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Def and Blind Ambition 

The Deftones aren't the most successful rap-metal band out there, but they're surely the most optimistic.

The Deftones (Chino Moreno, seated second from left): Biggest of the underground bands.
  • The Deftones (Chino Moreno, seated second from left): Biggest of the underground bands.
In an attempt to avoid mimicking new metal bands such as Korn and Limp Bizkit, the Deftones spent over a year in the studio, trying to come up with something different for their latest release. The band toiled through an endless cache of songs, most of which didn't depart from the rap-metal formula of pairing bombastic hip-hop beats with heavy guitars. Ultimately, the group had to scrap its initial endeavors and purge the neo-metal from its system. In the process, it discovered a more cerebral sound and, with White Pony, has created its best record yet.

"It wasn't so much where we wanted a song to go -- it was more like where we didn't want it to go," says singer Chino Moreno via cell phone. "A lot of times, the easiest or typical thing would be, if you heard, for instance, a heavy little breakdown in a song where you think, "Okay, this is the part where you get a little chant going and build it up and build it up into this kind of crazy type of thing,' which is a formula used by every single rap-rock band, starting from Rage Against the Machine on up. Like a "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me' type of thing. It's that typical buildup. Limp Bizkit does it -- every band does it -- and it's just like when you come to a part like that and you know it's one of those places where, when you play it live, people will latch onto it. Anything we realized that was a formula, we just threw it away or just didn't use it. We had to come full circle and find new ways to reinvent this stuff that we're doing."

To an extent, White Pony continues the epic songwriting styles and grand dynamics found on the Deftones' rugged 1995 debut Adrenaline and its aggressive follow-up, 1997's Around the Fur. While the Sacramento-based band, which also includes drummer Abe Cunningham, bassist Chi Cheng, and guitarist Stephen Carpenter, makes use of a DJ (Frank Delgado) on White Pony, it also keeps the rap posturing to a minimum and sounds more like Tool than Limp Bizkit -- Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan even co-wrote and appears on the track "Passenger." What's obvious from the level of the songwriting on the album is that the Deftones put more time and care into White Pony.

"That's kind of the idea -- if there was an idea -- to make a long-lasting record," explains Moreno. "A lot of music that is being played on the radio right now is pretty aggressive, and I think we were one of the bands who started that whole aggressive kind of music movement. It was kind of good to keep that element, but also expand it and bring in a lot more different sounds, but keep the dynamics there to keep the listener interested. A lot of the records you hear these days in heavy music, it's like you hear one or two songs, and it's like you basically heard the whole record. With this record, there are so many different styles, elements, and different types of music that keep it interesting throughout the whole record."

On paper, the Deftones' success to this point has paled next to that of Korn and Limp Bizkit. Around the Fur sold 500,000 copies, yet the group toured for over two years and played to sold-out crowds from coast to coast. While Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst and Korn's Jonathan Davis were schmoozing MTV's Total Request Live crowd and chumming around with Carson Daly, the Deftones -- one of the originators of the style that made these other bands rich -- labored in relative obscurity.

Now, a few years later, White Pony is being heralded by industry insiders and radio programmers as one of the biggest releases of the summer, and the promise of a big payoff is within the band's sight. Yet the Deftones can't help thinking the exposure is one album past due.

"Yeah, I still think [Around the Fur] was ahead of its time," says Moreno. "That's one of my favorite records, and that record should have been huge. The time it came out was before the big Limp Bizkit record and the big Korn record. Obviously, we didn't have a lot of support from radio and any from MTV, so it was like we can only do so much by touring. We stayed on the road for two and a half years supporting that record. It's still a gold record, but if you compare it to some of these other bands and their records, especially bands like Godsmack and shit like that, [those records are] not even a fraction as good as a record like Around the Fur. And to see these bands go platinum, to me, it's just like it all has to do with radio support and MTV support. I don't think it was our fault that the album didn't get as huge as it could have gotten, but I honestly think, down the road, that record will continue to sell for years to come, and with a lot of these other bands, once this rap-rock thing dies out, a lot of those records won't sell. We make records like compared to maybe a band like Jane's Addiction or something, where those will sell for years and years to come. That's the way I look at it."

No matter how Moreno envisions the success of the Deftones, the true test of longevity won't come until their next disc, when whatever they do will be measured against White Pony. As for now, Moreno is enjoying the promise of what tomorrow may bring the band.

"I think if anything, the way I perceive us, we are the biggest of underground bands," he says as his cell phone starts to break up. "We have not crossed that line to be commercially successful, but as far as underground success, we're huge. And I kind of enjoy it like that. It leaves less pressure on us."

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