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Q&A: Deftones’ Abe Cunningham

Q&A: Deftones’ Abe Cunningham

The drummer riffs on the long-lost ‘Eros’ record, how the band approaches albums and what Koppi and Cape Town fans can expect from the set-list With the Oppikoppi “Bewilderbeast” (8-11 August) and One Night In Cape Town (8 August) events fast approaching, Rolling Stone decided it was time to give the international headliner’s drummer some and caught

The drummer riffs on the long-lost ‘Eros’ record, how the band approaches albums and what Koppi and Cape Town fans can expect from the set-list

With the Oppikoppi “Bewilderbeast” (8-11 August) and One Night In Cape Town (8 August) events fast approaching, Rolling Stone decided it was time to give the international headliner’s drummer some and caught up with Deftones’ Abe Cunningham.

Deftones have been going strong for more than 25 years now, so Cunningham gets interrogated on how they approach each new album, how their attitudes towards touring have changed and what inspired their seventh studio album, Koi No Yokan.

We also covered the sensitive topic of their late bassist, Chi Cheng, who passed away in April this year after a car accident that left him in a coma for five years. “We were blind-sided, man … by his accident, you know?” recalled Cunningham. “Our world got turned upside down.” The drummer hammered the final nail in the coffin of the long-lost Eros [2008] album that was never completed: “We sort of … moved on.”

Local fans also get a few pointers on what to expect from the band’s set-list at Koppi and One Night In Cape Town.

Making music for more than two decades now, is it more difficult to commit to the process of making new albums?

No, we sort of have a laid-back approach to it. We don’t really think about it too much – and this is going to sound lazy, but we just get into the room and jam and whatever comes out at that point is what makes it to the record. It’s sort of laid-back … California-style. Some bands map out every second of it, you know? We definitely do not … for better or for worse. It’s just a lot of fun these days, we just try to keep it light and loose and have a blast. It’s not always easy of course, but we try to keep it light.

What is that motivating factor that keeps you guys going back to studio?

I don’t know … that’s a really good question! I love the finished – and I don’t like the word “product” [laughs] – but the completion of the record, you know? It’s one thing just to get everybody back … and we’re very close; we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years, like you said, we’ve been a band for over 25 years now. I just love getting together with my friends and making music, man. It sounds very simple, but it kind of is. It’s a great life with steady ups and downs … to be able to enjoy … more now than in the beginning or even equally so … maybe more now – it’s a beautiful thing.

Does the road get harder now than … for instance 10 years ago? Or does it get easier?

That’s a great question! Ten years ago? It was way harder! But that was because of the things that … you know … we were doing … [laughs] to ourselves and to each other. I think growing with it, obviously … more time on earth hopefully allows you to appreciate things more and at the same time you realise that the show must go on. And we used to be very, very, very, very, very wild … I wouldn’t trade it for anything, you know? We used to have a blast, we would get down and have a great time … I think you can’t do that every single night and still expect … you know … the show … we’re a touring band and we need to be as close to one point as we can every night. And I don’t want to sound like a prude [laughs] … because we still have a blast, don’t get me wrong. I think there’s just more of an appreciation of our bodies, man, and for our health these days. In order to keep going you have to be somewhat healthy, right?

On your lastest album, Koi No Yokan, you get a sense of some personal issues being tackled. What were you guys going through when writing it?

That’s the gift with us. At the end … that’s five of us in a small room together … just making music, you know? I think over time we’ve just learned patience with each other. What makes this album interesting is … while we were writing the songs, we had all these disconnecting pieces. When you hear the record in total, it connects. There’s all these little pieces that connects the album together … little interviews and weird things, musical soundscapes and whatnot. To keep all that together is a beautiful thing.

Before asking this next question, I just want to pass along our condolences after the recent passing of Chi [Cheng]; we can’t even begin to imagine how hard this must be for you guys. You’ve recruited back Sergio Vega on bass. What dynamic does he bring to the new Deftones line-up?

He’s a phenomenal player. We are huge fans of his prior band, Quicksand, where he came from … great band … very influential to us. And years ago, we would tour together and we got to know Sergio and the guys very well. In addition, Chi had surgery 10 years ago on his foot and he had some crazy infection … he had to leave the tour so that he wouldn’t die, really … from this crazy infection. So we called Sergio up and he came out in a blink and was able to perform the songs and finish that tour. So it’s been a friendship from many, many years ago.

With Chi’s accident … we were right in the middle of recording at that time … the Erosrecord that we haven’t put out since then. We were right in the middle of that. We were blind-sided, man … by his accident, you know? Our world got turned upside down, we took a few months off just to figure out what to do. We realised “we need to make music, man”, that’s what we do.

And Chi … he was fighting for nearly five years. We actually had a show booked … we had a commitment and figured it might be the best way to get back on our feet so we called Sergio up again and he came and played the show with us.

Long story short, he’s just a dear friend, a really good human, a phenomenal musician and really helped us get back on track.

On that note, there’s been a lot of back and forth speculation on the release of the Eros album. Any update on that?

Yea, there’s so much talk of it. People have many enduring opinions of it. The honest truth is the record wasn’t done. People assume that it’s all just sitting there, ready to go. It wasn’t … it was close to being finished. And, of course, it’s dear to us and it will be very dear to people who love Chi, man.

The record wasn’t finished, it needs work. It’s just not that simple. Also at the same time … in that certain period, we sort of … moved on.

Do you guys perform some of those [Eros] songs live?

We did, actually, a few times. Right in the middle of recording that record, we took a break and did a few shows. We played one or two, maybe two of those songs live. That was like five years ago … I don’t know.

Album discography-wise, can you give us a little sneak peak of your planned set-lists for Oppikoppi and One Night In Cape Town?

It’s a blessing to have seven records … old demos and things … there’s a lot to shoot from. We’ll just try to make it well-rounded. One of those shows is indoor, and one outdoor, right?

Yes, One Night In Cape Town is indoor and Oppikoppi is outdoor.

Yeah, one is a festival set. We’ve learned a long time ago that you cannot please everyone. You try, of course. We’ll try to make it a very nice, well-rounded set. And the past few years, there have been a couple of records that have been sort of neglected. From Saturday Night Wrist [2007] we want to play a couple of songs. The self-titled record … we want to put some of those songs back into rotation too. It’s hard to please everyone. We try to keep it flowing rather than, for example, “play the songs in and out in the same sequence”. It gets boring. You don’t want to be one of those bands where people say: “Hey, the same set-list again?” You got to keep it fresh.

So we can expect a customised set-list for South Africa?

O yeah, certainly. Customised with love [laughs].

Releasing abums throughout all these years, what would you say, audio-medium-wise, were the Deftones’ most golden years in album sales? Hard-copy sales or internet-download sales?

That’s a great question, really. Obviously, all we want is for people to hear our music, off course, you know? We come from an era where record sales were obviously worth something too. I’ve actually just said this in an interview prior to this one … I wish that people … and this is a generalisation I suppose, not towards anyone … I just wish that a lot of the younger people placed more of a value on music. It’s such a disposable thing when you can stack it up and have it downloaded in seconds. And are we going to change that? Hell no! It is the culture these days. But often, when you get all these things for free you don’t appreciate it as much.

Thanks for your time Abe, we are very excited to see you guys live in South Africa.

We are so excited to be coming to a continent we’ve never been on. We’ve always wanted to go. We are thrilled and we can’t wait … and we actually have a bit of time to hang too. So we will have a beer together?


Take care.


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