Early years (1988–93)
When Stephen Carpenter was 15 years old, he was hit by a car while skateboarding. Confined to a wheelchair for several months, he began teaching himself guitar by playing along to bands such as Anthrax, Stormtroopers of Death and Metallica. The driver supposedly paid Carpenter a cash settlement that allowed the band to purchase equipment, but Abe Cunningham commented in a 2007 interview that the story about the settlement was simply "a myth about how our band was started."
Carpenter, Moreno and Cunningham began playing together while attending McClatchy High School in Sacramento.
Carpenter, Cunningham and Chino Moreno were childhood friends. All three went to McClatchy High School in Sacramento and remained friends through the city's skateboarding scene. Carpenter was a fan of heavy metal, and Moreno was interested in hardcore punk bands such as Bad Brains and post-punk and new wave bands such as Depeche Mode. When Moreno found out that Carpenter played guitar, he set up a jam session with Cunningham, who played drums, and the three began playing regularly in Carpenter's garage around 1988. They recruited bassist Dominic Garcia some time after, and the band became a four-piece. When Cunningham left Deftones to join Phallucy, another band from Sacramento, Garcia switched to drums. Chi Cheng joined to play bass, and the band recorded a four-track demo soon afterwards. John Taylor replaced Cunningham on drums in 1991, until Cunningham's return in 1993. Within two years, the band began playing club shows and later expanded their gigging territory to San Francisco and Los Angeles, where they played shows alongside bands such as Korn. While closing for another band in L.A., after the majority of the audience had left, the band impressed a Maverick Records representative. They were signed to the label after performing three of their songs for Freddy DeMann and Guy Oseary.
Carpenter created the band's name by combining the hip hop slang term "def" (which was used by artists such as LL Cool J and Public Enemy) with the suffix "-tones," (which was popular among 1950s bands such as Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, The Quin-Tones, The Delltones, The Monotones, The Cleftones and The Harptones). The name is also a pun on the term "tone deaf."
The band's debut album, Adrenaline, was recorded at Bad Animals Studio in Seattle, Washington and released on October 3, 1995. It was produced by Deftones and Terry Date, who would go on to produce the band's next three albums. While they were initially unsuccessful, the band built a dedicated fan base through extensive touring, word-of-mouth and Internet promotion. Through their efforts, Adrenaline went on to sell over 220,000 copies. It is regarded as an important part of the 1990s nu metal movement. An early track which predated Adrenaline but did not make the album's final cut was "Teething"; the band contributed the song to the soundtrack for the 1996 film The Crow: City of Angels. The band can also be seen performing the song live during one of the film's scenes.
The album spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, reaching a peak position of 23. When asked what he attributed the album's success to, Cheng responded, "One word: perseverance. We've been together for almost eight years, on the road for two, and we do it with honesty and integrity—and the kids can tell". The album was certified gold by the RIAA on July 7, 1999, and was certified platinum on September 23, 2008.
Regarding the recording of the album, Cunningham said, "At the time we did the first record—which I really like and think is good—you can tell the band was really young. We'd been playing most of those songs for quite a while, and we were just so happy to be making a record that we didn't really think a whole lot about making the songs better". Moreno felt that Adrenaline was recorded "really fast" and performed all his vocals live with the band in the room using a hand-held Shure SM58 microphone. AllMusic's review of Adrenaline praised the album's musical control, precision, overall groove and Cunningham's "surprisingly sophisticated drumming". It was also noted that "there is a bit of sameness in Chino Moreno's whispered vocal melodies, which drags the record down a bit".
Around the Fur (1997–99)
Deftones' second album, Around the Fur, was recorded at Studio Litho in Seattle, Washington and produced by Date. Released on October 28, 1997, the album was dedicated to Dana Wells, the late stepson of the singer Max Cavalera of Sepultura, Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy. Cavalera also collaborated on "Headup", a tribute to Wells. Although not yet a member of the band, Delgado was credited as "audio" on five of the album's tracks. Cunningham's wife, Annalynn, provided guest vocals on "MX".
"When we went in to make this record, we really didn't have a set idea of what we wanted to come out with", said Moreno in a 1998 interview with Chart magazine. However, he felt that the album "fell into place" once the band had settled into the studio. The band expanded its sound, spending more time with Date and giving more thought to the album's production. Cunningham varied his drum sound and experimented by using different types of snare drum on almost every track. The album was praised for its loud-soft dynamics, the flow of the tracks, Moreno's unusual vocals, and the strong rhythm-section performance of Cheng and Cunningham. Stephen Thomas Erlewine's review noted that "while they don't have catchy riffs or a fully developed sound, Around the Fur suggests they're about to come into their own".
Around the Fur propelled the band to fame in the alternative metal scene on the strength of radio and MTV airplay for the singles "My Own Summer (Shove It)" and "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)". Around the Fur sold 43,000 copies in its first week of release, and entered the Billboard 200 at No. 29 (its peak position), remaining on the charts for 17 weeks. The band went back to touring, making appearances at the Warped Tour (in the United States, New Zealand and Australia), Pinkpop Festival, Roskilde Festival and Ozzfest as well as releasing a live EP on June 22, 1999. Around the Fur went on to reach RIAA gold status on June 24, 1999, and platinum status on June 7, 2011. "My Own Summer (Shove It)" appeared on The Matrix: Music from the Motion Picture, released March 30, 1999.
White Pony (2000–02)
Moreno has been credited as contributing guitar from White Pony
On June 20, 2000, the band released their third album, White Pony, again produced by Date and Deftones. It was recorded at The Plant Recording Studios in Sausalito, California and at Larrabee Sound Studios, West Hollywood, California. The album debuted at No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard chart with sales of 178,000 copies. Delgado, now a full-time band member, added new elements to the band's music. The melancholy "Teenager", for example, was a departure in style and mood, a "love song", according to Moreno. Programming duties were carried out by DJ Crook, a friend of Moreno (and bandmate in his side project Team Sleep). "Passenger" was a collaboration with singer Maynard James Keenan of Tool, and the refrain in "Knife Prty" featured vocals by Rodleen Getsic. Moreno also started contributing additional guitar work.
An interview with the band in Alternative Press described the recording process of White Pony. After a break from touring, the band spent four months in the studio writing and recording it, the longest amount of time they had dedicated to an album thus far. Moreno said that the majority of this time was spent trying to write songs, and that the writing of "Change (In the House of Flies)" was the turning point where the band began working as a unit. Despite being pressured to release the album sooner, the band decided to take their time. Cheng explained, "We didn't feel like we had anything to lose, so we made the record we wanted to make." Moreno did not have an overall lyrical theme in mind, but made a conscious decision to bring an element of fantasy into his lyrics: "I basically didn't sing about myself on this record. I made up a lot of story lines and some dialogue, even. I took myself completely out of it and wrote about other things".
Reviews were generally positive, commenting on Moreno's increasing sophistication as a lyricist and the group's experimentalism. Allmusic's review said that "Deftones went soft, but in an impressive way, to twist around its signature punk thrash sound".
The album was originally released as an 11-track edition beginning with "Feiticeira" and ending with "Pink Maggit", and featuring gray cover art. A limited-edition print of 50,000 black-and-red jewel case versions of White Pony was released at the same time with a bonus twelfth track titled "The Boy's Republic". Later, the band released "Back to School (Mini Maggit)", a rap-influenced interpretation of "Pink Maggit". The song was released as a single and included as the new opening track of a re-released White Pony on October 3, 2000. The new release still had "Pink Maggit" as the final track and featured altered white cover art. Not entirely happy with re-releasing the album, the band negotiated to have "Back to School" made available as a free download for anyone who had already bought the original album. Moreno noted that "Everybody's already downloaded our record before it came out anyway, otherwise I'd be kind of feelin' like, 'Man, why [are] we putting [out] all these different versions of the record?' [...] that's the best way we can actually get this song out to the people who already purchased this record, for free basically. And if they wanna buy the record again, it's cool".
White Pony achieved platinum status on July 17, 2002, selling over 1.3 million copies in the US, and earning the band a 2001 Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for the song "Elite".
Deftones began work on their fourth album under the working title Lovers. Regarding the album's direction, Cheng commented, "We've proven that we can musically go in any direction we want, and we want to get kind of heavy on this one". Moreno underwent vocal training as a precaution after severely damaging his vocal cords on the band's 2001 summer tour. The band converted their rehearsal space in Sacramento into a fully equipped studio and recorded most of the album there at negligible cost. The band brought in Date to assist with production and also received input on musical arrangement from Greg Wells on several of the album's tracks. The band later added more material at Studio X in Seattle, Washington and at Larrabee Sound Studios. Overall, the album took 12 months and cost roughly $2.5 million to complete. The band was fined by Maverick for missing deadlines.
In January 2003, Deftones left the studio to perform several one-off shows in Australia and New Zealand as part of the annual Big Day Out festival. Shortly after, the band returned to the studio to finish their fourth album. The self-titled Deftones was released on May 20, 2003. It entered the Billboard 200 at No. 2 and sold 167,000 copies in its first week. The album remained in the Billboard Top 100 for nine weeks, supported by the first single, "Minerva". The band shot a video for the album's second single, "Hexagram", with fans watching the band play the song in an indoor skatepark in Simi Valley, California.
Reviews were mainly positive, praising the band for the album's progression and originality in the midst of declining creativity in contemporary metal. Moreno was quoted as saying, "It's all on record. We told motherfuckers not to lump us in with nu metal because when those bands go down we aren't going to be with them". In reviewing Deftones, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that "Hexagram", the album's opener, "hits hard—harder than they ever have, revealing how mushy Staind is, or how toothless Linkin Park is". He also went on to say, however, that the album "sticks a little too close to familiar territory". The A.V. Club similarly called the album "less rewarding than its predecessor, though its peaks rival any in the genre".
The band released a compilation album titled B-Sides & Rarities on October 4, 2005. The CD includes various B-sides and covers from throughout their career, while the DVD contains behind-the-scenes footage and the band's complete videography up to that point.
Saturday Night Wrist (2006–07)
Deftones performing live in Glasgow
, June 2006
Rather than work with Date, their producer for many years, Deftones decided to record with Bob Ezrin on their fifth studio album. Cunningham said that while the group enjoyed working with Date, "at this point, we just needed to change things up [...] And this is definitely a different style. Working with him [Ezrin] is just putting us fucking upside down. He's cracking the whip". After recording all the instrumental parts for the record, Moreno decided to record his vocals separately, and finished recording the album with former Far guitarist Shaun Lopez as producer. According to an interview with Abe Cunningham, there were tensions involved with the recording of Saturday Night Wrist that were related to the band members' personal lives. Cunningham compared the process to pulling teeth.
The band released the album, titled Saturday Night Wrist, on October 31, 2006. It debuted at No. 10 on the U.S. Billboard chart with sales of just over 76,000, a significant decrease in the first-week sales of their two previous releases. The album's first single, "Hole in the Earth", was released on September 12, 2006. It was later featured as downloadable content for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Guitar Hero 3. "Mein" was the album's second single, which was released on March 9, 2007. Collaborations on the record include Annie Hardy from Giant Drag on the song "Pink Cellphone" and Serj Tankian from System of a Down on the track "Mein".
Deftones spent the majority of 2006 and 2007 touring around the world in support of the album, performing in North America, Europe, South America, Japan and Australia. The band also performed on such tours as Taste of Chaos, Family Values Tour and the Soundwave Festival.
Eros sessions and Cheng's car accident (2008–09)
Former bassist Chi Cheng, pictured in 2006. Cheng suffered a career-ending car accident in 2008.
In the fall of 2007, Deftones started writing songs for what was planned to be their sixth studio album, Eros. Moreno described the album as unorthodox and aggressive. Recording started on April 14, 2008.
On November 4, 2008, Cheng was seriously injured in a car accident in Santa Clara, California. As a result of the injuries sustained in the crash, he remained in a minimally conscious state. Following the accident, Cheng's bandmates and his mother, Jeanne, began using the Deftones blog to post updates on Cheng's condition. On December 9, 2008, it was announced that Cheng had been moved into the care of an unnamed hospital that "specializes in the care and management of traumatic and non-trauma related brain injuries."
In late January 2009, the band released a new statement, stating that "our fallen comrade has not yet made significant progress", and that a friend of the band, Sergio Vega (formerly of Quicksand), would be taking over as bassist in Cheng's absence, as he had done temporarily in 1998. On April 5, the band played their first show without Cheng since 1998 at the Bamboozle Left festival in Irvine, California.
On June 23, 2009, Deftones announced on their official website that Eros would be delayed indefinitely, saying, "As we neared completion on Eros, we realized that this record doesn't best encompass and represent who we are currently as people and as musicians. And although those songs will see the light of day at some point, we collectively made the decision that we needed to take a new approach, and with Chi's condition heavy on our minds while doing so. We needed to return to the studio to do what we felt was right artistically". They also said, "The decision to hold off on releasing Eros has no connection with Chi's condition or anything associated. This was, and is, purely a creative decision by the band to write, record, and deliver an amazing product".
Korn members Brian "Head" Welch and Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu, along with members of Sevendust, Slipknot and other alternative metal bands, recorded and released "A Song for Chi", with proceeds benefiting Cheng and his family. To aid in the fundraising for the Cheng family, the band announced two 2009 benefit shows in Los Angeles.
A website—One Love for Chi—was launched by Deftones fan Gina Blackmore on March 10, 2009, about four months after Cheng's accident. The site served as a platform for updates and information on Cheng's condition, as well as serving as an auction site for items donated by friends of the band. All proceeds raised by the website were donated to his family so they could provide him the best possible medical care.
Diamond Eyes (2010–11)
Deftones' sixth album, Diamond Eyes, was originally scheduled for release on April 27, 2010; this date was later pushed back to May 18. In March, it was announced that the album had leaked onto the Internet, and the album's release date was moved forward to May 4 as a result. On February 23, 2010, the album's first single, "Rocket Skates", was made available for free download at www.gunsrazorsknives.com. The album was produced by Nick Raskulinecz.
On March 15, Deftones debuted their first radio-ready single, "Diamond Eyes". Both "Diamond Eyes" and "Rocket Skates" received positive reviews from fans and critics, with many making comparisons of the two singles' style and sound to that of material from the Around the Fur album.
Teaming up with bands Mastodon and Alice in Chains, Deftones went on tour in the fall of 2010 in the United States and Canada. The tour was called Blackdiamondskye, a portmanteau of the three bands' latest albums (Black Gives Way to Blue, Diamond Eyes and Crack the Skye). The tour included a limited edition series of silk-screened art prints promoting each show individually, created by the poster artist Jermaine Rogers. Rogers has created a majority of the Deftones concert poster and print artwork since the late 1990s.
On April 16, 2011, in honor of Record Store Day, the band released an LP titled Covers, containing several cover songs that the band had recorded over the years, including "Drive" (originally by The Cars), "If Only Tonight We Could Sleep" (originally by The Cure) and "No Ordinary Love" (originally by Sade). On October 25, Deftones released The Vinyl Collection 1995–2011 in a limited edition of 1,000 copies.
Koi No Yokan and Cheng's death (2012–13)
On March 29, 2012, Carpenter revealed that the band were working on a new record in an interview posted on ESP Guitars's YouTube channel. It was reported that Raskulinecz would return to produce their as-yet-unnamed seventh studio album.
It was also reported that the band would be recording several B-sides for the album, including an Elvis Presley cover and possibly an Earth, Wind, and Fire cover. It was later announced that there would be no bonus tracks. On July 28, Deftones performed a brand-new song titled "Rosemary" and also debuted another track titled "Roller Derby" (later retitled "Poltergeist"). Koi No Yokan was announced on August 30, 2012, and released on November 12, 2012, by Reprise Records.
On April 13, 2013, despite making a partial recovery and returning home, Cheng died in a hospital in his hometown of Sacramento, after falling into cardiac arrest. It had been nearly four-and-a-half years since the 2008 accident. Moreno announced in May that the album Eros, shelved in 2008 after Cheng's accident, was now more likely to be released following his death.
In March 2014, while Moreno was touring with his side project Crosses, in support of their self-titled debut album, the rest of Deftones began writing a follow-up to Koi No Yokan. Deftones also previously reported that they intended to record a new album either in late 2014 or early 2015.
On April 13, 2014, the first anniversary of Cheng's death, Deftones released a track from Eros titled "Smile" on YouTube, the first officially released material from the long-shelved album. The video was removed by Warner Music Group two days later due to copyright infringement, despite the track having been uploaded by Moreno. Although the track has again been made available, it remains the only recording to be released from the Eros sessions to date.
Carpenter and Vega during Deftones' performance at Rock im Park
In late February 2015, just after the band had finished the new album's drum tracks, Moreno told Rolling Stone that Deftones had written 16 songs during the album's sessions. He described the album as "a little more of a heady record" than the previous album. On May 15, 2015, Moreno was interviewed by Kerrang! about the new album, which he described as having "a lot of different moods". He further explained that it was not a "happy record", but also "not a completely angry record". Despite reports of Carpenter's initial difficulty getting into the feel of the album, band members have noted the album's distinct collaborative nature. Vega utilized a six-string bass when recording the new material, helping to push the band into new sonic territory.
The album was pushed back multiple times from its originally scheduled September 2015 release date. On February 4, 2016, the band released the first single from Gore, titled "Prayers/Triangles". "Doomed User" and "Hearts/Wires" were also made available ahead of the album's release, on March 16 and April 3, respectively. Gore was officially released on April 8, 2016. The second official single, "Phantom Bride", was released on June 7. The song featured a guitar solo by Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell; this is considered unusual for a Deftones song.
In 2017 Chino Moreno revealed that Deftones had begun writing material for a new album, which he stated hoped would be out sometime in 2019. Chino went on to state that the band would be going in a different direction than they had on Gore and that he would be taking a step back from leading the song writing to allow Stephen Carpenter and Abe Cunningham to be more involved in the material on the new album. In May of 2018 Chino was again asked about the new material and he stated the songs were "considerably heavier" than those on Gore.