We’ve Got A File On You: Chino Moreno
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
No one has the range like Chino Moreno has the range.
There’s the matter of the Deftones frontman’s inimitable vocal prowess. Depending on his mood, Moreno can be one of the most seductive crooners to ever operate in the world of heavy metal, or one of its finest shriekers. But Moreno’s omnivorous sonic palette and Rolodex of collaborators is almost as unrivaled as his voice. No other modern artist can boast that they’ve worked with a spectrum of collaborators that somehow includes Caroline Polachek, Trippie Redd, Tommy Lee, Korn, Death Grips’ Zach Hill, El-P, Robert Smith, Isis, Cypress Hill, and Mary Timony, just for starters.
Perhaps no one would have pegged Moreno as a transformational figure when Deftones released their debut Adrenaline in 1995, but even then, he was unconcerned with genre preconceptions or anyone’s rules. Moreno, guitarist Stephen Carpenter, and drummer Abe Cunningham were high school friends in Sacramento when Deftones formed. Eventually the late bassist Chi Cheng joined in. The band’s early sound was heavy on hip-hop grooves and staccato rap verses, which got them lumped into the burgeoning nu-metal scene of the late ’90s alongside their friends Korn.
But on 1997’s Around The Fur and 2000’s White Pony, DJ Frank Delgado joined on turntables, synths, and vibe consultations, and Deftones drastically expanded their scope. In the process, they changed heavy metal forever by introducing elements of dream pop and shoegaze atmosphere, post-rock heft, trip-hop lushness and New Wave melodies. It’s very possible that Moreno single-handedly made it cool for headbangers to love the Cure.
While critics were divided, if not outright hostile, at first, time has revealed them to be ahead of their era. (It’s been noted that their 2005 B-Sides & Rarities album has covers of Cocteau Twins, Sade and the Cure, aka the building blocks of modern indie.) The band has gone through difficult periods, as the making of 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist was fraught with creative tension between Moreno and Carpenter (the singer is often viewed by fans as the arty yin to the guitarist’s yang) as well as the former’s escalating substance use. Deftones were also hit with tragedy in 2008 when Cheng was involved in a car accident that left him in a coma; he passed away in 2013. The band endured through hard times, going on an acclaimed run in the ’10s and eventually aging into a widely agreed upon modern institution whose fans range from the Weeknd to Speedy Ortiz.
His work with Deftones is legendary in its own right, but the man born Camillo Wong Moreno has never constrained himself. In 2001, he began working on Team Sleep, the first of many side projects. Originally conceived as a lo-fi tribute to trip-hop, it evolved into a nocturnal art-rock group featuring indie luminaries including Timony and Pinback’s Rob Crow. He also joined members of Isis for the post-rock supergroup Palms.
In 2011, Moreno began making darkwave-tinged electronic music as ††† (Crosses) with his friend Shaun Lopez, a producer who played guitar in early Deftones touring partners Far. Originally, Crosses songs would just mysteriously appear online, with no further explanation, though it didn’t take long for Moreno’s fans to figure out what was going on, or to make jokes about the early ’10s sub-sub genre witch house. Today, after a few years of inactivity, Crosses have released their second full-length album and debut for Warner, Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete. Featuring collaborations with El-P and Robert Smith, it finds Moreno in full command of his talents, and as relentlessly curious as ever.
Forming ††† (Crosses) With Shaun Lopez And Releasing Early EPs (2011-14)
When did you and Shauz Lopez start making music together as Crosses?
CHINO MORENO: I want to say probably sometime around 2009 or 10. First of all, Shaun and I, we’ve known each other since we were in our late teens or early 20s. We met in Sacramento, where we’re both from, so we’ve worked together on little things here and there, and he’s stepped in and produced some Deftones stuff as well [Saturday Night Wrist and Diamond Eyes.]
So we’ve been friends and we’ve worked in that capacity together. But around 2008 or 9, I think a year or two before that I moved down to LA from Sacramento. And Shaun had already moved down here, and we were actually neighbors. We were pretty much a couple blocks away from each other, so I would just kind of cruise over to the studio a lot and see what he’s working on and whatever. And I’d come by one time, and he was working on what would become Crosses, sort of loosely, and he said, “Hey, how about maybe putting a vocal on it something.” And it just started, pretty much like that. We just wanted it to be an under-the-radar sort of idea.
We had maybe five or six ideas. So from that point we said, “Well, maybe we’ll put something out, very unsolicited, on the internet and not even say anything about it, and kind of just let people find it.” And I think that sort of made it exciting, that it wasn’t like, “We have this new project, I have a new band.” It was nothing more than some music we made that we were excited about, but wanted for people to just discover, as opposed to sell it or market it or whatever. It’s a freeing kind of feeling, I guess, just to make music without all this kind of added pressure. It just started as a fun thing, and obviously it grew over the years, and here we are.
I remember when the first Crosses EP came out, and it just appeared on the internet and some people didn’t know who was behind it. I think on Twitter someone was like, “Wait, the singer of this Witch House band sounds exactly like Chino Moreno. What is going on?”
MORENO: That’s funny. I mean, it’s funny too, because the whole witch house thing. Obviously we’re aware of… I don’t know what you would call it, the witch house movement or whatever. But it wasn’t intended to fit into that or any other sort of genre. Obviously, because of the logo, and the darker-inspired music, more synthetic leaning sounds and things like that. So yeah, it was sort of just like, “Oh, here we go again.” I had spent my whole career with Deftones trying to stay free of genres, you know what I mean? And right away, (Crosses) would just kind of get thrown into something else, whatever it was loosely. It didn’t last long, basically just kind of being lumped in there. As people discovered it a little bit more, (they) realized that it really wasn’t intended to be any of that.
Bringing Back Crosses And Working With Chuck Doom (2022-Present)
Crosses released their first EP in 2011, and they were pretty prolific with making EPs and then an album, until 2014, and then you were gone for a while. Obviously you were making music with Deftones, but what made you and Shaun decide to bring the project back?
MORENO: It wasn’t something that we really planned on. I mean, when we stopped doing it, we had all gotten busy with other things. We did a little touring on it back then, but I don’t think we were prepared to really put the work in and grind, getting in a van and traveling around the country and, for lack of a better term, pay our dues and tough it out to take it to the next level. And then, maybe a year or so later, we decided, well, maybe we’ll go in and write some more music. And, at that point, I was busy touring, but Shaun and [musician Chuck Doom] got together and they started putting together ideas. But at that point was when we sort of came to the realization that those two were sort of like going in different directions musically. I think Chuck would feel like this isn’t really the way I want to take it or vice versa with him and Shaun.
So then it kind of just came to a standstill. It was like, “Well, we’re having trouble making new music that everybody is happy with.” Like I said, I wasn’t even there. It was just those two, but nothing was really happening. So at that point, everything just kind of died down a little bit. Chuck went on to continue his musical journey, which he’s still doing, which is great, and Shaun focused more on producing. And then it wasn’t until maybe like four, maybe five years ago now, this is when I moved to Oregon. I still live there actually, but [Shaun] came up just to visit, just to hang out, with no intentions to make music. But sure enough, we ended up in my studio and, and him and I just started messing around and putting some ideas together. And he was there for maybe a week. And I think when he left, there was, like, maybe four or five rough ideas. A couple of them are actually ideas that will be included on this full-length album. So that was sort of the catalyst for it.
At that point it was sort of like, “Well, what do we do?” I had a discussion with Chuck about. It wasn’t the easiest conversation. I mean, because he’s still a dear friend of mine. It’s just like, “I don’t want to let this project just go away after we all put a lot of work into it, from its inception to now. But there’s two choices. It works with me and Shaun doing it. With all three of us, it’s not working. And so it’s either we just do it this way, or like we don’t do it at all.” And I didn’t feel like it was really fair to not do it because I really enjoy doing it. In the end, I think it ended up working out for the best. Chuck’s ideas that he had for the Crosses stuff like I said earlier, he kind of had his own vision of where he wanted to take it with. Chuck, he comes from the School of Jazz.
He’s super, super talented. He’s more into, for lack of a better term, jamming and more like live instrumentation and a live band kind of setting. Our idea was to make it more electronic and just focus on that thing.
You and Chuck, you worked together in the project Saudade, right?
MORENO: Yeah, that’s kind of a collective that he started and it’s got tons of different musicians. The idea of that is, for him, he’s more or less executive producer of that. I’ve done a couple tracks with it. It’s an idea from him that I think is brilliant. I think maybe back in the ’70s, I think that was way more of a thing, these collectives. So he’s doing that, and he also has his own project now that he’s working on that is awesome. So everything kind of comes full circle, and I’m super happy for him, and and I’m happy for us. I feel like it wasn’t the easiest thing to transition into, but everybody’s sort of in a happy place right now.
Crosses Covering Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” (2021) And Cause And Effect’s “The Beginning Of The End” (2020)
So when Crosses came back after being away for a while, one of your first things you dropped was a cover of “Goodbye Horses,” which obviously is well known from its use in The Silence Of The Lambs, but it’s also a song that’s developed a real cult following amongst younger Tumblr users. What made you decide to pick that one?
MORENO: Well, back when we were touring in 2014, we would play it in our live show. At that time, we had the three EPs, but we didn’t have that many songs really. So we needed more material to really headline shows, to play for an hour and a half or whatever. That was one of the songs we would play in our set. So we just kind of just did a formal recording of it with Shaun and I.
Actually the year before that, for Christmas, we released our first thing that we had (after) we hadn’t released anything. So the first thing was this cover of the song “The Beginning Of The End” by a band called Cause And Effect, and we released that the same way, sort of thinking about how exciting it was for us to do the EPs in the beginning and put music out unsolicited. We’ve been gone so long, so we figured it’d be rad just to kind of put this out on the internet for free on Christmas Eve and let people find it or whatever. So that’s what we did. And then we were working on music during the year, but we hadn’t had anything original to really release yet. So next Christmas came along and said, “let’s kind of make this a tradition” So that was the second thing was the “Goodbye Horses” thing, the following holiday.
You definitely show off a lot of your vocal range with Crosses. You’ve always been able, in Deftones, to go from crooning to screaming. But even here we’re hearing things I’ve never heard you do before. Seriously, I was going to ask about “The Beginning Of The End,” because when I first heard that song, I thought, “Oh, cool, he got Dave Gahan on a track,” and I realized, “Oh, that’s Chino.”
MORENO: That’s awesome. It’s funny, a lot of people didn’t think it was me either, which is kind of weird. I didn’t consciously… I mean, yeah, it is a cover song, so I’m singing someone else’s thing, and Cause And Effect were very Depeche Mode-inspired. One of the reasons I think I really love them is because they were also a Sacramento group, so I was paying homage to a group from Sacramento as well. But singing someone else’s thing, it lent me to lean into that, I guess a little bit more. But I feel like I have introduced a lot of different, I guess, ranges of my vocal or whatever. But it was weird when we put that out a lot of people were like, “This is cool but who’s singing?”
Crosses Signing to Warner And Releasing Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete. (2023)
How do you view Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete.? Since this is your first album for Warner, it’s getting more of a push than previous work. Is this where Crosses becomes not a project but a band? How did you approach it?
MORENO: Yeah, I guess it definitely does feel a bit more serious when you’re on the major label and you have a marketing team. So I think it does feel a little bit more like this is like the real-deal presentation of it. And then also I realized that releasing singles and EPs is neat, but something about putting out a full-length album feels more serious. It feels like, “OK, this is like something that’s going to be around forever. This is a statement,” you know what I mean? Something about a full-length LP just kind of feels like that. And I didn’t realize that until we were done with it. All the songs were sequenced and the title track, which is the last song on the record, it’s sort of like it felt very cohesive and just like this solid piece of work. I mean it does feel a lot more serious now.
Collaborating With Robert Smith On The Crosses Song “Girls Float + Boys Cry”
One of the first major pieces of press I found on Deftones was a blurb in Spin from 1998 right after Around The Fur came out that mentioned you had met Robert Smith. So you’ve known him for a while, but how was it to actually record a song with him?
MORENO: It’s one of those things where it sounds like a cliche, but if you would have told me this when I was 15 years old, I wouldn’t have believed you. So it’s definitely come full circle from me being a kid and being inspired by him and the Cure in general, for my whole life and for my whole musical life, really.
I’ve said this a few times, but even becoming a lyricist… obviously, I write a lot different than Robert Smith, but just for the simple fact that, when I was a kid, I had pretty much their whole discography, but on cassette. And I don’t know if they were bootlegs or not, but they definitely didn’t have the lyrics in them. So it was one of those things where I had to listen to the song on my boom box and then figure out what he was saying. And then I would write down the lyrics of what I thought he was saying. And I mean, I definitely remember doing it for Pornography, just like sitting listening to that record and writing down the lyrics and just thinking about how abstract they were.
So in a weird kind of way, I feel like the way I write is very inspired by him and that abstract kind of way of not really telling stories, but just painting these images. And I’ve sort of adapted that into Deftones, which is basically my first band that I’ve ever been in. And again, to come full circle now, I’ve always kept in touch with him over the years. And the initial idea for him to be involved in this record was very last minute. I mean, I didn’t even tell Shaun about it, just in case. It was one of those things where if he was like, “Oh, you know, sorry, I’m not interested,” or “I’m busy,” or whatever. I didn’t expect him to want to do it, but the initial idea was I’d already had the song written and the majority of the lyrics. But I have the line that he sings, and I sent him an email saying that it’d be like, “I have this idea.”
It’d be so rad to just have him sing this line and not tell anybody. Obviously that didn’t end up happening, because it ended up that it’s already out there that he is a part of the record. For instance, when we did the song “Passenger” on White Pony with [Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan] and he wasn’t listed in the credits or anything like that or whatever. So when his voice came in, I felt like it was so out of nowhere and people were like, “Whoa is that Maynard?” I love those kinds of happy surprises. So that was just the idea with Robert and he agreed to do it. Getting a vocal back from him, a raw vocal, and just hearing his voice, singing a phrase that I wrote over music that we wrote was just insane.
Covering Jawbox’s “Savory” With Far (1997)
While we’re talking about working with Shaun, one of the first times you recorded together was a cover of Jawbox’s “Savory” from both Deftones and his band Far.
MORENO: That was definitely, probably one of the first things. Yeah, for sure.
That was definitely something I downloaded off of Napster back in the day. I’m pretty sure it was mislabeled, and eventually found its way to Deftones B-Sides & Rarities album.
You’ve always been vocal about the fact that you were uncomfortable in the nu-metal scene, and I know (Far frontman Jonah Matranga) was very uncomfortable with just how macho things were when both of your bands were touring together in that scene. And “Savory” is a song where (Jawbox frontman J. Robbins) condemns sexual harassment and misogyny. Was there any kind of commentary going on when you all picked that song?
MORENO: Not really. Jonah and I were always pretty close. Like you said, we kind of were cut from the same cloth in that way. I feel we both were a little uncomfortable. I think him, a little bit more than me.
I was able to sort of ride on the cusp of a little bit more of the aggressive stuff where, yeah, I think maybe he was less comfortable with that. But, no, there was nothing we ever really talked about. Just doing it, it seemed like a no brainer, just we both just felt this connection to it. And it’s funny that, with that song, actually both bands released it as their own song, the same recording. But the cool thing about it, it was was actually [Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter and drummer Abe Cunningham] and myself and [Far drummer Chris Robyn] and Jonah and Shaun, right? So it was three members from each band. So it was basically like a true hybrid of both Deftones and Far.
And so they released it on an EP, and then we ended up releasing it under our name on a thing. But yeah, it was like one of those things where we didn’t really think it out much. We just were in a local studio in Sacramento, and we were all hanging out together, and we just did it. Now in retrospect, it’s one of those neat things that we just so happened to be in that spot that one night.
Recording “Geronimo” With Trippie Redd And Travis Barker (2021)
So going to something more recent, what was it like working with Travis Barker and Trippie Redd on “Geronimo,” which sounds like a Deftones song?
MORENO: Yeah, that’s crazy. I didn’t work with them personally. Travis hit me up and sent me the song, and that’s the first thing I heard, too. I was like, “Yeah, this sounds kind of dope. I wonder why they sent it to me.” I wrote just a full idea over it or whatever, and just sent it back to them, and then got it back from Trippie with his vocal on it. I was like, “Wow, this is kind of a trip.” It’s weird because, I know he’s a fan and he’s been sort of taking Deftones songs, and just kind of sampling them and making them his own. It wasn’t anything where I really have a big story where we were in the studio together, because it was literally during the pandemic as well. But it was all done sort of, you know, over the net.
Recording “The Hours” With Handsome Boy Modeling School, Cage, And El-P (2004)
Now let’s move on to a very different type of hip-hop artist. What do you remember about making “The Hours” with Handsome Boy Modeling School?
MORENO: Oh, dude, I do not remember any of that. And that’s kind of funny because that’s been coming up lately. As you know, we have El-P on the new album. [El-P is on a new Crosses song called “Big Youth.”]
I was going to ask about that.
MORENO: I’ve always said to him and to myself mainly that I need to redeem myself from that, because that was a very dark time in my life in general. I remember being at Dan The Automator’s house in San Francisco recording that and just like little excerpts of it, but I was heavily sedated on different substances during that time of my life.
The funny story is, I don’t know if I ever told this to anybody, especially any outlet, but I think that’s the first time I ever fell asleep singing. I remember being in the vocal booth, singing. And then, I remember waking up, and I had the microphone in my hand and thinking, “Wow, this is fucking dark.” It had nothing to do with — obviously Dan, he was very cool with me, and I’m still very friendly with him, but I do not remember recording that at all.
And I just remember hearing it going like, “Wow, this is like, not good.” I mean, not from their part, from my side of things. So I’ve always had in the back of my mind that, you know, I would love to work with El-P again and Dan for that matter as well. Just to kind of redeem myself. Now being sober, I really just look back and go like, “Fuck, I was fucking wild, you know?” But I was very stoked to actually be able to do something with El-P as well.
Do you feel like you redeemed yourself with the new El-P collaboration?
MORENO: Yeah, I think it’s dope. I think it’s an interesting song. It was kind of built in this weird way. Shaun and I went in to work on something else for Crosses that day in the studio. And, I picked up a bass guitar and started playing along with this loop. And, you know, we built the song probably in like, in 30 minutes. And the next day we went into Warner Brothers and we were playing them some of the songs that we’d already finished. And I was like, “Yeah, we did something last night,” and I just wanted to show them the direction some of the newer stuff is going. So we played them a little excerpt of just the instrumental of what would become that song. And our A&R guy was like, “Man, this is awesome,” so it kind of like I think invigorated us to like, like, you know, dig in a little bit deeper with it.
Again, it was towards the end of the recording process when we’re like, “Yo, what about seeing if El-P would be interested in this.” So what we did that was also interesting is that we took a Run The Jewels a capella on an LP and just kind of put it in there as a placeholder, and then I sent it to him and I was like,” Yo, what do you think about this?” And he’s like, “Dope, let me write something.” So he wrote something over it, and he was very meticulous about it, which I really appreciate. He did like, I want to say, four or five ideas. And up until the mix, he was very articulate about how he wanted his part to sound, you know. So he was very involved. And I love the care that he showed, that he puts into his performance and what he does.
Covering Ice Cube’s “Wicked” With Korn (1996)
So let’s do one last hip-hop collaboration. What do you remember about cutting the vocals for Korn’s cover of “Wicked”?
MORENO: Oh, man, that was fun. I didn’t really know that they were going to put that on the record, as well. At that point, we were very close friends. You know, I don’t know if our first record Adrenaline was out yet.
I think it was, it came out in 1995 and Korn’s Life Is Peachy came out in 1996.
MORENO: I remember, we played a set in Orange County or somewhere on the Warped Tour. I think it was the very first Warped Tour. So it was like ’95 or something like that. They showed up to the show and (were) like, “Dude, come down to the studio with us.” They were in the studio recording their second record. And so I literally got off stage and I jumped in a car with him and we drove over to Indigo Ranch somewhere up here, like around Malibu where I’m at right now.
We went in there and we just were like, hanging out, and we recorded it — or they had already recorded the music for it. And (Korn frontman Jonathan Davis) and I went in there and just did a few live takes of it. I think some of it showed up on one of their VHS videos that they put out like, like back in the day. It was super fun. We were drinking Coors Lights and just having a blast doing it. But even then, I thought it was just like we were doing it for fun. Maybe they’d put it out as a B-side or something, but I didn’t think they were going to put it on the record. And I remember being on tour somewhere like in Arkansas or some crazy place, and going into like a record store and, and seeing the CD and it had the song on it. I was like, “Whoa, whoa, it’s on a record!”
Moving Away From Rap Vocals On Around The Fur (1997)
On Adrenaline, there are some rap-influenced vocals from you, and then on Around The Fur, there’s still a little bit of that. We have songs like “Headup,” but overall you’re already starting to move away from that approach. Was it a conscious decision to sing more and do less of the rap style delivery?
MORENO: Yeah. I mean, I just don’t think that I’m that good of a rapper. And one thing I don’t like to do is write lyrics. Like, writing lyrics is one of the hardest things to do. And with rap, there’s a lot of words. So I sort of just lost interest in it, I think more than anything. It wasn’t a decision like, I don’t want to rap anymore. And I got really more curious about singing.
A lot of people probably don’t know this, but when I was in like seventh grade, the Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill came out. I just listened to that record nonstop. In my mind, I dressed like Ad-Rock. I went to school, people called me Ad-Rock. I think I even had a baseball cap that said Ad-Rock on the side of it.
And then we’d go to the high school football game,s and we’d go underneath the stadium and go in a cipher in a circle, and someone would beatbox. I was a little kid, and I’d go in there with the older high school kids, and I would just rap. I wasn’t that great, but I just loved it. So that was like my first, I guess, thing of performing. I didn’t start to sing until Deftones started. And then I would just try to figure it out. I was listening to the Cure and Morrissey. So I kind of brought that influence into metal, which didn’t make sense really. But in hindsight, it’s kind of why it ended up kind of working, because it was very unconventional, I guess.
These days, teenagers just listen to everything and they don’t even care about genre, which I think is really cool. But in the ’80s and the ’90s, what I’ve heard from older friends is, if you were into heavy metal, you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to the Cure. If you like Metallica, no way are you listening to the Smiths, and it also went the other direction. Did you get a lot of crap from your friends for liking everything?
MORENO: No. You know what’s weird is, right when I was in high school was when the band started, you know, my junior and senior year of high school. I feel like that’s when those kinds of barriers started to break down. When I was a younger kid, you’re a rocker or you were a goth or you were whatever. And there were still those genres in high school, but I hung out with everybody, and I would go to a goth club one night, and I’d go with my skater friends, and we’d go to the goth clubs and go whatever. So then I found out about Skinny Puppy and things like this, and I was like, “Wow, this is awesome.” I found out about industrial and progressive music. And then I’d hang out with like, I guess, for lack of a better term, the preppy kids, everybody would be wearing polo clothes and going to like these kegger parties and listening to what was then sort of like pop music, which was OMD and Depeche Mode and things like that, and, you know, more new wave stuff.
And I was into that and the Smiths. And then, listening to punk rock, Suicidal Tendencies, and hanging out with Abe, who introduced me to Metallica and things like that, whatever. But it wasn’t weird to me. It wasn’t weird at all. I had different friends, and a lot of them were into different stuff, and everybody accepted me in every crowd. I never felt out of place. So it wasn’t pretty natural, I guess.
Appearing In The Crow: City Of Angels (1996)
So speaking of early days, what do you remember about Deftones appearing in The Crow: City Of Angels?
MORENO: Um, not too much. I mean, I remember being on set, and it was weird because that was probably one of the first…when we were coming up in the band, we didn’t spend much time in Hollywood in general. I mean, we cut our teeth in Sacramento and in the Bay Area, playing shows in San Francisco. When we made Adrenaline was the first time we started coming down to Los Angeles and Hollywood and seeing what it was like. So it definitely was crazy being in downtown LA, being on the set there. We were pretty bright eyed and whatever, just kind of taking it all in.
I don’t remember doing a lot of takes of it, and every single take we would perform the song. It was like we were playing a live show. I mean, I probably hurt myself a lot. I remember doing backflips on stage and landing on my back, and the cameras wouldn’t even be on us, you know? But we just performed, giving our all. We were young and just throwing ourselves into it. And then I remember going to go see the movie, and I remember like my grandmother went to go see it too, and she was probably in her late 80s or something when she went. And I remember she walked out of the movie halfway through because the movie had some vulgar parts in it.
Yeah, it’s pretty violent.
MORENO: Pretty violent stuff. So my grandmother left him even before our part came. And she’s like, “My grandson wouldn’t be in a movie like that.”
Performing In A Volcano In Iceland (2016)
So, you played in a volcano?
MORENO: Yeah, it was kind of weird. When we were on tour in Iceland and (the Secret Solstice music festival) had asked me if I would be interested in doing it. And I looked at it more like, “Oh, I’d love to go down this volcano and go, you know, check it out.” I’m very into nature and experiencing something like that. But the harder part about it was like I had to perform just by myself with an acoustic guitar, which I never do. I never have done that, so like the night before. I just took an acoustic guitar around to my hotel room. I was like, “What can I play?” So I figured, I can maybe play a part of “Change,” that’d be easy. And then I figured out this Bowie cover. Wasn’t that great a version of it. And then what else did I do? So like one other thing or something. So performance wise, I couldn’t really enjoy being down there because I was so nervous about just playing with me and an acoustic guitar, and luckily I don’t think there was any video.
I don’t remember it being that great performance wise. But as an experience it was awesome. And then, crazier than that, we ended up getting stuck. So once we got out of the volcano, the weather was violent winds and stuff. So the helicopter that took us there couldn’t pick us up. And I had a show that night. And so eventually, the Coast Guard had to come, and everybody else had to sort of hike down the trail back down to vehicles. And the Coast Guard came and picked me up in a helicopter and flew me to an airfield and then got me to the show, like literally got off this thing and went straight to stage. So that was pretty wild.
Forming Team Sleep And Releasing Their Self-Titled Debut (2001-2005)
So your first big side-project was Team Sleep. Now, I will admit that I was one of the people who downloaded the album when it leaked in 2001. Sorry about that. But you had a version that included guest appearances from Mike Patton and Melissa Auf der Maur, and when it leaked, you scrapped it and redid it. Is that correct?
MORENO: Yeah, that was slightly because of that, but it was also because I was getting a lot of flack from the label at that time, and they just didn’t like it, you know? And to me, the project started out where it wasn’t supposed to be a rock band as well. It started off on these four-track demos, very lo-fi.
It was just (turntablist CrookOne), making beats on an old SP-12 drum machine. Todd (Wilkinson) playing guitar lines over it and me singing over it and some lo-fi keyboards. But it was really supposed to be in the vein of Portishead. At the time, I was way into trip-hop. And I turned some of those demos in to the label, and they were like, “Oh, this sounds like shit.” And I was like, “Well, it’s not supposed to compete with…” at that point we just had just put White Pony out and it was very produced, and they were like, “No, this is not up to par.” And I was like, “Well, it’s supposed to be lo-fi or whatever.” So we went back to the drawing board. So, so and at that point those demos that leaked as well.
So we went back and sort of polished some of that stuff up, which you could probably tell if you heard the demo versions compared to what ended up coming out of the album.
And then we incorporated Zach Hill during that time too. Him and I were hanging out a lot, and I brought his drum set to my house. We had this little pool cabana, and we set up in there, and we started just making stuff at that point, which became the album. At that time Deftones was in this weird sort of lull during the Saturday Night Wrist period, and I needed a break from that. And Warner decided to just put the record out. And we ended up doing a full tour in really small places. At the same time, I was sort of getting away from my life, that was pretty… in that same era of the Dan The Automator kind of story that I just told you.
Right, a lot of substances.
MORENO: It was a very healthy thing for me to kind of get away from my life at that point and just go off with those dudes and do Team Sleep. It was a great thing for me to sort of get my life back on track as well.
So when the album came out in 2005, it included Zach Hill well before he was in Death Grips, back when he was in Hella. You have Mary Timony from Helium, Rob Crow from Pinback. Were you kind of consciously trying to be like, “Hey, I’m not just this metal guy. I love everything, maybe you hipsters can like me?” Were you consciously trying to change people’s perception of you?
MORENO: No. I mean, not consciously, but really, that’s just the shit that I was into at the time. The Zach thing happened very organically because we were just close friends. And Hella was very… I don’t think they even had a record out yet. So they were pretty much unknown. But I was just so inspired by his playing and everything he did. And the Mary thing, I mean, I love those Helium records so much, and I just loved her voice, the tone of it. I think I tried to get her actually on the Around The Fur album. I think the song “Mascara,” I kind of wanted her or there. There are some female vocals on there, and I wanted to ask her to do it. I think I did, but it didn’t end up happening. So when this came along, I was like, “Maybe I can get her on this,” which ended up working out. And Rob Crow, that was through Zach. We were working on vocals at the time, and him and Zach, they had his one project. And he’s like, “Yo, would you be down for Rob to do a vocal on this thing?” I was like, yeah. And then Rob came in and he ended up singing on like half the record. So that was another thing that happened very organically.
Almost Collaborating With Mogwai (2001)
Now, speaking of collaborations with indie rock royalty, I know there were plans back in 2000 or 2001 for you to do a song with Mogwai. Did that ever happen?
MORENO: Yeah, no, it was crazy, I think I just said somewhere that I was a huge fan of theirs. I saw them one time in San Francisco at the Fillmore. I was just standing out in the crowd, I didn’t know them then. I think I might have met them after the show, but I was just standing in the front, and I always referenced the show as being the quietest and loudest show that I’ve ever been to, where there was times during their set where it was so delicate and so quiet that the audience wasn’t talking. And then, obviously, as you know, the band, they build up into this sound where my chest was caving in. And those dynamics, I was like, “This is the best band in the world.” And I would listen to their records and I would just sing. I would make up my own sort of vocal melodies to some of the older records.
I was like, “Oh, I would love to do a song with them somehow.” Maybe I said it in the press or something. And they had sent me a tape of a song of theirs. But I remember listening to the song and I was thinking, “This is OK. It’s not one of my favorite things, I would love to do something else.” And somewhere in communication, I think maybe it got back to them that I just wasn’t into it. And then I remember that album (Rock Action) coming out with that song on it and going like, “Wow, I missed my opportunity.”
MORENO: And sadly, I never got to communicate to them that I really still would want to do something with them.
That’s a shame because nowadays, plenty of heavy metal bands incorporate post-rock. But at the time, those genres were very, very far apart.
MORENO: Yeah, true. True.
Remixing Caroline Polacheck With Toro Y Moi (2022)
Now, in terms of collaborating with a much more recent indie royalty, did you get to meet Caroline Polachek when you and Toro Y Moi remixed her most recent remixed “Hit Me Where It Hurts”?
MORENO: I did not, no. She had reached out to me, kind of out of nowhere, I think (through) a mutual friend, and then asked if it was OK, and she got my email. So then she emailed me a song with her singing on it, and she’s like, “This vocal is very inspired by you.”
MORENO: You know, “Would you be willing to do it?” And I was like, yeah. I was really busy at the time. So it was one of those things where she kind of had to keep chasing me down to do it, and eventually I was like, OK. So one day I just literally went down into my studio at my house and pretty much just resang what she had sent me of her vocal and sent her a little raw vocal of it. And I guess her and Toro worked on it together. And then I kind of forgot all about it and, and she sent me the album with it on it, and it was awesome.
And it’s crazy, I don’t think I’ve told anybody this either, but for the Crosses album, she had said, “Well, if you ever want a vocal or anything like that, whatever.” So the song “Grace,” on the record, it was already finished, pretty much the version that’s on the record I sent to her, seeing if she would maybe add a harmony or something to it or whatever.
She hit me back. And it was totally understandable, but she was like, “Yeah, I really like this. It’s beautiful. But you know, the lyrics…. you know,” and I didn’t even realize it either. But it’s probably the most, I guess, spiritual kind of song on the record. And I didn’t even realize that could be uncomfortable for someone to sing, you know what I mean? I think that, out of the whole Crosses discography, I would say that’s probably one of the most sort of more literal sort of songs where, I don’t use Jesus’ name in the song, but it’s pretty much maybe implied that that’s who I’m speaking of.
I never even thought about it that way, when I was even writing the song, I wasn’t even thinking about that. Just like a lot of the lyrics that kind of just fall into place. And she pointed that out and she’s like, “Yeah, if we maybe change a couple of words here.” And then I was like, OK. I really respect her for that response, and then I was like, “Oh, you know what? I’ll pick another song. “And she’s like, “Yeah, send me whatever.” And then at that point I think we were already wrapping the record up. So possibly in the future, it doesn’t have to be Crosses. This could be for Deftones or whatever, but I would still love to have that collaboration again. It didn’t work out for this one.
Performing “Passenger” With Paramore’s Hayley Williams And Other Surprise Guests (2010)
Speaking of unexpected Deftones fans and collaborators that some people might find surprising, I’ve seen a video where you bring Hayley Williams out and she does “Passenger.” Are there any other people that you know are fans of yours that you’d really like to get on stage to do “Passengers,” like, maybe Caroline?
MORENO: I mean, I’d like to get Maynard. I mean, it’s so funny because it’s like we’ve had everybody except him. Actually, Maynard did it once with us. I think we were, like, in Canada, some festival that just so happened that Perfect Circle was on the same bill. So he came up and did it with me. But the majority of time that we’re playing with Tool, and like me… if I’m playing with Deftones, my head’s in that world and it’d be hard for me to go and, do something that same night.
With (Williams) I think it wasn’t even my idea. I think one of our techs was like, “I’m talking with Hayley and she’s a big fan.” He’s like, “What about having her do ‘Passenger?'” I was like, sure. And then like, literally, I was on stage and she just… I don’t even think I’d even met her yet. And she just walked on from the side of the stage and came out and killed it. I was like, “Whoa.” She’s very talented. She’s been popping up in my feed a lot lately, you know, their touring stuff. And I’ve never really listened to a lot of their music. I don’t know much about them, but she’s a performer. She’s very captivating.
I saw Deftones in 2010 with Dillinger Escape Plan and Greg Puciato did “Passenger” with you. Who else has done it?
MORENO: There’s been fans that have come up and done it before. But nobody off the top of my head I can think of more than the one you mentioned.
Now, I did read a joint interview when CHVRCHES played your festival that Lauren Mayberry is a huge fan. Are there any people who you’re surprised that they like your music so much?
MORENO: Recently, to go back to more of the hip-hop world or what now is sort of like the young rappers. I don’t know what genre, but there’s so many of them these days that are like citing Deftones and even Teen Sleep as influences. And it’s just crazy to me. A lot of bands are sampling us, obviously. It’s awesome. I don’t think it’s weird because to me, music is music. And, you know, going back to our conversation, we were talking about earlier, you know, in high school it was never really weird to me. But I could see for a lot of people, it’s like, “What? They like this?”
I do know both Grimes and the Weeknd are huge fans of yours, so maybe they could do “Passenger” with you one day.
MORENO: Wow, I did not know that.
Deftones’ Viral Resurgence And Attendant Explainer Videos
There’s a lot of explainer videos on YouTube that are basically like, “Why are Deftones so popular again?” or “Here’s how TikTok fell in love with Deftones.” Have you seen any of this stuff? Are you aware that you’re really popular on TikTok?
MORENO: Uh, I’ve been told that. I don’t have TikTok, right? And I kind of think maybe that’s why as well, Because as a band, we’re not really on TikTok. I think we may have a TikTok page or something, but we don’t post on TikTok, or we don’t engage with TikTok. And I kind of feel like maybe that helps, you know what I mean? Because we’re not on there trying to sell ourselves on TikTok. It’s the music exists and other people are putting it out there. So we don’t look desperate for it.
I don’t know. But yeah, I even noticed it from the last tour we did, last spring, and just noticing the younger sort of demographic at the shows, a lot of girls too. And then certain songs as well, like, “How the hell do they know this song?” And then someone told me, “Oh, it’s because of TikTok.”
From what I can tell, Deftones have become one of those bands like the Cure or the Smiths where a teenager can be into them as a way to show “I’m smart, I’m sensitive. I don’t like mainstream music.”
MORENO: Yeah, maybe that, but in general, no one likes to be told what is cool either or what to like, you know what I mean? So yeah, when people find it… and I know for myself, that’s the way I’ve always been. I love when I discover something on my own and it becomes a lot more personal. And you know, there’s a double-edged sword to that because there’s a lot older Deftones fans, they’ve been around for a while and they don’t like that there’s a TikTok generation liking us, and I can understand that, whatever. But at the same time, it’s hard for me to not embrace the fact that there’s kids who weren’t even alive when we put these records out. It’s amazing, engaging with them. It’s crazy.
Magazine Covers As Troubling Cultural Artifacts Of The Early 21st Century (Part One) (2001)
So in the year 2000, Spin gave a negative review to White Pony, which was really, really unfair. You can tell the writer is mad at nu metal in general and took it out on you. Then in 2001, you’re sort of on the cover of the cover for their Spin Top 40 issue. So it’s Moby, Bono, and PJ Harvey. Then you open the flap on the inside, and it’s you. Zack de la Rocha and the man now known as Yasiin Bey.
So in other words, it’s white people on the cover that’s on the newsstand, and men of color on the inside. That was crappy then, but if it happened now, Twitter would explode. How do you feel about that in retrospect? The entire experience of Spin dissing you, then bringing you in, but only kind of.
MORENO: Yeah, I mean, that happened a lot, I think, over our career. Our career has never been like we came out and we were huge. We came out and there was a lot of ups and downs, but if you look at a graph, it’s always sort of been steadily climbing. And it is weird to think that right now that we are bigger than we’ve ever been in our whole career. So that is a great thing, but yeah, we’ve gotten some unsavory reviews and things like that, whatever. A lot of it, though, was I was very conscious back in the day of, you know, trying to separate ourselves though from genres, or from a scene. I even said it back then a lot, but it was like, when this scene gets old and goes away, we are going to be old and go away with it, if we’re too in the middle of it.
So we’ve always kind of tried to kind of keep an arm’s distance from anything or any place that people are trying to put us in. We’ve done what we could, I guess, to be conscious of that. And sometimes it’s hard. We got asked to do some great tours and things, and we turned them down because we’re like, “Oh, that’d be fun, but we just want to do something different.” But, in the long run, I think we made the right decision.
What did you, PJ Harvey, Bono, Moby, Zach and Yasiin talk about the photo shoot? I’m really curious.
MORENO: Well, what’s funny about that, it was actually only me, Mos Def and Zach on our day. I remember I was stoked because I was in New York, I was mastering the Team Sleep record at that time. So I had it on a minidisc player. And I remember playing it for Yasiin and Zack, like some Team Sleep stuff, whatever. And I just had a little speaker, because I was just so excited about it. I remember that it was just awesome, to hang out with those two dudes. Sadly, it wasn’t the whole group because I think it’s well documented that I’m a PJ Harvey fan, and of course, I would have loved to be in the same room with Bono, so it would have been rad if, you know, everybody would have kind of been there together. But no, I think they did it in two different shoots. But what you pointed out about about the inside and the outside cover, I never I never thought about that. But you’re definitely right. If that happened today…
People would be pissed.
MORENO: And not only that, but the press has always been like, dirt sells or whatever, or some sort of drama sells or whatever. So it’s like, you know, people would ask me like, “What do you think about Papa Roach?” Well, I don’t know. I don’t listen to Papa Roach. But I don’t want to say anything bad about Papa Roach. Dude, they’re the nicest kids, also from the Sacramento area. So when they were kids, I would walk out my front door sometimes and the drummer would be on my front lawn, like, “Hey, what’s up, dude? You want to hang out?” Like, they’re sweethearts, great kids. And I was so happy to see their success. But if I didn’t have anything positive to say right away it would be like I’m talking shit. And yeah, so it sucked.
So even today, I don’t give my opinion on… obviously there’s some music that I don’t really care for, but I try not to say anything negative about it. I mean, one interview maybe not too long ago, maybe it’s like five or six years ago, they had asked me this kind of question, and stupidly, I’d said, “You know what? I really don’t understand Coldplay. Anytime it comes on, to me, it doesn’t move me in any way.” I said that in an interview and like, to this day I still get fucking added to things and people say “Chino hates Coldplay.” I don’t hate Coldplay. You know what I mean? I don’t really hate any music or whatever, but it’s just some things I don’t listen to.
Magazine Covers As Troubling Cultural Artifacts Of The Early 21st Century (Part Two) (2003)
Speaking of wild magazine covers from the early 2000s, in 2003 Deftones are on the cover of Revolver, and it’s three speech bubbles coming out of your mouth dissing Metallica, Korn, and Linkin Park. So was that when you learned, to try to keep your opinions to yourself?
MORENO: Yeah, totally. I mean, that sucked. I remember when it came out, they used a picture where I’m like making a snarling face. And in that interview, I remember I was mad at that because I really didn’t want to do that tour. [Deftones were opening for Metallica’s Summer Sanitarium Tour and had just released their self-titled album.]
It wasn’t because of Metallica. I love Metallica, but at the time it was Limp Bizkit and it was also Linkin Park, who I don’t despise either. But it was definitely that time where we were still trying to keep all that long distance. And it was basically Metallica with every nu metal band at the time. Mudvayne, I think, was also on it. So I didn’t want to do that tour, and I was the only one in the band that was against doing that tour. It could have been a blast. And it was, for the most part. But it was one of those hard decisions that I just didn’t want to do. I know it probably wasn’t the best thing for us as a band at that time where you’re playing in a stadium where there’s 70,000 people and it’s empty, pretty much. And it’s so huge. You’re so disconnected from people. It’s a great opportunity, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I didn’t want to do it. So when I was asked about it, I just gave my opinion that I just wasn’t really into it. And it came off where I was just being a dick.
Distancing Themselves From Nu Metal (1998 To Present)
I know you turned down the Family Values tour in 1998 that Korn put together. What else have you turned down for the long term health of Deftones or other projects of yours?
MORENO: We turned down… I remember MTV’s Spring Break. It was like Daytona Beach, the spring break house, I guess. And the band would play in front of the swimming pool, type of thing, whatever. And we were asked to do that, and it was a big transition in our career where, that was in the days of like TRL and all that, where I think it really could have taken us to that next level. And I was like, “Man, I do not want to play like this frat kind of thing in a pool or whatever. Like, it’s just not really us. I don’t want to do it.” So we turned it down, and then instead they put Limp Bizkit in there. And Limp Bizkit was new at the time, and they went on there and did their George Michael cover or whatever.
Yeah, and then they blew up a boat, for some reason.
MORENO: That catapulted them into the stratosphere. So I was like, “That could have been us.” But, again, we made the decision to not do it. And now in retrospect, I still believe we made the right decision. But, you know, but yeah, it was at the time it was kind of hard to swallow.
If you ever want to see a video of a band absolutely miserable to be at MTV’s beach house, type in Spring Break + Radiohead on YouTube. It’s an incredible clip.
MORENO: All right. I’ll do that when we get off, for sure.
But have you mellowed a little bit about the nu metal thing? Because you played Sick New World like earlier this year. It looked fun.
MORENO: Yeah, it was fun. Again, I feel like some time has passed. But still, after that show was over, we get hit up by The New York Times. They wanted to write a piece on it. And like, I just had to say, no, I don’t want to do an interview for it. I mean, it’s great coverage, right? But then sure enough, like when the piece came out, I read it and it was all about nu metal’s coming back and blah, blah, blah. Again, I kind of had to dodge some of these things, whatever. Yeah, we take part in it, but I don’t want this to look like trying to cash in on nu metal coming back either, you know what I mean? So it’s like, yeah, we were a part of it, but we still have to be conscious of certain things like that.
The Whole Atlanta Thing (2022)
You’ve done way too much stuff and been around way too long to get grabbed up in that. But speaking of Deftones showing up in strange places, do you know how or why a Deftones t-shirt shows up in the third season finale of Atlanta? Did Donald Glover reach out to you?
MORENO: No, I still don’t understand. I mean, I never watched the show, but someone sent me the scene of it. And then I asked him, “Well, what does this mean?” And they’re like, “I don’t know.” The dude (Glover’s character Earnest Marks) opens a backpack, I guess, and he takes out the shirt and then he leaves everything else and he puts the shirt over his shoulder and then leaves or something. I was like, I guess that’s kind of a cool nod. Yeah, I don’t understand the context of it.
Curating The Día De Los Deftones Festival (2019-Present)
What are some of your favorite memories from curating the Día De Los Deftones Festival?
MORENO: I mean, they’ve all been pretty great. I love the diversity of the bills themselves, curating them and putting them together is always a lot of fun. And seeing the crowd sit and watch and appreciate the different types of music and groups that are performing and seeing them.
It kind of goes back to the conversation we were having earlier, just being able to enjoy it and not feel like you got to just like this one thing or whatever. I mean, it’s like even last year, I didn’t even realize, but so many people were so hyped about Freddie Gibbs. And I was like, “That’s so awesome.” Like, here we are as a pretty much metal band, playing our thing. And like people are most happy to see Freddie Gibbs.
And hanging with Doja Cat and just, she’s playing the side stage, just sitting on stage with her, and a couple months later watching her, you know, fly off into the stratosphere was just amazing. Megan Thee Stallion, same thing. Just awesome. It’s a good feeling.
Do you get the sense the rappers were fans of the band? Because you’ve mentioned a lot of them are.
MORENO: No, I don’t necessarily. I think it’s one of those things where, we reached out to them to do it, and I’m sure they have teams around them going, “Well, yeah, this would be a good look for you.” I mean, I suppose, I don’t know personally if they are fans of the band or not, but I would assume that they’re aware of us.
I really wish I had gone in 2019 to see Hum. We’ll see what happens, but I think that will be their last show, most likely. I just love Hum.
MORENO: Oh, me too. Me too. I mean, sadly, the drummer passed after that. But it was awesome because they’ve always obviously been a big influence on us as a band. And we’re putting these festivals together, there’s a lot of young acts and up and coming acts. But for us to have one band that we’ve always wanted to play with or that we love. And so putting it on this year we have Pinback on there, which to me is like, you know, sort of a throwback as well to a band that we love. It’s always great to have that.
“Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)” (1997)
OK, last question, and this seems like a good place to end it on. “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away),” if you ask me, that’s the moment where heavy metal and shoegaze and dream-pop came together for the first time. Without that, I don’t think we get the band Nothing. We don’t get Deafheaven. We don’t get so many wonderful heavy shoegaze bands. And this is really the first time a lot of people heard what a dynamic singer you are. It really changed people’s perception of you and was a big song for Deftones. What do you remember about that moment? What was going on when you were making that song and were you surprised at how much it took off?
MORENO: Our second record in general, I really felt like we were really riding high on exploring our influences a little bit deeper. Whereas our first record, it was pretty much the collection of songs we’d written from the time I was 16 years old from until that record came out when I was 20, I think. So that was kind of trying to figure ourselves out as a band up until that point. And the fact that we were able to make a second record, we just went, “Wow, OK, now we can really just be ourselves and explore, and just try things, we can just really just, dig in a little bit more.”
That song in particular, I don’t have too many fond memories of creating it or writing it. I know for a fact that we didn’t go in thinking, “Oh, we’re going to make a song that sounds like this or whatever, blah, blah, blah.” But Stephan wrote the song, every riff and every part of the song, him and Abe. And Chi wasn’t even there actually, he had moved down to San Diego for a little bit. So we were trying to write a record without a bass player, which we wrote probably two-thirds of that record, or at least half of it without a bass player, just because we were so eager to start making music and he wasn’t around. So it was just vocals, drums, and guitar. And that was one of the ideas.
And Stephen wasn’t really… I mean, he didn’t really listen to My Bloody Valentine or Cocteau Twins or anything like that, whatever. So the fact that he wrote something that sort of has some of these elements in it, I was blown away. So it also felt organic because it wasn’t like preconceived or anything like that. So, I remember finishing it and putting the vocal on it and everything and thinking to myself like, “This is really cool because it definitely explores this other space. It’s got a heavy element to it, but it’s beautiful.” And that dichotomy has always been, I think, Deftones… what we rest on the strongest is that dynamic of intensity and beauty, the dichotomy of aggressiveness and the lush sort of undertone. So that was, I think, a pretty, like good snapshot of what we were trying to create.
Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete. is out now on Warner.