Q&A: Deftones' Frank Delgado on Touring and Technology

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No one could accuse Deftones of resting on their laurels, even though the band certainly deserves a little R&R. It's been a whopping 23 years since the sextet first formed in Sacramento. And nearly all of those since the band's debut album, 1995's Adrenaline, have been spent doggedly on the road.

As each record has veered more into the fringes

of heavy music, experimenting with melody and atmospherics in a way its

"nu-metal" followers could never hope to accomplish, there's been the

band to back it up. Deftones remain a staple on the live circuit with

fervent fans briskly selling out shows, even while mainstream radio and

press devotes less and less airtime and space to rock bands.

Still, it almost seems as though, perhaps, the group is trying to make up for lost time. Its most recent album, Diamond Eyes, was released about a year ago -- but that followed a period of relative inactivity after its previous effort, 2006's Saturday Night Wrist. Of course, it was in this period that original bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a serious car accident that left him in intensive care until just earlier this year.

But with a replacement, Sergio Vega of Quicksand, the band has soldiered on, and has the road seemingly harder than ever behind Diamond Eyes. Deftones headlined the Fillmore Miami Beach just last year as part of a string of theater dates before heading out on a larger arena outing with Mastodon and Alice in Chains. 

With that concluded, they set out yet again on their own headlining third tour leg, which arrives this Sunday at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater in Boca Raton. Support comes from the awesomely gonzo math-rockers Dillinger Escape Plan.

County Grind caught up with turnablist/keyboardist/all-around synth and sample guy Frank Delgado for the scoop on the current tour and possible new material. Here's what he had to say.

County Grind: You played Miami just last year, and then you did a larger tour with Mastodon and Alive in Chains, and now you're on the third leg of the same tour. However, for the last couple years before that, you were't so active as a band. Did you choose to tour so aggressively now as a way to make up for that?

Frank Delgado: Yeah, but it's a different time than it was two years ago. For a band like us, touring is how we make a living, I guess you could say. At the same time, we're having a lot more fun. not that we weren't having fun before -- but we made things harder on us than they should have been. So we're having a lot of fun, and we're trying to get as much as we can, as far as touring, out of this record.

What do you mean by things being harder on you before than they needed to be?

Just life in general, not being healthy as we should be to ourselves. Typical road life. 

What's changed? What made you flip that switch, or was it a process of just growing up?

Yeah, most definitely growing up. We're older now and it's all been a learning process of being better musicians, better friends, better men. I would definitely chalk it up to growing up.

Since you've been on these three separate legs of a tour behind the same record, how have you varied your set list, and what else are you doing to keep things fresh? You just played Miami in 2010, so how different would this upcoming show be from that one?

We've been playing a lot of stuff we haven't played in the last couple of years, and for a band, that's as deep as it's gonna get. It's not like anyone's juggling between songs. I guess the production is a little bit different, different lights and stuff like that. But for the most part, we're pulling out songs we haven't played in a while. We've never been the kind of band to just go through the motions and play the same songs over and over again over the tours for the same album.

How much of that varies from night to night specifically? 

It varies a lot. We pretty much write the set list last minute, and I think it's varied a lot more before. I think with this production, we have some video stuff and projections, certain things stay the same so the projections can coincide as the songs. But we try to change it up as possible. For us, it's always been something we've done last second.

Are there any particular older songs you're playing now that you missed playing, or are particularly enjoying playing again? 

Yeah, there's a lot! We've been playing some of the songs from Saturday Night Wrist, which I think kind of took a back seat since this was the Diamond Eyes tour. I think the last record we put out was not neglected on purpose, but we've been playing those songs a lot more now, and "Cherry Waves," "Hole in the Earth," stuff like that.

On the three legs of the tour behind this record you've played everything from theaters to arenas to amphitheaters. Do you prefer, as a band, playing smaller venues to bigger venues, or is it just a different challenge?

I wouldn't say it's so much a challenge, just a different environment, and the energy's a little different. In a smaller environment I would say it's a lot more kinetic energy. Not to say it isn't there with a bigger show, but they each hold their place. We're lucky enough as a band to play both of those kinds of shows, and we look forward ot them both. That Alice in Chains/Mastodon gig was a fun tour, one of the funnest we've had in a long time, and this tour right here is just smashing. There are a lot of sold-out dates, and with Dillinger out with us, we're having a blast every night.

How much personal control do you have over picking the bands with whom you tour? They're always notably diverse.

We just toss some names out and see who's available, and it doesn't always work. We had been trying to tour with Mastodon forever, but logistically it just never worked, because everyone has their own schedule. So it's always about making a short list of who you'd like to tour with and then seeing who's available. It just so happened that Dillinger was one of the names that had been tossed around a lot, and this time it worked. 

For you personally, what is your setup like onstage? How much are you actually DJing, and how much is more keyboard and synth-based?

I would say, honestly the stuff that I'm using turntable-wise is all old stuff, the first three records. I guess I just never adapted it to the new technology. Then the new stuff is hardware synthesizers and software synthesizers. 

I would say the last two records were pretty much all computer-based, software synths, and that only has to do with how technology's changed since I first got started. I've been growing and learning how to play, and now I'm a little more comfortable with writing and playing, whereas when I first joined the band all I had was records. 

Right around when you joined the band, and then after White Pony came out, there was a huge trend to have DJs in rock bands. And that's right when you started to turn away from that. Was that on purpose, to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack? 

Yeah, I guess. It wasn't like I thought I was too cool to do what everyone was doing. It was more like this band was obviously trying to do different things, with different sounds and melodies, and the dynamics between the heavy guitars and how Chino approached the singing. It was about more than just the filler of what DJs were doing in bands, like, "Oh, this is the part where a DJ would scratch." 

So I looked at it like I needed to find a way to create melody and harmonies within the songs as a whole. Once I started figuring that out using gear that was hanging around, that's where something like "Change" comes about. That's me trying to stay in the song, through the song, as opposed to just "the part where the DJ comes in." 

So I guess that was me challenging myself, and thinking that was how I needed to develop with the band. I think the band as a whole was trying to not do whatever was expected or happening at the time. That's what I think White Pony was, a total left to what everyone thought we would have or should have done, because I guess we had been pigeonholed.

What was your musical background before that, even? Was it straight hip-hop DJing, or something else?

Yeah, it was just music in general. I grew up as one of those kids who had a radio as a best friend since I wa sa little tyke. I bought my first records at age six, I think. One was a KISS record, and one was a Queen record, and the other was the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Then as I got older I started liking heavy metal, listening to Van Halen and Maiden and Priest and shit like that. 

By the time I got to junior high and early high school, hip-hop was brand new and I started DJing. I had a friend with an older brother who was a DJ and he'd let us mess around on the gear. So I started listening to all the new stuff. Hip-hop was new, and dance music was new; it could be anything from New Order and early Depeche Mode to early L.A. hip-hop. By the time I hit high school I started to learn how to scratch and do all that stuff. 

If you really engulf yourself in a certain genre, you end up appreciating other genres. So that's what happened as I got older. I started getting into jazz and funk from the samples. Then once I started working at record stores, it just opened me up to all different kinds of music. It's always been a real social thing for me, and I think that's why I got along with these dudes so well. I think that's the one thing we've always had in common, is that we've always been a bunch of music nerds.

Are you much of a record collector still? Do you still DJ in your off time?

For sure, I do that a lot in my downtime, of which there isn't much. And I do have a lot of records. It's slowed down, but I still buy music constantly. That's one thing about the band, we're constantly looking for new music.

When you do the turntable stuff onstage, are you using actual turntables or are you running Serato or something like that?

I use Serato when I DJ, and I was an early adopter when it came out. But onstage, I still use the actual original vinyl. That was one of the things that I did early on, because before Serato, one thing I had to do was use records that were really hard to find and obscure because I didn't want to get sued. That made it hard on me, because as the records wore out, it was hard to find backups. I could switch over to Serato, but maybe it's more of a lazier thing. But I do like spinning the regular vinyl.

The thing you mentioned about finding obscure samples, is that what first triggered you to get into the new technology and into making your own sounds?

I wouldn't say that's what drove me to it. It was more me wanting to learn and be more of a musician and learn to play, and try to incorporate it into where I was coming from with my DJ background. And I wanted new toys to play with. That's another thing this band has always been about. We've never been afraid to try different sounds and toys, use drum machines and stuff. That just kind of progressed with time, with me getting better at what I did, and more confidence.

What is the most interesting piece of technology that you've discovered recently that you've incorporated into your live show? 

I'm a really big Ableton Live supporter and fan. I've been using that on the last three records, and I've been buying it since it first came out. I think it's caught on and gotten really big over the last few years in the remix and DJ world, but it's such a good production tool. When anyone asks me what program I'd recommend, I always steer them to Ableton Live. That's my main thing. 

What appeals to you about Ableton versus Logic or another similar program?

I just like the workflow. You don't have to get lost in a learning curve, per se. It's one of those programs where you can kind of jam with it, and twist and bend as you go, then go back and twist and bend some more. It actually makes creating live fun; it's not just a virtual studio. With each release, they tend to add a lot more and upgrade the features.

With all of this technology giving you the ability to have things pre-programmed as you need them, how much of your part of the show is actually performed live?

There is no sequencing involved whatsoever, and for the most part it's me playing the samples. I use it in a way so I can perform and play as an actual synthesizer. I've never let it get to the point where I push a button and it's sequenced and I can never mess up. So that's one way I approach it with the band, because I didn't want to be the dude just pushing buttons. It makes it more interactive for me to be able to play with the band and write.

How has all the new technology changed how you are involved in the songwriting process?

I guess it's changed for me, but not for everybody else. We've always written the same way, where we get together and make noise. When I first started with the band I'd be messing around and trying to find samples, and even something I'd play might trigger somebody to write a bassline off it. That same kind of thing happens now, but now I can play as opposed to me just trying to find something that's in a key or pitch that would hopefully fit. Being able to play and write has helped me a lot with the band as a whole, and it's me growing more confident with my musicianship.

Talking about writing, and considering that you've been on the road for so long behind this one record, have you gotten around to any new material?

We haven't. We're not one of those bands that really writes on the road, so what we're going to do is, we have a break between this tour and the next, with us going to Europe. I think it's about five weeks in total, and we're going to use about four of them to go hole up somewhere and write, and see what happens. Then we'll go back out on the road and finish up the last leg of this album cycle, then resume writing and recording. We're just trying to stay fluid and productive rather than just going home for five weeks.

Deftones. 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 22. Sunset Cove Amphitheater, 12551 Glades Rd., Boca Raton. Tickets cost $30; ticketmaster.com

Follow County Grind on Facebook and Twitter: @CountyGrind

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