It is precisely this ability to camouflage himself so interestingly within Deftones songs – always visible, yet never within reach – that has conferred an air of mystery upon the frontman over the years. Interestingly, this is something experienced by his own bandmates. Few people know Chino like Abe Cunningham. They can drink beers, shoot the shit all day and talk about anything. But does Abe ever find out what the songs he has spent his life playing are actually about?
“Sometimes I’ll ask, ‘Hey, is that about so and so?’” grins Abe. “He’ll always go, ‘Maaaaybe, I dunno, is it?’ I always drop a word that I heard just to let him know that I know. He’ll go, ‘Oh, you heard that?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, motherfucker, come on, I listen to you!’ But to answer your question, no.”
This is not to say that Abe doesn’t have his theories, however.
“Knowing him as well and as long as I have, and watching him live through everything that he’s lived through – the good and bad we’ve all gone through – I have an inside take without even having to ask,” Abe says. “He’s always wanting to share something that’s going on in life. If you write it down on paper, it’s out of you. If you’re lucky enough to be able to sing about it every night, even if it’s a shitty situation, you’re able to exorcise that demon.”
Abe’s inner take seems remarkably astute on their ninth offering. Deftones don’t do concept records – the closest they ever came was on 2012’s Koi No Yokan, when early conversations about cosmic cataclysm were distilled into the record’s cinematic centerpiece Tempest (“Stephen was really into the idea that planet Nibiru was coming back towards the Earth,” recalls Chino). And yet to dissect their new songs, it feels like a concept album with certain words reappearing in different tracks, creating a compelling bleeding through of meaning; a sense of being disembodied in a world of constant tension pervades. This is not by chance.
“I’ve definitely gone through a lot just dealing with myself,” Chino begins. “After all the years of doing what we’ve been doing and living the way I’ve lived, I had to do some introspective stuff. I did some therapy, which I’d never done.”
At first, the very notion rankled with him. Not because of any outdated mental health stigmas; it’s just Chino considered himself extremely fortunate to have an amazing network of people he could talk to.
“I always felt, like, ‘Why would I talk to somebody I don’t know about my personal feelings?’” he explains. “But I did end up going to see somebody, and it was a whole different experience when you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t know you, doesn’t know you from a band. You start talking about yourself from your childhood on, and start making sense of why and how you became the way you are.”