Nine Songs: Deftones
“If I was going to make a list of things that really changed my life or influenced me from childhood that would probably take me hours and hours and hours to compile,” Chino Moreno says with a chuckle when I ask if there’s a specific theme to his Nine Songs.
Instead, Moreno has compiled a collection of the songs that he would listen to in his rental car over the last year when making Deftones’ highly anticipated ninth studio album Ohms. Whilst it might be slightly far-fetched to say that these songs have influenced the record in any way, they sure give an interestingly personal insight into Moreno’s life.
Rather than having an endless stream of music to tap into; whether that be through some kind of sponsorship with a streaming service or unlimited phone data to listen to music on the go, it turns out that Moreno’s choices are humbly comprised from the only playlist that he has downloaded onto his phone.
Moreno tells me that he cannot stream music when he is out and about because he is “on a family plan with his wife and daughter,” and doesn’t have unlimited data for listening to music, noting that he has to “really make an effort not to blast through my data, so I just try not to stream stuff.”
In an age where music consumption changes almost on a monthly basis, the revelation of a single download being the thing that Moreno reverts back to time and time again when listening to music on the go, taps into a nostalgia that is reminiscent of the timeless art of a playlist.
From the physical act of recording songs off of the radio and straight onto a cassette, to burning a CD comprised of LimeWire downloads, or creating a mix of songs for social situations; there’s a distinctive air of contemplation that goes into these combinations of songs which makes Moreno’s ‘mixtape’ all the more interesting to listen to. You’re almost able to put yourself in his shoes whilst imagining the thought processes that cross his mind as he is readying himself for a day of his own musical endeavours.
When we discuss the cryptic way that the band broke the news of their upcoming album, Moreno explains the sheer enjoyment that he had whilst getting creative and building the anticipation for it all. He describes Deftones fans as being “pretty rabid for content” and tells me that despite trying to coordinate everything through the unfavourable circumstances of a global pandemic, there were perks in having everything slowed down because it meant that they were able to put more thought into everything from the mixes to the artwork, pleasing the fans along the way.
Ohms will be released in the most pivotal year for Deftones. It’s one that marks 10 years since the release of Diamond Eyes and 20 years since monumental and incendiary White Pony. The Grammy Award-winning band made their debut in the mid-90s and steadfastly became a seminal part of the nu-metal scene, but it was with the release of White Pony where Deftones proved themselves to be progressive and unconventional; inspiring an entire generation of artists, all the while remaining a consistent figure in the world of alternative rock.
To celebrate White Pony’s anniversary, there has been a “somewhat self-indulgent” project in the making, called Black Stallion. Whilst the band have been tight-lipped on what can be expected and so far have only announced DJ Shadow as one of the collaborators, Moreno tells me that it’s something that the band have “always wanted to do as fans of more beat driven and more electronic driven music; a lot of that which inspired the White Pony record.”
As we move into discussing his Nine Songs, it turns out that there is indeed an underlying thread to them. It is one that links both the progressive intensity of Ohms and the potentially more instrumental and electronic Black Stallion’. From the ambient and industrial darkness of “Stammer” to the melancholic piano ballad by Avant-garde composer and poet Harold Budd who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno; Moreno’s choices open up a multitude of worlds for the listener to escape to - whether that be one in which they want to evoke a feeling, or pull the breaks on a feeling.
Whilst Moreno may find it quite “odd”, it makes complete sense that as a vocalist, he is drawn towards instrumental music because it allows space for assigning your own thoughts into the soundscape as opposed to being led through it by the words. As a result of this, most of his choices focus on communication by unconventional means.
Take the fictional language that David Bowie utilises in Blackstar’s “Girl Loves Me” - an amalgamation of Nadsat, the language used in A Clockwork Orange; and Polari, a slang language that originated in London’s gay clubs in the ‘70s - or the way Carlos Santana sings a lead melody through his iconic psychedelic Latin-inspired riff. Each of these two songs are impressionable and intoxicating, much like Moreno in his gutturally signature way.
The later additions of New Order and Deltron 3030 highlight the diversity of Moreno’s musicality - which is deeply explored throughout Deftones’ back catalogue - and can be linked to his knack for indecipherable lyrics that disseminate on a deeper level than what they portray on first listen; by hiding messages within the depths of the song for the dedicated listener to uncover after spending enough time assimilating with the world that has been conjured.
To opt for two distinctly opposing songs portrays a deep understanding and respect for the artists and the feelings that they were trying to evoke, as well as the journey that Moreno intended to achieve when compiling this list of songs. Each shaping a formative moment in his life, and each important enough to tap back into that element of timelessness.
Moreno’s ‘mixtape’ offers a captivating and timeless journey that is equal parts contemplative and urgent – in an unexpected echoing of what it’s like to strap-in and listen to Ohms.
“Sebastian Kökow, who directed the video for the song “Genesis” is a visual artist and I follow him on Instagram. I started going into a deeper hole of the videos he's done, and I stumbled upon this song and the video is really gnarly. Visually, it's just stunning; all in black and white, it’s like that glitchy type of post-effects, but the footage itself is pretty creepy and kind of a trip. The song itself is an instrumental but the production on it, the guitars and the way the drum sounds are pretty good.
“It’s probably my most listened to track, which is why I picked “Stammer” first. Over the years, I find myself gravitating towards more instrumental music, and that's odd. I am a singer but it’s also not wanting to hear lyrics or someone’s interpretation of what I'm listening to. There's something about instrumental music, and even industrial music - those sounds of samples and things like that - where they paint a picture themselves.
“Sometimes words can cloud that up or make it too obvious. You can't interpret the song the way you want to, because you’ve got someone else dictating what the song is about, so instrumental music to me has always been a little more interesting, because it’s more cryptic and more anonymous. It's like you hear it and you're able to get your own feelings and take it from there, without having your hand held throughout the process.”
“I can't remember where I first heard “Helicopter”, but it's one of those songs where the first time you hear it, you instantly like it. It’s got this really sombre vibe, all across the board, from the vocal to that lo-fi drum sample in the verses, and then it opens up with the live drums in the chorus and then the melodies. Any time melodies die down like that, that always gets me.
“It’s so sad and I’ve always connected to tunes that utilise those sorts of diving, ascending, or descending melodies. I like the whole theme of the song. I like the content and I like the visuals it gives, especially something that starts in one place and then goes somewhere else and then it sucks it all back to that feeling again, playing with your senses.
“A lot of the music that I tend to gravitate towards is music that has a push and pull and the dynamics of that. It sounds really small in the verses and then when the chorus comes in, it just blossoms. Those dynamics are something that I think we always try to achieve when making music. A lot of that is from growing up listening to like bands like the Pixies and really, really utilising dynamics.”
“That song always makes me feel good. I'm sure a lot of people have those types of songs in their libraries of stuff that they always go back to, but “Alive and Kicking” is the one song that I can always put on and it’s always warming. Some of that may be nostalgia for the ‘80s and it takes you back to that coming-of-age feeling, but the song itself is just great.
“I don't know too much about Simple Minds, but this song has been in my library since I was a teenager. It’s something that I always come back to and it can definitely change my mood. A lot of times when you’re picking music to listen to, there's two ways that you can go. One thing is to listen to music that changes your headspace, and then there's some music that you put on to enhance your headspace. This one would probably be a little bit of both, honestly. It really fills both the void of wanting to put something on to create some sort of emotion.
“There's a lot of songs that can do that to me, but it’s weird too, because there are some songs you know and at some point in your life you’re like, ‘I don’t wanna hear that song ever again, I’ve heard it too many times’, but this song doesn’t grow old on me.”
“I’m a big fan of ambient piano-driven music. Usually when I'm at home, whether I’m cooking, cleaning or doing things around the house, I love to listen to that sort of music. My wife and daughter often think, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why are you playing all of this sad, dreary music around the house?’ To me, it doesn’t feel that way. It's soothing, it's warming and it’s sad.
“I have sort of been following Harold Budd as an artist. I heard a record with him and Brian Eno, who I love as well. With the chord progressions that are there in this particular song, I've always been drawn to that - those melancholy moments in music. He’s a great artist, and I myself have been - especially during this quarantine - playing a lot more piano in the house.
“I've been picking up a lot of these records and it's kind of helping me learn how to play piano in the same way that I learned to play guitar, which is by playing along with other records instead of taking piano lessons. I still wanna do that, but I’ve just been playing along with some of these piano driven songs and it’s helped me out.”
“This song definitely takes me back to being a kid. I don't know the exact year of this song, but I’m assuming it’s from the ‘70s. I was born in 1973, so a lot of the music from the ‘70s is very nostalgic for me. Honestly, when I listen to the radio these days, there's a couple of radio stations that I go through - not local stations, but internet stations - and a lot of stuff that I gravitate towards is golden ‘70s music, and this is like that.
“You know that vibe and it's got a cool Spanish-style rhythm, and what's really cool about it is the shuffle kind of beat. It's not just a simple beat. A lot of Latin music is usually driven by Latin rhythms, but this song is not really like a Latin rhythm to me. It's more like a shuffle which reminds me of Donovan and stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s - it just gives me total good vibes. It’s like a total weekend driving song; a feel-good summer kind of vibe.
“My Dad had music playing constantly in our house, especially on the weekends. We’d wake up on a Saturday morning, he had this huge console record player and he’d be playing this stuff in the house. He played this band called Malo, they’re kind of in the same genre as the Abraxas record from Santana.
"So, weekend mornings, that was just our household and it totally brings back memories of my parents and being a kid running around the house in the ‘70s.”
“That song is crazy because the instrumental of that song; I had a copy of it maybe five or six years ago. It's this Parisian kid [Dream Koala] who reached out to me about making some music with him. The whole song exists without the vocal and it's just him playing guitar. There's still maybe somewhat of a beat on it, but not as intense as this Doja Cat version.
“It's a beautiful song. The way he plays guitar is very similar to that style of guitar that I play, and that I am inspired by, so I love the song. I stumbled upon Doja Cat later on and realised that she basically did her vocals over this same exact song. I mean, she enhanced it a tiny bit, but it's basically this song by Dream Koala and he'd already released it on an EP or something way back then, and I just always loved it.
“Again, it’s the instrumental shit that I gravitate towards but this is the one thing where I liked the song already, then once she put the vocals on it, it's like it shifted dimension. A lot of times the vocal can come on and ruin it, but she totally enhances it. It almost sounds like a different song, but it still carries the vibe of what was there. Since then we’ve had her be a part of one of our Dia De Los Deftones festivals and this year she’s grown as an artist here in the States - I’m not sure about in the world - but she’s been doing well.”
“The instrumentation on it is awesome, the drum sound and the production is awesome, but really what grabbed me in the song are the words, in the context where this was his last record and what he’s saying in it. Seriously, I cried for the first probably 20 or 30 times I heard the song. I would get a lump in my throat hearing him say: “Where the fuck did Monday go?” To me, it really paints a picture, knowing that his days are numbered but at the same time it ends with his optimism, “but girl loves me”, so everything is going to be okay.
“Those are things that when writing lyrics, it sounds desperate, but using desperation in lyrics - especially if the song lends itself to it - it’s easy for me to write words like that. It’s that emotion that you can grab onto really easily, but the fact that it sort of sounds optimistic and with him saying “But girl loves me” in the chorus, it's like he’s kind of fine. He’s content in the moment, so it's this push and pull feel to the song within itself. It’s probably one of my favourite songs and the whole record is great.
“I feel like a lot of times when I'm writing the songs, I really don't know what I'm specifically writing or singing about. It's very rare. A lot of the time, I don't know until listening to the record weeks or months down the road, which is kind of a neat thing, because at least in my mind, it's a little bit more of an organic way of creating, as opposed to having this preconceived idea of needing to make a song about this or that.
"Once you decide that, you’ve boxed yourself into an idea, whereas when it happens naturally, and you don't know what you're doing, when you're done you kind of figure it out. It's interesting to me as the creator of the music. It keeps the fun there.”
“The order that I sent the songs to you is not the order that they would’ve been played in. Some of them were, some of them weren’t, but when I first read this, I thought that it was seven songs, so at first I only picked seven songs! These last two I just added this morning, so these two aren’t in a particular order, but everything else on here is put in like a little mixtape type of way.
“I first heard “Thieves Like Us” in high school, obviously. They were a staple and, I think, a new way of singing. I’ve always loved them, but this specifically is my favourite New Order song. My favourite part of it is, of course, the breakdown and in it the lyrics are, “It's called love / and it's so uncool.” It's sort of cheeky but I fucking love it. I love that lyric.
“That whole breakdown of the song is so good, but the way it starts off with the beat is sick, it’s keyboard-based and it's definitely a danceable song. It’s nostalgic for me, it takes me back to school, but it's another one of the songs that I can listen to a million times and I've yet to get tired of it, and again, it’s another song to drive to.”
“He’s a brilliant lyricist, [Del the Funky Homosapien] I've always loved his lyricism and I love the producer, Dan the Automator; I love his beats and I've always liked him as an artist. With that song, I could put it on in the car as well, all of these songs are mostly shit I put on the car, but “Virus” is funky and when I hear it, it puts me in a shoulder-shrugging mood.
“I don't listen to too much rap music or hip-hop these days – not that I don't like it, I just have a hard time finding stuff that I connect with. Call me old, I guess, but a lot of the new stuff is harder for me to wrap my head around or even watch.
“The thing about that too is the fact that this is a playlist. I rarely make playlists that are you hear the first song and basically every song follows that same thing. It’s sort of all over the place, where I could hear a two-minute song like Harold Budd and get completely entrenched in sadness, and then this song can be next. I have no problem switching personality. To me, switching emotions is not weird, so when I'm playing these things it’s usually kind of all over the place, like this kind of feel.
“I try to achieve that in some way with Deftones as well; maybe from song to song, in not just having to follow this one sort of emotion. I assumed that more people are like that, which they might be, or they might not, but I assume they are!”