Talk to some bands, you get the sense that they're trying to milk as much out of their success as possible. It's almost as if they can hear their fame clock strike the fourteenth minute. Usually, the result is one video too many, one tour too many, before they slowly fall back to earth. Gravity is a bummer.
Then there are bands like the Deftones. Granted, this Sacramento group has had little radio or MTV support, but it is a part of the surging rap/metal hybrid scene. The Family Values tour took the aggressive, small-club sound and put it into arenas. Headlined by Korn, current leaders of the movement, the tour was considered a coming-out party for some. As pivotal as Family Values was for the new era in metal, the Deftones didn't partake.
"We got asked to do it," says Deftones lead singer Chris Moreno. The band decided to pass. "It was a hard thing to explain. The thing was, a lot of people just expected us to do it. And for the fact that we didn't do it, I think was really cool because I don't think you ever want your fans to just know what you're going to do. Because once they know what your next move is, they start to slowly lose interest, I think.
"It was hard to explain to Korn, too. A lot of feelings were hurt in the whole thing. They thought we were dissing them. A lot of drama got conjured up because of that. Now, us and Korn are talking about doing a tour together, hopefully in the spring. It will be on both of our terms instead of the Deftones just being a part of Korn's Family Values tour."
The band has done a lot of soul searching. Currently on a month-and-a-half-long headlining tour, the Deftones aren't looking to instantly pop their anonymity cherry. Instead, they are more interested in longevity. Moreno says he was afraid a slot on the Family Values tour would pigeonhole the band. "I think in the long run that would end up hurting our career more than if we just did something that we felt more comfortable doing. When it comes time for us to do a tour with Korn, it will be more on a low-key basis. For some reason, I think we're all really comfortable with being more humble and low-key, as opposed to being out in the media's face all the time. I really don't think of it as 'you can be the best band in the world,' but if you're constantly just bombarding your music off people, people get tired of it."
On the surface, the Deftones and Korn are supposed to be quite similar. While Moreno delicately says he likes Korn and what it's about, he isn't shy about discussing their differences. "I think they're doing something that's heavy, obviously, and emotional, which is something that I could compare. But it's just a lot of different sounds, a different vibe. I think they're a little bit more hip-hop oriented than we are. I'm into some hip-hop here and there, but I really don't think we base our style around it."
Moreno doesn't seem to mind the style comparisons as long as people see the distinctions. "Now they refer to it as the 'new metal' with us, Limb Bizkit, and Korn. I feel that we're slowly breaking out of that, which to me is good because whatever they call 'new' right now will be old next year. I don't want to put our music out there and ruin it. But at the same time, I don't want them to take the wrong things about it. I don't want people to think we're this stupid hip-hop metal band."
For close to a decade, the Deftones have been evolving. What started out as an in-your-face, grating style of music has matured, with special attention given to melodies and emotional roller-coaster rides. The anger may still be prevalent, but how it's displaced correlates with the band's ability to explore its musical talents. "I still have the tendency to be angry," Moreno says. "But there's a lot of emotions that are just as deep as anger, but you don't have to scream about them. You can be just as emotionally heavy as being aggressive all the time. I think I fuse a lot of those emotions into the music. It's like each of our songs has a lot of different moods.
"I would compare it to something like Jane's Addiction or early Smashing Pumpkins music, where there's a lot more dynamics. It will be like a more epic kind of sounding song. One song will take you through a lot of different emotions."
Through constant touring--the Deftones have been on the road supporting their latest release, Around the Fur, for over a year--they have made deep inroads toward gaining a wider audience. Last summer they turned down a gig with OzzFest, instead opting for the more diverse Warped tour. Their current tour includes a few 4,000-seat theaters. Like other hard metal and punk bands whose music lacks accessibility to commercial radio, the Deftones have made their live shows their calling card.
"It's just energy. The music that we play is pretty energetic. It always keeps the fans on their toes. It's never too expected at what's coming next. I think it keeps it interesting, and for that fact, people just keep coming out to see the shows. Those are the people we're selling records to, not the people who are listening to the radio and watching TV.
"It's actually been really hard for us. For the size of venues we've been playing, I would think we would have sold a lot more records than we've sold. I guess more than anything, we should just be grateful for the records we have sold. Next record, hopefully we'll better ourselves again and sell more records."
The Deftones. Saturday, November 28, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., sold out.
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