Deftones released their game-changing third album White Pony 20 years ago, and to mark the anniversary we spoke to frontman Chino Moreno and drummer Abe Cunningham about the making of the album. Here are 10 things you might not know about the Sacramento band’s millennial masterpiece.
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1. Chino Moreno first started playing guitar while writing White Pony
Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter had moved to Los Angeles while his bandmates stayed in Sacramento, making the six-hour drive to jam with them a few times a month. When he was absent, Chino would pick up one of Stephen’s guitars and experiment with it.
“I was very green to the guitar, but I just loved playing it,” Chino explains “It’s kind of weird that I’m the singer, because one of my least favourite things to do is to express myself through words, and guitar is a great way to express yourself without having to do that. Although, Stephen wasn’t really too keen on it. He’s always been the guitar player, so I was treading on his ground a little bit. He never really told me not to, but I could tell that he was like, ‘Well, whatever. Let him get it out of his system, and then we’ll move on.’”
2. The band installed a half-pipe in their studio
Deftones’ rehearsal studio, The Spot, was part workspace and part clubhouse, with Iron Maiden posters adorning the walls and a steady stream of friends coming and going. “It was a hangout spot,” says Abe Cunningham. “All the while, we would just be testing out new music and drinking beer, and having the time of our lives.”
If you’d walked into Deftones’ rehearsal studio in the summer of 1999, you might have witnessed Chino doing kickflips, or Stephen trying tricks on his bike on the 10-foot halfpipe they’d installed in The Spot. Skating was such a priority that the band even measured how much space they needed to get their road-cases through, and only allowed an extra inch on each side so they could make the ramp as big as possible.
3. There were some serious fights in the studio
White Pony was fuelled by tension, chiefly between Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter. The singer says the pair were trying to “inspire each other in a way”, each trying to outdo each other with their respective ideas. “Our relationship started to be strained a little bit at that point, but musically I think we prospered,” he says.
Abe Cunningham is blunter. “These guys would just scream!” he laughs. “Chi [Cheng, bassist], too. They would scream like fucking crazy. So it was tense.”
4. Scott Weiland’s uncredited cameo was an attempt to keep him out of jail
Late Stone Temple Pilots singer Weiland, who had just served time for violating probation for heroin possession, sang backing vocals on Rx Queen. His uncredited appearance came about after a call from Deftones’ A&R man Guy Oseary.
“That was kind of a trip,” recalls Chino. “He wanted Scott to get out of jail, and have something to do that would take him away from whatever he was doing that landed him in jail. I went to his studio in the Valley, and we were listening to Rx Queen, and he had a little harmony idea so he picked up the mic. It’s a total Weiland harmony, something I wouldn’t think to write.”
5. Maynard James Keenan’s appearance on Passenger was a spur-of-the-moment decision
Tool singer Maynard James Keenan had been present when Deftones wrote the nocturnal Passenger in 1999. The day before vocals were due to be recorded, Chino invited him to collaborate. “We sat next to each other in front of the control board, and put the music on. It was really cool the way we wrote it – we shared a notebook, and he wrote a line, and I’d write a line, and then I’d hand it back to him to write a line, and he’d hand it back to me. So the way you hear the song on the record is pretty genuine to the way we wrote it, where we trade lines. We didn’t really have an idea for what we were making a song about, we just started riffing off each other.”
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6. Deftones moved into a “haunted” mansion in Hollywood during mixing
Relocating to Hollywood’s Larrabee Sound Studios for mixing, they took up residence in a mansion Abe says was previously owned by rock’n’roll icon Chuck Berry. “It had these crazy little mini doors and Scooby-Doo bookshelves, and it was haunted as hell,” he insists.
7. Abe Cunningham celebrated finishing the album by stabbing himself
It was in that haunted mansion that Abe Cunningham stabbed a double-ended knife into the fireplace that acted as a headboard for his bed, just to be cool. He regretted it a few weeks later when, celebrating finishing the album after four months of nonstop recording and partying, he ripped off his clothes and back-flipped onto the bed to sleep… only impale himself on the knife. “I was naked, and I just knew,” he says. “‘Fuck! I just hit that fucking knife, that goddamn knife!’ And I froze up. There was blood everywhere.”
8. White Pony wasn’t an out-of-the-box hit
Despite its subsequent status as one of modern metal’s landmark albums, White Pony was received with suspicion by some sections of the bands fanbase, who viewed Deftones of turning their back on their heavy roots.
“That record wasn’t loved right away,” cautions Chino. “As much as Deftones fans love it now, they didn’t. Because we were known more as a ‘nu metal’ band. They were trying to box us into that. White Pony separated ourselves from that genre that was at its peak, so I still felt like we were in an uphill battle to earn our place.”
9. It was Deftones’ big kiss-off to the nu metal scene
In the wake of White Pony, the band turned down significant tours with the likes of Korn, PapaRoach and Limp Bizkit in an effort to distance themselves from a scene they didn’t see a future in, but they were well aware of how this made them look – especially in the eyes of the musicians they considered friends.
“I think they would get bummed, kind of like we were being dicks ’cause we didn’t wanna tour with any of them,” admits Chino. “But now in retrospect, I feel like it was probably one of the most important decisions we had to make. Now, if I see an article in a magazine about nu metal, I’ll scan through it to see if we’re in there. If we’re not, I get so stoked, like, ‘Wow, we dodged that bullet!’”
10. That album title? It might be about drugs. But then again it might not.
There’s been much debate down the years as to the meaning of the title White Pony. The most common theory is that it’s a not-so-sly nod to cocaine.
“Honestly, it didn’t start as a drug reference,” says Chino. “That’s not what it was, that’s what people took from it or whatever. I always found it very ambiguous. I found more excitement in people trying to understand what it was, and then come in with their own ideas. And then I would just go ‘Hmmmmm yeah, yeah OK, maybe…’ and never confirm anything. I enjoy the ambiguity of it. If anything, that’s how I’d always perceived it.”
You can read the full insane story of Deftones’ White Pony in the current issue of Metal Hammer – in shops now or available to order online.