25 years ago, a group of teenagers barely out of high school took their love of bouncy, angsty alt-rock and metal to forge into a sound that was exciting and new – or should that be nu? – at the time. The name of the band was Deftones, and the album was fittingly titled Adrenaline.
Although he teases incredulity at the fact (“25 years ago? But I'm only 28!”), drummer and founding member Abe Cunningham recalls the band circa their debut album as hungry and ambitious, but ultimately clueless.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” he says.
“We were handsome, innocent little babies – some might argue we're still little babies, but that's another story. It's funny... a lot of how we operated back then is not that different to the way things are now. We've never really thought too much about what we're writing, for better or worse. We just kind of take the ideas that we have and we go for it.
“25 years is a long time, but we still get together in the same place that we've had for ages and it falls back into place. We get in the room, we argue, we fight, we laugh, we talk a lot of shit and we see what we can come up with.”
Getting in the room is exactly what Cunningham and co. have been focusing in on of late, as they recently finished tracking what will be their ninth studio album. Currently in the mixing process, the album is slated for a potential release in the second half of 2020, if everything goes to plan.
It's an exciting time in the Deftones camp, which is something Cunningham is the first to attest to. “It's cool, man,” he reports – as only a southern Californian can.
“We did things a little bit differently this time. We stretched everything out over the course of a couple of years, rather than blasting through in one go. The process has been mixed with about a year-long break, that we all agreed upon. Being rested and taking that time off really made us appreciate what we're doing even more. When we're all laughing and smiling and coming up with stuff together, just like when we were 17... it's a beautiful thing.”
With no new album to sell to a captive audience (yet, at least), Deftones will spend this year playing shows as a celebration of their legacy – and it's safe to say that there would be next to no legacy for the band to stake its name on were it not for their third album, White Pony.
Celebrated upon release, White Pony is a ferocious melding of all that makes Deftones great, boasting anthems such as ‘Back To School’, ‘Digital Bath’ and the Maynard James Keenan-featuring ‘Passenger’. It’s still considered the band’s magnum opus, and its influence lingers in the fabric of many of today’s alternative metal acts. In May, the album will celebrate its 20th anniversary, and while Deftones albums have come and gone the impact of White Pony is still felt among both fans and the band itself to this very day.
“We change the set-list every night, but White Pony is always at the core of it,” says Cunningham. “I remember everything about making that album. I'm so amazed it's had the legs that it's had.
“A first record is one thing... they say you have your whole life to write your first, and that's absolutely true. We were so excited about making a second album, we rushed into Around the Fur. When it came time to make White Pony, we were burnt out from all the touring – but we knew what we wanted.”
Although White Pony – and Deftones themselves, by extension – were associated with the movement of nu-metal around the turn of the century, there was always something decidedly different about how both operated. There's plenty of downtuned, goatee'd rage to be found on Around the Fur, certainly. White Pony, however, was the first album in which the band really began to assert their place within the musical spectrum – one so idiosyncratic that they've been near impossible to draw parallels with.
“There was a lot going on at the time in heavy music,” says Cunningham. “We made the very conscious effort to go the exact opposite way that everyone else was.
“At the time, what we were trying to do seemed impossible – it was like trying to carve our name in granite using a plastic fork. Still, if we hadn't done that, I don't think that we would be the band that we are now, in the position that we are now. I truly believe that, man.”
Next month will see the band return to Australia as one of the marquee acts of the 2020 Download Festival alongside My Chemical Romance, Clutch and Jimmy Eat World. Cunningham says that you can expect to hear a healthy blend of songs from across Deftones' entire career – truly, depending on when you see them, you may end up with something completely different.
“People like our albums – and don't like our albums – for lots of different reasons,” muses Cunningham. “We try to always make the shows be a ride. We have mellow songs, we have bangers, we have songs that are a journey to listen to... to get all of it out is exhausting, but we love it so much.”