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Koi No Yokan: Deftones Drummer Abe Cunningham Discusses Their New Album

Together for more than 20 years, the Deftones weathered many storms and became innovators on the turbulent seas of a constantly changing music industry. The band released their sixth studio album, “Diamond Eyes,” in early 2010. This dynamic album was their first since the terrible car accident in November 2008, that left bassist Chi Cheng severely injured. The band was in the process of creating what would have been their sixth studio album, “Eros,” when bassist Cheng was injured. An emotional time for the band, they decided to put “Eros” album on hold. Band members pushed on and recruited former Quicksand member Sergio Vega to take over on bass. With Vega contributing, the seeds were planted for a new record. Under the watchful eye of super producer Nick Raskulinecz, those sessions resulted in their critically acclaimed album “Diamond Eyes.” The band toured heavily on the album and, before they knew it, were drawn to the studio once more to create their most beautifully crafted album to date, “Koi No Yokan.” Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Abe Cunningham of the Deftones to discuss the creation of their seventh studio album, “Koi No Yokan,” the longevity of the band and life on the road!

Deftones is a band a lot of people my age latched onto when they got into music. I wanted to go back to the beginning and have you tell us a little about your first memories of music and how it came into your life?

I grew up in a musical family. My father was a bass player and my stepdad played drums, so music was always around me. My mom was a chef and in restaurants, music is always around as well. They all had really great taste too! I was drawn to so much different stuff, almost from the womb on, ya know? It is still the same way today! Music is always around me and it is always on and it is my constant source of joy.

Abe Cunningham

You have been at it for a long time and have been very successful. To what do you attribute your longevity in the music industry?

Maybe never really having a plan! [laughs] Honestly, when we were starting out, we were just friends, just four guys, now five, who made songs. We weren’t even writing songs, we were just putting stuff together in the garage. It is a pretty simple story. It all sprung from a childish urge to rock, if you know what I mean. It is still that way today and I think that is a great way to start anything up. For better or worse, we have definitely taken 10 steps forward and 19 steps back on several occasions but that is life. In the band, there are five personalities who are living five very different lives — trying to be as one isn’t always easy. I am thrilled that we have worked out so much of the crap through the years and are able to work together. It puts us in a really good spot as friends and as dudes in the band. Hopefully, the best is still yet to come.

The new album is “Koi No Yokan.” How did you guys arrive at choosing that title and what does it mean to you?

It is definitely an interesting title. It is a sense that two people will fall in love, without having to mate, falling in love upon first glance and it is a special feeling that doesn’t always happen. I think that many people go through life trying to find the one. It is a really special feeling but it is not to be confused with love at first sight because it is not that, it is a sense. There is a bit more to it. It is a Japanese term that does not translate into English, so it gives it a little more mystique. It is a kind of a cool thing that people get to interpret. Everyone is looking for that love, maybe not everyone, but most everyone is looking for something special in life. For those that can find it, it’s a great thing.

When you were first starting out to make this record, what were your expectations?

Deftones – Koi No Yokan

Like I said, for better or worse, we rarely have a plan! [laughs] When we completed writing the “Diamond Eyes” record a few years back, we were working with Nick Raskulinecz. At some point he said, “OK guys, that’s it. I think we are done. We have the record.” We were like, “What? We still want to go! We just want to write music!” Really from that point on, the end of the last record, we were really ready and couldn’t wait to do another record. We ended up doing a year-and-a-half or so of touring on that record. The whole time we were on the road, we were really anxious to get back into the studio and do a new record. We are in a really juicy, creative spot right now and we are definitely firing on all cylinders. This is the second record in a row that we have been able to pop out pretty quickly. That’s not to say that we are rushing it for the sake of rushing it because it is not that at all. It was just really important for us as a band to figure out how to do that once again. We needed to figure out how to be productive, together and on time. There is definitely a confidence that comes from knowing we can do that again because there were a lot of years that we couldn’t do that. We are definitely in a good spot.

Can you tell us a little about the writing process for “Koi No Yokan?” Are you doing anything differently these days when you approach a new album?

I wouldn’t say that we are taking it more seriously because I think we always have. What we did do is set a start time and a stop time for writing daily. We had never done that in the past. We used to go in and start at 7 but people would start rolling in at 8 or 9. Then we would start jamming at 11 or 12 and go until 3 in the morning and you’re wrecked! We did that for so many years, man. It was definitely not productive or conducive for getting things done. We just figured if we put in a six to seven hour work day, six days a week, we would be able to come in and have fun, bounce around, then still be able to go to meetings in the morning and still be human. We adopted that approach last time for “Diamond Eyes” and did it again this time around. It is working great! It is funny, well not funny, but it is too bad that it took us that long to figure it out! [laughs] I am glad that we did!

This is your second record with Sergio Vega. I am a huge fan of his, both with Deftones and in his early work. What does he bring to the band in both the studio and the live setting?

He is a great friend and has been a friend of ours for many, many years. Not only is he a wonderful musician but he is a really positive dude with a tremendous spirit. With “Diamond Eyes,” he came in and was given free reign to do whatever he wanted to do. He was involved with all the writing with us but, obviously, in his mind he might have been a little reserved for obvious reasons. He definitely did his thing on this new record. He is a very creative person and it has been a great experience making music with him.

Was that the biggest challenge in making “Koi No Yokan?” Did anything come up along the way you didn’t expect?

Abe Cunningham

Ya know what? To be totally honest, not really. It was actually pretty damn cool on a lot of levels. We took time in the middle of writing the album to go to Hawaii for a week. We had little breaks in the middle to break up the writing process, so that was really cool. It was so loose and really fun.

You guys seem to be in a terrific place in the creative sense. Is that a fair statement to make?

It is. Stephen [Carpenter] and I, every time we make a record, he and I, well, he always tries to pick a fight with me and we almost break up. [laughs] Once that is out of the way, then we are great! It’s kinda silly but it has to happen. At this point I am like “Dude, when are you going to fight with me so we can get it over with and then get down to it!” [laughs] This time around, like clockwork, he tried to talk shit to me, we had our fight and then we were back on it! Like clockwork! [laughs]

You guys are about to launch a nationwide tour in support of the album. The live performance is as tight and powerful as it has ever been. With a huge catalog of material, as well as the new tunes, how do you put together your sets?

That is always a problem. We are thrilled to play this new record. We would love to play it the whole way through because it is badass. Being so tuned in from the “Diamond Eyes” tour, this was the first time in a really long time that we were so dialed in before we went into the studio to record that there was hardly any rehearsal. So now, it is a matter of just trying to fit it all in. There are seven records now, so you want to make people happy by playing their favorite songs but we are not going to play everyones favorite song. That isn’t our intention but sometimes that’s just the way it is. We have been trying to figure out a nice mix between the new, the old and everything in between. It is actually quite an interesting challenge.

Is life on the road something you still really look forward to at this point in your career?

Absolutely! Man, I can’t wait! I love nothing more than playing drums and smacking them all over the world! Being on the road is like anything else, when you know it is time to take a break, you take a break. We did that and now we are amped up to get out there again. Everyone has grown up a bit from the time we first started out but we still go out, have fun and get loose but we try to keep ourselves right because we have to go do it every night. I am so pumped and thrilled to have this album done and to bring it to the fans, so there ya have it! Everyone else in the band feels the same way too.

Abe Cunningham’s Kit

Deftones have come a long way since you first started out. What are your thoughts on your journey so far?

There is so much to choose from. We have been very, very lucky and fortunate. We have been able to tour with some of our all-time favorite bands and bands that ultimately became our buddies. There is always something to learn not just musically but how they take on their daily routines, how they fucked up along the way or they met good people. Ya know, I am wide eyed, man. I have definitely been exposed to a lot through the years and I am always looking for something new. In my book, I have the greatest job in the world! Keep it light, keep it fun and keep it positive — that is something I have learned along the way.

With all the struggles you faced and obstacles you overcame, has there been talk of doing a documentary to document the band’s rich history?

Yeah, ya know, we used to always carry cameras back in the day and there is tons of footage that was set aside from the “White Pony” tour years ago. I think it just leaked actually. I think it is definitely necessary but I am not sure why we haven’t done it and I don’t know why. Maybe one day! Ya know, we don’t even have a DVD out and at this point, there are some bands that have 20 or 25 of them out! [laughs] We need to get on it.

You certainly left your mark on the music landscape. In your opinion, what does the future hold for the Deftones? No plans on packing it in any time soon I hope!

I hope not! It is all about keeping everyone happy. I am having the best time of my life making music with these guys after all these years. As I said before, I am ecstatic and thrilled for the album release and the tour. We are going to be out there rockin’ this thing for a while and then we will likely be headed back to the studio but we have some playing to do in the meantime!

Awesome, Abe! Thanks for taking time out and letting us spread the word!

Thanks so much, Jason! Have a good one and take care!