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Chino Moreno on ††† (Crosses), Cult Movies, the Supernatural and Creating New Deftones Songs

Chino Moreno of Deftones and ††† (Crosses).
Chino Moreno of Deftones and ††† (Crosses).
Jim Louvau

As a frontman and songwriter, Chino Moreno tends to go all out -- be it physically, emotionally, and especially vocally, whether it's his tempestuous banshee-like screams and wails or his sultrier crooning.

Deftones, the alt-metal band he's most famous for fronting, has successfully created a brand of smoldering sound that blends heavy metal, post-punk, art rock and a touch of hip-hop.

The result touches a wide audience, offering up a style that appeals to the pop rock fans with its psychedelic and ethereal vibe, yet still severe and powerful enough for the metalheads. Over the course of almost 15 years and seven albums, the Deftones have experienced immense success -- and loss, most recently with the death of bassist Chi Cheng last year who was in a car-accident induced coma since 2008. Now working on a new album, it will be interested to see the musical direction.

Moreno has been involved in an array of other side projects, like Team Sleep, a rock band that incorporates a healthy dose of electronica and imaginative lyrical imagery; Palms, a mellow yet gritty brand of American rock-meets-California dreaming; and ††† (Crosses).

Comprised of Moreno, Shaun Lopez (of Far) and Chuck Doom, it's hard to pin down specifically what sort of music fan this electronic trio is aimed at. Listening to the band gives you that heart-pounding, dream-like feeling of being haunted and in love, all at once. The act started out as a fun project before the realization hit that the music was something to be shared, and the musicians went on to release EP 1 (2011) and EP 2 (2012), all with song titles that replaced the letter "t" with their signature dagger-like crosses.

This past February, the band released its debut full-length album, full of remastered versions of songs from the two EPs as well as five new songs that were originally to be released as EP 3. While fans might be disappointed that they've heard half the music on the album before, it hasn't stopped ††† from selling out venues in Chicago, NYC and Nashville, scheduling a performance at Coachella, and kicking off their current tour at SXSW.

Tomorrow night, ††† will venture to Crescent Ballroom. Up On the Sun spoke with Moreno recently regarding the project, Deftones, and other subjects.

How was South by Southwest for you guys?

It was good! It was my first time experiencing it actually. There was tons of different stuff besides music, but there was also all types of music. It was one of those festivals where there's a wide variety of music to check out. I just kinda like, experienced it as a fan, walking around checking stuff out in different spot.

How did the concept for ††† come about?

It pretty much started with these other two guys, Shaun [Lopez] and Chuck [Doom], who had been working on some new music for a while. Obviously I had known Shaun for a long time, he does guitar in a band called Far. He also produced some of the Saturday Night Wrist record for Deftones.

We had always talked about doing something together, but it just so happened that one time I went to his studio and he happened to be working with Chuck on some music that was to become ††† and I liked what I heard. I asked if they had a singer and they didn't, so we tossed around some ideas and I threw down a couple songs. A couple songs turned into a few more songs, and then....it all happened over a long period of time, like a year and a half, of just us meeting up at random times and recording a little more here and there.

At that point I didn't really have an idea if it was going to be a band or just a project, um, and we were just taking it day by day. Before you knew it we had an album's worth of material, so we decided to split it up and put out some EPs for free and released it under the radar without any big information on it; nothing on social media or like that. We just put it out to be like, "Hey people, check it out." And it just sort of spread by word-of-mouth which is kinda cool, especially because we didn't have too much pressure on it since it started like just a project.

I've been following ††† a bit from the beginning, and I know you've mentioned in the past that there's a lot of reference to religion, and that you guys were watching a lot of classic cult horror while recording songs. Those two things often go hand-in-hand. Can you elaborate a little bit on how both of those things came into play as an influence?

Well the music itself has a certain vibe to it. I mean, it sort of has those occurrences that are already in them musically. And yeah, we just sort of ran with it since we always had some really cool visuals going on in the room when we were working, whether it was movies, other music or just imagery. We just ran with that vibe. We didn't think about it ahead of time. It just came out that way. The record was sort of a product of its environment, which was fun. All three of us were really into that at the time; sharing these visuals.

So what specific cult horror movies were you watching that you feel affected the songs specifically?

It wasn't even so much horror movies actually. A couple were -- it was mostly just like more cult movies in general. The Holy Mountain is a big influence on the record, by Alejandro Jodorowsky. It's pretty out there. I've been a big fan of a lot of his movies for awhile, but that one in particular is, very influential on the album, at least aesthetically. But even you know, watching Russ Meyer films, like '60s cult movies.

And mainly it was just at a time where, you know, we're still doing our own thing but we were all looking for new, older movies that we might have missed, because that's sort of a hobby that we all share. If someone finds a movie we share it, and that was sort of the catalyst for bringing us together besides music.

 

From all the tracks I've heard, I think "Bermuda Locket" really stands out as a favorite. Can you tell me the story behind that?

Oh! That was probably one of the first songs we did actually, I mean, one of the songs that made me want to continue on with working on the project. That song in particular, less than any of the others, has the least guitars or organic instrumentation. It's pretty much mostly all sonic. That stood out from some of the other tracks that had more of a hybrid sound. It was just very -- I don't want to say it but it's what comes to mind -- Depeche Mode-ish, which is obviously one of my favorite bands. That song, the more you listen to it, it becomes very haunting.

It seems like there's a lot of reference to supernatural things like telepathy. Do you personally believe in all those type of things?

Um, well I'm definitely interested in it. I'm not someone whose trying to sell someone else on believing it. You know, all the supernatural stuff is always very interesting conversation. I think it's more things we talk about you know. Chuck, in particular, is very into ghosts and stuff like that.

So he's always got some new story or something. It's always a good conversation with him about that stuff. We're not trying to convince anyone of anything, but it's something that's always fascinated all of us so putting some of those things into the music is always something that's a little bit of an escape. I've always moved towards things that seem like an escape in my lyrics.

You've also mentioned that you aren't really into hanging out in the metal circuit anymore and you live in Oregon. Tell me a bit about your place there.

Yeah I moved there like four months ago, but it's kinda in the middle of nowhere in a little town. I don't know; for me it's just really nice. I spend a lot of my time touring between my projects and the Deftones, so I love when I'm actually home to be in a place that I can call a refuge.

You know, obviously I'm still in Los Angeles a lot working, and I see a lot of old friends, which is a great. But you k now, I'm 40-years-old now so I'm not at the bar scene checking out what's new...

Phone cuts out.

Sorry! I'm back. I'm riding my bike and got a flat tire.

It's sounds windy where you are at!

Yeah I gotta see what's up here with my bike.

A motorcycle?

No, just my bike!

Well I am curious: do your kids listen to your music?

Yes, they are all actually into their own thing, which I admire. My oldest song is 19-years-old and is like really into French electro, old 80s German New Wave...he's constantly turning me onto stuff that was way before my time, let alone his time. He researches stuff and is really into it. I have a 16-year-old son as well who was actually in a band for awhile, which was pretty hardcore and he was the vocalist for that. But he's very eager as well to take in as much music as well. So right now he's into piano and keyboards. And then I have a nine-year-old daughter who is all about the Frozen soundtrack so we're listening to that all the time. [Laughs]

 

So tell me a bit about the new music Deftones is working on currently.

You know, we never go into making a record with an idea or a concept. That would be like us putting walls up to ideas. So...it's very spontaneous and we go in together and start making noise and playing off each other. Um, that seems the most organic fun way to make music with each other.

We haven't really started too much though; a few of the guys got together a couple weeks ago and started paying, but I was in Australia when that happened. Then we'll get together in a few weeks to write and we'll see where it goes. Hopefully we'll have a solid situation at the end of this year or beginning of next year.

I see. I know how hard it must have been with Chi, so with this being the first album where he's actually passed on, do you think that will come into play in the writing process?

Well, we've actually made two records without him at this point with Sergio without Chi being there. But of course; he's always in out thoughts, not just in the studio but in everyday life. I spent more than half my life around and with him. And you never know how that will come into play with writing and recording. We charge along and we're together. It's very therapeutic for us musically though. I mean, music has always been a therapeutic process.

I knew you had done work with Sergio but I wasn't sure since he was physically gone.

Yes. [Clears throat]. I think it's almost easier now because of closure. It was so uncertain before and we had to see him in that state he was in, which was not pleasant at all. I think that was really tough, um, you know, I don't want to say tougher because he is gone now and that's a whole 'nother thing. But you know, when there was that uncertainty there, although we had hope, it was still hard to see him the way he was.

What has been one of your favorite Deftones albums over the years?

Um, I've always been very partial to the Around The Fur record I think. Just because it was our second record and at that point we were sort of...I think in a really good place. I don't think we expected the success that we had with our first record, so we realized we had a chance to go in and make a second record without stressing. And we wrote and recorded that record in like a four-month period. I feel like it came out really solid and some of those songs off that record are still my favorites to this day.

What has been one of your favorite covers? I loved your version of "Simple Man."

Oh cool! You know, I don't think a lot of people know this but we recorded that song before we even recorded our first record. We were just checking out the studio. I think I was probably like 17 or something. It was one of the first things we recorded. I mean, we recorded a few covers and demoed a couple originals, but we were just sort of messing around. I forgot what the reason was for why we did that; maybe for a local compilation? But it was never mixed and finished.

And when we were playing together for that b-sides record [2005's B-Sides & Rarities], we found it. We mixed it and put it on the record. It's funny because a lot of people comment on it. And I think back like, 'wow!' You know at the time of recording it I hadn't really heard it before. I was never a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan so I didn't know anything about it. It was someone's idea and they gave me the lyrics so I just read them pretty much.

I had no idea it dated that far back! So what else do you have planned for 2014?

Well the Deftones are playing a few shows overseas, and ††† is playing in the U.S. And then working on the record with Deftones. Just keeping busy and playing music!

††† (Crosses) is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, March 25, at Crescent Ballroom.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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