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The Deftones haven't garnered massive MTV exposure and heavy radio rotation … yet. Since releasing its debut CD in 1995, the ethnically mixed band has garnered legions of loyal fans who are drawn to the group's combination of skate-punk ferocity and atmospheric nuance. The Deftones seem poised to turn this cult following into a full-on phenomenon. Moreover, unlike some of its stylistic brethren, the Deftones create music devoid of animosity or self-loathing. The group's approach was summed up a few years ago by guitarist Stephen Carpenter in a comment made to Guitar World magazine: "Our music is about love and good experiences," he said. "It's not about pummeling your neighbor and smashing everything."

The Deftones' story begins in Sacramento, Calif., in the late '80s. As students at the city's California Middle School, Chino Moreno and Abe Cunningham established a friendship that centered on a love of skateboarding. By the time he was 15 years old, Moreno owned his first set of drums, which he set up at the house of a an older friend named Stephen Carpenter. A skateboard enthusiast himself, Carpenter had turned his attention to playing guitar while recuperating from injuries sustained in an auto-pedestrian accident. With money obtained from the accident settlement, Carpenter outfitted the family garage with guitars, amps, and recording equipment.

Although Moreno had been playing drums casually with Carpenter for some time, when he heard Cunningham play he recognized that his skateboarding pal was a better musician than he was. Generously, Moreno arranged for his two friends to meet for a jam session. At first, the 18-year-old Carpenter was leery of the younger Cunningham, but upon hearing the newcomer play, he enthusiastically insisted they start a band. Another friend of Moreno's was recruited to play bass, and although he had no experience as a singer, Moreno himself was enlisted as the group's vocalist ("mainly, I think, because I introduced them all," he explained to Guitar World).

With Carpenter acting as leader, the group honed its skills performing Danzig and Metallica covers, while moving gradually toward a funk-metal style influenced by such bands as Faith No More and Bad Brains. Carpenter and Cunningham also began working on original songs, fashioned with such titles as "Butt Booty Naked," "The Vegetable Song," and "Dope." A flurry of bassists came and went before the band settled on Chi Cheng, who was studying literature at a nearby college and had the requisite look and the right gear. Christening themselves the Deftones, the fledgling group soon began playing small Bay Area punk venues, such as the Cattle Club in Sacramento and East Bay's Berkeley Square.

Although the group managed to put together a demo tape, for the next couple of years the Deftones concentrated more on gaining experience than on getting signed to a record label. That situation changed, however, when Maverick Records co-chairman Guy Oseary saw the group perform at the Coconut Teazer in Los Angeles in 1994. After impressing the powers-that-be at a brief audition, the band signed a contract with the upstart label, whose roster at the time already included such notables as Alanis Morissette and Candlebox. In the blink of an eye, the Deftones had graduated from the small club circuit to hobnobbing with (Maverick founder) Madonna.

Released in October of 1995, Adrenaline, the Deftones' first album, was greeted with generally positive reviews and slow but steady sales. Critics seemed most impressed with the group's blend of high-octane riffage and textural arrangements. Produced by Terry Date, whose previous credits included work with Soundgarden and Pantera, the album boasted an in-your-face sound that resulted partly from the fact that much of the material was recorded live in the studio. In its assessment of the CD, the Los Angeles Times reported that Adrenaline "turns up some surprising nuances: traces of post-punk pop, tinges of rap, a pinch of industrial grit." Similarly, Tower Records' Pulse magazine characterized the album as "influenced equally by Helmet, Pantera, and Smashing Pumpkins … a ferocious contrast of harmony and discord."

To support the CD, the Deftones toured incessantly for the next two years, opening for such acts as Korn, Ozzy Osbourne, and L7. In the process, the group built a substantial grassroots following and established a reputation for partying with their fans after shows. The band also garnered a short-lived flurry of attention from the mainstream media when a riot occurred during one of their performances at an all-day event in Tempe, Ariz. Nonetheless, the group was virtually ignored by MTV and rock radio, a fact that made it all the more remarkable that Adrenaline went on to achieve gold status.

In the summer of 1997, the Deftones returned to the studio to record their second album, Around the Fur. By this time, the group's DJ, Frank Delgado, had been promoted to full band member. Although Delgado's presence had been felt on Adrenaline, his turntable wizardry and fondness for sampling was given more prominence on the new release. Once again, critical response was glowing, and the band found a hit in the single "My Own Summer (Shove It)." Around the Fur proved to be an even bigger seller than Adrenaline, and the album further solidified the Deftones' status as underground sensations.

While the similarities outweighed the differences between the Deftones' first two albums, by the time the group entered the studio last summer to begin work on its third effort, eclectic influences were finding their way into the band's music. Sessions dragged on for months, causing some industry observers to speculate that the Deftones had missed a window of opportunity for commercial success provided by kindred spirits like Korn and Limp Bizkit. As it turned out, however, the Deftones were expanding their stylistic palette beyond the strictures of hardcore machismo. As Moreno told Billboard, "We didn't want to make just another heavy record with a senseless amount of aggressiveness to it. We wanted to make a record that was maybe a bit harder to get into right away."

Released in June 2000, White Pony made good on that promise. The first single, "Change (In a House of Flies)," embodied the band's new stylistic approach, and quickly found a home on both the Alternative Radio and Active Rock Radio charts. In support of White Pony, the Deftones are undertaking a lengthy tour during the summer and fall. - Copyright 2001 WWW.UBL.COM