Deftones follow their hearts to success

Photo by 13th WitnessDeftones
Photo by 13th WitnessDeftones

The hard-rock veterans of Deftones make music that’s grandly melodic and powerful, riff-driven and heavy.

The band’s seventh album, Koi No Yokan, debuted in November at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Inspiring multiple reviews that proclaimed it “album of the year,” Koi No Yokan sold a swift 65,000 copies in its first week.

“At this stage in our career, we’re happy that we still make records that are relevant to us and that people like,” Deftones keyboardist Frank Delgado said from his home in Sacramento, Calif.

Koi No Yokan is also very well crafted.

“It’s our learning process, our growing process,” Delgado said. “We’re getting better as friends, musicians, and songwriters. And we take chances, whether it’s production techniques or different instruments or songwriting.

“Our biggest successes have come when we followed our heart. That always works for us.”

Frequent touring has helped make Deftones a band that its fans continue to support. Its upcoming Monday night show at the Varsity Theatre in Baton Rouge, for instance, is sold out.

Deftones has already spent most of the first three months of 2013 on tour, covering the United Kingdom, continental Europe and the U.S.

“There was no trick pony for us, hoping to get a hit or something like that,” Delgado said. “I think our record label is always trying to do that on their end but we as a band just stay on the grind and get out there and play, play, play.

“Touring is how we got a record deal (with Madonna’s Warner Bros.-linked Maverick Records). We had fans then and we were selling out shows on our own. We have new fans, too, kids who are just now finding out about us.”

Deftones formed in the summer of 1988 when singer Chino Moreno, guitarist Stephen Carpenter and drummer Abe Cunningham were Sacramento high school students. Chi Cheng joined later as bass player and Delgado, a keyboard player and turntablist who contributed to the first two Deftones albums signed on as full band member in 1997.

“It wasn’t until after our record deal and the third album that they asked me to join,” Delgado said. “But I had already befriended them and been performing and writing with them.”

In 2007, when Deftones was working at its Sacramento studio on what was to be its sixth album, an auto accident left bassist Cheng in coma.

Following six weeks of hospital visits to their seriously injured bandmate, the band decided to regroup for a jam. The group invited a friend who’d previously subbed for Cheng, Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega, to join the band.

“The idea was to call Sergio and jam and then see if he’d want to do this one show we had coming up,” Delgado said. “Sergio shows up and we ended up jamming a lot. And we wrote a song that first day. We all kind of looked at each other like, ‘Wow. This feels good. Maybe we can keep doing this.’ ”

With Cheng still sidelined and his recovery in question, the band asked Vega to join Deftones. He considered the invitation for a few days before saying, “Let’s do it.”

“So we drove down to L.A., put ourselves in a little room,” Delgado said. “Two months later, we had our album, Diamond Eyes. That’s how fast we were working. But it wasn’t that we all talked about it and said, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ All we did was keep moving. And that hasn’t stopped. We are still riding that.”

Deftones flourished despite Cheng’s tragic accident and the inevitable stress that comes with being a band.

“There’s always some sort of tension,” Delgado said. “Not personal tension, but a kinetic push and pull, trying to meet deadlines or whatever. But we get along well. It’s another testament to how long these guys have known each other.

“The situation with Chi and other things, they just made us stronger as friends. We always look forward to being around each other and creating and touring. As you go along, you realize you can make this as hard as you want to make it or not hard at all.”