Deftones: How we made Around The Fur

A shot of deftones live

In early 1997, Deftones were a cool band to namedrop, thanks to the rough-and-ready howl of debut album Adrenaline, released on Madonna’s Maverick label two years earlier. For many Generation-X 20-somethings, obsessed with drinking, smoking and skating, this would be enough. But the Sacramento quartet were determined to push things further.

“I think Adrenaline is a good introduction to our band,” says vocalist Chino Moreno, “but I knew we had so much more that we could expand on. The mindset of going in to follow that record up was one of the greatest times for us. It felt like we had nothing to lose. We thought, ‘Let’s break down some walls, let’s make some noise, and let’s make some songs out of that noise’ – and that’s what we did.”

The result of this youthful wonderment was the now-classic Around The Fur, which became Chino’s own personal career highlight.

“It’s my favourite record we’ve ever made because of that mindset,” he continues. “We were just so ready. It’s funny, because Chi [Cheng, the band’s original and late bassist] had moved with his wife to San Diego, which is about a nine-hour drive from Sacramento, so when we were rehearsing, it was usually without a bass player. Abe [Cunningham, drums] and Stephen [‘Stef’ Carpenter, guitar] wrote most of it as a three-piece. We were so ready to work!”

It wasn’t all hard graft for the band, though. At this point in their lives, they were determined to enjoy every moment.

Deftones (clockwise from right): Chino Moreno, Chi Cheng, Frank Delgado, Abe Cunningham, Stephen Carpenter

Deftones (clockwise from right): Chino Moreno, Chi Cheng, Frank Delgado, Abe Cunningham, Stephen Carpenter

“We were in this rehearsal room that had a skate ramp,” laughs Chino. “And we were all big into the skate scene. So we’d hang out at our studio all the time, skate for a bit, then write some music. Back and forth, you know. Looking back at it now, it was kind of like the time of our lives. We had made this record and we knew we could better it; we had this chance to make a sophomore effort and prove to people that we were the best new thing, which I believed we were, and I think you hear that on the album.”

When it was time to record, Deftones once again headed to Studio Litho in Seattle, WA, to work with Pantera, Soundgarden and White Zombie producer Terry Date. On Adrenaline, they’d pushed him to recreate the sounds of his previous work. For Around The Fur, he convinced them to let him take a different approach, and Deftones’ distinctive low-down tone was born.

“When I was a kid, the first Metal Church album [released in 1984] really made an impression on me,” Stef tells us. “It was incredibly punchy. I told Terry that I wanted Adrenaline to sound like that, so you could turn it up real loud. When it came to recording Around The Fur, he told us that we should be considering going for that low end, bringing a more bass-heavy sound. And when we got that, we were all really excited.”

“It came to the point with Around The Fur that we just had to let Terry be Terry,” adds Chino. “He captured what we wanted so perfectly. From the second the drums kick off in My Own Summer, he kills it. He was amazing.”

Playing Reading in 1998, the year after Around The Fur dropped

Playing Reading in 1998, the year after Around The Fur dropped

Chino and Stef’s own partnership was evolving, and in later years – particularly on Around The Fur’s follow-up, the masterful White Pony – they would sometimes clash over the creative direction of songs. But at this time, that tension had yet to surface.

“I don’t think that push-and-pull played a part back then,” Stef considers. “We were just ready to go. That relationship that people talk about, it’s weird to me. We always just wanted to serve the music, and when you’re that passionate about something, then of course there are going to be disagreements. But this whole drama about me and Chino? I’ve never got it!”

“It was just really exciting for us,” says Chino. “Stephen wrote all the riffs and I put the vocals over it. It wasn’t forced; we didn’t argue. We were really connected at the time, and the record is a great snapshot of it. People have this idea that I write all the mellow stuff and Stef only likes big guitar riffs, but listen to Mascara on that record. That’s a Stef song. We’ve always all been open to anything musically.”

Around The Fur also established Chino as a frontman who wrote abstract, often unintelligible lyrics. When probed on the inspiration for those songs, he reveals he’s still working his way towards a meaning even today.

“People have been trying to work them out forever!” he smiles. “But even I don’t know. I guess when I look back and hear the words, I can recall what I was thinking about a little. But I never had an idea specifically. And it worked so well for me that I’ve used that method ever since. On the first record, there really were no lyrics – that’s why they aren’t in the liner notes. I was just making noises. Around The Fur is the first time I even sat down to write lyrics. I was just a young, introverted guy, not a confident lyric-writer.”

But there is one track with a specific meaning – the brutal Headup. Arguably the heaviest in the band’s back catalogue, it’s built on a simple grinding riff and walls of feedback, and features Chino trading rabid yelps with Max Cavalera. It was the first time he’d appeared on a piece of music since his departure from Sepultura in late 1996, and was written in memory of his late stepson, Dana Wells, who was tragically killed in a car accident that year. Max turned up to the band’s rehearsal room with a tape of the song’s riff, and they recorded it live. Far from being a sad experience, Chino believes it was positive for all involved.

“It wasn’t depressing at all, it was really uplifting,” he says. “It felt so exciting for us. Those first Sepultura records were really important to us as a band – Chaos A.D. especially. So here is the singer from one of my favourite records, and he wants to collaborate with us. It was a sensitive issue. I met Max through Dana – we were one of his favourite bands, and he introduced us to Max – and then suddenly he dies. It was a crazy time. And Max chose to express his feelings on that with us on this song that he wrote for us. It was a very primal thing, and Max being a very primal human, it felt like the right thing for us to do.”

Come on, mate, you’ve got 20 more years of this. The Limelight in Belfast, 1998

Come on, mate, you’ve got 20 more years of this. The Limelight in Belfast, 1998

Of course, it wasn’t just Max who had noticed this new breed of metal band cropping up. While Deftones were concocting their new record, heavy music was mutating, with the likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Coal Chamber rising up. Due to their friendship with Korn and the emotionally open, downtuned riffs and hip hop-inspired sounds on Adrenaline, Deftones were routinely dropped in with what would soon become known as the first wave of nu metal.

“We didn’t really pay much attention to that,” snorts Stef. “I remember when these subgenre names didn’t exist. It was just metal. So I don’t think we made a decision to step away from it – we’ve never paid attention to what anyone else was doing. We just did what we thought was right, and tried to make a killer album.”

Chino agrees to a point, but does make it perfectly clear that, as far as nu metal went, he wanted as far away from it as possible.

“We did make a very conscious choice of who we were going to play shows with,” he says in total seriousness. “It was hard to be this young band and having to turn down tours. I can’t remember how many times I turned down Korn! And they got pissed at us. Jonathan would say, ‘Why do you hate us?’ and I didn’t know what to say. I’d tell him, ‘Dude, I don’t hate you. I love you guys, you’re my friends. But I don’t want to tour with you, I don’t want to be on the Family Values with you and Limp Bizkit’. The name of the genre was nu metal, so anything that is new is one day going to be old. And I didn’t want to be old with it.”

Around The Fur was released on October 28, 1997, and was lauded by both fans and press alike. Peaking in the Billboard 200 at a respectable Number 29, the band were soon added to high-profile festival bills including Reading, Glastonbury and Ozzfest, where only Rob Zombie and Ozzy Osbourne played above them. With the singles My Own Summer (Shove It) – a UK Top 40 hit – and Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away) all over MTV, Deftones had officially arrived.

The late, great Chi Cheng playing live in 1998

The late, great Chi Cheng playing live in 1998

“I knew we were on to something special,” Chino nods. “We used to drive around and listen to mixes in our car, and we just couldn’t believe how good it sounded. The success we’ve had since has all been from this as a building block. I’m very proud of the record and proud of what we accomplished with it.”

Obviously Deftones would go on to even greater commercial success, but the longevity of Around The Fur is shown by the fact the album was certified platinum on June 7 2011… 14 years after it was released.

“It had a gradual impact on people,” says Chino. “That’s the most beautiful thing about it. Twenty years on and we’re still talking about it. Lots of records sell millions immediately and are forgotten. Around The Fur kind of has this life of its own.”

Stef, on the other hand, chooses to remember how Around The Fur was almost erased from history…

“I’m proud of the record, obviously,” he smiles. “But, it’s funny, we could have lost the whole damn thing! We went to New York to mix the record, and we had the finished master CD in the car, driving round listening to it. We stopped and went into McDonald’s in Times Square, and Chi left the CD in there! We went back and couldn’t find it… imagine that today! It would be all over the internet and we’d have been in some serious trouble. But we were a bunch of nobodies back then. Some guy probably found it, went ‘Who?’ and threw it in the trash!”

Stef lets out a big belly laugh. Twenty years on, the person that threw away one of the 90s’ classic albums must be kicking themselves.

Terry Date: the man with the Midas touch

Terry Date: the man with the Midas touch

“They didn’t have as many fears…”

Legendary producer Terry Date, who worked on Deftones’ first four records, remembers the vibe in the studio for Around The Fur

Where were you in your career when you hooked up with Deftones?

Terry: “I had just come off of working with Pantera and a lot of the metal bands of the time, and those records tended to have a lot of top end. Not a lot of hip hop low end. Deftones’ influences were both of those kind of things; they were trying to get me to think about music in that way.”

How did the process on Around The Fur differ from Adrenaline?

“I probably didn’t get it on the first record. So when it came to Around The Fur, as far as sonically, my goal was to make sure the band’s creativity came through. I think they trusted me more this time around. I love doing second and third records with bands, because the first record they’ve been playing those songs a long time, but the second record they have a lot more validation. They have already had some music put out and they’ve been playing to crowds that enjoy it, so they don’t have as many fears. They still had the hunger, but on Around The Fur they had a little bit more consciousness of where they wanted to grow and how they wanted to become a bit more sophisticated.”

How do you feel about it now?

Around The Fur and White Pony are two of my favourite records I’ve ever worked on. There are some of their best songs on Around The Fur, I personally think. I love the guys, they’re very consistent in themselves. Every time they turned up in the studio, the chemistry was always very similar. I’ve done four albums with them… five, actually, if you count the one that wasn’t released [2008’s Eros] and I would love to work with them again. They’re great guys and a great band.”

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Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.