In Conversation: Deftones

The story of their bold, magnificent new album...

“The guitar has a bit more drive in this album, the band has always been based around a very heavy distorted guitar sound,” says Abe Cunningham, discussing Deftones mammoth ninth studio album ‘Ohms’.

Today (September 25th) marks the release of Deftones, ‘Ohms’ and boy does it erupt – driving you through ten alt-metal tunes ‘Ohms’ exposes heavier drops, raw lyricism, and addictive hooks.

Returning four years after their last instalment ‘Gore,’ in a lot of ways ‘Ohms’ is a new direction for the colossal group. Whilst fans danced around ‘Gore’ being more alternative than metal, ‘Ohms’ sees them once again perfecting their faultless balance of poignant melodies with anarchic drops.

Having spent almost two years compiling, recording and touching up this record, Abe talks to Clash about what ‘Gore’ means to him and Deftones journey, how the group worked their way through quarantine despite living in different areas and his favourite track on the album.

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How would you describe 'Ohms' as Deftones ninth studio album?

Hmm, I would say, here we are again, able to unleash something into the world, with high hopes. It's rather strange times, hopefully we can bring a little something to anyone who has open ears and brighten their day a bit. Having made a lot of records over the years, it's a challenge at times but this one was a fun one to make, and we were very cohesive as a band – we’re pleased with the outcome.

How has the recording process been for 'Ohms' in comparison to 'Gore'?

It's been non-existent, 'Gore' was about two years, which is a pretty standard well-planned out touring cycle for us. We covered a lot of grounds, but it was well thought out. That was a couple years ago and here we are now, we were eight hours away from starting this touring cycle about six and a half months ago.

We were just about to head out to Australia and New Zealand to start what would've been two years of touring for this new record, but we didn't get to go!

Yeah, it's been a very difficult year hasn't it?

Definitely… and it's everybody, it’s not just us, it’s the entire world, it’s weird shit! 

What was it like getting back into the studio with your OG producer Terry Date – the last time you guys worked with each other was 2008?

Yeah, we did our first four albums with him, and then we went onto try something different with another person – which is always exciting and something you should try if you have the chance to. It's great to see what they can offer and what you can come up with together.

We were always close to Terry, he always left each session or phone call with, "hey man, you know I'm here if you need me, if I can do anything for you guys just give me a call." We got back together in 2008 to do a record, that was ‘Eros’ that never came out, that was 12 years ago, that's crazy! Since that we've always kept in contact and again, decided to give Terry Date a ring – it was amazing, it was very easy, there was no learning curve, we know each other so well after all these years – it was just a joy to work together.  

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Did working with him again spark a sense of nostalgia for you guys?

Yeah! We always try to keep moving forward, but of course it was there, just from our history. But we're always trying to push it, trying to push the envelope and see what we can come up with. But also, just in terms of platonically all of our sounds that came from our early records came from our collaboration with him.

Knowing that those sounds can easily be pulled back up, and they are our sounds that we developed with him, there's just a lot of trust there. I don't think you can help nostalgia, but we're just about moving forward.

Are there any tracks on the album that you helped song-write?

No, the lyrics are all Chino, always have been, maybe if he gets stuck on some words, but yeah, he handles that.

Generally, in the early years Stephan and I (guitars and drums) were the main factor of getting the main riffs and skeleton of the songs. Rarely is there a complete song brought by just one of us, we sent a little demo of 'Ohms', out there, but other than that it’s just us sat in a room, laughing, fighting, spitting, killing each other and just jamming – that's the way the band has always been, at least for the last seven records, it's a collaborative jam and it’s very important. 

What's been your favourite track on the album to record so far?

Of course, I love them all because they're brand new, it's nice having new things that we haven't played a million times over – but there's something about 'Radiant City,' that I really like a lot.

It kind of propels forward, it starts with a Sergio bass riff, there's 'The Spell Of Mathematics,' too, that's a tribute song, it's very spacious and has little barber shop quartet snaps at the end as well. But yeah I’m just taking it all in, it's funny having lived with it, as I said it was recorded nearly a year ago, it’s funny it’s out for everybody to hear, but I’ve had these songs forever, so they're kind of old, but also brand new. 

When did you start curating the album, if you had everything recorded June last year?

We started writing the year prior that, we all decided to take a year off. During that time, we got together to jam every month or so and see what we could come up with, that process went on for a year and then went into the studio around June/July. We tracked everything in Los Angeles and then moved everything up to Seattle to finish off vocals, once those were done COVID hit. 

So, you were pretty much wrapping up the album?

Yeah! It's been an interesting process…

Did you make any changes or re-arrangements to any of the album?

Well, there's always adjustments happening, but when we write songs, we almost write it like we're doing a live setlist – we get one song and jam it 100 times. Each morning we jam to everything as if we're playing a show, that way we can see the album taking shape as that’s happening. When we've got about seven or eight songs we think, how can we help balance the album out, we try to write complete albums and not just singles here and there. We put a lot of thought and time into the sequencing of the record and all the gaps between songs, so changes kind of flow the whole time. 

You released 'Ohms' (final track) and then 'Genesis' (introductory) as your first two singles, was there a method behind dropping in this order?

Yeah, there is a plan without having a plan… this is our ninth record, we've done everything the traditional way numerous times, having the last song being the first taste. It wasn't the official single, 'Genesis,' will be the first official single, but we just wanted to mix it up and I think we have a bit of room to be able to mess with things as we've been around for a bit of time so we have to switch it up and keep it interesting, not only for ourselves but for our listeners too. 

We saw that you had worked with videographer Clemente Ruiz for your Genesis clip, had you worked with him before?

No, and that's a pretty interesting thing too… we actually filmed the ‘Ohms’ video and ‘Genesis’ at the same time, but all separately. Frank and I still live in Sacramenta where the band started, Chino is up in Portland/ Oregon area, Stephan is down in LA and Sergio is back in New York.

With COVID we weren't able to all be in the same room, Frank and I shot our stuff in the same spot in Sacramenta, we basically did two videos at the same time, we had all these wonderful people to work with to make them look totally opposite even though all the performance shots were recorded separately.

It was pretty cool as they are two completely different looks, but that was just another Covid thing that we had to adapt to. I'm pretty pleased with the way things turned out, we had these great post-production people who were really talented that we were able to work with, considering everything was pretty much shut down we were able to make these really cool videos very cost efficient too! It’s a different world man.

A few fans and reviewers have made a point of the 90s undertones of Genesis; would you say that was the direction you guys were heading in with this new album?

Honestly, I don't even know. Some bands have everything meticulously thought out for better or worse, but we don't really operate in that fashion. Are you talking about similarities to specifically, ‘Around The Fur’?

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Not necessarily, it was more the album as a whole, and just the similarities it has with your earlier sound.

Yeah, I don't think you can help sounding like yourself, all those things definitely came into play, but very naturally. I think the guitar has a bit more drive in this album, the band has always been based around a very heavy distorted guitar sound. I think all those old school elements are there, but I think it’s just us being us. 

This June marked 20 years of 'White Pony' which you held a live listening party for – how was this as an alternative to touring for the anniversary?

It’s a bit strange since we aren't old as dirt, but we're older gentlemen so its grafting that new technology, during this time everything has been Zoom etc, but it's been amazing to reach people in other ways. That was a fun thing to do, we actually had plans to play the record live but that didn't obviously happen.

I think we have also been mystic, we've never wanted to tell people what we're doing every second of the day, like, oh I've just drank a cup of coffee, then had a glass of water, then ate an orange,” we've always been kind of quiet – but it was cool because we were all tuning in on the comments, it was pretty fun to talk shit and be with the people. But yeah 20 years, that’s crazy!

What would you say you've learnt from this new experience?

It's definitely been an exercise in patience mainly, we were so excited as we'd already been off for nearly two years, we have been so ready to go and obviously that's not happening right now.

Unfortunately, our business will probably be the last ticket back to work because it relies on large groups of people being together and close quarters and having the best time of their life – but it's all necessary, we just have to get through this, there will be innervation, I'm looking at it day-by-day, I'm going out of my fucking mind, but we all are, it's not just me, it's everybody. 

Where did you get the concept for your dot-to-dot album cover?

That idea was actually brought to us, there's been some great marketing for this record! We have a wonderful team – our record label, our management and everyone involved. I'm really pleased, it started yesterday Tuesday (September 23rd), and what a great concept, there’s, 12,995 dots I believe – everyone can put their name and add a picture.

But it's the fact it's for Crew Nation which is a huge thing for crew members who are currently out of work and then USD Davis is a huge hospital in Sacramenta area, it really came together well and it's a great idea that was brought to us, it's great to have it come to life. 

And lastly, are you excited to make a return to Download Festival next year since your 2016 slot?

I am thrilled, that's always a good one, the history of Donnington, I think we've done it five times prior, so this will be our sixth time. I really hope we are able to do it next year, if everything goes as planned it'll be the most amazing thing in the world. That's our plan, but I don't know if Covid is done with us humans yet… I sure hope it is. 

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'Ohms' is out now.

Words: Laviea Thomas
Photo Credit: Tamar Levine

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