Is Deftones a nu-metal band?
I wouldn’t say so at all. I don’t think we fit in any category — we’re in our own category. And I think we’ve distanced ourselves from any other band, intentionally, so we don’t have to worry about the whole bullshit of being compared to a scene, or a category, or anything.
So why are you sometimes placed in that category?
I think it’s a necessary evil for journalists, because they have to use the medium to describe the band. And if they don’t have a juxtaposition to balance it against, the kids are like, well, I’ve never heard them, who do they sound like?
One of your press releases described you as ‘neo-hardcore’, which is equally useless.
Yes. We’ve been called ‘the intelligent man’s rock band’, or ‘art-metal’ — like Tool or something — which is a little more flattering.
Your new self-titled album has a huge production — the typical Terry Date wall of sound. How do you keep the bass prominent?
Actually it is kinda hard, because Stephen [Carpenter, guitarist] is just a wall of sound, so to find a tone that falls between him and the kick-drum is fairly tiring at points. But you know, it works. Actually Terry has been turning the bass up more and more. You know, I just fuel up on alcohol and stumble around up and downstairs . . . For bass-lines, I like to get a CD of the guitar parts, put it in the rental car and go for a long drive. Then I hear them in my head, it’s the only way I can do it. Then I rush back to the studio and get it down real quick. It makes sense — I was talking to Terry about it and he said that Rob Zombie does the same thing. He’ll drive around and listen to the CD, and his main focus is driving. When you’re subconsciously taking it in, and you’re processing it and you start to hear something over it, you’re not forcing it and it’s not contrived. It would be easy just to play along with Stephen, but it’s just not what I hear.
Have you got a preferred bass that you use?
No, I just use ’59 Fender Precision reissues. You can’t really go wrong with Fenders. They’ve got double buckers. I’m not really good enough to have active pickups or more than one knob! They’re all from the custom shop. I told them, just give me a volume/tone knob. They’ve been four-strings up until this last album but now I’ve got a couple of five-strings. Stephen refused to do anything other than seven-string work — you know, we really fought about it. Even some of the songs he plays a seven-string guitar on, I play a four-string bass on. But there were certain parts I had to give in on. With my style of playing it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do on a five-string. The lines that I write aren’t the normal type of lines . . . they’re slinky, they move around the rhythm. I have my own weird sense of rhythm, it doesn’t really fall in with the normal sense. For amps, I just use Ampeg stuff, the SVT-2 heads and then 8x10 Ampeg cabs. You don’t really need much more than Fenders and Ampeg, that’s a pretty good combo. I use a rackmount for distortion, and to put a little bite into the other tones. But I really try to keep everything very minimalistic. I like just a touch of overdrive for clarity, otherwise it’s just the distorted lines occasionally. Y’know, I’m not really the type of bass player to involve myself with a humungous rack and tons of effects. I’m like, look, bass is a rhythm instrument, you play with the drums. I’d rather be concerned with trying to write tasteful lines and have a really great live show and have fun than be a total gear-head. I’ve never really had an aptitude for it or an interest in it.
You’ve toured with Black Sabbath before.
Oh, yes. Geezer Butler, just a classic guy. He’s just such a tasteful player, know what I mean? The guys that influenced me are the players who pushed the boundaries of metal bass playing — Steve Harris, Geezer, and Cliff Burton of Metallica. Cliff was an unbelievably phenomenal player and he would fall in with the guitars at the appropriate spots if he felt it was best for the totality of the song. But he didn’t mind straying away from the guitars and writing something a little outside of it. Like the beginning of ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ (on which Burton plays a distorted lead line) he was tasteful, and sick. Steve Harris was the same way, he almost drives the band with his playing.
What about Jason Newsted, who replaced Cliff Burton in Metallica?
I would have liked to have seen more of what he could have done. I don’t think they gave him much freedom. They cauterized his balls or something! I’m not really sure what they did, but he was blowing shit up in his previous band, Flotsam And Jetsam. I’ll be curious to see what Robert Trujillo, who is one of the greatest bass players alive, is like with Metallica.
What music influenced you?
Well, I was into the thrash metal scene in Sacramento, but then I got into punk. I loved punk playing. Operation Ivy was a good Bay Area band, Christ On Parade, MDC — all these bands that I used to see in the 80s. That was an amazing, amazing form of bass playing. The first time I heard Bad Brains, I was like, Jesus! That’s a band that’s tastefully mixing all these styles of music. Matt Freeman, who used to be in Operation Ivy, and is now in Rancid — another tasteful player.
You keep saying ‘tasteful’ about bass players. What do you mean?
Just that the lines are complementary, they’re beautiful . . . very melodic. Just fantastic.
You toured with Korn, too.
Totally. We’re friends. But we saw that people were starting to compare us a bit, and they were starting to get a really big scene around them, and we started to distance ourselves from them intentionally, just so that we wouldn’t be . . . well, there was the ‘who came first?’, and the ‘who influenced who?’ and all that stuff. And they helped Limp Bizkit get signed, and so it got to be like, OK, you guys are going in one direction, we’re going in the other. We’re still friends, though.
Did you ever play slap?
I was never good enough to do it. I think I fiddled around with it and thought, oh I get this, but it didn’t really fit for our band. I get a lot of grief from Stephen anyway — he says, why don’t you just play along with my guitar riff? And I’m like, why don’t you piss off? Haha.
Yeah! He’s like, can’t you just play along? I remember on our song ‘Change (In The House Of Flies)’, him and Terry said, oh no, you’re not gonna play that goofy dub-reggae bass-line, are you? And I was like, yes, that’s exactly what I’m gonna play! And then it became a really big song for us, so I was like, OK, now let me write the way I write.
Your last album, White Pony, was downloaded 200,000 times from the internet before it was released. Is there anything you can do to prevent that this time round?
The new album wasn’t leaked, which is a miracle from God! There were so many security precautions. Nobody got copies, journalists had to come and listen to it . . . our management and label worked really hard. I mean, I’m all for downloading. If you can’t afford to buy the album . . . although on the other hand, if you’ve got a computer and blank CDs, you probably can afford it, right? I’m not for burning a million copies and selling them for five dollars at junior high, but if the bottom line is that you can’t afford it, download it. What’s a drag is the impatience of people wanting to get it early. It’s like, I get it: you’re a huge fan. But just wait! If it was me, I’d rather wait, get excited, let the anticipation grow and then get the whole package.