.
CM: Anytime man, thanks!
‘Ohms’ is out this Friday, September 25th. Pre-order here.