Chino Moreno woke up in the middle of a late-August night and couldn’t fall back asleep. He was thinking about a chicken coop. “I was just sitting there, calculating measurements in my head, wondering if this design’s going to work,” says the longtime Deftones frontman.
Instead of spending the month before the band’s next album release on the road or doing a press tour, Moreno has been digging post holes in his Portland, Ore., yard; he has allotted “two, maybe three weeks” to fashion a new home for his three family chickens, which his wife urged him to buy when they were just tiny, fluffy chicks. The project makes the soft-spoken Moreno positively giddy: “I’m not even close to being done building it,” he says, “but I’m already pretty proud!”
Self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic has given Moreno a rare, joyful opportunity to putter around the house: Even when Deftones are not in an album cycle, as they are for their ninth full-length, Ohms (out Sept. 25 on Warner Records), Moreno says that he’s often in Los Angeles, or Seattle, or his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., writing or recording the next project. That’s the way it has been for the better part of 25 years, since the alt-metal greats released their head-rattling 1995 debut, Adrenaline. “A consistent routine at home is something that I’ve never really had,” says the 47-year-old, “ever since I started touring with the band in my early 20s, or late teens even.”
On the other hand, the professional consistency of Moreno and his bandmates has helped Deftones become one of the most revered hard-rock groups of the 21st century. The band, which has never gone more than four years without releasing an album, has had 15 entries on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs chart across 22 years and sold 5.5 million copies of its eight LPs, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data.
Once erroneously grouped with turn-of-the-century “nu-metal” acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit — famously, reps from Maverick Records thought that Deftones’ 2000 classic, White Pony, needed a rap-rock lead single, a suggestion that the band members declined — Deftones have outlived several rock trends while remaining commercially reliable. They’ve frequently headlined U.S. amphitheaters with occasional arena dates mixed in; their last album, 2016’s Gore, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting release since 2003.
“They’re bigger than they’ve ever been,” says longtime manager Mark Wakefield, who nods to recent touring success as well as fan anticipation for Ohms. Deftones have the type of hyper-passionate fan community befitting pop’s biggest artists — Wakefield says that die-hard supporters sniffed out the source code being updated on the band’s official website prior to the announcement of the new album in August. As a result of that fan enthusiasm, the group “has been on this ascendance since 2010,” says Wakefield, “almost like a renaissance.”
Ten years ago, Deftones released Diamond Eyes, their pummeling, critically acclaimed sixth album and first to feature bassist Sergio Vega. Original bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a car accident in 2008 that left him in a coma; a different album, tentatively titled Eros, had already been finished at the time of the accident, but the devastation made them shelve the project indefinitely and start anew. (Cheng died at the age of 42 in 2013.)
The unreleased Eros was also the last time Deftones — now Moreno, Vega, guitarist Stephen “Stef” Carpenter, drummer Abe Cunningham and keyboardist Frank Delgado — worked with producer Terry Dates, who had helped engineer the atmospheric heaviness of their first four albums, until they pulled him out of semiretirement for Ohms.
“We knew we wanted to work with Terry again at some point — there’s a level of comfort there,” says Moreno. After what he describes as a “fragmented” experience recording Gore, the creation of Ohms was more freewheeling and collaborative, with Dates joining the group in Los Angeles in 2019 and Moreno making the three-hour drive from Portland to the producer’s Seattle home studio to finish the album. Sonically, Ohms is Deftones’ most focused sucker punch since Diamond Eyes: “Radiant Eyes” contains an explosive bassline from Vega, opening track “Genesis” is a push-pull led by Carpenter’s careening guitar, and “This Link Is Dead” boasts one of Moreno’s most animated vocal performances to date.
Wakefield teases a few “big, tentpole” surprises for fans leading up to the release of Ohms, while the title track, which debuted at No. 31 on the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart, will continue to be pushed to rock radio. The album was finished, save for some overdubbing and mixing, prior to the pandemic shutting down most of the United States; Deftones had already announced separate U.S. and European tours for the summer, which have been postponed to 2021.
Also shifted to next year: the third iteration of Dia de los Deftones, an annual festival that the band launched in San Diego in 2018. The one-day event has featured a headlining performance from the band and metal-adjacent acts like Gojira and Brutus on the bill, as well as Future, Megan Thee Stallion, Chvrches and Doja Cat. “To be able to get Megan Thee Stallion and also Gojira, we feel like that encompasses who [Deftones are] and the diversity of their fan base,” says Wakefield of Dia de los Deftones, which grossed $279,000 in 2018, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Moreno grew up listening to a wide variety of genres, including new wave — his older sister got him into bands like The Human League and Thompson Twins before he delved into metal, and he listens to a lot of ’70s rock radio now, especially when he’s working around the house (including coop construction). He hesitates to credit any one factor for Deftones’ longevity, but says that the band’s diverse sonic palette has been crucial in its survival.
“If there’s a trend in music, it’s never like we go, ‘Oh, my God, this is big right now, let’s try this,’ ” says Moreno. “All of our influences are embedded in us, so it comes out not sounding forced or shoehorned into a certain time. And then, hopefully, the records don’t sound as dated.”