Abe Cunningham of 25 Years of Playing with Deftones and his Unlikely Drumming Idol
For a quarter century, Sacramento's Deftones have done the alternative metal thing with a sense of musical growth missing from many in the genre. Expanding into darker and lighter territory, the band's diversity has never seemed to impact its popular standing.
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From his home in Sacramento and in anticipation of Saturday's show at the American Airlines Center opening for Avenged Sevenfold, drummer Abe Cunningham talked with DC9 about the Deftones' 25 years in the music business and how he is just happy playing with his friends.
Has the 25 years that the band has been together gone by in a flash?
It sure doesn't feel like it has been that long. I hope for it to continue on, but I am taking it in stride. There have been many ups and downs, but that's part of the rock and roll rollercoaster ride. There has been way more good times than bad. I can't complain.
You have been friends with Stephen [Carpenter] and Chino [Moreno] going back to childhood. You ever look up and think you are tired of these guys?
Oh yeah, definitely. Of course, this whole thing was based on friendship. I can't think of a better way to go about it. For us, it turned into a business. I always say be buddies first and then see what happens. That is my advice for up and coming bands. We were really lucky in that sense. We were just some dudes trying to figure things out and here we are now.
Was it surprising when the band really hit its popular stride in 2000 with the release of White Pony?
We were still trying to figure out how to make music. We were worried about playing shows outside of our home town. You are just thinking about rocking with your buds.
You had your ex-wife sing on your records. Is she the Yoko Ono of the band?
[Laughs] No, she's not. That is funny. She just happened to be there. Like I said, we were recording in Seattle and she was there. We wanted to have a female voice on a song and she was the only lady around. So there you have it.
The band's debut album, Adrenaline, was said to be recorded very fast. Do you still work that quickly?
We've recorded every which way you can. With that first record, everything was so brand new. We had been around five or six years. We had just signed with a major label working with a real producer in a real studio. It was a very exciting time. It is four young guys all wrapped up and you can really tell that. But later, we started taking our time. We've gone into the studio without a single song written. That can very expensive and be a ridiculous waste of time and money. It was part of our growing and learning. We don't try to rush it, but we try to maximize our time. We like having a blast and appreciating what we have.
From album to album, there have been some major stylistic shifts. Is that a blessing and a curse? Do you think you have lost fans by becoming overly diverse?
I am sure that we have. Sure, it can be a blessing and a curse. People who have been with us from the get go like us for different reasons. There's a lot to like. When we write songs, we lock ourselves into a room and whatever happens happens, for better or worse. We try to run the gambit. I think White Pony was the first time we really nailed things down. I think that was the first time. We liked the diversity. We tell people to come on in.
Such diversity has made it difficult to label the band. It seems that you are stuck with alternative metal.
Yes, I don't mind that. It is just fine. That's a category that's easy to deal with. I would just say that it is rock and roll.
On 2006's Saturday Night Wrist you switched producers and used Bob Ezrin. Why change?
It was just where we were at. [Former producer] Terry Date was obviously family and we would work with him in a hot second. We will definitely make more records with him again. We just wanted a change and wanted to work with Bob.
Ezrin is a legendary producer having worked with Pink Floyd, Kiss and Alice Cooper.
Yes, he was serious. He is a serious dude and it was a serious album.
Are you working on a new album?
We have one [Ko No Yokan] that has been out about a year. We've been playing all over earth, so we are not done touring on that record. We are just at the stage of tossing around ideas. We have a break coming up in a couple of months and we will probably get back into it then.
A lot of metal drummers use the double bass drum set up, but not you. Why not?
I just can't do it. I am not really a metal drummer, but I do love metal drumming. I don't use the double bass pedal because I don't like going overboard. That's not something I do going that fast. That's not a part of our sound. I do what feels good.
Are you worried that you might implode on stage like the drummers in Spinal Tap?
[Laughs] I have definitely come close. I look around every day and say that I am glad to be here. You never know what may come.
Do you still work with your first band Phallucy?
Those are just some old buddies of mine, my best friends. We jam from time to time just for fun. They have other things in their lives. Whenever we are home, it is just a good group of guys who get together and jam. We played a house party a couple of months back and we hadn't done that since the 80's.
You have spoken of the influence of Stewart Copeland of the Police on your drumming style. Have you met him?
I've had the chance to meet him many times. I always look at him in awe. I always tell myself that I need to talk to that dude. He is an interesting dude. He is one hell of a drummer.