Stephen Carpenter
25 août 2007


With every album and tour, Deftones have evolved musically by expanding on what they do and constantly raising the bar. Since the group’s formation in Sacramento, California, the music has grown from simply alternative metal into a wider variety of styles, which make it difficult to neatly label Deftones into just one category. The newer material is more textured, ambient and emotional, although the underlying metal roots are always there and ready to show their razor sharp teeth whenever it’s appropriate.

Guitarist Stephen Carpenter graciously took time to chat with Ultimate Guitar shortly before hitting the stage at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, Colorado with Deftones bandmates bassist Chi Cheng, keyboardist Frank Delgado, drummer Abe Cunningham, and frontman Chino Moreno. We talked about the band’s development, the dysfunction that exists within the industry, and how discouraging it can be when dealing with the political side of the music business. Of course, we also talked about gear and dissected Carpenter’s rig: an assortment of 7-string ESP signature model guitars that he has set up in five different tunings, Marshall amps, as well as the rack effects and stompboxes that he has used for many years. He specified what he used in the studio to record his tracks on the band’s latest release, Saturday Night Wrist, and how the same gear serves him efficiently for performing onstage.

Carpenter also told us about some of the other hobbies he enjoys and how he tries hard to budget time for some of these activities, particularly golfing. He acknowledged his daily battle with the clock, and how he constantly tries to get numerous things accomplished throughout the course of a day, although more often than not, he finds that the clock wins out as the hours of the day come to an end and he hasn’t done all he’d hoped to do. But nevertheless, one thing that’s for sure is what Carpenter truly loves most: being a musician. If playing music is his greatest accomplishment of the day, then he’s definitely a happy guy.

Ultimate Guitar: What has influenced the ways in which the band’s sound and style has changed since the first album?

Stephen Carpenter: I think a great deal of it in recent history has come from Chino’s ideas, especially on the last couple of records since he’s been playing guitar. So a lot of time has been spent working on his stuff, and that’s a great deal to do with how the sound has changed. But I wish we would be in the death metal category or in a completely experimental category.

As a guitar player, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I really love playing metal. Metal is just fun to play as a guitar player. Would I enjoy playing other kinds of music? Yeah. But for me, the feeling that I get when I’m playing riffs, it’s just so fun. And a lot of stuff that’s not metal, I mean, there are riffs there, but they’re more like soundscape riffs. I like that stuff, but I especially like stuff where the riff is just driving and has that power. You know what I mean? When I come up with ideas, I’m really fueled by drums. But my only problem is that my drum library—my library of beats that lie within my head, is very limited. As a guitar player, I really look forward to and count on our drummer to help come up with songs. I feel like I could write more stuff if I had a drummer driving my process. But when I’m stuck there driving the process myself, I’ll start writing stuff that all sounds the same, because I only hear so many beats and so many tempos.

When you listen to the record, you can hear elements of many styles and every song is a little bit different.

Really though, I would love for us to make music that was more beat-oriented or more hip-hop, but not really hip-hop. Stuff that grooves like hip-hop, but not trying to be hip-hop, if that makes any sense. I don’t even want to make it sound like us. I just want to make songs that you would hear in the dance clubs, but not like the ones that are in the clubs now. Everything that’s been in the clubs generally sounds very formulated and polished. I want to have stuff that’s raw, but a real band that performed the tracks, so it’s just got that kick ass groove. The best way I could describe it would be like Rage Against The Machine. I really love Rage. I think they make incredibly kick ass music, and when you think about it, they’re a lot like Led Zeppelin. Musically, if you took away the vocal and heard them instrumentally, and somebody told you there’s a brand new Led Zeppelin record out, then played you their music, you’d actually believe it if Led Zeppelin was still making new records.

"I've got a whole glossary of music that I would love to play, but it's been canceled out by default."

Interesting comparison. Personally, I think Tom Morello is a different type of guitar player than Jimmy Page.

I really don’t know about that. I see audio similarities in their music. Of course, I’m only one person, and it’s my opinion.

You are certainly entitled to your opinion!

I may be entitled to an opinion, but it doesn’t make it so and it doesn’t make it right.

What’s the band’s writing process like when you’re working on material for an album? Does everyone bring in their own ideas or do you work together? Do you work together with Abe and flesh out your ideas?

In the past and on the first couple of records, it was really a lot of Abe and I jamming, and then we were adding everyone in. But that whole process was dead in my mind. When I think about doing new stuff, I don’t think about sitting down with Chino and coming up with everything without any drums at all, and just working on stuff with just me and him with guitars and vocals, and then adding drums later on. We’ll just write the drum parts ourselves and bring it to the band. When we sit there as a band, we take forever. Lots of times we’re just sitting there waiting for Abe to lock in on stuff, trying to figure out what he’s going to do, and we don’t decide on anything right away. Earlier in the year, when we were talking about the creation of the band, I gave Chino a lot of grief for things taking so long. But you know, he’s not the only man who’s responsible for our music taking a lot of time to create. The other half in the slow poke situation is Abe.

On this record, were you and Chino coming up with most of the material?

It wasn’t that it was me or him, because Chi’s got some stuff on there, too. Chi definitely contributes. But because of me and Chino and our personalities, Chino’s got stuff he’s working on and he really wants to work on his stuff. Understandable. Just as it’s the same when I’ve got some stuff that I really want to work on, so that becomes a dilemma for us at times. I think it’s gotten tougher over time to work on stuff, mainly because everybody wants to work on what they’re working on and there’s a bit of a competition to see whose song we work on.

But when it comes to me and the metal side of the group, I can only speak for myself, and everything else is just my opinion of how we are, or my observation of it. When I picture us doing metal the way I know and believe metal to be, I feel that it’s never going to be that way because Abe is a drummer who never sits and practices double bass and strives to perform on the drum levels that all these bands are performing on. I can’t even consider that style of playing because it just won’t happen. And then consider that by Chi plays bass with his fingers, so he’s not going to keep up with that fast double-picking. So I’ve got a whole glossary of music that I would love to play, but it’s been canceled out by default. People will ask me why I don’t just start another band. Well, I don’t want to be in another band. I’ve already got a couple of things going on, and I’ve barely got time for either of them.

Have your influences and listening preferences changed much over the years?

I listen to lots of stuff. But generally, I listen to it when I’m around people who are listening to music, or I listen to stuff that I’ve had forever. I put my iPod on shuffle. It’s got an assortment of stuff, but I don’t switch it to any songs. I just let it flip to anything that’s on there, and my iPod hasn’t been updated in years. When I’m not on tour and we aren’t jamming as a band, I’ll listen to talk radio. That’s when I’m not golfing! I don’t sit around with an instrument in hand trying to work on the mammoth song or anything like that. I don’t think about it. I think about it when I have my guitar. If I have my guitar on, I’ve got ideas and everything is great. I have fun with it then. But I don’t sit there with my guitar all day, every day, because it just seems so forced when I’m doing it like that.

How did the collaboration with Serj Tankian from System Of A Down come about?

It came about because Chino had no ideas for the songs. We have the same management as Serj, and they suggested that maybe the two of them could work on it and break the ice to see if something would come out. They had given Serj the song, and he actually did vocals on the entire song, and he wrote them and recorded them all in one day, which was a total slap in Chino’s face. He hadn’t done anything for it in over a year! The band has problems, and the only way we’ll ever deal with the problems is if the problems are dealt with as they are. This was the only way we were ever going to get songs written faster, which is really what it came down to. We can take forever on it. The record was becoming our own version of The Chinese Democracy. I personally do not want to take a lifetime to create a song. I can start on a song in the morning, and by the end of the night, it will be finished. That’s how I work.

Did the band have a lot of songs written which didn’t get used on the album?

All of the ones that didn’t get used were songs that I wrote, or songs that Chi wrote. I’ll tell you what. All problems aside, and everything that we’ve dealt with, the greatest part of going through this process is that it has brought us all closer together. We have so many ideas and such a great view of the future. The truth is that the future is looking good for us, and it brought us together, in spite of how crappy and trying the moments have been. Had we not gone through that, we’d be different. But we’ve gone through it, and we’re always going to go through it. The reality is that maybe the next record will be a smash or maybe it’s an absolute flop. Whatever the case, it’s strictly going to be determined by sales and people’s opinions. But at the end of the day, we’re still a group of friends that enjoy making music together, and we’ll still make it. You know, I’ve really grown a serious distaste for the entire music industry because it’s so based on sales, and that disgusts me. Music has lost its true beauty. And those who actually follow their beliefs and make stuff that they truly love, regardless of who buys it, those are the people I love. But this never-ending sales business, I can’t understand that mentality.

Do you think that it’s the record labels that make bands so disposable because the last album may not have generated enough in sales?

Yeah, they are like that because that’s the way the record companies make it.

Do you feel that record labels don’t promote many bands the right way?

They can’t promote bands the right way for only one reason, because the music has turned into a business, and as a business, it has turned into a fast food business, if you will. It’s a never-ending flow. You have to keep up with that other group’s schedule because this one can make shit fast. If everyone else doesn’t make it at that pace and for that cost, then they’re worthless. It’s not cost effective to have a band like that around. It’s all based on money. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I don’t care about money. I’m like everyone else. I love it. I would love to have as much as I can, but not at all costs. It doesn’t mean that much to me. But for a lot of people, it does. I mean, I hope to never be busted broke, but I’ll tell you what, I’d rather be busted broke and alive, and happy to be alive, than rich and hating life. You always hear that old adage that money can’t buy happiness, but I’m the kind of person who would love for someone to give me enough money to prove them wrong! I’ll show you how to be real happy with a lot of money. I will buy so much love and happiness that people won’t even understand. But I can only buy as much as I can afford. For some people, it costs a lot, for some people it’s cheap, and for some people it’s free. But rest assured, if you had Bill Gates’ money and you were miserable, that’s too bad!

Do you or the band have your own studio where you do most of your recording or do you go to a pro studio to work?

We have done it pro studio for the most part, for the better part of all of our records with the exception of the self-titled record. The self-titled record was done in our warehouse where we practice, on all our own gear. I have 1,000 percent intention for recording the next album where we rehearse in Sacramento, or if not, recording some of it in Los Angeles where Chino and I live, and doing it all by ourselves with an engineer who loves to make stuff sound good.

It’s definitely easier than ever to make good recordings these days with the technology that’s available to the average musician.

I absolutely agree. There is not a need for the ways of yesteryears, unless you’re so inclined to be so vintage. And if you are, I say enjoy. I’m not here to knock it, but I’m certainly saying that the ways of yesteryears are not the ways of the future.

I want to record an album in the next five years on my [Digidesign] MBox, all by myself. The only reason I say five years is because I’m in no rush. I have no schedule to keep. I’m trying to do many things in life I would love to do. I’m trying to balance them all out piece by piece, trying to make stuff happen. I would love to be into photography. I’ve got ample camera gear where I can just go for it and I could easily do it. I would love to be into graphics and film. I would love to become a professional golfer. I can’t even tell you the list of things I would love to do. I have a daily battle I fight, and that battle is against the clock! Outside of that war, everything else is meaningless to me because I’ve got too many things that I’d love to enjoy. And you know what? I just enjoy all of them a little bit at a time. And if my pace is too slow for others, I apologize, because I don’t intend to keep anyone waiting. I certainly appreciate those who enjoy the wait as much as I do.

Deftones may take a while between albums, but the fans don’t seem to mind waiting because each album has been a good one.

I’ll tell you what. I love our band, new and old, and I’ve been there from day one. I meet these people at our shows, but not all nights because I’m not hanging out all nights. I might be tired or I might have some friends hanging out or I have to eat or something. But even if I’m not always hanging out with people, I talk to people all the time. You know, we’ve got some of the coolest fans, and I’m certain that they’re fans of other bands, too, which is great. I’m not too arrogant to think that we have some crowd that I can lay claim to, but the people that are there are definitely people who support us. Long ago, when I started playing guitar, my dream was to be in a band and make a record. So I’ve well exceeded my dreams already.

Tell us about the experience of making this record.

Our records had become entirely self-indulgent and selfish at the start of White Pony. I say that meaning that everyone in the band is focused in on their own thing lots of times. What I look forward to in the future is when everyone becomes selfless and we work on everyone’s ideas all the time. I can only imagine stuff that we’re going to do in the future. So right now, it’s all just talk. I’m not trying to hype anyone up and get everyone’s hope up on what’s coming. The reality is that it’s going to come whenever it comes. But I believe there will be a day when we’re going to make some incredible music and it will withstand the test of time. There won’t be anyone that will put is in the nu-metal category, the rap-metal category, classic rock, metal, there are just all these different categories we constantly get lumped into.

Fortunately, with easy access to the internet, bands today have a lot more power to market themselves without relying solely on what a record label can do to promote them.

Absolutely. I agree with that 100,000 percent! The internet is the best thing to happen to music. And everyone who loves music knows it and loves it. You know what I say all the time? We call ourselves civilized, we all pretend to be intelligent, but we live in a time where we have multiple means of media and a way for everyone to communicate on the exact same point, where one message could be heard by all and we could all learn from the same message together with television, radio, the internet, and print. We have so many forms of communication now that every one of us around the world could all be on the same page, and unite. But incredibly, we use all of those things to separate ourselves because we’re all so stuck on being an individual, and we forget that we’re all just part of a huge picture.

Tell me about your setup in the studio and how it compares to what you play onstage.

My setup has not changed in the last seven years, outside of me switching to the 7-string guitars. My amps are Marshalls. I use a JMP-1 preamp and the 9200 power amp with EL34s, Marshall 4x12 cabinets with 75-watt Celestions, and two with 80-watt Celestions. I would love to change the 75s out for 100-watt Celestions simply because of the low end. Playing with the 7-string, I want that low end to be low, crisp and punchy, so you can feel it and it’s not all mushy. Onstage I have 4x12s with 75-watt Celestions. There are two Marshall cabinets that I’ve had ever since we did Adrenaline that have been my two main cabinets at all times, in the studio and onstage, and they both have 80-watt Celestions in them. I use those two offstage as isolation cabinets that are my main sound. I have two power amps in my rack. One amp is running the two cabinets and the isolation cabinets, and the other amp is running the four cabinets onstage.

What are the effects you’re using in your rig?

Right now I have the same effects as forever, but I’m actually going to strip my rig down. I have a Rocktron Intellifex which I’ve had since ’97 or ’98, at least ten years, and I’ve been using that, a T.C. Electronic 2290 and a T.C. Fireworx. I love my 2290, but I’m going to pull it out because the Fireworx can do everything the 2290 can do. I’m really only using delays and chorus. So I’ve got overkill on that end. So I’m pulling my 2290s out and I’m going to keep them in our recording setup. I also have a Behringer Intelligate noise gate. I’ve probably had that about ten years, too. In my pedalboard, I have a Digitech Whammy pedal, a ZVex Fuzz Factory, ZVex Seek wah, and ZVex Machine. On “Beware,” at the intro of the song, it’s the Fuzz Factory and the Machine together. My other pedals are a Boss Digital Delay, Boss Flanger, Boss Tremolo, and Boss Hyper Fuzz. I also have the Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth pedal. I’m going to redo my pedalboard and throw all my pedals in a drawer in the rack. I don’t need them upfront because they’re just getting thrashed from sweat and dirt onstage. But what I will have upfront on my pedalboard will be the Rocktron RS-10 custom audio controller, my Whammy pedal and a volume pedal, and maybe a digital delay and tremolo pedal because I need to adjust those for certain things when we’re onstage.

Which guitars are you playing?

They’re all my ESP models, but I switch between baritone and standard scale. Nearly all our new music since our self-titled record is all on baritone, and in the future it will all be on baritone. I’ve got some 8-strings being made, so I want to enjoy that sound.

My guitars that I play onstage are the ones I record with. The [NASCAR racer] Tony Stewart one that’s orange and has the big “20” on the front was originally see-through green, and I had it repainted. ESP is in the NASCAR-style logo. I recorded a lot of the last album with that guitar. Previously to that, I have a baritone natural which is mahogany with a reverse headstock, and I did a lot of the self-titled record on that guitar. Now I have a white ESP Tele-style guitar, and I intend to use that and the 8-string a lot when I write new stuff. I don’t have 6-strings anymore.

What types of pickups are in your guitars?

I have EMGs in all of them. The 707 is my main pickup in the bridge position, and then they have a version of the 81 in a 7-string model. I can’t remember what it’s called. These have a bassier tone and have more body to them. When I get the 8-strings, I’m going to use their 808. I think that’s what it’s called.

How are your guitars set up?

I use .011-.059 gauge strings. I’m using Ernie Ball strings right now. I was using Fender forever, but then we switched over. The Ernie Balls are great strings and I am enjoying them.

What type of picks do you prefer?

I’m using Dunlop 1 mm Tortex picks. They’re the same as the blue ones, but mine are black with logos on them.

What were the different tunings you used on the new record?

For tunings, on all of Saturday Night Wrist, with the exception of “Beware,” which I was in G# on the 7-string, but if it was a 6-string guitar, I would be in C#, but on the 7-string, the extra lower string is G#. All of the other songs on the new record were done in that tuning with the G# dropped down to F#. So from low to high, it’s tuned F#, C#, F#, E, B, G#, C#.

I play power chords and bar chords. I don’t have this glossary of stuff to pick from or a lot of single-note stuff. But as a guitar player, I’m really getting ready to delve into that world, but bit by bit. I’m not going to sit in my room for a year and crack out on it. But I definitely intend to expand my abilities. I’ve become more interested in playing lead guitar, but not in the sense where I want to be soloing all the time. I want to play a lot of little melodies. I want to step outside of rocking the riff all the time and be able to cut back and forth between riff and melody with some nice little chords that really change the whole mood and totally shift vibes with chords.

How many different tunings do you use when you play live?

Well, our first record was all in E, our second record was all in D# with the low string dropped down to C#. I was playing 6-string then. White Pony was the same thing, but we dropped it all down a half-step, so it would be down to C. When we went to the self-titled record, that’s when I went to playing 7-strings all the time. And when Chino started playing his guitar he was always playing in C#. I think that’s one of the tunings he uses with Team Sleep. So he would just play with that tuning. And me playing in G# is the same as him playing in C#. And then for almost everything on Saturday Night, I just dropped down my low string from G# to F#. It sounds cool. But it’s not the same kind of sound I hear when I hear the 8-string and I hear that low F. I joke around and say I want to get a baritone 8-string and have that thing tuned all the way to E! It would be a whole octave lower from actual standard tuning on my 6-string and all the way down two more strings. That’s my love for music right there. There isn’t a rule or a definition of how it’s supposed to be, although I’m probably not going to step off the edge of the cliff and just go wild. But I might. I don’t know. I’m certainly not calculating when I’m going to do it. I’m just enjoying where I’m at right now.

With all of the tunings, how many guitars do you take on the road?

Ten. I have five tunings, so I have a backup for each one of them. Generally, they’re not really needed. I don’t break strings too often, but it’s nice to have them there so when something does fail, I can at least go to another guitar.

Do you have a favorite track on this album?

They’re all enjoyable. As a band, I think we all really enjoy playing “Beware.” That’s really a fun song.

Looking back at all of your live gigs, what was your worst “Spinal Tap” moment onstage?

We’ve had too many to have to pick one that was the worst. You’d have to think about them and then actually define which one would be the worst, and we’ve had too many. I am so glad I saw that movie long ago, because the reality is that if you’re in a band, you might as well call your band your name and add “dash Spinal Tap” at the back end of it. If you’re in a band and you know Spinal Tap, you know it’s true!

Do you laugh at it or stress out?

I think we laugh it off more now, but there are times—even on a nightly basis, where it’s like, “When will this stop? Will it ever be right?” You really have to learn to laugh at some of this stuff, especially when it’s totally beyond your control.

Laugh it off and just enjoy doing what you’re doing.

That’s the whole point. Like I said before, there are so many things I would love to do, and I will do them all, bit by bit. If I was to do any one of them all the way through, many other things would get sidelined. For me, my main part of my life is my band. That’s the way I live, and that’s really what I enjoy most. But I enjoy many other things too, though I just can’t give them equal time.

Like you said, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything.

No, there are not! I literally, on a day-to-day basis, have this war going on with the clock, and I lose that war more times than I ever get a victory.

What words of wisdom can you offer to another guitar player who is trying to improve their skills and carve out a unique style?

There are so many methods that you can choose to achieve your goals, and to truly know what you goal is, that’s half the battle right there. If you do have an idea of what you want to create or to achieve, musically speaking and from a guitar standpoint, then absolutely go for it and don’t let anyone stop you from achieving it. And if you change your mind someday and you want to come up with some other crazy style or sound, by all means, step forward and go for it because you only live once in this life and you never know when your card gets pulled. So you might as well go for it all right now. If it’s what makes you smile and what makes you feel good, then play it. That’s what it’s about, doing what makes you feel good.

Interview by Lisa Sharken
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2007

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