Drummer Abe Cunningham talks the journey behind Deftonesʼ eighth record, Gore, trying to make full albums in a singles-based world, and playing around with juxtapositions while striving for balance at this point in the band’s career.
Last year you celebrated the 20th anniversary of when your first record came out and then this week you are releasing your eighth album. What does it feel like to be at this point in your career?
Honestly, I feel the same excitement I did when we released our first album. You know what I mean? It’s always an exciting time. We get together and try and see what the fuck we can come up with as a band and we make another record. We’ve been able to do it several times now and that’s an amazing thing.
The fact that we have a chance to make another record each time, that people are curious to hear it – that’s the best feeling in the world. We make the record, and then you put it out and it’s really out of your control at that point. If people enjoy it, you hope they do, but it kind of takes on its own life. Fun stuff, man. Here we are sitting once again with a new record out. It’s exciting times.
I was a little curious about the timeline on this one. From what I’ve heard, you did most of the writing at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015. It was originally supposed to come out after that summer tour with Incubus. Then it got pushed back a couple times and now it’s finally coming out. What was the journey like to get this one finished and locked in?
The whole writing and everything was a bit different. In the past we’ve always scheduled a time, like here’s your month or two months, whatever it might be, to write your record and go be creative. Even if you’re not feeling creative, go be creative and make a record. This time around we actually did it totally on our terms, which was a different way of doing things. We broke it up into little sections. We would be together for a couple weeks of writing, then do a week of shows or so, and then go home for a week. It kind of became a little trilogy of those chunks, which was cool because it kept it fun and exciting.
Obviously, we were able to still go on living, play some shows and have a good ass time, and then go home and be normal for a second, and then get back to it. It was something a bit different for us. It took us longer, because we were cramming more things into that time, but it was a cool way to do things. We’ve never really tried it like that before. That was exciting, and it kept things fresh and balanced. We were able to be normal, have balance and go home, and then go out and rock too. It was cool.
Then with the whole mixing of the record, that’s why it got pushed back a bit. We were on the road and we were getting sent mixes. Usually we’re there during the mix, of course. It’s hard to focus when we’re out on the road, and then trying to listen to mixes and get everyone’s comments and all that. So, here we are with an April 8th release date.
With that off and on approach you did, how do you think that ended up shaping how the record turned out? Do you think that approach to writing will continue on in the future?
It was a nice way to try it. I enjoyed this time because at this point in the game we’re really trying to strive and be balanced. When we were younger, we were relentless. We would go, go, go, go, go. We would get caught in that cycle of writing, recording and touring, then repeat over and over and over. So, it’s nice to have options.
I’m sure it affected the record somehow. Really, it’s just about balance. I know I’ve said that a hundred times already, but it’s really important with where we’re at at this point in our lives. We live incredible lives. It’s still a dream to do what we do. It’s amazing after all these years, and we have a fucking good time.
One of the things about Deftones is you have your own distinct sound. When the guitars come in and Chino’s voice and stuff, you can tell right away that it’s a Deftones song. One of the cool things about your career is how you will either add different elements to that or subtract elements to that and come up with these different little paths you go down. How do you balance doing that, maintaining those core elements to what makes you Deftones, and then able to add different wrinkles to it every time?
That’s a great question. Our band’s foundation has pretty much always been guitar-driven. It’s usually centered around Stephen’s huge tone, and that was the way from the get-go, too. So it’s always been a guitar-driven sound, but even on our first record there were little hints of things that we wanted to try. With Around the Fur, our second album, we were able to try a couple different things and go in different directions. Then with White Pony, our third album, that was really our first time capturing everything we wanted to present, and in a cool way, too. The flow of the record was something we wanted to try but I guess had never had enough time.
My point is from the very get-go, it never had to be one thing. It could be anything it wanted to be, and that’s kind of why we’re still here today. We like fucking with sounds and seeing what we come up with. Of course, you can’t make everyone happy. We’ve learned that, but at the same time you try to make yourself happy and then take it from there. You know what I mean?
Another thing I wanted to single out is the trio of songs you close this record with, going from “Gore” to “Phantom Bride” to “Rubicon.” At least for me, and some of the stuff I’ve read online seems to agree, that is one of the strongest notes you’ve ended an album on before. I also think it’s probably one of the better stretches of songs you’ve had in your career so far, and I’m assuming it was structured intentionally by ending with those. Can you talk about that and what you were going for on those three?
Yeah, we’ve always tried to make albums. We come from that time and that era. Of course people still make records, but we always try to make a full complete vision. Hopefully you’ll put it on, whether you’re flipping the record over, or a cassette or a CD or whatever, the hope is that people would listen through its entirety. So the flow and the sequencing of our records is very important to us.
Even with how things happen these days, the record didn’t leak until just this last week, which is almost like it didn’t leak at all in this day and age. Things usually leak months out and it is what it is. The songs we put out and the songs that were leaked is so discombobulated because it’s meant to be heard in one swoop. It’s kind of funny hearing people’s take on things. Obviously, now people have heard it, but people at that point hadn’t heard where the songs fit in the whole thing.
We still try to make albums, man. That’s something that’s very important. The sequencing and the order is the fun part, too. There’s definitely thought put into it, but I don’t think it’s by design when it comes time to figuring out crossfades and how each song goes into the next. The pieces you have to work with, that’s the fun part. It’s still a craft, and something we take pride in.
One of the surprises on this album is Jerry Cantrell’s solo on “Phantom Bride.” You’ve never really been much of a solos band, but I thought that was a really beautiful moment you haven’t done much of in the past. What was it like having him on that song?
It was obviously amazing for many, many reasons. Growing up on that band, having become friends with them over the years and even touring together. The way that thing came together is we had that song done and there was this big sort of a hole. It could have been left as it was and whatever. It’d be fine.
We were having a barbeque one day when we were pretty much done with just about everything on the record. We were like, “Man, what if we had one of our friend’s come in?” So we started brainstorming, coming up with this big whole list. We had like 25 people on it. At the end, we were like, “How about Jerry?” The next day he was there.
It’s very special because he’s one of those dudes that’s very immediate. When you hear him play, you know it’s him, you know? It’s just a heavy thing, so preparing the two of us together, just for selfish reasons and being a fan, was killer. He’s a sweetheart dude, and to watch him come in and do his thing, it was a heavy moment. It was tears of joy, you know what I mean? He’s just a rad dude.
You’ve always had different, interesting album art over the years, and this one with the flamingos is not really what comes to mind when you first hear Gore. Where did you get that idea from?
It sounds like it’s some deeply thought out thing, but quite frankly the picture to us was striking. Normally you see flamingos kicking it on one leg in the water or just cruising, so that’s a striking picture. The word Gore on its own is pretty damn striking, too. It can conjure up a million different thoughts. They don’t go together at all. They’re total polar opposites, but it doesn’t have to make sense at all. They’re two striking concepts, the image and then the word. They don’t go together, but so what? You know what I mean?
I think juxtaposition is one of the main things you have always done, not just artistically but also musically. You always like playing around with that heavy-quiet dynamic, and one of the songs that captures that really well on this record is “Hearts/Wires.” That juxtaposition really drives a lot of what you do, doesn’t it?
Yeah, it totally does. It’s the avenue that we walk on. It’s always been sort of our thing. I hope there’s something more than that, but there is a beauty versus, or meets, aggression. It’s always a push pull and a definite juxtaposition. It’s what we do, and hopefully we can do more. You can see it everywhere, yeah.
Going back a couple records to Diamond Eyes, that record really seemed to reenergize you. I know at least Chino has talked about how tough it was to write Saturday Night Wrist, and then obviously Eros was never able to get finished. With these last three records, like I said it seems the band has discovered a new life almost. What’s it been like now, creatively and relationally, for you on these last three?
Chi’s accident really kicked us on our ass in many different ways. We were done. We were like, “What can we do?” It wasn’t about music, trying to finish the record we were working on. It was about him getting better, or would he get better. We’re brothers, but it had gotten really bad for a few years there, where there was almost no communication. There were other factors involved, but it fucking sucked.
I don’t mean to make light of it, but his accident really forced, or maybe it just taught us, to reevaluate things, to take a look around and be appreciative of a lot of things. The fact that we’re up and walking around, able to be with our families, and he’s not. The fact that we created this thing in 1988 that’s still floating around. We still have this thing and we’re still able to do it. We refocused, and it was definitely overdue. I’m sorry that it took his accident to do that, but I’m also thankful that it did, too.
Now we just try and be efficient and more aware of time, but never to rush things of course. We spent so many years wasting time, and that’s well documented enough. We’ve had great times, too. A lot of great times, but it was just time to get back to it and do it right.
With this record and all your records in general, you’re not able to soak everything in on the first listen. Years later you’re still picking out new things, hearing new things and relating to them in different ways. On this record is there anything that you’ve noticed that maybe someone wouldn’t necessarily pick up on the first or second time they’ve heard it? Is there anything that has stood out to you the more you’ve been able to sit with it?
Yeah, there’s definitely tons and tons of detail that’s in there. It goes back to us trying to make full albums in a singles-based world where everyone is getting their information so quickly. We still hope that someone, preferably if they had the means, will sit back and listen on their headphones or their speakers. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of work that went in, and just the equipment that was used, too. Recording is such a cool thing, so mics and all these good old things.
It’s meant to be taken in with a few deep breaths and hopefully things will leap out at you. I hear things now, it’s obviously set in stone now, but the guitars are too loud on certain things to me. It pisses me off, but you know what? It is what it is. I should have spoken up when I had the chance [laughs]. There’s lots of detail, man, and that’s the main thing. Hopefully, things will continue to leap out.