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The Bleaker Side of Metal

After a decade of preparation, the Deftones and their lyrical, dark rock music are poised to make the transition from cult favorites to mainstream success.

July 30, 2000|ISAAC GUZMAN | Isaac Guzman is a staff writer for the New York Daily News

NEW YORK — In a hotel suite darkened by half-drawn shades, Deftones guitarist Stephen (pronounced "Stefan") Carpenter dumps his laundry sack on the floor, plops into a chair, lights a joint and inhales deeply.

Violating the rules associated with not jinxing new record releases, Carpenter starts crowing about his hopes for Deftones' latest album, "White Pony," which hit stores June 20.

"If our record sells under 10 million, I'm going to be thoroughly let down," says Carpenter, 29, a shaggy figure sporting a sprawling goatee, tattoos and baggy black sweatpants.

"I know there's a generation of kids out there that will love our music," he says, his voice inflected with the hip-hop attitude of his multiracial Sacramento neighborhood. "If Metallica can do 45 million, and I know they're gods, we can do 10 million worldwide. I have no doubt in my mind that that many people are out there waiting for it."

In Deftones' decade-long history, the five-man group (which also includes singer-guitarist Chino Moreno, bassist Chi Cheng, drummer Abe Cunningham and DJ Frank Delgado) has never seen a moment quite like this.

Everything seems to be in place for the band's signature fusion of blistering guitars, bleak poetry and turntable atmospherics to break through to a mass audience. Likened to bands such as Limp Bizkit, Korn and Tool, Deftones are finally hoping to turn long-standing critical acclaim and cult status into mainstream success.

Despite little radio airplay and meager amounts of exposure on MTV, the Sacramento-based band's first two albums--1995's "Adrenaline" and 1997's "Around the Fur"--combined to sell more than 1.2 million copies. The group's incessant touring, including appearances on the Warped tour and OZZfest, built a loyal following that devours any new music from the band.

"White Pony" entered the national album chart at No. 3, selling more than 175,000 during its first week in the stores. It has since sold another 211,000 copies; the band's tour has just begun (it includes a date Aug. 10 at the Hollywood Palladium); and Deftones are getting the biggest push of their careers on MTV, where viewers have made the single "Change (in the House of Flies)" one of the most popular videos on "Total Request Live."

Bolstering Carpenter's worldwide aspirations, the record debuted in the Top 20 in the U.K., France, Germany and Norway.

Carpenter already has celebration plans if "White Pony" ever reaches 40% of his lofty goal. "When we hit 4 million, that'll be the day,' he says. "I'll be down in south Florida, sail-fishing, trying to make one more of them fish extinct."


Aside from the hoopla surrounding Deftones' shot at stardom, "White Pony" marks a significant artistic accomplishment. The record's finely realized textures stand apart from most of their nu-metal counterparts, largely due to the delicate sense of urgency that Moreno, 27, infuses into his vocals and lyrics. The result is an album that is as frequently beautiful as it is harrowing and dark.

"The Deftones have always skirted the arty edge of hard rock . . ." Rolling Stone said in a profile of the group. "But few could have expected such committed experimentation from a band that has everything to gain from keeping things obvious."

Moreno is sitting in the same Manhattan hotel room as Carpenter an hour later, having spent the afternoon with his 3-year-old son in Central Park. Where Carpenter is filled with nervous energy, Moreno is laconic and thoughtful, hiding behind a bushy haircut and beard.

"[Beauty] is not so much something I'm trying to create, it's just the way I end up writing," Moreno says.

"A lot of it has to do with the music I listened to growing up, from listening to Duran Duran and stuff like that. I don't know if anybody really looks back and listens to that stuff these days, but lyrically Simon [Le Bon] was a genius as far as I'm concerned. I love the way he wrote. The same with Robert Smith of the Cure. He was another big influence on the way I write."

Moreno's songs frequently include dreamlike imagery and fantasies that initially look like typical metalhead grotesqueries, but, upon closer inspection, turn out to be tightly focused metaphors describing the psyches of his characters.

In "Elite," he uses images of ripeness and blood to signify the moment when an otherwise shy person gains confidence and realizes his potential.

"There seems to be a theme of secrecy going on there," Moreno says. "I never seem to say what I want to say. It might be because I don't have anything to say, but I like when I'm writing a song to have more imagery instead of just coming out and flat out telling a story."

Carpenter says that Moreno's lyrics mean so much to the band's audience that at recent shows he's seen fans crying. "I just see people bawling," he says. "The attitude of the fans is the same as it was, but it's just gotten more intense."

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