Interview: Chino Moreno (Team Sleep/Deftones)

Chino talks Team Sleep and Deftones.

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Though recording and touring the world with Deftones has taken up nearly all of his time since the early '90s, singer Chino Moreno still has managed to nurture side project Team Sleep for the past decade-plus. Combining elements of shoegaze, trip-hop, and ambient electronica, Team Sleep ratchets up the atmospherics found in a lot of Deftones songs, but subtracts the skull-splitting riffs and screams. The quintet comes to El Corazon tomorrow night, the third date of a rare tour; I caught up with Chino shortly before they hit the road:

So these are the first dates you guys have done in a couple years, yeah?

Yeah, a few years. Since we’ve been around I’ve pretty much been busy obviously doin' deftones stuff. That's the priority. Team Sleep is fun stuff to play, and it’s not anything I look at, like, 'Oh, this is like my make or break thing.' It's more just a fun thing. If I'm not on tour, even if I'm at home I'm gonna be working on some kind of music whatever it be. That's what I do for fun.

Does it take a few shows for Team Sleep to get into a groove, or do you pretty much hit the ground running?

Well, we're only playing two weeks of shows, so I'd say by the end of the second week we'll probably start doing it right [laughs]. Nah, we've been rehearsing. I was up in Sacramento -- I live in L.A. now, but I was up in Sacramento where a few of the other guys from Deftones live, we've been up there writing over the last few months and we usually work at night, so in the daytime I've been rehearsing with Team Sleep. It's been a pretty busy schedule, but it's been pretty good. Everything kinda started coming back together really quick. It's fun to get together with everybody because actually I haven't even seen some of the guys in the last couple of years, so just for us getting together and starting playing together again is definitely a head trip. But it's turning out pretty good, and while I'm back down here in L.A. they're rehearsing up there without me, and then the middle of this week I'm heading back up to Sacramento for a week and a half of rehearsal.

What are you most looking forward to about this tour, just being able to spend time with those guys?

Yeah, and just going out and playing shows, you know what I mean? I like to play music, so... I've been home since the end of summer -- it hasn't been that long but it kinda feels like it, it feels like I've been home forever.

I've seen you perform live a lot, and get the impression that when you're up there you seem to go somewhere else ... are you aware of everything in the moment?

I'm not completely oblivious to whats going on, but I can see what you're saying, where I kind of get lost in the music a little bit. I guess it kinda makes it a little easier, too. I mean, if I were to sit and think about what's going on, you know, all these people are staring at me, and think about, like, 'Am I singing this right? Am I in key?' If I seriously started thinking about that I'd probably psych myself out and...you know what I mean? I guess over the years I've kinda just learned to, I wouldn’t say tune out, but I maybe just tune in to the music as much as possible so nothing else is distracting.

So when you first started playing, you were more self-conscious ... at what point did that flip over?

Oh I'm still...it hasn't really gone away. I get nervous every night. Every night. And it's not like nervousness where I'm thinking about not going on stage. It's just, you know, I usually just gotta have a beer or two, just loosen up a little bit. You get used to it after a while, but the first couple shows on any tour will be a little tense and as it goes on you get used to it. But you get a little butterfly feeling, and the best thing for that I feel is to have a stiff one.

That helps with a lot of things in life.

Definitely [laughs].

When you're writing songs, do you feel like you're reaching out and communicating to someone, or are you just kinda purging what's inside?

Mmmm, you know, I dunno. Usually it's...usually it starts with the music, if something that's coming out of the music that sounds like 'Wow, I like the way that feels,' whether that’s creepy or happy or whatever it is, that feeling catches your attention to the music right away and then I kinda just try to follow in the mood of how that music's making me feel at the moment, you know what I mean? I don't try to say 'Okay, how do I feel inside, lemme get this out.' It's not so much of that, but really just whatever the mood of the music is that's being created at the time, and from that point on it's kinda going back to that moment where you're first writing the song. And that to me, that's what my excuse was for over the last few Deftones record cycles of writing the record in the studio, because I was thinking, if we're writing it in the studio then we're actually capturing the exact moment of us being our most creative. And although that works for some things, I think that for this Deftones record we're working on right now, I'm trying to actually not do that and write all the songs and have them all written and remembered like clockwork, and then go into the studio and record 'em like that. That's really just because that's the way that we haven't done it in a lot of years. I mean, the first couple records were done that way just because before we had a record deal we wrote a bunch of songs and then went in and recorded them. But after that it started to become over the years more and more going into the studio with just a couple ideas and then writing the record in the studio, which becomes very expensive. And, you know, we’re just trying to find different ways of creating where we’re not relying on computers and technology and just really rely on our memories, just write a song and keep playing it until we have it memorized and then actually go into the studio prepared for once. So I dunno if it's definitely a better way to do it, it's just a different way and I think it's good to keep things fresh and new.

Yeah, when you're making music this long you have to change it up now and then to stay sane, I would imagine.

Yeah, definitely. It's kinda good sometimes to put yourself in an uncomfortable position, you know what I mean, no matter what it is, because it tests you to try … you don't get too comfortable with anything, and you don't just start going through the motions. It kinda catches you off guard, and I think that helps your creativity in some way.

Do you do that with your voice -- putting yourself in situations of hitting a note or singing a melody that maybe you're not totally comfortable with?

Yeah, I mean, I end up doing that to myself a lot of times. I'll write something and then it'll be kinda hard to sing, and then we'll hafta play it live and I'll be like, damn, every time we get to that part it’s just like...[laughs]. I'll do that to myself sometimes, and I dunno if that's the best thing. I do like to experiment with things I can do, I'm still learning what I can do with my voice. I mean, I kinda started off as...when we very first started out I was screaming and rapping and whatever because that was easy for me, I grew up doing that kinda stuff, and then I eventually taught myself how to sing and I still kinda am, so every time I go in there I still try to see what I can do.

Are there certain people you look to as models for the way they experiment with their voice? Whenever I think of that I think of a guy like Mike Patton.

Yeah, he's pretty much the epitome of that. Somebody who just, he'll always...it seems like he's always trying to find a different angle, and that's awesome. I guess someone like PJ Harvey as well, who I think...her voice changes, you know? She has, like, I'd say four or five completely different vocal styles that she has, and with every new record you never know which one she's gonna come with, and it seems like every time I hear something it's like there's something new she's doing. [Tool's] Maynard [James Keenan] does that as well. It's awesome that he’s experimenting with what he can do with his voice.

Some artists are terrified of their voice changing, and having to adapt as you get older. You don’t fear that?

Well, I mean, I've kinda already dealt with that. Like realizing that there's stuff I cant do from our first record -- there's these really high, like, Perry Farrell-esque high-note things I used to do and I can't do that anymore. These days, I can do like another version of it, it's like a scream version of it, but it's not as clear and as pristine as it used to be, and I dunno if that's just from me getting older or from me abusing my vocal chords all these years screaming or whatever. But, you know, I kinda had to realize, like, wow, I can't do that anymore.

What was that like to feel that way, did it bum you out?

At first I kinda felt like, I was scared, I kinda felt like claustrophobic or something, like, wow, I can't...I was just trying and trying and trying to make this sound come out and it doesn't come out and it's scary -- at first you kinda panic about it and then it's like, whatever, that's not the only note that I'm known by, you know what I mean? It's just one note and I can still hit the note, it's just not as pristine as it used to be.

Would you say there is "art" in the performance of a song, or is the art only in the creation of a song?

I think both are different, I can't really compare. Obviously the shows for me are more exciting, performing 'em is more raw because I'm not thinking about it. In the studio I'm thinking about my performance, like we were talking about earlier -- I'm more lost in whatever is going on when we're playing it live, so it's a lot more true, a lot easier to me. The studio is fun for other reasons. When you do create something for the first time, that's a pretty good feeling. Like, wow, I just made something that wasn't there one minute ago and now there's something there that'll be there forever. But they're both special for different reasons.

Sounds like there’s still a sense of discovery and magic about music for you, you’re not jaded after all these years?

I'm lucky that I haven't lost a lot of that. I mean, I listen to a ton of music all day long -- my excuse is like, that's my job [laughs]. I'll be on my computer going through internet radio stations and stuff because you can find so much obscure stuff, and then I'm fascinated looking it up, and then looking on Youtube and seeing if there's any live stuff of it. I mean, I still, that's my biggest interest is finding and hearing as much music as I can, and that's why I'm still excited about it. But I feel like that's what I do, that's my life.

Not a bad way to live.

I like it!

Do you feel like you have this loyal fanbase via Deftones that will check out what you do in Team Sleep? Do you feel at all like you're converting people when you're up there?

A little bit. I feel like if someone is into this thing that I do then, you know, maybe I can turn them on to something else I'm into or that I like. And a lot of times, I mean, I don't look at the two things really that separately because it's just me doing what I would do, I would do the same vocal line over a Deftones song that I would do over a Team Sleep song, it's just that the music's different. I don't change my style for each project, so I kinda feel like if someone appreciates the way that I sing, then maybe they'll like this other piece of music I’ve done. Hopefully they will.

Team Sleep's definitely a whole different scene than Deftones...

Yeah, it's definitely not as big, it’s definitely more of a baby band kinda thing. We play small shows...we went to Europe a few years ago when we were touring on our last record, and we played some place like Stockholm and there was like four people there. But it was a cool show, the four people there were so into it, we have a lot of video content so it's interesting to watch, too. Before we went onstage I was so tripped out, like, 'Oh my God there’s no one here, blah blah blah, this is gonna suck, and blah blah blah,' and while the show was going on I was like, I wish there was more people here to see this because this is rad. But it's definitely still a growing thing, and obviously I'd like to dedicate more time to it than I actually do.

So when do you think we'll see a new Team Sleep album?

Well, we're doing these few shows and then putting out some EPs for free online or whatever, and then 2009 is when I'm looking at I'll be finishing up the touring of this new Deftones record we'll be putting out next year. So sometime after that I guess, maybe 2010.

Man, that’s crazy to have your life planned out that far in advance.

Yeah, it is, but it's helped out that I'm thinking about things in advance now, because it helps me keep it together.

Do you ever miss the early days when you were living kinda day to day?

Yeah, I kinda went through that where I kinda liked to live day to day in life in general, you know, live for the moment, and I figured that's fun and fine when you're in your twenties and shit, but once you get older you kinda gotta start planning whats gonna happen and I dunno, I guess you just gotta be more responsible.

 
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