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ULTIMATE-GUITAR.COM
Stephen Carpenter
25 octobre 2008

 

"Here is my day: wake up, do a little housecleaning and clean up the mess from the night before and try to get some golf in." The speaker is Deftones’ guitarist Stephen Carpenter. "In the last month, I’ve only played about four or five times; it’s not my norm but I have been working on this and that."

This and that is a new Deftones recorded titled Eros. Stephen (pronounced like Steffen) has been writing and recording the album for the past year, a process he both loves and despises. Carpenter digs the family vibe of it all, hanging out with his band buddies and making the unique hybrid of rock and new metal that only they can create. But the other side of it – the commercial/marketing/promotional aspect – is one he loathes. And hence, the golf games keep him level and allow him to maintain a sense of equilibrium during the process.

Though we had to endure two dropped cellphone signals, we managed to cover a lot of ground. This is the territory we explored.

UG: What is record mode like for you when you’re in the studio? Is it a period of hibernation and collecting your musical ideas? Getting your guitar rig together? Trying to tap into the elusive muse? Is it like going to war in some respects?

Stephen Carpenter: It definitely can be; I can say that. I think the hardest thing that we have sometimes is that all of us individually are so passionate about all the different kinds of music we like. So it becomes a war in that sense. When we’re trying to shape the songs into whatever style we think we’re shaping it into, it can be a little battle at those moments; but we get past them.

 
"We (don’t) try to recreate what we’ve already done. We definitely don’t do that."
 

Along those same lines about making records, this is what you said a while back when you were recording the Saturday Night Wrist album. I spoke to you at that time for Ultimate-Guitar and you said, “People really like this song; let’s make something like this. That way, they’ll still like us.”

No, that’s definitely not a practice of ours. We (don’t) try to recreate what we’ve already done. We definitely don’t do that.

Exactly. The end of your original statement was, “Alright, they’ve heard that record, if we create another one like that, that’s almost like slapping them in the face.”

Yeah.

So, what can we expect to hear on this album (there was no music to listen to at the time of this conversation).

Umm, I think, a little more melody. Is the hard stuff there? Yeah, the hard stuff’s there but I would definitely say there’s probably more of a melodic side right now.

You’ve returned to working with Terry Date who produced the first four Deftones records. Was he instrumental in bringing out this more melodic side? When we last spoke you had some comments about then-producer, Bob Ezrin: “I personally didn’t choose Ezrin. I really wasn’t interested in doing it with him at all at the time when we started. I had a good time with Bob, but he wasn’t the guy I really wanted.

As far as working with Terry on this new record, it really was a group decision. It’s never really been like, “Oh, Steph really wants to work with Terry; we should work with Terry.” As a group, he’s family to us and our sixth member; we’re attached to him to a certain level where we really feel comfortable with Terry. And so I think as a group we were all in a good mood and Terry came up and everybody was psyched and that’s kinda how it worked out as far as this record goes.

But our reasons for liking Terry, I think you ask everyone of us and you might get the same answer and also a slight variation of it as well. Terry has always been cool and he’s always let us just be ourselves. He doesn’t sit there and try and force us into a situation where we’re uncomfortable as far as we really gotta gear songs towards radio or stuff like that; singles. We never really have those conversations with him and it’s always really nice. Terry lets us just make our music and the music will speak for itself with our without all those parameters that come in as far as like the radio and “Is it gonna be a single or not?” That’s just crazy talk.

You convey the sense that you don’t really enjoy the machinery of making records: the press and doing interviews and having to deal with getting singles on the radio. Is that what you signed up for when you decided to be a guitar player in a rock and roll band?

It’s accurate to a degree and I’ll be specific: I do enjoy the process of settin’ up and creating records and all that. To me, it just seems redundant because I don’t like hype and for me to sit there and constantly reiterate how great the music is or “This song and this record is so awesome,” I feel uncomfortable being just that kind of person where it’s just all trying to pump myself up. I’m very laid back; I definitely will talk a hype game but when I’m doing it, I do it from the standpoint of neutrality, almost making fun of myself. “Oh, yeah, I’m the guy in the rock band! Blah blah blah.” It’s more fun that way for me. I love everything about it but it’s the redundancy of trying to hype it up and, “What’s so new and special about this record?” It’s like, “Well, I don’t know, I don’t really know what’s new and special about it.” From the perspective where I’m sitting at in present time, I look back over all the years of doing it and I’ve got such gratitude for being able to do it for as long as we’ve been doing it.

When we first started, I didn’t even have a vision that any of this would even be part of it. For me, the dream was to sign a record contract and make a record; it was really making the record that was always my vision. Or going out and playing shows for people that love our music; everything else that comes attached to it, the whole process, I had no vision of it. So when I started going through it, at first I was like, “OK, I’m going through it” and then we do another record and then I’m going through it. And then it comes to be like each other is the same process, it’s the same thing; it’s the same questions.

It’s like, “Oh, God, how do I do a new record of new music and then do the same questions all the time?” I step back in time where time isn’t even movin’ when I’m doing it. I’m not the greatest hype guy when it comes to hyping up our music. I’ll sit there and tell you, “Oh, it’s the greatest we’ve ever done, it’s the greatest” but the reality is, when it leaves my hands and our hands, the band, it’s just public domain at that point. And my view of how everything exists in the ream that we all live with, that everything is in balance at all times. I mean I can hype it up for all of those who are already going to enjoy it; while there’ll still be those people that won’t even care. So it’s like, I don’t see the point because I’ve already got love for all of those that love us. I would love to see other people come in that are interested in hearin’ the music and getting’ into it but I don’t know, I can’t beg for them to show up.

Your honesty is overwhelming. Even in our first conversation, you were pretty straight up and severe about what you liked about the band and what you didn’t like.

Well, isn’t it really just kind of strange that (for) most people, honesty doesn’t even kind of register (laughs)? I don’t play into the hype very well because I figure the hype is already there; I’ll leave it be. Look, I’m just me and I’m just having fun and I know that sounds so generic and a vague answer but the reality is is like, “Yeah, I’m having fun; I enjoy doing what I do.”

I’ve exceeded what I imagined it all being to begin with. And that’s not saying we’re at some superstar level or I’m rich because the truth of the matter is we’re not at a superstar level and I’m not rich. I’m just another human being out there; I play music, it’s what I do for a living. To me the most amazing thing is that I could tell people I play music for a living! It’s like, wow.

Golf is a big part of your life. If you go out and shoot a great game, can that influence your guitar playing? Will you come into the studio on fire and lay down some great soloes after shooting a low game? Does one thing feed another?

Well, I think that everything feeds into everything. And I know that sounds completely vague but if you’re havin’ a good day doing whatever it is you’re doing … For instance, me, I’m out playing golf and I’m having a great day, then I come into our sessions and I’m in a great mood, then my great mood should reflect straight into the music.

But when you have your worst moments and I get into that funk where I’m like, “Oh, this isn’t that good,” I’m really a negative person. I don’t want to be negative, I just notice negativity. I can call it out or I recognize it very easy lots of times. Once I’ve acknowledged it, I try not to feed into it, I try not to be part of it. Because it just won’t make it any better. And that would totally crossover into the music.

Honestly, if you had somebody documenting us through the process of making a record, you’d see us lots of times just doin’ nothin’. Just enjoying each other’s company, like a group of friends. Sometimes we’re jamming and we’ve got all these different little issues; sometimes we get inspired and something is happening and other times nobody’s got anything and it is what it is. What are you gonna do?

Were there moments on the record where that happened? For instance, you had to put down a solo and nothing happened? Or, are you able to go on autopilot and create?

No, it’s definitely no autopilot. In fact, I’ll give you a fer instance. A year ago, October last year, we packed all our stuff up and came down to LA for a few weeks to just mix up our environment and jam in a different spot. Everything was going good; we were having a good time, the songs were starting to get really tight and parts were starting to shape up really cool. We were working on this one and I didn’t have a part throughout the verse section. And while we were down there, I had come up with something that was really cool; it just like fit in perfectly. Nobody questioned it and everybody was enjoying it and it was like, “OK, this will be a cool part.”

And then simultaneously at that same point in time, Chi had experienced a loss in the family. And he had to take off and left. So that day, that same day I had come up with this part that I thought was really exciting and fit in the song awesome, it just vanished. Because after that day we didn’t jam for long like three or four days; we’re pretty irresponsible, I mean we weren’t recording our stuff while we were jamming. So this part I had come up with that fit perfectly, everyone enjoyed it, I liked it, a cool little melody line, vanished. Gone. To this day, I don’t play anything in that part of the song because the best part I had, I can’ t remember. And I can’t just substitute it with something else. So I just leave it blank.

As far as like, “OK, the song beat me; you won, song.”

I don’t feel bad about it because I figure, you know what? I was really troubled by it when it first happened for the fact that I actually forgot it. I can’t believe I forgot it! Instead of beatin’ myself up mentally over and over about why it’s gone, I just accept the failure on it and let it be what it was. I lost.

Song – one; Steph – zero.

Are you playing all the guitars on the album?

No, Chino plays guitars on songs, too. Actually, we have this huge identity crisis in our band, I think. I play bass on some songs, I play keyboards on a couple songs and obviously I play guitar; Chino plays guitars and plays bass on a song. And on this record, Chi wants to explore his creative roots, so now he’s playing guitar on a couple songs. Abe’s obviously just playing drums; I’m like, “Abe, why don’t you step out and grab a keyboard, man? Let me get back there, I’ll throw a beat down; mix it up.” Our attitude when we’re jamming, you know we’re just having fun, goofing around. And I don’t mean goofing around like it doesn’t matter; like have fun with it, it’s music. I think if you stick to a certain set of rules all the time in music, you’re limiting the music. Because you don’t know what really can happen or what can came out if you just kind of let go and let it be what it’s gonna be.

It’s a concept that 20 years ago had you asked me? I probably would have been like, “What? Are you crazy? That can’t be done.” But as we’ve lived through this and we’ve grown up and grown up into the people we are right now, our minds have opened up a lot more to where they’ve been and hopefully they continue to remain open and we go into different areas and things and stuff like that.

Like I said, there’s times where we’d rather not fight and we just don’t do anything. Because the alternative is we’re all gonna argue and fight because somebody’s got an opinion and their opinion is right and the other person is wrong. So it’s generic and vague, but life’s short, have fun (laughs).

Again, going back to our first conversation, the subject of the smoking of marijuana was brought up. Is that still a part of your life? Part of the fun? The music?

Well, I’ll say this about it: In my younger years, I’m 38 now, I can definitely say I’ve been immature in my youth and a well-sized portion of my adult life I’ve been immature. And I can’t pretend I don’t have moments now (laughs). Geez! But I’m trying to make a better effort to not be that person and not be immature. And as much as I talked about it in the past, I look back on it and I don’t look back and think I did anything wrong. But as far as the future? I’m not tryin’ to promote it because you know what? People do things to do what they want and you make your own choices. I do still do it and it is part of my life and that’s the only reason why it’s part of the music; because it is part of my life. It’s something I enjoy. In my mind, it allows me to be a little more relaxed and I don’t want to say accepting but my mind is more open to ideas and different perspectives with it. That’s all.

You’ve obviously been open to the concept of 7- and 8-string guitars in your music. Has there been a learning curve in terms of integrating those extra strings into your vocabulary?

First off, I’m not a master of even six strings! So when I actually went to seven, it was because I wanted that lower sound, that deeper tuning. That was what drove me into the seventh and once I got comfortable playing the 7-string, my mentality has always been the same even coming from the 6-string. I don’t know theory or haven’t had any lessons growing up as a guitar player throughout my guitar history up until recently. Where I am now at a point where I’ve still not taken any, but I have a much larger desire now to actually learn about the instrument. Because for me the instrument has always just been a device and a tool to have fun with. My intent to take lessons is not to do anything else other than to learn some scales; to be able to switch modes and change the mood in the music; to understand how notes relate to each other as far as mood-wise.

As far as bringing in the 8-string, it’s that same desire that took me to the 7-string; I wanted that lower sound. And everyone knows that I’m a fan of Meshuggah and when I found out they went to 8, I was like, “Man, I just got accustomed to the 7- and you guys dropped on me again. Oh, my god!” So, a lot of my desire to have an 8-, I brought it out just to have fun. And the reality is God, is just it, I’m just havin’ fun it. I didn’t master the 6-string; I certainly was not a master of the 7- if I could not master the 6-. The 8- is just a beast.

My top string right now is tuned down to D# so I’m a whole octave and a half-step lower than what all the standard tunings we’ve all been taught and learned on; so let’s just say, it’s pretty low. What I did was I maintained my tuning from my 7-string guitars into my 8-; and in my 7-string guitars I’m tuned down to G#. So that would be a half-step flat from what would be normal on a baritone that would be tuned to A.

And that’s largely in part to accommodate where Chino plays guitar; he plays guitars and he likes the tuning of C# so that’s what he’s in all the time. That would be your Eb drop; the guitar was all tuned to Eb and then drop tuning the top string. That’s been a tuning he plays in a lot. So me playing in G# was just kind of a way to blend in with that.

And now, I’m just at the point where I’m so low, that top string of mine is at the threshold where you just can’t go lower without a fatter gauge. But I’m already using a .069 on the top so it’s not disgusting but it can definitely be viewed as disgusting. But really, there it is; for me, I get to play down in D# and that sounds cool here and there. Can I use D# on every song? God, it would just sound horrible.

I’m gonna tune my 8-string back up to where it should be and that’s F#. So that would put the 8th string, the bottom (actually top) six being your standard 6-string guitar in E, that would put the 7th in B and the top one, an F#. That’s actually the tuning I received the guitar in.

Writing on the 7- and 8-string guitars must bring in a different harmonic element. Is this reflected in the tracks on the new record?

Well, to be honest, if you listen to the new, a lot of what I’m doing on the new stuff I’m not even playing on the top (actually bottom) strings; I’m down on the bottom three or four.

(Note: When Steph references playing on the bottom or top strings, he is referring to them in a physical location and not their gauge position. So, when he talks about the “top” strings, he is talking about the heaviest strings at the top of the fretboard; and not the “top” strings in terms of thinner string gauges).

I’m doing a lot of melody lines; I won’t use the word leads because I’m not shredding any soloes by any stretch but they are to some degree lead lines.

If you were playing a 6-string guitar? You’d be able to play about 80 per cent of what I’m doing on the new record without having the 8-. And largely in part is because like I said, the top string is really low and you know what? The dynamics in my band is, to me, kind of hilarious. There was a period of time at the beginning of this year when we were working, writing new songs, and everyone knew I had an 8-string except for Chi. He knew I was getting an 8-string but he didn’t know I already had it, right? So, he’s always making cracks on me, he’s like, “Man, this is just dumb blah blah blah.” And he’s like, “What are you gonna do when you get it?” I was like, “Dude, I’ve been playing it for like three months!” For three months I’d been playing it while we’d been working; he hadn’t even noticed it.

I was like, “Are you serious? For three months now I’ve been using this thing and I have to tell you I’m using it?” I mean, what do you say to that?

He didn’t think your guitar sounded any different?

Well, like I said, you wouldn’t hear the difference because a lot of what I’ve been doin’ is I’ve been playing a lot of the melody lines. But largely I don’t play on the lower stuff (strings) because for me when I’m playing on that stuff, as a guitar player, I’m into playing metal; as a fan of music, I love everything.

Towards the beginning of our conversation, you talked about not being very good at hyping the band’s music. Well, if you had to describe the new CD to an alien that just came to earth, how would you do it?

If I was telling a stranger that’s never heard our music, I’d say it’s very melodic; it’s got some loud aggressive parts to it too; it’s got some good grooves into it. That’s how I’d describe it to a stranger. To a Deftones fan? It might throw you back for a second, but once you get your senses again, you’ll be right there with it. I think Deftones fans aren’t expecting what they’re gonna hear; but will hear stuff that they expect as well. Does that make any sense? We, as the Deftones, we have our sound and our style and that’s always there; it’s a dynamic sound. When you hear Abe’s drums, you’ll hear Abe playing like you’ve heard him play throughout our history; when you hear Chino sing, you’ll hear the way Chino’s sung. And you’ll hear him sing in ways that you probably haven’t heard. The same with my guitars; you’ll hear my guitars on some songs and be like, “Man, that’s it; that’s the sound I know.” And the others will be like, “Is Steph really playing that?” And I’m saying that because that’s how I see it.

Will the people that listen to our music say that? That’s what I picture; I don’t know, I could be wrong. They could probably all either go, “That sucks like crap” and the others are gonna go, “Man, that’s the greatest song I ever heard.” But again, like I said, I come to that battle all the time; that’s why I can’t participate in the whole hype story.

I feel as strong about these songs as I’ve felt about all our other records. Are they different than the other ones? They’re as different to the other ones as the other ones have been to the other ones. However that may sound; it sounds totally confused but the reality is each record has its own sound and this record has its own sound that the other ones don’t have.

(But) when we actually recorded White Pony, I had felt more strongly about that record than any of the records we’d done. And I felt really good about both previous records, Adrenalin and Around the Fur. And to this day, if you’re only judging us on sales and numbers, then that’s been our greatest record of all of our records. But if you’re judging us as a fan of the band, I think it’s right across the board with all of ‘em. There have been new fans for each record we’ve done but once they’ve got in and become a fan of the band, they’ve gone into all of the material past and present.

Our last two records just apparently suck because they sold nothing.

Saturday Night Wrist didn’t sell?

That was a total flop. So, that’s why I don’t participate in the hype. I look at our numbers and what I think they should be and they’re just horrible. What do you say to that? The numbers aren’t lying.

No, numbers don’t lie. But Saturday Night Wrist was an amazing record.

I think that record from start to finish is awesome but I can’t go out and buy 10 million CDs just to make the numbers be 10 million. We are not that band that you might picture as like the stars or whatever and I think largely in part because we’re just us, we’re regular dudes; we are just like our audience. We are ordinary, we are exceptional, we are just human beings. And our goals throughout our entire history of the band has been having fun and making music that we like.

And what the plans for future fun?

We’re touring with Slayer; we toured with them on the Ozzfest in ’99 and we went on right after them so, going on before them will be a piece of cake.

Deftones and Slayer seem like completely different bands.

Well, they are completely different but we all get along; we all like each other. We’ll definitely have a good time on that tour. Honestly, this is what I believe: If you had to clash the fan bases together? I could definitely say that a lot of Deftones are probably Slayer fans. Are a lot of Slayer fans, Deftones fans? I really don’t know; I hope. I can definitely say that a great deal of our fans will probably like Slayer. Will it be the other way around? I can only just deal with it as we’re going. I would think so; we’ve got heavy music, Slayer fans like heavy music. Are we gonna go play all our heaviest tracks? I don’t think so.

Like I said, if you’ve been around us and know our personalities, I think we get a kick out of being that little twist. What’s not the norm, what’s not the popular thing. Obviously it’s going to be popular to some, it won’t be popular to others. We can go into every angle of the picture you want but for us, at the end of the day, we’re gonna go have fun. How can you not go have fun and tour with Slayer? It sucks if you can’t, right?

Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2008

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