Deftones' Sergio Vega On Working As A String Section

Deftones bassist Sergio Vega opens up on filling in for Chi Cheng.
By Brian Fox ,

When a catastrophic car accident in 2008 put Deftones bassist Chi Cheng in a coma, the future looked grim for Chi and the band. With Cheng now making slow and steady progress in recovery, Deftones has enlisted the help of longtime friend Sergio Vega. The band’s latest, Diamond Eyes, is a focused affair that perfectly pairs piercing riffs with sprawling melodies, all expertly anchored by a very tone-savvy Vega. This fall, the band is set to slay stages on a monster tour with Alice in Chains and Mastodon. 

How did you first get to know the guys in the band?

We met on the first Warped Tour in 1995, when I was in a band called Quicksand, and hit it off. Four years later, they called me because Chi hurt his toe, and they needed someone to fill in.

Is Chi’s playing style very different from your own?

Not at all. When I came in, it wasn’t so much about his style of playing it was about learning his riffs.

Who is in your pool of influences?

I grew up in New York with a bit of everything. I came up in the Bronx, so I liked hip-hop. My family was from Puerto Rico, so there was Latin music. I got into hardcore bands like Cro-Mags, Bad Brains, Antidote, and Sick of it All, and then punk, reggae, dancehall, and house music. I always thought that wide range was unique to New York, but all the Deftones guys had the same thing going on in Sacramento.

Stephen Carpenter plays low-tuned 8- string guitars that dip into the bass range. How does that impact your playing?

Stephen was right when he credited himself as “strings” on this record. Basically we don’t work as bass and guitar—it’s more like we’re a string section. That’s how I’ve started thinking of it, because we’re occupying much of the same frequency range.

What’s behind your use of drop C and drop C# tunings?

I came into the band thinking I was going to learn everything in a single tuning— I wasn’t hip to the differences. When I went out to Sacramento and was jamming on Chi’s basses, I quickly realized the differences between those two. Drop C sounds darker, and the different tension can give the same riff entirely different characteristics.

What led you to start recording and touring using Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3 software?

I’m really into bands that incorporate oscillation and atmospheric sounds—like My Bloody Valentine—and I like having those sounds be components in my compositions. I really don’t care about amps anymore; I live in lower Manhattan and have no room. With Guitar Rig, I can jam in my bedroom on the same rig I used to make this record—it’s sick!

What drew you to play Jaguar Basses?

They look cool and sound hot—so now I have 15 of them! They just work well with my approach and attack. They have a nice, crisp top end and the low end feels tight. Plus, they’re easy to play.

Finally, what’s the latest on Chi’s condition?

He’s still in a semi-conscious state, but he’s making slow and steady progress. They’re putting the best stuff into him—he’s not drinking or anything—so he looks fantastic. His family is being very proactive trying to stimulate his awakening. We’re just praying for him and putting our best foot forward so there’s something awesome for him to come back to.

HEAR HIM ON Deftones, Diamond Eyes [Warner Bros., 2010]

Basses Fender Jaguar Basses tuned CGCF and C#G#C#F#
Rig Ampeg SVT Classic Reissue
Effects Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3 software, Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI